Creativity Found

Julie Carrick Dalton – from puppet shows, to pre-med, journalism, farmer and author, with a sprinkling of blueberries

January 16, 2022 Julie Carrick Dalton Episode 38
Creativity Found
Julie Carrick Dalton – from puppet shows, to pre-med, journalism, farmer and author, with a sprinkling of blueberries
Show Notes Transcript

This episode's guest, US author Julie Carrick Dalton, made an impulsive purchase a few years ago. Some people panic buy a pair of shoes or the latest electronic gadget, Julie panic bought a forest, complete with bears and moose.
Julie started her undergraduate studies as pre-med, but finished majoring in journalism, and went on to have a well-travelled life with a varied journalistic career.
Her first attempt at writing a novel resulted in one good chapter, but the rest she describes as 'very terrible'. But she didn't give up, and joined Harvard's night school program to study creative writing, and learn about the qualities you need to put into novel-writing that differ from those of writing as a journalist. 
In this episode Julie describes how Waiting for the Night Song, her now-published first novel – there is a second in the pipeline – has been inspired by the aforementioned impulsive purchase, kayaking and picking blueberries. 

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Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.uk

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Claire Waite Brown:

For this episode, I'm speaking with Julie Carrick Dalton, who made a rather impulsive and rash purchase a few years ago, which meant she had to go back to school to learn about agriculture and land management. Interestingly, though, that purchase also had a huge impact on Julie's creative endeavours, and explorations. Hi, Julie.

Unknown:

Hi. It's nice to talk with you.

Claire Waite Brown:

Thank you, you too. Roughly 14 years ago, you did something drastic and impulsive, I might say that benefited your creative endeavours. Tell me about the two paths you've been following.

Unknown:

So I've always been a writer, and I've always been interested in science. But, you know, years ago, there was a piece of property near a family home that went on the market for timber and development. It was about 102 acres of beautiful pristine forest, and a babbling brook through the woods. It was just stunning. And it was on the market to be clear cut and they were going to develop it and I had this panic moment. You know, some people might go panic shopping and melonite for a pair of shoes, I panic shop to forest, because I was terrified of losing it. We have bear and deer and moose to come through that land into our yard occasionally. And they were losing their habitat. So I bought the land and with a friend developed it into a working farm. And we saved about 92 acres of the forest which we opened up for trails for people to enjoy. So I got to learn how to appreciate a piece of land in the soil and the trees. And all that I learned when I was working the land worked its way into my book.

Claire Waite Brown:

Brilliant. We'll talk about those two things together and how they complement each other later. But let's go back to when you were a youngster when you were at school did you write creatively then?

Unknown:

Yeah, I've always been interested in storytelling. My mother owned and operated a puppet theatre, which was really fun for me because she wrote all of her own scripts and I was her assistant, I stepped to travel around with her on weekends to be backstage helping her with the puppets. And she would try out the stories on me and I actually got to do some writing when I was 10. I produced my own first puppet show. So that was my first piece of written material was a puppet show I put on when I was 10. So that was a lot of fun, that I really got into science for a long time. And I thought I wanted to go into, you know, some science field. But I even then in the background, I was always writing stories and dabbling with things and ended up going into journalism of all things. So the kind of came full circle.

Claire Waite Brown:

You said you liked science and then went into journalism. Did you start your graduate studies in journalism,

Unknown:

I did not have a very straight path was very circuitous. So I started as a pre med major in science and biochemistry. Thought I wanted to be a doctor of some sort. And my roommate was a journalist. And I was so interested in her homework and was obsessively looking over her shoulder and giving her ideas for stories to write for the school paper that I found that a love of journalism that I didn't know I had. So I double majored for a little while science and journalism. And then I realised I really just wanted to be a journalist. And I ended up changing my major to become a journalist.

Claire Waite Brown:

Amazing. I'm going to say what was your plan for after college because your plan at the beginning of college was very different. But once you've gone through the changes, what was the plan for after the studies?

