2017 Reading Project: Expanding My Worldview

For the past few years, I’ve focused about half the books I read into what I call Reading Projects. Sometimes I read to prepare for a trip – so that I understand the history and culture of the place I’m visiting. I have a lifelong project to read a biography about each American president. Right now I’m finishing up a series of books about the 1920s. Just for fun – and to catch a few classics I had missed along the way. I’m old enough to appreciate them more now 🙂

A few months ago my 17-year-old daughter came home from school, insisting that I watch the TED talk her English teacher had shown in class: The Danger of A Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Not only did the talk inspire me as a writer, it inspired me as a reader.

My 2017 reading project will be to read at least 12 books from non-European cultures. I also plan to include some history for context. I write a brief note about all the books I read on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/SydneySalter), but I plan to blog about my 2017 Reading Project.

I am so excited to learn more about people all around the world!

Must Reads For YA Writers

A few years ago whenever people asked me how someone my well-past-teen age could write YA, I’d explain how the emotions have remained consistent since I was a teenager.

I’m not sure that’s entirely true anymore. Oh, sure we all still experience a range of emotions, but the prevalence of social media has shifted the landscape in a profound way. Even while parenting teens, I’ve noticed dramatic changes in the four years separating my daughters. As a parent, I know I’m always a step behind. So what does that mean for my drawer novels? More concerning: what does it mean for my WIP?

Thankfully, two great new books will help both writers and parents bridge the gap.

I purposely sat next to different moms during every soccer game, flashing American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales. The book inevitably provoked an interesting conversation with my fellow soccer moms. I wish every mom, teen and writer would read this one. It’s a bit harrowing at times. One night my 16-year-old daughter snuggled next to me in bed and read a few chapters along with me. She plans to finish it on her own this summer. We’ve already had so many great discussions about social media, the pressure on girls, and how we use technology.

The bright pink title of Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein

made me wonder what rumors might ensue if I read this one at halftime. Ironically, the social media book is more graphic. I loved Orenstein’s thoughtful interviews on wide-ranging topics. She truly respects her teenage subjects while remaining an adult. YA writers could benefit from her writing voice, in addition to the subject matter. This one is now waiting on my college-aged daughter’s bed for when she arrives home next week. Her sister will read it next.

As a parent, I often wish the world were different for my daughters–and I know many parents who pretend things haven’t changed all that much.

The problem comes when we don’t acknowledge the way things have changed, as writers. Readers depend upon us not to talk down to them. To portray the truth. Provide a realistic slice of life.

That means keeping up with changing times. We owe it to our readers!

Book Versus Movie: ROOM

Over and over again this happens: I see an intriguing book-based film trailer and hurry to read the book before seeing the movie, but then I like book so much that I never bother seeing the movie. Rarely do movies capture the nuances and subplots that make books so rich and satisfying. I’m especially disappointed with nonfiction adaptations–so much of the good information in the book never makes it to the screen (and probably shouldn’t for storytelling purposes). Oh, The Lady In Gold, the book. Sigh.

So I never bothered to see Room. The book was SO clever–faithfully maintaining the POV of a five-year-old boy! Clever. Clever. Clever.

But then I found myself having seen 6 of the 8 nominees for this year’s Best Picture Oscar. Our great indie theater happened to be showing both Brooklyn and Room, so a double-feature proved irresistible, despite my reservations about Room. The young actor supposedly did a great job…so…but the book was SO clever!

Even though I knew the entire plot, I found myself on the edge of my seat, caught up in intensity and emotion. I hadn’t felt that way while reading the book. Only the mother’s POV could deliver that kind of emotion–a mother’s drive to protect, the heartbreak of losing her own childhood… The boy’s voice came through in the movie too. Yet the movie, released from the constraints of a child’s POV, also captured the dynamic relationship between the mother and son. I left the theater emotionally exhausted, and I couldn’t stop thinking about that young mother.

I also couldn’t stop thinking about how the book lost too much by being clever. That’s a real danger for us writers, isn’t it? We focus on coming up with the next BIG IDEA without wondering if the truth in the story will suffer. Maybe the most clever way to tell a story isn’t always the best way?

