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Chasing Ray Interviews Nature Writer Sy Montgomery

There’s more to this world than just humanity. A lot more.

Here’s an interview with nature writer Sy Montgomery in which she talks about photographing animals in a natural state, absorbing local myths and folklore about the animals she studies, and teaching children to love and protect nature.

Sy was kind of enough to invite me to interview her over the phone and in the course of our hour-long conversation we discovered shared passions for books and animals and writing and all manner of other subjects (even, bizarrely, to include discussion of banshees in Ireland of all things). To say chatting with her was delightful would be a gross understatement and I hope someday to meet her in person so we can talk again, for hours and hours and hours. Because the conversation jumped in so many different directions, I decided to split the interview in half so be sure and check back tomorrow for more. And now, here’s author and adventurer (grin) Sy Montgomery!

CM: How did you and Nic Bishop come to propose the Scientist in the Field series?

SM: Nic and I met at a nature writing conference at Boston’s New England Aquarium in the mid 1990s where I was a speaker. Strangely, I was the only woman on a panel and even though I wrote at that time for adults, when a question came up about nonfiction for children everyone turned and looked at me! I came up with an answer and later Nic approached me, explained he was a wildlife photographer specializing in books for children, and asked if I might be interested in working with him. He sent me some of his work and we came up with the idea of developing a series of books on scientists for kids. (CM – Sy has referred to this series elsewhere as “a line of nonfiction adventure books that told, with equal parts photos and text, true stories about passionate people whose love of wild animals leads them to solve scientific mysteries and to dedicate their lives to protecting these animals and their homes.”) Nic approached Houghton Mifflin and we connected with editor Amy Flynn (Kate O’Sullivan is the current editor). The idea was not embraced by everyone at first – some folks at HMCO wanted “fact books” but we really wanted to focus on people working in unique situations who loved animals and wanted to give something back. It’s not just about solving the mystery, but conservation which both Nic and I feel very strongly about.

People are fine but just one species among many and you can’t just focus on humans. So much in this world is strange and real and needs your attention, in fact demands it.

CM: What’s it like working with Nic? You’ve been together on four books now.

SM: Nic handles the creatures he photographs – he actually captures their faces. He doesn’t refrigerate them first to keep them docile. (CM – I had no idea some photographers did this for spiders, etc. I’m totally freaked out now.) I was a snake wrangler for him for the Green Boa which was a lot of fun. What I really like about Nic is that he takes the time to get to know the animals he photographs; he likes to show them “as they really are” and make them as comfortable as possible.

Read the whole article here.

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