Unknown:

Oh, I had big, big goals. I was going to go work for you know, the New York Times or National Geographic or something very exciting. But there's always again, circuitous routes everywhere you go Go. So I got married very young. And we moved all over the country, we moved to Seattle to Dallas, Virginia, back to Dallas and to Massachusetts. And in all these places, I got different jobs. That just led me to the next step in my career. I started with community journalism and business journalism, I accidentally became a business journalist. It was never my plan. I wrote an article when we lived in Texas dealing with some public financing of a sports stadium for the Dallas Cowboys. And it got some attention. And then everywhere I went after that every interview I had for a job, they were like, Oh, you write about public finance. And they would reference this article I wrote, and I got pigeonholed into being a business journalist, which was not my intention, I really enjoyed it, I learned a lot. I actually wrote a stock column, and a finance column papers for a while. But it was never my passion and my love. So eventually, I have four children. After my third child was born, I stopped working full time and just freelance and then I got to spread my wings a little bit, I started writing for parenting magazines and doing more human interests, features writing about real estate and the environment. And then eventually that that tug of storytelling and fiction started pulling on me. And I ended up going back to graduate school, in creative writing, I got a master's in creative writing at Harvard's Knight school programme. And it was fantastic. And that's how I learned how to be a writer. I was a great reader, I could appreciate it. But I didn't know how to write stories in a novel till I went back and started studying in it really, again, it changed course.

Claire Waite Brown:

What did you find was different than with why writing as a journalist, and then what you learned on this creative writing Master's?

Unknown:

Why had that the grammar down packed, I didn't have to worry about that I had sentence structure. And the way to tell, you know, to convey information, very concisely I really understood, but it was the creative parts. Even as a journalist, I was always drawn to the story aspects, you know, the fact parts, I wanted to know the stories about the people and the why, and the little details that stood out. And so at some point, I just found myself wanting to tell my own stories, not other people's stories, as much as I truly loved being a journalist. It was a fantastic career for me. And I do still write articles. But the creative part of coming up with a whole new story was really freeing to me because I believe that there's a lot of truth in fiction, and the way you tell a story and emotional truths in fiction that you can't, and this is going to sound strange, but you can't always get across the same truths. When you're bound by facts. So in journalism, you have to stick to the facts. But you can't speculate. You can't dig into the emotional things sometimes. Whereas in fiction, you can mine people's emotions. And I think in the end, you can can come away with more truth. In some cases.

Claire Waite Brown:

I can understand that. Although it sounds counterintuitive, I can understand. Yeah, what you mean by it? What were your first creative writings? Like? How did you find your first foray into writing a novel?

Unknown:

Well, there was this novel that no one will ever ever read. I started writing years ago, and I didn't know what I was doing this before I started studying creative writing. And it was just a terrible, very traumatic story. And I wrote about 11 chapters of it when I realised this is a very terrible book. But there was one chapter in it that I thought, well, this is actually a really lovely story. It has a lot of emotional depth to it. There's, you know, the characters are developing within this small chapter. So I worked that chapter out. And I sent it out to a magazine. And it was the first piece of fiction I ever had published was that one chapter from that horrible novel, and the rest of it will never see the light of day.

Claire Waite Brown:

Oh, well, I'm glad you got something from it. At least. I'm moving on to the next stage. You did touch on it briefly about panic buying. Why did you feel that you should be the person to buy this land? And how did how were you brave enough to do that? Because it sounds like really quite a large undertaking.

Unknown:

