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WISH Official Release Day! Author Q & A

The countdown is over–today is the big day–the official release of WISH! Today I’d like to share author Q & A to give you a little more background information about the book.

Wish - eBookCover

 

Why did you write WISH?

There were several factors at play when I wrote WISH. I knew I wanted to set the book in the ballet world because dance has shaped who I am and has been one of the few constants in my life. Many people don’t get to experience this world firsthand and I wanted to give readers an insider’s perspective.

I also feel strongly about the difficulties of growing up in a dysfunctional family. I know the longterm implications from personal experience: my mother was an alcoholic. You learn to distrust your instincts and feelings, to play small, and to stay quiet when you know you should speak up.

Even if your family dynamics are healthy young adulthood is a time of huge transition and change. It’s a time to find your voice, to clarify who you are and who you want to be in the future. It’s not an easy road to navigate. I wrote WISH to give readers hope, to show them a path to self-empowerment, and to help them understand they can create change in their lives.
Describe your writing process.

I’m a very visual person so I always begin a project by creating a vision board. I cut out pictures from magazines that resemble the characters and settings I’ve envisioned and put them together in a giant collage. The vision boards hang right next to my desk so I can look at the characters whenever I need to. I also write character sketches for all of my characters before I begin writing. It’s important to know your character before you put them in action.

Next I outline the whole novel, scene by scene. I’m one of those people who likes to plan ahead – my family and friends sometimes give me a hard time about it and call me the cruise ship director. But seriously, it pays to plan ahead…especially when you’re writing a novel. Once I have a complete outline I look at the big picture: I make sure transitions between scenes and chapters work seamlessly and that there’s a good balance and pace throughout. Figuring all of this out before I write anything saves a lot of time and headache.

The first draft took me a little over a year to write because I wrote in very short bursts, in between writing a bunch of other things. A first draft often needs a lot of editing and I spent quite a while combing through my novel and polishing it. I also worked with a group of other YA writers to get feedback and take it to the next level. My critique partners asked a lot of questions, often about things that I hadn’t thought about.

Even after the work I’d done revising and implementing some of their suggestions my novel still wasn’t quite there. That was a little hard to sit with but I wanted the book to be as good as it could possibly be. I tinkered some more, focusing on the parts I felt needed more work. I also read it out loud, word by word, a technique that I’ve found to be really effective because errors or clumsy language are much more obvious when spoken out loud. This really gave it a final polish.

photo by My Lovely Husband

photo by My Lovely Husband

How did you make the transition from dancer to writer?

I’ve written since I was a kid; back then I had a diary with a lock on it, which was necessary growing up in a big family. After I stopped dancing professionally I went back to college and took some writing classes where I started playing around with poetry and short stories. I kept writing throughout the years but once I became a mom I started to think more about writing for kids. Eventually I began to transition into freelance writing and wrote about dance and fitness. I also re-immersed myself in the Bay Area dance scene and wrote a regular dance column where I interviewed top Bay Area dancers, choreographers and directors. I started writing WISH at that time. Along the way I also put a lot of time into educating myself about the craft and business of children’s books by attending conferences, workshops and webinars. Learning to be a writer has definitely been a process; luckily it’s a process I enjoy. I’m still learning now; there’s always something to improve.

What role does dance play in your life today?

I’ve been a dancer since I was five and I don’t see that changing, although my relationship with dance has changed over time. When I was young, dance was something I did for fun. Later it became my profession and now I look at it as a sanctuary, a home, a place to move beyond my small self and connect to something bigger.

The things I’ve learned as a dancer – discipline, dedication and persistence– still serve me now. Without this foundation I couldn’t do what I do. Writing is self-paced and self-driven. No one is telling me what to do or looking over my shoulder to make sure it gets done. It’s all on me.

Today dance is something I do for fun. Sometimes during the workday I’ll take a break, put on some music, and dance to counteract all the sitting and staring at a computer. Dance keeps me happy.

© Grier Cooper

© Grier Cooper

Why did you choose to self-publish?

The publishing industry is changing so much and independent publishing is really growing. In today’s market it’s the author’s name that sells a book. All writers are their own brand and must grow that brand through marketing and promotion, whether they are traditionally published or self-published. That is the reality. I realized if I’m doing the work anyway, why not do it on my terms?

I also didn’t want to wait years to see my book on shelf. I have many other books in the pipeline and I wanted to keep moving forward. I’ve enjoyed maintaining my creative freedom and having the ultimate say on things like cover design. I also like knowing that after all I’ve put into it my book won’t expire or go out of print.

