Tuesday, August 25, 2009

TAKE TEN: Author Shelley Seale

Author Shelley Seale is using her love of travel to not only find enjoyment across the world but also bring attention to problems that she sees taking place along the way. A native of Dallas, Texas, she has written a powerful book called THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE* (Invisible Children of India). Conversations Book Club chose the book as its Book of the Month for August 2009 (see www.thebestbookclub.info). The author took out time from her busy schedule to talk with us about the project, the role of her family in her life and what she hopes you get from learning of her research.

Shelley, first of all, congrats on the release of your book THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE (Invisible Children of India). It is a powerful read. Before we get into the book and the message you send the world through it, I want to talk a little about you. When did you first realize you had a love of writing?
I have read since I can remember, and my love of stories and reading is what evolved naturally into my own desire to create stories. I loved writing since I was a kid – as a child I used to go to my grandmother’s nursing home and listen to resident’s stories, and then I would go home and make little books about their stories. Kind of dorky, but I really always loved to write.

When it comes to books, is that something your family was into as well or just yourself?
No one in my family is nearly as much of a bookworm as I am. But when I was little, I was the first child and also the first grandchild on both sides of the family. So I got a lot of undivided attention in my first few years, and my mom and both sets of grandparents read to me a LOT. So really, that was what created my love of reading. It was an incredible gift.

Since I mentioned your family, Shelley, I guess this is as good a place as any to ask about your soft spot for children, especially those who seem to be less fortunate. Why do you think you are interested in making a difference in their lives when so many would just turn the other way?
Yes, again I think that this originally stemmed from my family. When I was in junior high school my parents became foster parents, and we began taking babies into our home who were being put up for adoption. Through the years more than fifty children lived in our home. In fact, when I was a senior in high school my parents adopted my little sister Katie, who had been one of the foster children with us. So the knowledge that not all children had loving homes or parents was known to me from an early age, and I grew up being interested in children’s rights and advocacy. Besides these children in India that the book is about, I have also volunteered here at home through the years with Child Protective Services, teen mentoring centers, and CASA which provides advocates for children removed from their homes due to abuse. And both of my sisters work today for non-profits as well; one for a foster agency and one for Planned Parenthood.

There are many people who say that books allow them to go to places they wouldn't normally get a chance to visit. It would seem, however, that you enjoy traveling as well. What does it take to get you interested in a certain place?
It doesn’t take much to get me interested in going to any place! I would visit just about any place in the world if I had the opportunity. I do enjoy traveling, in fact “enjoy” seems like a very bland word for it. Travel is a true passion of mine. I am endlessly curious and fascinated about the world – there are so many different types of places, cultures, architecture, histories, traditions and people all over the world, and I love learning about as many as I can. And also, the fact that throughout it all, there are elements that are very common among us all and really bond us as humans, who are much the same anywhere in a lot of ways. Throughout my life, books really have taken me to places I was unable to go to otherwise – whether that was other places geographically, or even other places in time. Through books you can live the adventures of those from another time and place than your own.

Let's get into the book a little. Of all places to take an interest in, what led you to write about the plight of children in India?
I had been volunteering for The Miracle Foundation here in Austin, a non-profit which supports orphanages in India and recruits sponsors for the children living there. Caroline Boudreaux, the organizations’ founder, invited me to go on a volunteer trip to meet the kids in the orphanage, and I jumped at the chance. I took my first trip in March of 2005. I went with the expectation that all the children living there were orphans in the true sense of the word – that their parents were deceased. However, as I got to know them and their stories as individuals, I discovered that the majority of them had parents – only parents who had been too poor to feed them. They were orphaned by poverty, not death. Somehow that seemed an even greater tragedy to me. It led me to want to give them a strong and hopeful voice to tell their stories to others.

With all that is going on in that country, why do you think it is so under the radar?
I think for several reasons. First of all, traditionally orphans and abandoned or street children have been invisible to Indian society for the most part. They are largely considered “untouchables,” sort of relegated to the lowest of the low rung on the ladder. The caste system and long-held, imbedded cultural beliefs contribute to this, particularly in rural areas and among the more traditional and less educated people. Also, in the last several years, the focus of the world has been on India’s growing success story – its hugely growing middle-class, its increasing affluence and place in the world market in tech, pharmaceuticals and other industries. In the face of all this shimmering success, it’s all too easy for that shine to conceal the tragedies that lie underneath it all.

Can you give us an idea of the response you have gotten from the book and how that encourages you to keep spreading the word?
I have really gotten a phenomenal response to the book – it’s been so gratifying and rewarding. I feel that people are reacting in exactly the way I hoped they would, the reason that I wrote the book in the first place. My sole purpose was to simply give these children a voice so that they could be heard by others, who I was convinced would be as moved by their plight as I was. And that has been the case – people are touched by their stories and inspired to do something to help uphold their rights. One reviewer of the book, Mara Gorman, was so inspired that not only did she write a wonderful review, but she also pledged to donate $5 for every comment left on the review. It’s not often that a book reviewer is motivated to do something about an issue herself. That type of response has been amazing to me.

What do you hope your book THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE accomplishes in the long run?
My wildest dream is that it makes the reason that I wrote the book in the first place non-existent; that basically, it makes the book obsolete. That enough people will hear about these children and do something to give them a childhood and a future, before it’s too late.

Speaking as an author, what advice would you give to other aspiring writers who have an interest in a subject but just haven't taken the time to put anything on paper?
I would say to start small, and just keep at it. I think sometimes we get overwhelmed at the beginning with the thought of writing a whole article, or book, or getting published, etc. If you are really passionate about a subject, just begin jotting notes and journaling about it for your own purposes, and eventually something will grow organically from that. Network and tell people about it too; you never know who else you might come across who would be interested in your subject.

Thank you for talking with us, Shelley. If our readers want to find out more information about the book and you, where should they go online?
They can visit my website at http://weightofsilence.wordpress.com. This has not only information on the book and how to order it, but also many, many stories and updates on these children and the issues affecting them. You can subscribe to get follow-up information when I post a new update on the children and the book as well. The book is also available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, and can be ordered through any bookstore; but if you order it at my website you will get an autographed copy and a bookmark.

Much success to you, and we look forward to working with you in promoting the book and giving the children of India a much-needed voice. (THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE is published by Dog's Eye View Media.)

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