Category Archives: The Writing Life

Chronicling the adventures of my twenty-year journey as a creative writer.

Introducing OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT

Breaking news! Outside the Limelight has been named a Kirkus Indie Books of the Month Selection for January 2017!

Outside-the-Limelight-Web-Small

Classical Girl Press is proud to announce the release of Outside the Limelight, Book 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles! You can find it in print and electronic formats HERE or distributed  through Ingram Book Company and Bookshop Santa Cruz.

WHAT THE NOVEL’S ABOUT…

Rising ballet star Dena Lindgren’s dream career is knocked off its axis when a puzzling onstage fall results in a crushing diagnosis: a brain tumor. Looming surgery and its long recovery period prompt the company’s artistic director, Anders Gunst, to shift his attention to an overshadowed company dancer: Dena’s older sister, Rebecca, with whom Anders once shared a special relationship.

Under the heady glow of Anders’ attention, Rebecca thrives, even as her recuperating sister, hobbled and unnoticed, languishes on the sidelines of a world that demands beauty and perfection. Rebecca ultimately faces a painful choice: play by the artistic director’s rules and profit, or take shocking action to help her sister.

Exposing the glamorous onstage world of professional ballet, as well as its shadowed wings and dark underbelly, Outside the Limelight examines loyalty, beauty, artistic passion, and asks what might be worth losing in order to help the ones you love.

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING…

images-395

“A lovely and engaging tale of sibling rivalry in the high-stakes dance world.”
— Kirkus Review (Starred review; read in its entirety HERE)

“Balanchine said dance is music made visible; Terez Mertes Rose’s Outside the Limelight is dance made readable. She reveals both the beauty of ballet and its pain in a compelling, deftly written novel that unfolds like a series of perfectly executed chaîné turns. Not to be missed!”
— Tasha Alexander, NYT bestselling author of A Terrible Beauty

Outside the Limelight sweeps us backstage, through the wings, past the dressing rooms, and into the lives of its dancers, where we see them up close, flawed and beautiful.”
— Adrienne Sharp, bestselling author of The True Memoirs of Little K and White Swan, Black Swan: Stories

“From the theater’s spotlights and shadows comes a nuanced drama of pain and beauty without one false note. I didn’t want it to end!”
— Kathryn Craft, award-winning author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy

Outside the Limelight pulls readers into the lives of two sisters, both professional ballerinas. Through their challenges, obstacles and triumphs we are reminded that life is a complicated yet wondrous journey, and that love–artistic, romantic and familial–is one of the strongest forces of all.”
— Zippora Karz, former soloist, New York City Ballet, author of The Sugarless Plum and Ballerina Dreams

“Readers will relish this fresh, enlightened insider’s look at two talented dancer sisters beset by professional rivalry & bound by love. This glowing novel is full of heart. Enchanting.”
–Sari Wilson, author of Girl Through Glass

“In Outside the Limelight, Terez Mertes Rose once again manages to perfectly capture the ethereal beauty of the ballet.  It’s a story as rich, heartbreaking and uplifting as any ballet masterwork, with characters who stay with you long after the final act.”
— Lauren E. Rico, author of Reverie and Rhapsody

feature-rape-spot1

WHERE THE STORY CAME FROM…

A decade ago, in the spring of 2006, my sister was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma and two months later underwent a craniotomy and translab procedure to have it removed. I hadn’t started writing my Ballet Theatre Chronicles series yet, immersed as I was in a different, “sure thing” second novel. We were both to be disappointed by our respective end results. While the craniotomy and tumor removal was deemed a success, resulting facial paralysis on one side, brain fog, single-sided deafness and worsening tinnitus became my sister’s fate. My own “sure to be a winner” novel went over like a lead balloon with my agent. The silver lining: her belief in my writing and suggestion that I try my hand at something ballet-based, a subject I’d touched on in my first, unpublished novel. So as my sister struggled with the aftereffects of her acoustic neuroma, immersing herself in therapies and surgeries and strategies, I set to work on a new novel. But it would only be in February of 2011, after the first ballet novel didn’t sell, and my fourth novel didn’t sell, and my agent and I were once again musing about ballet in fiction for adults, its absence in the current marketplace, that I said to her, “what do you think about a ballet novel featuring two sisters, dancers in the same elite company, and one of them, the younger, more talented one, gets felled by an acoustic neuroma diagnosis and a host of post-op problems? Do you think something like that would interest readers?”

