Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Q&A with author Miriam Wenger-Landis

As you may or may not know, I'm going to be releasing my dancer mystery novel (see cover art in "Coming Soon" on sidebar) this spring. While browsing on Amazon to see other novels featuring dancers, I came across a fabulous new YA, "Girl in Motion."

Here's the blurb:
At the School of Ballet New York, the most prestigious ballet school in the country, aspiring ballerina Anna becomes friends with her talented roommate, Hilary, a French exchange student, Marie, a down-to-earth mid-westerner, Jen, and one of the cutest guys in school, Tyler. The competition is intense and Anna works hard to understand her famous teachers and navigate her ups and downs with her friends. Some of the dancers struggle with eating disorders, injuries, and depression. Everyone's goal is a contract with a professional ballet company, and as graduation nears, the pressure intensifies. Although Anna goes to all the ballet companies' annual auditions, she receives not a single offer. Falling for Tyler complicates things, but with the lead in the annual workshop performance, Anna gets one last chance to make her dreams come true.

When I was a tween, my favorite books were the Satin Slippers series by Elizabeth Bernard. I just devoured this overly melodramatic account of girls at the San Francisco Ballet Academy. I never finished the series as a young girl, but I actually sought out used copies as an adult.

Reading them as an adult, I can see they're very outdated (hello, references to dancers defecting from the Soviet Union!) and very soap-opera-y, but I still loved them.

So imagine my delight when I saw that a former ballerina from the Miami City Ballet, who had studied at the prestigious School of American Ballet in NYC, had written a novel about the ups and downs of life in a ballet boarding school. I snapped it up right away, and soon discovered that I couldn't put it down.

When I learned that Miriam had self-published, I decided I needed to help spread the word about this gem. So please welcome Miriam Wenger-Landis!

AB: Thanks for coming to visit! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

MWL: Well, I was a professional ballerina for 4 years with the Miami City Ballet and a year-round student at the School of American Ballet for 2. My family lives in Salt Lake City and that's where I grew up, and after I retired I went on to complete my degree at Stanford University. I left the company at 22 because I wanted to go to school and felt I'd achieved the things I wanted to in dance. After college, I moved back to New York to work as an assistant editor at a publishing house, and eventually I got a job working with books at Amazon and moved back west. I met my husband in Seattle and we got married about a year ago. I spend most of my free time reading, gardening, hanging with the dog, and fixing up our old house.

AB: I'm curious to hear about your dance career. How many years did you study before dancing for the Miami City Ballet?

MWL: It was about 15 years! I started dance classes when I was less than 3, and trained at local schools in Salt Lake City, including the Ballet West Conservatory and the University of Utah dance department. Between 13 and 18 I went away to bigger summer programs at the San Francisco Ballet School and Pennsylvania Ballet. When I was 16 I went to the School of American Ballet's summer school and they invited me to stay on for the year.
Edward Villella picked me for his company, Miami City Ballet, out of
the School of American Ballet's annual workshop two years later. I
moved to Miami right after I graduated high school. Over the course of
4 years I danced increasingly bigger roles, including the Liberty Bell
in "Stars and Stripes," the Flower Festival in Genzano pas de deux,
the Scotch girl in "Scotch Symphony," and the Ballerina Doll in "The
Steadfast Tin Soldier."

AB: You were a student at the School of American Ballet. Is this book inspired by events from your own life?

MWL: Somewhat. Obviously my experience was a big influence. I was more interested in hitting on the general challenges that everyone faced during that competitive experience, so I created different characters and situations to highlight the individual struggles, from eating disorders to injuries to personality conflicts.

AB: How did your high school experience differ from the norm by attending a ballet boarding school?

MWL: Oh it was very different. There were no sports teams or formal dances. The ratio of girls to boys was about 10 to 1. We all had so much in common and so much focus and passion for what we were doing, and yet we were all in competition with each other. Most of our schoolwork was done as independent study, and the high school we went to was made up of child movie stars, kids on Broadway, and up and coming young musicians. I was across the country from my family at 16 and living my own fast-paced life in New York.

AB: Why did you decide to write "Girl in Motion"?

