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Sheila Dalton
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Writer Q & A (Archived) > Q and A with Sheila Dalton

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message 1: by A.F. (last edited Feb 24, 2012 05:21AM) (new)

A.F. (scribe77) | 1777 comments Mod
Please welcome author Sheila Dalton to our Q and A discussion. Sheila was born in England, but has lived in Canada, with small breaks, since she was six. She currently live in Newmarket, a town near Toronto, Ontario, where she spends her days gardening, meditating, taking care of her son and husband and two cats, cooking (she loves to cook)and writing stories.
She has worked as a barmaid in England, an art gallery assistant, a freelance editor and writer, and currently as a reference librarian in Toronto. She had a wild and woolly youth, but has been married to the same man for almost thirty years.
She has written several books, including The Girl in the Box.

Sheila's Goodreads Profile:
Sheila Dalton

Some of her books:
The Girl in the Box by Sheila Dalton Trial By Fire by Sheila Dalton Blowing Holes Through the Everyday by Sheila Dalton Bubblemania by Sheila Dalton


message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert Davidson (bocri) I stand in awe of your class of writer who can only be described as prolific. Where do you get your inspiration from for the different story lines?


message 3: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments First of all, hello, and sorry to be so late to the party! I don't know what time it is where you live, but it is 10:30 a.m. here, and I just woke up!
I'm tired because I worked late last night, and I'm 62.
Which leads me towards an answer to your question: at 62, I'm not really prolific! My first book was published when I was in my thirties, and had a small child at home. I was working as a freelance editor then, and I worked partly from home. The books I wrote were short, and I did have a number published in a row. My first novel and adult poetry collection were started in my twenties, and completed and published in my thirties.
My next long book was my YA novel, Trial by Fire, and that was published twelve years ago.
And then there was nothing until The Girl in the Box!
And now to your question about ideas - some come from my life - the situation in Trial by Fire, for example, and some of the ideas behind Tales of the Ex-FireEater, my first novel. Some came from watching my child - the picture books mostly came from seeing what he was interested in when he was little. Also, working as a freelance editor in the children's field, I got a sense of what was not yet available that I knew he would enjoy - and went from there.
Hope that answers your question.
Sheila


message 4: by Germaine (new)

Germaine Shames (germaineshames) | 17 comments What part does theme play in your writing? Do you find certain themes echoed throughout your body of work or is each book a fresh exploration?


message 5: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Hi, everyone.
I'll be in and out today. I have to go to the gym, and out shopping for ingredients so I can make my mom a fruit loaf in my bread machine. She's 91, and I just found out I have to visit her tomorrow, as her regular caregiver can't make it.
So tomorrow I will be offline for part of the day, but I will check in the morning and early afternoon to see if there are any questions, and then later in the evening when I get back home. There is no wireless available at her condo.
So please ask your questions as soon as you like.
On Sunday, the last day of the Q & A, I will be working part of the day at the library in Toronto. I'll be able to check Goodreads while I'm on the ref. desk. Shame on me, but Sundays tend to be slow anyway,and I do get breaks!
I'm so looking forward to hearing from you!
Sheila


message 6: by A.F. (new)

A.F. (scribe77) | 1777 comments Mod
I'm curious as to what inspired you to write your book, The Girl in the Box. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my wishlist.


message 7: by Sheila (last edited Feb 24, 2012 08:27AM) (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Thanks, A.F.
A number of things inspired the book. First and foremost was a visit to Guatemala during the Civil War there - which went on for decades, by the way.
The breathtaking beauty of Guatemala also made a deep impression, as did encounters with the Maya.
I traveled with a girlfriend, with no itinerary. We were young and naive and determined to experience the "real" Guatemala. We really didn't know what we were doing. We certainly had no idea of the extend of the violence. We were lucky to survive intact, and we learned a lot in the process.
I was also inspired by some of the young autistic patients of my sister, a therapist. I met these children in her home, as they waited before and after their sessions. They were often beautiful children with an other-worldly air about them.
Then I made a good friend in an extremely intelligent and decent psychoanalyst, plus I read accounts of children with mental and emotional problems in Third World countries where there was often no care available to their impoverished parents.
Another man I knew, a manic-depressive professor, a brilliant and frightening man, also ended up in the book, not directly as a character, but some of his ideas made an impression on me.
My own experiences with Buddhism and meditation were another influence.
The list goes on! I also have to give credit to some of the wonderful books I have read that manage to combine a great plot with some serious literary writing. Reading these books made me want to write something similar of my own.
Sheila


message 8: by Marianne (new)