Yeah, it's not very logical. I mean, if you look at the facts, it was not a smart thing to do. So my grandparents owned a farm in Western Maryland, and I spent my summers there when I was little. And although the piece of land I purchase was in New Hampshire, it looked and felt a lot like the land where my grandparents farm was the types of trees, the mountains that surrounded it, it was Rocky, there was a lake and I have such beautiful memories and that I think I was really kind of being tugged on by this land, because it reminded me of my childhood. And when I went and walked through this woods when it was on the market, this beautiful August day, and the sun was shining down through these pine trees, and this little creek that runs through the woods. It had a little little wooden bridge over it and it looks like something out of a storybook. And the idea that these trees might be gone was really painful to me. And there were, you know, a lot of bear and moose and deer and all sorts of other creatures that live in those woods. I couldn't stand the idea. So I took it, we took a risk. And I will say my husband was incredibly supportive of this because there wasn't like I said, no logic to this. I have no background in agriculture. But it was the only business arrangement we could think of that made sense for this piece of land was a farm. So I have a business partner I worked with to develop the land. And we did it together, we decided how to use the land that had already been cleared for pastures and fields and trails put up a barn in a riding arena. And it was real education for me. But it was the biggest leap of faith I've ever taken to go into an endeavour that I knew nothing about, I ended up going back and getting a certificate in sustainable agriculture. During those years, we were building the farm because I wanted to understand my soil and my land and how to keep it organic and never put anything into that soil that I wouldn't want to eat. It was a big learning curve, there was a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of mistakes along the way. But in the end, I feel like I've gotten so much out of it. And every time I walk in those woods, and I see bear tracks, and I see moose tracks in those woods, that's like I want like I did, I did, what I set out to do that this land is not going to be developed in that, for me was the biggest victory was knowing that I can always go in those woods and see bear tracks.

Claire Waite Brown:

Yeah, there are still parts on there.

Unknown:

Yeah, so the land is 102 acres, and it had some existing trails in it. So I partner with the state, and the trails are open to the public. And the state maintains insurance on them so that I can open it up and the trails are spectacular. And it just it doesn't seem to me, why would I want to keep that to myself, these trails are beautiful, and they need to be seen they need to be walked on in this creek needs people to look at it and marvel at the moss on the rocks in the woods that it looks like you could just slip into a story that for me feels really good just knowing that that land is safe.

Claire Waite Brown:

I sure at some point people walking or biking, those trails will be inspired, perhaps in a similar way to the way you have been? How does your writing that you've explained you had started and written something that wasn't great, but went on and did some more studying into it? And you now have a published book? How do the two fit together? How do they fit in your everyday life that you can do both? And how did you start writing waiting for the night song and knowing that this was a good book where before they didn't think was very good?

Unknown:

Well, I didn't know if it was a good book. I just knew I wanted to write it. And I think as an author, now I have a second book coming out in a year. And I'm I've started a third book. And what I've decided is I want to write books that I would want to read. So now my intention when I start out writing a project is write something that I would want to read if it were in a bookstore. So I started writing this book because this story popped in my head and I couldn't stop thinking about it. My children and I have four kids, when they're little I would take them out on the canoe and we would go pick blueberries off of the lake where we live. And we were picking them off of berries off these open swaths of land. You know, there weren't any houses nearby. But they clearly the land must belong to someone. So at some point, my kids started asking like whose blueberries are these? Are we stealing them? Is this illegal? And everybody in New England picks blueberries off of the side of the road wherever they can find them. So I didn't feel like we were doing anything wrong. But I started making up rules for my kids saying, Oh, it's fine. If we don't get out of the canoe, we're not trespassing. And oh, if we don't take them all, it's fine. And I started realising that I was making up rules to justify bad behaviour. Now, in truth, I don't think anybody cares that we're picking a couple handfuls of blueberries, but I was creating for my children, a set of rules why it was okay to take something so I backtracked off of that, but that idea stuck in my head. And that became the launch pad for the story is about children creating a false code of ethics for themselves to justify bad behaviour. And for the kids in the book, it goes very wrong. It's about an adult who may she and her friend cover up a crime when their children and justify it by leaning on this false code of ethics that they've created. And then as adults, they have to come back home and reconcile with this very bad choice. They made his children and how it affected their whole community. But I was writing this story in the mornings of canoeing with my kids in the daytime out on the farm, you know, literally this hauling rocks and moving things and putting fences up and digging in the dirt. And all it was during the daytime was seeping into my writing. I was noticing invasive species in the land where I was farming. I add in my studies of agriculture, I learned that our growing season where my farm is has been extended by 22 days in the past century because of rising temperatures. And that's very disproportionate to a lot of areas in the country. And so I wanted to how did that affect a community when the temperature goes up? So that worked its way into my story, the invasive species there's an invasive beetle that moves in to the community to in my story, and there are species that are endangered in nature. Hampshire in my story, and it's all based on real science, because that's what I was looking at every day while I was out at the farm. So I think like the dirt that I got under my fingernails during the day, worked its way into my writing. And it became one story. So when I think about that time in my life, about writing the book, and building my farm there one story in my mind, because they fed each other I think, and I think the creativity, like while I was farming, I was also writing in my head, like, I'd be like digging or moving things into my head. I was working out plots. So they're really it's it's kind of one story to me.

