Friday, March 02, 2012

It's March already?

Where have the last 3 months gone? March Madness is on the horizon, Duke plays Carolina in Cameron tomorrow, and Baby Alex is already 3 months old. Craziness!

I had originally planned to go back to work in April, but that was back when I figured we'd get a spot in his sister's daycare. Well, we will, but probably not until June, but possibly as late as September.

September! Yikes! Considering he was born at the end of November...yeah, there's no way I can stay on maternity leave for 9 months. Even June is pushing it, but is more doable.

But in the end, having the extra time at home is going to be a blessing. Not only do I have more time to spend with the cute little guy, but I've decided to put it to advantage and really get some good writing done.

At Gemma's suggestion, I decided to apply for the Nook First program through Barnes & Noble. I'm not really a huge fan of exclusivity agreements as a matter of principle, but since Nook First is just 30 days and is only for new releases, I figured it was worth an experiment.

I'm super excited to announce that Barnes & Noble has selected Pointe of No Return as the May 14 Nook First pick! B&N only spotlights 4 books per month in the Nook First program, so this is really cool.

But this means that Pointe will only be available as a NookBook for the first month, so all other readers will have to wait until June 13. So I've decided to run an ARC contest right now. Leave a comment and you'll be entered to win an ARC of Pointe of No Return once it's ready. It's still in revisions at the moment, but I'm working hard to get it ready to publish in May, so hope to have the ARC ready to be sent in April.

Pointe is the sequel to Codename: Dancer. Dani is assigned to understudy her nemesis Hadley in the Nutcracker. Which is a big honor for a freshman, except it means she won't get a chance to dance in the performance. So when Hadley mysteriously goes missing, Dani doesn't really have any incentive to try to find her. Except knowing Dani, she won't stand by when there's a mystery to uncover!

It's got kidnapping, a drug ring, dirty politicians, and the "Real Trophy Wives of Scottsdale." Throw in some great dancing and you've got "Pointe of No Return!"

So consider this an IOU. If you win, I'll send you an e-book copy in the format of your choice in April.

And for now, enjoy the first chapter!


Normally it would be pervy for a middle-aged man to touch a teenager’s rear. But there hasn’t been anything normal about my life ever since I moved to Arizona earlier this fall.

“Miss Spevak, your lines are a disgrace.”

“Point your toes!”

“Posture, Miss Spevak! Lift your carriage and lengthen your body!”

“You ladies dance like apes!”

“How many times do I have to tell you to tuck your buttocks?”

That last one might be cause for sexual harassment complaints anywhere else, but not here. I’m a student at Mountain Shadows Academy of the Arts, majoring in dance. I divide my days between ballet and biology, tap and trigonometry, hip hop and history.

“Well, Miss Spevak?” Grigor Dmilov, the legendary principal dancer from the Phoenix Ballet, towered over my five-foot-three frame. His dark eyes bored into me as he pretended to wait for an answer that didn’t really matter since the question was rhetorical anyway – dancers aren’t allowed to talk in class. He used to intimidate me when I first came here.

Oh, who am I kidding? He still intimidates me. I just don’t cry in the shower after class anymore.


The difference now is that I know corrections are an important part of the process. We spend six hours every day in the studio, striving for perfection. Sometimes it felt like our teachers loved to torture us, but they were just trying to get us to live up to our potential and beyond. Getting corrections was a compliment because it showed that the teachers wanted to nurture your talent.

Not being noticed at all was far more damaging to your career. Nobody wanted to be invisible.

I stood straighter, lifting my rib cage and tucking my derriere under as I prepared to bend my knees and lower myself to the ground in a grand plié. I have a natural tendency to slouch, so even though I’ve been dancing for years, I still have to consciously remind myself not to. It may be more comfortable, but it definitely doesn’t look very nice. Monsieur Dmilov pushed on the back of my thigh to verify that I’d engaged my gluts, then satisfied that I had readjusted my alignment, moved on to his next victim.

The class raced through the positions – first, second, fourth, fifth – skipping third since it was useless, finally finishing with a grand port de bras to stretch our bodies. As I leaned forward, dropping to the ground with a graceful sweeping motion before straightening back up again, I caught the accompanist’s eye and smiled.

