Thursday, September 20, 2012

Friday Feedback: Pixie Hair & The Real Deal

Look ma, no hair!
FYI, I cut my hair off this week.
Just needed to get that out of the way. ;)
Now that I have, it's time for Friday Feedback.
I have a wonderful guest author -- and sister in pixie hair -- today, Helen Landalf, who wrote

         the wonderful FLYAWAY.
This is Helen!

and this is Flyaway:
From Amazon:
"Stevie Calhoun knows how to take care of herself. It’s not like her mom hasn’t disappeared before. So why is Aunt Mindy making such a big deal of it now? It’s not like Mom’s really doing meth. Stevie makes sure of that. Whatever. She’ll go home with Aunt Mindy if it will keep her from calling Child Protective Services—but it doesn’t mean she’ll stay. Mom will come back. Mom always comes back. And Stevie will be there when she does.

But when Stevie meets Alan—frustrating and fascinating and so-different-from-everyone-she-knows Alan—and she starts helping out at the bird rehab center, things begin to look different. Even the tutoring and the ridiculous outfits Aunt Mindy’s forcing her into might not be so bad. Not that Stevie would say it out loud. She can’t. Because how can anything be good if it doesn’t include Mom?"
Helen has been kind enough to do all the hard work for me today, offering up some great stuff on authenticity in contemporary YA fiction. I must say, I wholeheartedly agree with her that one of the best compliments I receive on The Pull of Gravity is that my characters feel real.
But how do you do that? Get your characters to feel authentic, make your story the Real Deal?
Helen:   As a writer of contemporary YA fiction, one of the things I strive for is a sense of authenticity in my work. What makes me happiest is when a reader finishes something I’ve written and says, “Wow, that felt really real!”
How do you write a novel that feels authentic?
Authenticity is such an ephemeral thing. It’s hard to define, but we know it’s there when we feel a story’s truth in our guts. I’m still learning how to write authentically, but I’ll humbly share a few things I’ve discovered along the way.

Get the facts
In order for a story to feel real, it must be grounded in accurate facts. If you’re writing historical fiction, this is obvious, but contemporary novels require research too. Get the facts on every element of your story you can think of, from the setting to your main character’s hobbies and interests to her parents’ occupations.
This is Helen's special research assistant, Toto.
No wonder her facts are air tight!
Use sensory detail
Having the facts is great, but in order to create true authenticity, you have to go beyond factual accuracy and find the details of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell that will put your readers right in a scene. This might require you to travel (darn!), take a class, or volunteer. For example, in order to write about the bird clinic in my novel FLYAWAY, I spent a summer volunteering at a bird nursery.
I’d recommend these books as good examples of the use of authentic sensory detail:
ADIOS, NIRVANA by Conrad Wesselhoeft – the author’s descriptions of guitar-playing and skateboarding (and Red Bull drinking!) make you feel as if you’re doing them along with the characters.
AUDITION by Stasia Ward Kehoe – This book takes you deeply into the world of ballet. The author rented rehearsal space and choreographed one of the dances that she writes about in order to make it as authentic as possible.
Draw on your own memories and emotions
Nothing creates a sense of authenticity like deeply felt emotions that readers can empathize and identify with, and the best place to find such emotions is in your own store of memories and experiences. Sit in a quiet place and allow yourself to reconnect to an emotional event or time in your life. Then see if you can find a way to transfer that event, or just the underlying emotion, to your novel.
These books are outstanding in their conveyance of authentic emotion:
TELL ME A SECRET by Holly Cupala – The author used her own experience of having a premature baby to fuel the emotions in this novel.
NEVER EIGHTEEN by Megan Bostic – The author created the emotional journey of her main character through her experience of caring for a dying relative.
Whether you write contemporary, historical, paranormal, or another genre of fiction, I hope these tips for making your work feel authentic have been helpful to you.

