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Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson is a thorough guide for authors ready to dive into novel writing for young readers. Most of the information and tips could be used in writing either young adult or middle grade fiction.

From the get go, Halverson makes a few assumptions about her readers: They want to be published, they have a story to tell, they want to be better writers, and they want to enlighten and entertain young people between the ages of 9 and 17.

If this fits you, then this book is worth a look.

This clearly and succinctly written book is organized into five large topic areas:

  1. Getting ready to write young adult fiction. General information on young adult literature and its audience as well as the actual how to find space and time to write.
  2. Writing riveting young adult fiction. The crucial story elements are explored here–I definitely sense that Halverson knows even more than she could include in this format; but she briefly explores writing the almighty hook, character development, plot with teen-driven action, setting, and creating an authentic voice. She even suggests places to find inspiration for captivating and relevant stories.
  3. Editing and Revising with Confidence. She provides a comprehensive self-editing checklist and also discusses the how-to of being in a critique group, along with a critique checklist too. She then moves on to formatting and polishing.
  4. Getting Published. The nitty-gritty details of submitting are explained here as well as consideration of self-publishing to help make an informed decision regarding that choice. She goes on to discuss marketing strategies as well.
  5. Common pitfall in writing young adult fiction. This is brief but helpful list of things to check for and to consider in writing your story – I’d suggest checking this chapter as soon as you have a story idea to prevent writing yourself into a sort of fatal hole.

My favorite part of this how-to book are the personal thoughts, tips, and anecdotes from authors, editors and agents.

  • Darcy Pattison on marketing and book trailers.
  • Cynthia Leitich Smith on paranormal fiction.
  • Mary E. Pearson on beating writer’s block.
  • Deborah Wiles on the use of dialect in dialogue.
  • Jennifer Donnelly about setting and place.
  • Gary Soto on developing plot, complication by complication.
  • Kathi Appelt on raising the stakes and making the reader worry.
  • Erin Murphy on making quiet books loud.
  • Karen Cushman on character.

Obviously, Halverson tackles a wide range of topics and issues to consider – and does so in an easy to read, easy to follow style. Perfect for beginners, but worthwhile for more experienced writers as well. I think it would make an excellent textbook in writing courses.

Don’t forget to check out her “Free First 20 Pages Critique Giveaway!

You don’t even have to be a dummy…

Sarah Wones Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

 

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Deborah Halverson, editor, author, (and previous Writing on the Sidewalk spotlight star),  gave a fantastic presentation at the San Diego October SCBWI meeting.

Articulate and informative, Deborah gave the audience some concrete tools to use in writing for the young adult reader. Her presentation was a companion talk to go with her new craft book, WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES.

Which has a new book trailer out this week:

In honor of its debut, she is offering a “Free First 20 Pages Critique Giveaway” – I would very much like to win!

On to a few highlights from her talk…

I loved the way she obviously respects adolescent readers and treasures that  very particular developmental stage of life as a time of great feeling and passion. She reminded us oldies in the audience that most teen behaviors and attitudes (of over-reaction and exaggeration as well as grandiose perceptions self, for example) – in other words, the things that make parents nuts – are a natural part of adolescence and growing up.

In writing for teens, we can hope to build vocabulary, open and expand minds and imaginations, and create life-long reading habits; BUT she reminded us why teens read… to be entertained!

As Deborah said, “Show, Don’t Preach.”

A few more tidbits from her talk:

  • Most teens judge-act-react-deal with consequences. They don’t over-analyze the why of what they do.
  • Think big, push hard. This is what teens do – and what authors should do in the books written for them.
  • Know your character’s goal, flaw and strength that will help them overcome their flaw.

I plan to share my thoughts on her craft book later this week. Be sure to check out her Dear Editor blog where she answer a multitude of questions from real live writer-readers. You could get your questions answered too!

Sarah Wones Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

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My Super Blog Buddy Sarah likes to say that the true beginning of the year begins in September not January. If you have children, September marks the beginning of a new school year with new teachers, new classes and new schedules to adjust to. If you are a member of the SCBWI here in San Diego, September also marks the beginning of a new season of speakers.

