We’ll Drop In with Julie Carrick Dalton about her debut novel about secrets — both the earth’s secrets and personal — values and friendship. When Cadie and her friend Daniela witness a murder as children, they’re forced to keep it a secret. But when the incident resurfaces decades later after they’ve drifted apart, time runs short for both as they try to figure out whether the truth is worth the sacrifice. This is an incredibly timely book in the vein of Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy and Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver that has a parallel narrative about the bark beetle infestation and rising threat of forest fires due to climate change that ties together an affecting narrative of friendship and immigration, ethics and the ramifications of our decisions. Dalton’s unique background in science, agriculture and journalism clearly informs her engaging prose and plot. Waiting for the Night Song is an atmospheric literary suspense debut novel that was recently featured as a most anticipated thriller/mystery for 2021 by both Buzzfeed and Frolic, as well as a most anticipated 2021 read by Betches and Medium’s Angela Lashbrook, who called it “an evocative, beautifully-written debut.” Some more recent book love: · “A startling and timely debut, Julie Carrick Dalton’s Waiting for the Night Song is a moving, brilliant novel about friendships forged in childhood magic and ruptured by the high price of secrets that leave you forever changed.” (Bookish) · “Dalton’s debut is a story of friendship, family, and the consequences of acting out of fear, especially when those actions are performed to protect those we love. The storytelling is made even more vivid by the way the novel practically breathes the woods of New Hampshire.” (Booklist)
As a Boston-based journalist, JULIE CARRICK DALTON has published more than a thousand articles in The Boston Globe, Electric Literature, BusinessWeek, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. She contributes to The Chicago Review of Books, DeadDarlings, The Writer Unboxed, and GrubStreet’s writer’s blogs. A Tin House alum, Dalton was a finalist in the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program and she holds a Master’s in Literature and Creative Writing from Harvard Extension School. She is a frequent speaker on the topic of writing fiction in the age of climate crisis. Dalton grew up in Maryland and on a military base in Germany. As an adult, she bounced around from Seattle to Dallas to Virginia, before finding her true home in Boston, where she has lived for more than twenty years. Mom to four kids and two dogs, she also owns and operates a 100-acre organic farm in rural New Hampshire, the backdrop for Waiting for the Night Song, her debut. Her second novel, THE LAST BEEKEEPER, will be released in 2022. Drop In with us to meet Julie and discover how she wove these important threads together and what her motivations were to do so.Leave a comment for radio show guests
What’s the story behind the story? We’ll find out on Dropping In. Our guests are today’s original thinkers, conversations that spark new ways of seeing what’s going on. We bring it all to the table, diverse perspectives, controversy, loving and singular voices. Magically, stories reveal the common threads that link us experience, the joys, the fist pumps, the detours, and the hard-won truths of those who blaze the trail so that we might do the same. And now, here’s your host, Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In, everyone. Today’s guest is Julie Carrick Dalton, author of Waiting For The Night Song, a novel that deals with climate change. Coincidentally, it’s an endangered species day when all too many animals that we love and may take for granted risk extinction. This book, Waiting for the Night Song, was published by Forge. It is about the enduring bond of childhood friendship, the close relationship between us and the natural world, and the implications of keeping lifelong secrets. Welcome, Julie. Great to have you with us.
Julie: Thanks, Diane. I’m so happy to be here with you today.
Diane: Where are you speaking to us from? It’s always interesting to know where you’re sitting.
Julie: I am in Boston right now. The weather is great.
Diane: Ahh. Spring in Boston. Is that where you’ve been during the COVID shelter?
Julie: Yes, I have. I divide my time between Boston and New Hampshire where I run a farm. So, I’ve been bouncing back and forth.
Diane: Aha. This is the organic farm that you own and run. What’s growing there in this season?
Julie: I’m just getting ready to plant. We have a reasonably short, growing season in New Hampshire so I’m getting ready to put corn, potatoes, and all sorts of vegetables and greens and herbs in the ground.
Diane: Great. That sounds wonderful. It also harkens back to meeting Katie, the protagonist of Waiting for the Night Song, a girl with curly red hair and her then and now. Then is that summer of her adolescence and present day, now, when she works as an entomologist, a person who studies insects of which there are over 800,000 species I learned. In her summer, there’s an immersive quality to the book where she was present with Katie in the forest on the lake. It’s so clean.