Black Swan had just come out. Something in the air seemed to be whispering ballet to the world at large. “I do,” she said without hesitation, and so Outside the Limelight was born.

At first things seemed great. The words flowed onto paper, and my sister’s warrior, can-do attitude toward her difficult recovery continued, through more surgeries, more therapies. But life can get the best of us and our best intentions. A month away from completion, my novel hit a snag. A competing ballet novel—about sisters, dancers in the same elite company, the younger, more talented one gets sidelined with injury (seriously, how was this possible for two books so similar to be produced in the same year after decades of nothing?)—came out, to strong acclaim. I was screwed. And so was my sister. Surgery after surgery had not eradicated her facial paralysis. Nor had her brain fog or tinnitus dissipated. Depression and anxiety swept over her like a tsunami, drowning her. My novel, hastily revised so it didn’t seem quite so copycat, stagnated in the hinterlands of the Big 5 Publishing world as my agent shopped it that fall and through the next twelve months. It was a year of staggering disappointment and discouragement, for both myself and my sister. And still life went on. Because it always does.

My sister couldn’t fight back, but I could. Time for Plan B. In May 2015, as an independent publisher (Classical Girl Press), I published my first ballet novel, Off Balance. A twelve-week revision of Book 2 turned into twelve months. As a result of everything, this 2016 revision is both the same story and a very different one. They say adversity reshapes you, and I concur. My own reshaping stuff aside, I watched my sister continue to struggle with her load. Nothing went away for her—not the brain fog, the shrill scream of permanent tinnitus, the facial paralysis, the resulting depression and anxiety. While I could do little to help my sister’s plight, I could pour my concern and love for her into my story. Powered by this, and a long year of backtracking, slowing down, rerouting and re-re-revising, the story has emerged all the stronger for it.

This is Outside the Limelight. This story is dedicated to my sister Maureen, with love, from all her sisters (below, L to R, clockwise: Orange Classical Girl, Annette, Kathleen, Laura, MarySue, with Maureen in the middle.) It’s a story dedicated to sisters everywhere. And to acoustic neuroma survivors. And to professional ballet dancer survivors. You are all warriors. Never forget it.

251268_1984119275882_611033_n

 

PS: I want to publicly thank the Acoustic Neuroma Association and its wonderful discussion forum, a source of great comfort, peer information and support for my sister, and a community I quietly followed on the sidelines as I worked on my novel. Ten percent of the profits of Outside the Limelight will be donated to the Acoustic Neuroma Association. If you know of anyone who has suffered from an acoustic neuroma or just been diagnosed with one, direct them to the association and discussion forum HERE. And please allow me to gift them a copy of Outside the Limelight. It would be an honor, a privilege, and a chance to pay it forward. This goes for loved ones of an acoustic neuroma patient/survivor as well. Sometimes sitting on the sidelines, watching a loved one struggle, feels just as hard.

35-homepge3

 

10 ballet novels [for adults] you’ll love

Book 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, Outside the Limelight, is a Kirkus Indie Books of the Month selection for Jan 2017! Celebrating with a $2.99 sale HERE

photo by Jordan Matter

photo by Jordan Matter

For a long time, “ballet fiction” meant the books that catered to young girls, slim tomes with pink, appealing covers. Noel Streatfeild’s more substantial and highly popular Ballet Shoes comprised my ballet fiction-reading youth. I adored the book. I compensated for its lack of competition by reading it over and over, annually, through my youth and adolescence, until the trashy romantic fiction genre caught my eye and stole my attention for {{winces}} well over a decade. What can I say? I love the ballet world’s theatricality and glamour, its dangerous, seductive glitter, and ballet fiction for adults just didn’t exist. Fast forward two dozen years. The movie Black Swan happened. The equally compelling documentaries, First Position and Ballerina happened. And suddenly I wasn’t the only adult wanting to read ballet fiction.

