Writing quote

Sure, it's simple writing for kids...Just as simple as raising them.
— Ursula K. LeGuin

Friday, August 24, 2012


Welcome to Friday Features! This is where you'll find interviews and guest blogs with and by other authors of juvenile fiction. If you're interested in being one of my guest authors, please email me.

   Today's guest author is Editor and Young Adult novelist Deborah Halverson, who penned the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me (Delacorte, Random House) and Big Mouth (Delacorte, Random House). Her guide book for writing young adult fiction, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (Wiley Publishing) was released in 2011. Deborah was also a former editor with Harcourt Children’s Books (now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) where she acquired and edited everything from picture books to young adult novels. Recently, Deborah was one of the keynote speakers at the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference in Los Angeles where she presented on what she's learned about the market trends from a survey she conducted to compile the  "2012 SCBWI Market Survey: Publishers of books for young readers" report. Deborah will be serving as a judge in the upcoming Redwood Writers Club Young Adult Fiction Writing contest.

   In today's Friday Features, Deborah shares her thoughts with me about the current and upcoming trends in the YA market, her #1 tip for aspiring writers, and how she came up with the idea for her DearEditor.com blog.

Have you always wanted to write?

I have always wanted to write novels—but I didn’t reveal that dream to anyone until I sold my first manuscript, Honk If You Hate Me. I didn’t want to be someone who forever talked about writing a book but never actually did it. I didn’t even know if I could do it. One day I decided to find out if I did have what it takes—the ideas, the ability, and, perhaps most important of all, the discipline to be a Writer. I plopped myself down and just started typing: “The wrinkled checker kept looking up at me.” So begins Honk If You Hate Me

What led to the writing of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies?
Having sat on both sides of the publishing desk as writer and editor, I planned to write a book about craft and industry … someday … some way. So when a team of agents approached me about the For Dummies project, I jumped. The For Dummies format synced with my personal philosophy of laughing as you learn, and because they gave me free rein to include whatever I wanted to include, and to write about my chosen topics and techniques in whatever way I thought best. Writing the book was a wonderful experience, and I get the warm fuzzy of knowing I’m helping writers improve and—fingers crossed—get published!

Recently, you did some research about market trends for your keynote speech at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Los Angeles conference. Can you share a little of what you've found? Where is the Young Adult genre heading?

Editors and agents I surveyed are seeing a lot of derivative material that have been hot for a while now like vampires and paranormal. They’re also seeing a lot of “gateway” middle grade fantasy, where there’s some portal that takes you between worlds. What they want is more straight contemporary fiction, in both teen and middle grade fiction. Like Stephanie Perkins Anna and the French Kiss or Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhere. The realistic contemporary stories should have believable characters to whom kids can relate…but the trick is to make something big happen in the story to create a big emotional impact that would raise the emotional temperature of the story and keep it from being too quiet. And if the manuscript is light and funny, well, so much the better.
How did you come up with your popular DearEditor.com blog? 
Writers would sit next to me at conference meals and say, “I just have this one quick question that I’ve always wanted to ask an editor.” With little to no access to editors, they couldn’t get answers to simple questions. I realized this was the case for many writers, and that I could be that point of access through a blog. Of course, to do that, I needed them to ask me the questions … and that’s where I got the idea for a Dear Abby-esque format. DearEditor.com now has over a thousand subscribers and is nearing a million page views. Writers now have access to an editor who can answer their questions, and I get to feel useful. Plus, I include wonderful writers, illustrators, and industry experts as guest editors, which is a lot of fun for me.
You are also a freelance editor and writing instructor. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

“Do, don’t talk.” Whether you call it writing or storytelling or simply “typing,” sit down and do it. Even the best ideas are nothing without the doing. I learned that firsthand. Let your fingers start tapping keys and see what happens. You never know, you might just be writing the opening line of your first published book. 

Friday, August 17, 2012


   Goosebottom Books is offering a 20% discount on Sacajawea of the Shoshone!  To access this great deal, click on the hyperlink below and pre-order the books by Oct. 1!

Friday, August 10, 2012


Welcome to Friday Features! This is where you'll find interviews and guest blogs with and by other authors of juvenile fiction. If you're interested in being one of my guest authors, please email me.