She can taste picking blueberries with her friend Daniela, below the foot, the pine needles, the rock shells. Katie, as an entomologist, searches for the cause of droughts, beetles, fires, wildfires, and all kinds of environmental implications that we’re experiencing. These characters’ lives intersect with the environment in a big way. I wondered, as a lover of nature and a writer, what responsibility do you feel you have to highlight the issues of climate change?
Julie: That’s an interesting question. When I first started writing the book, it was just a story. It started with this story about two young girls. As I developed the plot that these wonderful girls are young when they’re 11 and 12, they witness a traumatic event and choose to cover it up. That provides the impetus for the whole story. It started from that point. When I wanted to bring her home, I was thinking about the ways when she’s an adult and has to come home to face up to this decision she made as a child.
How would home be different? What would look different in our environment, in our communities after having been away for a long time? So, I was doing some research. In my growing region in New Hampshire, the summer temperatures have gone up by 4 degrees over the past century. It’s pretty shocking. I know forward and that’s disproportionate to most of the country. It was a slow, steady increase. It wasn’t like a shocking thing that happened.
No one’s running around in New Hampshire waving their arms screaming about climate change which to me is interesting because of this slow change and what it’s meant as our growing season is 22 days longer than it was 100 years ago. As a farm owner, that’s a big deal. It makes you reevaluate what crops you grow? What grew 100 years ago? How does it affect our trees or forests? I also am managing 92 acres of forest land. I wasn’t consciously thinking about what’s my responsibility.
I was building my farm during the same years I wrote the book. I spent a lot of days digging in the dirt like heading under my fingernails and in my hair and then going home and writing. The imagery of the book is the imagery of my farm and my agricultural research on my growing area. It presented itself in the book. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It just was a part of the life I was living. So, it ended up in my book.
Diane: I think at almost a molecular level, the land becomes a part of you. You experience a place that becomes almost organically a part of you. Home is one of the operative concepts in the book. Katie goes up on the hawk near a lake in New Hampshire in a small town. It’s something that she feels ambivalent about as most adolescents do yearn to getaway.
Particularly because as you say, she witnessed something like an 11-year-old that was traumatic and stayed with her, and that caused her to want to flee. But there’s something very compelling about being called home. The forest that connects the two friends, Katie and Daniella, is almost like a third being. A connective tissue. How was it to describe the forest as you wrote it? Does it resonate with you now from your childhood?
Julie: Yes. I did not grow up in New Hampshire. The actual trees and the imagery I’m describing are New Hampshire but a lot of the emotional component is based on my childhood growing up in Maryland. I lived in a kind of rural area. I had one of those typical 70s and 80s kid upbringings where I would disappear at breakfast and run around in the woods with my friends all day and show up at home for dinner. We had to play all sorts of games. I used to write a lot of fanfiction scripts for silly TV shows.
When I was a kid, I would write these scripts out for Charlie’s Angels, and Murk and Mindy, and in Wonder Woman, and we would ask them out in the forest. It was like our setting as our backdrop for our world. This tree would become a building. This one would be an elevator. Or we would just come up with these ideas of ways to incorporate the forest into our world. I feel that Katie, the character in my book, had that same sensibility that the trees were her friends.
They were like sentient beings to her in a lot of ways. I felt like that, Katie, when she was during her adolescent years and she was resisting coming home, it was sort of a battle to spite the draw to come home. As an adult, she even liked the way you said it on a molecular level that made her feel drawn home and there’s a passage in the book where I described how when she returned home and she went swimming one morning. And when she goes underwater, she recognizes the water.
She kind of ruminates on this idea that there are particles suspended in this water that was eroded from the granite mountains all around her that washed into the lake via waterways coming down the mountain. And that as a child, she ingested this water. And therefore, those particles of these granite mountains are settled into the cells of her body. And to me, it’s a compelling way to look at the way the environment moves through us the same way we move through the environment if that makes sense.
Diane: Absolutely. It does become cellular. I think that it’s also a way in which we become personally involved and engaged at a level that we wouldn’t ordinarily if we hadn’t experienced nature as intensely as a child. As you say, it formed an entire world for Katie and for you growing up. It’s really interesting, too, that this world liberated them. It liberated you in a way to play. It also can contain secrets. The story begins with a secret. There’s a rowboat that comes drifting and it comes towards Katie’s pier.