I’ve found the world of indie publishing to be incredibly giving and supportive, which has been a nice surprise. I’m really grateful to the other indie writers out there who share their knowledge and expertise so willingly.

What advice would you give to other young dancers and writers?

My advice is really the same for both. First of all: dream big! Clarify your vision and make it as real as possible in your mind., using all of your senses. Keep your thoughts focused on that vision as often as you can. Believe it is possible. Believe in yourself.

In the meantime, work at your craft. Strive to perfect all aspects of what you do and ask for help and support when you need it.
When you feel ready to find work develop a solid plan. Make a list of all potential places or companies you want to work with. Cast your net wide and see what comes through. Follow up with everyone you talk to. Even if it takes longer than you would hope keep going no matter what. The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is persistence.

Which of your characters is the most like you?

I’m a bit like of many of my characters. I have aspects of Indigo’s emotional sensitivity, Miss Roberta’s work ethic and perfectionist tendencies, and Becky’s supportive nature. I wish I had more of Monique’s sass and Jesse’s laid back attitude.

The cool thing about creating characters is that even though I come up with the initial vision they eventually take on a life of their own. I’m often surprised by some of the things they say or do and I’ll think to myself wow, I never would say that to someone. Which is strange since the idea came out of my head. But it’s what the character would do, not what I would do.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’ll still be sitting at my desk, writing! I hope to have at least 3 more titles out by then and be doing fun events interacting with readers. My daughter will be a junior in high school so I’ll be actively looking for my future home on a tropical beach somewhere.

 

Ballet Career Highlights: The WISH official Countdown

The piece of Indigo’s ballet journey that readers witness in WISH is just a small part of a dance career. Many (although not all) dancers begin taking ballet classes when they are quite young and study for years before auditioning for a summer intensive with a professional ballet school. While this is a big step, it’s still just the beginning of the professional path. If all goes well, a dancer is accepted in a summer intensive and later becomes a permanent student. Even then a real career is still years away.

After all the years of literal blood, sweat and tears, it finally happens: a real job with a real ballet company. Then the true adventure begins. Here are a few favorite moments from my career:

World tour: Israel
I’ll be honest: Israel was not a country I would have chosen to visit on my own. My mind conjured up vague images of giant dust storms whenever I thought about it. But once we arrived the sights (unique! exotic!) and smells (fragrant! decadent!) were so different from what we found at home. And oh, yes. Let’s not forget the uniformed men with guns. Correction. Not just any guns. AK-47s. Not a sight I’d ever seen a farmers’ market before. Unnerved, we walked in the opposite direction. Moments later we were walking along Via Dolorosa, The Way of Sorrows. Here we were, in Jerusalem, walking the same path where Jesus carried the cross, our feet retracing this ancient, Biblical event. Maybe we breathed in a few stray atoms that were remnants from that time.

The next day we ate breakfast while bombs shook the windows then visited Bethlehem, rode camels and went swimming in the Dead Sea. The high saline content made it possible to float in any weird position we could dream up.

It doesn’t get more adventurous than that.

dome

First professional performance in New York
They say there’s nothing like your first time. That was never more true than my first professional appearance with a world-class ballet company. Pacific Northwest Ballet needed a few dancers to fill in the corps for Balanchine’s Chaconne during their New York City tour. Not only did I land a solo, this was a “hair down” ballet, which was something I’d never experienced before.

We performed with PNB a handful of times at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I was sixteen at the time, and I have never felt more beautiful than during those few moments in the spotlight, dancing that ethereal ballet with my hair flowing down my back.

Having a tutu built from scratch to my specifications
Most ballet companies keep a list of ballets in their repertoire that they repeat year after year. While the roster of dancers may change over time, the costumes do not, which means you might have to squeeze yourself into a costume that was made for someone with a much shorter torso or a larger chest. The costume basically fits, but not exactly because it wasn’t made for you…it was made for someone else (plus who knows how many other people before you have sweated profusely in it).

There is nothing like having a costume made specifically for your body. It fits in all the right places, no bunching, pinching or sagging. Being measured for a costume fitting is magical: for a split-second you feel like a v.i.p. The very first night I performed with Miami CIty Ballet I danced in the world premiere of a ballet and was lucky enough to have a costume made for me, a stunning tutu that was a swath of luscious purples and fuchsia. Yummy.

These are just a few of my favorite moments…but there are enough for another book. Maybe one of these days…after I finish writing the rest of the Indigo Dreams Trilogy.

