Hello and welcome, my lovelies! Today, we’re only doing my favourite thing of ever, ie, participating in Christine Smith’s amazing Link Up, Know the Novel. I’ve been doing this link up since it’s creation three (?) years ago and I keep coming back to it because its just so much fun. It’s a really helpful way for me to develop my novels, and it’s also fun to give you guys an insight into what I’m writing at the moment. So without further ado, I’ll be introducing my NaNoWriMo project for this year, affectionately, and cheesily, known as The Dancer’s Handbook to Love and Other Illnesses.
1. What first sparked the idea for this novel?
A combination of two things. Number one was being diagnosed with fibromyalgia a little over three months ago. As a general rule, I turn to reading and writing as a method of understanding myself, and the world around me, but in this case I was left rather lost and alone. There were so few books about fibromyalgia. Scratch that, there were so few books about chronic pain or illness at all.
Number Two was finally getting my hands on a copy of Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz. Finally, finally, here was a book about teenagers who were sick! I devoured it, adored it, and wished there were more like it.
But as the saying goes, if you don’t see the book you want on the shelves, write it.
Obviously, I’ve read books about teenagers being sick before. Like the majority of women my age, I’ve read The Fault in Our Stars. I’ve read countless other books about kids with cancer, or some other terminal illness (looking at you, Five Feet Apart). But it’s pretty depressing when the only representation you come across is teens who are literally dying. Fibromyalgia is not the sort of thing you die from (not directly, anyway). It’s chronic, meaning lifelong and forever, but not terminal. And just to be clear, I was diagnosed three months ago, but I’ve been sick for years, possibly close to ten. I’ve had fibromyalgia for as long as I can remember, and even when I was a young teen, I was looking for representation, even though it was more subconscious at the time.
So I’ve lived for a long time in this “in-between” state. I’m not sick enough that people start sobbing whenever my name is mentioned, but I’m not healthy, or able-bodied either. I can’t fully relate to either experience.
So I decided to write my own version of Sick Kids in Love. A book that hopefully will impact today’s teens the same way that book impacted me, the sort of book I wish I could have read when I was younger.
(Also, as a disclaimer, I am not knocking terminal illness and cancer stories. They are powerful and needed, because there are teens who are terminally ill and they deserve to have their stories told. My own father was a teenaged survivor of brain cancer and he spoke openly and often about his experience as a teenager with cancer. He also died of cancer as an adult. I understand the importance of these stories and I have loved many stories that deal with the topic, but you need to understand that it’s highly discouraging to only ever see cancer, as if teenagers never get any other type of sickness).
Thank you for coming to my TED talk, let’s get onto the next question.
2. Share a blurb (or just an overall summary)!
Eliza doesn’t have time to be sick, not with the chance to become an internationally renowned tap dancer finally within her grasp.
There’s only one problem. She is sick, diagnosed at age 13 with a condition, the name of which might as well be alphabet soup. And, worse yet, nobody knows. Not even her best friend.
A chance meeting with Jordan, another sick kid with an alphabet-soup diagnosis, finally gives her someone who understands. And, if she’s honest, Jordan is kind of cute.
But Eliza doesn’t have time for any of that–sickness, cute boys, or flares. She’s determined to win her scholarship to America, and nothing is going to get in the way of that.
Oh, my goodness. I hate it. It’s a terrible blurb.
In essence, it’s about Eliza, who’s a Year 12 student about to sit for her High School Certificate exams. She’s also a national champion tap dancer, and she’s entered in a competition to win a scholarship to a prestigious dance academy in America. Then she meets Jordan, who is our deuteragonist, and may be love interest.
3. Where does the story take place? What are some of your favorite aspects about the setting?
4. Tell us about your protagonist(s).
We have two main protagonists, both mentioned above. First up, we have…
Eliza West: Eliza West has just turned 18 and is finishing up her final year of school. She’s a high academic achiever, and because of that she’s expected to get into a good university and study something sophisticated like psychology or law. However, what she really wants is to become a professional tap dancer. She’s been dancing in one form or another for her whole life, and has recently dedicated herself to tap dancing. She took to it like a frog to water, and took out the Under 18s Championship at her last competition. This has made her eligible to enter a competition to win a scholarship to America.
She also has fibromyalgia, which she was diagnosed with at 13. Apart from her mother, no one knows of this diagnosis, since she believes that no one will believe her or take her seriously, especially since she’s a competitive tap dancer, and obviously she’s too young to be sick.