Room the movie wins this battle. I hope it brings home some Oscar statues this Sunday!

Rah-Rah Write!

A couple of nights ago, I had dinner with several writer friends, and we got to talking about Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book about living a creative life. Different aspects of the book resonated with each of us.

I love the way she dismisses the notion that we should have to “suffer” for art.

My project this past year has been to put the fun back into my writing life. I joined a pen pal group with people all over the world. I’m working my way through a challenging writing exercise book. I’ve written a dozen short stories. Retreating a bit has reminded me why I write: I LOVE IT! (And I probably couldn’t stop if I wanted to.)

Big Magic is an easy-to-read, light-hearted, and accessible cheerleading book–sometimes we need to remember that the creative life should be a happy one!

Learning From Other Genres

People often say that if you want to write in a particular genre, read 100 books in that genre, and I really like that advice. But I also think there are advantages to breaking free from your genre and learning what another has to offer. 

Last weekend I took a class about writing Collage Memoir from Paisley Rekdal who teaches in the MFA program at the University of Utah. While I do write in a journal every night, I’m not quite sure why, since my life is usually pretty dull. I read, I write, I cook, less often I clean…I watch soccer, drive carpool, chat with friends, watch TV, bad Reality TV…
ZZZZ.
So it was interesting to discover that I do have interesting things to say as Paisley guided us through a series of readings, followed by writing exercises. Collage writing combines personal writing, poems, photography, art, fiction–or even “found language” from news articles, etc. 
I actually came up with a few essay ideas that I’d like to pursue. And I added several unusual books to my ongoing To-Read list–books I never would’ve heard of otherwise–like Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud which provided the starting point for the class. Talk about a different genre! 
Best of all–I found myself jotting down note after note about ways I could use collage writing techniques to develop characters in my novel and move the story forward in unique ways. So, if you’re looking for a way to pump some energy into your writing, try taking a class outside of your comfort zone. It’ll spark your imagination for sure!
Thanks [email protected] for sponsoring the class!

A Few Books on Writing Craft

I’m always surprised when I encounter one of those writers who thinks the struggle to master craft stops with publication. Learning is my favorite thing about writing and I’m always stretching myself to improve my craft.

April is Poetry Month so I’m working through Writing The Life Poetic by Sage Cohen and filling my practice notebook with a lot of mediocre verse. Poetry has always intimidated me (I never understood all the significance my high school teachers found in poems), but it’s something I want to learn. So I’m practicing every day. The short chapters and exercises in this book are, for lack of a more poetic word, fun.

Here are some other books that have helped me along the way:





Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg. This book gave me permission to practice. Until I found this book I thought that becoming an author required some elusive mixture of alcoholism and magical talent that I didn’t seem to possess. Twenty-three spiral notebooks later, I will always be grateful to Natalie Goldberg for showing me the first steps to becoming a writer.



The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer. The gorgeous graphic design in this notebook has me looking forward to the next exercise. These short exercises are a great way to jump-start creativity, silence that annoying internal editor, and feel a sense of accomplishment no matter what else gets written that day. I meet a lot of writers who “just don’t have the time.” Everyone has the daily ten minutes needed for these quick prompts. No excuses!!!





If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland. Published in 1938 this book provides timeless nuggets of advice as well as inspiration. Ueland writes, “Everybody is talented, original and has something to say…” After you’ve read Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing try this one.





The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass. I read this one so vigorously the pages came loose! I’ve got high-lighted sections, sticky note markers, notes jotted… I especially love the Practical Tools sections at the end of each chapter. I find myself returning to this craft-intensive book again and again.



Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I bought this book when I first started revising Jungle Crossing, but I’ve returned to it every manuscript since. It’s also the gift I give to all my friends who complete their first novel.

One last note: Take the time to do the writing exercises listed in craft books. It’s often too tempting, too easy, to think, Yup. Did that. Mmm-hmm. Did that too. I’m obviously brilliant–no need to revise. YAY!

You’re not really stretching your abilities unless you dig in and do the difficult work.