Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On Mermaids, Voice, and The Writing Life: HÉLÈNE BOUDREAU

Are you ready to learn a few things about Hélène Boudreau, author of the lighthearted modern fantasy, Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings?

Get ready for an awesome interview. Hélène is about as sweet as they come, and she's shared some GREAT INSIGHT on how to make your characters come to life.  Which is something she's terribly good at.

AUTHORESS: Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings isn’t your first book. Tell us what else you have written!

HÉLÈNE: You’re right! Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings is actually my eighth published book. I also have a junior chapter book series called Red Dune Adventures and a middle-grade time travel novel called Acadian Star, plus five non-fiction books.

AUTHORESS: I REALLY enjoyed Mermaids. From the very first page, when Jade’s in the bathtub and discovers she’s grown a—well, you know—I was immediately rooting for her. How do you DO that? How do you make Jade so real and so RIGHT INSIDE MY HEAD?

HÉLÈNE:  That’s cool! I’m so glad you related to Jade! I really wanted her to be an every- day teen readers could relate to, despite her extraordinary circumstances.

As for making her seem like she is ‘RIGHT INSIDE MY HEAD’ well…I can share a couple of techniques I use when creating a character. These are tips you can use to bridge the gap between the reader and the point-of-view character.

1. Creating a relatable character: Jade is not the perfect size 6 pretty girl. She has a weakness for chocolate and one foot constantly in her mouth when talking to her crush. I don’t know about you but I can relate on all those fronts. When a reader can see themselves reflected in a character in this way, they’re more likely to root for their success.

2. Creating an identifiable character: Have you ever had to buy something embarrassing at the drugstore? Or been mortified by a parent? Or had to keep a secret from a friend? These are situations with which most people can identify. It’s like saying ‘yes, I totally get that’ while the character is going through those situations. These identifiable situations help the reader feel invested in your character.

3. Using sensory detail: By engaging as many senses as possible, through the eyes of the point-of-view character, your reader becomes much more immersed in the character’s persona. If the reader can sense what the character sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels it’s almost like they are climbing inside the mind of the character and taking on that persona. Injecting sensory detail like this through the narrative of the story gives dimension to your character and engages your reader on a deep level.

AUTHORESS:  You’ve recently signed a deal for two more Mermaid books (hooray!). Can you give us a tiny hint about what’s to come? Or at least let us know how long we have to wait!

HÉLÈNE:  Book 2 will be out in spring 2012. We haven’t seen the last of the Freshies and the Mer-council and Jade, Cori, Trey, Lainey or Serena, for that matter. There will be plenty more embarrassing moments for Jade, too. I haven’t finished torturing her just yet. ;-)

AUTHORESS: So you’ve managed to create a believable, very “today” mermaid story. What was your inspiration?

HÉLÈNE:  The setting for the story was based on a town near where I grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada. We used to take boat trips there with my dad when I was a kid. You can actually sail from the ocean, up a canal and through a boat lock and into a lake, just like the setting of the story. I was always amazed by the purple jelly fish on the ocean side of the boat lock compared to the white jelly fish in the lake. It always made me wonder how different it would be to live in a lake compared to the ocean. That was the inspiration for my underwater mer-world in Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings.

Jade’s character was mostly me getting in touch with my inner dork. I could totally see myself doing a lot of the things she did; fumbling her words while talking to a cute guy or sending a cooler full of Gatorade careening into space.

Her geeky, gadget-loving dad was fun to write too, since I based a lot of his character on my husband. I had a lot of fun debating with him about how similar they were; whether he would Google ‘menstruation’ in the middle of the pharmacy while buying feminine hygiene products for one of our daughters, like Jade’s dad did, or whether he’s capable of driving and carrying on a conversation at the same time. It confirmed for me how ‘adorkable’ my husband is and how appealing that can be in a character as well.

AUTHORESS:  Mermaids is a middle grade novel. How is that different from young adult? What made you decide to write for this age group?

HÉLÈNE:  I wasn’t consciously trying to write a middle grade versus a young adult book. I mainly wanted to tell a story from the perspective of a thirteen year-old girl who feels like she’s being left behind by friends who are developing faster than she is. It was hard to find a category to classify this book since it kind of bridges the middle grade/ young adult gap but I just tried to tell as honest a story as possible and hoped it would find its readers.

AUTHORESS:  You are represented by the lovely Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency. Can you share some highlights from your how-I-nabbed-my- awesome-agent story?