It was a standard barre exercise, just like the start of class on any other day. Only it wasn’t any other day. Today was Nutcracker audition day.

The nervous energy in the theatre was palpable. The next ninety minutes would determine how we’d spend the rest of the fall semester. What roles would we dance? A soldier or a soloist?

I looked around the stage at a sea of clones. In their black leotards, pink tights, satin toe shoes, slim physiques, and hair pulled back into a tight bun, the other girls looked almost identical to me, like a genetic experiment gone awry. At first glance, the only way to tell us all apart was by skin tone and hair color.

I wondered whether this was intentional. By tamping down our individual fashion sense in class, the underlying message was that we were not prima ballerinas. Yet. Most of us would be dancing in the corps, where our only responsibility was to perform choreography in a large group, nothing more. Standing out in the corps de ballet would mean you were doing something wrong, since the group was supposed to move as one body. The only time you wanted to be invisible.

A tall order for a group of girls who all had been the star back at home.

Would I be assigned to dance in the corps this year? Probably. I was just a freshman. The soloist roles were generally reserved for upperclassmen. Except for the boys, of course. Guys were lucky, because nobody really expected too much from them since they were few and far between. Girls were expected to be perfect, but as long as a guy could point his toes, jump, and make a reasonable effort at turns, everyone got excited and turned a blind eye to any deficiencies in his technique.
And if he was both cute and straight it was just a bonus.

It wasn’t fair.

But nothing in ballet was fair, so I would just have to suck it up and deal, otherwise I would spend every waking hour making rug angels of despair for the rest of my life. Nobody wanted to admit it, but everyone felt jealousy.

Even Hadley Taylor.

Mountain Shadows’ current star, Hadley was a junior and everyone’s prediction for this year’s Sugar Plum Fairy. She was also a certifiably unpleasant person to be around.

Look up the B-word in the dictionary and they have a picture of her right under the definition.

Or they should.

Hadley commanded the place of honor at the front of the barre. It wasn’t an official position or anything. She just grabbed it on the first day of class and nobody was brave enough to challenge her for it. Not that it would matter anyway. Her dad was a major donor to the school.

A sharp clap broke my reverie and brought me back to the here-and-now. “Grands battements. Four front, four side, four back, four side. Á la seconde, you will close front first. Front, back, front, back.”

Monsieur Dmilov briefly marked the pattern of the exercise, using his arms to substitute for his legs since we were supposed to understand simply from the names of the steps. “Crisp movements, ladies. At the end of each one, bring your feet back together in a tight fifth. If I try to squeeze a credit card between them, I should not succeed.” He nodded at our reigning teen queen. “Miss Taylor, please demonstrate.”

Hadley didn’t even attempt to suppress her smug smile as she effortlessly kicked her leg high in the air. She had exquisite extension, each movement fluid. She was born to dance.

And she knew it.

But so was I. And I was going to show them.

An hour later, sweaty and feeling the burn of the workout tingling in every inch of my muscles, I dropped to the floor with the rest of the girls in grand révérance to our instructor and accompanist. I’d done this at the end of every ballet class for years, but today the curtsy was almost a prayer. An offering sent up to hopefully ensure a role. If I knew an Indian rain dance I’d probably try that, too.

We could use the rain in Arizona.

I just had to dance a solo. Clara would be great. Or Snow Queen. Or even one of the life-sized dolls. I wasn’t picky.

Normally we would exit as quickly as possible, rushing to get back to the dorms, but today we all lingered, hoping to catch a glimpse of the cast list as soon as it was posted.

“You looked great today, Dani,” my friend Maya Sapp said as I untied the satin ribbons of my toe shoes.

“You, too.”

She laughed. “Now you’re just being nice.”

“No way. I saw that triple pirouette during the adagio. It was gorgeous. So smooth you almost hung in the air.”

“Well, I fully expect I’ll be dancing Snow again.”

“Snow Queen?”

She shook her head. “One of the snowflakes in the corps. I think Ana’s got that solo in the bag.”

I had to agree. Our friend Analisa San Miguel was the epitome of elegance and grace. She’d make a beautiful Snow Queen. She hadn’t come backstage yet, but had instead climbed into the orchestra pit to chat with the accompanist and practice her Spanish.

