By Leslie Lindsay
Sweeping novel of epic portions about friendship, the environment, migrant workers, and secrets.
~WEEKEND READING|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS
Cadie Kessler has spent years–decades–keeping secrets. A moment, really, from her past. That’s what I think the title, WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG (Forge, January 12 2021) seems to convey in this coming-of-age story set in New England about a two estranged adult friends, ‘that summer,’ and the truth they tried to keep hidden.
Daniela Garcia calls her friend, Cadie Kessler– now a forestry researcher/entomologist in an urgent plea to return home.Told in an alternating style, between the ‘now’ and ‘that summer,’ we get a sense of the friendship forged between Cadie and Daniela, the secret, and those nostalgic summer days, a warm balm in the middle of winter. The language is lush and thoughtful, with many details of the natural world: blueberries on the vine, creeks, books and boats and piers, too. WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG is a complex tale of friendship, ecology, hidden truths, climate change, racism, immigration, and so much more.
WAITING FOR NIGHT SONG is a striking debut with lots to admire. I loved reading about nature and trees and found the natural elements particularly astute. Book clubs will find a good deal of discussion points as well timely, topical pieces that will resonate with a variety of readers.
Please join me in welcoming Julie Carrick Dalton to the author interview series.
Julie, welcome! I am so pleased to chat with you about your debut. I understand this book has been in your heart for many years. And you were partially inspired by your late grandmother. Can you talk about what haunted you into writing WAITING FOR NIGHT SONG?
Julie Carrick Dalton:
This story came to me thirteen years ago with the image of two young girls in a boat picking blueberries, an image that carries a lot of meaning for me. I used to take my own four kids blueberry picking by canoe on a lake in New Hampshire. Although my book is set in New England, I also drew on my own childhood memories of picking berries at my grandparents’ farm in the Appalachian corner of western Maryland. There’s a lot of my family history woven into the story, mostly in ways that only my own family members will recognize. WAITING FOR NIGHT SONG is also very loosely based on the children’s book Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, which my mother read to me and I read to my children.
I love this dedication page. Here, you speak to the memory of your grandmother, a copper-haired coal-miner’s daughter from Appalachia and I totally resonate with that. I’m not a redhead, but my daughters are, and we actually have roots in Tennessee and Kentucky. So here’s where I think some of the magic happens on these publishing journeys. Can you talk a bit about that ‘magic’ and also, what was the path of publication like for you?
Julie Carrick Dalton:
My grandmother Althea Carrick, who I dedicated the book to, passed away two weeks before I sold my book. She would have been so proud to see my book in print. At 103, she was the sharpest, spunkiest woman you could meet. I gave my main character Cadie my grandmother’s fire-red hair, and I named Cadie’s boss, Thea, after my grandmother. My grandmother loved being the center of attention, so it didn’t surprise me that the night before my book launch I leaned over a gas stove burner and caught the ends of my own long red hair on fire. (Don’t worry, I’m fine.) You asked about the ‘magic.’ I’m pretty sure that my hair-on-fire moment was my fire-haired grandmother’s way of reminding me not to forget where I came from. I wish she could have seen my book in print. It took thirteen years to write and publish WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG. During those years, I also built a farm from scratch and raised four kids. It was a long, bumpy journey, with a lot of late nights, rejection, and doubt — but I wouldn’t change a thing.
As I read, I couldn’t help but think of a simpler time. It was anything but for Cadie and Daniela, but we often yearn for those ‘old days’ in which we perceive things were ‘better.’ Which of course, makes me think now, the pandemic. How are you adapting and do you really think the past was all that ideal? Why do we tend to romanticize the past?
Julie Carrick Dalton:
I have to admit, I had a pretty idyllic childhood. My friends and I would take off on our bikes in the morning and come home for dinner. We played in the woods, climbed trees, swam, and concocted ridiculous adventures. I do believe we romanticize the past and often blur over the difficult parts. But for me, my childhood memories are still golden. I wish my own kids had grown up with the kind of freedom and security I had. My kids are grown now, the youngest is fifteen and the oldest is twenty-seven. During the pandemic I’ve struggled as a parent because my kids are scattered across the country. I wish I could gather them all at home and protect them with the kind of fearlessness invincibility I felt as a child. One of my kids was sick with COVID in March, early in the pandemic. I consider myself lucky she recovered, and I recognize that so many other families weren’t so lucky. I look at my teenage son and know that one out of every fifteen days of his life has been defined by this pandemic. It makes me wonder how our kids will look back on their childhood. What kinds of stories will the next generation write when they reflect on their early days. Will they romanticize this complicated moment? I think it’s human nature hold onto the good and bury the difficult things. But, as Cadie discovered in WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG, truth will always rise, even the parts we don’t want to remember.
“A killer, gorgeous debut that tackles love, racism and even climate change. Waiting for the
Night Song will break your heart, leave you breathless and wanting more.”
—Rachel Barenbaum, author of A Bend in the Stars
What I really loved about WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG was the fact that the girls left books on the pier for the little boy as a type of offering. Sort of like a Little Free Library. I did something very similar today, leaving books on my front steps for book club friends. Books are a sort of love language, I think. Can you expand on this, please?