I should clarify something about this Top 10 list. While I’m calling it ballet fiction, it doesn’t mean it has to take place in a ballet studio or theater (or necessarily be classical ballet, for that matter). In Outside the Limelight, one ballet dancer narrator spends nearly the whole story offstage, in doctors’ offices, out in the “real” world with new non-dancer friends and ideas. The Art of Falling uses flashback to reference the narrator’s actual performing days, and chronicles instead her slow, treacherous journey to finding wholeness beyond her lifelong relationship with dance, its dark hold, the mix of slavish love and despair its presence conjured. Likewise, Girl Through Glass features one narrator (of two) who is a dance historian and professor, steering clear of the dance performance world in a way of avoiding her own dark past within it. The thing connecting these ten books is that all the narrators are dancers at their core. The craft, and the scars the lifetime commitment has yielded, have made these characters who they are. And who they are runs very, very deep.

images-387

Without further ado, here are The Classical Girl’s favorite and recommended ballet novels (and one short story collection), in no particular order:

  1. Girl Through Glass, Sari Wilson
  2. The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel, Adrienne Sharp
  3. The Art of Falling, Kathryn Craft
  4. The Cranes Dance, Meg Howrey
  5. Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
  6. White Swan, Black Swan: Stories, Adrienne Sharp
  7. The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan
  8. Ballerina, Edward Stewart
  9. First Love (also released as The Sleeping Beauty), Adrienne Sharp
  10. Off Balance, Terez Mertes Rose

You’ll find each novel’s description further down. In the meantime, here’s a nifty chart. I don’t know about you, but when I hear about a new ballet fiction book, I want to know, is it dark and dramatic or breezy/funny? (Or, as in The Cranes Dance, both.) Is it a literary voice (Girl Through Glass, First Love) or does it have more of an old fashion storytelling voice, the kind of book that you can sink into and lusciously inhabit another world for the afternoon (Astonish Me, Ballerina)? Is it deeply immersed in the ballet world (Ballerina, First Love) or is the dance world somewhat peripheral to the story at hand (The Art of Falling and half of Girl Through Glass)? Do issues relevant to women and relationships—self-acceptance, the power of healing and/or the power of friendship—come up? (The Art of Falling, Off Balance, Girl Through Glass) So, here you go. All nicely spliced up to help you pick out that next favorite ballet read. I hope it’s okay with you that I included my own ballet novel, Off Balance. And I’ve also included, in the chart below, its follow-up, Outside the Limelight, forthcoming in October, so that you can see what category it will fall into.

Historical fiction
The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel
The Painted Girls

Balanchine era, ‘70’s New York (“Historical-ish” Fiction)
Girl Through Glass (half the story)
Ballerina
First Love
Astonish Me (First section)
White Swan, Black Swan (select stories)

Edgy
Girl Through Glass
White Swan, Black Swan: Stories
The Cranes Dance
The Art of Falling
First Love (warning: gets dark & rather depressing)

Fun, beach read
Astonish Me
Ballerina (warning: grows a bit over-the-top dramatic and a little annoying. Published in 1979.)
Off Balance

Literary
White Swan, Black Swan
Girl Through Glass
The Art of Falling
The Painted Girls
First Love

Humorous slant
The Cranes Dance
Off Balance 

Women’s fiction (themes of self-query, acceptance of the past, healing)
Girl Through Glass
The Art of Falling
Outside the Limelight
The Cranes Dance
Off Balance

Sisters
The Cranes Dance
The Painted Girls
Outside the Limelight 

Powerfully drawn characters you will never, never forget
The Art of Falling
The Cranes Dance
Girl Through Glass

Friendship
Ballerina
Off Balance
The Art of Falling

Sexy (or erotic-tinged) scenes
First Love
Ballerina
Off Balance

Set mostly in the ballet world
Ballerina
The Cranes Dance
White Swan, Black Swan: Stories
First Love

Uses the dance world as the launch pad for a broader story and theme
Girl Through Glass (half the story)
The Art of Falling
Off Balance
Outside the Limelight
The Painted Girls

This Top 10 list does not take into account the quality young adult ballet novels out there, which seem to be increasing in number with each passing year. Yay! Maybe some day I will create a “10 Best YA Ballet Fiction” list. In the meantime, if you’re a crossover reader into YA, or if you have daughters/nieces who love ballet stories, it’s worth checking out works by the following authors: Sophie Flack (Bunheads), Miriam Wenger Landis (Girl in Motion and Breaking Pointe), Grier Cooper (Hope and Wish) and Nancy Lorenz (The Strength of Ballerinas and American Ballerina).

The following book descriptions are courtesy of Amazon. I just about blew a mental gasket trying to come up with ten summaries of my own, and halfway through, I gave up and dumped all fifteen pages out all by the cyber-roadside. I’d rather talk for pages about how a book makes me feel versus trying to summarize it in two neat paragraphs. I’d rather have oral surgery than attempt it ten times. Click on the book’s title to go to its Amazon page and read an excerpt.