* * *

And, because it wouldn't be Friday Feedback without putting my guest author in the hot seat, here's the opening of Helen's current WIP, tentatively titled CLEO:

           The minute I wiggle into my red-sequined tank top, Joan starts to disappear. Yank it down to show a little cleavage, slide on my black lace over-the-elbow gloves, and she fades even more. Squeeze into a pair of black velvet leggings that hug my queen-size thighs, top it off with a flirty ruffled skirt that flares over my mile-wide hips, step into a pair of red stilettos, and she’s almost gone.
           “Joan,”comes Mom’s voice from outside the bedroom door. “I want to talk to you, honey.”
Elizabeth Taylor, in her Cleopatra gown and headdress, gazes down at me from the poster above my dresser. Ignore her, she seems to say. You’ve got work to do.
I wedge myself into the white wicker chair and then grab the bottle of foundation and slather the cold, sweet-smelling liquid along my skin. The little potholes left over from Joan’s acne outbreak back in middle school? Gone. Next comes blush, the soft brush whispering glitter and bone structure onto Joan’s chipmunk cheeks. Then eyeliner that sweeps into a dramatic V at my temples. Thick and black, just like Liz’s.
           “Joan,”Mom says, “I know you’re in there.”
            That’s what she thinks. I fluff my limp brown hair to create the illusion of fullness and then dim the lights on my makeup mirror. Leaning forward, I suck in my cheeks and survey my work. Not bad. All I need now is a dab of burgundy lipstick, and my transformation will be complete.
           “You’re not going out with Matt tonight, are you?”

           I stand and twist one way and then the other, taking in the whole picture. I stuff the flyer from school into my beaded clutch purse and then throw on my full-length raincoat and belt it at the waist.


           Mom can knock herself out, because for tonight, Joan’s history. I smile at my reflection in the mirror, the corners of my lips curving toward my faux cheekbones.
            Cleo smiles back.

* * *

Love it, Helen! Thanks so much for being here!

Now, it's your turn, all. You know the rules!

- gae & helen

p.s. if you want to know more about Helen, you can visit her WEBSITE, like her facebook page, or follow her on twitter @helenlandalf :)


  1. Love the excerpt for Cleo!

    Gae are you tired of hearing about Lira? LOL - if you gave any direction about what I should post, I didn't find it.

    Here's an attempt at a short something.

    - - - - -
    Lira looked at the Hermit, surprised at his greeting. “You were expecting me?”

    “Expecting something. What’s your name girl?”

    “Lira. The Guardian sent me to learn from you. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to learn. The people at the Monastery didn’t think much of my request.”

    “Battle magic, what else? Show me what you can do. What spells did you learn first?”

    Lira felt her stress rising at the demands. “Aren’t you even going to tell me your name? Do you mean my first spell that Hettie taught me or my first battle magic type spell?”

    “Why do you care what my name is? Who’s Hettie and where in the world did you learn something you think might be called battle magic?”

    “I don’t care. If you want me to call you ‘old man’ or ‘hermit guy’ that’s fine. Hettie is the Goddess of Cleaning; my first spells all had to do with housekeeping. I can make you or your cottage cleaner than you ever imagined. Some monk named Brother Darmen taught me how to do chain lightning at a monastery we visited right before entering the pass that brought us to this kingdom.” Lira took a deep breath. Her tendency to talk too much when she was nervous had taken over her senses.

  2. I'm glad you liked the CLEO excerpt, Nanette! I haven't encountered Lira before, but I was immediately drawn in by this snippet. I'm intrigued by the names: Lira, the Hermit, the Guardian, Hettie. And I'm wondering about this "battle magic." Good work!

    1. agree re: the names! And, am always happy to see more Lira! I am a bit confused by the dialogue because HE calls it battle magic then she does then he says something you think is called battle magic. ? :)

  3. Helen, I can feel the transformation, and see in my mind how it will be complete with the addition of that lipstick. Chilling,to think of the vast difference between Cleo and Joan...Thanks for sharing!

    As Gae knows, since I keep sharing snippets here, my WIP is a historical fiction set around World War I. Currently I'm deep in books and websites about Spanish Flu, trying to find out what conditions were like when my MC was in Washington DC during the War so I can write a big chunk of the second half of the book. I've realized just how much I love the research part as I am writing this book. This section is set in rural WA state, while MC Kate is teaching high school.