Marianne Wheelaghan (httpwwwgoodreadscomMarianneW) | 88 comments Hi Sheila,
like AF I have The Girl In The Box on my to-read list and looking forward to reading it. I'm also curious to know what inspired you to write this book specifically, and YA generally. I also wanted to ask about themes in your writing but I see Germaine has asked about that, so I'll wait to read your response to her :)


message 9: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Germaine wrote: "What part does theme play in your writing? Do you find certain themes echoed throughout your body of work or is each book a fresh exploration?"

Hi, Germaine
Themes are strange things, to me, anyway. They can be elusive to the rational part of my mind, and just show up when and where they choose in my books. Yes, I do find these themes showing up quite often, but I do not consciously plan that they will.
Themes of injustice and power are two that I am conscious of, and in at least three of my books - Trial by Fire, Tales of the Ex-FireEater and The Girl in the Box - I knew I wanted to write about them. They are issues that prey on my mind.
But I also seem to write a lot about love, and how our minds work, and how we misinterpret each other and the world - and I only became aware I was doing this in retrospect.
I'm not sure, now, how realizing I do this will affect future work.
I do think that what I write will still be a fresh take on whatever themes are present, as I am always learning and changing my own perspective slightly in response to what I have learned.
Thank you for the question.
Sheila


message 10: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne Bannon (goodreadscomjbannon) | 30 comments Hi Sheila, first, as you know, I've already read The Girl in the Box and LOVED it! I'd like to know how long it takes you, generally, to write a book. And what are you working on now?

Thanks!
Jeanne


message 11: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Marianne wrote: "Hi Sheila,
like AF I have The Girl In The Box on my to-read list and looking forward to reading it. I'm also curious to know what inspired you to write this book specifically, and YA generally. I a..."


Hi, Marianne
I've answered Germaine now!
A.F. also asked about what inspired The Girl in the Box, and I've answered her, too.
The Girl in the Box is a novel for adults. The only YA I wrote is Trial by Fire. It was inspired by things my husband told me about this Cree father. I wanted to say something to young people about prejudice, and though the book did well, I never felt drawn to writing YA again. I may in future, who knows? But I started as a writer for adults, and I seem to feel most comfortable in that role. Though I still love picture books, and may write some more of them some day.
I did a number of presentations and workshops with teens after Trial by Fire came out, but I felt a bit a sea. I wasn't a happy teen myself, and that is part of why I wanted to write something that might make an "outsider" feel better about him or herself, but when I met modern teens I found I didn't feel very connected to them and wasn't sure I was in tune with what they were looking for.
Hope that answers your questions, and thanks for asking them!
Sheila


message 12: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Jeanne wrote: "Hi Sheila, first, as you know, I've already read The Girl in the Box and LOVED it! I'd like to know how long it takes you, generally, to write a book. And what are you working on now?

Thanks!
Jeanne"

Hello, Jeanne! Good to hear from you on here.
You and I are, so far, poles apart in the time it takes us to write! I understand your YA novel, Invisible, came to you very quickly, whereas The Girl in the Box, took me ten years to complete!
Generally, though, I do work a bit faster than that. I think Trial by Fire took me about 3 years; Tales of the Ex-FireEater might have taken 5. The poetry collecton, Blowing Holes Through the Everyday, was composed of poems I wrote over about 15 years; but poetry collections are different. Individual poems take me several weeks, usually, but that is partly because I'm always working on prose at the same time.
Picture books are surprisingly difficult but, like poems, take only a few weeks, usually. The actual writing time is shorter, but I'm one of those writers who have to put things away for a while, then come back to them, to see them clearly.
When I leave the library - soon - I think books will come much faster. Also, as I've grown in confidence, I've stopped second-guessing and scaring myself out of trying, at least a little!
Sheila


message 13: by Mari (new)

Mari Mann (marimann) | 45 comments Sheila~

I just started reading The Girl in the Box and while it is disturbing, I am enjoying it and think your writing is exceptionally evocative and insightful. I am particularly attracted to your Maya descriptions (the people and the place); I have never been there but I have a Master's in Mayan art and architecture and have always felt drawn to the place. I would like to hear more about your impressions from your visit and how you worked them into your book. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!


message 14: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne Bannon (goodreadscomjbannon) | 30 comments Thanks, Sheila. Get crackin' on that next book!

