Class of 2k9 Author Interview: Sydney Salter

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Debut author and Class of 2k9 member, Sydney Salter, is my guest today at Shelf Elf. She’s here to talk about big noses, beauty, and living the adventure of writing her first novel: My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters. Welcome Sydney!

Tell us about your journey to publication.

Well, I think it started with the day Thane Fisher said “hi” to me during high school registration, and that exciting encounter inspired me to start keeping a daily dairy. Eventually, years later, I attempted to write short stories and filled spiral notebooks with practice writing. I wrote my first novel for my daughters to teach them about Mayan culture before a family vacation to Mexico (Jungle Crossing, HM Harcourt, September 2009). They weren’t old enough to read the story, but I was hooked.

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I loved writing! I learned how to become a professional by joining SCBWI and networking through conferences. I wrote two more manuscripts before writing My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters during National Novel Writing Month. Oh, the rush of writing 50,000 words in November! Recognizing that it was my most commercial novel, I only submitted it to agents. I’m lucky that Ted Malawer at Firebrand Literary found me in the slush pile—and then he matched me with the brilliant Julie Tibbott at Harcourt.

Sometimes I think I should dedicate a book to Thane Fisher, even though he still doesn’t know I’m alive!

What was the first thing you did when you found out your book was going to be published?

My agent and I accepted Harcourt’s offer to publish My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters while I was in the airport on my way to the SCBWI LA conference. I loved celebrating with fellow writers! My husband flew in for the weekend and met me in the hotel bar with champagne.

Describe your writing routine, or writing process. Do you have rituals? Are you an outliner?

As a busy mom, I’ve learned to avoid writing rituals. I write when and where I find a minute. Last summer I completed most of a first draft by bribing my daughters with frappuccinos and the promise not to talk to me for an hour while they perused the children’s section and I wrote in the bookstore café. I also took them swimming several days a week so I could write. I enjoy the long work days I have during the school year.

I do like to outline, loosely. My characters always surprise me, but I like to have a little bit of direction before facing that blank page.

What inspired My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters?

One of the most disastrous days of my high school life. And the fact that I hated my big nose as a teenager. The title kind of wrote itself.

Your bio reveals that you once had a job like Jory, “delivering pies and flowers, wrecking vans, and destroying wedding cakes.” Time to dish! Tell us your most nightmarish cake delivery story.

Only four days into my new summer job as a delivery driver for The Cake & Flower Shoppe, I backed into a short metal post, destroying the van’s sliding door. Later that same day, in an attempt to make amends for my earlier disaster, I set up some poor bride’s three-tiered wedding cake by myself. I ran to help my distressed boss with the flowers. When I came back, the cake had tumbled off its columns into a ball of frosting and grass. Needless to say, I was fired. I’m pretty sure I’m still remembered as their worst employee ever!

At several points in your novel, I just wanted to reach into the book and give Jory a good shake and shout at her, “Be happy the way you are! Stop hating yourself! Snap out of it!” She really struggles with feeling ugly and not worthy of love, and she would do just about anything to change her “Super Schnozz” into a “Nice Nose.” I think that the issue of self-loathing related to body image is so prevalent among teenage girls. What was it like getting inside the head of someone who was so hard on herself?

I reread my high school diaries—and suffered all over again. All that insecurity! So getting inside Jory’s head wasn’t too difficult; I’ve felt all of those emotions (even though most of what happens to Jory is entirely fictional).

I have to say I’ve been shocked as a mother to hear my beautiful teenage daughter complain about her looks. She doesn’t hate her nose, but her thighs cause her plenty of angst. And she’s so pretty! I hate the way girls compare themselves to media images, friends who do not share their body size or height, or some vague image in their head that will never match reality. Knowing that most girls are hard on themselves is far more painful for me than creating a fictional character. I wish I could write a happy ending for all girls.

My mother felt the same way about me.

I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to read Justina Chen Headley’s wonderful new novel, North of Beautiful, but your book and hers share a few themes, as her main character struggles to see herself as beautiful because of a port wine stain on her cheek. I think your two books would make a fabulous pairing at a teen book club. Justina has set up a challenge for people to create and submit videos describing what beauty means to them. What is beauty, according to Sydney Salter?

I loved North of Beautiful! Such a poignant story—I went through many tissues as I cried my way through the last several chapters. And I can’t wait to share the book with my daughters.

To me beauty means expressing yourself authentically. A beautiful person radiates with passion—whether it be a hobby, a cause, or a profession (I’m lucky to know so many beautiful women!). I also find people who like themselves to be incredibly attractive; they possess a quiet confidence that is irresistible and makes you feel good when you spend time with them. Button noses, firm thighs, and wrinkle-free faces have nothing to do with beauty once you get to know a person. I can think of more than one “beautiful” actress who lost all of her attractiveness to me when she opened her mouth and ugliness and ignorance poured out!

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m revising another humorous YA called Swoon At Your Own Risk. It’s about a girl who has broken up with five boyfriends over the past year so she’s afraid to risk falling in love again. But, of course, there’s this guy… She also has to deal with the repercussions of having her grandmother, a famous advice-columnist, move in with the family for the summer. She doesn’t worry about beauty, but she’s scared to make herself vulnerable in a relationship. And, of course, good relationships require a bit of vulnerability.

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Describe The Perfect Nose (according to you or according to Jory).

Well, Jory isn’t as enlightened as I am. The Perfect Nose is the one that’s on your face.

Thank you Sydney! It’s been a treat chatting with you.

My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters is published by Harcourt.

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