On Saturday we began the new season with author Erin Dealey and her agent Deborah Warren. Erin is a K-12 Language Arts/ theater teacher, Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI California North/Central, and the author of –Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox and Little Bo Peep Can’t Get to Sleep (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster). Deborah is the founder of East/West Literary and has over 30 years of experience in the publishing industry, she represents children’s authors of all genres, as well as illustrators, and author/illustrators. Her clients include NYT best-selling, award-winning, and crossover talent such as: Marion Dane Bauer, Anna Dewdney, David Diaz-picture book collaborators Eric Litwin and James Dean–Patricia MacLachlan, Judy Sierra and Belle Yang.

With the topic of –From A-Z and East to West –Erin and Deborah demonstrated how the agent-author relationship works. Beginning with the tips, tricks, and publishing terms that began with the letter A and working through to the letter Z, Erin and Deborah talked shop, as well as the pitfalls and gains in the publishing world today.

Here is a glimpse of some of the information shared:

On the increased popularity of ebooks:

“Think of yourself as content creators rather than book authors”

On query letters:

“Sell me don’t tell me”

On revision:

“Weeding a garden is a great metaphor for revision, it’s a lot of work and your back may hurt and muscles ache, but in the end it’s worth it.”

On rejection:

“It’s not about your talent, it’s about the vision that the publishing house wants to create.”

On writing:

“You need three things: patience, persistence , professionalism. Talent is not what’s going to get you published.”

It was a truly informative meeting and I am looking forward to next month when Deborah Halverson is scheduled to talk about her new book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies.

If you are interested in the upcoming speakers for SCBWI San Diego be sure to check out the website for more details.

Happy Writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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This week we are pleased to feature Deborah Halverson for our newest Author Spotlight. I met Deborah at our recent SCBWI Published Authors Brunch and was impressed by her knowledge and love of writing. Deborah is a highly talented author/editor and the mother of triplet boys (Yikes). She is truly an inspiration.

Author Bio:

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 . www.DeborahHalverson.com

Author Spotlight:

WOTS: What was your road to publication?

DH: I secretly wanted to be a published author since childhood—but I have a practical streak that convinced me the money was on the business side of publishing. (The accuracy of that is debatable in hindsight.) But that was my play. Armed with a BA in English and a copyediting certificate, I landed a job with an information publisher (think databases and catalogues) writing and editing video game instructions. My job required me to play video games, of course—not a bad gig if you can get it. But I wasn’t editing novels, and that’s the real game I wanted to play. I got my chance with Harcourt Brace Children’s Books in San Diego, my hometown. Imagine, working for a major trade publisher without moving to New York! At Harcourt, I learned how books are made in the managing editorial department and then moved over to developmental/acquisition editing. Finally, I was editing debut authors and bestselling veterans. Boy, did I love that job. Alas, when I became the mother of triplets boys, a full time office job was no longer tenable. That was about the time I decided that I needed to live that secret dream of mine or leave it. So, I sat down and started typing. When I stopped, I had a teen fiction manuscript called HONK IF YOU HATE ME and a two-book contract. I wrote the second book, BIG MOUTH, while my babies napped. My dream had become reality. I’ve kept my hand in the business side of publishing since then as a freelance editor, writing instructor, and speaker. My experience on both sides of the desk led to founding my writers advice website DearEditor.comand penning WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES. I love that I get to combine all aspects of booklover me within a single cover that can, I hope, help other people realize their dreams, too.

WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

DH: I think outlining is The Bomb in the most awe-stricken, teen-age slang sense. The organization freak within me gets giddy at the thought of laying out my plot before I commit myself to the writing of several hundred pages. Alas, that “bomb” completely annihilates my creativity. I can’t write after I’ve outlined—and believe me, I’ve tried. Instead, I go into a project knowing certain benchmarks I want to hit in my story, and I usually have an end goal in mind, but otherwise I’m at the mercy of the ideas that pop up each writing session. Nonfiction like the For Dummies book works differently for me, though—for that, I outline, outline, outline.