She takes a hold of it and she seizes upon it because who wouldn’t? It’s the most fun thing you could imagine as a kid but it’s not hers. She takes it and she secrets it away and among the rocks where no one can see it. And so, I think that sort of sets the tone that secrets. They do just happen. Not all of them are bad or good. Some of them are just kind of neutral. There is the question of lifelong secrets in your book. One of them concerns the undocumented immigrant family.
The Garcias who Live in the town of Maplecrest and who are beloved because they run the hardware store but they need some kind of tacit protection because they are in America secretly. They are undocumented. This is like a question that you shouldn’t have to be responsible for answering. I’m just curious because you kind of went there. Do you think secrets have an inherent ethicality? Are some secrets positive in the way they protect us? Secrets get a bad rap now. We’re supposed to take the lid off all secrets.
Julie: I like the way you frame that. I think that all the characters are carrying secrets, including the Garcias. Everybody in this book is holding on to this piece of information that other people don’t know. I love all my characters, even the ones that maybe have some questionable motives. I feel like they all believe at the moment that they’re making a good choice when they choose to cover something up or make a questionable decision.
In the case of the Garcias, when you trace their history back which unfolds in the book, the reasons that they came to the United States were really important and very central to the story. They’re very central to the climate themes and my story because I draw some lines in my book back to US Intervention in El Salvador in the 80s and how the United States intervention impacted their agriculture, land use in really dramatic ways that are still causing so much pain in that region. A lot of people, for reasons of US intervention, left Central America to come to the United States.
It’s continuing because our intervention caused a lot of deforestation. It was like incredible amounts of forests were torn down because of US agricultural practices in Central America which led to land erosion, the soil being washed away, agricultural crisis, poverty, violence, and all these things. They ended up back in the United States. And so, I feel like it’s kind of coming full circle in a way that is in all of our secrets that we know in some way, or we are complicit in this secret because we set it in motion.
Diane: And here we are with COVID as a result of deforestation and loss of habitat. I think that it’s fascinating to me that you talk about starting the story as the personal one where Katie and Daniella are implicit in witnessing what is a crime. To me, it is much more a personally felt book than it is a didactic book. Yes, there’s a lot of exploration into the history and the interactions that you just described in El Salvador, but it’s by no means a political diatribe. There’s a lot of humanity.
I do want to give listeners a background for your career. As a Boston-based journalist, Julie Carrick Dalton has published more than 1000 articles in the Boston Globe, Electric Literature Business Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. She contributes to the Chicago Review of Books, Dead Darlings, Writer Unboxed, and the Grubstreet Writers Blogs, A Tin House Alum. Dalton was a finalist in the Santa Fe Writers Project literary awards program.
She holds a master’s in literature and creative writing from Harvard Extension School. You say you grew up in Maryland and on a military base in Germany. As an adult, you bounced around from Seattle to Dallas to Virginia before finding your true home in Boston where you’ve lived for more than 20 years. A mom to four kids and two dogs. You also own and operate the 100-acre organic farm you mentioned in rural New Hampshire and the back end. It’s the backdrop for Waiting for the Night Song, your debut novel.
There’s a second novel, The Last Beekeeper, that’s going to be released in 2022. We can learn more about that at your website, juliecarrickdalton.com. I wondered about the insider and outsider mentality. We mentioned the Garcias immigrants and their very honest motives for coming here. They’re still the outsider status and even little Katie with her flame-red curls and her shyness. She’s an only child. She’s quite a loner by necessity. She has a dog fryer.
But there’s Daniela, who is a member of the Garcia family. She’s the more confident one. She’s the braver one but she ends up having a heart, too. That’s thankful because, in the beginning, I wasn’t too sure about that. If you talk a little bit about how witnessing this crime impacted Katie’s life? What were some of the offshoots from that in the way you developed her character?
Julie: That’s a complicated question because I wrestled with that as I was writing it. It wasn’t something that I knew what the ramifications are going to be for her when I started the story. I think that she carries some guilt. What I liked about the story is that this thing that this crime that they choose to cover up at the time that they’re making this decision. It seems like the right thing to do in turn for 11 and 12-year-old girls. This decision seems like there’s logic to it.
It seems like the only safe thing to do. As adults looking back, they may not feel the same way about it but they have to live with this decision they made as children. That’s kind of a universal feeling in a lot of people having to live with decisions that we made in a different chapter in our life. It’s like, “Are we still the same person who made that decision? And do we still bear the guilt of that decision?” I think Katie bears responsibility because she’s carrying more of the secret than Danielle knows. Danielle doesn’t know a full part of the story.
