Students Want to Know: Helen Landalf

I’m excited to post this interview between my students and debut author Helen Landalf.  I really want to read her novel Flyaway, but I didn’t see it at NCTE so it looks like my students and I have to wait until it releases on December 19th.  I love a good contemporary novel and this one sounds like a great addition to the genre!

Summary of Flyaway (From Goodreads): Fifteen-year-old Stevie Calhoun is used to taking care of herself. But one night, her mom, who works as an exotic dancer in a downtown Seattle nightclub, never comes home.

That’s the night Stevie’s life turns upside down.

It’s the night that kicks off an extraordinary summer: the summer Stevie has to stay with her annoyingly perfect Aunt Mindy; the summer she learns to care for injured and abandoned birds; the summer she gets to know Alan, the meanest guy in high school.

But most of all, it’s the summer she finds out the truth about Mom.

FLYAWAY is the story of a teen girl’s struggle to hold on to what she’s always believed, even as her world spins out of control.

** Flyaway releases from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on December 19th, 2011 **
** Follow Helen on Twitter @helenlandalf **
** Helen’s Website **


  • How long did it take you to write this book?  Did it take a lot of attempts to write it?
    It took me about a year to write the first draft. Then I rewrote it completely two or three times and revised it several more times – a total of six times before I submitted it to an agent. Then my agent helped me revise it two more times. Then, once it sold to a publishing house, my editor had me revise it yet again. So it took about ten attempts over five years to get to the version that will end up on bookshelves later this month.


  • Why did you become a writer?
    As a kid, I loved to read. I also loved to tell stories – I used to get all the kids in the neighborhood together and tell them ghost stories. That love of reading and telling stories stuck with me, and it just flowed naturally into my becoming a writer.


  • How many books do you want to write?
    That’s easy: as many as I can before I die! I’m not a fast writer, but hopefully I can get in another twenty or thirty books before I finally kick the bucket.
  • Why does Stevie take care of birds?  Is there a story or reason behind this?
    I knew I wanted to write a novel about a girl who remained loyal to her mom, in spite of the fact that her mom didn’t deserve that loyalty. I had also decided that the girl’s mom would be a drug addict. Still, I knew I needed something else to make the story complete. Then one day, as I was walking down the street, thinking about my book, I noticed a baby bird lying on the sidewalk. It had no feathers, and it looked so vulnerable and helpless. I decided right then that injured and orphaned birds would be a perfect metaphor for Stevie’s plight.


  • How did it feel when you found out your book was going to be published?
    It was a dream come true! I laughed and cried and screamed and danced and generally acted like a crazy woman.


  • If you were stranded on an island and could only take one book with you, what would it be?
    I think I would take a volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Reading the same story over and over would get boring, but I never fail to be inspired by poems.


  • Is this story personal or did you make it up?
    I made it up, but certain elements of it are based on the experiences of people I know. In some form or another, writers always end up writing about their own lives.


  1. Great questions! Looks like your students got a lot out of reading it.

I love comments!

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