    "I do not ask O Lord that life should be a pleasant road. I was stern and cross in Caesar class today."

    Kate set down her pen and sighed. She closed the Line a Day diary in which she'd begun making entries the previous January. It had been a difficult day, to be sure, for some reason she couldn't quite understand. She'd been out of sorts since morning; it had begun as soon as she set her feet on the floor to get out of bed; things went all wrong, somehow. Her favorite shirtwaist suddenly had a stain on it. She'd spilled her coffee just as they'd had to walk out the door for school, and Oh! She hated to be late! She had a real dread of it, plain and simple.
    At school, she'd dropped her satchel on the ground, and of course it was the first really wet day they'd had yet. She'd had to chase her papers halfway down the yard. That was not a pretty sight, she was sure. She was thankful that only a few of the kids were out at the time. Cassie, the lively blonde girl from her late Caesar class, actually saved a bundle of papers as they skittered away from Kate’s grasp. That girl was not only quick with her mind, but with hands and feet, as well, it turned out. She handed the damp papers back to Kate with a smile.
    “Sorry about that, Miss Stinson. I hope you can dry them out all right.” That had been the only bright spot in her day. Each new task brought frustration, and the last straw had been those fool kids. They were always noisy and unruly that last period of the day; who could blame them? No one, she supposed, since they'd stayed in at lunch and not gotten their usual high spirits out in the fresh air. Still, today, so much was irritating to her. It was quite a trial, and she'd lost her temper with them. That was not her usual way, and it had surprised them into silence. It had surprised her, too. Maybe she was just homesick, she thought. She'd been missing Muriel and Don especially, lately.
    Those kids were a real pleasure; at least, when they weren't fighting amongst themselves, or teasing Mary mercilessly.
    She supposed they could be just as exasperating as the kids she was teaching. Well, she would just think about something else, she supposed, and then she'd shake herself out of this funk she was in.
    Maybe she was coming down with something? She had no idea, but she decided she'd beg off of joining the others for a card party Edna's friend was having. It was awfully nice of them to invite her, but she'd as soon fight a bear as have to make polite conversation with strangers just now. The girls would understand, and it wasn't like it was any formal kind of invitation, just a casual get together to play some cards and all. Kate figured she could find something to do to change her mood.
    She stepped out of her room to talk to Clara.
    "Say, I think I'll just beg off for tonight, if it's all the same to you two,"she said quietly.

  4. Oh, no! Is Kate about to get Spanish flu?!?! Now I am worried for her. :( The only word that popped me out of your magnificently authentic feeling piece (as always) was the word kids used repeatedly. Even if the word was used back then, it feels so casual compared to the rest of the language. Would she use the word children instead? Not sure. Seriously not sure. But love this ms immensely.

    1. Good point about "kids," Gae. I've used it only sparingly, more as a 'those darned kids!' sort of an exclamation in other sections. Reading this again, actually "students" would fit better in at least one spot, though she is thinking back. Have to figure what it would be in her thoughts... I'll think about that. We had to look up historical usage of the word "buff", as in enthusiast, recently, so I appreciate that point. But it fits that Kate admits she is a "chicken buff." Glad, because I really like it where it is placed.

      There are deaths from Spanish flu in this book. When I first started writing, I thought there was only one from an early occurrence of a pocket in rural WA, which felt radical to me, to kill someone off. With more research it's clear that people Kate knows have to die in DC. Though it had a lower instance than many cities, she was working for the Navy, after all, and their infection rate and loss was high simply from the movement of personnel. I'm not telling whether she personally gets it or not - yet... ;-0

  5. Wow, Valerie, I'm impressed. This has such an authentic voice and such a great feel for the period. I love the phrase "..she'd as soon fight a bear." The only thing you might want to watch for is a bit of repetition. For example, near the end you mention that Kate is thinking of bowing out of the card game, and then a few sentences later, she actually does it. Maybe only one of those is necessary. But hey, that's small stuff. Overall, this is a magnificent excerpt!

  6. Helen, Thanks so much for the kind compliments. This is great input. I seem to be a repeater, and I appreciate your pointing it out here too.