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

DH: I’m moving several fiction projects off of the backburner now that WYAFFD is published. It’s hard deciding which one I want to write more, but I figure that’s a good problem to have.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

DH: For years I worked in a loft in my house, surrounded by bedrooms. My sons, who were infants and then toddlers during that time, napped or slept around me while I wrote, emitting the peaceful white noise that only sleeping children can emit. This summer, though, the boys—now six years old—commandeered the loft and turned it into a Lego playroom. They banished me to the kitchen table. Luckily, that table is just down the stairs from Lego Central, so I get to work with the peaceful white noise that only three six-year-olds playing with Legos can emit.

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

DH: I’ve often wished I could be one of those TV characters who gets to jump into other people’s bodies. That way, I could spend an hour each week doing someone else’s job. Honestly, I’d love to know what it’s like to be a surgeon without spending a dozen years training—and without all that responsibility. I’d like to be President of the United States for an episode, without having to engage in politics for decades and then survive a campaign and then, criminy, have to solve the nation’s seemingly unsolvable problems. I just want to pop in and pop out. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I am very curious about what other peoples’ lives are like.

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

DH: I like noise. Scratch that: I love noise. Silence distracts me. When I want to concentrate, there’d better be music or little boy chatter or a full café around me. This ties into the other secret dream I’ve recently exposed to the light of day: to be a rock drummer. No, I’m not gunning for the latest Van Halen line-up. But I am taking drum lessons on a pink drum kit and loving every noisy minute of it. I can play the first minute and a half of Rumor Has It by Adele now—but a minute and a half is as far as I get before my boys race in with their own drumsticks and start banging away. Apparently they love noise, too.

WOTS: How do you juggle being a writer and the mom of triplet boys?

DH: I’ve tried all the tricks other mom/writers have tried, I’m sure. Ultimately, my strategies vary from month to month and year to year. When the boys were little, I pushed the triple stroller 4 miles in the morning and 4 miles in the afternoon. As I pushed, I thought of things to write and left voicemails for myself. In the middle of the day, when the boys napped, I retrieved those voicemails and went to town on my keyboard. I wrote BIG MOUTH in five months using that method. But now the boys are all in school and I have more regular work hours. Gotta say, that’s pretty darn swell. Well, except for the fact that the house is so very quiet with them away.

WOTS: Your newest book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies is a departure from your previous work, was it difficult to make the transition from fiction to non fiction?

DH: I discovered that I love writing nonfiction. I get to outline exhaustively, but my creativity feels indulged because I challenge myself to find unusual, compelling ways to say otherwise dry things. For example, my first draft of the dialogue chapter in WYAFFD begin with me stating that strong dialogue is a key element of young adult fiction. That’s what my outline said to put there. Then I took my creativity out of the can. Now that chapter starts off with, “Talk may be cheap in the real world, but in young adult fiction, it’s made of gold, wrapped in C-notes, and sprinkled with diamonds with a bow on top.” My inspiration for fun nonfiction is the wonderful Bill Bryson. Anyone who can make statistics about stair climbing fun to read is a super star in my book.

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

DH: I plan out my work calendar meticulously. (Organization freak, remember?) That doesn’t mean I always keep up with it . . . but my stress builds when I don’t move through the calendar as planned, so I’m mostly proactive. Not totally, but mostly.

WOTS: Thanks Deborah. 

If you would like to know more about Deborah be sure to visit  www.DeborahHalverson.com  and  www.DearEditor.com.

Deborah has graciously provided us with a Cheat Sheet from her book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, be sure to check out this valuable resource.

Happy Writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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I’m passing the buck, today!

Put the spotlight on Deborah Halverson.

Check out Joy Chu’s  GOT STORY COUNTDOWN today for a clarification of genres for young target audiences. There’s also a great story involving illustrator Joe Cepeda’s work on Searching For Oliver  K. Woodman and The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison.

And then listen to her on Katie Davis’s Webinar tonight!

Sarah Wones Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

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On Saturday our San Diego chapter of the SCBWI featured speaker YA author and editor Deborah Halverson.