HÉLÈNE:  People talk about their ‘dream agent’ but what I truly wanted was an agent who knew the market, was enthusiastic about my writing and could direct my career.

I got that +++ when I finally connected with Lauren. I had queried quite a few agents before stumbling on a blog by Mitali Perkins where Lauren discussed her likes and dislikes. She mentioned she was looking for clean/ funny/ middle grade/ leaning toward commercial manuscripts and I thought ‘Hey! That sounds like my book. ’

You can read what Lauren thought of my query on the Guide to Literary Agent
blog HERE.

AUTHORESS:  You’re, like, a mom. How does that work? When do you get your best writing done?

HÉLÈNE:  I always marvel at people who say they can only write in the morning or late at night or at the coffee shop. Being a parent doesn’t always afford such luxuries. I usually end up writing whenever and wherever I can! I’ve been known to sneak in a bit of revision while the girls are at art class or take my laptop with me while they play in the park. This is killer on my keyboard, though, and I usually have to get out the hi-pressure air every week or so to blow out the leaves and playground sand from between the keys.

AUTHORESS:  If I’m 14 or 15 or 17 and I’m writing my first novel, what’s your best-ever advice?

HÉLÈNE:  My advice for aspiring authors is this—anything is possible! This is true in a book and in real life. In writing, don’t be afraid to take risks! Make your characters squirm, put them in impossible situations, go down the road less travelled. The same goes for your writing life. Take risks, be brave and don’t be afraid to fail. You can always go back and revise.

Conceive it, believe it and achieve it.

AUTHORESS:  So many drafts, edits, revisions. How did you know when Mermaids was actually DONE? How do you know when ANYTHING is done?

HÉLÈNE:  It’s hard to know when it’s absolutely done but it helps to have a good team of critiquers to help along the way. I put my early drafts of Mermaids through my rigorous critique group for over six months. Then, I did 3-4 rounds of beta-reads with some trusted readers. While I was querying agents I did 2-3 major revisions. When I signed with my agent I did another revision. When the manuscript was acquired I did a large-scale revision and then a smaller content-type revision. Then finally, a copy-edit at the very end. At some point with each book I need to let go, put my trust in the process and let it be the book it was meant to be.

AUTHORESS: Do you listen to music when you write?

HÉLÈNE: I love Top 40 music so I usually have it playing in the background while I write. It can’t be too loud, though, or I find it distracting. Writing with earbuds, with the volume on super-low tends to work best for me. Just enough to block out the universe but not too much so that I feel the need to rock out with my very shaky rendition of ‘Soul Sister’.

AUTHORESS:  Is it true you’ve recently stopped drinking Diet Coke forever?

HÉLÈNE:  *slurp* “Huh? Oh…yeah, definitely. What was the question?” *wipes chin*

AUTHORESS: Is being a Real Author as awesome as it seems?

HÉLÈNE:  Being an author and having books published is absolutely awesome and I feel grateful every day that I get to do what I love for a living. It’s not without its challenges and it is definitely a LOT of work but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

AUTHORESS:  Chocolate or vanilla? Coffee or tea? Summer or winter?

HÉLÈNE:  Vanilla. Neither. SUMMER!!!!! Flip-flops!!!!


HOORAY!  Thank you, Ms. Boudreau, for a fabulous interview.

And guess what's next?  A contest to win a book-plate signed copy of Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings!

WHEN: The contest will open TOMORROW AT 3:00 PM EST, so check the blog!

WHAT: Why, thinking up titles for Hélène's next two Mermaid novels, of course! The funniest entry will win.

WHERE: Right here on the blog! All entries will go into the comments box.

Spread the word! And see what fabulous titles you can come up with. YOU might be Write On's very first give-away winner!


  1. What a fun contest! Thanks for the interview with Helene, it was very enlightening and informative. Sounds like a perfect book for that awkward age between MG and YA.

  2. Great advice, great interview! The book and author seem awesome, too. Whoo, Canada! xP
    And vanilla? Nooo! Lol, just kidding. I will definitely keep in mind what Helene has to say about relatable characters. Contest seems like fun, I'll try to come up with something as witty as Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings but we'll see. ;)

  3. Love the insights on characterization! Putting our protags in situations we identify with is key. Congrats on a successful career that just keeps getting better!

  4. This is one of the better interviews I've read - probably because Helene gave some substantial good writing advice. I love the examples she gave for making characters relatable and identifiable. The lake vs. ocean thing has me intrigued as well as the adorkable dad! I would love to win this but either way it's on my TBR list!