It’s so lovely to be able to welcome Patricia Beal to the blog today! It’s been just over a week now since Patricia’s book baby, A Season to Dance, was launched into the world, and if you missed my review, you can read that here. It’s a beautiful read—if you have read my review you’ll know I was a blubbering mess of happy tears at the end—and today we’re going to talk a little about how this book came to be, and of course, about the beautiful world of ballet that comes to life in its pages.
But first, refreshments. And I hope you’re ready for all the tongue sensations, because look what Patricia is sharing with us today:
Whew! While you’re all settling in, here’s a little bit about Patricia and A Season to Dance.
~ About the Author ~
Patricia Beal is a 2015 Genesis semi-finalist and First Impressions finalist. She is represented by Les Stobbe of the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency, and A Season to Dance is her debut novel. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati in 1998 with a B.A. in English Literature and has worked for the U.S. Army as a writer and editor for many years. Patricia writes from El Paso, Texas, where she lives with her husband and two children.
~ About the Book ~
Ana Brassfield has her path to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House all figured out until her first love, renowned German dancer Claus Gert, returns to Georgia to win her back. Despite a promising start towards her ballet career and pending marriage to landscape architect, Peter Engberg, Ana wonders if her dreams of dancing at the Met are as impossible as her previous romantic relationship with Claus.
Then, an on-stage kiss between Ana and Claus changes everything.
Convinced the kiss is more than a one-time mistake, Peter breaks off their engagement. With an old dog crippled by arthritis and dreams deferred but not left behind, Ana moves to Germany to be with Claus. But the ghost of his late wife, Ana’s own feelings for Peter, and the pressure of earning a spot in a large ballet company are a high price for a shot at success. Ana seems on the verge of having everything she ever dreamed of, but will it be enough?
~ Interview ~
Katie: Welcome to the blog, Patricia!
Patricia: Thanks for having me here! 😊
First up, let’s take a little ‘flight of fancy’. Finish these sentences for me:
If I could visit any place in the world, I would visit…
Paris always ❤
I’ve been there for short visits but would love to rent a place for a month in the Jardin du Luxembourg area.
Oh, that sounds delightful!
If I could assign one household task to the fairies forever, it would be…
Something to do with dog hair. We have a yellow lab. The brown couch is yellow. The brown carpet is yellow. Bedsheets? Yellow. Grass? Yellow. The fairies can vacuum everything and groom the dog daily. That would be awesome.
Oh dear! That does sound like a good job for the fairies!
If I was a musical instrument, I would be a…
Such a versatile instrument! Soulful, romantic, playful, cheeky…
When I was a child, I wanted to be a…
Well, no surprises there! 🙂
My ideal place to read would be…
Outdoors, where it’s cool and breezy.
Lovely and fresh!
Now, down to business. Let’s talk ballet for a moment, because that is a big part of your life and this novel, and it’s also a big part of my life because my eldest daughter is a budding ballerina (hoping to finally start pointe work next year!) Do you remember a moment when ballet first captured your attention, or have you always loved it?
The first pointe shoes… If she gets overwhelmed, tell her it’s just a shoe. I can expand on that if needed. Just let me know 😉
I totally remember the moment I fell in love with ballet. I was eight. I saw Brazilian ballerina Aurea Hammerli dancing ballet in the soap opera “Pai Herói” and told my mom I absolutely had to dance just like Aurea. She’s the one hugging me on the photo—my mom took me to Rio de Janeiro to watch her live after I’d started my studies. I never stopped. My dream of becoming a professional ballerina didn’t work out, but I managed to dance in pre-professional companies in South America, Europe, and the United States.
My love for ballet goes beyond the art though. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. One of the hardest aspects of life for us is making small talk and developing relationships. We don’t know what to say when there is nothing important to communicate, and we don’t understand body language, so it’s hard to bond with people. But in ballet, we spend hours in class and rehearsals not talking at all or exchanging only vital information. The gestures are coded. When dancers get together outside the studio, it’s often to watch more ballet—live or on TV. So it’s the perfect environment for someone with Asperger’s to thrive in and make friends—lots of passion, minimal talk.
Last year my husband retired from active duty service, so I’m now working full-time. I don’t get to dance as much as I used to, unfortunately. But I still show up to class when I can. I will always love ballet and the ballet studio. Like Ana says in the novel, it’s a bastion of civility in an everything-goes world.
I’m fascinated by your comments about Asperger’s Syndrome and ballet, because my daughter has also been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and I have witnessed exactly that. Perhaps it is also because the body language and the expressions are structured and predictable, and so it opens that world of non-verbal communication that is otherwise more of a struggle.
Which is your favourite ballet and why?
