A huge Las Musas happy book birthday to Vanessa L. Torres on the release of her debut Young Adult novel, The Turning Pointe! Hilda Eunice Burgos interviews Vanessa L. Torres, but first, here is a little bit about this wonderful book, which Kirkus Reviews called “A powerful story of overcoming expectations with a hopeful ending.”
A bold and emotionally gripping novel about a teenage Latinx girl finding freedom through dance and breaking expectations in 1980s Minnesota.
When sixteen-year-old Rosa Dominguez pirouettes, she is poetry in pointe shoes. And as the daughter of a tyrant ballet Master, Rosa seems destined to become the star principal dancer of her studio. But Rosa would do anything for one hour in the dance studio upstairs where Prince, the Purple One himself, is in the house.
After her father announces their upcoming auditions for a concert with Prince, Rosa is more determined than ever to succeed. Then Nikki--the cross-dressing, funky boy who works in the dance shop--leaps into her life. Weighed down by family expectations, Rosa is at a crossroads, desperate to escape so she can show everyone what she can do when freed of her pointe shoes. Now is her chance to break away from a life in tulle, grooving to that unmistakable Minneapolis sound reverberating through every bone in her body.
Hilda Eunice Burgos: Congratulations on the release of your beautiful debut book! Could you tell us what inspired you to write this story?
Vanessa L. Torres: I could easily say, my love for Prince and his music. And yes, that would be totally true. I’ve been “Prince-obsessed” like my main character, Rosa, since I was twelve years old. After Prince died, I couldn’t stop thinking about my time as a dancer at The Minnesota Dance Theatre. It was 1983, and word traveled fast around the studio that Prince was taking dance classes under our roof.
I found every opportunity I could to sneak upstairs and watch him perfect his pirouettes. So, yeah, those memories were the initial spark for the book. I grew up in Minneapolis, as one of the few inner-city kids dancing on financial assistance for MDT’s Children’s Performing Arts Division. I came of age in downtown Minneapolis. I hung out in places I probably shouldn’t have been hanging out in. So many of those places, people, and experiences made it into the book. But moreover, as I wrote, the story also became about my own identity, and how growing up, I never felt like I fit in any one space. I am from a wonderful, close, Mexican American family—one that did not pass down speaking Spanish to the younger generations. For my grandparents, it was about assimilation and being protective of their children, knowing the obstacles being mixed race often brings.
I never really feel I belong anywhere, one hundred percent of the time. I could not have written Rosa’s story about her finding forgiveness and self-love, without including my own struggles.
Hilda: Yes, I agree that our best stories come out when we dig deep into ourselves. And when we really know what we’re talking about, as you obviously did when you wrote the ballet studio scenes in your book. Are you a trained ballerina?
Vanessa: Yes! As I mentioned above, I am a former dancer. And my sister is a retired professional ballet dancer. I leaned on her a lot for the dance scenes because I don’t take class nearly as often as I used to.
And I also loved streaming classes from professional ballet companies while I was writing TTP. A lot of companies go live with their classes, and anyone can observe, or follow along. Sometimes, I’d have a tab open to stream The Royal Ballet and play it behind my working document. Just the sounds of the ballet class pulled me in and were super helpful while writing the complex ballet scenes.
Hilda: That’s a great idea! We can find a lot on the internet to inspire us and to help with research as well. I love how you bring back the 1980s in this book. Why was it important to set the story in the 1980s and not in the present? What was it like to write about a real place during a time in the (not too distant) past? Do you have a really good memory or did you have to do some research?
Vanessa: I love this question! Several years ago, when I was new to writing novels, I attended a writer’s conference. There was a session about finding your voice. And something the presenter said has stuck with me until this day.
She said, write the story only you could write. Your experiences are unique. There isn’t another person on this earth who can tell your story the way you do. Once you tap into that, you’ve found your voice, and your book.
Once I discovered this within myself, I had my muse for The Turning Pointe. Aside from the fact that my book centers around a real event in music history, the Prince concert at a club called First Avenue, where he first played songs from his iconic album, Purple Rain, I also wrote about the 80s because they were totally rad! And yes, I did have to do some research. It was important to me to get the details right. I wanted the inner-city neighborhood in the book to become a character. All of the shops, bars and clubs in the scenes were real establishments at one time.
So much has changed since then. But there are some things that haven’t changed at all. I really wanted this to resonate with my young readers.
Hilda: Yes, the neighborhood definitely felt like an integral part of the book, and so did Prince. Why was it important for you to include him in this story?
Vanessa: It was impossible to grow up in Minnesota and not know who Prince was. I can’t think about my childhood without him being part of my memories. I wanted to capture what it feels like when you hear that perfect song–the one that makes you roll down your car windows and belt it out until you forget about everything else going on around you. Coming of age, Prince was that for me. He still is.
Hilda: I absolutely get that! His songs are true classics. I noticed that you used your knowledge as a firefighter/paramedic to write some compellingly realistic scenes in the book. In what other ways did your personal experiences help you create this story?
Vanessa: Thank you! Well, I was an avid bus rider. And in my book, so is my main character, Rosa. Sometimes, her bus rides were her only refuge. It’s funny, but I didn’t realize how much using public transportation as a kid would come back to give me such awesome material. My mother didn’t drive and my father worked nights, so I started taking the bus alone at an early age. I’d come home from school, grab my dance bag, shove some food in my face and hop on the bus to go downtown. I think I was eleven when this became the norm. I had two younger sisters and my mother worked, so it was my only option. I knew all the drivers and most of the regular riders. They all looked out for me and sometimes, even brought me little treats and crafts. It was tough during the Minnesota winters, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Hilda: That sounds like a nice memory! I grew up in New York City and my parents didn’t own a car, so I can definitely relate to this. As a debut author, is there anything you learned during your publication journey that surprised you? Is there one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring writer?
Vanessa: I am continually blown away by the support from my fellow authors. Writers who don’t even know me personally are cheering me on, and this is so wild! Sometimes it really feels like a found family. When you’re in the query trenches, things can get lonely and frustrating. It can feel as though everyone around you is receiving good news, and it’ll never happen for you. I can’t stress enough how important it is to find your people. Join a critique group. Attend a conference. This is how I connected with my invaluable critique partners. We lift each other up when the going gets tough. Yes, you are the one writing your book, but you don’t have to go through the rest alone.
Hilda: Great advice. I so enjoyed The Turning Pointe and I can’t wait to read more books by you! Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
Vanessa: I have about a thousand potential projects crammed inside my brain. It’s a shame there are only so many hours in the day! Right now, I am working on another young adult book for Knopf, my publisher. I am very excited about it. I can’t say too much, but I will give a hint that it is inspired by my other career, a firefighter/paramedic. It has been quite emotional to draft, but also so much fun!
And when I have moments away from novel writing, I write picture books. I love the challenge of telling a complete story in so few words. Maybe someday, I’ll see my name on a jacket for something like that.
Hilda: I’m sure you will, and I look forward to reading those picture books! Thank you for speaking with me today, Vanessa, and congratulations on your book debut!
Purchase The Turning Pointe today!
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