Several months ago, after finishing a dance romance that was disappointingly light on dance details, I went on Twitter and asked for recommendations for dance romances that are especially satisfying with dance details. Several people recommended Pas De Deux by Lynn Turner, specifically for the abundance of dance details and description, and the chemistry between the MCs. I devoured it immediately, and fell hard for both the MCs, and for this lovely angst–filled m/f contemporary romance that really forefronts dance in the story. It centers a classically trained ballerina and the writer and choreographer of a musical, who do have intense and glorious chemistry that make for a wonderful slow burn. I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Lynn about this book, which is one of the best dance romances I’ve ever read.
A Bit About Lynn
Lynn Turner is dedicated to writing inclusive stories that explore what it means to be imperfectly human. She is convinced she would have made a great Gilmore Girl, that writing about herself in third-person is weird, and that Colin Firth is the best Mr. Darcy (don’t fight her on this). When she isn’t writing and adulting, she’s tackling her monstrous TBR list, TV-binging, traveling, or watching old Samantha Brown travelogue videos and wishing she had her job. She and her husband share their home in California with their two extraordinary children and their sometimes cat, Bowie.
An Interview with Lynn
How would you describe yourself to a new reader just discovering your work?
I think I’m revolutionary, but that’s just my honest, completely subjective opinion, lol. I try and take care to stick to time-honored Romancelandia traditions like making sure there’s plenty of chemistry, The Sex, believable conflict and, most importantly, a happy ending. After that, I basically write what makes me happy, damn the rules. I believe in my readerly soul that, if it resonates with me, then there’s an audience for it. I have a special place in my heart for IR/multicultural stories because that’s the love I grew up seeing, and my family is a lovely mixed bag of cultures. One thing that will be consistent in my work is that the cast of characters will look like real life: they’ll be of differing races, abilities, orientations and body types, cultures, religions and backgrounds. The story I’m working on now featured a biracial (Filipina/black) heroine and a white British hero. The next one will feature an American heroine of Chinese descent, and the next one will feature a black American heroine and a Ghanaian immigrant hero. I think my work is revolutionary for the same reason I adore that version of Cinderella with Brandy, Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Paolo Montalban in it. We’ve seen Cinderella sooo many times, so what’s so special about it? Well, in that version, a black woman is the most desired woman in an entire kingdom when in real life she’s the lowest on the Eurocentric beauty standards totem pole. An Asian man is Prince Charming when in real life Asian men in American media are often emasculated and portrayed as unsexy. To me, that’s freaking revolutionary. As you can see, I’m allll about intersectionality. **steps off soap box** **groans** I swear I’m not like this at parties! (Just Thanksgiving)
What authors or books have you been reading lately that you would highly recommend?
Oh gosh, I am sooo sleeping on my TBR list right now, it’s not even funny! But I really enjoyed Burn for You by J.T. Geissinger recently. It’s an IR romance set in New Orleans and enemies-to-lovers porn! I adore literally everything Kennedy Ryan, Penny Reid, Lucy Parker and Danielle Allen write. They’re who I’d pick to be my squad if I could reincarnate myself as Beyonce doing Lemonade. (Is that too random? **face palms**)
What sparked Pas de Deux for you? What made you want to write this particular story?
I saw Misty Copeland’s documentary, A Ballerina’s Tale, on Netflix in 2016. I’d known who she was far before that, but she’s just so…so—so beautiful, so talented, so eloquent and humble and freaking sexy—that she almost seemed unreal. On top of that, I don’t have any dance experience, so I felt quite intimidated by the subject matter, and afraid of how readers with knowledge of that world would react if I got it wrong. But when I watched that documentary, I saw the sheer scope of what Misty overcame to make it, and I had to write a black ballerina. For context, as a black ballerina, there are already challenges enough inherent in the world you’re trying to exist in. It’s overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly waif-like, with even your feet needing to look a certain way—a certain shape, width, length—before you ever rise en pointe for the first time. If a girl’s got better ankles than you, hang it up, sister. It’s a very homologous world, so your very existence singles you out. The pressure to be exceptional is there for every ballerina, but it’s magnified when you’re “other.” Misty had that to contend with, but also poverty, lack of access, and people who seemed eager for her to fail. I wanted to write a story with a heroine as resilient as Misty, who had to overcome such intense beauty standards, as well as personal life challenges, but ended up stronger for it. On a lighter note, The Cutting Edge is one of my favorite movies of all time and the sparring/ sexual chemistry between those characters is everything. I wanted to balance the more poignant/ serious themes with some great chemistry and comedic moments.
I really appreciated Mina’s relationships with her friends in Pas de Deux, and how important they were for her, how they were like her family in a lot of ways. One of the things I love about the romance genre is how often friendships are really valued. What are some of your favorite friendships in romance novels?