51cIJOduK5L

Girl Through Glass, Sari Wilson
In the roiling summer of 1977, eleven-year-old Mira is an aspiring ballerina in the romantic, highly competitive world of New York City ballet. Enduring the mess of her parent’s divorce, she finds escape in dance—the rigorous hours of practice, the exquisite beauty, the precision of movement, the obsessive perfectionism. Ballet offers her control, power, and the promise of glory. It also introduces her to forty-seven-year-old Maurice DuPont, a reclusive, charismatic balletomane who becomes her mentor. As she ascends higher in the ballet world, her relationship with Maurice intensifies, touching dark places within herself and sparking unexpected desires that will upend both their lives.

In the present day, Kate, a professor of dance at a Midwestern college, embarks on a risky affair with a student that threatens to obliterate her career and capsizes the new life she has painstakingly created for her reinvented self. When she receives a letter from a man she’s long thought dead, Kate is hurled back into the dramas of a past she thought she had left behind.

Told in interweaving narratives that move between past and present, Girl Through Glass illuminates the costs of ambition, secrets, and the desire for beauty, and reveals how the sacrifices we make for an ideal can destroy—or save—us.

The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel, Adrienne Sharp
From Publisher’s Weekly: Sharp impressively conjures the grand life of Mathilde Kschessinka, Russian prima ballerina and mistress of Czar Nicholas II, in her sweeping third novel (after The Sleeping Beauty). Narrated by Mathilde–“Little K” as she was affectionately known–the story follows her early life under her well-placed father’s tutelage, and on through her determination, at 17, to catch Niki’s eye, their affair, his breaking it off so he can marry his Alexandra, Little K’s affairs with two grand dukes, Niki’s return to father her son, the removal of his family from power, and her escape before the imperial family’s slaughter. Sharp, a trained ballet dancer, gives the backstage escapades a lively spark and writes movingly of Russian dance. Though Mathilde is a bit narrow in terms of her icy ambition, her story is an unrelenting thrill ride and chockfull of the stuff that historical fiction buffs adore: larger than life characters, epic change, grand settings, and lusty plotting. © Reed Business Information

The Art of Falling, Kathryn Craft
All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Kathryn Craft’s lyrical debut novel is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning.

41HPY3SG8eL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_

White Swan, Black Swan: Stories, Adrienne Sharp
The world’s most famous choreographer becomes infatuated with a coltish young dancer who proves both siren and muse. A rising star plunges into an affair with a principal but finds that ecstasy on the stage can’t be surpassed in the bed. A dying legend reflects on the evanescent beauty of a life of gesture, lost to everything but memory. Each bittersweet story plants the reader amid a cast of dancers and choreographers who struggle—valiantly, playfully, fiercely—to find in the rigorous discipline and animating beauty of ballet a counterbalance to the chaos of unscripted life.

The Cranes Dance, Meg Howrey
Kate Crane is a soloist in a celebrated New York City ballet company who is struggling to keep her place in a very demanding world. At every turn she is haunted by her close relationship with her younger sister, Gwen, a fellow company dancer whose career quickly surpassed Kate’s, but who has recently suffered a breakdown and returned home. Alone for the first time in her life, Kate is anxious and full of guilt about the role she may have played in her sister’s collapse. As we follow her on an insider tour of rehearsals, performances, and partners onstage and off, she confronts the tangle of love, jealousy, pride, and obsession that are beginning to fracture her own sanity. Funny, dark, intimate, and unflinchingly honest, The Cranes Dance is a book that pulls back the curtains to reveal the private lives of dancers and explores the complicated bond between sisters.

Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
Joan is a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many.

After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.

51f2ZMQMIYL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_

The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan
1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.

Off Balance, Terez Mertes Rose
Alice thinks she’s accepted the loss of her ballet career, injury having forced her to trade in pointe shoes onstage for spreadsheets upstairs. That is, until the day Alice’s boss asks her to befriend Lana, a pretty new company member he’s got his eye on. Lana represents all Alice has lost, not just as a ballet dancer, but as a motherless daughter. It’s pain she’s kept hidden, even from herself, as every good ballet dancer knows to do. Lana, lonely and unmoored, desperately needs some help, and her mother, back home, vows eternal support. But when Lana begins to profit from Alice’s advice and help, her mother’s constant attention curdles into something more sinister. Together, both women must embark on a journey of painful rediscoveries, not just about career opportunities won and lost, but the mothers they thought they knew.