Katie’s bearing a lot of not just guilt and maybe shame but also bearing responsibility for other people. If she comes forward, she’s putting someone else in jeopardy. There’s not a clear right or wrong in this situation. I think there’s a lot of cases in the story where people make decisions whether it isn’t obvious right or wrong. This seems to be right and wrong on both sides. And so, as Katie grows up, I think she’s carrying this weight around with her.
I mentioned several times that she thinks of it as a stone in her stomach that inside of her that she kind of tucked away and tried to hide and not look at this shame, and try to live with it because she feels like it’s her only choice to carry this burden. Other characters in the story are also carrying these secrets that they, all for different reasons, believe they’re doing it for a good cause or a good reason or at least a partially good reason. So, I didn’t want anybody to come out looking like a hero, a savior, or a villain like they’re all complicated and they’re trying to do the best they can.
Diane: It’s sophisticated writing as a result. It’s much more fascinating writing as a result. Interestingly, Katie also collects stones that she’s building a Karen in her house. I think that’s somehow symbolic. We have to pause for a commercial break now. We’ll come back and we’ll be speaking with Julie Carrick Dalton about her fascinating book, Waiting for the Night Song. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back.
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You are listening to Dropping In with Diane Dewey. We’d love to hear from you. If you have a question or comment about the show, send us an email to diane@dianedewey com. That’s diane@dianedewey com. Now, back to Dropping In.
Diane: Welcome back, everyone. We’re here with Julie Carrick Dalton, the author of Waiting for the Night Song. It is a compelling new novel that does talk about the impact of climate change on our home Earth and also an internal home, a home that we feel inside. It is maybe a spiritual home, a place that we can never be rid of even if we tried. It’s so wonderful speaking with you, Julie. When you wrote this book, what was the significance to you of both summertime and the time of Katy and Danielle’s life of adolescence? What are the special aspects of those times for you as a writer?
Julie: I love exploring the world of young girls. Katie and her best friend, Danielle are 11 and 12 that summer. I think that’s a magical time in a young girl’s life because you’re not a teenager yet but you feel like you’re a little older than the little kids. You can see the world from both sides of the fence depending on the day. You’re a little kid but you’re craving to be an adult and to be responsible. And so, in this story, Katie and Daniela are on their own at home because their parents work during the day.
She and Daniela hang out and have all these very innocent, idyllic adventures. They get into some mischief. They’re being a little bit naughty. They’re going out on a rowboat that they’re not supposed to go out on. But there’s this element of pushing boundaries. I think kids at that age feel compelled to push and to know what it is going to be like to be a teenager or an adult and I want the responsibility.
And so, they’re pushing the boundaries. They’re doing it out in nature which is a very comfortable place to write. As the child I was, I was out in the woods. I was out playing, maybe getting into a little mischief. It feels like a great place for kids at the age to explore who they are and to imagine adventures. It was based on a friendship I had at that age. I had a friend. I am Katie in this equation and I had a friend named Stephanie who was a little cooler than me. We just kind of ran wild in the summer.
The dynamics between the two girls are very much based on the friendship I had with this friend, Stephanie, growing up. It is not the content or the plot but the way we were together, the way we talked together. A lot of times when I was writing, I would imagine what would I have said to Stephanie with this happening? Or how would Stephanie have reacted in this situation? So, the relationship is kind of a lovely way to reminisce on a friendship that mattered a lot to me when I was at age.
Diane: It’s like a kind of retrieval. People would be regulatory now to find out as a kid that your parents let you run free and you were roaming all over the place and having adventures. I think kids have a lot more programs now. There’s so much a sense of you can’t go too far because this and that might happen and you kind of grow up with a different sensation that the world might not be a safe place where for better or worse, we ended up.
I shared in the best possible way a lot of the sense of liberation of these girls. I grew up also on thin summers on the Chesapeake Bay. I related to this sense of liberation, almost shoving off in the dinghy. You could just feel yourself going away from land, going away from parents, going away from authority, pushing an exploratory boundary, an edge that maybe kids don’t have so much anymore. Do you see that?
