Ledyard author’s novel a community effort
Heather Dalton’s book “Tanglewood” started with a pink slip and ended with a classful of enthusiastic youth writers and $1,000 for an orphanage and school in Haiti.
Dalton, a resident of Ledyard, currently works as a fifth-grade teacher at Charles Barnum Elementary School in Groton. In 2017, when she was teaching up the road at Pleasant Valley, her position was cut as part of the school’s closure, and that summer she took to writing.
“When I got that pink slip, it kind of got me thinking, ‘Well, what else am I going to if I can’t find a job?’” she said. “And writing was really a way for me to escape. It was an outlet for me.”
“Tanglewood” was the product of that summer of writing. The novel follows a girl named Eden as her survival skills are put to the test in a fantasy land. Dalton said she enjoys fantasy stories, and Eden shares her three daughters’ love of nature.
When Dalton was rehired at Charles Barnum, she wanted to share her manuscript with her class as a way to teach writing and literacy skills. Fantasy writing is part of the students’ English curriculum, including exploring the use of symbolism and themes.
“As I was working through it with them, they were giving me creative suggestions and ideas on how to revise things, so it was cool because it was almost like a collaborative project,” she said.
Among the ideas that made it into the final draft: use of the first person, a new and more suspenseful ending and more dragons.
She said she wanted to appeal to all kids — she had 13 boys and six girls in her class — so she included both action-packed fight scenes and romantic interests, as well as coming-of-age issues and other real-life struggles readers can relate to. She also consulted her 11-year-old daughter for age-level feedback as well as her former Fitch High School English teacher Daneen Roth.
Also part of the Charles Barnum environment is the 10 “superpowers” of clothing company Life Is Good, and around the time Dalton finished the book, the school was focusing on the power of compassion. Her church, Groton Bible Chapel, has a Haiti mission, helping an orphanage and school in Wangouman, and she decided she wanted to donate all of the profits from the sale of “Tanglewood” to support the teachers and their students; $15 of the $20 book cost goes to Wangouman, and the remaining $5 goes to shipping and processing.
Her students contributed $40 to the cause, and through the sale of her books — she said Groton assistant superintendent Susan Austin purchased several copies for the district’s libraries — she has raised more than $1,000. She said GBC missions pastor Andy Bonner regularly travels to Wangouman to deliver money and supplies.
Dalton said her students were very excited when they found out they met the $1,000 goal, cheering and getting teary-eyed. Many of them also found a love of writing, going from loathing the lessons at the beginning of the year to writing their own fantasy stories outside of class.
“I think the most exciting thing is not just the money raised for Haiti but the excitement built around writing and to see that your writing can impact the world and make global changes,” she said.
Dalton will be at the Bill Library in Ledyard from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday selling and signing copies of “Tanglewood,” which she said she hopes to turn into a trilogy and print through a national publishing house. For more information, visit heatherdaltontanglewood.wordpress.com.
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