Today's guest post is by Jo Marshall, author of an adorable series of books called Twig Stories.

Author Jo Marshall
 I’m often asked, “What are Twig Stories?” Twigs are small, stick creatures, and the stories are about how their world is changing.  Twigs showed up in our old growth forest in our back yard when my daughter, Ali Jo, first learned about climate change.  It was difficult to understand, and she felt overwhelmed.  So we made up stories about Twigs fighting to save their forests and wildlife.  In that context, climate change made sense.  Twig Stories are exciting, fantasy adventures, but each one centers on actual climate change events.  Of course we share the royalties with environmental nonprofits.
Probably the next thing people ask is, “Wow! Are you the illustrator, too?”  No, I’m not that talented!  David Murray is.  He’s a professional Disney and Universal Pictures artist.  His screen credits include Mulan, Tarzan, Curious George, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear, and many others. We met when I asked him for his opinion of a publisher.  David liked Twigs, and offered to illustrate the books, and do the bookjackets, too. He also gave me the rights to his art, so Ali Jo and I can use them to make puzzles and games.  We put them up on the website.
   Another question that always pops up is, “Why write for kids?”  For many years I volunteered as a literacy tutor, reading one-on-one with elementary school kids.  Working with kids who struggled through novels they had to read, helped me appreciate what they loved to read.  So, understanding their needs helped a great deal.  I write stories kids really enjoy – wild adventures with amazing illustrations in an easy-to-read format.  An important lesson I learned about young kids, is they care so much about what is happening to our world.  So when writing a story they love to read, I wanted to share what I loved, also – the great redwoods, cedars, whitebark pine, giant sequoias, and the wildlife in our forests.  Unfortunately, this world is threatened by swarms of bark beetles, out-of-control wildfires, endless drought, and heart-wrenching floods because of a warming world.  There are less than 40 woodland caribou left in the Pacific Northwest.  They will go extinct, if not protected.  The spirit bear – a rare, white bear – survives in only one place, the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia.  Some estimate less than 200 remain.  So when I write for kids in elementary school, I know I have an audience who cares about these things.  When they grow up, I hope they will remember the world of Twigs, and make better environmental choices than we did. 

   Coming up next for Jo is Leaf and the Long Ice due to be released Thanksgiving weekend 2012, and Leaf and Echo Park next summer. 
   You can purchase Leaf and the Rushing Waters here, and Leaf and the Sky of Fire here.

To connect with Jo Marshall and to find out more about her books, check out these links:

Twig Stories website.
Jo Marshall's Facebook author page.
The Twig Stories Facebook Fan page.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Welcome to Friday Features! This is where you'll find interviews and guest blogs with and by other authors of juvenile fiction. If you're interested in being one of my guest authors, please email me.

Today's guest author is adult novelist turned Young Adult author, Jody Gehrman.

1. Tell me about your path to becoming a writer. When did you decide this 
    was something you wanted to do?

   My first "novel" was really a very long letter sent to my best friend about us riding around on our flying dogs. I was eight. We'd moved to Canada for the year and I missed our imaginary games, so I wrote about them instead. I guess writing for me has always been about delving into imaginary worlds. I still tend to think of each of my novels as long love letters—to a place, a time in my life, a person, a feeling. 
   In college I discovered playwriting, and after college I freelanced as a journalist. Both of these experiences really confirmed my commitment to writing, in part because they helped with the inherent loneliness that can become an occupational hazard. As a playwright I love working with actors and directors; as a journalist I love doing interviews. These more social aspects of writing balance out the isolation of writing novels. 

2. You are fairly prolific as a writer. Where do your ideas come from?

   Ideas are never the hard part for me; finding the time to pursue them all is much more difficult. Inspiration seems to strike whenever I’m doing something that requires minimal concentration, like driving or taking a shower. Occasionally I’ll wake from a dream and scribble ideas like mad. I try to keep all my ideas in notebooks in case I ever run out of inspiration and need to wade through old ones, but generally I find the most promising premises are the kind with teeth; they sink their fangs into me and won’t let go.

3. What are your writing habits.? Do you have a daily word count? Have a set 
     writing time each day? Or do you write only when inspiration strikes?

   In general I write every morning. I tend to push myself much harder when I’m not teaching, sometimes writing up to ten hours a day if I get in a groove and want to keep the storytelling momentum up.