Julie: I do. I have four kids myself. I regret that they never had that level of freedom. We spend a lot of time outside. We live on a lake. The farm is on a lake in New Hampshire and they spent a lot of time in the water. They know those woods. They know that lake that I’m describing but they didn’t know it with the freedom that Katie had. There were no days that I let my kids go off at breakfast and I didn’t see them till dinner.
That wasn’t part of the way people raised kids these days. I do regret that on their behalf that they didn’t have it. They had a level of freedom but it was different from mine. I think that they had more organized activities than I did as a kid. I think that’s pretty typical. I was raised in the 70s and 80s. I don’t think that there are many kids today that experienced that at least not kids who live in suburban settings.
Diane: Absolutely. I think it’s something that we keep as a kind of a little secret, like a secret regret experience because it’s impossible to explain those feelings of running free. I think it’s very fundamental. In the sense of nerdiness, Katie is a kind of scientist in her methodology of looking at things, and collecting things, and preserving things. You also describe yourself as Katie. I didn’t realize until I read your book that being flame-haired when we say ginger it’s like, “Wow, that’s a cool thing.” I think the flame-haired was something different.
Julie: My hair isn’t as flaming red as I described Katie’s but I do have red hair. It is not something that people didn’t say that with love when I was growing up, necessarily. But for Katie, I describe her skin and she feel her skin is translucent. She can see the veins under her skin and the freckles on her skin. That’s something I was always very aware of as a child. I had that nerdy side. A couple of kids in my neighborhood formed a science club.
We were in elementary school and I thought it was going to be the hottest thing but it was just me and these two boys. Nobody else showed up. I guess that was where I discovered I was a nerd in all the best ways because it followed me. I went to college as a biochemistry major. I ended up graduating with a journalism degree but not because I didn’t love sciences. It is because I loved telling stories. I realized that I could share other people’s stories as a journalist.
This is not my love for science. It never went away. I just read on my own. I ended up buying a farm and having to study agriculture on my own. I ended up going back to school and got a certificate in sustainable agriculture from Tufts University here in Boston. And so, I feel like I’ve always been a scientist storyteller in some capacity. That little kid’s nerdiness never really went away.
Diane: The scientist’s storyteller is going to be an ever-increasing increasingly important role. It is because, without these personal stories, science doesn’t necessarily come alive in the way that it does when you meet people who are living it. I think that that’s one of the gifts of this book, Waiting for the Night Song. You also talk about kinds of signs from nature.
The sun is blocked by the clouds. The wind shifts. There are feelings of turbulence in the water. There’s a lot of inner connectivity with nature. I wonder if you feel that and whether you think that sort of at a quantum physics level? Do you feel that we are interrelated with the natural world in ways that we’re not quite aware of?
Julie: I do. I think that we have this particularly in the United States and North America. We are very self-centered and focused on what our thing affects us. We’re just one of the millions of species on this planet. We happen to have the most impact on it. In the grand scheme of things, are we any more important than a beetle or a songbird that’s going endangered? We’re just one species on this rapidly spinning planet.
I think when we think about it in that context, it makes me feel that we should be considering all parts of nature, not just the parts that affect us. There’s a beetle that you had referenced earlier that Katie is an entomologist. She tried to prove that this invasive beetle has moved into the forest which could have implications of killing off trees and a potential forest fire. Somebody asked me about the beetle and called it like her villain or her nemesis that she’s trying to track down. I said, no. The beetle is not the villain.
The beetle is just another part of nature that’s trying to survive. It’s trying to find a nice neighborhood to raise kids in a place with food and safe to have babies just like we all are. The invasive beetle has just as much claim to the land as we do, which I think is a way we don’t generally look at nature. We think of it in the context of controlling it or manipulating it or how it is working for us or against us when we should be just a part of this big evolving ecosystem. The book title, Waiting for the Night Song, the song refers to a songbird and it’s a bird that’s endangered.
We have this flux of species moving in, species moving out, species fighting to hold their ground on this little tiny piece of land, in this little town in the mountains of New Hampshire. I feel like we are all living in a closer connection to our environment. We acknowledge that we realize on a day-to-day basis. I think that we should maybe always be thinking about it. It’s like we don’t own nature. This isn’t here for our enjoyment. We’re part of it.
Diane: Many indigenous tribes found it completely ludicrous that the white man owned land. How can you own land? It’s like owning the sky or something like that. It’s another element. It’s something that we tend and it’s not ours to bend our will. I also love that the emblem is this bird. I’m sorry to hear that it’s endangered.
