Literary mystery author Sheila Dalton joins us today to talk about how a trip to Guatemala inspired The Girl in the Box. Sheila was born in Hillingdon, England and emigrated with her family to Canada when she was six. She's worked as a barmaid, an art gallery assistant, an artist and crafter, a freelance editor and writer, and a librarian. She lives in Newmarket,Ontario with her husband, grown son, and two cats. Learn more about Sheila and her books at her website. -- AP
How Guatemala inspired my book
If you’re a reader, do you love books set in other countries? I hope so, because as a writer, I often get my inspiration from travels abroad.
My latest, a literary mystery (that’s what my editor calls it), The Girl in the Box, originated from a trip I took to Guatemala, way back in the eighties. I was traveling with a girlfriend. It wasn’t a vacation; it was an exploration. I wanted to write, and that seemed to require discovering more of the world and what it was all about.
We went for four months, with no itinerary and no reservations-in-advance. I had struggled to afford the trip through saving everything I could from my handicrafts business of the time. I lived in a ramshackle house in Toronto with a group of friends back then, and sold my crafts on the street, on consignment in stores, and at festivals and fairs. Luckily, the shared rent on our house was low, and I was very into an alternative lifestyle that meant not buying big ticket items or expensive clothes, so I was able to squirrel away just enough to cover our adventure.
We traveled on second-class buses and stayed in no-star accommodations. It was what we wanted, to be close to what we then defined as the “realities” of Central America. What we saw shocked us. It was the time of the Civil War, when the government was pitted against guerrillas fighting for the rights of the Maya, and there were terrible things going on. On one bus trip, several Mayan men were taken away by soldiers and never returned. We found out later they had been killed.
The beauty of the country could not blind us to the secret tragedy all around us. Locals told us of screams heard coming from a village church at night, a church they were convinced had been converted to a jail and torture center for rebels.
I was horrified by all this. I did not feel capable of using it in fiction. But it stayed in my mind for years and years, until, at last in the late nineties, a story began to gather together inside my head. It wasn’t a story directly about war or genocide or politics: it was the story of a beautiful Mayan teenager traumatized by violence, kept in a shed by her parents who believe she is cursed, and rescued by a North American doctor she ultimately kills. Finding out why was the mystery the doctor’s lover, a journalist, set out to solve.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Sheila. Readers, have you ever travelled to worn-torn or strife-riddled locales? Tell us about your experiences and the impact they had on you. -- AP