Claire Waite Brown:

Yeah. And I think the science is coming back into play here.

Unknown:

Absolutely, yes. All my love of science that I kind of put aside in college, it definitely came back. As I said, I went back to school got a certificate in sustainable agriculture. But I was also just reading a lot reading about soil science, sustainable organic practices. And it can definitely reignited my interest in science. So I feel like those two things science and Creative Writing have always had a pull on me and my through my whole life, they've been tugging on each other. And this is the first time in my life, I feel like I've been able to use both of them at the same time for the same purposes. So that's pretty exciting for me.

Claire Waite Brown:

Creativity found.co.uk is the place to go to find workshops, courses, supplies, kits, and books to help you get creative. So if you're looking for your own creativity found experience, go have a browse to see what's on offer so far. And if you can help adults to find their new creative passion, please get in touch on social media, or through the contact details on the website. You've mentioned the rising temperature. Do you think that artists generally in all disciplines, not just writing have a role to play in maybe discussing climate change and reaching an audience that is currently unengaged with such topics?

Unknown:

Absolutely, that so there's an emerging John era of fiction called Climate fiction. And I wouldn't, I wouldn't actually call it a genre. It's more like a subcategory of other genres, where writers are incorporating elements of climate change and climate crisis into their stories. More and more, you're seeing in a lot of young adult fiction in thrillers and mysteries with a lot of disaster stories with a lot of fantasy novels that are using it as allegory. And then there's my like, my book is a contemporary book. It's based on real science and things that are happening in our world today. But it's showing up in romance novels and thrillers. It's pretty exciting to me. And I also notice that there are a lot more diverse voices, authors writing climate stories. And I would I don't have any data to back this up. But I think it's because, in general, you know, we look at the world. And I think there's a Western kind of mindset that climate change is coming. It's something to worry about the future, it's looming. But for a lot of places in the world, it's already here, it's happening right this minute. And in places here in the US. And in Europe, it's already happening. And it tends to be marginalised communities that get hit first and worst, that don't have the resources or maybe have land that hasn't been protected. And so the voices that are rising up telling these stories are so many indigenous authors in the United States are coming up with these amazing books, a lot of black authors, Latin X authors. And I think it's wonderful that their stories are rising to the top. I mean, to me, I think some of the most exciting artists in the space. But it isn't just literature, I actually did an event at the Dallas Museum of Art with an author named Charlotte McConaughey. She had a book called once there were wolves. She also wrote a book called migrations. And both of them have been international bestsellers. And they feature climate change front and centre. And she and I did this event at the Dallas Museum of Art, in conjunction with an art exhibit by a visual artist who does sculpture, painting, installation art that deals with climate. And I think it's such a great way to bring people into the conversation, like you said, who might not be engaging in that conversation. Otherwise, I can give you a really great example, I had an early book review of my book of waiting for the night song, right after it came out. You can usually tell from the first few lines of a review if it's going to be good or bad. And this one started out by saying I'm not interested in climate change. I don't pay attention to news. I hate politics. So I was like, Okay, we're in for a bumpy ride. This is not going to be a good review. But the reviewer went on to say, but I love this story. I love the characters, and I cared about them. So I cared about what happened to them. And because I cared what happened to them, I started caring about climate change. And when the book was over, I think about it differently now. And to me, that's the power of art, that it can meet someone where they are. It can make you fall in love with characters or intrigue, and then it makes you think, and these ideas can get in your head and it can change minds, which I think is pretty powerful.