Jeanne


message 15: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Mari wrote: "Sheila~

I just started reading The Girl in the Box and while it is disturbing, I am enjoying it and think your writing is exceptionally evocative and insightful. I am particularly ..."

Hi, Mari
I wish you lived close by and we were friends, because I would love to learn more about your studies in Mayan art!
Guatemala was so incredibly beautiful, especially around Lake Atitlan, where my friend and I stayed in a small hotel - the same one described in the book. The restaurant was real, too, as was the hippie clientele. I suppose I belonged to that group in those days, too.
When I sat down to write Girl, these impressions and memories just naturally fitted in. I think that atmosphere and setting affect us humans more than we realize, and I suppose that sense of how we can be changed by where we are just naturally showed up in the writing. You will see, when you get to the parts set in the Arctic, how strongly I feel that's the case.
I hope you get to Guatemala some day. Seeing Mayan architecture in situ is an incredible experience. You would be especially sensitive to it, I'm sure.
Once, while there, I accidentally stepped into the middle of a ritual enacted by the Maya on some temple ruins. It left quite an impression on me.
Thanks for your kind words about Girl. I'm glad you're enjoying it, and hope you continue to like it a you read.
Sheila


message 16: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Jeanne wrote: "Thanks, Sheila. Get crackin' on that next book!

Jeanne"


LOL! And you keep going on Dark Angel! Or else! ;)


message 17: by Marianne (new)

Marianne Wheelaghan (httpwwwgoodreadscomMarianneW) | 88 comments Thanks, Shelia. Really intrigued now and so looking forward to reading The Girl. I love the title by the way. Think it does what a good title should do, it's intriguing, not baffling, hints at what's to come ( a girl being in a box cannot be good news no matter what). This coupled with the cover makes for a gripping-cum- intriguing impression. Did you always have the title or was it something you had to work at? Thanks again - oh, one more thing, I am assuming you created the title, but did you have any say over the cover design?


message 18: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Marianne wrote: "Thanks, Shelia. Really intrigued now and so looking forward to reading The Girl. I love the title by the way. Think it does what a good title should do, it's intriguing, not baffling, hints at what..."

Hi again, Marianne.
For some reason, I always had that title. When I learned there was another book, a popular YA, with the same title, I wanted to change it, but the publisher suggested I keep it. I'm glad they did, because I really do like it.
As for the cover, which I also like very much, the publisher asked me to send any pictures I thought might be suitable, I guess to get an idea of what I had in mind. Then they proceeded to ignore all of them, LOL!
The cover picture - a stock photo - is the first one they sent for me to consider. I loved it right away, except I was a little concerned because I thought the girl looked nude, and also Asian rather than Mayan. They told me she wasn't naked (you can see a tank top strap) and they didn't think it was an issue. They also said they would make her skin browner.
In the book, I had originally described Inez as having short, spiky hair. They asked me to consider changing that, and I did, because, on reflection, how would her parents, who are very poor, have cut her hair, except perhaps with a machete? That's the only change I made.
The cover is more symbolic than literal, so I was quite happy with it.
Most people really like it. However, to my surprise, I've had two negative responses to it. One came from a fellow librarian, a man, who said he was embarrassed to be seen on the subway with it, because the girl was nude, and you could see her "girl parts" through her legs! I told him he had a lively imagination, as you can see precisely nothing! However I was concerned as he also said he found the cover "sexual" and that was the last thing I wanted - to exploit Inez! However, I even blogged about it, and the response was that he was either prurient or a prude, and I tend to agree.
The other response was in a review where the objection was to the "lipstick" and "makeup" the girl was wearing, which is not the case, at least not in my view! And that the cover was "significant" because of what it left out - her feet were too clean, her hair was too shiny -
I thought this was hogwash. I had always seen the cover as symbolic and, besides, the Inez on the cover is not necessarily the girl as she was first found. She could be anywhere, and the picture could be from after she was rescued and "cleaned up" if you want to get literal about it! She could still be crouched, looking sad, somewhere. The traumas she had experienced could not be "washed away" as easily as the dirt in her hair and on her skin!
Sheila


message 19: by Marianne (new)

