Ask an author: Emily Halverson

By Shelah Miner

emily h Today we’re spending some time with the fabulous Emily Halverson, a Segullah staffer who edited the book Life-Changing Moments, which was recently published by Walnut Springs Press.  Here’s her intro, in her own words:

I live in a city also known as the Protestant Vatican, the Athens of the South, and the Buckle of the Bible Belt . . . Any guesses? [silence, crickets chirping] Wow, you’re right. Nashville, TN—in a delightfully green burb just outside called Murfreesboro. But I’m a native Californian, from a family of ten kids, and I’m halfway there with five little ones of my own (just kidding about the halfway there part). I’m raising them with my perfect husband Jared (not kidding about the perfect part), and our lives are as chaotic as yours.

How would you describe Life-Changing Moments?

Life-Changing Moments is a compilation of stories from people who experienced one moment that changed everything—causing them to find God, or get sober, or have children, or forgive deep wounds. These moments were brought on by dreams, illness, revelation, suffering, or the plain-speaking Aunt Gladys’s of the world (nod to Robert Millet’s piece). What fascinated me about the stories I researched was the interplay of God’s outreach and our agency. I don’t know if anything can truly change us—no matter how powerful the experience, for we really are “agents unto ourselves” in this life (D&C 29:39). There is an element of choice that is present in each person’s story, no matter how powerful the experience. The Lord may have placed them in that moment, setting the choice before them in a beautiful way, but they alone decide whether they will allow themselves to change. I don’t know which is more stunning—our allowed agency or God’s merciful outreach. These stories truly show Him “moving in His majesty and power.”
Who was the audience you had in mind as you worked on the essays?

Honestly, in many ways my audience was myself.  Right after I was asked to do this project, I thought, if I were to pick up a book like this in a bookstore, what kind of stories would I want to read (and reread)?  The stories within range from garden variety to the spectacular. Big name authors, as well as unknowns like myself. We wanted the full spectrum. The difficult part was completing the research within the tight deadline we had. This required that most pieces be written already. Although that narrowed my options, it made the project feel more doable. If I’d had it my way I would have interviewed people all over the world to get their stories, but for some reason that wasn’t an option (smile). The question was: what stories are already in print, and if I came across any that weren’t, how long would it take to make that happen.

How was working on Life-Changing Moments different from the other books you’ve worked on?

I’ve been editing for many years now—taking books both fiction and nonfiction and researching, restructuring, and rewriting for countless authors. And the reality is (and this is perfectly acceptable to me, otherwise I would not be an editor) in the end, your name is nowhere on that book. The difference with LCM is that in the end, my name happened to be on it.

How is working as an editor different from writing essays yourself? Do you prefer one over the other?

I never set out to be an editor (it sounded so dreadfully exact, like math) . . . until one of my BYU professors, who knew I was an English major, asked me to help him edit a book he was writing. I panicked thinking, I’m a writer, not an editor. I didn’t realize that you really shouldn’t separate the two. But up until that time, I’d always felt that editing wasn’t creative enough. It seemed to be the more distasteful side of my major, so focused on rules and only feeding and existing off of someone else’s creativity (or so I thought). I wanted the freedom of doing the creating myself. But I agreed to help him, and luckily it was right before the beginning of a new semester so I could quickly enroll in about three different editing courses. That was my final semester of college, and since then I use my training in editing more than anything else I learned. Thank you, Daniel K. Judd!

Working as an editor has influenced my writing profoundly. And I’ve come to be passionate about the editing process. I love how the late poet Leslie Norris compared this process to “grooming” a wild animal—filing its claws, “hair by hair…pluck[ing] away each small excess” until “its lion jaws” are ready to be “set wild on the running street, aimed at the hamstring, the soft throat.” A well-groomed piece will find your soft throat—and trying to get it there can be both exhausting and exhilarating.

That said, I think “birthing” the wild animal will always be my preference, but I’m in a stage of life that’s making a higher demand on my editing than my writing. I’m hoping quieter days are on the horizon when I can publish my own book. But until then, I could never feel that editing others’ work is holding my own writing back—it’s getting me there it in a way I never intended. Kind of like motherhood. Here we are on this spinning Earth, with the sole purpose of becoming like our Father, and motherhood is getting us there in a way we never intended! While helping raise others, you can’t help but raise yourself (raise, meaning I’m trying to grow up too!).

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

8 thoughts on “Ask an author: Emily Halverson”

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I started a writer's group in my town about 1/2 a dozen years ago. My husband and I met there, and writing continues to be a hobby that it is very important to both of us. Recently we started a Memoir class. It has been a good thing for us in many ways – we aren't in charge, we can just WRITE!, we have met other writers separate from our group.

    What we have noticed from this class, that we believe shows our growth, is that we yearn for someone to critique and help us edit our work. This teacher, who we really enjoy, emphasizes more on defending your words and not allowing anyone to change them. I can remember those days, when I was in love with every word I wrote.

    But now I want someone to critique, to edit, to suggest and more than that, I want to question my own work constantly. We are presently reading John Gardner's books on writing and he emphasizes this constantly. Two years ago I would have not been able to imagine wanting to attempt such a thing. We also are starting a course through the Teaching Company on writing – it is a new era, in what we are doing, it is exciting.

    Publishing? Never think of it. But honing my writing skills and a life time of interest? You betcha!

    Thank you again for such a wonderful and interesting article, it really spured me on! All aspects of writing, is so important!

  2. Beautiful insights. I have to say – to Emily – that one of your own life changing moments, as shared in an Institute class one BYU summer, has had a profound effect on me. And it goes along the same lines of being agents unto ourselves – choosing what truly changes us. Every time I open the scriptures I think of your counsel to BE the new thing that comes out of my scripture study. Gaining new insight and understanding is always welcome, but reading until I am the thing renewed and enlivened is the most rewarding. Thank you for your faith. I admire you and your husband tremendously.

  3. Traci: No publishing? You just did! What's next? An article for Segullah? We need a good memoir piece. Keep us posted . . .

    Shannon: How fun to hear from a good soul from those old BYU days. I honestly don't remember teaching what you mentioned–all credit to you and the real Teacher! I love how you said that: "reading until I am the thing renewed." Thanks for refocusing my own study this morning!

  4. I loved reading this, Emily. I loved your insights about writing and editing. And I want to read about those life changing moments.

  5. Emily, I'm so excited about your book and it's message.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on editing–I learned so much from you!

  6. Thanks for this. I think a willingness to be edited shows a maturity and humility that allow for the true message to come forth. I love that idea of becoming what the scriptures teach. Reminds me of writing on the fleshy tablets of the heart referred to in the OT. Look forward to read the book!

  7. I love this intro you wrote Emily! I'm so happy you had the chance to write this book, I can't wait to read it. Will you "autograph" it for me? We should being a writer's group…of course in all of our "extra" time.


Leave a Comment