Authors Showcase: Wish by Grier Cooper
December 7, 2014
The Book: Wish
The Author: Grier Cooper
The Story: For Indigo Stevens, ballet classes at Miss Roberta’s ballet studio offer the stability and structure that are missing from her crazy home life. At almost 16, she hopes this is the year she will be accepted into the New York School of Ballet so she can begin her ballet dance career. First she must prove she’s ready, and that means ignoring Jesse Sanders, the cute boy with dimples who is definitely at the top of Miss Roberta’s List of Forbidden Things for Dancers.
But Jesse is the least of Indigo’s concerns. When she discovers her mom is an alcoholic, it simultaneously explains everything and heaps more worry on Indigo’s shoulders. As her mom’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, Indigo fights to maintain balance, protect her younger brothers from abuse, and keep her mother from going over the edge. But life with an alcoholic parent is unpredictable. When the violence at home escalates, Indigo realizes she can no longer dance around the issue. At the risk of losing everything, she must take matters into her own hands before it’s too late.
An Interview with Grier Cooper:
Why did you write WISH?
There were several factors at play when I wrote WISH. I knew I wanted to set the book in the ballet world because dance has shaped who I am and has been one of the few constants in my life. Many people don’t get to experience this world firsthand and I wanted to give readers an insider’s perspective.
I also feel strongly about the difficulties of growing up in a dysfunctional family. I know the longterm implications from personal experience: my mother was an alcoholic. You learn to distrust your instincts and feelings, to play small, and to stay quiet when you know you should speak up.
Even if your family dynamics are healthy young adulthood is a time of huge transition and change. It’s a time to find your voice, to clarify who you are and who you want to be in the future. It’s not an easy road to navigate. I wrote WISH to give readers hope, to show them a path to self-empowerment, and to help them understand they can create change in their lives.
Describe your writing process.
I’m a very visual person so I always begin a project by creating a vision board. I cut out pictures from magazines that resemble the characters and settings I’ve envisioned and put them together in a giant collage. The vision boards hang right next to my desk so I can look at the characters whenever I need to. I also write character sketches for all of my characters before I begin writing. It’s important to know your character before you put them in action.
Next I outline the whole novel, scene by scene. I’m one of those people who likes to plan ahead – my family and friends sometimes give me a hard time about it and call me the cruise ship director. But seriously, it pays to plan ahead…especially when you’re writing a novel. Once I have a complete outline I look at the big picture: I make sure transitions between scenes and chapters work seamlessly and that there’s a good balance and pace throughout. Figuring all of this out before I write anything saves a lot of time and headache.
The first draft took me a little over a year to write because I wrote in very short bursts, in between writing a bunch of other things. A first draft often needs a lot of editing and I spent quite a while combing through my novel and polishing it. I also worked with a group of other YA writers to get feedback and take it to the next level. My critique partners asked a lot of questions, often about things that I hadn’t thought about.
Even after the work I’d done revising and implementing some of their suggestions my novel still wasn’t quite there. That was a little hard to sit with but I wanted the book to be as good as it could possibly be. I tinkered some more, focusing on the parts I felt needed more work. I also read it out loud, word by word, a technique that I’ve found to be really effective because errors or clumsy language are much more obvious when spoken out loud. This really gave it a final polish.
How did you make the transition from dancer to writer?
I’ve written since I was a kid; back then I had a diary with a lock on it, which was necessary growing up in a big family. After I stopped dancing professionally I went back to college and took some writing classes where I started playing around with poetry and short stories. I kept writing throughout the years but once I became a mom I started to think more about writing for kids. Eventually I began to transition into freelance writing and wrote about dance and fitness. I also re-immersed myself in the Bay Area dance scene and wrote a regular dance column where I interviewed top Bay Area dancers, choreographers and directors. I started writing WISH at that time. Along the way I also put a lot of time into educating myself about the craft and business of children’s books by attending conferences, workshops and webinars. Learning to be a writer has definitely been a process; luckily it’s a process I enjoy. I’m still learning now; there’s always something to improve.
What role does dance play in your life today?
I’ve been a dancer since I was five and I don’t see that changing, although my relationship with dance has changed over time. When I was young, dance was something I did for fun. Later it became my profession and now I look at it as a sanctuary, a home, a place to move beyond my small self and connect to something bigger.
The things I’ve learned as a dancer – discipline, dedication and persistence– still serve me now. Without this foundation I couldn’t do what I do. Writing is self-paced and self-driven. No one is telling me what to do or looking over my shoulder to make sure it gets done. It’s all on me.
Today dance is something I do for fun. Sometimes during the workday I’ll take a break, put on some music, and dance to counteract all the sitting and staring at a computer. Dance keeps me happy.
Why did you choose to self-publish?
The publishing industry is changing so much and independent publishing is really growing. In today’s market it’s the author’s name that sells a book. All writers are their own brand and must grow that brand through marketing and promotion, whether they are traditionally published or self-published. That is the reality. I realized if I’m doing the work anyway, why not do it on my terms?
I also didn’t want to wait years to see my book on shelf. I have many other books in the pipeline and I wanted to keep moving forward. I’ve enjoyed maintaining my creative freedom and having the ultimate say on things like cover design. I also like knowing that after all I’ve put into it my book won’t expire or go out of print.
I’ve found the world of indie publishing to be incredibly giving and supportive, which has been a nice surprise. I’m really grateful to the other indie writers out there who share their knowledge and expertise so willingly.
What advice would you give to other young dancers and writers?
My advice is really the same for both. First of all: dream big! Clarify your vision and make it as real as possible in your mind., using all of your senses. Keep your thoughts focused on that vision as often as you can. Believe it is possible. Believe in yourself.
In the meantime, work at your craft. Strive to perfect all aspects of what you do and ask for help and support when you need it.
When you feel ready to find work develop a solid plan. Make a list of all potential places or companies you want to work with. Cast your net wide and see what comes through. Follow up with everyone you talk to. Even if it takes longer than you would hope keep going no matter what. The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is persistence.
Which of your characters is the most like you?
I’m a bit like of many of my characters. I have aspects of Indigo’s emotional sensitivity, Miss Roberta’s work ethic and perfectionist tendencies, and Becky’s supportive nature. I wish I had more of Monique’s sass and Jesse’s laid back attitude.
The cool thing about creating characters is that even though I come up with the initial vision they eventually take on a life of their own. I’m often surprised by some of the things they say or do and I’ll think to myself wow, I never would say that to someone. Which is strange since the idea came out of my head. But it’s what the character would do, not what I would do.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’ll still be sitting at my desk, writing! I hope to have at least three more titles out by then and be doing fun events interacting with readers. My daughter will be a junior in high school so I’ll be actively looking for my future home on a tropical beach somewhere.