Thursday, January 17, 2013

Author Colby Marshall

Colby Marshall does more than just sit at her computer and write thrillers all day. At night, she's a ballroom dancer and choreographer. She's a contributing columnist for a local magazine and a proud member of International Thriller Writers as well as Sisters in Crime. And in her spare time, she's active in local theatres as an actress and choreographer.

Today, Colby Marshall, author of Chain of Command, is here doing a countdown, comparing ball room dancing to writing.

Welcome Colby Marshall.

Hello, hello, Hellions!  (I don’t know if that’s P.C., but considering where we are, it seemed appropriate.)  I’m travelling over from my normal home at Sugar and Spice and Bodies on Ice for my blog tour for the release of my debut thriller, Chain of Command, about a reporter who discovers that the simultaneous assassinations of the president and vice president of the U.S. may be a plot to rocket the Speaker of the House—a woman—into the presidency.

Now, you might be wondering if I write about assassinations in my downtime (and publish them just before a presidential inauguration) what my background is.  Am I military?  Cop?  An angry anarchist hell-bent on world-domination and/or the overtaking of the Hostess corporation so that Twinkies cannot fall?  Well, as much as I’d like to say I’m going to be saving those classic chocolate cupcakes, I’m not quite any of those.  I’m a competitive ballroom dancer/dance teacher/choreographer.

And some of you might be thinking, “What the hell does a ballroom dancer know about writing a book, particularly a thriller?  Isn’t her knowledge of action and adventure limited to girls and guys trying to learn to rumba without getting their toes squashed?
You might be surprised, but ballroom dancing and publishing aren’t so different.  In fact, I’m prepared to present to you the Top Ten Ways Writing and Publishing are Similar to Ballroom Dancing:

10.)  They are the only two places on earth where your husband can be in the room watching what you’re doing with another man and make the comment, “I don’t think the two of you are close enough.”  As with a good dance partner, a writer should develop a good working relationship with his or her agent and/or editor.

9.)  When you dance ballroom, you hold each other in a dance hold called “frame.”  This ensures you’re close enough while making certain you maintain your own separate dance space. (Remember the famous line from Dirty Dancing: “This is my dance space, that’s your dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t come into mine.  You gotta hold the frame!”?)  A writer and an editor have to hold this frame- work together, but each has their own space the other doesn’t cross into.  This way, no one gets run over.

8.)  Dressing for competition is like releasing your book cover: maybe you won’t be judged by your looks, but the truth is, you might be.  You’d better be for darned sure you’re ready in case you are.

 7.)  At dance competitions, they tell you to “dance big.”  That way, if a couple is coming near your space, you stand your ground.  Dance big, and keep your space.  It’s similar in writing.  Go big or go home.  Write outside the box and dare someone to oppose you.  Chances are that staying within the conventions will keep you nice and polite and never heard of.  Take a few risks with your writing, however, and maybe you’ll just pull out that different move people will notice. (Also be prepared to pull out ten wrong moves first and to be that dork dancing in the corner for a while before you discover that big dance that catches on!)
6.)  In ballroom dancing, you should only throw dangerous tricks with a trusted partner you know well, lest you get dropped on your head and never dance again.  The publishing game is similar in that in collaboration, developing relationships with trust in the professionalism of your colleagues is vital to your success.  Everyone on the team has to pull in the same direction, just like when you do a lift with a partner, it’s best for you both to know which end is going into the air before you’re halfway upside down.
5.)  Both dance and writing work to captivate audiences.  In dance, the story is told through movements and chemistry between the partners using everything from facial expressions to the way in which their hands meet between their bodies.  In writing, storytelling is more literal, but the writer’s aim remains to hold the audience’s interest by conveying characters’ motivations, fears, and adventures. 

 4.) Few people like diagramming sentences in school, but like all other technique, it helps kids learn the way sentences are structured.  In the same way, no one likes learning technique in ballroom dance or in writing.  In ballroom, everyone sees images of couples whisking around the dance floor in a graceful waltz, but they hate it when I tell them that they shouldn’t expect to look like Fred and Ginger after lesson one.  There are fundamentals you must learn before you can look like a professional, because that technique is what separates the pros from the average Joes.  The frame we talked about earlier?  It isn’t just to look pretty.  It has a function.  Similarly, no one likes to focus on technique in writing.  Every writer would love to vomit words onto a page and be told their verbal vomit is the Golden Great American Novel, but nearly no one writes a perfect first draft.  Sometimes, you don’t write a perfect eighteenth draft.  The truth in dance and writing alike is that if you hone your craft, your practiced refinement will show through.  Polish beats trying to mimic perfection on try one any day.

3.)  You can write on any computer or dance on any floor, but you’ll always do better on the one you’re used to.

2.)  In dance, every piece’s styling comes from the genre of the dance and the mood of its conventions.  In some dances, like waltz, stepping from heel to toe is essential.  In Latin dances, putting your heel down is to be avoided at all costs.  Books have those same boundaries in ways.  Your genre and the mood of your story will help to dictate your decisions on word choices and pacing.  If your character is running from a knife-wielding villain in a thriller, stopping for a soul-searching inner monologue about fear may not be the best choice.  In a quieter story, however, a character hiding from someone he or she fears might be a great time to explore the character’s feelings.

 1.)  In most ballroom dance, the man leads and the woman follows.  While I don’t necessarily subscribe to this particular thinking in every aspect of day to day life, the general concept applies in relationships between writers and their audiences.  The writer leads the readers in the direction of the story.  A writer has a huge responsibility as a lead.  In the same way a female partner trusts her lead not to run her into a wall, your readers trust you not to drop them or steer them wrong.  They turn pages blindly with the faith that you will, in the end, tie the story together for them and not disappoint.

How is writing or reading like your day job?

After you answer her question, check out CHAIN OF COMMAND:

CHAIN OF COMMAND is currently available
Also available on Kobo, iBooks, Sony, and other major e-readers.

Check out the officialbook trailer for CHAIN OF COMMAND


  1. excellent post. The comparison to her dance competition is superb. Very interesting and the book sounds great.

    1. I thought so, too, Joanne. It makes you see things in a different way.

    2. Thanks, Joanne! I feel very lucky to have multiple creative outlets. :)

  2. Writers come from every walk of life.

    I'm a professional speaker, so leading readers is like leading an audience.

    1. L. Diane- I would imagine there are quite a few parallels for you as a speaker. What a great career for a writer, by the way. I bet that comes in handy for q&a's!

    2. Interesting analogy, Diane.

  3. I love this comparison! As a former (ballet) dancer, I completely relate with your points and yet never thought about applying them to writers/readers. You've given a few things to think about.

    1. I didn't know you were a ballet dancer, Laura!

    2. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Laura! I took ballet as a kid before I branched off into ballroom. I have lots of respect for ballet dancers- I had to stop because I couldn't handle how much it tore up my feet! I'm sure there's a good writing comparison there somewhere...

  4. Not professional! Fifteen years of lessons before they told me I was too tall (5'10") to ever make it. :)


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