Here is Deborah’s Bio information from her blog Dear-Editor.com:

Deborah Halverson is the author of the upcoming “Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies” and has been working with authors—bestsellers, veterans, debut, and aspiring—for over fifteen years. The books she’s edited have garnered awards and rave reviews, and many of the aspiring writers she’s coached have landed agent representation and lucrative book deals.

Deborah walks the walk: She is also the awarding-winning author of two teen novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth (Delacorte/ Random House). With two novels and a decade as an editor with Harcourt Children’s Books under her belt, she is now a freelance editor, author, writing instructor, and founder of the writers’ advice website Dear-Editor.com. Deborah speaks extensively at workshops and conferences for writers. She edits adult fiction and nonfiction while specializing in teen fiction and picture books.

Deborah shared with us ten tests that a novel must pass to prove it’s ready for submission. All of this information will be included in her upcoming book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies due out in June 2011. While there is no way I can share all of the valuable tips she shared I thought I would share a few.

Test #1- Stop “Looking”

In this test for “voice,” Deborah suggests using a word counting program to search for your most used words in your manuscript and determine if they are more active or passive.

Passive words to look out for are: look, smile, stare, frown, laugh, mean, gaze, feel and thought.

If your manuscript uses these passive words more that all others it’s time to make some changes.

Test #2- The Twist and Drop

For this test you are checking for characterization, to determine if your character has changed or grown during the course of the story.

Ask yourself this question: “If you take your character at the end of the story and place them back in the first chapter will they handle their problems differently?”

I your answer is “no” it’s time to make some changes.

Test #3- The CIP challenge

This test is for concept.

What to do? Create one sentence listing the character, main theme and main problem.

For examples check out the summary sentences in the Library of Congress section at the front of a book. If you can’t write the sentence, it’s time to make some changes.

Test #4- Read with Your Fingers

This test is for plot and characterization.

What to do? Read only the first paragraph of each chapter to see if your story moves along?

The example she used is The Golden Compass by author Phillip Pullman.

Test #5- The “Blah, Blah” Bleck! Check

This test requires you to read through the manuscript checking your passages of dialog making sure that the dialog does not include too much back story or information.

If you are “information dumping” in your dialog re-write it so that you reveal more of your characters feelings and mood.

Test #6- Check your Ases

This test for voice uses the word counting program again to determine how many time you use the word “as” which is an indicator that your writing is too passive (boring).

Test #7- The Scratch and Sniff Test

This test is for setting.

Take 3 chapters and highlight every passage that includes the five senses. Your goal is to try to have three different senses in every scene.

Test #8- The Italics Detector

This is another test for voice.

What to do?  Using the word counting program, search for your use of italics.

Too many italics are a sign that you are trying to use the text instead of your words to convey a point.

Test #9- Check Your Sleeve

This test is looking for emotional resonance and narrative sensibility.

Scan your manuscript for direct statements or feelings. Replace these passages with action or youthful judgments.

Test #10- The Eagle Eyes of Igor Check

This test is for mechanics and the easiest by far.

What to do? Have someone else read your manuscript looking for typo’s, grammar etc…

This is a second set of eyes to try and catch any errors you might have missed. Hire a college student, ask a neighbor or a stranger, but make sure they understand they are only looking for the errors and not changing the plot.

These are only brief descriptions of the information she shared, I believe these will be covered in more detail in her upcoming book. In the meantime if you are searching for more great information from Deborah be sure to check out Dear-Editor.com.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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The writing business is a tricky business. You spend your time plotting, planning and writing your manuscripts then you send it out into the world and wait for a response. Sometimes it  is “NO”, sometimes the response isn’t nearly so clear cut.

What’s an author to do?

How can we cut through the ambiguous responses to better our writing?

Help is on the way.


Author Deborah Halverson has just recently launched www.dear-editor.com, a writer’s advice website, where writers (published or not) can ask questions about writing and publishing, and get direct answers and suggestions. Deborah really knows her stuff, She is the awarding-winning author of two teen novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth (Delacorte/ Random House). With two novels and a decade of experience as an editor with Harcourt Children’s Books, she is now a freelance editor, author, and writing instructor.

While she may not have a golden lasso and ride in an invisible plane. Her insight and advice for writers makes her a super hero any day.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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