After reading A Closer Look, many people ask if I have alopecia, the auto-immune disease that causes one’s hair to fall out. No, I do not but the extensive research I did makes Cassie’s voice ring true as a teen who is losing her hair as she balances relationships with her former teen model mother, a cruel, competitive track teammate and her first boyfriend.
“...and there were these moments—when we laughed on the phone, or met for a kiss-and-run, when I noticed the sweet way he looked at me—well, I felt so good I could almost forget about my secret. But in the back of my mind, it was like an invisible fist was lurking, one that followed me around, just waiting for the chance to rip out more hair.”
How did you learn about the condition Alopecia?
Locks of Love sent me an information packet that included their newsletter featuring Jamie, an ecstatic teen, sporting her Locks of Love prosthetic wig. I called over there and explained I was writing a YA novel and wanted to interview Jamie. Because she was a minor, I wrote a letter to Jamie with my contact information, c/o Locks of Love, which they forwarded to her. Soon after, Jamie called. She was sweet and kind and happy to answer all my questions. Locks of Love also directed me to NAAF, The National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
For a small donation, I began receiving the NAAF newsletter. Along with articles about research and raising awareness, there were always moving letters from adults and teens discussing how devastating their hair loss was; about being different, being teased, always hiding the truth, coping and finally overcoming. These letters were deeply affecting.
The NAAF newsletter also included support group leader contact information so in no time I was speaking with a woman whose daughter had alopecia. She was more than willing to share her experiences.
While working on an early draft, a friend invited me to a Botox seminar. I didn’t get the Botox but I was able to get some one-on-one time with a dermatologist. More questions answered!
Over years of revisions, I scoured my library and the internet for middle grade and young adult fiction that included alopecia. The pickins were slim: Herman by Lars Saabye Christensen (1992), Because of Anya by Margaret Peterson Haddix (2002) and Fairest of Them All by Jan Blazanin (2009). Ms. Haddix graciously agreed to read and provide a blurb for A Closer Look! I also read several non-fiction books and read as much as I could find online.
I’ve spoken with the fabulous founders of CAP Children’s Alopecia Project and BGDL Bald Girls Do Lunch. Their websites also provide a wealth of information.
All of my research doesn’t appear in the novel and it shouldn’t but the knowledge I’d acquired allowed me to weave in accurate details and develop an authentic voice for Cassie’s experiences. As a result, I’ve received lovely emails such as this one from a reader who has alopecia:
“Just wanted to let you know that I finished A Closer Look. And wow, fabulous. You really captured the emotional struggle that Cassie was feeling. There were times where I cried, and times where I found myself overwhelmed with emotion knowing how Cassie was feeling.”