Writers on Writing, Volume 6: Angela Dalton
Angela Dalton was once a producer of online kids’ games and other cool nerdy things. An Oakland resident, she's now a writer and participates in Left Margin LIT's writers' bootcamp sessions. Angela's first book, If You Look Up to the Sky, was the recipient of the 2018 Ben Franklin Gold for Best New Voice in Children’s/YA and Silver for Children’s Book 4 to 7, and the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold for Children’s Book 7 & Under. It also received a starred review by Kirkus Reviews.
If You Look Up to the Sky is your first children’s book. How would you describe your experience publishing a children’s book?
This is one of my favorite questions. Publishing this book reminded me a lot of
being pregnant with my son. There was this initial exhilarating thought of Hey, I’m writing a children’s book! which made me giddy. I started daydreaming about all the possibilities of what the book would look like, if kids would like it, and how successful it would be.
As the book moved from gestation to publication, that giddiness turned into terror. The possibility of putting this book out into the world with my name on it became real. The story also has a personal family element to it. So, there were moments when I was worried that if it was bad, I would hear about it—at every family reunion for the rest of my life.
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. I had an incredible support system: my husband, mom, friends, the team at Beaver’s Pond Press, and Margarita Sikorskaia, the illustrator. They were constantly reminding that I wasn’t doing this alone.
While the process of writing a book is solitary, publishing it does take a village. I had an incredible one. And, my family loves it!
Which parts were the most enjoyable to write? Which parts were the most difficult?
At its core, the story is about how the sky and universe connect us all. I have been fascinated with all elements of the sky since I was a child: the moon, stars, clouds. Thinking about how the different skyscapes made me feel when I was young, and then how they aligned with the successes and challenges we face as we grow up, was rewarding.
I was also developing the story during the time when children’s literature was amplifying the need for diversity and inclusivity. So, to be writing a story that featured a young girl of color as the main character motivated me to keep going.
That said, writing a children’s book looks deceptively easy. A lot of people, myself included, look at a five- to seven-hundred word count and think, That’s easy. Writing a compelling story arch, with subtle messaging, within this strict word count is one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted.
What was it like working with an illustrator? How does that affect your creative process?
In a previous life, I was an online kids’ games producer. Part of my job was working with and understanding creatives in order to have a successful collaboration. I’m so thankful to have had this experience because it made working with Margarita a dream.
As a writer, I had a lot of ideas about the illustrations. When Margarita and I first talked, she respectfully listened to all my ideas. At our second meeting, she came back with hers. My brain exploded. They were so good! She came up with things I never would have thought of.
Going back to my pregnancy analogy, at some point you need to trust someone else with your baby. It’s part of a healthy growth process for both you and your child. Margarita took extremely great care with my book and helped to nurture it into something I am proud of.
What do you hope children learn from your book?
There’s a wonderful sentiment that has been circulating within children’s literature recently: Books should serve as either a window or mirror for children. Meaning they should expose a child to someone else’s world or be able to see themselves in the story. I wrote the book, primarily, for girls of color; and, with the intention of showing them they deserve a place in the world. But the story is also about hope and interconnectedness. I hope that, as kids read the book and see this strong brown girl out in the world, the message of sharing space and opportunity with everyone rings true.
Would you care to share some favorite books from childhood?
Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp, by Mercer Mayer, was the first book I remember reading that featured a strong, smart black girl as the protagonist. I read that book until it was dog-eared and torn up—and still kept reading it!
Margaret Wise Brown’s Good Night Moon is so cliché, but it’s seriously everyone’s favorite book! I remember reading it and always feeling safe. This was definitely my mentor book as I was writing If You Look Up to the Sky. I tried my best to capture that lingering feeling of peace once the last page is read.
Who is your favorite character in recent fiction?
I’ve read many great books the last few years and I honestly don’t have a favorite individual character. But there are two books I read this year that have character ensembles that still linger with me.
Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me is the story of six kids whose teacher sets up a weekly, unsupervised group for them to share with each other. Each kid is struggling with something touching upon the harrowing issues we’ve been dealing with in America for decades: deportation, parent incarceration, racism, economic hardship, etc. The voice Woodson gives each child is so incredibly strong, yet heartbreakingly vulnerable.
And There, There, by Tommy Orange, is a breath-taking portrait of the lives of twelve Native Americans in modern day Oakland, California. Each character has such incredible depth and complexity. Orange’s ability to carry this through to the very end for all twelve characters is just stunning.
The sheer mastery of strong and consistent character development from both authors is awe-inspiring. I highly recommend both.
When you’re not writing, how do like to spend your free time?
I love taking road trips and recording the names of towns and cities so that I can use them as character names in stories.
Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue the writing life?
I’m weary of giving advice because I’ve derailed my own writing progress many times when I’ve followed the advice of other authors. Suddenly, I’m not writing enough words every day, I’m not writing the right time of day, I’m not writing a “marketable” story, and the list goes on and on. I would just say, if you love to write, then write. Believe that your story and voice are important and deserve to be read.