PARK CITY, Utah. – Author Julie Carrick Dalton considers herself a New Englander these days after settling in Boston via Germany, Maryland, Dallas, and Seattle. However, she spends a lot of time (almost half the year) in Park City.
She finished both of her fiction novels at her home here. “It’s definitely an inspiring place for me to write,” she said. Waiting for the Night Song, released in 2021, and The Last Beekeeper will be released in February 2023. The debut novel was a ‘Most Anticipated Book’ of the year according to CNN, Newsweek, USA Today, and Parade Magazine.
The story follows two timelines, one before and after a life-altering event in two young girls’ lives. She laughed at herself while explaining the premise to me.
“When my kids were little, I used to take them up blueberry picking in a canoe, and there were a lot of big open stretches of land around our lake,” said Dalton. “So, we used to pick blueberries all the time. My kids started asking me, ‘Whose are they? Are we stealing them? Are we trespassing?’ I found myself making up these stupid rules like, if we don’t trespass, if we don’t take them all, it’s fine. I realized very quickly this is not good parenting. Even though everybody takes blueberries up there, I realized making up rules to justify it to my kids was bad. So I stopped doing that. That idea is what started the story about these two little girls stealing blueberries in a boat, and they make up all these rules to justify why it’s okay, and then they witness a crime. They swear a blood oath to this list of rules that they made and use this contrived code of ethics that they’ve created to justify not coming forward and reporting the crime. The idea was basically born out of a bad parenting moment.”
Dalton is a mother to four, ranging from teenagers to full-fledged adults. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in journalism. She’s written for publications such as the Boston Globe and Newsweek in her journalistic career.
“I kept writing either full-time or freelance until my third child was born,” she said. “And then I was like, ‘okay, something’s gotta give.’ Then I just freelanced at home and started writing fiction. I went back to graduate school and got a Master’s in creative writing from Harvard Extension School, a night school program, in 2005. That’s when I started getting serious about fiction.”
Her novels are hard to stick into one category. Most would refer to her debut novel as a thriller or mystery.
“I think if I had to boil down Waiting for the Night Song, it’s about a complicated lifetime friendship of these two women,” she said.
“People might show up because they want to read a story about a complicated friendship or mystery, and the climate stuff just kind of sneaks in. It also snuck in for me; I did not write this book with the intention of [writing] a book about climate change.”
Dalton grew up on a military base in Germany until her family relocated to Maryland at age 8. Her father farmed a piece of land, and there were other farmers in the family. Makeshift farmers’ markets were common within the family, trading a bushel of corn for beans or canned and preserved foods. Although she had a tie to land and agriculture, it wasn’t until she owned her own parcel that she was really aware of climate change.
“There was a piece of land near our home that went on the market for timber and development; it was this beautiful stretch of land that deer, moose, and bear came into a lot,” Dalton said. “They came through this forest that they were timbering and clear-cutting, so I had a panic moment and, we bought the forest. They’d already clear cut about five or six acres of land, and I couldn’t just have a piece of land and not have some sort of financial reason to. So, I built a farm with a friend who keeps horses. I started growing vegetables, and she runs a horseback riding business. Our goal was to save a piece of land, and we’ve put it into conservation. It’s never going to be developed.”
The land has since changed hands to her friend, but Dalton still farms it.
“When I got involved with my own piece of land, I started doing a lot of research on agriculture in my region. I came across this tidbit of information that rocked my world. In my region, the growing season has been extended by 22 days in the past century because the climate is changed… it affects what crops can grow, what thrives, what doesn’t, but it also affects the general ecology. My book strongly has that theme; on the first page, there’s an invasive beetle that’s moved into the New Hampshire forest. The launching point for the story is this invasive beetle that’s triggering forest fires. It’s a very real beetle that’s causing forest fires [in] California, Colorado, and all over the western part of the United States. I used some fictional license and brought that beetle to New Hampshire.”
Waiting for the Night Song references Sugar Maple trees inching their way north to the Canadian border for colder weather; this is among the multiple real-life facts within the book. The title itself references a bird species being pushed out of the story due to fires.
But Dalton doesn’t hit the reader over the head with climate change in her novel. It merely wove its way into the story like it did her own life.
The Last Beekeeper is Dalton’s second fiction novel releasing in the early months of 2023. This story is set in two timelines; the first is while pollinators and bees are dying off, and the second is ten years later.
“The political and economic crisis is very real in [The Last Beekeeper], but it’s not the thing that everybody’s constantly talking about,” she said. “It’s about the characters, their relationships, and how they’re working through this moment.”
She loves all things fiction and writing, often speaking or teaching at conferences and universities. When I spoke with her, she was literally about to hop on a plane to the AWP Conference and Bookfair in Philadelphia to speak on climate fiction, although she’s happy to talk about various other topics.
Dalton’s family has been a part of the Park City community since 2003. She volunteers for the Sundance Film Festival as much as possible. She finds that the physicality of skiing for a few hours opens up her mind to efficient writing. Waiting for the Night Song was supposed to debut its softcover release at the 2022 Sundance Festival before it canceled in-person events.
Authors she’s loving are Richard Powers, Nancy Johnson, and Charlotte McConaghy. Visit her website for more information on where Julie Carrick Dalton is speaking or on her new books. Dolly’s Bookstore can provide a (hard or soft) copy of Waiting for the Night Song now and The Last Beekeeper in 2023.