Julie Carrick Dalton:
I loved writing this subplot. In early drafts, instead of one summer, the childhood scenes were spread out over three summers. I made up a list of about forty books I wanted Cadie and Daniela to deliver to the mysterious boy who they refer to as The Summer Kid. I collapsed the time frame into one summer, so only about eight books made it into the story. Cadie, who love books, sees the them as a way to communicate with the boy, to share ideas, to fill him up with the stories that she loved. I put the books I loved most at her age into Cadie’s hands — from Swiss Family Robinson to Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. There is a language that exists between people who have read the same books. I’ll give you an example from my own life. On election night, I was watching the results come in and it wasn’t looking good for Biden, who I had voted for. My fifteen year-old-son tried to reassure me by saying: “Remember when Odysseus had to win back his home by shooting an arrow through a bunch of narrow targets, and no one thought it was possible, but he did it? That’s what Biden needs to do.” I understood exactly what my son meant because we shared the story of The Odyssey in common. With just two sentences, he conveyed the high stakes, the drama, and a gave me a reason to hope. When two people know the characters and world of a book, it can be a shorthand way of sharing ideas and communicating context, desires, and meaning. As I wrote the scenes involving the clandestine book deliveries, I had this idea that the books my characters shared could become a common language between them, in the same way The Odyssey was for my son and I.
What is your hope for readers of WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG? What messages do you hope to impart and what residue do you think will linger?
Julie Carrick Dalton:
I hope my book conjures a feeling that we are all connected. That tiny song bird (referenced in the title) disappearing in New Hampshire, is linked to deforestation in the Caribbean. US intervention in Central America in the eighties is linked to the region’s climate disasters and climate migration today. Killing one spider could change the world in ways we cannot imagine. Our actions, no matter how small, can have consequence we may never know about. We are all responsible for each other and for how we treat this planet. Although the setting is distinctly New Hampshire, I did not model the fictional town of Maple Crest on any real towns. I want it to feel small and insular, that it could be any small town. But at the same time, it is connected in unexpected ways to far-flung places and people around the world.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Julie Carrick Dalton:
The literal answer to that is my dogs, Quito and Ganzy, who are up and ready for me to walk them every morning. My energy is divided between three main focal points: My family, my farm, and my writing. Which one gets my attention depends on a variety of factors. For example, during the pandemic, three of my four kids where at home with my husband and I, which was a big change from only having our son home for the past two years, so my attention shifted to spending more time with my family, planning meals, negotiating who did what, making sure we were all safe and healthy. During the summer, my attention usually shifts to my farm, where I grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, mostly without any help. It’s tiring, physical work, but I love it. And at any time during the year, depending on my deadlines and how the muses are treating me, writing takes over and I can spend the whole days or weeks, doing nothing but writing. All three of those things – family, the farm, and my writing – matter a great deal to me. My struggle is how to balance them. I haven’t figured that out yet, but I never lack motivation to get me out of bed in the morning. One of them is always calling me.
Julie, thank you for this! What question should I have asked, but maybe forgot? Perhaps there’s something you’d like to ask me…?
Julie Carrick Dalton:
I know you read a LOT of books. I’m curious what makes a character memorable for you? When I write, I live with my characters. I think about them all day. I even dream about them. I’m now working on a second novel called The Last Beekeeper, which will be released in 2022. I have a whole new cast of characters, but I still find myself thinking about Cadie and Daniela and wondering how they might handle situations in my new book (which is completely unrelated to Waiting for the Night Song.) As a reader, what types of characters come alive for you and stick with you long after you put a book down?
This is such a good question and one with a very intangible answer, I’m afraid. For me, it’s a visceral reaction, a resonance that is a combination of my personal experiences, my personal lens for which I see the world, and isn’t exactly something an author would have any knowledge of. For a deep connection to a character, their flaws must be organic, something that is haunting them, but also propelling them forward (so good backstory and a relatively fast forward momentum), plus a sharp sense of interiority. I also want to feel invested in their complexity, a mystery even they are trying to parse. A good use of imagery/description helps, too, so the character’s use of all senses and transferring those to the page. Those qualities, however vague, truly leave a lasting residue.
Artistic image of cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #bookstagrammer #bookreviews #authorinterviews #literaryfiction #alwayswithabook.
For more information, to connect with Julie Carrick Dalton via social media, or to purchase a copy of WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG, please visit:
WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG may appeal to readers of GOODNIGHT STRANGER (Miciah Bay Gault) meets WINTER LOON (Susan Bernhard) with a touch of WHERE THE CRAWDAD SINGS (Delia Owens) meets the work of Rene Denfeld and Mindy Mejia (LEAVE NO TRACE)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Julie Carrick Dalton’s journalism has been published in such places as The Boston Globe and BusinessWeek, and she workshopped the novel in GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator, a yearlong, MFA-level novel intensive. She has won several awards including the 2017 William Faulkner Literary Competition. Dalton has been invited to speak at literary conferences, schools, and universities on the intersection of fiction and climate. In her non-writing time, Dalton 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. Learn more at or follow her on Twitter at: @juliecardalt
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of BookSparks and used with permission. Artistic image of cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1]