Sheila Dalton’s dramatic psychological mystery The Girl in the Box (Dundurn, 2011) is scheduled for release in November, but today Sheila is stopping by to share some behind-the-scenes details of this well-researched and fast-paced novel.
By the way, Sheila is holding a giveaway contest on Goodreads today through Nov. 18. To enter, go to http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12043711-the-girl-in-the-box. Did you miss the book review? It’s available at http://michellefayard.blogspot.com/2011/09/girl-in-box-review-and-giveaway.html. And now for the interview ...
How did the idea for The Girl in the Box first come to you?
It came to me in bits and pieces. In the ’70s, after I visited Guatemala, I came home determined to write about the Maya someday. The idea for Inez, the traumatized mute girl, came later. There are things in my background that made me think of her, plus newspaper stories about the mentally ill in third-world countries and books about women held in captivity. Inez just kept popping into my mind, and I wanted to tell a story about her. I have never met anyone one quite like her; she’s someone I thought could exist, and I wanted to bring her to life.
This book is incredibly rich with details about Guatemala and autism. How did you handle the research phase for Girl?
The Internet is wonderful for research, plus I borrowed every book in the Toronto Public Library system I could find on Guatemala and the Civil War there, and autism, and treatments for autism. Plus I reread my journals written during my three months in Central America, back in the day.
Talking to people was a big help too: My sister is a therapist, and I used my memories of some of the autistics I had met through her; also, an Internet writing friend has an autistic son, and he had input. Another Internet writer friend who lives on a coffee plantation in Guatemala read the final draft for me, correcting factual mistakes about that country. The friend I had originally traveled to Guatemala with went back there later, and she confirmed some details for me too.
I have an acquaintance who is a lawyer and a friend, now deceased, who was an analyst. Talking to them, attending analytic conferences and taking courses helped for other parts of the book. I visited a psychiatric facility for the criminally insane for the sections that take place in Labrador, which I have also visited. I have never been really far north, so I read a lot about that too and talked to people who had visited or lived there. I know about meditation firsthand, because I’ve been practising Vipassana for many years and have been on weeklong retreats. And of course I read and read and read! Doing research makes me happy.
In the ’70s, I had some involvement with Latin American groups in Toronto, and remembered what I had learned from them.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Pulling it all together—telling what I hope is an interesting and suspenseful story without sacrificing the seriousness of the situations and issues it deals with.
Do you have a favorite section or character?
When I began the book, Inez was my favourite character. But as the years went by, and the book took shape, I developed a fondness for Caitlin. She is feisty, a bit obnoxious, snotty and overcritical, especially when she was younger, but she has heart, and I liked how she was changed by the challenges she had to face. I hope readers can see how she grows as the book progresses.
What message in your book do you hope will most resonate with your readers?
I’m not sure about a message. I just hope the characters resonate and that I tell a good story.
What marketing have you found works best for your genre?
Trouble is, I don’t really have a genre. I’ve written poetry, literary fiction, a teen mystery, children’s picture books and nonfiction. I’ve been told Girl is a mix of literary mystery and psychological drama. I’m hoping that Internet connections and online presence will help. I’m running a book giveaway on www.goodreads.com from Sept. 15 to Nov. 18.
I’m not sure how effective readings are, but I’m hoping to do some. Good reviews in major newspapers and magazines are always helpful for the literary genre. And winning a major book prize? That guarantees a huge boost in sales for this type of book, but I don’t expect to win any!
What do you like best about your publisher, Dundurn?
They accepted my book! Seriously, I’ve only just started working with them, but they seem committed and businesslike, and they give you tips for marketing your work. I have a publicist assigned to me who sends my book out and contacts me when she hears of an upcoming review. I’m sure there are other things she will do after publication in November. Dundurn is one of the biggest publishers in Canada and sell their books internationally. That can’t hurt!
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I think the worst was being told that my sex scenes would excite “prurient interest” (not about this book) when I’d intended them to show the mixed effects of obsessive desire! Obviously I had some work to do there. The best compliment came from a former literature professor I admired but hadn’t seen in more than 10 years who kept buying me double margaritas during my book launch, then told me my poetry was the best modern verse he’d read in years. Perhaps he’d had a few double margaritas of his own.
Can you share a little about your current work with us?
I’m currently working on an historical novel set in 17th century England, Morocco and Barbados about a woman who loses her parents to Moroccan pirates. Later, to save herself from a public whipping for vagrancy, she becomes the mistress of a French privateer living in London. Eventually, under duress, she joins a crew of English pirates. She’s not a very good pirate, but she ends up with lots of loot.
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I sing, I love animals, I garden, I take care of my family, I meditate and study Buddhism, I try to help and encourage other writers, I read a lot, I work out, and I travel when I can afford to. Much of my time is taken up with my job as a librarian. Because I love to learn about things in depth, reading and research are a big part of my life, whether I’m working on a book or not.
What is something about you or your writing that might surprise your readers?
There are a few things I can think of … but I’ll never tell.
Visit Sheila on her Facebook fan page or her Goodreads author page.
The Girl in the Box is available for pre-order on Amazon.