Movement and first loves as a path to writing
By Monica Prince
Journalist Julie Carrick Dalton’s manuscript The Poacher’s Code was selected as one of the top ten finalists for the SFWP Literary Awards Program. She’s published more than a thousand articles in The Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, The Hollywood Reporter, and elsewhere. Her short stories have also appeared in Charles River Review, The MacGuffin, and the anthology Turning Points: Stories of Choice and Change. Her manuscript won the 2017 William Falkner Literary Award, and the Writers League of Texas Award for general and literary fiction. She received her master’s in creative writing from Harvard University Extension School, and recently signed with Writers House. When not contributing to DeadDarlings or GrubStreet’s writer blogs, you can find Dalton running after her four kids or working on her personal 100-acre organic farm in rural New Hampshire, the backdrop for her novel. Follow her on Twitter and learn more about her on her website.
SFWP reviewer and contributing editor Monica Prince wrangled Julie Carrick Dalton for a moment to discuss writing and her dedication to the written word.
Monica Prince: What does your writing practice look like?
Julie Carrick Dalton: I usually work at my kitchen counter with my dogs at my feet. I know so many writers who swear by the butt-in-chair theory: Just put your butt in the chair and write. But for me, I need to move. I need to get my butt out of that chair. I have a compact elliptical machine that fits under the kitchen counter. When I start feeling antsy, I walk on the elliptical while I work. It gets my blood pumping and makes my mind feel sharper.
MP: What is your education and work background? Have either of these influenced your relationship with writing?
JCD: I started college as a biochemistry major. I thought of writing as a hobby and science as my career path. But I became obsessed with my roommate’s journalism homework. I signed up for an intro class – just for fun – and ended up graduating with a journalism degree and became a journalist instead of a scientist.
Years later, I went on to earn a master’s in creative writing and literature and started getting serious about fiction. Over the next few years, I published a few short stories and started my first novel. In 2016, I was accepted into GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator, a year-long MFA-level novel intensive. The Incubator transformed me from someone who liked to write into a writer.
Although I ended up making a career out of writing, I never fell out of love with science. In 2009, I bought a piece of land and built a farm from scratch. Most of my fiction now revolves around environmental and agricultural themes. It took me a while, but I finally found a way to merge my passion for writing and my love of science.
MP: Would you say your job other than writing is working on your farm?
JCD: I left journalism to focus on fiction and my four kids. I’m not sure I can technically call it a job, but I also own and operate a 100-acre organic farm. I hesitate to call it a job because I barely break even. And, I’ll be honest, I’m not a very good farmer. But I’m getting better every year. I’ve learned a lot about soil science, insect management, and crop rotation, among many other things. I’ve also made a ton of mistakes. It’s an ongoing education.
MP: How did you first get involved with writing?
JCD: Although I spent my career as a journalist, I didn’t really consider myself a writer until I entered the Novel Incubator. I connected with talented authors – both published and unpublished – at GrubStreet. I started attending more literary events, signing up for conferences, and participating in public readings. The literary community in Boston is a vibrant, supportive place for new writers. I feel incredibly lucky to live there.
MP: Why did you decide to enter the Literary Award Contest with SFWP? How do you think submitting to contests impacts your future writing life?
JCD: No one was waiting for me to finish my first novel but me. I started entering contests as a way to set deadlines for myself. I picked a bunch of contests and convinced myself that I needed a new revision for each entry. The self-imposed deadlines pushed me to keep working. Along the way, I won several of the contests and received helpful feedback from agents, editors, and established authors. When I saw that Benjamin Percy had signed on to judge the SFWP contest, I knew I had to enter. I’m registered for a workshop he is teaching at The Muse and the Marketplace conference in April. I can’t wait to thank him in person.
The feedback I received from the various contests helped me mold my novel into its current form. I’m certain that winning and placing in several of them gave me an edge when I was trying to find an agent. Shortly after making the SFWP final ten list, I received offers of representation from two literary agents. In November, I signed with Writers House. I hope to start submitting to editors soon.
MP: What can you not write without?
JCD: I can write almost anywhere—my kitchen, coffee shops, my car, airplanes. But there is one necessary constant: coffee. Please don’t take my coffee away.
MP: What advice do you have for writers just starting out?
JCD: Connect with other writers. I’d be lost without the writing community at GrubStreet in Boston. They have become my family and my support network. They cheer for me when I have good news, and they cheer me up when I face rejection. I feel so proud whenever a writer friend publishes a book a story or signs with an agent, and I feel their pain when things don’t go well. Writers face so much rejection, but having a community to commiserate with – and to celebrate with – makes it easier.
Monica Prince is the 2017-2018 Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. She received her MFA in poetry at Georgia College & State University, and her BA in English Creative Writing at Knox College. She currently writes and reviews for the Santa Fe Writers Project, as well as reviews and edits for Aquarius Press. Her work can be found in MadCap Review, Fourth & Sycamore, The Shade Journal, Texas’s Best Emerging Poets, TRACK//FOUR, and others. Her choreopoem, How to Exterminate the Black Woman, will receive a staged reading as part of the Women’s Voices International Theatre Festival in January 2018, and will premiere as a full-length show in April 2018 in Selinsgrove, PA, where she teaches, writes, and performs. Keep up with her work on her website or follow her on Twitter.