Nancy Schatz Alton: Terrible Receptionist, Passionate Writer

By Elena Louise Richmond

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Elena Louise Richmond profiles Nancy Schatz Alton.

Nancy Schatz Alton – The Healthy Back Book

Nancy Schatz Alton told me she was used to being the interviewer, not the interviewee.  I’m not used to sticking to the facts so both of us were looking at unfamiliar territory when we set up our interview.  She came to my house: with two children under the age of ten, she wanted to get out of hers.  Me, I can’t think in noisy, crowded coffee shops and bars. With our Gemini suns, both of us are easily over-stimulated and prone to generate more energy within ourselves than we know what to do with.  We both prefer one-on-one time with people.

I found it interesting that Nancy was used to being the listener because she didn’t even need to be wound up.  Her story poured out of her.  Maybe that’s what interviewing does to you after a while. We all have stories to tell.  But she started by saying she couldn’t imagine how I would interview her because she wasn’t a fascinating person. I asked her to tell me the most uninteresting thing about her.

“I grew up in suburban Minnesota,” she said.

That explains the self-deprecation.

After graduating from Macalester College, Nancy came to Seattle and showed enviable initiative in applying for writing jobs.  She wrote for Adventure Media airline magazines. When she couldn’t find writing jobs, she worked as a receptionist at Seattle magazine.

“I was a terrible receptionist,” she said.  “I was annoyed with everyone who came in. I wanted to say, ‘Why are you here?’ All I wanted to do was write.”

She wrote The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knee Book with Astrid Pujari, a Seattle physician and founder of The Pujari Center of spiritually centered and integrative medicine.  The work required her to ask medical professionals to contribute their expertise which in turn involved a lot of cold calling.  Nancy described her first cold call to a doctor.

“He asked, ‘What’s in it for me?’ All I could think was Don’t hang up the phone!”

Nancy told the doctor the truth: that he wouldn’t get any financial remuneration but he would get his name put to his contribution along with the knowledge that someone might be helped by what he had to say.  She never heard from him again.

But she finished both books and got a couple of nice fat advances for them.  She hasn’t seen anything since because the publisher hasn’t promoted the books.  We talked about self-promotion and marketing.  Nancy said she would promote a book if she felt passionate enough about it. We agreed that’s what it takes: one has to feel passionate if she is going to shove herself out there into the world and declare, “I am very proud of my life and my book.”

Nancy is passionate about what she’s working on now: a memoir about being a mother to a dyslexic child: But Still and Yet is about “how to be in the world differently.”  As she works on this book, she writes a lovely, reflective blog.

How she finds time to do any of this, I don’t know.  She’s married to Chris Alton and the two of them have two daughters KK, 10 and Elizabeth Annie, 7.   Here is Nancy’s description of herself from her website:

“I’m a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach, too. I’m a baker and a short-order cook by virtue of the fact that I love to eat and I have two picky children to feed. I’m a runner who can’t imagine not lacing up my running shoes at least a few times a week. And a walk with family or friends is bliss.”

She doesn’t mention what a fascinating person she is to talk with.

You can find out more about Nancy Schatz Alton. Visit her personal page on

Leave Reply