Ballerina, Edward Stewart
[Note: first published in 1979.] Stephanie Lang and Christine Avery meet in ballet school. Although they share the same dream—to become great dancers—they could not be more different. Ballet is in Stephanie’s blood; her mother, Anna, is a former dancer who lives to see her daughter achieve the fame she herself never attained. Christine has lived a sheltered life, secure in the love of her family. But her privileged upbringing conceals a devastating secret.

Two teen dancers, one chance to make it. From the thrill and terror of auditions through years of meticulous training to landing a coveted spot in a professional company, Stephanie and Christine relentlessly pursue their ambitions. As they give their all to dance, they become inseparable—until they are torn apart by their passion for the same man, a brilliant Russian dancer whose seductive, mercurial temperament will have unforeseen consequences for them all.

First Love (also released as The Sleeping Beauty), Adrienne Sharp
Adam and Sandra are ballet dancers, friends since they were fifteen, and now lovers. Sandra is a dancer in the corps of the New York City Ballet who has just caught George Balanchine’s eye. Adam is an explosively gifted new star who has defected to the rival company, the American Ballet Theatre. They are in love, passionate and ambitious, but ill-prepared to handle the demands, seductions, and expectations that are visited on them as they come within reach of their dreams. The novel proceeds from a true premise: Since the beginning of his career, Balanchine sought to create an opulent ballet from the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, but never had the means and the muse come together at the same time. In First Love, Adrienne Sharp conjures in Sandra a last muse for the ailing ballet master. Balanchine promises to make Sleeping Beauty for her, and that it will be his final and greatest ballet. But Balanchine’s favor comes at a price, and Sandra is forced to decide which of her loves comes first.

Outside-the-Limelight-Web-Small

Outside the Limelight, Terez Mertes Rose    *A Kirkus Indie Books of the Month Selection*
Rising ballet star Dena Lindgren’s dream career is knocked off its axis when a puzzling onstage fall results in a crushing diagnosis: a brain tumor. Looming surgery and its long recovery period prompt the company’s artistic director, Anders Gunst, to shift his attention to an overshadowed company dancer: Dena’s older sister, Rebecca, with whom Anders once shared a special relationship.

Under the heady glow of Anders’ attention, Rebecca thrives, even as her slowly recuperating sister languishes on the sidelines of a professional world that demands beauty and perfection. Rebecca ultimately faces a painful choice: play by the artistic director’s rules and profit, or take shocking action to help the sister she came close to losing.

Exposing the glamorous onstage world of professional ballet, as well as its shadowed wings and dark underbelly, OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT examines loyalty, beauty, artistic passion, and asks what might be worth losing in order to help the ones you love.

Learning to fall: in dance and beyond

51o16qGS46L._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

My friend Anne Clermont’s debut novel, Learning to Fall, is coming out the first week of August. Set in the equestrian world of competitive show jumping, it chronicles one young woman’s search for healing, hope, and what it means to love. About two weeks ago I went to check on Amazon to see if it was available for pre-order (it is, HERE). I got sidetracked, as Amazon always hopes a customer will be, by another book, a collection of essays with the same title, something right up my eclectic, mindfulness-based spiritual alley. The author is Philip Simmons, and the subtitle of this guy’s Learning to Fall is “The Blessings of an Imperfect Life.” It looked great, and the reviews sounded great. There is a tragic backstory: Simmons, a writer and writing professor, was diagnosed in 1993 with ALS at age thirty-five. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is untreatable and always fatal. It’s a death sentence. He spent three years writing this book, well into his illness, and the end result is all the richer for it.

41YMHNH1VSL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_

Now, I’m sort of squeamish about the dying business, related books and/or movies, tender cancer stories, et cetera. I’m just such a suggestible, overly-sensitive soul. I read about sadness, I feel sad, melancholic. It’s also why I simply can’t tolerate gory or violent films. Their dark nature seeps right into me. But the instant I read a few lines of this book via Amazon’s “read a few lines of this book!” feature, I knew it would be a great fit for me. I’m utterly enamored, still, with Phillip Moffit’s Dancing with Life (which I highly recommend and talked about HERE) and this book sounded like it flowed from exactly the same profound-yet-pragmatic source. Simmons, however, had the added burden—or the grace, he might have argued—of working at pace with an imminent death. But what might have become maudlin, sentimental, rife with clichéd advice of “treasure each day” and “live in the now,” is instead startling, funny, pragmatic, insightful, well-written, enjoyable. I ordered the book that day, received it as we were packing for a family vacation, popped it right into the bag of vacation stuff accruing by the door, and began reading it the first morning at our vacation rental. Loved it. Perfect fit. What a powerful set of essays.

