Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Q&A with Carol Tanzman, author of "Dancergirl"

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the novel, "Dancergirl," a YA thriller about a dancer who's being stalked online.  Here is the review I posted.

Carol's book launched last week and even though she's massively busy, she graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us.

1.So many of the dance scenes with Ali feel very realistic.  Have you studied dance?

When I was five, I took tap lessons. A few years later, I added beginning ballet for a couple of years (until the dance teacher got divorced and moved away!). I credit my sense of rhythm to those early lessons. In college, I took modern to fulfill my “dance for actors” requirement.  When I had my first theatre company, I hired four actors, two dancers who could act, and a composer/pianist. I was very influenced by the total theatre movement, which utilized all three art forms to create plays. Specifically for dancergirl, it taught me that, in terms of performance issues, dancers and actors are very similar.

2. Music is so important for dancers and choreographers.  Did you have a playlist when you were writing?

I put together a Spotify Dancergirl Playlist that Ali might listen to at home: Adele, Janelle Monae, Florence + the Machine, The Black Keys, Chiddy Bang, Matt & Kim, Robyn, Eleanor Friedberger, Glossary.

3. Did any specific incident inspire this story?

Yes. I know a teenager who lives in Brooklyn who had a very creepy experience with a stalker. That literally became the seed from which the book grew.

4. You're a teacher and theater director. Do you see the same issues you explore here arising in other art forms as well?

In terms of performance – absolutely. The stress of auditioning is the same whether it’s dancing or acting. Performance nerves are … performance nerves no matter what the art form. It’s part of why writing those scenes were not a stretch for me.

5. Without spoiling the ending for readers, did you ever consider a different ending with a different stalker or did you know from the moment you started writing it who it was?

I knew who it was from the beginning! It was probably the only thing I did know for sure. However, part of the point of a psychological thriller isn’t just figuring out who the bad guy. It’s watching how it affects the main character--and feeling the tension––along with her.

6. Were there any "a-ha" moments when you were writing?  Did characters surprise you at all?

So many “a-ha” moments. Characters surprise me all the time. Since my training is in theatre and improvisation, I try to stay open to characters and let them really speak. It sometimes leads me down paths that end up as dead ends (which is why revising – and the delete button–-were invented) but it also leads to many moments that I hadn’t planned for which usually means – the reader is surprised, too.

7. What sort of research did you have to do for the book?

I did two kinds of research. One is what I like to call location scouting. I used to live in Brooklyn (although I’m now an L.A. resident.) During the writing of dancergirl, I visited the city and spent a couple of days taking pictures of places that I thought I might use in the book: e.g. The Brooklyn Promenade, a rooftop, the park. It’s a way to remind myself of sensory details so that when I’m writing in my home office, scenes have an authentic feel. I also do what I call fact-checking. Because of the dance lessons I took as both a child and in college, I have a sense of how modern classes work. For each of those scenes and sequences, I wrote a rough draft, and then asked a professional dancer to go over them so that they’d be totally accurate.

8. You have another thriller coming out next summer. Can you describe the process of writing a thriller? 

I always start from characters. My main character comes first. I decide what she most wants in life – and then, tricky author that I am, choose what will get in her way! After that, I sketch out a plot outline with just enough detail to get me started.

9. Do you ever think about your characters after you finish a book?  Do you think about where they might go next?

I never think about what happens to my characters after it ends. That comes from being a theatre director. When a play is over– and you’re sitting right there in the theatre–-you can sense the audience  thinking about  what happens next. I feel that if I decide, it will somehow take that choice away from the reader. I believe a good book (and play) leave multiple options at the end. It’s the magical part of the creative process. It’s the place where a reader meets the author and the characters. When done right, the reader then gets to participate in a moment of further creation as she thinks about will happen next.

10. Scenario: your book is optioned for film...who plays Ali in the movie version?

Naya Rivera from Glee plays Ali; a punked-out Natalie Portman plays Eva, the choreography teacher!

Thanks so much for coming by, Carol!  Readers and dancers, want to own a copy of this fun book or give to a friend? Go to your local bookstore (of course!) or order online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

And for more info about Carol Tanzman, be sure to check her web site, her Facebook, or her Twitter page.

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