Author interview with Shelley Seale
By now, everyone had either seen, or at least heard of, the movie Slumdog Millionaire, about the lives of two brothers who come from the slums of Mumbai – made even more desperate after they are orphaned. What many don’t know, however, is that for 25 million children in India, the harsh world depicted in the movie is their everyday reality. Yes, that’s 25 million kids who have been orphaned, abandoned or trafficked. My book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India, follows my journey over the past four years into the streets, orphanages and slums of India where these children live without families or homes of their own. I became immersed in their world, a witness to their struggles – but also their joys, their incredible hope and resilience that amazed me time and time again. The ability of their spirits to overcome crippling challenges inspired me. My sole purpose in writing this book was to give these millions of children a voice that could be heard by others in the world who, I was convinced, would be as moved by their plights as I was.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
I can’t remember a time I didn’t write. As a young child I would listen to the stories of my great-grandmother and other residents of her nursing home, and I would craft them into little books that I would take back to them. I lived and breathed in books while growing up. As a young adult I sort of “accidentally” fell into real estate, where I spent more than 15 years; but I always wrote, and finally found my way to incorporating that into my life and work full time.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
What’s a typical day? When I’m home, I usually spend most of each day in front of the computer, either writing or doing the business of writing – research, editing, making queries to editors, promoting my book. Outside of that I do yoga, spend time with my daughter and friends, read or watch movies. When I’m not home, which is about a third of the time, I’m usually vagabonding for weeks or months at a time all over the world. I love to travel.
4. Describe your desk/workspace.
I have a really cool desk that I love – it’s an old, very heavy red door with glass in it that I bought years ago at a flea market in Austin. I attached legs and voila – a really interesting desk. It’s covered with photographs and postcards from my travels and “my” kids in India, and also piles of notebooks, notes, papers and to-do stacks.
5. Favorite books (especially for writers)
I love all kinds of books. My favorite of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird, and more recent fiction favorites include The God of Small Things and The Kite Runner. I also read a lot of nonfiction, mostly biographies or journalistic accounts such as Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families about the Rwanda genocide. For writers, I like The Zen of Writing by Ray Bradbury.
6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you.
I love to arrive in a foreign city by myself. I don’t know exactly why. I like to travel with friends and family, don’t get me wrong; but there’s something so exciting and exhilarating about arriving somewhere I’ve never been, in another country, and discovering it all alone – at least the initial impressions – that I love.
I am crazy about animals. If I didn’t love the city and hate the country so much, I would probably live on a farm and have about two dozen rescue dogs.
I have five tattoos – much to my father’s chagrin.
7. Favorite quote
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
8. Best and worst part of being a writer?
Best: Doing what I love to do – what doesn’t feel like work to me.
Worst: How hard it is to get work and get published sometimes, and how easy it is to constantly keep working to do so. Writing is all-consuming. Although I would be miserable in a regular 9-to-5 job, I sometimes envy those who can go home and leave their work behind at the end of the day.
9. Advice for other writers?
Think very seriously about why you want to be a writer. Some people just want a creative outlet and that is great – and very easy to do as a “hobby.” I love to cook but would never become a professional chef. I once saw a posting on a writer’s forum where someone was asking if he couldn’t get lots of free travel if he became a travel writer. That’s the exact wrong type of reason to become a writer. You do it because you have to – there’s simply no choice. And if that’s the case for you, then find a way to do it.
10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.
One of my best experiences writing this book also was the turning point for it. I was about halfway through it when I attended the Prague Summer Workshop for writers in the Czech Republic, in July 2007. There I was part of a nonfiction manuscript workshop with about ten other writers. I couldn’t really figure out how to integrate the personal journey and story part of the book, with the bigger picture research and statistics about the issues affecting these kids. It was unbelievably helpful to get objective input into what worked and what didn’t, from people who didn’t know me at all and hadn’t read the manuscript before. And learning what worked – it was almost magical, sitting there listening to the other participants read aloud the passages that they loved. It was like an “a-ha” moment; I knew exactly how it was supposed to flow, exactly how the finished book would read.
Where can people buy your book?
It’s available at my website, www.shelleyseale.com.