Learning to fall certainly has its place in the dance world. All ballet dancers have to learn to fall, and do it with grace. Coincidentally, the day before the book arrived, I was watching excerpts on YouTube of the ballet, Giselle, to glean technical details for my ballet fiction. I came upon a Paris Opera Ballet performance of Act II of Giselle. If you are not a ballet peep, you should know that the Paris Opera Ballet is one of the top five ballet companies in the world; some might argue the very top. Their corps de ballet is top notch. So, in the clip, there they are, this graceful, ethereal cluster of twenty-four Wilis, (maiden spirits from the Act II afterworld) in identical white tulle bell-shape tutus, in perfect formation and synchronicity, perfect arabesques, perfect bourrés. But then there’s a moment when one of the twenty four faces disappears. An instant later it’s back. I had to rewind and watch again, and watch it two more times before I believed my eyes. A Wili had fallen, during the simplest of steps, out of a bourré and into a delicate, low piqué arabesque. A mere step. She fell to the ground with a soft little thud and popped up an instant later, her expression as serene as anything and, really, it felt like a trick of the eye. That dancer knew how to fall. She knew how to get up fast and maintain [outward] serenity and confidence. I felt vicariously terrible for her. She must have been dying inside as she continued on. Or maybe—and now that I think of it, I imagine this is the case—she was such a professional that, having fallen before, she’d learned to give a little inner shrug afterward and say “Whoops. Okay. Moving on.” There’s no room for debilitating self-pity during a performance when you’re a professional ballet dancer. You have no choice but to get up, reposition, and keep the dance going.

images-5

Beyond this, my brain naturally gravitates to the project I’ve been devoting most of my time to these days, final revisions on my second ballet novel, Outside the Limelight. Dena, one of the story’s two narrators, has an onstage fall in the first chapter that precipitates the diagnosis of an acoustic neuroma (a benign brain tumor lodged between her seventh and eighth cranial nerve — the facial nerve and the balance/hearing nerve respectively). The meat of Outside the Limelight and Dena’s part of the story is what transpires after the tumor’s removal. If you know anyone who’s had a craniotomy, or an acoustic neuroma removal, you will know, as they will, that the recuperation process after a craniotomy is slow, rife with dizziness, imbalance, brain fog, headaches and heartache. Dena’s “learning to fall” then becomes a metaphorical journey that many a recuperating patient can appreciate—you are not the strong, healthy person you’d been at your peak, and the struggle back to health becomes your life, with all its rocks and sharp disappointments and failure to achieve the things you’d once accomplished so effortlessly. Dena, a prodigiously talented dancer, falls off the artistic director’s radar; she falls out of favor with her friends (and vice versa) and falls into terrible despondency when the recuperation takes months and not weeks, augmented by facial paralysis that shows no sign of healing. Tough stuff for a professional ballet dancer to be grappling with. Especially one who’d learned to fly so high.

Back to Philip Simmons’ book. Here’s an excerpt, where he writes about how life is not a “problem” to be solved, unlike what the media would have you believe (10 Days to Slimmer Thighs! 5 Steps to Reviving Your Relationship and Your Life! 20 Tips For a Happier You!). Basicallyit’s a damned mystery. Crappy, don’t-make-sense things happen, like being struck down by ALS at age thirty-five when your work and marriage are thriving and you have two small children.

“At one time or another, each of us confronts an experience so powerful, bewildering, joyous, or terrifying, that all our efforts to see it as a “problem” are futile. Each of us is brought to the cliff’s edge. At such moments we can either back away in bitterness or confusion, or leap forward into mystery. And what does mystery ask of us? Only that we be in its presence, that we fully, consciously, hand ourselves over. That is all, and that is everything. We can participate in mystery only by letting go of solutions. This letting go is the first lesson of falling, and the hardest.”

Wow. Such great stuff for me to hear right now. It helps me to understand that challenging, icky stuff that clogs my life isn’t a “mistake” to fix and be done with, or “bad” stuff that I must work to get rid of as soon as possible. There’s merit to it all. And there’s less merit to clinging fiercely to the stuff I like—the comfortable, the familiar, the pain-free—than I’d realized.

