Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Author Interview - Sydney Salter

I got to meet author Sydney Salter at a SCBWI Nevada conference. It was inspiring to me to find someone who was both a mom and a successful published author! She was also super nice--she could tell I was stressing about query letters and so she offered to let me look through some of hers. Thanks, Sydney! And thanks so much for doing this interview for our blog!

First of all, by way of introduction, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself and your books?

I live in Utah with my husband, two daughters, two dogs, two cats, and a pair of quiet tortoises. When I’m not writing middle-grade and YA fiction I enjoy hiking, skiing, reading, cooking, traveling, and exceptional chocolate. My books are:

My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters (ages 12 and up): 17-year-old Jory Michaels is convinced she can solve all her problems (and snag herself a boyfriend) by getting a nose job.

Jungle Crossing (ages 10 and up): The intertwining coming-of-age stories of two girls, one who reluctantly travels to Mexico with her family over summer vacation, the other an ancient Mayan royal stolen from her town and forced to make the treacherous journey back home.

Swoon At Your Own Risk (ages 12 and up): After a junior year of dating disasters, Polly Martin has sworn off boys. Now she's just trying to survive her summer job at Wild Waves Western-themed water park (under the supervision of ex number three, Sawyer Holmes) and focus on herself for once.

When did you decide to become an author?

I started keeping a daily diary during high school, and while I mostly complained about my mother and swooned over various boys, I developed my writing voice. And a daily habit. (I still can’t go to sleep without penning a few sentences in my diary.) In the back of my mind, I hoped to write novels some day. But who was I to attempt something so grand?

I didn’t start writing fiction until after I graduated from college with an English degree. I worked at a series of boring temp jobs while my husband attended medical school. To keep myself busy, I took evening writing classes and filled notebook after notebook with practice writing during my lunch breaks and while my husband studied for hours and hours—and hours.

I started writing for children when my youngest daughter started preschool. I made the most of those two-and-a-half hours a day!

What motivates you to write?

Oh, I really love writing. If I’m not working on a novel, I will sit at my desk and do writing exercises. I write at least a little bit every day. Now, if I could find the motivation to fold the laundry—that would be something!

Has it ever been a challenge for you to balance being a writer with being a mom?

Yes! For me it was much easier to find the right balance before I got published. I used to set aside my writing time while my kids were in school or busy with friends or activities on the weekends. Now that I’m working under deadlines and have additional promotional duties, I find that my writing time bleeds into my family time more than I’d like.

Since I value my marriage and relationships with my daughters more than anything else, I try really, really hard to turn my computer off right before dinner. I am also very fortunate in that I don’t have to work an additional job outside the home. That would make things extra tricky!

You wrote for several magazines before your first book came out. What was your very first magazine publication? Were you excited?

My first published story was called “Sophie’s Butterfly” and sold to Wee Ones Magazine (online). I received a check for $9.69. I immediately opened “Sydney’s Writing Account” at my local bank. I also pinned the check to my bulletin board (it’s still there). After a few more magazine sales and some local writing contest wins, I withdrew money from my writing account and took my family to Disneyland.

I really encourage writers to sell stories to magazines while working on longer pieces. Sometimes that little bit of positive feedback can keep you going through periods of doubt and rejection.

Tell us a little about your writing process. How long do you spend in planning, in drafting, and in revising a novel?

I spend quite a bit of time planning my novels. I used to create an outline for each book, but now that I’m working with an agent, I write a detailed synopsis of the story. I also make a notebook for my work-in-progress. I keep research notes, character biographies, and scene ideas inside. I also clip out magazine pictures that relate to the story.

Once my agent and I work out the kinks in my synopsis, I start writing. I like to write daily while working on a first draft (even if I only squeeze in 100 new words on some days). I can write a first draft in about 6 to 8 weeks. Revision, of course, takes the most time. My mom, my teenage daughter, and members of my writing group read the story. Then my agent gives me feedback before my editor has a whole bunch of other ideas for improvement. Revisions take months!

Every author finds a unique path to book publishing. Can you tell us the story of how you broke in?

I wrote three manuscripts before drafting My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters during National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org). Once I finished revising the story with my writing group, I realized that this manuscript had the most commercial appeal of all my novels so I only queried agents. I got nice feedback from a handful of agencies, before one recommend me to my current agent. Things moved pretty quickly once I had an agent to advocate for me.

What is your favorite part of being a published author?

Making a small difference in a reader’s life. I love hearing that a reluctant reader couldn’t put Jungle Crossing down. Or that a teenager feels better about herself after reading My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters.

Do your children get involved in your writing?

I’ve asked my daughters to never do anything worthy of a YA novel plot. I want them to be really boring teenagers! Joking aside, I do ask my daughters to read my stories and give feedback. For the book my agent is currently submitting, I asked my oldest to list her top five worries and I gave similar worries to my character of the same age. I also like to sneak a few inside jokes into my stories. The desk-licking reference in Swoon At Your Own Risk was inspired by one of my daughter’s classmates a few years ago.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Read, read, read, write, write, write, study the craft of writing, finish your stories, learn to love revision, and never, never, never give up!

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Sydney! We wish you all the best!
Learn more about Syndey and her books at www.sydneysalter.com


  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  2. Excellent interview! I love learning about authors I've not read yet and I can't wait to read her books. :)

  3. Wow! What an awesome interview! Sydney sounds wonderful! And I've heard of her books! I'll have to check them out.


  4. Great interview! I've heard of her books too. I guess it's time to hit the library!



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