Outside the Limelight
Ballet Theatre Chronicles, Book 2
By Terez Mertes Rose
Contemporary [Women’s] Fiction
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 inspired you to write Outside The Limelight?
Back in the spring of 2006, in my earlier days of novel-writing, my sister was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma—a rare, benign brain tumor on the eighth cranial nerve. While the ensuing craniotomy and tumor removal were deemed a success, her facial nerve had to be clipped in the process, resulting in facial paralysis on one side, along with the more typical post-craniotomy brain fog, dizziness, single-sided deafness and ear-ringing that had worsened. Bad luck on my end, too: my carefully crafted, recently completed novel went over like a lead balloon with my agent. She suggested that I try my hand at something incorporating ballet, which I’d touched on in my first, unpublished novel.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 it all came together in my mind. I said to her, “what do you think about a ballet novel featuring two sisters, dancers in the same elite company, and the more talented one gets felled by an acoustic neuroma diagnosis and a host of post-op problems?” She loved the idea. And so I got to tell a new ballet story while concurrently telling my sister’s story (although she’s a nurse and not a ballet dancer). Which meant a lot to me; my sister has continued to struggle terribly since her acoustic neuroma removal, and there’s so little I can do to help her. Telling the world her story, the struggles she and her fellow acoustic neuroma patients suffer, made me feel like I was helping in my own small way.
What was your favorite part to write?
I love writing about ultra-talented, accomplished individuals, which both sisters are, so that was great fun. In general, I love writing about each character’s inner journey, how they’re feeling, how they are forced to confront something in themselves, and consequently grow through the story. I also love writing the romantic angle of any story. I wouldn’t call myself a romance writer; that is neither my skill nor my desire, but I sure do like having a romance within every story I write. It’s usually the first part of a new novel that gets set in stone, and then I build the more challenging parts of the story (like, um, plot and action) around it.
What was the hardest part to write?
I can’t believe I’m going to say this but, well, um, plot and action. (See above reply on what I love writing.) It’s just not my strength. Nor is densely plotted, high action writing my favorite kind of writing to read, so that sort of makes sense. Another challenge in writing this novel was due to the fact that this is my second ballet novel that takes place in the same company. Describing ballets is hard work. Describing rehearsals and backstage areas start to sound repetitive. I found I was writing precisely the same thing in Book 2 that I’d written in Book 1. Ditto on the whole ritual of being a performer and performing. And taking company class and barre: it’s the same movements, every class, every day. How do you describe it in a new way? I had to go back and rewrite and work day after day (make that month after month) to create something different in my mind and on the page. The last “hardest part” to write is the hardship upon hardship I dump upon my beloved characters’ shoulders. It makes me so sad for them. But, without conflict, a story falls flat, so I recognize its importance. But it certainly isn’t my favorite thing to write!
Who is your favorite character?
I love all my characters, but I felt particularly attached to Dena. Partly because she’s the conduit through which I vicariously experienced my sister’s acoustic neuroma. But also for herself. Dena’s the younger sister (as the seventh of eight kids, so am I, four times over). She’s fiercer and more difficult, although her talent is more extraordinary. She’s utterly screwed when this acoustic neuroma appears, sidelining her indefinitely, when all she wants to do is pour her frustration, her heart, into her dance. But I dearly love Rebecca, the older, healthier sister, too. While she didn’t suffer a dramatic injury that risked ending her career, the more pedestrian ailment of aging, being overlooked in the corps de ballet, year after year, threw the same difficult question at her. What do you do when you’ve devoted your entire life to one career, and that career’s at risk of ending, very soon? How do you gracefully fight a losing battle with time? I also loved Misha and Ben. And Anders, too. He fascinates me, even as I didn’t always like him.
Do you have anything coming up, if so can you tell us about it?
Blogging keeps me busy, as does reviewing ballet performances during the ballet season (December to May). But I will always find time to write fiction—it’s my favorite writing practice. And at this time, I find myself in the unlikely situation of working on two novels concurrently. Whoops, not my initial plan! But there are follow-up stories popping up in my head about how all the characters’ lives and relationships come full circle, from both Off Balance (Book 1 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles) and Outside the Limelight. My original plan had been to focus on revising my first novel, completed in 2003. It’s about a ballet dancer who goes to Africa, thinking she can outrun her challenges back home, only to encounter worse ones there. Toss in a cross-cultural romance with a privileged, haughty African man that consumes and reshapes her world and world view. It’s a great story with lots of humor and emotional (okay, and sexual) charge. I’d like to inject more depth into it, coax out the ballet angle a bit more, and experiment with having a few of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles characters show up, through letters or flashback. The story is set in the late ‘80’s, so it would likely be one of the older characters, like April, a ballet master who appeared in both Book 1 and 2. It would give me the chance to reference a younger, more vulnerable Anders, as well, a scenario that fascinates me.
What’s great about the two-book conundrum is that the two projects can develop in tandem and enrich one other. To my relief, I’m discovering that working on one doesn’t lead me too far away from the other. It keeps me in the same world, although for the Africa novel, the Ballet Theatre Chronicles characters will remain in the periphery of the main character’s Africa experience. My plan is to finish and publish the Africa novel first, but at this point, who knows?! Maybe Book 3 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles will raise a clamor in my head and heart, and appear first. Most important for me is that I’m enjoying discovering new depths in each of the stories. Being a writer, for me, is very much about the journey, as opposed to the destination.
About The Author:
Terez Mertes Rose is a writer and former ballet dancer whose work has appeared in the Crab Orchard Review, Women Who Eat (Seal Press), A Woman’s Europe (Travelers’ Tales), the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News. She is the author of Off Balance, Book 1 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles (Classical Girl Press). She reviews dance performances for Bachtrack.com and blogs about ballet and classical music at The Classical Girl (www.theclassicalgirl.com). She makes her home in the Santa Cruz Mountains with her husband and son.