Philip Simmons died in 2002, living long enough (thank goodness) to see his book make its way out into the world and powerfully affect its readers. What he left behind for all of us is a treasure of insight, wisdom and humanity. Here’s one last excerpt:

“Think of falling as a figure of speech. We fall on our faces, we fall for someone, we fall in love. In each of these falls, what do we fall away from? We fall from ego, we fall from our carefully constructed identities, our reputations, our precious selves. And what do we fall into? We fall into passion, into terror, into unreasoning joy. We fall into humility, into compassion, into emptiness, into oneness with forces larger than ourselves, into oneness with others whom we realize are likewise falling.”

Amen, brother. And thank you, for teaching me the beauty and wisdom tucked behind the falling.

images-6

HERE is a link to Learning to Fall – The Blessings of an Imperfect Life. And check out Anne Clermont’s forthcoming novel, Learning to Fall HERE. And look for Outside the Limelight to hit bookstores in late October.

PS: HERE is a lovely 2002 article and a touching tribute to Philip Simmons by David Reich, former editor of UU Magazine.

OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT’s new first line

images-378

Well, I am very excited right now about a very small (to you), writerly thing. I came up with a new first line for the opening chapter of my forthcoming ballet novel, Outside the Limelight.   The old first line was sending the story in sorta the wrong direction, and it was using the wrong authorial voice anyway (literary versus conversational). It was killing me. I saw its flaw, but it was a subtle thing, and I didn’t know how to fix it. For, like, twelve months, I looked at it, stumped.

The funny thing, is, for first lines, it’s rather dull. Ready for it?

Here goes.

stock-photo-10348904-usher-opening-red-theater-curtain-with-spotlights

It all starts and ends with the artistic director.

And that’s it.

You are likely scratching your head over my enthusiasm, especially if you enjoyed the first line of  my first ballet novel, Off Balance (“On Saturday night Alice Willoughby’s world, her glittering soloist’s career, came apart with a single misstep executed in front of 2000 spectators at San Francisco’s California Civic Theater”) and/or the first line of my Africa novel, Black Ivory Tango (“The first thing I noticed was the AK-47, cradled in the arms of the Gabonese military checkpoint guard”).

But the very cool thing is, with this one line, the whole story gets this little slant, this nub of extra emphasis on the artistic director and how he is going to dramatically affect these two dance sisters’ lives, and ooh, {{shivers!}} that totally works.

Want to see the old first line? Although, by itself, it’s rather dull (what had I been thinking?) so here is the second line, too.

“Four hours to curtain, the stage looked barren with just one dancer and partial lighting streaming from the sidelight booms and a few overhead fixtures. The calm pervading the darkened 2000-seat California Civic Theater would dissipate in a matter of hours, but right now this place that manufactured art, artifice and illusion, with its dark, hidden wings, scrims, sets, pulleys, was largely silent, expectant.”

Okay, pretty writing. Elegant. But, in truth, for an opener… yawn.

And now I’ll share the second line of Outside the Limelight, because I’m feeling all bubbly and adventurous about a reveal. (I should also mention that there’s a prologue now, recently added, ironically during my attempt to trim the story’s word count, but let’s not muck up the issue.)

“It all starts and ends with the artistic director. Casting in ballets. Daily rehearsal schedules. Careers. One word from him, an index finger raised, a frown creasing his brow, could change everything.”

Okay, so that was more than two sentences there. Two sentences, five — same difference.

Outside-the-Limelight-Web-Small

Anyway, you’ll be hearing more about Outside the Limelight as I finish up revisions that are really, really wanting to take a long time — months (even, gulp! a year?!) when I’d been anticipating weeks. But trust me, dear reader. It will be worth the wait. I rewrote the final chapter a few months ago and I LOVE the revision and mood in which the story ends now. Again, there’s something subtle and understated going on, that makes the story even stronger, in that weird way that spending tons of time on a revision can do. When you slow down, way down, answers waft over, and junky stuff wafts away. Pretty cool.

Outside the Limelight will release on October 30th. (You can buy it HERE!) Some time in October, I’ll do a fuller reveal, speak more candidly about the plot, but as the opening scene includes spoilers for how Off Balance ends, I’ll continue to be mysterious a few months longer. Here’s a hint, though. Outside the Limelight Is about sisters. Loyalties. Risks. What happens when the career you’ve trained your entire life for is suddenly at risk. And, as we all now know, it all begins and ends with the artistic director.