Claire Waite Brown:

That's a really lovely story. So brilliant. You've mentioned that you've got another book coming out in the future and you've Third, do they follow similar themes

Unknown:

they do. So my next book is called The Last beekeeper. And it's going to come out in February of 2023. And it also has climate themes. It's upsetting the very, very near future, it looks very much like our world. It's not a science fictiony future, it's just set just a wee bit in the future. And I introduced a situation that hastens the collapse of our pollinators, which sets us into an agricultural and economic crisis. And it's about the relationship between a father who's a beekeeper and his daughter, as the bees are declining and about the the way it fractures their relationship and what they have to do to rebuild it. So definitely has those climate themes. And the third book I've just started writing, and I have not sold it yet. So I'm going to keep that one very secret at the moment. But it it absolutely has climate theme, maybe even more so than the first two. But both of the book and all three of the books, I guess, they centre on relationships between people and a story. And the climate elements are in the background. I wouldn't say their stories about climate. They're just steeped in a world that's being affected by climate, but they're central, the central part of the story are always about relationships between people.

Claire Waite Brown:

Yeah, no, I completely understand what you mean. We'll talk about agents and publishers later. But how did you feel about sharing your work and other people seeing your writing? Were you quite confident to go out and say, hey, look, read this, what I wrote,

Unknown:

I wish I could say that, but no, I wrote in my, my husband, we've been married for 28 years. So I trust him very much. He knows me better than anybody in the world. He did not see this book until it was published. So he knew the basic idea. He knew, you know, I would maybe every now and then tell him I had a great idea. And I might mention, like a little tidbit. But he really didn't have see any of it. I had a writing community from the writing classes I take. And so I was sharing it in the workshops. But there's something very different about sharing your writing in a writing workshop with other writers, then sharing it with like my husband, or my children, or my mother or my friends. That was scary to me, finally putting it out there for people to read and judge, it's kind of like standing up naked in front of a crowd, and letting them see all of you to let them see the story that you chose to tell and how you chose to tell it was very scary for me. And it wasn't that I wasn't confident in the story. It was more it just felt like I was exposing myself to the world. And it's actually been really exciting. To be honest, I got a really nice reception. And it was you know, before it came out, it was reviewed really well. And it ended up being on USA Today and CNN Newsweek and parades most anticipated books of the year for 21. So it was it came into the world with some some warm, fuzzy feelings, which helped. But yeah, it's really scary. And I feel the same way about the new book. I think only my agent and my editor have read the new book at this point. So yeah, it's really scary to think about it going out into the world. But it's also very exciting.

Claire Waite Brown:

So you, you expose yourself to an agent.

Unknown:

I did I did. You were quite lucky.

Claire Waite Brown:

You've told me you were quite lucky to get an agent. And quite quickly, maybe not so much about the publisher. Tell me more about how that all came about. And the whole actual process of getting this, this book actually published. Yeah. So

Unknown:

you know, for people who aren't familiar with it, when you write a book, if you want to go a traditional route, you need to get a literary agent. And that can be the biggest hurdle in getting published. Because agents, they only will take you on if they feel confident they can sell your book because they don't make money if they don't sell it. So that's a really big step. And a lot of writers get stuck at that step like some people will get 300 rejections and maybe never find an agent or maybe find one on the via the 300. And first query letter might get them to agent and it takes a lot of perseverance. So I was bracing myself for a really long struggle to get an agent. But it didn't happen that way. One of the very first agents I spoke with Stacy Testa Writers House, which is a fabulous literary agency. I met with her at a conference and she read some of my book gave me some feedback on it. I wasn't finished with it yet. But she invited me to send it to her when it's finished. So I did a few months later, I sent it to several other agents to not just to Stacey, but in the end, she was the one so it really was one of the first agents I had contact with. And it only took a few months, which is kind of a rare story and publishing. So I had some confidence. They're like, yes, this book must be wonderful, and everybody's gonna want it. But I was very quickly humbled because when Stacey started sending it out to publishers, it did not sell right away. As easy as it was to get the agent. The publishing part was really difficult. It took almost a year to sell the book. It was really hard on me emotionally waiting and hearing all these rejections. So in the meantime, while I was waiting to hear, I took all my anxiety into writing and I wrote the new book. That's where I wrote the first draft of the new book while I was waiting to hear from editors. And so when my agent when Stacy called me to tell me we had an offer On waiting for the night song, she then slipped in. Oh, and by the way, I told them about the last beekeeper, and they bought that one too. And I hadn't even written it yet. I mean, I hadn't finished it yet. And so all of a sudden, I had gone from taking a year to sell one book to having two books sold in one day. It was it's humbling. Trying to publish a book is difficult, and it takes a lot of perseverance.

