Waiting for the Night Song by Julie Carrick Dalton was published this month by Forge. I talk to the author of the adult contemporary novel about her new release, and her motivations for writing about climate change.
Tell us about your new book.
Cadie Kessler, a forestry researcher, is in the middle of trying to head off a potential wildfire when she gets a panicked message from her long-estranged childhood friend, Daniela, after a body is discovered in the woods where they played as kids. Cadie rushes home, where she and Daniela must acknowledge the traumatic childhood secret that drove them apart decades earlier. As Cadie and Daniela confront their past, they come face to face with truths about themselves they don’t want to see, and Cadie must decide what she’s willing to risk to protect the people and the forest she loves. WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG is a portrait of friendship, secrets, and betrayal, a love song to the natural world, a call to fight for what we believe in, and a reminder that the truth will always rise.
How does climate change play into the plot?
A slow uptick in local temperatures creates conditions that attract a bark beetle to the woods of New Hampshire. Cadie, a forestry researcher, is trying to prove the beetle has arrived in New England, although models indicate it should not be there. The same conditions that appeal to the beetles are driving out native species, including a tiny song bird (from the title) that Cadie remembers from her youth. The federal government has restricted federal lands – including the forest where Cadie suspects the beetles are – from environmental research. She must decide if it’s worth risking her career and possibly jail time to defy the restrictions and collect samples to prove she is right. When Cadie advises fire crews to clear fire breaks in the town where she grew up, a long-buried body is unearthed and Cadie must confront the traumatic secret she has been hiding since she was eleven. As the drought worsens, crops fail, and the beetles settle in, wildfire looms over the small agricultural community and Cadie must decide how far she’s willing to go to do the right thing.
What kind of research did you do when writing it?
Eight years ago, I bought a piece of land and started a small farm in rural New Hampshire. I didn’t have a background in agricultural so the learning curve has been steep! I enrolled in the New Entry Sustainable Agriculture program at Tufts University and did a lot of reading about farming in my area. I learned that the growing season in my region has expanded by twenty-two days in the past century because of a slow, steady increase in the average summer temperature. It made me wonder about all the slow-burning, quiet effects. I researched the invasive species and endangered species affecting my area and tried to imagine how the absence of a tiny song bird and the presence of an invasive beetle could impact the personal lives of residents, as well as the broader community and the world.
What are some of your favourite books about climate change? (fictional or non-fiction!)
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
The Bear by Andrew Krivak
American War by Omar El Akkad
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
Why is it so important for you personally to see climate change discussed in fiction?
Fiction can convey truth in ways that charts, graphs, and scientific research often can’t. Inhabiting characters in fiction is an act of empathy which opens us up to new ways of considering the world. When it comes to climate change, too many people think about it as a looming crisis, but for many regions of the world that crisis has already arrived. I chose to focus on a small, insular community in New England we might not consider as on the front lines of the climate crisis. I wanted to tease out the small impacts we are already noticing and connect them to other parts of the world. For example, the endangered song bird in my book is dying off, in part, because its winter habitat in the Caribbean is being destroyed by deforestation and hurricanes. The bird is returning to New England in smaller numbers every year, which, in quiet ways, alters the ecosystem of the forest in New Hampshire. Everything is connected. It’s already happening, and we can’t think of it as a looming crisis any more.
Can you share a quote from the book that you hope will resonate with readers?
“All the other creatures had fled. The mice, spiders, crickets, squirrels. The silence they left behind hurt. The owl sat on a charred branch. Its home had been in these woods. Its mottled brown and amber stood out in stark contrast to the black and gray backdrop. Exposed without camouflage, the great bird blinked at Cadie and pulled its square head lower into its shoulders. Its whole body shuddered, as if shaking off a bad memory.
The owl launched itself into the air. Time to start over.”
What message do you hope readers will take away from your work?
I hope readers might see the small changes in their own region and consider how they tie into the global crisis. Climate change doesn’t happen in silos. We can’t think about it as something happening to other people. We all know that the people affected first and worst are most often marginalized, poor, indigenous, black, and brown communities. If readers feel like they are not being affected personally by climate change yet, I hope my book will prompt them to recognize their privilege and consider their own connections to and responsibility for populations already living the crisis.
You can find out more about Waiting for the Night Song here.
Julie Carrick Dalton
Julie Carrick Dalton’s debut novel WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG (Tor/Forge, Jan 2021) and a second novel, THE LASTEEKEEPER (2022), both hinge on contemporary climate-related issues. Pre-publication, WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG has been named to Most Anticipated 2021 lists by several platforms including Buzzfeed, Medium, and Betches, and has been featured in The Chicago Review of Books. As a journalist, Julie has published more than a thousand articles in publications including The Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, The Hollywood Reporter, Electric Literature, and The Chicago Review of Books. A Tin House alum, 2021 Bread Loaf Environmental Writer’s Conference Fellow, and graduate of GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator, Julie holds a master’s in literature and creative writing from Harvard Extension School. She blogs for DeadDarlings and The Writer Unboxed, where she often writes about climate fiction. She is a frequent speaker and workshop leader on the topic of Fiction in the Age of Climate Crisis at universities, high schools, bookstores, and writers conferences. Mom to four kids and two dogs, Julie also owns and operates an organic farm in rural New Hampshire, the backdrop for her novel.