by R. R. Smythe
Deborah Halverson is the author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies and founder of the writer’s advice website DearEditor.com. Deborah edited young adult and children’s fiction with Harcourt Children’s Books before picking up a pen to write the award-winning teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth.
So, tell us about your writing journey that led you to your new book.
My journey started with a secret. I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I’ve been old enough to think about what I wanted to be. But I didn’t tell anyone. Not when I was a kid and adults asked me “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Not when I was in high school and actually thought seriously about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Not when I told my dad I wanted to major in English and he asked what in the world I wanted to do with an English degree (“Be a lawyer,” I replied with a straight face). Not when I graduated from college with an English degree or when I began my career as a children’s book editor or even when I started writing my first novel at age 34 and my husband asked what I was doing: “Oh, just typing,” I answered. He knew, though. But he let me have the space to do what I needed to do—which was, finally, to find out if that dream I carried within me was really something worth carrying any longer. I guess it was, because that “typing” led to my debut teen novel Honk If You Hate Me, which was followed very quickly by my teen novel Big Mouth. And now here I am, writing about writing in Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies. All the things that happened to me during my writing journey—becoming a children’s book editor, leaving the office job to raise triplets and freelance edit, teaching writing to college students and writers’ groups—added to my understanding of the business as well as the craft of writing, and it’s all finally coming to play in one book.
Any advice for writers?
No matter what genre or category you write for, keep your language and phrasings dynamic. Who wants to read about a character who sits or runs or gives up their wild ways when they could read about a character who lounges or bolts or stops with all the hoo-ha? Inject personality into your narrative with flavorful, evocative words and phrasings.
What about attracting readers, what have you found most helpful?
To attract readers, you’ve got to give them what they want: a great read. And then you’ve got to give them what they don’t know they want. That is, make sure your story has unexpected elements. That means crafting unpredictable endings, of course, but it also means thinking out of the box at the concept stage. Always strive to develop a project that fits a particular genre and category in the marketplace but which also offers that market something fresh. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for an extreme (and gory) example. Or perhaps a Revolution-era historical fiction in which the son of an African princess is raised wearing the finest clothes in the finest home with the finest education—only to discover that he’s really an enslaved captive in a twisted philosophical experiment. (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation). Fit your story into a market but then make it stand from that market. That’s how you get readers to stop browsing the shelves and pick up your book . . . and then discover your fantastic work within it.
What’s next for you?
I’m pleased to be turning, once again, to a novel I started writing before Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies came into my life. I’m very proud of WYAFFD and believe it offers techniques and insights for writers of all levels, but I have to admit that there were moments when I wanted to set to stop writing about writing fiction for a few days so that I could write some fiction myself. Now I can—and huzzah for that!
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