George Balanchine and his dancers

 

 

10 bits of wisdom [to self] for 2016

images-354

I’ve gleaned a lot of wisdom over the past two years, most of it the hard-earned, head-shaking kind. During this time period, coincidentally [or not], I recommenced a daily mindfulness meditation practice. You wouldn’t think that sitting on a pillow at 4:45am for twenty minutes, doing nothing but observing the rise and fall of your breath, along with the coming and going of your thoughts, would make a difference. I get up early to write; why steal from my most productive work time? Indeed, that was why I stopped my efforts, a dozen years ago. I was restless; I told myself just sitting there, wrestling with thoughts, was counterproductive. Writing novels was much more important.

Well. Life has a way of letting you know what’s most important.

Lo and behold, something has been working of late. Call it life lessons, reading the right books, or sitting on that cushion each morning making peace with the not-peace that is my restless mind. Whatever. Something has given me some really cool clarity.

Of course, just because everything is crystalline clear one relaxing morning while sitting, doesn’t mean it is going to stay there like some cosmic umbrella over my head, keeping the shit from raining down on me. So I’m doing this list, for myself as much as for you, dear reader. Maybe more for myself. Because it helps me to be reminded of these wise bits every day.

images-356

Here you go. I hope these bits of wisdom speak to you as they’ve spoken to me. Maybe they’ve been obvious to you all along, and you’ll scratch your head and mumble to yourself, boy, you mean she’s been resisting that concept? Ah well, there it is.  We are all at different places on the journey.

10 Bits of Wisdom [to self] for 2016

  1. Understand that everything changes. The bouts of instability and uncertainty that punctuate life are the way it’s supposed to be. Stop thinking you need to make it go away.
  2. Comparison is the thief of joy. Catch yourself the instant you go there and gently self-redirect.
  3. Be here now. And now. And now.
  4. Breathe in, breathe out. By the way, this is a nifty thing to focus your attention on, because it will always be there for you. It’s one certainty (the only one?) you can trust.
  5.  We suffer when we resist what is unfolding before us right here, right now.
  6. No matter what’s going on, no matter how crappy it is, know that “this, too, belongs.”
  7. Fail fast, fail often. A Silicon Valley-attributed quote, which I misquoted back to my Silicon Valley husband as, “fail bigger, fail better.” Which made us both laugh. And then I decided I liked my misquote. So, hey. Keeping ’em all.
  8. Be kind to everyone; each person is fighting a battle we know nothing about.
  9. Keep art in your life. Breathe in the wonderful feeling that being surrounded by the arts [or nature, or gardening, or photography, books, what have you] brings. These things, the positive energy surrounding them, are our sanctuary in an uncertain, unstable world.
  10. You can’t shoo or threaten away the gremlins in your head, your heart, so you might as well invite them in. You don’t have to nourish them or cater to them. They are like squatters. Trying to force them out is a hell of a battle. Just hold your own ground, focus on healthy things you value, and let the gremlins stay as long as they see fit. They’ll get bored that you’re not paying attention to them. If you don’t nourish them, they’ll leave. (This works for unwelcome house guests, too.)

images-355

And now, a few quotes from books I read in 2015 that really spoke to me…

The Pocket Pema Chödrön (Amazon link HERE)
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Phillip Moffitt, Dancing With Life (Amazon link HERE)
“To voluntarily receive the distress of life and mindfully bear it with consciousness and compassion is a critical threshold for spiritual development. It is the vital first step and it empowers all further unfolding. It is both absolutely ordinary and mystically transforming.”

Karuna Cayton, The Misleading Mind (Amazon link HERE)
“Ultimately, whatever happens in life, how we respond is our responsibility. We take responsibility for our own happiness by getting control of our mind. Or, put differently, we increase our happiness by understanding how our mind works and learning to recognize when aversion and attachment are running the show.”

Cyprian Consiglio, Prayer in the Cave of the Heart; The Universal Call to Contemplation
No current quote from this one yet, but I love, just love, the accessible, universally spiritual (multi-denominational? Non-denominational? Christian mystic-based?) message this Benedictine monk, speaker, writer, songwriter and performer imparts. Amazon link HERE.

Happy 2016 to all of you, dear readers and friends. May your year be full of things that nourish you, and may you also find room on your plate to be okay with the things that don’t nourish you. All of it will come and go, come and go, like waves on a beach.

images-357