Author Spotlight: Deborah Halverson

© Deborah Halverson

Oct. 24, 2014

KidLit411 is thrilled to feature author/editor DEBORAH HALVERSON in the Spotlight this week! Deborah is the author of many books, from picture books to craft and is one of the most talented people that we know! Welcome, Deborah! Her latest book, WRITING NEW ADULT FICTION was released in July 2014.

What were you like at school? Were you always good at English?

My favorite subject! Big surprise, eh?

From a young age I had an inherent ability to string words and sentences together rhythmically, as well as a natural inclination to read above my grade level. I was given the gift of teachers who encouraged both of those things, and who enthusiastically guided me as I learned the importance of organizing one’s thoughts for clarity and persuasiveness. Writers are manipulators as well as entertainers and informers, and knowing how to build a passage, a chapter, a story to usher a reader through a desired reading experience is essential. I owe every one of my amazing teachers, big-time.

But here’s the funny thing: I had zero confidence in my ability to come up with things to write about. I was consciously aware of wanting an assignment to push me down a path, and only then could I come up with stuff to write. I’d never sit at home and write a story just out of the blue. So many writers talk about childhood notebooks filled with original stories. Not me. I saw myself as a good writer who needed to be assigned writing topics, and therefore I thought I’d never be a writer even though that’s what I secretly dreamed of doing. I thought Writers were people born with this vault of ideas inside them, and I didn’t have a vault.

When did you decide to become a children's writer?

I was so convinced of my inability to come up original ideas that I didn’t share my dream of being a writer with anyone. What was the point? Finally, after I was already a professional editor, I decided that I needed to either give that dream a go or give it the heave-ho. I was tired of lugging this dead weight dream around.
You know what I found out? That I do have ideas for stories because it’s second nature for me to ask myself, “What if?” I’d been doing that since I was a kid, asking that and then answering myself in my head. Until I worked with professional writers, I hadn’t known that “What if?” is a classic writing prompt. It’s like giving myself a writing assignment. Problem solved!

So one time I asked myself, “What if you were famous for something you did as a kid, that you didn’t even remember doing?” Over the years I’d seen many ‘Where are they now?’ segments about Baby Jessica, the little girl in the 80s who got trapped in a pipe when she was a toddler. The whole country watched the news channels with bated breath as rescue workers cut their way to this little girl over the course of days. A TV movie was made about the incident. I thought it must be weird for news people to show up on your porch twenty years after an event like that. What would that be like? What if…. With that in my mind and the need to live that dream or discard it, I sat down and wrote HONK IF YOU HATE ME, my debut novel.

Even so, I still didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. My husband knew but gave me the room I needed to experiement. We called it typing. “Did you type a lot today, honey?” “Oh yes, I typed a lot today.” Only when I’d finished the full book and knew that I not only had ideas but I also had the commitment to finish a book did I tell anyone. And even then it was an agent—I didn’t tell the editors I worked with until I had a book contract at another house (to keep my two careers separate).

Can you tell us about your newest project? When is it being released?

I put my fiction on the backburner to write two craft books.  WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES was the first, and now WRITING NEW ADULT FICTION is pubbing. I love helping writers understand their target audience as well as the age group they’re writing about, and then guiding them in mixing-and-matching techniques to get the narrative sensibility they seek and craft the story they envision.

You are such an phenomenal editor! (KidLit411 knows this first hand) Do you find it difficult to switch hats between your editing self and your writing self?

I love knowing that writers find my input helpful. My job has that built-in warm fuzzy, and I’m grateful for that.

I do feel of two selves when I think of Deborah the Editor and Deborah the Writer, but I don’t do any hat-switching with my nonfiction. That’s just about me organizing what’s already in my head into something useful and entertaining on the page. I feel like first draft nonfiction is already second or third draft for me. Once I’ve chosen the topic, I’ve got my assignment and my confidence at the keyboard doesn’t waver.

With fiction, though, wearing two hats is a big pain in my rear. I still have that fear about ideas, and laying out the plot and casting the characters in the first draft tests that fear. My inner editor wants to come to the rescue and make all the sentences pretty so that I can feel better about what I’m doing. It’s truly a severe internal battle. Revising, though is pure joy. Inner Editor and Writer become one, and all is happy in my internal world again.

You have written in so many genres, how do you get your ideas?

I question everything, and book ideas come from that questioning. I can trace pieces of each book I’ve written to various experiences in my life and news events I’ve heard about. I hear things, witness things, and encounter people and wonder, ‘What if? What would that be like?” Those topics spin about in my head until final several line up like the cherries in a slot machine and then the bells go off: ding ding ding ding! Jackpot! I’ve got a story idea.

What is the hardest thing about writing for you?

Laying down the original story is intimidating—so many decisions to make, and so many opportunities to second guess yourself. Your brain can tell you, “Just pin the pieces in place, you can assess and will certainly revise later,” but it can be challenging to get the gut to go along with that.

