Interview: Dorian Cirrone
Current Mood: energetic
Current Song: To the Beat of Our Noisy Hearts by Matt Nathanson
Dorian Cirrone has a knack for writing thoughtful, compassionate stories that will encourage teen readers to respect themselves and others. Her protagonists dare to dream, even if they stumble through their paces or fumble around their peers. In Cirrone's new novel Prom Kings and Drama Queens, high school student Emily wants to take the world by storm not by getting a crown or winning a popularity contest, but by being herself. In her previous YA release, teen ballerina Kayla is warned that Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You. She is also told that her developing body will hurt her career, but she finds the support to hold her head up high and keep dancing.
Reading Dorian's books make me want to tour jeté around the room, then do the hula. Admittedly, it doesn't take much (or any) prompting to make me dance at any given time, but these particular movements would be in honor of Emily, Kayla, and Dorian - three ladies who dance to the beat of their hearts.
First, something easy - Readers have seen your name, but how should they say it? Which syllables are accented?
I answer to anything close, but the real pronunciation is: DOOR-ee-in sir-OWN-ee. People tend to drop the "ee" at the end of my last name.
How can shy folks like Emily summon up the courage to rock out?
Wow, that's a good question. I was very shy as a kid and I think being forced into situations where I felt uncomfortable helped. As a junior in high school, I started teaching a few dance classes to little ones at the studio where I studied. In the beginning, I was just awful – talking too softly, not exuding enough authority. But after I was forced to do it week after week, I soon rose to the occasion. The next year I was given more classes, and was soon teaching students twice my age. I think it's essential to force yourself out of your comfort zone in order to summon the courage to excel at anything. I still have to do that.
Having lived in south Florida for most of my life I was already familiar with the big hurricanes from years back – Betsy, Camille, Andrew, etc. I hadn't really remembered a Hurricane Emily so I googled and found out that there had been a Hurricane Emily in south Florida and that the timing was perfect. If there hadn't been, I might have changed Emily's name.
At one point in the story, John Mayer's song No Such Thing comes into play. Did the song inspired the book, or did you hear it while already writing about Emily? (In other words, a happy accident?)
The very first version of this novel was written a long time ago and always had the theme of nonconformity. I was working on a later version of the novel when the John Mayer song came out and I really loved the lyrics about how in high school they tell you to "stay inside the lines." I intended to print some of the lyrics at the beginning of the book, but couldn't get a response when I asked for permission from the John Mayer camp. I consciously put a few metaphors in the text about staying inside lines – the whole basketball thing is one of them. But I didn't think of using the five words from the song as my title until the final revision. I'd been toying with something like Outside the Lines, but then it suddenly hit me that I was overlooking the obvious.
You are a dancer, and your love for the art form is evident in your novel Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You. When did the character of Kayla first dance across your mind?
A long time ago. Back in the seventies I had a ballerina friend who had breast reduction surgery and I thought it was a really interesting story. Mostly because back then plastic surgery wasn't that prevalent. It took me a long time to figure out how to turn the anecdote into an actual novel. I didn't want to promote plastic surgery as a cure-all, but I also didn't want to condemn it. That's why Kayla decides at the end to wait until she's sure that it's her decision and no else's.
How can we help ourselves and others celebrate healthy body images? Healthy weights?
That's a tough question, and one I struggle with myself. I think the most important thing to think about is what actually is healthy for a certain individual. If you eat healthful foods, get exercise, and can perform the way you want to, i.e., not shying away from certain activities that your friends are involved in because you aren't in shape, then you should be happy with your body. It's all about health and performance, not looks. Although, that's easier said than done when we're bombarded with impossibly thin and airbrushed images in the media.
What are your favorite ballets or musicals?
I'm a huge fan of WICKED. I also loved JERSEY BOYS, HAIRSPRAY, and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. And, of course, A CHORUS LINE, which I've seen six times.
In addition to your novels for teens and your journalistic and educational endeavors, you've written short stories, picture books, and early chapter books. Which medium or audience do you consider the most challenging?
Picture books are definitely the most challenging. They look easy, but it's difficult to come up with something that excites publishers, parents, and children. The writing also has to be both compressed and lyrical – like poetry. There's just so much to consider.
What are ten of your favorite books?
I tend to think of my favorite books as books that ignited some sort of fire in me, books that made me either think in a new way or write in a new way. The books I read in grad school that taught me to think a certain way are still my favorites: Faulkner's ABSALOM, ABSALOM! and THE SOUND AND THE FURY; Eliot's MIDDLEMARCH, Dickens's OUR MUTUAL FRIEND, Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY, Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Atwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE. In children's and young adult books Anderson's SPEAK was a revelation to me. And I continue to be inspired by Cooney's MISS RUMPHIUS and Leonni's FREDERICK.
Thank you again for chatting with me!