Author, Sheila Dalton excerpt and guest blog

Today, it is my honour to welcome Sheila Dalton, author of The Girl in the Box to my blog.

Talking with My Characters

Sheila Dalton

A big part of writing a novel is imagining your characters and bringing them to life. Part of the process, for me, is talking to them in my head, and I thought I would share with you a “conversation” I had with Caitlin Shaughnessy, the journalist in my latest novel, The Girl in the Box. Caitlin’s lover, Dr. Jeremy Simpson, was killed by a traumatized young Mayan woman, Inez, whom he rescued from a hut in the Guatemalan jungle where she had been kept chained by her parents.

Caitlin, how did you feel when Jerry told you about Inez?

He phoned me from Guatemala, out of the blue, and told me he had discovered this young girl whose parents had chained her up and locked her in a dark shed. He told me he wanted to bring her back to Canada with him. My first reaction was shock, utter shock, and horror. I asked him why the girl was kept this way, and he told me he didn’t know for sure, but that she was strange and he suspected her behaviour made it impossible for her parents to keep her with them in their house.

He also told me about the Civil War between the guerrillas in the hills, who were fighting for the rights of the Mayan Indians, and the government, who didn’t want to give up any of the privileges of the Spanish-descended elite. He told me that he was almost sure the girl, Inez, and the family, too, had suffered some kind of trauma or violence because of the conflict.

What I most remember though, is fear. Fear that something wasn’t right, that if he brought Inez to Canada, something bad would happen.

Bad? In what way?

I’m not sure, exactly. Of course, I knew she would disrupt our lives. Jerry and I didn’t live together, but we’d been lovers for ten years. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if this damaged girl came to live in his house.

Did you ask him about that?

Yes. He explained that he had no choice, he’d have to apply to be her ward, and that meant having her live with him. But he also said he intended to find a place in a group home for her, where she could get proper treatment. Jerry was a psychoanalyst, a practitioner of “the talking cure”. Inez was mute. There was no way he could give her the care she needed himself.

Did your fear stem from any intuition that Inez would kill Jerry?

No. Not at all. It never occurred to me. Which is why it was so terribly hard to cope with when it happened.  I loved Inez! She was a beautiful, shy, gentle, moving girl. She had her tempers and disturbances, of course, but I spent a lot of time with her, and she touched me deeply.

I had conversations like this with Caitlin all through the writing of the book, and with the other characters, too. It made them seem real to me, and I hope it helped me make them seem real to the reader.

To buy a copy of The Girl in the Box and read reviews, go to Amazon:

To learn more about me and the The Girl in the Box, and to read a chapter of the book, visit my website at

Excerpt from The Girl in the Box



Guatemala, Feb., 1983

          The smell was thick as sludge, and rancid. It forced an intake of breath when Jerry wanted to pinch his nostrils shut and run out of the hut.
          He struggled to ignore it, but the stench dropped into his throat and lodged there. When he tried to swallow, he coughed instead.

Agua?” He turned to the Mayan behind him. “Por favor?”

The man nodded while continuing to talk to his wife.

Jerry leaned into his arms on the rough-hewn table and stared at the crucifixes on the wall.

There were five hand-carved wooden Messiahs in front of him, each more lurid than the last. One strained so far outwards from his cross that Jerry thought he looked like he could tear himself off and change religious history. Painted blood ran from the hands, feet and sides of all five, and hung in gobs from a number of wounded knees. It cascaded over one Christ’s body in vermilion stripes, ending in a single dangling blob at the bottom of the cross.

The murmur behind Jerry grew louder. He swivelled around. The couple dropped their eyes and lowered their voices simultaneously, as though  performing a duet.

Agua?” he pleaded, a hand to his throat.

Si, Senor.” This time, the man shooed his wife behind a ragged curtain then followed her out of sight.

Jerry concentrated on the pictures on the wall,. colourful renditions of what he thought must be Mayan deities, interspersed with rumpled copies of paintings of Catholic saints. An abundance of spiritualities, where he himself had none.

He frowned at the uplifted eyes and sweet secretive smiles of the saints. Multicoloured woollen frames bordered each blissful face—red, orange, bright yellow, the kind of blues and greens that oceans radiate and skies sometimes faintly reflect—colours out of a child’s fantasy, woven together with tufts and tassels and thick, knotted fringes that infused the pictures with the kind of robust good cheer he’d come to admire in Latin Americans themselves.

His spirits lifted. But there was that unhealthy smell, and a filthy blanket hanging heavily over the doorway, blocking air and light.

He'd  met the couple while riding the bus to the village of Panajachel, on the way back from the market in Chichicastenanga.

Baskets were everywhere, and lunches wrapped in banana leaves, redolent with spices. Chickens clucked on the seats beside their owners. The women's feet were bare and dusty, the ribbons in their thick braids vibrant against the dark coils of their hair.

As Jerry admired both ribbons and braids, the woman in the seat directly across the aisle from him leaned forward and vomited in a thin stream onto the floor, then moaned and nestled back against her male companion.

The macho  drivers and the hair-raising roads made travel sickness so common here that no one except Jerry reacted . He sat forward in his seat,frowning at the ashen grey of the woman's face, a stark contrast to her blue, red and orange huipil, and the vivid rebozo clutched tightly to her mouth.

She groaned again, loudly, and Jerry’s frown deepened. The man who, despite his healthy brown face, looked dull and pedestrian beside her in his faded T-shirt and polyester pants tied with string, pressed a hand to her forehead.

Jerry leaned across the narrow aisle, and spoke haltingly. “The Senora is…ill? Sick?

"Yo soy…doctor," he added when he saw the fear in the couple's eyes. He hoped to reassure them; his Spanish was limited, and it was the best he could do. “From Canada. Don’t be afraid.”

He addressed the woman, punctuating his speech with hand gestures and smiles. "Do you have stomach pain? A headache? Where do you hurt?"

Sheila's next blog stop is


  1. Thank you, Jeanne, for hosting me on your blog. It's a terrific place to be!

  2. It's my pleasure, Sheila. Sorry for the delay in getting the post up.

  3. Not a problem. Lives get busy, and we all get stressed out. I've been awfully absent-minded myself lately.


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