4. You started out as an author of three published adult books, how did you get 
     into writing young adult fiction?

My first YA novel, Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty, just felt like a story that had to be told from the perspective of a teen character. It's a modern retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing set in a drive-through espresso stand. As soon as I got the idea, I knew the characters would be in their 
   teens; thus a new YA author was born! Once I tried writing from a YA point of view I realized how right it felt, so I've stuck with that audience for the last few books. Youth culture fascinates me, and YA literature these days is in the midst of a true renaissance; I love being a part of that world. I also feel very inspired by the emails I get from readers. Teen readers are so fresh and open; they don’t judge books based on stiff, pretentious ideas they’ve acquired about “great literature.” They’re eager to get lost in stories, and their imaginations are still vivid. That’s a demographic I can embrace.

5. You seem to be able to capture the teenage voice of your protagonists very well. 
     The concept of Voice can be very elusive to many writers. Do you have any tips
     on how to develop an authentic young adult Voice?

   Even if you choose to write your story from the third person POV, I'd suggest journaling in the voice of your character to get to know them. You can interview your character as well, though journaling can be very useful because it feels more intimate. I often ask my characters to journal about specific issues, not just ramble on, so it's kind of a two-for-one exercise, because your characters help you work out plot points while also revealing their unique way of speaking and seeing the world. I tend to "cast" my characters, either with real people I've met but don't know very well, or with actors. This literally gives me a "voice" to draw from. I generally try to give my characters idiosyncratic expressions that are all their own. For example, Natalie from Babe in Boyland tends to swear in German.

6. If you’re asked to give three main tips for aspiring writers, what would they be?

One: Write on a regular schedule.
Two: Surround yourself with people who support your writing dreams
Three: Know that external validation (getting published, getting praise) can only take you so far. You have to love the process itself, savor it every day. That’s where a writer’s true pleasure lives.

7. You are the author of 6 traditionally published books, your young adult novels   
are published by one of the Big Six publishers, and you have agent representation, why did you decide to go the self-publishing route with your most recent YA Audrey’s Guide to Witchcraft? 

   I decided to publish this latest book independently for a few reasons:

a) TOTAL CREATIVE CONTROL: While authors occasionally get to offer input into book design and marketing strategies, more often we're sidelined or not included in the process at all. With Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft, I hired my own model and sketched out my own vision for the cover. We transformed my writing studio into a photo studio and my husband David went to work. We obsessed over fonts and poured over Photoshop tutorials. We've had a blast making it our own. I'm now attacking every aspect of marketing with the same gusto. It's liberating, taking control in this way.

b) MASSIVE INCREASE IN ROYALTIES: I'm not totally naive. I know I'll have to sell a lot of books to earn anywhere near the advances I got with my first two book deals. Still, considering that I'll be going from an average of 10% royalties to approximately 70%, even a moderate success has the potential to work for me financially.

c) NO WAITING: Ask any writer and they'll confirm that the waiting process is endless and creatively draining. You have to wait months for editors and agents to get back to you, your pub date gets delayed, your project is on hold until you can get more feedback. It goes on and on. With this process, publishing happens when I say it does. 

d) IT'S FUN: I'll probably be singing a new tune if my marketing falls flat and I join the fifty percent of self-pubbed writers who earn less than $500 a year at their craft. After living with the disempowering lack of involvement I often felt with traditional publishing, though, there's a real skydiving-esque thrill to all of this. I'm taking the plunge. The outcome is uncertain. Wish me luck.


Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft is available on Smashwords.
Connect with Jody on her website.
You can purchase Jody's books here: 

Tune in next Friday, Aug. 10, for author Jo Marshall's guest post about how she came to write Twig Stories, a series of children's books about how climate change affects nature, illustrated by Disney and Universal artist David Murray.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


   Congratulations to Mendocino Coast author Ginny Rorby (and one of the judges of the Redwood Writer's Club Young Adult Fiction Writing contest) for having ALL four of her novels nominated for NPR's top 100 list of the best young adult fiction ever written . Ginny's books are among the 225 finalists. Read NPR's article and vote for your favorite titles. Everyone gets 10 votes. NPR will announce the books that made the top 100 in a few weeks.