When I decided to buy a copy of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, I had no idea that months later, I would get to meet its wonderful author  Deborah Halverson in person.

I’d become such a big fan (and advocate) of the book since I got a copy that I would blab to anyone who cared to listen about this really great book for writing YA. I found the book so helpful to my own writing, that I actually used some of its exercises in my writing group session on Plotting.

Last June, I made a new writer friend, Sophia (you all should check out her blog :)), and at some point I had blabbed to her about Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies.

In August, Sophia and I went to the SCBWI Summer Conference here in L.A.—where she had signed up for a one on one manuscript critique session with none other than Deborah Halverson!

Author Deborah Halverson and Writer/Blogger Sophia Chang

Naturally, Sophia remembered me telling her about how I had used the book to teach a session on plotting, and she told Deborah about this. Deborah was so pleased that she asked Sophia for an introduction and the two of us met during the authors’ autograph session at the SCBWI Conference.

Author Deborah Halverson and myself at the SCBWI Summer Conference

I was so bummed that I didn’t have my book with me for her to sign. So I brought it the next day, hoping that I might bump into her again. I was beginning to lose hope that I would see Deborah. I mean there were 1,300 people at the conference!  But life has a way of making things happen, and while we were waiting outside the big conference room for the luncheon to start, I saw Deborah again.

She asked me what my plans were for lunch, and invited me to sit with her. I told her I had some friends waiting and if she’d like to join us, and she happily obliged. We sat together during the whole lunch hour and chatted in between listening to the speakers. When I asked her if she’d do an interview for my blog, she was more than happy to help.

So without further interruption, I present an interview with author Deborah Halverson:


The Marvelous Deborah Halverson,

author of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies

Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A successful strong woman. Pretty vague, eh? I didn’t have a specific profession in mind until early college, when I decided I want to be an editor for a trade publisher. Of course, there was that secret life-long yen to be a novelist—so secret that I barely admitted it to myself until I decided to give it a go in my mid-thirties. At that point, I had to know if it was a dream worth lugging around any longer, so I started my first novel, Honk If You Hate Me.

Q: What are some of your favorite books?

I love the character work of Karen Cushman and the world-building of Phillip Pullman. I marvel at M.T. Anderson’s ability to craft stories steeped in silliness and then spin on a dime to offer serious and tragic fare.

Q: You were an editor of children’s books for ten years, what prompted you change career paths and become an author instead? What was it like transitioning from editor to writer?

Three little fellas prompted me—my triplets. When they were born I could no longer report to an office, so I left Harcourt to become a freelance editor. That was around the time I’d begun experimenting with my first novel, Honk If You Hate Me. I revised that manuscript while my babies napped and then went on to write novel #2, Big Mouth, when my boys were about a year old. By then I was officially defining myself as a “writer and an editor” instead of just “an editor.” The transition had been, as fully as it would be made. I’ll never cease editing. I love helping other writers too much.

Q: What genre do you love to write? Why?

There’s a quirky side of me that cannot be denied, and it seems to call out for contemporary settings and circumstances. So quirky contemporary YA seems to be my place—at least for now.

Q: Why do you like writing for children? Would you ever write a book for adults as well?

In fact, I’m developing a thriller for adults. It’ll remain in that developmental phase, though, for a bit longer because other projects have bigger flames shooting out of them. I’m not aiming to try for a different category—it’s just that the story came to me and insisted on staying.

Q: How long did you work on your first book? How many rewrites did you do before you finally felt it was ready?

My first book, HONK IF YOU HATE ME, was a couple of years in the making, if we count the time when I first conceived it and experimented. A bit of time passed before I dove in completely, and then I revised after it was contracted. That’s something that new writers wonder about: How much revision will be necessary after contract? You can be guaranteed at least one round of post-contract revising.

Q: What do you think makes a good story?

A good story is one that satisfies its readers. A satisfying story connects with readers, makes them worry, wonder, and commit to the character’s fate.

Q: Do you write outlines for your stories, or do you just follow wherever the story leads?

I love the concept of outlining. How lovely it sounds to know exactly what’s supposed to happen in each scene when I set out to write it. And yet, I’ve tried outlining and discovered that it absolutely kills the project. I suspect that following a fully mapped path is just too stifling for me.

Q: What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

Most of my work day is spent editing other writers’ manuscripts. Then my boys come home from school and there’s no writing to be done then! So like most folks, I must force my writing into my schedule, which means nights, weekends, and the purposely blocked-out day slots. Writing time rarely lands in one’s lap, so writers must recommit to their endeavor every single day.

