Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Deborah Halverson

Before taking our annual summer blogging break, we're featuring a very special Guest TeachingAuthor interview today. Deborah Halverson is joining us to celebrate the online launch of her new book, Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies (For Dummies/Wiley Publishing). As part of the celebration, we'll be giving away TWO copies of the book here on our TeachingAuthors blog. You can read our contest entry instructions following the interview.

After you've entered our contest, be sure to head on over to Deborah's DearEditor website. From June 29-July 5 she will be featuring daily “Free First Chapter Critique” giveaways, free downloads, excerpts from the book, and profiles of the 13 authors, editors, and agents who contributed sidebars to the book. For the grand finale of the book's launch, Deborah will be giving away a “Free Full Manuscript Edit” on the last day! You don't want to miss that opportunity.

In addition to Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, Deborah Halverson is the author of the award-winning teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, both published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Armed with a masters in American Literature, Deborah edited picture books and teen novels for Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years before leaving to write full-time. She is also the founder of the popular writers’ advice website, a frequent speaker at writers conferences, and a writing teacher for groups and institutions including UCSD’s Extension Program. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband and triplet sons. You can read more about her at her website, and on her blog

Welcome, Deborah. Would you begin by telling us how you became a TeachingAuthor?
     Fifteen years ago I sat across the desk from a human resources manager who looked me dead in the eye and said, “It’s not as glamorous as it looks.” Glamorous? I wanted to be a book editor, not a fashion model. The yen for glam was not what put me in the chair across from him. What put me in the chair across from him was a lifelong desire to be involved in some way in the making of books. If I could parlay all my schooling and specialized certificates into a career in bookmaking, I’d consider myself one lucky (and apparently unglamorous) girl.
     That day I became the editorial assistant to the managing editor in the children’s book department. There, I learned how books are made. Shortly after, I pushed my favorite chair and box of colored pencils to a desk down the hall where the acquisition editors toiled. There, I learned how the stories in those books are made. I was hooked.
     I spent ten years editing children’s book at Harcourt. I worked with amazing publishing people and brilliant authors and illustrators. And I didn’t have to move to New York to do it. But then, in one swoop, three more amazing people entered my life—my triplets—and it was time to give up the office job. I didn’t give up publishing, though. I stayed in, editing freelance and writing my own novels while my little ones napped. Writing was a natural transition for me—I’d secretly wanted to write novels since I was a little girl. I was hooked again.
     About the time I was finishing my second novel, I realized that, hey, I knew a heckuva lot about publishing from both sides of the desk. I should try teaching a class about writing for young people! UCSD’s Extended Studies gave me a shot, and I found out that I love teaching. For me, breaking down abstract notions like “narrative voice” into specific, tangible, teachable elements is loads of fun. Hooked again, line and sinker.
     So now I’m an official teaching author, and my editing style reflects that. My three professional loves overlap in a way that fulfills my creativity and lets me pay forward the knowledge that was so generously shared with me by the authors and editors who’ve helped me on my journey. I’m one lucky girl, indeed.

What's a common problem/question that your writing students have and how do you address it? 
     Nailing a youthful narrative voice can be challenging for grown-ups. When writers ask me how to sound convincingly young, I tell them to relax their grammar. That is, let their sentences purposely run on, double-back on themselves, repeat, and end prematurely. This can inject a more casual, off-the-cuff, and ultimately youthful quality into their narrative voice.  Plus, it’s just fun to break the rules once in a while. As long as your meaning remains clear, the grammar police won’t hunt you down. And what’s more youthful than breaking rules?

How does being an editor influence your writing?
     I sometimes wonder if I’d lay down my words on paper any differently were I not an editor. Probably. After all, it’s through editing that I learned common writing pitfalls and how to avoid them. One thing I do know for sure is that even though I am an editor, I must bring in fresh, objective, knowledgeable eyes to assess my manuscripts at some point. After spending weeks, months, or longer with a manuscript, every writer is susceptible to loosing sight of the forest for the trees. I’m no different in that respect. I always show my work to critique partners and other freelance editors.