Well, that was one solo down. No, make that two. Hadley would definitely be Sugar Plum.

“Who do you think will be Clara?” I asked.

Me, me, me, me, me, I silently chanted, as if that could actually make it come true.

Maya shrugged. “I don’t know. I think you’re probably a strong contender. Or maybe Kat?”

“But she’s a triple threat. Why would she want to be Clara?”

“Just because she wants to sing and dance on Broadway doesn’t mean she wouldn’t want a lead in a ballet.”

I wrinkled my brow. “I thought she was a senior. Isn’t that too old to dance the part of a twelve-year-old?”

“Not on stage. Kat’s short. She could pull it off. Besides, pros do it all the time in the companies, and they’re in their twenties.”


She was right. And Kat would be perfect for the part. She had such an innocence about her when she danced. A natural actress. I could almost picture her skipping around the stage in the party scene with the wooden nutcracker, a present from her weird Uncle Drosselmeyer.

Okay, back to the drawing board.

Maybe I could dance Arabian? Or Chinese? The around-the-world dances in the Land of Sweets were always a crowd pleaser. Arabian would be super hot.

I shoved my toe shoes in my bag and was standing up to leave when Analisa joined us.
“Good class today. Easy,” she said, tucking an imaginary stray wisp back into her tight bun.

Easy? My legs hurt way too much for a supposed easy class. But no way was I about to admit that. Especially not with Hadley within earshot.

In the great scheme of things, I guess it wasn’t the most technically challenging class I’d ever taken. It seemed designed to observe us more than anything. I guess the challenge was in impressing the director.

“Dmilov was totally loving you,” she continued, looking directly at me.

He was? “No way. He kept criticizing me.”

“Dani, Dani, Dani.” Maya shook her head. “Haven’t you learned anything yet? Criticism is good.”

I knew that, but sometimes the fragile artist’s self-esteem needs a boost.

Especially when you were afraid you’d danced like a cow.

Or looked like one.

“Much better to be noticed than not,” Analisa agreed.

Maya laughed. “Like me. He totally ignored me. I could’ve just slept in and nobody would’ve been the wiser. But I expected that.”

“Why?” I asked. “You were on Teen Celebrity Dance-Off. You’re one the best dancers at the school!”

“I’m a contemporary dancer, Dani. Ballet’s not my thing. Not like it is for you and Ana. You’re the bunheads.” She shrugged and rolled her shoulders to work out the kinks in her muscles. “It’s okay. I’ll have fun dancing Snow. I already know the choreography.”

“Wanna go grab a smoothie while we wait?” Analisa asked.

I flinched, both from the question and from the pain of my bleeding toes as I peeled back the lamb’s wool I’d shoved inside my dance shoes. (I always laugh when people say that dancers probably have the nicest feet. Do they actually know any dancers?)

Did I really need the extra calories and sugar from a smoothie? I had costumes to fit into – well, I would if I got a role, that is.

Maya must have seen my hesitation because she answered for me. “Yes, she does. Let’s get out of here.”

We left campus and walked the two blocks to Groovie Smoothie. I thought about ordering a bottle of water and calling it a day, but I knew Ana and Maya weren’t going to hear of it. I knew they were worried about me, but they were wrong. I didn’t have a problem.


Sure, I’d agreed last month to see a body image counselor. And I’d been going, but it wasn’t the least bit necessary. Interesting – I was learning a lot – but not for me.

The dance department was full of hypocrites. They encouraged us to do whatever it took to be slim and trim so we would look good up on stage, but they didn’t want the liability of their dancers ending up hospitalized. So my counseling was just a formality, and everyone knew it.

Besides, I didn’t have a problem. Really.

“I’ll have an extra-large Mango Madness with a raspberry swirl.” I could just have a fruit smoothie, no need for yogurt. Lo-cal, no fat. Perfect. “Oh, and a soft pretzel,” I added with pointed look at Maya.

See, I didn’t have a problem. Really.

We grabbed our snacks and headed back to the theatre to check on the result.

No list. Damn.

We were just packing up to go back to the dorms when an excited cry rang out from the far end of the room. “The list!”