MORE READING:

Debunking Ballet Myths

BUNHEADS 101

A Day in the Life of a Professional Ballet Student

Life Lessons Learned From Ballet: The Official WISH Countdown

One of the first pieces of advice I ever heard about writing was to write what you know. It was natural to set WISH in the world of ballet since it’s defined who I am today. Aside from the obvious things like good posture, body mechanics and spatial awareness, ballet works on a subtle, character-building level. Here are some of the ways ballet helps dancers grow:

mistakes are a good thing

Ballet class is an ongoing experiment for any dancer; a place to try new things, fine tune others, maybe fall flat on your face. By the time a dancer performs something on stage, the mistakes have been made and they’ve practiced so many times they could perform in their sleep.

Mistakes are a part of every dancer’s process, a chance to learn and evolve toward perfection. Asking what went wrong and why, and what you need to do differently in the future means that you will get an improved outcome the next time. Living in fear of making mistakes holds you back from trying new things. There is no mastery without mistakes. Ask Edison. It only took him 10,000 tries to get a light bulb to work.

Stand Up Straight

One of the first things a dancer learns is the importance of proper posture. The elegance of ballet demands it, plus it’s a great party trick. As a fellow dancer friend likes to remind me, “You can always tell when a dancer walks into a room.” I can’t tell you how many times my first ballet teacher had to tell us to “straighten your telephone poles.”

Ballet dancers are meant to be graceful, regal beings with a commanding stage presence; the slumped, hunched-over look just isn’t going to cut it. Yet this is exactly the way most of move through life–study the people waiting in line for Starbucks if you don’t believe me. The older we get the worse our posture becomes until the hunchback effect becomes so pronounced we start to look like turtles.

Listening is critical

Have you ever asked yourself how often you truly listen? Dancers spend a lot of time listening; if not, they run the risk of missing choreography and cues. In every ballet class, dancers spend at least 40% of the time listening to instructions and corrections from teachers. Even when they’re dancing ballet dancers are still listening– to the music, coordinating their steps with each beat.

Listening does not come easily for most humans. Random thoughts often fight for attention, causing us to tune out. Before you know it, minutes have gone by and you’ve missed out. Dancers can’t afford this, and neither can anyone else who plans to get where they need to go on time.

What is the risk of not listening? For a dancer, it might mean missing an important entrance or exit on and off stage, or going right when the rest of the class is going left. Either way, there’s the potential to be embarrassed… or worse.

If you fall, get up again (quickly)

Planet Earth is plagued with a powerful yet pesky force called gravity, which constantly sucks everyone and everything towards the ground. Most of the time this is a good thing, a helpful thing, like in the shower, for instance. However, there are moments when gravity is not your friend.

Nothing is more embarrassing than falling on your face, center stage, in front of thousands. You’ll have to trust me on this; I’ve lived that unfortunate reality. The moment is surreal; it seems like it will never end. When a dancer falls, giving up is not an option. There is only one choice: get up again–quickly– and move on. Everyone else will forget about it…probably more quickly than you will.

No one likes to fall, but it happens. With any fall comes the chance to rediscover the strength and grace to get back up again and keep going.

If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it

Everything that exists begins as an idea. The chair you are sitting on, the book you are reading, even the clothes you are wearing had to be imagined first. It’s the same with dance (or anything else): every dancer starts out with a dream to dance but the most important key to success is a dancer’s belief in themselves.

The biggest, most important dreams don’t happen overnight. Dream, believe, keep your thoughts aligned with your goals…this is what keeps us moving along the path, one step at a time.

 

MORE READING

Bunheads 101: How to be a Ballet Dancer…or just look like one

The Rules of Ballet

A Day in the life of a Professional Ballet Student

How to Become a Professional Ballet Dancer

Debunking Ballet Myths

 

While many people admire ballet as art form, it’s also often criticized. Unhealthy body image is one of the most common complaints. But are these criticisms based on reality or myth? Let’s examine some of the most common ballet myths and see what’s real:

1. All ballet dancers are anorexic.

The average professional ballet dancer spends anywhere from five to eight hours each day dancing their butts off; imagine how slim you would be if you exercised that much! Ballet also naturally creates longer, leaner lines in the body, unlike other athletic pursuits such as running, which create bulkier muscles. Although they are slender, most dancers are health-conscious—they have to be in order to have enough energy to get through their long, active days…although their busy schedules mean they snack throughout the day as opposed to eating huge meals (it’s hard to be light on your feet with a full belly!).

