Know The Novel: It Is Written, The Dancer’s Handbook

We’ve survived NaNoWriMo. Just barely, but we did it!

Today we’re gathered together for the final instalment of the Know The Novel Linkup. Part Three, It Is Written. Of course, we’ll be looking at my current WIP The Dancer’s Handbook of Love and Other Illnesses. You can read more about it here and here, but here’s my little blurb for it:

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.

All right, onto the questions!

How did writing this novel go all around?

Overall, it didn’t go too badly. I didn’t win, not by a long shot. And I’m not even close to finishing, but I’m trying to give myself some grace. Life has been a lot lately.

Having said that, I think I did do pretty well and I’m happy with what I wrote. It’s also been going pretty smoothly when I do get to sit down and get to write, which is always a pleasure.

I’m not expecting this book to be done for a few more months, since life is going to continue being busy (as always), but I’m enjoying meandering through it quite a lot.

Did it turn out like you expected or completely different? And how do you feel about the outcome?

This one is hard to answer, since I haven’t finished yet! But so far it’s turning out pretty similar to my dream, it’s tackling the hard things already and I’m only just over 10k in. It has though taken on some 50s pop culture vibes that I wasn’t expecting, and there’s quite a lot more talk about cryptids than I originally bargained for. But that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?

I’m feeling pretty good about the outcome so far too. I think this book is going to be really good once I’ve finished it and polished it up a bit. Considering the massive shift in the YA world towards diversity in the novels that are published by the big houses, I think I have a shot at getting an agent, and maybe even getting published with it too.

What aspect of the story did you love writing about the most? (Characters, plot, setting, prose, etc.)

Obviously the characters, because it’s always the characters and this is a particularly character-driven book. But I also love just the general vibe, aesthetic if you will, of the story. 50s music, jazz, swing, dancing, but also disability rep and advocacy and the deconstruction of ableism and our society’s views of disability. I’m enjoying it a lot so far.

How about your least favorite part?

I’m not sure…I think the plot has been a bit difficult because its not very settled at the moment. I keep getting distracted by new subplots which, in reality, I just do not have time to present and its a bit miserable. So that’s definitely been my least favourite part!

What do you feel like needs the most work?

Again this is hard because I haven’t finished it yet. However, as I said above, the plot is definitely going to need some work when I finish this first draft. I have a lot going on in it, and I think I’m going to have to trim quite a few subplots out in order to focus better on the more important plot points. But I’ll worry about that after I’ve finished and when I’m working on the second draft!

How do you feel about your characters now? Who’s your favorite? Least favorite? Anyone surprise you? Give us all the details!

I love, love, love Jordan. Jordan is amazing. He’s so chilled and has such a good sense of humour, he’s literally Eliza’s opposite. I love his attitude towards raising awareness and advocating for himself. On the one hand, it’s important to him and he loves making people aware of his disabilities and helping them to grow, but on the other hand he is so, so tired. He just wants to live his life without people always questioning him, and without defending his right to just be a normal kid.

And of course, my girl Eliza. I love her too. She’s struggling, but she’s always trying to pretend she’s not. She’s really struggling with the internalized ableism and is trying to confront that. She doesn’t want to be labelled as useless to society, or a faker, so she just labels herself as “different” to other disabled and ill people, but slowly she’s deconstructing that, learning that your worth doesn’t come from what you’re physically or mentally capable of doing.

I love my children.

What’s your next plan of action with this novel?

Finish my first draft sometime in the next few months and then do some editing work on it. Hopefully I’ll be looking at agents within the next couple of years…but realistically? I’m going to be doing a Bachelor’s Degree and working almost full time, so I don’t know whether that will happen or not.

If you could have your greatest dream realized for this novel, what would it be?

I have two dreams for this novel!

1). That it will be educational for those who don’t have chronic illnesses. Unless you live with the debilitating fatigue, pain and other symptoms of these illnesses, it’s virtually impossible to imagine what it’s like to have them. And I would hazard to guess that this inability to comprehend is what causes people to discredit chronic illness. Well, it can’t be real, because I can’t imagine that. So I want to be able to give people a picture of what chronic illnesses and disabilities are like to live with, in the fun package of a teen romance novel, ala The Fault in Our Stars but nobody dies.