Marianne Wheelaghan (httpwwwgoodreadscomMarianneW) | 88 comments Thanks, Shelia. There is so much involved, isn't there, in getting a book out there? And I agree a cover isn't necessarily a literal snap shot summary of the book, it's a symbolic suggestion, hint or a clue as to what's to come. Phew! You've done a great job. You're work is done, until the next on ;O)


message 20: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Marianne wrote: "Thanks, Shelia. There is so much involved, isn't there, in getting a book out there? And I agree a cover isn't necessarily a literal snap shot summary of the book, it's a symbolic suggestion, hint ..."
The "next" is an historical fiction set in 18th century England called, "My Life as a Kept Woman and Most Peculiar Pirate". I've really enjoyed working on it, but now I'm stuck!
Never mind. Just part of the process, I guess.
Take care, and thanks for your interest in my book.


message 21: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Hi, Nadine. Thanks for the questions!
The question about titles is hard to answer, because usually they just come to me in a way that is unconscious, and therefore hard to describe! But I do "vet" them, picking out the ones that seem to fit best, and that's something that is more of a rational process. I'd say I always look for something that sounds intriguing, and also sounds "good" to the ear when you say it out loud to yourself. It should have a certain "ring" to it, ideally. Also, the title should reflect the contents of the book, but it doesn't have to be totally literal - at least, not IMO. In my book, the girl is kept in a shed, not a literal box, but the shed is windowless and small, and when the doctor first sees it, he thinks of a box.
The title of my YA mystery, Trial by Fire, seems to fit exactly, and that's why I like it. However, it's not very original, and I had concerns about that. The publisher reassured me that it fit so well, originality was not a concern, so I guess it's good to keep that in mind, too, when you're searching for a title. It doesn't have to be totally unique, as long as it fits, and sounds good!
I don't always find the perfect title, but what I aim for is something intriguing, above all. The title of the historical novel I'm currently working on is "Slavery in Black and White: My Life as a Kept Woman and Most Peculiar Pirate", so you can see that being brief isn't one of my criteria!
The question about plotting is one I can relate to. Filling out the middle of a book can be hard. What to include, what to leave out? The main advice I can give is to include episodes and events that move the plot towards the conclusion, creating suspense and drama in the process. In other words, leave out scenes of the everyday unless they are important to the overall plot and character development, and focus on things that show your characters in action in ways that are important to your story.
Thinking of it this way might help - you have the beginning, and you know the end. But how do the characters get to that end? What do they have to do to make that end happen?
It's never easy. But try to make sure every scene has some purpose to it, and try to create drama in every scene. It doesn't have to be over-the-top drama, it can be something fairly small, but ideally it should be a situation that needs to be resolved, and carries the reader along, as she or he wonders how it will turn out.
That's the ideal. I don't always achieve it, but it's something to aim for.
Hope that helps, and thanks for your interest.
Sheila


message 22: by Mia (new)

Mia Darien (mia_darien) Hi, Sheila!

I'm afraid I haven't yet read "The Girl in the Box," so I can't ask as in depth a question as I might like to otherwise, but from reading the description, I wondered. Did you find it at all difficult to write the psychological aspects? Having taken some psychology in college and worked with my own psychological aspects of writing, I'm curious about how you handled that as you wrote. I read in your earlier answer about your sister's patients and the psychoanalyst friend, but I'm curious how you felt working it into the story. I imagine it must have been difficult, wanting to get it right and be true but balance the needs of the narrative? (I'm hoping I'm not accidentally asking something that has already been asked/answered that I missed!)

Mia


message 23: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Mia wrote: "Hi, Sheila!

I'm afraid I haven't yet read "The Girl in the Box," so I can't ask as in depth a question as I might like to otherwise, but from reading the description, I wondered. Did you find it a..."


