I’m sure that everyone has that ONE question that they get asked all the time about their debut book (or maybe, for every book! I guess we’ll find out!).
For me, the conversation goes a little like this.
Me: I wrote a romance about two ballet dancers after a horrible car accident and how they try to piece their lives back together and rekindle their relationship.
People: Cool! Ballet!
People: So, do you dance? Did you dance?
I get this question even from people reading the book for the first time, not just from the pitch! The answer is no, I don’t dance and I didn’t dance. The last time I wore a tutu I was four years old. Like many little girls, I took dance classes as a pre-k kid. I don’t remember anything about the ballet classes though I remember a little bit about the tap class. I’m not a dancer. I’m unbelievably not musical and inflexible. You really don’t want to see me dance.
Why did you write about ballet?
I am really fascinated by any elite sport in which you train your entire life for it and it becomes a career. That dedication from such an early age is so incredible to me.
One of my high school classmates left school because she got into the Jackie Kennedy Onassis School of Dance in New York. I remember being amazed by that as a teenager. She seemed so mature and dedicated while I felt, as a teen, so completely discombobulated. She’s now a professional ballet dancer. No, she’s not in the book.
When I traveled to Ukraine, I was lucky enough to see Giselle performed in Kyiv (Kiev). The rat-tat-tat of the pointe shoes across the stage made my heart skip a beat. And that ballet is just exquisite.
I played with SERENADE for awhile, and when I discovered ballet in both the main characters, Aly and Zed, it felt so right. I wrote the story that needed to be told.
So how did you write about ballet if you basically knew nothing about it?
A lot of research. And I mean a lot of research. Endless YouTube videos, reading entire glossaries of ballet terms, watching every ballet movie and documentary I could find. I read books about ballet, read about dancers who left ballet happily, and read about dancers who remain in ballet and probably will until their feet literally fall off their bodies (and even then, they might just tape them back on and keep going. Dancers are incredible athletes.)
I had to learn about different types of ballets, and what my characters would like. Why Zed loves Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, and why Aly doesn’t (until she does). I had to learn about how dancers warm up, structure their days, and receive their roles. I learned about Balanchine, his method and style, and how it’s informed American ballet. I learned about different styles of ballet, how the Bolshoi differs from New York City Ballet.
I absorbed every little fact I could because books are made real by the tiny details. It’s the bobby pins, how Aly spends time between classes, how she breaks in new pointe shoes, and why Zed picks Rubies over Diamonds as his favorite of the Jewels pieces.
There’s the writing advice that you should write what you know, and that’s true. But I think that’s a universal thing. At the heart, SERENADE’s the story about two people whose lives have been upturned by circumstances far outside their control and they’re doing the best job they can to straighten life out. And sometimes our best jobs are messy jobs. We make mistakes. No one heals perfectly. Love’s never a straight line. Relationships aren’t easy. They don’t always work out, and sometimes, when they do, against all odds, they’re incredible.
What I mean is that it’s entirely possible to write a book that involves something you know literally nothing about, if you do your research well. You can’t skimp on research because then the universal parts of the story won’t shine through.
So no, I didn’t dance. I don’t dance. And you don’t need to be a dancer, or know anything about ballet to read them. It’s a book about ballet dancers, more than a book about ballet. Every day that I work on one of the Serenade books, I fall a little more in love with music, dance, and how we see the world through art. I hope you will too.