Over the last fifteen years, author Susie Salom lived all over the U.S. before coming back to El Paso, the city where she was born and raised. Her debut middle grade novel, “Kyle Finds Her Way,” is out now.
The book follows the life of Kyle Constantini, an 11-year-old who finds herself in the principal’s office after punching a boy who teased a deaf student. As punishment, she joins a constructive problem-solving program that she ends up enjoying as she powers through the inevitable challenges of adolescence.
Salom chats with What’s Up about the long road to publication, writing for young people and the importance of remembering our own power.
Q. Tell us how the novel came to be.
I wrote “Kyle Finds Her Way” in the spring of 2013 and then shelved her for a few months while we made a cross-country move. A close friend and fellow writer really encouraged me not to keep Kyle in my pocket for too long, so in the fall of 2013, I submitted a sample of the book to a blog known for matching writers with agents. That is how I found my agent, and how Kyle started to find her way. I signed with the agency in the spring of 2014 and, that summer, my agent had submitted the story to two editors on an exclusive. One of them, at an imprint of Scholastic, offered a contract in the fall of 2014. Traditional publication with the larger, established houses is typically a two-year process. So, here we are, two years later. A long journey, but well worth it!
Q. This is your debut novel. What drew you to write for middle schoolers? How do you feel it’s different than writing for an adult audience?
Writing for a younger audience has its joys because there’s a particular freedom in the way you allow yourself to think and to express those thoughts. It really is a lot like letting your inner kid come out to play and make mischief. When I was in my twenties, I taught middle school and volunteered as a camp counselor for middle schoolers through the church I was attending at the time. By my late twenties, I was married and starting a family, and that’s when I had the opportunity, as a mom who worked from home, to start writing stories. When I decided to write a novel from the perspective of a middle schooler, it felt natural and it was a very good time
Q. Where did you find the inspiration for Kyle? Was it difficult to find her voice?
My initial inspirations for Kyle were some of my own experiences when I was her age. Every author is unique in their process and, for me, I start with the seed of a memory and then plant it in the soil of a certain daily word count and see what erupts from those two things. Characters always end up blooming as their own person, but I do draw from all of the sensory and emotional data I’ve accumulated over my lifetime. My weakness as a writer is that I never have been able to begin with a truly airtight premise, which would make it easier to pitch and to market! But where I do feel the most comfortable is in the heart at the base of my throat. It always finds a way to speak from a place that feels true. Voice, so far, has been everything for me.
Q. What do you hope readers will take away from the novel?
I want every person who gives the book I have written the gift of their time to come away with two things. First, I want to entertain. I’ve always loved to make people laugh and to feel happy and uplifted and encouraged. Secondly, I want readers to explore the relationship they have with themselves. To think about their thought patterns. To explore the notion that what they think and decide and commit to with their actions as a result has an inherent power that contributes to the constant creation of our world. I don’t want anyone feeling powerless. We’re all in touch with something greater than ourselves. We all have influence and nothing and no one can ever fully mess with that. If we remember our power and decide to apply it for the greater good, wow. Who knows what amazing things await the human family? I think it’s a great idea to begin that empowerment early, to begin helping the youngest among us to find their own true way.