Special! An Interview with Author Sally Walker

Sally Walker, author of Written in Bone, Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, Fossil Fish Found Alive, and other exciting books, graciously agreed to an interview. We’re excited to share her answers to our questions.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?

Actually, I have always wanted to be a children’s book writer. I can remember telling my parents that I wanted to write books when I grew up. It has always been children’s books, though writing wasn’t something I started doing as a career, though, until 21 years ago.

If you weren’t a writer, what your job be?

An archaeologist, or an extremely talented musician, or a Caldecott medal-worthy illustrator. The last two professions I am tremendously unqualified to be, but I’m wishing here! My first real choice if I weren’t a writer would be to be an even better writer.

What advice would you give to young writers?

Read as often as you can, on a wide variety of topics. The more you read, the better you will write. Besides, reading is fun!

What is the hardest part of writing a book?

Thinking up the title. I do not like doing that. After that, it’s knowing when to stop adding too much information. Fortunately, my editors have all had red pencils with everlasting sharp points.

What is it about nonfiction that draws you, as opposed to writing novels or picture books, for instance?

My love of learning for all kinds of topics. I am referring to the kind of learning that we all feel for topics that we are passionate about. The kinds of things where we go to the library or the Internet and start looking for information just because the subject intrigues and fascinates us. Like fish, gravestones, or funny, hairless cats.

Your books have such unexpected subjects—where do you get your ideas?

My ideas come from many different places: newspapers, T.V. shows, museums, friends, family, my neighborhood, teachers, librarians, historical places, graveyards, looking at earth, watching my pets. . . .

Do you have any ideas for new books right now?

I always have ideas. As a matter of fact, my agent is always telling me to slow down, that I have enough on my plate. I have a file in my drawer that is labeled: Future Book Possibilities. It’s overflowing.

Do you travel to certain places to do research for your books—South Carolina for Secrets of the Civil War Submarine, or Maryland for Written in Bone—or do you do it all from home?

Whenever it’s remotely possible, I try to see my “characters” in person. For the submarine book, I went to South Caroline and Washington D. C.; for Written in Bone, I went to Virginia, D.C., and Maryland. I’m working on a book now, but most likely won’t get to visit the area, for environmental reasons, distance, etc. But I have lots of friends who work there, and they are generously sharing their experiences with me.

What’s the strangest fact that you’ve learned when researching a book?

That no one has managed to figure out where baby Coelacanths live. We think we know everything. I am always delighted to discover that we don’t!

Did you like to read when you were a kid? What kind of books?

I loved to read when I was a kid!!!!! And still do!!!!! I read horse books, mysteries, dog books, stories about Robin Hood, stories about Native Americans, and Dr. Seuss.

Who is your favorite author or book?

My faves included: Nancy Drew, The Happy Hollisters, Farley’s Black Stallion books, Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague books, Albert Payson Terhune’s dog books, and Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I still love Green Eggs and Ham.

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?

Reading, especially mysteries and sci-fi, gardening until my fingers hurt (and then sitting back and admiring my work), eating potato chips, and hiking. And daydreaming.

Do you have any subjects that you’ve always wanted to write about, but haven’t?

I would like to write a novel for middle grade readers, but I don’t know how. It seems like it would be very hard work. And for the moment, I’m having too much fun writing nonfiction. But someday, when I grow up, I may give it a try.

Thanks so much to Sally Walker, for her time and her incredibly interesting responses! You can visit Sally at sallymwalker.com, to learn more about her and her books.

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