Claire Waite Brown:

Yeah, do you find editing your work? Easy, difficult? Do you have lots of red marks coming back from the editor at the publishing house,

Unknown:

I love revising my work I find getting the first draft down to be the most painful part of the process. And there are moments when you just are like really swept away with a scene and then the writing is just flowing and it's lovely. But plot, like the big picture plot from you know, beginning to end in a book is the most difficult part. For me, I feel very comfortable writing a great scene, but piecing it all together into a satisfying plot and story. For the reader. It takes more thought and work for me. So as much as I love writing individual scenes, I really struggle sometimes of putting it all together in the right order so that it has a satisfying ending. So that draft that first draft is really brutal for me to get it written. But I love revising, I love it when my agent or editor sends me back really challenging notes saying I don't know about this idea. Maybe you need to change the ending of the book, waiting for the knights on head, eight different endings before I landed on the wave ended now. And I actually really welcome that because I want my readers to have a satisfying experience. And if something about the writing isn't working for my agent, my editor, and if I get, you know, multiple people telling me something isn't working, I want to fix it. And for me, it's almost like solving a puzzle. Like I love digging in there. When I find that thing that fixes it and hold it all together. It feels so good. So that's my I think my very, very favourite part of the writing process is where I am right now for the last beekeeper of polishing it tidying it, you know, tying all those loose ends and dropping breadcrumbs for the reader through the book, leave those big picture things. That to me is the most fun.

Claire Waite Brown:

I completely understand I have similar experiences, and I medic editing other people's books. And I can see that there's something that's not quite working. And it will come to me at some weird time that oh, this is this is how we should do it. This is how we should make it work. I've heard from you rather novel way that you have recycled your manuscripts and your edited hard copies. Tell us tell us how you make what what I consider to be your final revisions.

Unknown:

Yes, the final ultimate revision. So during the editing process when I print out some hard copies and I've written all over them and there's different colours and SPIG entire pages, sometimes a big extra slash through them. I look at them and I think there's like so much love that went into the editing process and, and also a lot of trees died to me in the paper that I printed it on. And so I have started this practice of taking those pages, the ones that are messed up and written all over and putting them in a blender water and turning it into pulp with I throw flowers. Sometimes they put herbs in there. It looks like a milkshake. It is not a milkshake. Don't eat it. But I support over a screen and press the water out of it and stationery. And it's really really lovely because all those words that were a mess, and sometimes it has like editor's handwriting on in there with it. It comes out as something beautiful in the end and I put flower petals in it. The one that I deal with waiting for the nights on, there's a lot of blueberries as I mentioned in this story, and I actually put blueberries in it, you can see little flecks of the skin of the blueberries and it tinted the paper. And it's really beautiful. So I print them up I make envelopes and cards. And I write thank you notes on them to people who had input in the novel and tomatoes and one to my mother or, but they're really beautiful and every batch is just a little bit different. I really love them. And people love hearing the story about it too about the hay. This used to be the first draft of my book.

Claire Waite Brown:

Yeah, it's a brilliant idea. I absolutely love it. How can people connect with you? I love

Unknown:

hearing from writers and readers and anybody I'm on Instagram at Julie C Dalton and I'm on Twitter at Julie Cardell so j you lie car da LT or you can find my website at Julie Carrick calm I love hearing from people I love questions I love connecting with new writers who are just trying to figure their their their path out so please look me up. Brilliant. Thank you. This is lovely. Thanks for having me on.

Claire Waite Brown:

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