Townley, Roderick 1942-

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Townley, Roderick 1942-

(Rod Townley)


Born June 7, 1942, in Orange, NJ; son of William Richard (a businessman) and Elise Townley; married Libby Blackman, April 4, 1970 (divorced, 1980); married Wyatt Baker (a poet and yoga instructor), February 15, 1986; children: (first marriage) Jesse Blackman; (second marriage) Grace Whitman. Education: Attended Hamilton College, 1960-61, and University of Chicago, 1961-62; Bard College, A.B., 1965; Rutgers University, M.A., 1970, Ph.D., 1972.


Home—Kansas City, MO. Agent—c/o Writers House, 21 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer. Passaic County Community College, Paterson, NJ, associate professor of world literature, 1972-73; TV Guide, New York, NY, former editorial writer, beginning 1980. Visiting professor, University of Concepcion, Chile, 1978-79.

Awards, Honors

Fulbright fellowship, 1978-79.



(Translator) Rene Escudie, Paul and Sebastian, Kane/Miller (La Jolla, CA), 1988.

The Great Good Thing (novel), Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2001.

Into the Labyrinth (novel; sequel to The Great Good Thing), Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2002.

Sky: A Novel in Three Sets and an Encore, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2004.

The Constellation of Sylvie (novel; sequel to Into the Labyrinth), Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2005.

The Red Thread: A Novel in Three Incarnations, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2007.


(Under name Rod Townley) Blue Angels Black Angels, privately printed, 1972.

(Under name Rod Townley) Summer Street (chapbook), The Smith (New York, NY), 1975.

(Under name Rod Townley) Three Musicians, The Smith (New York, NY), 1978.

Final Approach, Countryman Press (Woodstock, VT), 1986.


(Under name Rod Townley) The Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams (criticism), Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1975.

(Under name Rod Townley) Minor Gods (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1976.

(Under name Rod Townley) The Year in Soaps: 1983, Crown (New York, NY), 1984.

Safe and Sound: A Parent's Guide to Child Protection, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1985.

(Editor) Night Errands: How Poets Use Dreams, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1998.

Contributor to books, including University and College Poetry Prizes: 1967-1972, edited by Daniel Hoffman, Academy of American Poets (New York, NY), 1974; Eleven Young Poets: The Smith Seventeen, edited by Ray Boxer, The Smith (New York, NY), 1975; William Carlos Williams: Man and Poet, edited by Carroll F. Terrell, National Poetry Foundation (Orono, ME), 1983; Conversations with Ralph Ellison, edited by Maryemma Graham and Amritjit Singh, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1995; and Ravishing Disunities, edited by Agha Shahid Ali, Wesleyan University Press (Hanover, NH), 2000. Contributor, sometimes under name Rod Townley, to periodicals, including Studies in Short Fiction, Philadelphia, New York Times, Washington Post, TV Guide, Village Voice, and Detroit Free Press.


Roderick Townley began his writing career as a poet, and produced several works of literary criticism, before making a name for himself as the author of children's novels. In addition to The Great Good Thing and its sequels Into the Labyrinth and The Constellation of Sylvie, Townley has also authored stand-alone young-adult novels such as Sky: A Novel in Three Sets and an Encore, and The Red Thread: A Novel in Three Incarnations. In addition to his poetry and fiction, Townley has also worked as an entertainment journalist.

In The Great Good Thing Townley introduces Princess Sylvie and the many friends who live with her within the pages of an old, almost forgotten book titled The Great Good Thing. To perform her role in the story, the twelve-year-old princess yearns to do "one great good thing" before she submits to marriage, and Townley's novel follows her swashbuckling adventures in pursuit of that goal, however it is ultimately defined. When young Claire reads the book—the same copy her grandmother had once read and loved—the characters return to life, acting out each part of the story anew. When the volume is destroyed by Claire's vile brother, the characters have nowhere else to go and cross into Claire's mind, where they live on in the young reader's dreams. Without the printed page to preserve them, the passage of time now threatens Sylvie and her friends, for Claire may one day forget them. Therefore, the resourceful Sylvie rescues herself and her friends by crossing into the mind of Lily, Claire's daughter. Inspired to retell and republish the story, Lily gives the storybook characters a renewed life. In School Library Journal Debbie Whitbeck deemed Townley's approach "an extremely clever and multilayered concept," but questioned whether younger readers would be able to grasp its multiple levels. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Great Good Thing a "clever, deftly written" novel for younger readers.

Into the Labyrinth finds Princess Sylvie and her cohorts busily reenacting their story in the wake of a fresh printing, repeating her search for the "one great good thing" she needs to do before marriage. When their story is published on the Internet, however, the pace of this quest becomes exhausting; their story must be reenacted again and again as each new reader discovers the tale. Not only must the characters get used to a frenzied pace, they also have to come to terms with new threats and phenomena unique to the online world, including wordpools, unexpected changes to their individual stories, the loss of sections of text, and deliberate changes by readers with access to electronic versions of the story. When a dragonlike "bot" appears, created by a descendent of the original author, its mission appears to be simply to destroy the tale as it rips out chunks of text and brings in characters from other stories. Determined not to passively watch while their fictional world is corrupted, Sylvie and her friends mount an expedition to confront and delete the dangerous dragon-bot. Their adventures continue in The Constellation of Sylvie as a copy of The Great Good Thing finds its way aboard a spaceship bound for Jupiter. During a reading by the ship-bound crew, the princess is confronted by the romantic advances of a blackmailing jester named Pingree. Once again, survival becomes an issue for the fictional cast when the space ship misses its window of reentry to Earth, providing Sylvie and company with yet another challenge.