Q: Are you currently working on any other projects?

I’ve got the wonderful problem of having too many projects going on. I had to put my fiction on hold in order to write, revise, and promote WYAFFD, and now that I’m back at fiction, it’s hard to decide which thing to work on first. I’ve tinkered at a lot of the mss, but I think I’m ready to go all-in with a novel about a high school misfit.

Q: What inspired you to write Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies?

I find teaching extremely rewarding. I love it when a writer walks away from a speech I’ve given or something I’ve written and she’s thinking, “I’ve got to get to my WIP right now and try out that technique!” I love it when I remind a writer about something she’s forgotten. I love it when I spark an epiphany about her story or her writing or the publishing industry. Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies lets me do all of those things for a lot of writers—and it lets me pay forward all the wonderful lessons I got from the editors and authors whom I’ve met on my journey.

Q: Why do you think YA is so popular?

YA novels offer readers everything they could want in a satisfying reading experience: edgy storytelling, offbeat humor, strong narratives, intriguing plots, rich characters, and timeless themes. This makes it popular with both teens and adults, hitting two audiences with one rock.

Q: What advice would you give writers who are writing YA?

Join SCBWI, get yourself into a critique group, and attend writing classes and workshops. In this way you’ll learn the industry and marketplace, you’ll hone your craft, then you’ll get objective input from others who share your passion for writing beautifully for this age group and marketplace.

Q: What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

No matter what you plan to “be” when you grow up, be an avid reader, too. Books improve your ability to communicate, they enlighten you about the world, and above all, they can give you joy even on your least joyous days. Always, when you finish one book, have another at the ready.


Deborah Halverson was an editor at Harcourt Children’s Publishing for 10 years before she became the best-selling author of teen novels Honk If You Hate Me, Big Mouth and Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies.

She also founded the very helpful website for writers: www.deareditor.com, where you can watch her latest book trailer, and where you can win a FREE 20 page manuscript critique with Deborah.

Learn more about her at www.deborahhalverson.com.

***Come back on Friday for a chance to win a copy of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies!***

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15 Responses to “Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies Week: Author Interview with Deborah Halverson”

  1. Karen Strong says:

    Wow, I didn’t also know that she was the founder of the deareditor.com site. Love that she says writers should be avid readers. So true.

  2. Awesome interview!! Deborah did my critique at the conference, and I don’t think I could have asked for a better one. It was truly amazing, her suggestions really enhanced my work. She is so kind and approachable.

  3. Sue Ford says:

    I was privileged in 2010 to sit in in a workshop that Deborah did – great teacher! Still use what I learn. Thanks for the interview.

  4. Sophia Chang says:

    Awww I love Deb! Now it makes sense why she got my MS so much – she likes quirky too! :) She is the nicest, most dedicated editor and she knows her stuff!

    And Nutschell you really did a great job of breaking down her book down for your group (just the summary you posted on the blog shows that).

  5. Fabulous interview. I can’t wait to start reading Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies.

  6. Carla says:

    Wow…I’ve admired her and her writing for a while…knowing she has triplets makes her even more amazing! Great interview!

  7. Lynn Kelley says:

    Oh, what a wonderful surprise to find this post tonight! Deborah is not only an awesome writer (I agree that YA For Dummies rocks!) and a terrific editor (I’m a subscriber and fan of DearEditor, too), but she’s a genuinely nice person and always takes the time to reply/respond to comments in her posts or emails. I haven’t had the honor of meeting her in person yet, but one of these days, I hope to.

    Nutschell, you did a super job of interviewing Deborah, and I’m so glad you got to meet her and go to lunch with her. Totally awesome!

  8. Great insightful interview. So interesting to learn more about Deborah’s background and her approach to writing.

  9. lizzie maxwell says:

    Nutschell, Great interview and I will def. pick up the book! thanks!

  10. Lynda Young says:

    This is a wonderful interview. I love Deborah’s reasons for writing the book. It’s such a satisfaying thing to be able to pay it forward.

  11. Julie Musil says:

    I love her advice to young people…”be a reader.” That’s priceless. I’ve heard Deborah is absolutely amazing, and I’ve also heard great things about her book

  12. Lydia K says:

    I have this book too! It’s a great resource. How lucky you were to meet her in person!

  13. Diane Collins Leher says:

    I am looking forward to getting her book after reading this interview. She knows the industry inside out!

  14. […] Week, in which I featured a Book Review of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (WYAFFD), an interview with WYAFFD author Deborah Halverson, and a book […]

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