Jordan McCall: Jordan is my other protagonist. He’s 17 (excuse me, almost 18), and has been homeschooled most of his life. He’s not a highly academic person, preferring instead to spend time working on his, rather interesting, YouTube and podcasting career. He’s a fun loving person, always desperate for a practical joke (though he insists he’s laughing with you, not at you). He has four brothers, two older and two younger, and he often feels like he’s lost in the middle of all of them, particularly since his two older brothers have been very successful in life, and he feels pressured to be the same, despite his chronic illness.
Speaking of chronic illness, Jordan has Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is a definitely mouthful. At its most basic, hEDS means that the joints have a connective tissue disorder, which means that they are constantly subluxating (I think that’s a word. Subluxation is the word I’m trying to refer to) and dislocating. Because of this, and chronic fatigue, Jordan uses a wheelchair.
5. Who (or what) is the antagonist?
This is a contemporary novel, so there isn’t an antagonist per se. I would say the antagonist is society at large, as well as Eliza’s expectations for herself. But I definitely am tackling a lot of social problems in this novel, particularly deconstructing ableism (the discrimination of people based on their disability).
6. What excites you the most about this novel?
Where do I start? There’s always so many things I’m excited about when I’m writing a new novel! Here’s a handy little bullet list:
- The characters! Eliza and Jordan are going to be the perfect, chaotic little pair. They’re both so much fun and I love them already.
- Chronic illness representation! It’s going to be such an experience working on chronically ill characters, which I’ve never done before. It’s going to be really interesting
- The research! I’ve already been doing a lot of research already and it’s been so good, not only for learning more about the chronic illness I have, but also about other chronic illnesses and how similar and yet different they are.
- Writing a contemporary YA, which I’ve never done before! If you know me, you know I’m a hardcore fantasy, historical, dystopian girl. I’ve never written contemporary, and I’m kind of scared, but also very excited. I’ve been reading plenty of similar books lately to prepare and I’m kind of loving it?
- Also writing a book with a significant romance plot? I’m terrified of that, but also kind of excited (what is this? Has Chelsea been replaced by an alien creature who is unsuccessfully mimicking her?? I’m concerned).
- And this book is set in Canberra, which is near where I live, so that’s fun! The only time I’ve written a book set near where I live, I destroyed everything I loved about it in the name of dystopia.
- Finally, tap dancing! I adore tap dancing, and did it for over a year. Sadly, my teacher retired and I haven’t got back into it, mainly due to time (I already do ballet and highland, adding up to three classes a week) and money (paying for said classes, also my ridiculously expensive dog hobby). But it’s so much fun, and I love the jazzy, swingy music and I can’t wait to write about it. I’m going to attempt to do some free online classes while I draft this novel, just to remind me of some things (so if you have any recs, send them my way).
7. Is this going to be a series? standalone? something else?
In true contemporary fashion it’s going to be a standalone. The ending quite neatly wraps it all up, so that’s good. Usually my “standalones” end up being first in a series. But there’s just not much market for contemporary series, so we’re sticking solidly with standalone.
8. Are you plotting? pantsing? plansting?
Plansting, I guess. Usually I meticulously plot out my NaNoWriMo novels, but I entirely pantsed it last year and it didn’t turn out too bad? I do have some notes already and I want to work on a vague outline at least before NaNo rolls around, but we’ll see how it goes.
9. Name a few unique elements about this story.
I think I might have given them all away in the earlier questions! But here’s another bullet point list:
- Tap dancing. I’ve seen a few YA books about ballet (and they’ve all been great!) but other types of dancing are much rarer to see. In fact, I’ve never seen a book that had tap dancing included!
- Chronic illness and disability rep. Unfortunately, still pretty rare in YA so I’m classing it as unique. One character has fibromyalgia and one character has hEDS (also, if you have hEDS and are interested in reading this story, hit me up. I’m always keen for people with firsthand experience to read my work)
- Dalmatians. Yes, all my books have dogs in them, but this one in particular has a dalmatian. He’s a good boy.
- Girls being friends and not snarky “frenemies”.
- Parents that are actually involved in their children’s lives and love them.
- Discussions of how messed up our education system is (ala, Alice Osman in Radio Silence)
10. Share some fun “extras” of the story (a song or full playlist, some aesthetics, a collage, a Pinterest board, a map you’ve made, a special theme you’re going to incorporate, ANYTHING you want to share!).
Here’s the Pinterest board!
And here’s the Spotify playlist, which I’m still working on. It’s entirely composed of Ed Sheeran songs at the moment, I’m adding some more swing/jazz type songs as well, so it’s going to be quite eclectic.