Hi, Mia
Before I wrote the book, I had read a lot of psychology (I studied it as a minor at university, but I learned a lot more about it after I graduated).
Working it into the book didn't feel like a problem. It came naturally as part of who Jerry (the psychoanalyst) was, and the back-and-forth on psychological approaches and techniques between Jerry and his long-time partner Caitlin, came naturally too. It was part of their dynamic and their characters that they did not agree, and therefore it was just there, part of the novel, obvious in their conversations. I didn't have to explain theories, etc., this came out mostly in dialogue between them, and in dialogue between Jerry and his peers. He has to treat the mute girl, Inez, somehow, and therefore talks about this with his colleagues and the nurse he hires.
However, there are some who would say they don't like the overtly "psychological" parts - I read a review on Library Thing recently which was quite favourable (and fair) but objected to the middle of the book where, as he saw it, there was a long digression onto Jerry and another of his patients, and disagreements about psychiatry and psychoanalysis between Jerry and Caitlin. He did not find this part interesting, and said if readers didn't give up on the book at this point, they would find a satisfying and interesting conclusion.
However, to me, the part he described as a "digression" was absolutely central to Jerry's development, and also to understand what Jerry and Caitlin meant to each other, how they influenced and changed each other - and also to make you wonder a bit about Jerry and his motivations, to add some suspense to the narrative.
You can't please everyone. Others find these parts interesting and engrossing. Even he didn't seem to find them dry theorizing. To me, they are the core of the book, and I couldn't leave them out and be true to the story I wanted to tell.
I hope you will read the book someday and let me know what you think of how this was handled. I didn't set out to write a book about psychoanalytic techniques, they just became a necessary part of a book about a psychoanalyst in Canada in the 70's and 80's. At least, that's how it seemed to me!
Hope that answers your question. Thanks for your interest.
Sheila


message 24: by Mia (new)

Mia Darien (mia_darien) It does. Thanks!

(I almost typo'd "id does" which in this question and answer, would have been bizarrely appropriate!)

Mia


message 25: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Mia wrote: "It does. Thanks!

(I almost typo'd "id does" which in this question and answer, would have been bizarrely appropriate!)

Mia"


LOL!


message 26: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Nadine wrote: "Thanks for your advice, Sheila. It has really helped. Much appreciated! :-)

Nadine"


You're very welcome.
Sheila


message 27: by Lee (new)

Lee Holz | 70 comments I'm coming late to the party because I was, of necessity, offline until today. I've very much enjoyed reading the questions and answers in getting caught up.

I note your responses about writing from life: places, people and events. I think we all do, even if unconsciously. I think those who aspire to write "serious" fiction do so even more. Are you ever concerned that people, who you know or have known, will read themselves into your characters when, of course, you never intended to portray an real person?

Regarding themes, don't you find yourself inevitably drawn to exploring aspects of the human condition and thus to questions of psychology and morality?

I haven't begun to read The Girl in the Box, and I look forward to doing so.


message 28: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments Lee wrote: "I'm coming late to the party because I was, of necessity, offline until today. I've very much enjoyed reading the questions and answers in getting caught up.

I note your responses about writing fr..."


Interesting thoughts, Lee.
No, I don't actually worry about people mistaking themselves for my characters, because it has never happened. I guess I'm lucky, but also I find that the only characters who really bear a resemblance to anyone in real life are the characters who draw heavily on me!
What I do worry about with Girl is that psychoanalysts and/or psychologists might read it and object that I have misrepresented either their profession or their theories.
I drew heavily on the history of psychochiatry in Canada in the 70's and before. It was quite a controversial time, and there was lots to draw on. Then there was "my" generation's fascination with people like Lang.
Yes, I do find that psychology and morality figure quite a lot and quite naturally in themes. If you think about the human condition at all, you're going to thing about issues like that, IMO. And not always in conventional ways, of course. What do we mean by morality? is a favourite thought of mine, and I tend to question what we automatically define as "good" and "bad".
Thanks for your intelligent questions. I hope you read The Girl in the Box someday, and let me know your impressions.
Sheila


message 29: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 25 comments NYKen wrote: "Good evening Sheila. I hope your weekend went well. I would like to ask you two questions if I may.

1] In your opinion, how would you define hope?

2] Are people born good writers?

Thanks for you..."

Interesting and unusual questions, NYKen. I doubt if my answers will be anywhere near as fascinating or unique.
1. Hope is believing things could work out better.
2. Some people might be born good writers, but seeing as language is learned and acquired, not innate except for the fact that we have the capacity for learning it, I suspect most good writers are made, not born.
Also, although some writers do produce writing progeny, not all do, by any means.
BUT - here's where I sit on the fence - some kind of ability with words might be handed down genetically. I've seen it in families, even my own. My mom loves to read and has a good turn of phrase; my aunt was a published author; my son studied film and writes articles and reviews in his spare time, and was praised for his writing skills at University.
In other words, who know?
Sorry, not very good answers, I know!
Sheila


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