I limped down the aisle to join the crowd of girls all huddled around a small sheet of paper tacked to the wall. The list contained both girls’ and boys’ names, even though the particular audition we’d just completed was girls-only. The boys took class in a different studio, and their audition was less competitive since there were so many fewer of them so they were pretty much all guaranteed roles.

The crowd was six deep in front of the soloist list, so I checked out the results for the corps first.

My eyes scanned down to the S’s:

Maya Sapp
Talia Small
Alexa Sutton
Lydia Tsai

They skipped me. They skipped me! Which could only mean one thing.

I was going to be a soloist! Sweet!

“Excuse me. Pardon me,” I said, elbowing my way to the front of the other list.

OMG! My name, right there in bold font.

Sugar Plum Fairy
Hadley Taylor
Daniela Spevak (understudy)

Me – the Sugar Plum Fairy! As a freshman! I couldn’t believe it, but there it was in black and white. I couldn’t wait to share my news.

I spun around and saw Analisa and Maya. “I’m dancing Sugar Plum!”

“No, I’m dancing Sugar Plum,” Hadley sneered, behind me.

“What do you mean?”

Analisa bit her lip. “You’re the understudy, Dani.”

I turned back to the list and checked it again. She was right. I was the understudy.
Worse yet, I was Hadley’s understudy. How could I have missed that crucial piece of info?

“That’s fantastic, Dani.” Maya threw her arms around me and enveloped me in a bear
hug. “You go, girl!”

I shrugged out of her grasp and scanned the list again. My name didn’t appear anywhere other than that understudy role. It had to be a mistake.

“I’m not…performing?”

Hadley laughed. “Looks that way. Sucks to be you.”

Now I knew why dancers say “merde” instead of “good luck.” This was shit. For real.

But I wasn’t going to let anyone see me cry.

I looked at the cast list again. Maya was right – Analisa was going to be the Snow Queen. I was thrilled for her. I really was.

But why didn’t I get a role? I mean, I’m just a freshman, so I guess I shouldn’t have expected a solo. I was honored to understudy such a prestigious role at just fourteen years old, but why couldn’t I also be a Snowflake or even a girl in the party scene?

“Congrats, Hadley,”

I said, pasting on my happy face. “And Ana, yay!”

After the requisite round of congratulations, I sneaked out the back with the rest of the rejects while everyone else was still chattering about the upcoming rehearsals.

Hours and hours of rehearsals that I would have to attend, even though I wouldn’t get a chance to dance in the performances. Because let’s face it. Short of a tragedy, there was no way Hadley wouldn’t be dancing.

It just wasn’t fair.

Why wasn’t I good enough? Monsieur Dmilov corrected me, so I know he saw something in my dancing that he wanted to cultivate. And just last month I danced on national TV. So it couldn’t be my dancing.

Which only left one thing.

I ran to the bathroom and threw up.


Zita said...

So now I have to apes actually dance? And do they dance better than ladies?

Sarah S. said...

That looks great I can't wait to check it out.

Katwoman1980 said...

I'll read anything recommended by Gemma Halliday so I can't wait to read this one!

Lauren S. said...
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Lauren S. said...
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Lauren S. said...

This sounds like a fabulous book! I can't want to read it! :)

traveler said...

Love this excerpt and that title is perfect. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

petite said...

Wonderful and so appealing. Yu are talented. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

Laurie Kellogg said...

Congratulations on getting the book placed in the Nook First program, Amanda. I hope it leads to many, many sales for you!

Pamela said...

This looks exciting, can't wait to check it out!

mitzi77598 said...

Dear Baby Face, If "Trigger Happy" recommends you, you must be good. I read it and love it so far and intend on definitely getting it when you release it.

80slady said...

Congratulations!! Looks like Mother/Daughter book club will be reading a new author :)

Robin Kaye said...

Congratulations, Amanda! I'll have to tell Twinkle Toes, she's been waiting for it!

Diana Layne said...

too cool, looks like a fun read, congrats on the nook first, hope it helps you a lot! And Alex cannot be three months old already!!!

Kim W said...

I love ballet! Sounds like a great book!

Anonymous said...

And the winner is...

I'll contact you to find out what format you'll want, and then will send the e-book in April.

Anonymous said...

And the winner is...

I'll contact you to find out what format you'll want, and then will send the e-book in April.