BookEnds welcomes YA author Steven Salvatore!
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Where do you write, and how often?
My process is strange. When an idea comes to me, I spend days thinking about it. I’ll write down a few sentences that capture the essence of the idea in the moment, but nothing more than that. I need time to think, to internalize, to really understand my main character before I ever write another word. Usually this involves really long showers or aimless car rides where I talk to myself in the voice of my character. I find this both therapeutic and effective because I can embody the character in a safe space. If I’m in the car, I’m technically interacting with the “real world,” or at least moving about it freely, and if I’m in the mindset of my main character, I can get a good feel for how they might interact with the world too. I have friends who have to outline before diving in. I can’t. Not until I walk around in my character’s head first.
When I actually sit down to start, I need very specific conditions. I have friends who can write in crowded cafés and at designated desks in their homes. I have to be in my pajamas curled up in a ball on my couch without anyone around to distract me. Usually this results in me telling my husband not to talk to me, which he’s learned to deal with; he’s a saint. Once I start writing, I could spend all day every day writing. I go through spurts where all I do is write, which results in me shirking my work responsibilities. Then I’ll go through serious dry spells. Essentially, there’s no rhyme, reason, or convention to anything I do.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Beyond letting an idea bounce around inside my head and walking around in my character’s shoes for a bit like a crazy person, once I sit down to write, I have to have music playing. I usually can’t start writing anything substantial until I’ve crafted the perfect playlist of songs that captures the mood of whatever I’m writing. Music moves me and allows me to get into the emotion of any given scene.
If money were no object, what would be your dream writing location?
A villa in the Cyclades on Mykonos near the Agios Sostis beach. Pure magic.
What book do you wish you had written, and why?
Openly Straight by Bill Konisgberg. I wrote about why here. Essentially, it’s a heartbreaking examination of identity and labels, that discusses the difference between tolerance, acceptance, and celebration. It ended me when I read it five years ago.
What’s the last book you read?
And She Was by my brilliant friend Jessica Verdi. It’s the most important book I’ve read in a really, really long time.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice you’ve received?
I have two:
1) There’s a scene in the greatest cinematic masterpiece of all time, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, where Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Mary Clarence is talking to Lauryn Hill’s Rita, and gives her this great lecture about following her dreams of being a singer. She says, “I went to my mother who gave me this book called Letters to a Young Poet. Rainer Maria Rilke. He’s a fabulous writer. A fellow used to write to him and say, ‘I want to be a writer. Please read my stuff.’ And Rilke says to this guy: ‘Don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning you can think of nothing but writing, then you’re a writer.’” I remember watching that movie as a young kid and knowing that it resonated with me, but not really understand why until much later. Side note: Read Letters to a Young Poet, it’s my second favorite book on writing after Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
2) A writer friend of mine, Brandon, who co-facilitates a writers workshop with me at our local LGBTQ+ center told me recently that if something isn’t working, whether it’s a plot point or a character trait, it’s because at some point, somewhere in your writing, you told a lie. Whether it was to yourself, or through your writing, you lied, and now you can’t write your way out of it. That really struck me.
What excites you most about joining the BookEnds family?
Ten letters, five syllables: NAOMI DAVIS. She is everything. Her passion for my writing means the world to me. She really gets me. I think that’s so rare.
What advice would you give to other authors in the query trenches?
Beyond making sure you’ve finished your manuscript, gone through multiple round of edits and beta readers, and done your research on the agents you’re querying, you have to believe in yourself and your story. Just keep at it. I started querying in 2009, and queried six different manuscripts until Naomi offered representation on the right manuscript. I sent out 236 queries in total across that nine-year span, got a total of 66 requests, but all it took was the right book landing in the hands of the right agent. All it takes is one “yes.” Now, looking back, I can earnestly say that previous manuscripts I queried weren’t ready, even though I thought they were. Never stop growing, and never give up if you believe in yourself.
Where can readers find you on the web and social media?
Find me on Twitter at @StevenSSWrites. Fair warning: I tweet a lot about politics, and I use a lot of drag queen GIFs.