Reviewing Into the Labyrinth, a Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed the book a "brilliantly imagined sequel" that continues to explore the concepts of how fiction affects individual readers that Townley first introduced in The Great Good Thing. Booklist contributor John Peters called the first sequel a "grand, tongue-in-cheek adventure," and Beth L. Meister commented in School Library Journal that "Sylvie is an appealing, thoughtful, and involving heroine, pulling the fast-paced plot to its satisfying conclusion." Praising the princess for her "plucky, resourceful nature," Krista Hurley added in her appraisal of The Constellation of Sylvie that Townley's "metafictional premise is deftly realized," while Kliatt reviewer Lesley Farmer predicted that because of its focus on "strong females" and its mix of fantasy and science-fiction, Townley's series "should capture the attention of a special reading niche."

Directed to slightly older readers, Townley's young-adult novel Sky centers on fifteen-year-old jazz pianist Alex "Sky" Schuyler. Though his private-school classmates think little of him, Sky is a driving force in his jazz band, which includes drummer Max, bass player Larry, and manager Suze. Unfortunately for Sky, his conservative, workaday father views jazz as a waste of time and encourages his son to quit the band and devote his time to something more practical. As punishment for sneaking out to attend a Count Basie concert, Sky's father takes away the teen's piano, an instrument that had belonged to Sky's mother. Pushed beyond endurance, Sky runs away to make a life on the street. When he meets a blind jazz pianist in rapidly declining health, Sky bonds instantly with the weathered musician and ultimately learns important lessons about music and about life. Sky "brings the beatnik era to life while expressing timeless, universal themes about the generation gap," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Paula Rohrlick, writing in Kliatt, called the novel an "appealing coming-of-age tale about finding yourself and finding your calling."

Townley profiles another troubled teen in The Red Thread. Plagued with horribly realistic nightmares and feelings of claustrophobia, Dana Landgrave hopes therapy can provide her with some relief. However, the belligerent sixteen year old may have misplaced her trust in Dr. Sprague when her therapy sessions cause more problems. When Sprague hypnotizes her, he unlocks a series of past lives that include a ten-year-old William, a boy who is murdered in the late 1500s, and Hannah, the niece of an ill-tempered artist who lives in eighteenth-century London. Soon Dana is drawn into an age-old mystery that not only threatens family relationships and her current romance; it also forces her to question the person she has assumed herself to be. According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, in The Red Thread Townley "raises an intriguing question about the nature of the soul" and its ability to reincarnate itself from generation to generation. Viewing the novel as a time-travel mystery, Claire Rosser praised its "highly intelligent" teen protagonist, adding in her Kliatt review that Townley "makes the places and people seem real, and he is able to keep the tension high throughout" his imaginative tale. In Booklist, Stephanie Zvirin found less to like about the petulant Dana, but nonetheless praised The Red Thread, citing the book's "deliciously scary premise and the melodramatic outcome" that is guaranteed to captivate teen readers. Describing the story as "captivating and shivery," a Kirkus Reviews writer noted that the twin themes of "revenge and devotion" infuse Townley's tale with "first-rate suspense and emotion."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, November 1, 2002, John Peters, review of Into the Labyrinth, p. 499; June 1, 2006, Krista Hutley, review of The Constellation of Sylvie, p. 76; February 15, 2007, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Red Thread: A Novel in Three Incarnations, p. 73.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 2004, Elizabeth Bush, review of Sky: A Novel in Three Sets and an Encore, p. 42.

Guardian (London, England), April 26, 2003, Jan Mark, "The Never-Ending Story," review of The Great Good Thing.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of Into the Labyrinth, p. 1402; July 1, 2004, review of Sky, p. 638; February 1, 2006, review of The Constellation of Sylvie, p. 137; January 15, 2007, review of The Red Thread, p. 82.

Kliatt, July, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of Sky, p. 13; March, 2006, Lesley Farmer, review of The Constellation of Sylvie, p. 18; March, 2007, Claire Rosser, review of The Red Thread, p. 19.

Library Journal, September 1, 1998, Kim Woodbridge, review of Night Errands: How Poets Use Dreams, p. 181.

Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2001, review of The Great Good Thing, p. 108; August 30, 2004, review of Sky, p. 56; March 19, 2007, review of The Red Thread, p. 64.

School Library Journal, July, 2001, Debbie Whitbeck, review of The Great Good Thing, p. 114; October, 2001, Louise T. Sherman, review of The Great Good Thing, p. 89; October, 2002, Beth L. Meister, review of Into the Labyrinth, p. 174; July, 2004, Susan Riley, review of Sky, p. 113; August, 2006, Robyn Gioia, review of The Constellation of Sylvie, p. 130.


Books for Sleepless Nights, (November 5, 2005), review of Night Errands., (November 5, 2005), Lisa Marx, review of The Great Good Thing.