Interview with James L. Terrian
author of Dance of the Heart
James Therrian (2007)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to be joined by James Therrian, author of “Dance of the Heart.”
James Therrian was born in Michigan and spent most of his early years in the rainy Northwest before following the sun to Maui, Santa Fe, New Mexico & California. An avid writer, James has attended workshops with Lew Hunter of the famed Screenwriting 434 class at UCLA. James currently lives and writes in San Diego and works with the University of California San Diego.
Tyler: Thank you, James, for joining me today. To begin, would you briefly tell us what your new novel, “Dance of the Heart” is about?
James: “Dance of the Heart” is a love story and a story about attractions. The main character Michael is a successful professional dancer who has a happy settled life, which suddenly changes after the death of his dance partner Margo. Her replacement Elizabeth is totally opposite from Margo, who was a nasty bitter woman. Michael is mesmerized by Elizabeth and falls head over heels for her the minute he lays eyes on her. The problem is that Michael is a gay man in a long-term relationship with his lover, David.
Tyler: James, are you a dancer yourself?
James: No I am not a dancer, but enjoy the ballet and performing arts.
Tyler: Where did you come up with the idea for “Dance of the Heart?”
James: It was an idea I came up with for a creative writing class I took years ago. I wanted to show that everyone is the same when it comes to the heart; no matter who we are or whom we love, we all have similar challenges and choices to make in life.
Tyler: Of course, the book is not just about dancing in its literal sense, but about love and how love can change. I am especially struck by the fact that the main character, Michael, is gay and has a lover, David, but then begins to fall in love with his female dance partner, Elizabeth. Do you think it is possible for a person to fall in love with people of both sexes?
James: Yes I do. Many of us have feelings for people who are inappropriate, be it the same sex, someone who is married, or someone we know the people in our lives would not accept, so usually we just keep our feelings hidden. In Michael’s case, the question isn’t whether he has feelings for Elizabeth, it is can he change who he is for love?
Tyler: In the novel, Michael doesn’t just question whom he loves, but his own sexual identity and preference. Do you think Michael truly is gay or that a person’s sexual preference can change over time?
James: For some people a sexual identity is a choice. For instance, some people live their entire lives not being who they are because they are afraid to declare themselves. Many live double lives, but that’s an entirely different conversation. Michael is gay, but attractions can make us all question what we want at times.
Tyler: One of the characters, Michael’s mother, Sally, states, “You can’t choose who you fall in love with, but you can choose what you do with it.” Would it be fair to say that is the theme of the book? Was the exploration of that statement why you wrote the book?
James: “Dance of the Heart” does explores the theme that sometimes love has surprises for us all. What we do with them is the choice we have to make. I also wanted to show that when it comes to affairs of the heart, we are all the same, no matter who we are or how we choose to define ourselves.
Tyler: How have readers so far responded to the novel and especially its themes of love and sexual identity?
James: I have had very positive feedback from the readers I have talked to. Michael is a gay man; however, “Dance of the Heart” is a story about love and attractions. One reader told me that she thought it would be a good book for her teenage daughter to read in school as a part of her diversity studies. I was pleased to hear this because I purposely wrote the story to appeal to all readers. It is a funny and wholesome story and has reminders for everyone about the lessons we have to learn in life.
“Dance of the Heart” twists a familiar genre with the fact that the main character is gay, but thinks he may be in love with a woman. I think many readers can relate to Michael’s plight as we all do silly things when we fall in love.
Tyler: James, what can we expect next from your pen?
James: My next book, which I am currently working on, is an instructional book on how to self publish a book. I have also been working on a book about what Americans will need to do to thrive in the future as well as leave a livable planet for our children.
Tyler: More and more authors, myself included, are self-publishing these days, yet self-publishing still retains a certain stigma. How would you respond to the critics of self-publishing?
James: It’s the familiar old boys club story in my opinion. There are thousands of stories out there that merit being published; however, getting a publisher to pick up your book can be challenging given the way traditional publishing works. It’s not impossible to find a publisher; however, it can feel like the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack for most authors. After comparing how traditional publishing and self-publishing worked, I decided to self publish as it allowed more control of my work. Through my self-publishing journey, I actually took the time to learn the skills to do my own typesetting, layout and cover. My next book will be much easier to publish as I now have software, knowledge and skills to truly self publish. Essentially I have become a publisher in addition to an author.
There are definite advantages to being with a large publishing house as they have marketing departments, industry connections and contacts, but I believe that the industry is changing with self-publishing becoming more prevalent. It is similar to the old Hollywood studio system and the advent of independent filmmakers and the affects it has had on the movie business. Self-publishing is very similar to the independent film industry. There are many excellent self-published books out there and I think in the future many authors will choose to self-publish.
Tyler: Do you think self-publishing will continue to be the trend and ultimately be dominant in the market over the books of traditional publishing houses?
James: I am amazed with how many people have approached me telling me they have story they always wanted to publish. I encourage them to go for it as it can happen if they have the commitment to see it through. Personally it has been an extremely satisfying life accomplishment for me to publish “Dance of the Heart” and the fact that it is being well received is even more rewarding.
I do see self-publishing continuing to gain market share. The biggest challenge for self-published authors is of course promotion. This is the advantage of being with a traditional publishing house. They have the resources to get the word out. Most authors are simply writers and have no idea how to promote their book. I recommend finding a professional to help get the word out, because you could have the best story ever written, but if people don’t know about it, they won’t have the opportunity to read your work. This is a good investment, as not only could you sell some books, you may eventually find a traditional publisher who is interested in picking up your book.
Tyler: You also mentioned you are writing a non-fiction book about how Americans can thrive and yet leave behind a livable planet. Could you tell us a little bit about your past writing? Have you written both fiction and non-fiction, and what do you see as the special difficulties or advantages of writing each kind of prose?
James: I enjoy all kinds of writing and am not afraid to jump into a new genre. I have written both fiction and non-fiction pieces in addition to doing travel writing while in Hawaii. My first audience was a group of coworkers at a bank I worked for years ago. Everyday, I filled in for the receptionist while she went to lunch. During that hour, I wrote installments to a suspense thriller, set on the Oregon coast. I shared my story with the other assistants on the floor who eagerly awaited my new chapters. Years later, I moved to Hawaii and sent a series of stories of my adventures to my friends on the mainland, which I called “Memos from Maui.” Living on Hawaii is kind of like living in a foreign country and I had fun sharing my observations of life on a tropical island. “Memos from Maui” was well received and I knew then that I was hooked; I had to do something with my writing. Both fiction and non-fiction have their own advantages and challenges, but non-fiction commentaries I find are easy to write. Fiction takes more thought and imagination, but where you go with it is totally up to you. Having said that, I think a good writer isn’t afraid to take on a new challenge. I also write poetry which I have had published as well.
Recently I was involved in a playwriting workshop, which was a great learning experience. Part of the workshop involved writing a 10-minute play to be directed and acted by professionals on stage. I took three chapters from “Dance of the Heart” and was able to see a part of my story acted out on the stage. It was an insightful process and I grew as a writer from the experience.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, James. Before we go, can you tell our readers where they can find out more about “Dance of the Heart” and where they can purchase copies?
James: “Dance of the Heart” can be purchased on-line by visiting http://www.danceoftheheart.net. It can also be ordered through any bookstore from Borders to your local bookstore. Thank you, Tyler.