2. If you want to be a professional ballet dancer you have to start taking ballet classes early, like when you are still in the womb.

Just look at ballet superstar Misty Copeland; her story will burn that myth right out of your head. Copeland didn’t begin taking ballet classes until she was thirteen, yet in 2007 she made dance history when she became the third African American female soloist (and the first in two decades) at American Ballet Theater. Another classmate of mine at the School of American Ballet didn’t begin ballet until she was twelve but later went on to dance with New York City Ballet.

3. All male ballet dancers are gay. There are certainly a lot of good-looking men in ballet but just because they put on tights doesn’t mean there aren’t some hot-blooded heterosexuals in the mix. The real-life partnership between New York City Ballet principal dancers Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck is not just one of the most romantic love stories in ballet history (teen sweethearts, drama, breakup(s) and a happy ending when Fairchild proposed in Paris), it is one of the most prominent ballet marriages today. Other well-known ballet couples include San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancers Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, Boston Ballet principals Carlos Molina and Erica Cornejo and Nelson Madrigal and Lorna Feijoo, Ballet West soloists Easton Smith and Haley Henderson. Still not convinced? Rent “The Turning Point” (a classic ballet film) and watch Baryshnikov make his moves.

4. You have to be a twig if you want to be a ballet dancer. While this was true during the Balanchine era, perspectives on dancers’ bodies is changing dramatically and today’s dancers are more muscular and feminine. Take a look at the lineup of dancers from companies like LINES Ballet, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Ballet Black. English National Ballet Artistic Director Tamara Rojo recently made it known that she’s not interested in employing underweight ballerinas. Ballet dancers such as Kathryn Morgan, a former New York City Ballet soloist, St. Paul Ballet dancer Brittany Adams and New York City Ballet veteran Jennifer Ringer are becoming more vocal about promoting a healthy body image. If you want to delve deeper on the issue, check outStrength and Beauty,” a documentary about ballerinas’ personal accounts of dealing with issues like weight.

 

5. Ballet dancers are weak, timid girlie girls who love anything pink. If that were true, why are droves of football players signing up for ballet? Headliner Steve McLendon of the Pittsburgh Steelers says, “ballet is harder than anything else I do”. Ballet dancers are not delicate little flowers, nor is ballet easy. It’s actually enormously difficult both physically AND mentally. A dancer has to remember several ballets’ worth of choreography at any given time PLUS be strong enough to leap, turn, grande battement, and relevé for (sometimes) HOURS on end.

balletGirls

6. Pointe hurts. Stretching hurts.

It doesn’t hurt if you’re doing it right! Well, okay, pointe shoes sometimes hurt when you wear them day after day for hours at a time. But dancers build up their flexibility and foot strength over time. It’s a process where things progress slowly. Beginning pointe classes, for instance, are very brief. If things hurt, it’s time to slow down or back off and if you experience pain when you’re stretching it’s actually a clear indication that you’re pushing things too far.

7. Ballet dancers naturally dance well at parties and nightclubs. Just because someone is a ballet dancer does not mean they’ll be a hit on the dance floor at your next party. Trust me; these are two very different types of dancing. In fact, ballet is so regimented and precise that it’s difficult for ballet dancers to cut loose. It’s much more likely they’ll resemble a spastic electrocuted chicken on the dance floor.

8.All female ballet dancers are ballerinas. Typical cocktail party conversation: “Oh, I didn’t know that you were a ballerina!” Um, I’m not. I’m a ballet dancer. Only the highest-ranking female dancers in a ballet company are ranked as ballerinas. The corps and soloist dancers in the company are not ranked as ballerinas yet.

9. Since ballet terms are French all ballet dancers speak fluent French. Sadly, no ( je suis desolée). Just because ballet terms are in French does not mean that we speak French fluently, nor is there any guarantee that our pronunciation incredible…or even correct.

10. Ballet dancers are not the brightest bulbs in the pack. Refer to item number 5 above, for how much dancers have to remember (A LOT). This skill also serves dancers well in school, since more dancers are choosing take college courses in the midst of their dance careers, with the blessings of top ballet companies including American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet (who offer scholarship money to their dancers). Boston Ballet recently teamed up with Northeastern University to offer a program to help dancers earn their degrees while they are dancing. The university’s flexible schedule accommodates dancers’ routines and the company’s scholarship fund covers up to 80% of tuition…which means there are a lot of brainiacs on pointe out there.

As you can see, most myths don’t stand up to investigation. Whether your attitude towards ballet is “love it” or “leave it”, you can now make an educated choice.