I love so many ballets—each for different reasons. But I do have a special spot for Giselle. Act I is young and innocent. Then things don’t work out and you have the amazing Act II. The ghosts of betrayed women (the cradling arms wait for babies that will never be, of marriages that never happened) want Prince Albrecht to dance until he dies. But he doesn’t die. Giselle saves him. Giselle’s love for her Albrecht is to me a great example of Biblical agape love. Selfless, sacrificial, unconditional, eternal. She forgives him completely, saves his life, and frees her own spirit by rejecting revenge. Go Giselle!
What a powerful story! We aren’t as familiar with Giselle as some of the other ballets, but I think we’ll have to change that! For the record, The Sleeping Beauty is the favourite around here, especially the Rose Adagio.
What did you enjoy most about your time as a ballerina?
Performing is fun. But classes, the routine and camaraderie, are more special to me than the stage. I love going to class. Even now.
As someone who has spent a lot of time singing in and travelling with choirs, I can attest to that. There’s something special about being involved in a group of like-minded people working together like that.
What was the thing that challenged you most as a ballerina?
Did you watch the classic movie Center Stage? I’m Jody Sawyer. Lots of heart but less-than-ideal turn out and extensions, body type issues, and bad feet.
I haven’t seen it, but I can imagine that has been a challenge for many an aspiring ballerina. It’s tough when genetics comes into play!
Ballet is a very visual/auditory experience, and it has a language all its own with its chaînés, relevés, retires, and so on. How challenging was it to recreate that experience in your novel?
My editor, Marisa Deshaies, loves the theatre and all things stage, but she knew very little about ballet. With my knowledge and her curiosity and enthusiasm, we worked hard to develop scenes and use language that were appropriate for a professional ballerina and at the same time easy on readers who are not familiar with ballet. It was challenging, but we are getting amazing feedback from non-dancers.
I’m not surprised you’re getting great feedback. You did a great job!
This novel has had quite a long journey to publication (you can read about that journey here). When did you first begin writing it, and what was your inspiration for the story?
I began in January of 2011 with one scene. A young woman, a ballerina, stuck on top of a wall for behaving badly. Then came the questions: Who put her there? What exactly did she do? Why did she do it? Where did he go? Is he coming back?
Then where my life went, the book went. And as my life changed, the story did too. In a miraculous way, as seen in A Season to Dance: The Book That Wrote Me ❤
I’ve read the story of your journey with this book several times now, and it still never fails to amaze me. What a testimony! I really encourage anyone who hasn’t read it yet to click on that link I gave above!
Without giving spoilers, how did Ana’s story change over its journey to publication?
The original story was about a small town professional ballerina who dreams of dancing at the Met and about the two men who love her.
The story ended up being about a small town professional ballerina who pursues her dreams and romantic relationships from a place of brokenness and who needs to fill the God-shaped hole in her heart first. Only then can she pursue dance dreams and marriage healthily.
And . . . that’s where the tears came in! Gets me every time I think about it! ❤️
Huntington’s Disease also plays a role in this story. (Again—no spoilers here!) What led you to include this in the story?
The story of Meghan Sullivan (June 27, 1987 – May 12, 2014). She was alive when I first heard her story, and it inspired me to incorporate Huntington’s disease (HD) into A Season to Dance. With time, HD became central to the story and it now frames it, somewhat like Alzheimer’s frames The Notebook.
The HD research and inclusion was a God thing too. Last year a friend from church—a very young mom and fellow Army wife (and my first-ever secret sister, “coincidently”)—was diagnosed with HD. I think we feel like we’re in this together, somehow. The disease is hereditary and her mom is symptomatic, so she was my accuracy and sensitivity reader. It’s all connected. We’re A Season to Dance history together now. I love her, and I know that she loves me and the story. She’s been a great supporter and even joined the launch team.
Her baby girl has not been tested yet.
My heart breaks for all the incredibly brave people who deal with Huntington’s. May there be a cure soon.
After years of searching, last week I was finally able to talk to Meghan Sullivan’s mom, Cheryl. She’d been looking for me too. I’d left a message with the funeral director when Meghan died, but when Cheryl tried to get my information, they couldn’t find it. She’s now looking forward to receiving her copy of A Season to Dance and plans on reading it right away, as the third anniversary of her young daughter’s death approaches.
Isn’t it amazing how God brings people into our lives like that? And that goes both ways—for you and her. My heart goes out to those who live with the challenges of Huntington’s disease. ❤️
In the opening scene of the novel, Ana is rehearsing the Sugar Plum Fairy in front of a group of aspiring young ballerinas. What advice do you think the Ana of the final pages of the novel would give to those girls?
Keep training, and working, and dreaming. But do so from a place of joy, knowing that you are dancing for an approving audience of One.
Don’t know that yet? Can we say Over the Moat VBS at the ballet studio this summer? 😊
The song “Dear Younger Me” is playing in my head nonstop right now:
Beautiful advice! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. 🙂
Thank you for having me here and for liking my book baby. ❤