Thank you! Those characters were so much fun to write, a nice reprieve from Zack and Mina’s heavy story arcs. I love that about the romance genre, too! Sometimes friends are family, and often the villain is someone you know/ share DNA with. As with many elements in romance, I appreciate that nuance. I think my favorite friendship in my recent reading adventures is between Trix and Lily in Lucy Parker’s Pretty Face and Making Up from her London Celebrities series. Their backgrounds are incredibly different, but their support for and protectiveness of each other is satisfying (and hilarious) to read.
Dance romances are one of my most favorite things in the world, and I really enjoyed how central dance was to this novel, all the details and descriptions you include. It was such a satisfying book on that level. Tell me about preparing to tell a dance story like this. What kind of research did you do? What did you draw from when writing about choreography and dancing?
Gah, thank you! And—oh, I’m obsessed now. (I highly recommend Katherine Locke’s District Ballet Company series, by the way.) I’m not gonna lie, it was hard. In addition to having zero dance experience myself, I needed to know on an intimate level what challenges a ballerina like Mina (classically trained by French standards) would experience trying to learn and perfect modern/contemporary ballet, which has bigger movement requiring more athleticism and freedom of motion, and most importantly I think, the ability to get out of your own head and force that body to do things your very being is saying it cannot do. Also, the French invented ballet, so I was feeling some serious pressure, lol!
I dove into every documentary I could find, made a ballet terminology book my Bible (gifted to me by my lovely ballerina/choreographer beta reader, Mel), and watched countless hours of ballet on YouTube. I joined forums to read discussions between real ballerinas and learn about their aches and pains, and how they adapted to new art forms. I bought old editions of Pointe Magazine on eBay and devoured them. In the process, I discovered sooo many amazing ballerinas of color, whose stories contributed in part to Mina’s. I learned a ton and developed such a respect for people who dedicate their lives to a sport that takes such a toll on their bodies and social lives but doesn’t pay anywhere near as much as others.
I really appreciated the representation of grief in the story, how central it was for Mina, and the way it was allowed to be complex and huge for her. Can you tell me about writing her grief arc?
You’re going to get tired of me thanking you but thank you so much! In many ways, this is a dark story. Both Mina and Zack experience grief in their own ways, and grapple with insecurities that make it difficult for them to open themselves up too deeply. I felt a particular responsibility to represent Mina in this way, because quite often we don’t get to see the black woman grieve. She’s too strong. She’s the sassy sidekick with witty one-liners for every situation. She’s the angry woman exacting revenge, not the one who cries, or is vulnerable for too long, or who occasionally has fits of temper when she can’t communicate in healthy ways because she’s hurting. I love what’s happening in Romancelandia of late, these important discussions we’re having about inclusivity and intersectionality. Because stories like this need to be told. We need to see vulnerable black women and Crazy Rich Asians! To answer your actual question (lol), I discovered about ¼ of the way into the story that Mina would tell me what she needed. Overthinking it exhausted me, or blocked me, so I’d just dive into a scene and see what my feisty pint-sized Mina needed to say. Sometimes it’s difficult to read, and she annoys the hell out of you and breaks your heart, but sometimes she makes you laugh, makes you relate to her. Makers you love her. 😉
Mina is an amazing heroine in so many ways, and I loved seeing her anger, her prickliness, along with her vulnerability. She is such a complex character, and so is Zack, they both have so much armor and end up being so vulnerable with each other. How do you build this kind of complex characterization?
Staaahhhp! Thaaannnk yooouuu, Corey! I’m in love with them, to the point where they’re still in my head, so I’m writing a Christmas short for them. 😊 I think it’s similar to my previous answer…I let them speak to me. Sometimes I can hear them in my head, or I’ll dream about them (yes, I think I’m a little touched, lol). Long before I start writing a story, I’ll just listen and take notes. I learn little bits about them here and there, and they start to take form in my mind. By the time I write the first line, they feel like people I know and love, so I kind of instinctively know how they’d respond in certain situations, and why they’d respond that way. What decisions they’d make, mistakes they’d make, the path of growth/ redemption they need to take and how they’d possibly try to avoid it. I’ve tried to be really writerly and build character profiles and such, but I’m accepting the fact I’m super weird and Pinterest is as close as I’m going to get to being organized!
Can you tell me about writing a trauma survivor hero, and how you navigate the complexities and challenges of that?