It also requires listening to nature because the beetle, after all, is only a signal that’s trying to say, “Wait a minute. If I’m in your presence, that’s a signal to you.” If you choose to pay attention that these odd migrations are occurring and it’s going to impact you through wildfires through all kinds of things that have become regular terrors of our existence, until you go back to the micro, you kind of miss the signals, right? You missed the subtext of what’s going on.
You talk about Katie and her desire to sometimes disappear in the woods, disappear as an entomologist up in the trees looking for these beetles. I wondered about that feeling of disappearing and appearing, wanting to stake a claim as a scientist for her University findings and wanting to disappear in nature. Is that also a dynamic that you relate to? Is it one that you’ll continue to reveal in your further writing?
Julie: Nobody has ever asked me that question. Thank you. I do feel like Katie wants her science and her research to be her. What does she leave in this world? It is her work. She doesn’t want to be out in front of things. When there’s a thing that happens where another scientist in the story creates the hashtag with Katie’s name in it that has to do with this research, she’s kind of mortified because that is not what she never wanted to be the poster child for a movement. She just wants to find this insect and understand this insect.
She’s also longing for this little songbird that nobody else is missing. It’s very nondescript. It’s a real bird. It’s called Bicknell’s Thrush. It’s leaving the New Hampshire Forest because its habitat in the Caribbean is being destroyed. There is deforestation and hurricanes in the Caribbean. When it migrates south, in the winter, it’s dying because its habitat is disappearing. So, it comes back every year in smaller numbers. It’s such a teeny, tiny gray bird and nobody’s up in arms.
It’s not like we’re talking about bears, or moose, or something noticeable but Katie notices. And so, I feel like she doesn’t want to be seen. I don’t think I feel that way necessarily. I don’t feel like I have that desire to disappear into nature but I do love to talk about it. I love to bring other people into the conversation about nature. I think there’s a whole lot of me indicating but I don’t think we share that quality.
Diane: I also linked anonymity to her witnessing the crime and being traumatized by it because part of you does want to disappear, right? She talks about it. She wants to kind of flee herself because she’s seen something horrific. This ability to disappear is we don’t have it right now because we can’t disappear into a crowd until COVID is contained. We were just constantly present.
Sometimes there is that craving of going to just rub shoulders with people and disappear into a noisy bar, or a concert hall, or Aleatoric concert, or something where you feel like you lose yourself into something greater. I also felt her desire to make a connection with the summer boy. It was part of her. She needs to reach out of her loneliness. They start quite a lovely communication, she and the summer boy.
Do you think that trust is thematic in your book? She doesn’t know him. She’s not too sure about Danielle. She’s not sure about herself. Is trusting yourself, trusting people, and the question of whether you should trust people, is something that occurred to you as you were writing these characters?
Julie: I don’t think it was something that I was consciously thinking about. We talked about all these secrets that they’re all carrying. When do you trust someone with your biggest secrets? There’s a scene in the book where Katie and Daniella swap their biggest secrets. They’re important secrets that they’re sharing. They are having to carry each other’s secrets from thereon.
And so, when you give someone something really important to you, you’re trusting them to hold that close. I think that in the relationship with the summer kids, when Katie is reaching out to him and she’s sharing the books that she loves which are meaningful to her, she’s sharing a treasured object with this boy. She leaves these books on her pier. It becomes a vehicle for communication between these two kids who don’t know each other. She’s sharing something about herself.
When she chooses a book, she’s getting him, that was me choosing the books that I loved as a child and me choosing to share them with you. I think that when you share a book with someone when you recommend a book or you hand someone a book you’ve already read, there’s an element of saying, “I value this book and I hope you do too.” I’m sharing a piece of who I am with you by sharing this book with you.
So, I love that that’s how their relationship started because it was very difficult for me to narrow down the list of books that the kids shared. I initially had 40 books that I wanted her to deliver to the boy. The titles that I came up with are the books that shaped me. It was Swiss Family, Robinson, Are you there God?, It’s me, Margaret, The Outsiders, and all these books that need me to be the girl that I became the woman and the reader that I am now. There’s a lot of trusts and like exposing yourself to someone.
