Debut middle grade author Colette Sewall guest blogs today about the inspiration behind her book, Kiki MacAdaoo & the Graveyard Ballerinas, which is out this week.
The Inspiration for My Debut Middle-Grade Novel
by Colette Sewall
Before I wrote my novel, Kiki MacAdoo and the Graveyard Ballerinas, I was a dance teacher and studio owner. I cherished every minute of it—well, almost every minute. I’d like to forget the time when hundreds of wasps built a nest in the dance studio’s ceiling and picked costume picture day to emerge, causing all the students to run out screaming. I also wasn’t too thrilled when one teacher got carried away and sprayed so much fog onstage during a recital, it set off the fire alarms, forcing a thousand people in the audience to evacuate during the middle of the dance.
But as with everything, lives change, and when the time came for me to hang up my dance shoes and retire, I knew I would miss it, but I looked forward to returning to my art easel and stories. (Along with dance, I’ve always loved painting and writing.)
The first manuscript I wrote was a woman’s suspense. I sent it out to a bunch of agents, but nothing came of it. When I started to work on my next one, I decided to write a middle-grade story about dance. At first, I had no specific idea in mind, but as I thought more about it, memories from my childhood surfaced.
When I was young, my mother used to tell me the haunting story of the ghost sylphs in the ballet, Giselle. They were the heartbroken spirits of young dancers left at the altar. Consumed with vengeance, they would rise from their graves every night at the stroke of midnight in their wedding gowns and dance until dawn.
My mother was a classical pianist, and some nights as a special treat she would play the music from the ballet and let me stay up late. I would lower the lights and tiptoe through the living room, pretending I was lost deep in the forest. When my mother would count out the chimes of midnight for the ghost ballerinas to rise, I always shrieked—even though I loved every minute of it.
That ballet always held a special place in my heart, and I thought a retelling of it would make a perfect children’s fantasy. But when I started working on it, my mother was unaware of what I was doing. Her Alzheimer’s had taken a turn for the worse, and a few months later, she died.
When I went to her house, which was out of state, I only had a short time to get it ready and find a few items to save as keepsakes. I randomly pulled out two books of sheet music without looking at the titles (from the hundreds she had in cabinets). When I read their titles, a chill ran through me. One was the original music from Giselle that she played when I was young.
I like to believe that was a sign—that somehow, my mother knew what I was working on. I also hope that other young children will enjoy my story about a young ballerina and her older sister as much as I enjoyed writing it.
When eleven-year-old Kiki MacAdoo and her talented older sister go to Mount Faylinn Dance Conservatory for the summer, they ignore the brochure’s mysterious warning that “ballets come alive” in the nearby forest.
But after her sister disappears, it’s up to Kiki to brave the woods and save her sister from the ghost sylphs that dance young girls to their deaths. As Kiki unlocks the mysteries of Mount Faylinn, the ballet of the ghost sylphs, Giselle, simultaneously unfolds.