Sunday, April 26, 2009

YAedge Featured Author: Sydney Salter (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Graphia)

Welcome to Sydney Salter, member of the awesome Class of 2k9! Sydney has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the life of a debut YA novelist.

I see that you are actually debuting TWO novels this year! Wow, double congrats! Could you tell us about them?

My first novel (4th manuscript) is a humorous YA called My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters. It’s about a 17-year-old girl who thinks she can solve all her problems (and hopefully snag a boyfriend) by getting a nose job. That’s the big nose part. The disaster part comes from various mishaps including a horrible day at work, inspired by one of my worst days in high school (wrecked van, destroyed wedding cake, fired after only four days on the job).

My second novel (1st much-revised manuscript) is a middle-grade called Jungle Crossing. It’s 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.

If you’re comfortable sharing – what’s the story behind your fabulous first sale(s)?

I recognized that my fourth manuscript was my most commercial so I only submitted it to agents. I got some lovely rejection letters. One agent didn’t want to represent me, but recommended I try Firebrand Literary. And they signed me! After a few rounds of revision with my agent, he submitted the novel and Harcourt offered me a contract. I accepted the offer while waiting in the airport to fly to the summer SCBWI conference in LA. I loved celebrating with my writing friends!

I had sent my other manuscripts to my agent and he really liked Jungle Crossing. Again, we did a few round of revisions and my Harcourt editor bought the manuscript just before Thanksgiving. Yay!

(This is the short version; the long version includes lots and lots of rejection!)

What personal experiences did you draw upon when developing your characters, plot?

I kept a daily diary in high school so I went back and reread several volumes to capture all that angst (about boys, my nose, family and friends). I also wanted to include many of the places I loved while growing up in Reno so the setting guided the plot—and then there was that wrecked van...

I just love the cover for My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters! Did you have input?

Oh, thank you! I love it too. The amazing and talented Carol Chu at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt designed the cover. I didn’t have any input, and given my messy, undecorated house, that’s probably a good thing.

You have a full family life with your husband, two daughters, two cats and two huge dogs. Whoa, girl – you’re busy! How do you work in time for your writing?

I will refer you back to my messy house (see above). I’m lucky to have an incredibly supportive family. My daughters are both in school now so I make the most of those hours. During the summer I resort to bribery—here are two cookies, now go to the children’s section and don’t talk to me for an hour. I’ve also learned to write in a variety of locations utilizing small chunks of time.

Jungle Crossing is set in Mexico and builds upon an “original Mayan legend”. How much research / travel went into the book?

To celebrate our 10th anniversary and our mother’s 60th birthdays, my husband and I planned a family trip to Mexico. I originally thought I’d do a little research and write a little something about Mayan culture for my daughters. Well, I got carried away and ended up reading everything I could find about Mayan history, culture, archeology, mythology…. My “little something” had transformed into an idea for a novel. By the time we took the trip, I knew several places I wanted to see, plus I wanted to spend time in Mayan villages. We had a memorable trip and I came home and wrote my first novel (which my daughters weren’t quite old enough to read).

For fun - imagine you are in a random bookstore. You see a teen pick up your book, walk to the counter and buy it - you would....

Ooh! Great question. I did see a teen pick up my book and not buy it (I resisted saying something). Let’s see, if I were alone, I’d simply relish the moment. If my friends or family were with me that book wouldn’t leave the store unsigned!

What’s your most hard-earned writing tip? (AKA – the one that took you the longest to learn, but it was the one that had the most impact on your work.)

Learn to love revision. I will probably always prefer that scary, exhilarating feeling of penning a first draft—anything is possible! My new characters are amazing! What is going to happen next? Yay for 10,000 words! But in reality I spend many more days revising already-written manuscripts with known flaws. How am I going to fix that? I’m really grateful for the way my editor and agent push me to make my stories better and better.

Any website promos or announcements?

Yes! I’m giving away a copy of My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters on The Class of 2k9 blog ( Just make a comment between now and April 30th and you’ll be entered to win.

Thanks for hanging with us! Hope to see you around the YAedge Book Club.

Thank you!


Tami Klockau said...

Amazing questions Tracy (I may have to steal a few for the book club) and great answers! Count me in as someone who adores the cover of My Big Nose...Congrats Sydney!

Sydney, I'm actually doing a ton of research for my next story about Hawaii (and maybe I'll squeeze a trip out of it!). I was thinking of contacting a mythology/history teacher to help with a few questions I have based on Polynesian mythology. Did you go this route or did you do most of your research in the library/online?

HeatherMarie said...

Great interview! Much better than mine. lol Though for anyone interested in seeing my interview with Sydney, go here: :)

Seriously though, excellent questions. I'm telling ya My Big Nose is sounding better all the time. I really need to get my hands on a copy.