What is the easiest thing?

I don’t know about “easy,” but I think revision is fun and love that part of the creative process very much. Yes, love. It’s rewarding to feel the narrative tighten as you work it over, and it’s intensely satisfying to step away from what started as a big spit-up of words and see that you’ve got something clear and entertaining and enlightening.

Do you ever get writer’s block?

I get writer’s fear. Fear of making the wrong decisions. Fear of messing up a good idea with poor execution. That’s my personal struggle as a writer. The best cure for that is a deadline imposed by someone else. That old “assingment” thing again, I guess. I can whip out books when I’m already under contract because that forces me to make the decisions.

Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to revise or rewrite?

I’m not a stewer in the long-term sense. I don’t care to set a project aside for weeks or months to come at it fresh. That works for many writers and I often encourage it for my clients. But when I’m done with a draft, I like to go right back in and start revising—after all, revising is my favorite part! I do mull my projects while I’m hiking or shopping or doing the dishes. Often, I’ll revise passages in my head so that by the time I rush to the nearest recording devise or scrap of paper, I’ve got the tighter line I was looking for.

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

Ooh, good question! I sometimes do read a book and think, “Gosh, I wish I’d written this. How amazing would it be to know I created this piece of wonderful?” I’ve thought that about THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT. The concept is so clever and so very believeable for a child. Crayons are universal to the childhood experience. Those pieces of colored magic are deeply connected to childrens’ imaginations and thus a young reader can easily go to that imaginary place where crayons have opinions about what they are doing and personalities and voices to express those opinions. And of course we all feel each color’s pain in that book. I mean, yeah, brown does get totally shafted. It’s the color of dirt and poop. That’s not a glory role in the crayon box.

What advice could you give to other writers trying to break into publishing?

Figure out how to get past any fears you have and just go for it. That’s what got me writing that first novel, and that’s what gets me past the infamous Blank Page with every new project. Be bold.

And then stay bold, because publishing isn’t just writing—it’s about writing for others. “Others” being your audience, of course, but also the professionals who’ll assess that writing for publication, or the reviewers who will render opinions even if you bypass industry insiders with self-publishing. Everyone has opinions—use the positive and contructive feedback to bolster yourself and then build on your strengths.

Can you tell KidLit411 something about your writing process that no one else knows? A writing habit or perhaps a ritual when you have finished a book?

I’ll share my guilty pleasure: I eat when I write. It’s a very dangerous thing. For BIG MOUTH, which is about a competitive eater, it was downright unhealthy. I ate as research, I ate for fun, I ate and ate and ate. When I was done writing that manuscript, I was significantly heavier despite daily exercise. A similar thing happened with WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES, and that book wasn’t even about food! 

But now I’ve come up with a healthy way to deal with this habit: I whip up an enormous banana smoothie that is nothing but two bananas, two cups of almost milk, ice, and three scoops of raw cocoa. Dang, it’s good! It takes me hours of sipping to finish it, keeping me away from the other goodies that would otherwise be at my side. I wrote every page of WRITING NEW ADULT FICTION with a smoothie next to my computer.
* Final question- Do you like pizza? And if so, do you like anchovies on your pizza?
I do like pizza. I do not like anchovies. I do not like them on a pizza, I do not like them in a can, I do not like them any time, I DO NOT LIKE THEM, Sam I Am.

© Deborah Halverson
Deborah Halverson edited children’s books for ten years—until she climbed over the desk and tried out the author’s chair on the other side. Now she is the award-winning author of WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES, the forthcoming WRITING NEW ADULT FICTION, the teen novels HONK IF YOU HATE ME and BIG MOUTH, the picture book LETTERS TO SANTA, and three books in REMIX  series for struggling readers. Armed with a master’s degree in American literature and a fascination with pop culture, she sculpts stories from extreme events and places—tattoo parlors, fast-food joints, and, most extreme of all, high schools.

In addition, Deborah is a freelance editor, writing instructor, and founder of the popular writers’ advice website She speaks extensively at workshops and conferences for writers and edits adult fiction and nonfiction while specializing in teen fiction and picture books. She 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. She lives with her husband and triplet sons in San Diego, California. For more about Deborah, visit

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  1. Oh, Deborah, I adore everything about you...except for the fact that you don't like anchovies! LOL! I knew a little bit about your past experience but it was so much fun reading about how you got started, what you were like as a kid, and your guilty writing pleasure. :) I hope you'll be at the NYC conference so you can sign my copy of your book!

    Thanks, Deborah and Elaine, for the interview and giveaway!

  2. Ah, phooey, Theresa, I won't be at that conference. We'll catch up, I'm sure. Thanks so much for your enthusiasm. We get to operate in a fun realm, don't we? Love writing for young people!

  3. Congratulations on winning the book, Joanna. It will go out in tomorrow's mail!


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