Diane: Totally. There’s intimacy involved. One hopes that someone is going to read a book that you share with someone. I think that is the most disheartening thing when you find out your friend has not read your book and is not returning it. There’s a lot at stake when you do that. We need to pause for a commercial break. When we come back, we’re going to continue speaking with Julie Carrick Dalton, author of Waiting for the Night Song. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back on Dropping In.
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Diane: Welcome back, everyone. We’re here with Julie Carrick Dalton. She is a writer whose journalistic past, Julie, has informed your novel writing because there’s such great detail as a person who’s written what I think of now that reviews have been wonderful and acclaim for this book, Waiting for the Night Song. You get characterized and you get compared to other authors and that’s annoying because there’s a kind of compartmentalization there. Since you bring together so many elements, climate change, adolescence, the summer of being, and coming into the world, how would you describe yourself as a writer?
Julie: A lot of the writing is very steep. I don’t know which one is more important. I think that you always have to have a compelling story and characters that make someone want to read a book. I feel like my biggest obligation to my characters, to my story, and to my readers are to create a plot and a story that people want to read. But underneath that, I have things I want to say about nature and the environment and our responsibility but that’s never going to be at the forefront.
I don’t want anybody to ever pick up my book thinking they’re going to get a lesson on ecology because that’s not that kind of book but those themes are in there. A lot of people have been using the term climate fiction in the past several years. This is an emerging category of fiction. Sometimes people when you say climate fiction or some people call it CliFi like sci-Fi but climate fiction. I think a lot of people think of it as a science fiction category which it can be. There’s a lot of disaster fiction that engages climate change.
I think of myself as a contemporary writer that engages climate change in my literature. I think first and foremost, I want to do right on my characters. I want to treat them with all the dignity and respect and love I feel for them when I’m writing it. I do have things I want the reader to take away. I’ll give you one little tiny example that a reviewer was writing a review of my book right after it came out. The review started out saying, “I’m not interested in climate change. I don’t pay attention to the news.”
I was bracing myself for them to hate my book. And then they said, “But I love the characters and I love the plot.” And because I cared about the characters, I cared about what happened to them. And by the end of the book, I cared about climate change. For me, it was the best review I’ve ever had of my book. It is a book blogger.
It was not a national media source but it meant that someone cared enough about my writing and my story to go along for the ride and that it changed them in a way. So, I think there’s a lot of power and fiction to do that. If you write a good story with honest characters, people are invested in it. It’s like a Trojan horse. You can maybe slip a message in there somewhere, maybe it’ll change someone.
Diane: I think that’s the ultimate compliment that the reviewer posited because I do think we care about Katie. She’s been riding this high handle banana seat bicycle over to Danielle and all around. She said it’s so clear. It’s so nerdy. It’s so off. You find out later when she’s moving her things that she had a new bicycle seat. She had one pristine and would look groovy and cool but she just kept the old one there.
There’s something so endearingly imperfect about her. I agree that Katie hooks you. I think that the way you explored and unearthed her character shows writer style, one there that is character-driven for one thing and also shifting back and forth between nature, the natural world, climate change, and its issues. If we could just talk about nature without climate change, that’d be nice, too but we can’t any longer. It’s not feasible.
Julie: There’s a rider. I can’t remember his name. I’m embarrassed. I can’t remember this now. He said to make us want to save the world, we have to make people care about it first. You can’t just walk into a room and say climate change goes out in the Street in March. It’s not going to motivate anybody to tell them what to do.
You need to show them the world and make them fall in love with the world. That will make people want to save it because they love it. That’s what I want to do with my fiction. I want people to fall in love with nature the way I did as a child, the way Katie did. And if that changes someone’s attitude about it, that’s great because you just need to fall in love with it before you can care about it.
Diane: You do. You need to connect the dots. I think both are very worthwhile. On the subject of memory, there is in the book which I’m so thankful for, there wasn’t a table of contents. I find those to be pages that could be torn out easily and never exist in the first place because you’re not referring to them ever. But it also suggests that time is going on logically. It’s linear which it’s not. You’re just constantly going back and forth between your childhood memory and your present-day circumstance and how you got there. You’re constantly referring back and forth.
It’s also nice that you’re shifting back and forth in time throughout this book. In the end, you explore the idea of cause and effect whether we can have regrets, whether we can live with the idea of regret, or do we make peace with what we’ve done in our lives? Garrett, the summer boy, says if that hadn’t happened, this wouldn’t happen. It could go on an obsessive string. I wonder if you consciously or unconsciously wanted to deliver that as part of a character aspect that comes to terms, coming to the ground, coming to peace with her life as Katie does.
