Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Aimee L. Salter is an American who grew up in New Zealand. She now lives in Southern Oregon with her (kiwi) husband and son. She writes novels for teens and the occasional adult who, like herself, is still in touch with their inner high-schooler. She never stopped appreciating those moments in the dark when you say what you’re really thinking. And she’ll always ask you about the things you wish she wouldn’t. Every Ugly Word is her debut novel.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I first began writing in 2009—an urban fantasy that I still believe I’ll get published one day. I spent two years on that trilogy, got an agent, got some great editors to read it. But then my agent left the industry, and I went back to the drawing board.
I started writing the book that would eventually become Every Ugly Word in 2011. There was a lot of tears and darkness in that original version. It wasn’t much more than a cathartic re-imagining of my past (I was badly bullied from 12-17 years of age, and constantly in love with someone who didn’t love me back).
Thankfully, over time I got some perspective on it. The concept seemed to really resonate with people, so I kept working until I thought it was ready for a professional eye. In August of 2012 I signed with Brittany Howard as an agent. She really “got” the story and we worked on it together, even put it through a round of submissions to some big editors. But she became the internationally bestselling author, Cora Carmack, and had to leave agenting.
After deciding I must have bad luck with agents, I eventually self-published the story as Breakable in 2013. Six months later, I was contacted by Alloy Entertainment with an offer to acquire it. Over the next four months we edited it and it was re-released as Every Ugly Word in July 2014.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
There are two things I’m working on right now. One is the paperback release of Every Ugly Word. It was originally published as “digital first” (which essentially meant if it didn’t sell enough copies to satisfy my publisher, it would only ever be available in e-book). I’m very blessed that readers took to it, so the physical book is coming out in June. We’re working towards highlighting that for teens and schools, because to this point my readers are almost 100% 30+ women.
I’ve also just finished a companion novella which tells the last half of the story from the point-of-view of the love interest, Matt. That’s been a really fun experience, and I can’t wait for readers to get to see his side of the story.
I also have another book on submission right now, which I can’t really talk about. But I have my fingers loosely crossed for a completely new, standalone novel to hit the shelves this year, or early next.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I’m really blessed! We bought a new house last year and I have a real office now. I work on an antique oak writing desk, and have a matching antique barrister’s bookcase next to it. Also a lot of mess. As well as writing, I run a small business on the side selling Jamberry Nail Wraps, mainly because I just love them so much; I use them myself all the time.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
I work Monday to Friday, 8:00am to 1:30pm.
Typically, I get up around 6:30, get my son off to school, and my husband off to work. I’m at my desk by 8:00am. I spend some time with God, then get straight into writing.
My creative juices generally run out around 11:30 or 12:00, at which point I’ll eat something, then handle the social media, emails, blog interviews, other work—whatever else is on my plate.
I’m VERY protective of that writing time first thing, though. I only make appointments during those hours if it’s unavoidable, or if I’m not currently working on a project that has deadlines.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I’m a fast writer, and usually get somewhere around 3000 words written every day, unless I’m at a spot where I’m struggling. But life also has a habit of interfering with a writer’s flow. So when I commit to a new project, I allow myself a month longer than I actually think I need to get the first draft done. Which means I give myself twelve weeks.
(I always set myself deadlines for finishing drafts or revisions, otherwise I end up switching back and forth and endlessly second-guessing myself and never finishing anything).
During actual writing sessions, I light my favorite scented candle. I also have my iPod dock and speakers within arm’s reach—I use music when I’m revising, but only sometimes while writing a first draft. I usually need silence to really fall into a new story, but sometimes I need mood music to get something working in my head, or to connect with it emotionally. In that case, I’ll choose a song that fits a certain scene, or character, and play it on loop while I’m writing.
Other than that, I just write. I’ve learned over the past couple years how important discipline is in this business. Yeah, of course there are days I don’t feel like writing. And there are days I give in to that and just putter around on Facebook. Or go out to lunch. But 99% of the time, between 8:00am and 11:30 you will find me at my desk (often later than that, too). Because I know that the only way to get a book finished and polished is to push on.
I think this habit of writing regardless of how you feel is actually an especially important habit for unpublished writers to form, because if you haven’t learned to bend the muse to your will, working to editing deadlines will kill you.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
Because I believe it’s what I was created to do. It’s the way my brain works. It’s the only thing aside from my family and relationships that gives me genuine joy and fulfillment.
Even as a child I often lived in a fantasy world. I created stories in my head, imagined them, played them out. Lived them. As I grew older, I thought I just had a good imagination. Turns out, my brain was wired to write. It just took me a while to accept that.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Ideas can come from anywhere, but for me the important thing is that the idea engages both my brain and my heart. I find music very inspiring on a day-to-day basis (i.e. to get my emotions flowing and helping me set them on the page). But the ideas themselves just come at random moments.
For example, the book I have on submission right now is quite a dark story. It isn’t my story. It was inspired in part by someone I care about, and in part by experiences I saw my friends have in high school. I jokingly call it a Conglomerate of Pain.
But it has a point. There’s something in the character’s journey that connects for me personally. An emotional triumph that I experienced, and hope others will too. Even though the story is very dark, it has a happy ending. And I hope readers will eventually get to share it with me, and for those that share this kind of darkness in their lives, it might cast a bit of hope.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
The hardest thing for me is how much others don’t understand what I do, or what is involved in having any kind of success as an author (and by that I don’t mean being a bestseller, I just mean getting a stinking contract in the first place). People think I sit down at a desk, happy and chirpy, spew some words onto a page and give it to someone who gives me money for it.
It’s the furthest thing from the truth. I’ve been studying the craft of fiction for almost six years now, and I’m only just starting to get a handle on it. I have to keep reading, keep learning. I have to discipline myself to push through when I know something I’m writing isn’t working. I have to deal with constant rejection—from critique partners, potential agents, potential editors, reviewers, readers—it literally never stops! It’s crucial to develop a thick skin in this industry so you aren’t pierced by every little arrow.
And, honestly, on a day-to-day basis, I am frustrated by people’s expectations of what being a published author means in terms of my income. If they knew details, they would be sorely disappointed, I think. And my release has sold “strongly” for a midlist author.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED?
That a writer needs perseverance and humility in equal truckloads.
Perseverance because it’s normal to take years to get your first contract—and even after that, most authors are in a contract-to-contract battle to stay afloat financially, and in the reader’s minds. Not to mention that you’ve got to be strong enough to keep going in the face of constant rejection.
And humility because we don’t always get it right. No one knows everything. And even though creative work is artistic, it’s also a commercial venture if you want to sell it in any form. So you have to be willing to at least consider that someone else can help make it better. And more often than not, you will find out somewhere along the line that it’s time to put something aside and find a new project.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC OR PROFESSIONAL VISION?
I want readers to connect with my fiction in their real lives. I want them to say that I’ve put into words something they felt, but couldn’t articulate—or something they experienced.
I want to tell the truth about life through a fictional vehicle.
And I want to add a little magic to the world.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
Katja Millay, Rainbow Rowell, Huntley Fitzpatrick
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Thank you, Aimee L. Salter!
— Nicole Melanson
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