It’s hard. It’s one of those things you can’t avoid when writing this kind of hero or heroine. There’s just so much to unpack, and no two trauma survivors are alike. Where one survivor might act out, another might turn inward. Where one might harm others in similar ways, another might become an advocate. I’m sure there are infinite combinations of behaviors and coping mechanisms and every one of them is valid. For Zack, I knew his path would be to throw himself into his art, and to make that art accessible to others. His hurt is three-fold: abandonment, being passed around from one foster home to the next, and abuse by one of those foster parents. For my part, I did a lot of research (reading, asking questions in forums, talking to another author about her approach to a similar character), and tried to follow my heart and listen to Zack whenever I wrote one of those scenes. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s true to the characters and I’m really happy with the way it turned out.
This romance has a lovely slow burn, it’s really delicious the way their attraction for each other unfolds, how long you make the reader wait. What made you decide to make this romance a slow burn? How do you build pacing like this?
Hahaha, thank you! You know what? I love it when other authors give me blue balls waiting for those precious idiots to even kiss, let alone do The Sex, and then when it finally happens I need to take up cannabis. Lol! I especially love how hot the chemistry is in enemies-to-lovers stories where the characters are fighting their attraction with everything in them and it’s like they can’t help themselves. They’re crawling from their sexy ass skin by the time their lips meet and it’s everything. I wanted to draw out that tension as long as I could, but in a believable way. I didn’t want their first physical milestone to feel like they were just scratching an itch, so I tried very hard to build a strange sort of friendship between them—a real connection after that spark in their first encounter—a recognition? Like, no we’re not best friends but we get each other. We’re more alike than we think. Our differences can be good! And then they do The Sex. 😉
I love that they establish a safeword when Zack takes her to visit his family. There is so much unfolding in that visit, and it feels like such a big thing that he takes her. The safeword for a social situation like that is such a great idea; can you tell me what sparked it for you?
PINEAPPLE! Oh my gosh, so much! Zack’s family wore me out, much like my real family does, and someone like Mina would be in way over her head. By the time he takes her to his family home, he understands her psyche in a way. He gets that she’s an introvert who extroverts, and his very extra family, though well-meaning and obviously affectionate, might make her a little uncomfortable. It’s his protective instinct, and also the fact he’s been the one in need of protecting in the past, taking over and offering her an out. I love how that scene turned out.
Your heroine is a Black ballerina in a dance world that is very white. I really appreciate the way the story engages with what that means to her, and what she means to young girls of color. Can you talk a bit about writing this aspect of the story?
She is! So much of who Mina is, is a direct result of her “otherness.” While I didn’t want to harp on this too much (which is a relative sentiment, I know), I knew I’d do her a great injustice by ignoring it or glossing over it. It’s just a fact: she’s black, she stands out whether she wants to or not. It’s an honor and a challenge. She’s exceptional already but feels pressure to be more exceptional than her peers to counteract something she cannot control and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with. It’s such a mind fuck, don’t you think? To be sort of subliminally told that your skin color is out of the norm—or your body type, or whatever. So many people from underrepresented groups have felt this pressure: that in order to achieve greatness, they have to perform better than their better-represented peers. This isn’t a tragedy though, and to get to that happy ending, I needed to show her struggles and her resilience. In showing Mina that young dancers looked up to her, I gave her more confidence and motivation to keep striving for a dream she felt was unattainable.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
More books, I hope! I’m working on my third novel, my first romantic comedy! It features an alpha heroine who is a WOC airline captain, and a hunky teddy bear of a British beta hero. Their somewhat disastrous meet cute leads to love. 😉 My fourth and fifth books are also taking shape nicely (Pinterest should pay me), so I’m well on my way to my lifetime goal of ten! (It’s not lofty but it’s mine.)
Thanks so much for having me! This is one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done. Hopefully I wasn’t too long-winded, lol! 😊
More About Pas de Deux: A Dance for Two
(Content warning: both the trailer and the book description refer to the hero’s trauma history using the phrase “damaged soul”.)
Here is the video trailer:
Here is the book description:
It’s said the artist is born of a damaged soul…
Wilhelmina Allende is a prima ballerina. When tragedy turns her beloved Paris into a gilded cage, she jumps at the chance to work with one of the most prolific choreographers she’s ever seen. But Zack’s style is way out of her comfort zone. So is his teaching method. And his humor. And his everything. He’s a charming little connard. It’s hard not to like him. Merde. What has she gotten herself into?
Zachary Coen’s first musical is opening on Broadway. Much like his life, it’s anything but conventional, so hiring Mina is simply out of the question. She’s too…classical. Too perfect. She’s all wrong for the role. Then he meets her in person and sees her cracks. Her broken pieces. How unique and beautiful each one is. And he can’t help but notice how her edges seem to fit his…perfectly.
Just when teaming up seems to be working, the monsters they’ve kept hidden threaten to rip it all apart.
**Content warning: The hero is a child molestation survivor and hyper focuses on what he eats as a coping mechanism. He is triggered in a scene toward the end. (While it does not get explicit, it may be triggering to some readers.)**
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