Your new book, Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, is about the craft of writing YA. Do you include writing exercises in the book? And, if so, would you share one?
     I believe in arming writers with tangible techniques and encouraging them to experiment with those tools. That’s the way to take your craft to the next level. In that spirit, I’ve included writing exercises throughout Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies so that writers can apply the skills at hand directly to their works-in-progress. Writers can work through the exercises chapter by chapter to take their fiction from idea to final manuscript.
     One of my favorite exercises in the book is aimed at helping writers revise. I call it the “Stop Looking Test.” Actually, if we want to get technical, this is probably a “revision tool,” but it goes beyond the manuscript at hand, making you aware of your word and action choices in future stories. In the Stop Looking Test, writers must search for the words look, stare, glance, gaze, smile, frown, turn, nod, shrug, and the like in their manuscript. These verbs are dead weight. Oh, sure, they inject action into dialogue beats, but the action is blah. Action should reveal something about the character’s mood or the setting, or it should push the plot forward in some way. A page of characters gazing and staring at each other between lines of dialogue isn’t going to do that. When you find those words in your manuscript, replace them and the whole sentences with new material that has your characters manipulating props or reacting to the temperature or to other elements of the setting while they talk. If there’s nothing worth engaging in that room, move the conversation to another place that forces characters to act or react in an interesting, revealing way. Force the issue. I’d much rather read a scene about a mother and daughter arguing as Mom forces Daughter to weed the garden with her (all those sharp tools, and all that yanking and throwing of dirt and greenery, and the sun beating down on them…) than a scene showing them standing in the living room shrugging and staring at each other. I love the Stop Looking Test because the difference it can make in your manuscript is immense, immediate, and tangible. You feel this one.

What a terrific exercise, Deborah. I'm going to try it on my current work-in-progress. In addition to Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, you've published two young adult novels. Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might use one of your books in the classroom?
     Indeed, I do. My novel Big Mouth offers teachers and students a funny and fun way to talk about something serious: eating disorders in teenage boys. That topic has been important to me since high school, when a wrestler friend of mine essentially starved himself so that he could “make weight” to wrestle in the lowest weight class possible. I thought it odd that he was being praised for this behavior while girls who starved themselves were told they had a problem.
     Today, 15 percent of high school boys are dieting, with peer pressure, media influences, and the weight demands of sports such as wrestling leading the list of reasons why. Big Mouth features a 14-year-old boy training to be a superstar in the hilariously bizarre sport of competitive eating, and he must alternately starve and stuff himself to do that. This plot allowed me to take on some of the misguided reasonings that can play into eating disorders. To help teachers talk about these issues with their students, I created a full curriculum guide for Big Mouth. The curriculum guide includes facts, discussion questions, and activities about competitive eating and eating disorders, and it has five specific curriculum sections. The guide can be found here. (Additional guides for this book and also Honk If You Hate Me, can be found here.)

Besides being an author, editor, and teacher, you’re the mother of triplet boys. How do you balance all these roles? In other words, when do you sleep?
     Actually, I’ve never needed a lot of sleep. I inherited that quality from my dad. No matter what time I awoke as a child, I’d find him up reading a book. I took on that behavior myself, and it paid off big time when my sons were born. There was very little sleep for anybody those first months. Nowadays I can look back and identify a few patches since their infancy that I could call “balanced” in some sense, but overall I think I’m like most writers—constantly reassessing and refocusing my efforts based on my “day job,” my current work-in-progress’s needs, and the current phase of my family’s life.
     One of the best skills a writer can cultivate, I think, is the ability to make the time to write. That is, you have to call your writing time like you would call your pocket at the pool table, and then you must protect it fiercely—from yourself as much as everyone else. If that means blocking it out on the family calendar like you would block out a dentist appointment, then get out the pen and start blocking. If that means sticking a note to your door saying, “Yes, Mommy loves you . . . but please come back in thirty minutes,” then post the note and close the door. If that means setting up a regular babysitting trade with the neighbor, then set it up! For me, to strive for balance is to live the life of a tightrope walker: I may wobble left and right a lot, but I’m absolutely committed to keeping those feet of mine on that wire.

I love the image of "calling" your writing time as you would "call your pocket at the pool table." Thanks so much for sharing these tips, Deborah, and for all your answers to our questions.

