Originally posted on January 19, 2014
The other day, I ran into a friend who told me she’d been reading While I Danced and was amazed to discover that my mother was French! I had to explain that my novel wasn’t autobiographical. My mother was a California girl who played the piano.
In fact, the details of my life story and dance career are very different from Cass’s, the protagonist of the novel. For starters, the blisters on my feet were the kind you get from years of dancing barefoot as a modern dancer, not from pointe shoes! Of course, like all pros, I studied ballet intensively for years and have a great love and reverence for classical dance as well.
But there is a sense in which as a fiction writer, whatever characters I make up will always reflect my own life and experiences. Authentic fiction comes from mining the emotional terrain of our own lives. Like Cass, I’m familiar with betrayal and lack of support on the home front. I too grew up with an absent mother I wasn’t supposed to talk about. And my dad was so concerned that I might pursue a career in dance that I was not permitted to take dance classes my senior year in high school! Decades later, that still stings, despite the long and happy career I went on to have in the field.
So yes, While I Danced does draw upon some of the painful stuff I experienced growing up. But it also draws upon the joy, exhilaration, and ecstasy that I experienced as a dancer, not to mention the wonder of falling in love. And those are pretty cool things to be able to mine for my fiction as well.