Julie: I thought about that a lot, very consciously. This idea that I mentioned earlier about, are we the same person that we were 30 years ago? Am I still responsible for a decision that my childhood self-made because I’m such a different person now? And that was a question that constantly came up in my mind for all of these characters. Are they still the same person who made that decision? There’s a moment where Delores, Danielle’s mother, towards the end of the book she and Katie are having a conversation.
I’m probably not going to say this exactly verbatim. She said something about the fact that you aren’t your worst mistake. It’s what you choose to do after those matters. You can’t judge someone at one moment in time. Even when they do something awful, you can judge someone by what they do afterward. I think if you look at the characters in my book and trace what they did after these pivotal moments and decisions, some of them were not good decisions, even people who are good people make bad decisions.
What do you do with that knowledge? Do you make good choices for the rest of your life? Do you hide? Do you try to redeem yourself by doing good works in the world? Do you try to pretend it never happened? And I think my characters all handle it a little bit differently and find different levels of self-forgiveness depending on how they handled it.
Diane: I don’t think that Katie would be able to come back home. A lot happens in this book. I’m so glad we’ve completely left everyone in suspense because so much happens that we haven’t talked about. I’m very proud of ourselves, Julie, that we’ve managed to not allude to the big things but there are big things that happen in this book.
There are several. Julie comes home and she knows that she’s going to drop anchor there, that she’s going to have her collection of stones. She has found a kind of an internal home that it doesn’t seem possible that she could find without granting herself a measure of peace for everything that has happened there before. Is that true?
Julie: I do. I think that we are hardest on ourselves. I think in most life cases, it’s easier to forgive someone else who’s harmed us than for us to forgive ourselves for harming someone else if that makes sense. I think that we hold ourselves to hiring standards if we do to other people in a lot of cases. I think for Katie to be able to visualize the future is an important step for her.
As you had mentioned earlier, she thinks about disappearing about hiding and she collects these rocks that she fantasizes about. Maybe one day when I build a home, these rocks will be the skirt around the heart in the house I’m going to build one day. But she’s never tried to build that house. She can’t imagine a future. And so, I think even her ability to speculate on the future is an element of her maybe letting go or coming to terms with her past self a little bit.
Diane: Absolutely. We mentioned at the outset that you are continuing and you have a next book, The Last Beekeeper. It turns out that due to all these seismic shifts, it will be delayed in its release. Correct me if I’m wrong. I am capable of reading too much into things. I do feel as though like The Last beekeeper, it conjures hives in the beekeepers.
Hives, there our home like this is our home. Earth is our home. We’re the keeper of it and then it’s the last beekeeper. And so, you sort of gas a little bit. We only have a minute to go before we have to close. Any other message there about the next book and what you think people should look for?
Julie: Well, I’m glad you’re intrigued by the title. I love the title. It is set very soon. I keep bees. This is very personal to me. I’ve lost a lot of bees. I was inspired by the death of some of my bee colonies. Basically, about the relationship between a father and a daughter.
The father is one of the last beekeepers in this near-future world that I’ve set up. I introduced an element that I’m not going to tell you about that hastens the collapse of our pollinators. It’s about the relationship between these two people that are disintegrating as the bees die. Is there a chance for them to repair their relationship? Can we repair this world? It’s the best of a teaser I’ll leave you with.
Diane: I’m intrigued. I’m all in, for sure. I also commend you on leaving the Barsen for Waiting for the Night Song because the Barsen was easily one of my favorites and most endearing. There is a sense that these animals that we’re talking about do have spirits and they inhabit those spirits. We share them in some ways and certain moments. I’m very grateful that you did that. I’m very glad that you joined us today.
Julie Carrick Dalton, author of Waiting for the Night Song. I wanted to let people know that you’re on Twitter Julie C-A-R-D-A-L-T. Your website is juliecarrickdalton.com. You’re on Instagram, Julie C. Dalton. Thanks, Julie, for being with us, and thanks to our engineers, Matt Wiedner and Aaron Keller, to our executive producer, Robert Chileno, and most of all, to you, our listeners. Remember to stay safe and give your positive energy to this world until next week. Thank you for dropping in.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8 A. M. Pacific Time and 11 A.M. Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see You then.