I'm sure all our readers who write young adult fiction will want to win a copy of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies. Deborah has generously donated TWO copies of the book for our giveaway. Anyone who submits a valid contest entry is eligible to win the first copy. However, as a special thank you to our regular readers, the second copy will be reserved for one of our followers. In other words, you increase your chance of winning by being a TeachingAuthors' follower, whether you follow us via Google Friend Connect, Facebook/Networked Blogs or as an email subscriber. (If you are not already a follower, you may subscribe via one of the links in the sidebar before you enter. We will verify that you're a follower!)

Contest entry:
Please read these entry requirements carefully--incomplete entries will be disqualified!
1. You must comment on today's blog post and provide your name for the inscription Deborah will include with her autograph. (If you'd like to give the book as a gift, give us both your name and the recipient's name.)
2. You must provide contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger, or your email address is not accessible from your online profile, you MUST provide a valid email address in your comment. (Your email address is required even if you are an email subscriber because our subscription list does not contain subscriber names.) Your email address will only be used for contest-related contact purposes. Note: the TeachingAuthors cannot prevent spammers from accessing email addresses posted within comments, so feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as the [at] and [dot].
3. All readers who post a valid entry comment will be eligible to win the first giveaway copy. To also be eligible to win the second copy, you must follow the TeachingAuthors blog and specify in your comment how you follow us: via Google Friend Connect, Facebook/Networked Blogs or as an email subscriber. (If you are not already a follower, you may subscribe via one of the links in the sidebar before you enter. We will verify that you're a follower!)
4. One entry will qualify you for both copies if you are a TeachingAuthors follower.
5. Entry deadline is 11 pm (CST) Saturday, July 16, 2011. The two winners will be determined using the random number generator at and announced on Monday, July 18. Note: Winners automatically grant us permission to post their names here on our TeachingAuthors website.
6. You must have a mailing address in the United States.

That's it. If you have a question regarding how to enter, feel free to post it as a comment.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, after today we'll be taking our annual summer blogging break. We won't have any new posts until Monday, July 18, when we announce our two giveaway winners.
Until then, happy writing. And good luck!


Ellen Reagan said...

Great interview! Deborah critiqued my first 50 pages and synopsis a few years back, and I'm still applying her suggestions to everything I write. That Stop Looking exercise is a prime example. (By the way, in a case of art informing life, I applied it to an actual argument I had with my teenage daughter this morning. Instead of staring into each other's eyes while debating a heated issue, I had her make her lunch and me unload the dishwasher while we exchanged fire. Just as if we'd been characters in a book, the activity helped move our story forward! :-)

mary said...

Today's interview is so inspiring, maybe more so for me since I'm immersed in revision right now. I love the Stop Looking exercise and have added it to my list of revision tasks. Thanks Deborah and Carmela.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Thank you. If to look ant my manuscript and find looksing

debbie said...

Thank you for the great interview. This book would be a great reference and it would be really helpful.

debbie said...

I am a email subscriber.

Clara Gillow Clark said...

What a fabulous post! Thank you! I've been following you with google connect for well over a year--maybe longer, and receive your posts by e-mail. I'm definitely lost and cannot see the forest for the trees. I would love a copy of Deborah's book. I need a copy of Deborah's book.I'm going to check out the links now. claragillowclark[at]gmail[dot]com

Margo Dill said...

I am in the middle of writing a young adult novel, and I could use this book!

margodll@aol (dot) com

Mary Jo said...

Carmella - great questions! Deborah - I also love the "Stop Looking" exercise, it just fired up my vision of my YA characters. To be doing something will also give more depth to the characters (gardening, sewing, wrenching under the hood.) I follow your Dear Editor blog and your current contest and am loving the glimpses into this book!
TA: I'm an email subscriber :)

Anonymous said...

Just last week I was searching for a book about writing YA lit, and I was unable to find a meaningful guide. Deborah's new book includes the writing strategies that I have been looking for! (I follow Teaching Authors and Dear Editor via email . . .) Thanks! Lesley

writer grad at gmail dot com

Alllison said...

