Know The Novel: Introducing The Dancer’s Handbook To Love and Other Illnesses

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.

All pictures are from Pinterest: Picture shows a collage of five pictures, from left to right: a young white woman with blond hair, then a picture of a dalmation, then a quote by Ed Sheeran (reading, “Don’t wipe your eyes, tears remind you you’re alive”), then a white man with his face obscured by wild black hair, and then a picture of a white hand holding a pair of tap shoes.

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.

18 thoughts on “Know The Novel: Introducing The Dancer’s Handbook To Love and Other Illnesses

  1. Oh my goodness, CHELSEA. There are not enough words to express how much I love this!

    I also have chronic health problems. I have a severely malformed mitral valve which basically means…my heart is kind of deformed. Like you, it’s certainly not a death sentence, but it also means I’m not as healthy as your average Joe and often don’t have a lot of energy and have to be careful with how much activity I do. Don’t want to use up my “spoons” as it were. I feel like so many people don’t really fully understand what it’s like to be chronically ill, so I absolutely LOVE that you’re writing a story about it. This is so beautiful!

    And the story itself sounds SOOO FUN!!! I honestly thought the blurb was fantastic. The “the name of which might as well be alphabet soup” line is SO GREAT. ALSO I love dance! I’ve…never done it, but I adore watching it so yesss. Totally here for this. And Eliza and Jordan sound like such a dynamic duo! Also you can never go wrong with dogs. *heart-eyes* Gotta have the dogs!

    This is just amazing all the way around and I love that you’re doing this. Also, I think the title is FANTASTIC. Literally when I clicked over to this post and saw the title I started grinning because I loved the sound of it so much.

    I do hope the writing of this goes absolutely wonderfully! And thank you for always joining in Know the Novel. I’m thrilled you enjoy doing it so much. I always love reading your posts! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow, this sounds so cool! I actually have hEDS and seriously, there’s so little representation for it, or for any other chronic illnesses, it’s just sad. But this sounds like so much fun! I’d love to help with reading it, if you want. And yes, it is a whole mouthful. I also have co-morbid Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS), which is a frequent co-morbid condition with EDS and it’s yet another mouthful, so whenever I try to explain my conditions to people, I always get that lovely experience of watching people’s eyes glaze over as I just say the names haha.

    I absolutely get what you’re saying, I’ve always felt like that too. I always wanted more representation of what it’s like to live with chronic pain and fatigue, just seeing characters like you makes you feel less alone with it. Like you say, my health isn’t something that’s going to kill me, but it’s still massively disabling generally. Because of it, I don’t really go outside on my own and basically everything I want to do, I have to factor in my poor health into the plans, like making sure that everywhere I go is wheelchair-accessible, which is such a challenge. I feel like until you actually try and use a wheelchair to go places, you really don’t realise just how inaccessible a lot of places are. Like cafés, which so often have chairs and tables too close together for me to fit past them. I honestly feel like this is such an important story to tell and I’m so happy you’re doing it! My main WIP – not the one I answered this year’s Know The Novel for – also stars a chronically ill main character, with EDS specifically, and it is a challenge, particularly since mine’s a contemporary fantasy, but I think it’s an important thing to do.

    This sounds like such a fun story and I’m so excited to learn more about it. The blurb was pretty compelling actually, it’s made me interested in reading it and that’s always a good start haha. Also yay for tap-dancing! I don’t know much about it, but it’s true that it really doesn’t get much attention in fiction even though it’s so cool.

    I hope all goes well in November, good luck! I eagerly await your next post about it!

    Esther from To Write or Not To Write.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. OH MY GOODNESS. How did you get inside my head and find out that this is THE EXACT BOOK I WANT TO READ MOST IN THE WORLD?!!!! I absolutely love this idea! I am a tap dancer, and I have several chronic illnesses (including fibromyalgia – well, we think – and hypermobility spectrum disorder, which is on the same spectrum as hEDS). I never read good books about chronic illness (well, besides Sick Kids in Love, which is one of my faves as well) and I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book about tap dancing. I am so excited for you as you work on this novel!! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This sounds very intriguing. I’m a pretty hardcore fantasy/sci-fi reader as well, but I do branch out occasionally. I love that you’re filling some gaps with your story but also just focusing on writing a great story! I will be cheering you on as you tackle Nano!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. EEK CHELSEA THIS LOOKS SO AMAZING.

    It’s not a horrible blurb. It’s a lovely blurb. I like it muchly. Especially the recurring phrase “alphabet soup.”

    Eliza and Jordan sound like so much fun. I don’t deal heavily in contemporary, either, but you’re making me want to start at least dabbling. 🙂

    Best of luck with your NaNoing!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This sounds just amazing! I want more books with disability rep, too. I can hardly ever find main characters with autism or ADHD (the disabilities I have), and physically disabled characters are also so hard to find? I’m absolutely a fan of writing the rep you want to see for yourself, and I hope NaNoWriMo goes great for you!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What? I have EDS!! So cool you actually know what that is! And the blurb is good, and the story sounds amazing and I’m curious already! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m so glad you liked it! I guess I am my own worst critic 😛 I’ve never had a good idea for a contemporary before, so I’m super excited to start writing this one! (and you definitely should too!)
    Thank you!

    Like

  9. Ahhhh, thank you so much Christine! You always the most joyful and encouraging person! I can’t thank you enough. You’re kind words about my blurb mean so much!
    Thank you for sharing you’re experience as well! I completely get what you mean, so many people just have no idea what it’s like.
    Thanks! I came up with it on the spot and thought it was quite witty 😛
    Yes, dogs and dancing, my two passions in one book!
    And thank you so much! I love the title! Again, just spur of the moment thinking, I was really struggling with a title for ages!
    Thank you! All the best for your NaNo too, I can’t wait to see what you’re planning on writing!

    Like

  10. Thank you so much for reading! And what a coincidence! I rarely meet anyone with chronic illness outside of my chronic illness circles! I would love to have you as a reader! I’ll put you on my list 🙂
    Haha, yes! Whenever I talk about fibromyalgia I get that reaction too, and its not nearly as long as either Ehler Danlos Syndrome or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome 😛
    Thank you, I’m trying my best. and I know what you mean, just seeing characters like me is so important and honestly, life changing.
    I thought your novel sounded really cool, so I stalked your blog and found your Know the Novel from last year and realised that I’d commented on it all the way back then! And said that Peri sounded like she’d be my favourite character. Which I still hold by, she sounds amazing.
    I love tap dancing! I did it for a year, and I’ve been trying to find classes ever since, but due to living rurally it’s pretty hard, so I have to just content myself with a lot of Fred Astaire videos on YouTube 😀
    Thank you! And thank you so much for your lovely comment!

    Like

  11. Ahhhh you’re comments always make me so excited! Yay, for being chronic illness spoonie buddies 😛 I haven’t read any great books about it either, except for, as you said, Sick Kids In Love which was exceptionally good.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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