MWL: I started the book my junior year of college (about ten years ago) when I started teaching ballet regularly and as a way of working through my whole ballet experience. I read so many ballet books growing up and there simply wasn't the kind of book I wanted to read--most of the literature is restricted to stories of the ballets and biographies of great dancers or choreographers. Nothing seemed to encapsulate my experience, and I wanted to write something for the students and aspiring dancers I was watching grow up into the system.

AB: Is there a character you identify with the most?

MWL: Anna is the main character, and the biggest thing about her I relate to is the challenge with her height. That was my challenge too, and as I saw my friends struggle to lose weight I was almost jealous of them. I always knew my height was completely beyond my control. I identify with Anna's friend Jen a lot too, because she has this sense that even when she accomplishes something huge it still isn't good enough. There's a general mentality of that in ballet; that no matter what you do it isn't good enough.

AB: What authors or books have influenced your writing?

MWL: The work I do now in the book industry means I read a ton of books, so there are things I admire about so many authors. For "Girl in Motion," probably the writer I was most influenced by was Curtis Sittenfeld, who wrote "Prep." That book is about a girl coming of age at a boarding school and she completely captured all the feelings, even the ugly ones, that encapsulated the experience.

AB: If you could go back in time and talk to your teenage self, what would you tell her?

MWL: I would say, life just gets better as you get older. The one sure
thing in life is change, and you can count on good things happening
eventually. It's cliche, but things work out--they just do.

AB: What are you working on now?

MWL: At the moment, I'm teaching a little bit of ballet and working at Amazon. We just bought a new fixer-upper house, so a lot of my energy has gone into that and just enjoying my husband and being married. Eventually I hope to write a sequel to "Girl in Motion" and some other things and hopefully I'll find time to do that in the years to come.

Thanks, Miriam for joing us here at Fictionistas!

You can find Miriam's book here:


  1. Hi Miriam -

    I love the interview. My 15 year-old is a student at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, she lives with a host family, goes to Carlisle High School (they have a special program for CPYB dancers) and dance 35 - 40 hours a week. I can't wait to get your book for her!

    One of her teachers is Bruce Thornton who used to be a principal with the Miami City Ballet. I was just wondering if you know him.

    All the best,

    Robin Kaye

  2. Miriam Wenger-Landis11:12 AM

    Hi Robin,
    Yes, of course I know Bruce! We danced together and were in MCB at the same time.
    CPYB is a great school--a lot of dancers at SAB and NYCB came from there. I wish her all the best--she's lucky to have such a supportive mom.
    I hope she enjoys the book!

  3. Miriam Wenger-Landis11:15 AM

    Thanks again, Amanda, for having me, and for your enthusiasm about "Girl in Motion." I'm excited to read "Codename: Dancer" and will be watching for it when it comes out! We need more ballet fiction on the shelves.
    Let me also say--I LOVED Satin Slippers too.
    I hope everyone enjoys "Girl in Motion" and would love to hear what you think. You can "like" and post on the "Girl in Motion" facebook page:!/pages/Girl-in-Motion/147548415271005

  4. Thanks for joining us, Miriam!

  5. Fascinating interview Amanda and Miriam. I was a wannabee ballerina until I reached the age of 11 when I realized I just didn't have the right body type to go any further. ( a wise decision). I consoled myself with reading all the British author Lorna Hill's books about Sadlers Wells-although I don't think she mentioned any of the real issue dancers face at all, LOL

  6. great interview. you def made me click over to amazon to check out this book. Thanks for introducing us to it!

  7. Great interview! I'm too clumsy to dance, but I so admire anyone who can. The book sounds great.

  8. Thank you for coming today, Miriam! Your life sounds fascinating.

  9. My sister-in-law is the president of the Orlando ballet, so through her involvement I've gotten to see my niece perform in quite a few shows. I bet my niece would love this book!

  10. Ellen9:49 AM

    Thanks for the interview. I'm 13 and have been dancing with the Maryland Youth Ballet for 3 years now. I'm hoping to audition for the school of the Washington Ballet this summer. I can't wait to read your book, Miriam!

  11. Maddie4:52 PM

    This book sounds really cool!