2) Reason two is to give chronically ill/disabled teens someone to relate to in books. As I mentioned in the first Know The Novel post, I started this book because sickness in YA books is pretty much confined to cancer (or other terminal illnesses, eg cystic fibrosis). And these are important, I know and I appreciate that, but there’s a lot of teens with non-terminal, but still chronic, diseases and illnesses. And it’s so hard to find that representation in Young Adult books. So I want to give other teens who are like me the opportunity to see themselves and relate to these characters, something that I never really had when I was in the YA target age.

Share some of your favorite snippets!

I love sharing snippets! Here are a couple of my favourites:

Someone like me. Like, someone sick. I mean, you went to the rheumy, so I assumed.
A beat. Then,
I have EDS.
I’m even more confused now. I mean, sure. I was at the rheumatologist, yes, but I wasn’t sick. Sick was for people with cancer, or something. Fibro hardly counted as being sick. And like him? He is in a wheelchair! He can’t walk. I’m a national level dancer. [See the internalized ableism, exhibit A)
But I can’t help myself. I take out my school laptop, boot it, and then smash EDS into the google search bar.
The first result that pops up is a webpage that reads, What is Ehler-Danlos Syndrome? I click on it, not even sure if this is what Jordan meant, but the use of the word “syndrome” makes it sound like an actual sickness at least.
I’m greeted by a zebra logo, for some reason, and a lengthy article about this syndrome with a name that sounds like alphabet soup. Same as fibromyalgia, I find myself thinking.
I don’t have time to read the article, so I bookmark the page and close the tab. Then pick up my phone and write back to Jordan.
I have fibromyalgia.

“So…what do you do with yourself? When you’re not harassing respectable women about Nessie, of course.”
“Strangely enough, that is the long and the short of what I do,” Jordan replies, taking a sip of his coffee, without his eyes ever leaving me. “I’m a podcaster, YouTuber, that sort of thing.”
“Oh, really?” I ask, feeling a blush creeping up my cheeks, and desperately trying to force it down again. “What’s your podcast about?”
“Cryptids, unsolved mysteries, paranormal stories, the unsolvable, pretty much.”
“Really?” There’s genuine interest in my tone now. “And people…listen to it?” Almost immediately, I realise how that must sound and I quickly backtrack. “I mean, sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, like, you make a living out of it?”

Jordan nods slowly, glancing down into his coffee before looking up again. “That must be tough to deal with.”
I shrug, then shake my head. “It’s not really. It’s not that bad. Heaps of other people have it worse.”
He meets my eyes and holds my gaze. “So? You’re allowed to find something hard, even if other people ‘have it worse’”. He leans across the table to me. “It’s not the suffering Olympics, Eliza.”

Did you glean any new writing and/or life lessons from writing this novel?

I’ve certainly learnt a lot about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome while doing research for it! I’ve also learnt of new writing lessons about how to write romance, and how to write contemporary novels. Trying to hit the emotional beats in a contemporary and not relying on as much action and drama to keep the pace. It’s been really interesting so far.

Other than that, I’ve also learnt lots about disability justice. I’ve been following lots of disabled activists on social media and learning heaps from them. It’s been really good and I’ve enjoyed it. And I think writing about chronic illness so candidly has helped me to come to terms with my own diagnosis a few months ago, which has been a blessing.

What about you? Do you have any current WIPs? How are they going? How have you been going? Can you believe it’s almost Christmas???

6 thoughts on “Know The Novel: It Is Written, The Dancer’s Handbook

  1. I know I’ve said it before, but I absolutely LOVE how you’re representing chronic illness in this. It sounds like such a beautiful and needed story! And I am already utterly in love with these characters. I mean, THOSE SNIPPETS. They just sound so real and dynamic!

    Also: “It’s not the suffering Olympics.” is SUCH a good line! YES.

    I absolutely love all of this! Thank you so much for joining the linkup and sharing! I do hope all the rest of the writing goes wonderfully and you have a very Merry Christmas! ❤


  2. THIS. LOOKS. SO. FREAKING. GOOD. I know I’ve squealed about this book before, lol, but as someone who has both EDS and fibro and who tap dances (or, used to tap dance)… I am SO excited about this novel!!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s