So much interesting information! Exercises always make writing guides useful. Big Mouth addresses an issue that I was not aware of, that boys are being praised for their diets. I agree about carving time to write into one's schedule and protecting it. Otherwise, the weeks and months slip away from one. Great insights and interview!

Email and Networked Blogs follower

Juli Caveny said...

I knew I would want to read this interview/review from the moment it crossed my path, but I felt the need to revise pull stronger. So I wouldn't forget about it, I "favorited" the link as "Do Today". (Which took MANY days!) In the meantime, I combed through my WIP. Now, I realized I made the wrong move. I'm going to start working through my manuscript again, but this time with the "Stop Looking" exercise. Thanks, Carmela, for placing this book on my radar and for sharing Deborah's interview w/us!


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for all the comments, everyone. And good luck to those of you who entered our contest!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful interview with terrific suggestions! I can't wait to get my hands on this book. While I like the Stop Looking strategy, I'm eager to learn more about 'nailing a youthful narrative voice' ~ especially since it involves breaking the golden writing rules! My characters can't wait to use bad grammar, repeat themselves, cash in on run-on sentences, and oh, repeat themselves.
The end.

cgg41 at aol dot com

celticsea said...

Deborah Halverson definitely has the background to give aspiring ya fiction writers advice, and if I don't win the book, I am fairly certain that I will buy one! Thanks for the insight.

Susan B James said...

I feel as thought I'd already commented on this post. I must have read an interview with Deborah on another blog. I love the stop looking test.
For more hints on revision, we have Teaching Author Mary Ann Rodman as our guest blogger today.
She comes to us courtesy of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Stop by. She's got great advice.

Susan B James said...

Oops. Forgot I as commenting as me. Susan J Berger
sueberger3 ataoldotcom
I do follow teaching authors
but I normally leave comments in my Pen&Ink persona.

Beverly Herrera said...

Just found your blog via Amy Bowllan. I teach high school English, working to improve writing by students who are just learning the language and those who are making trips to state competition in writing. These tips will help me with both groups and all those in between. My daughter is a journalist, my son is a writer, still in college, and I have a foundation which helps bring writers to address the community. Having teaching authors available in our area of south Texas would be wonderful. I'm going to look for some in our area. The Stop Looking Test is a good one for our writing and for me to use as I edit papers, which I do rather a lot. I already use Show, Don't Tell. Stop Looking will go wonderfully with that. Thanks. I'll be checking you out much more often now that I know about your site.
Beverly Herrera

April Halprin Wayland said...

So glad you found us, Beverly! It's great that your foundation brings writers to your community--it gives me hope in these lean times!

Beverly Herrera said...

We try, but we too are going through lean times. Our foundation is made up primarily of two teachers and a librarian, with assistance from a bookstore manager, my daughter and son (PR and gopher) and whoever else we can get. We try to tie in community involvement, usually requiring donations to the local food bank and attendance at book discussions. We're working on creating a graphic type novel by local students, but it is such a huge project it may take longer than the usual because we want it done right. Now the public library is bringing in authors, using our involvement techniques, with much better success than they had previously. We are happy they are taking up some of the slack because it gives us more time to "feed the body, soul and mind." Bringing authors has shown me that Laredo, a city with an extremely high illiteracy rate, still has thousands of passionate readers.

by the way, my email address did not go through correctly. Probably the symbols I included. Here it is, hopefully correct this time.

Beverly Herrera

Laura said...

Have a great vacation! And count me in:) I'd love a copy of Deborah's book. You can reach me at if I end up being the lucky one :D

Laura A. H. Elliott

Eddie Louise said...

I just read about this book yesterday and put it on my 'must buy' book list.

Great interview. Thanks Deborah for sharing your insight!

D.E. Malone said...

Great interview! There's so much useful information here for my WIP! I've followed Teaching Authors for awhile now on Facebook Network Blogs. It's such an invaluable resource - thank you! My e-mail is dawnie23(at)frontier(dot)com.

Deborah Halverson said...

I'm so glad this is proving a helpful test for so many of you. Yay! Thanks for your kind words, and good luck with your WIPs.

Happy writing!