NoQS Adult Upmarket Women’s Fiction: THE DEMANDS OF GRACE

Genre: Adult Up-Market Women’s Fiction
Word Count: 90,000

My Main Character’s Most Stressful Relationship:

Gemma has a mind of her own. She fought her parents to be allowed to dance, met her lover in a pool hall, and is determined to win a solo in Nutcracker. Her strong character often brings her into conflict with Madame, the dance company director. Gemma acquiesces to Madame’s demands because dancers are trained to do as they are told, and ballet is her life. But keeping secrets and outguessing Madame eats at Gemma. As Madame praises then ignores, and spies on Gemma and her lover, pressure builds. Gemma even fears Madame may fire her because of her pregnancy. She’s trying to contain herself, but eventually Gemma will explode.


Gemma yearns for a solo in Nutcracker, leaping through music that seems to twirl red and gold ribbons. It is the next step in a career she has worked and fought for. But lately her arabesques have wobbled and her pirouettes gone awry.

The austere company director dangles the coveted solo, with a condition: Gemma must concentrate only on ballet and stop seeing her lover, Stefan. Desperate, Gemma agrees; she’ll meet him in secret.

Then she discovers she’s pregnant. Soon her tutu won’t fasten and Patrice, her friend and rival in the company, will dance in her place. Unbearable, but it’s 1972 and abortion is illegal. She searches frantically for an underground clinic.

When she finally confesses to Stefan, he wants to marry, have the baby, and move to New York. Gemma has performed in enough ballets to recognize a fairytale. Now she must choose which love to keep.

THE DEMANDS OF GRACE, 90,000 words, is literary women’s fiction, told in three voices. It’s set in Denver and Germany where I performed in my own career as a ballerina.

I studied writing at the University of Denver and the Writers Center in Maryland. Two of my short stories received awards from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts. I was the winner of a Bethesda Literary Festival Writer’s contest and recently was chosen to participate in the Jenny McKean Moore workshop at George Washington University. I also review for The Washington Independent Review of Books.

First 250 words:

As Gemma waited her turn, dancers leapt one by one like jungle cats through sunshine flickering from the high windows. The ping of the piano sent a cascade of yellow, green, orange through her vision; the muffled landing thuds increased her anxiety. She edged forward in the line, inhaling music, colors blooming in her chest. After a week of mangled dancing, the need to impress Madame Bonelli was urgent.

She was next. The melody pressed her forward in a swirl of color. Shoulders down, hands soft, feet stretched, she pushed for flight, confident, worthy of a solo, but on the last leap, her foot twisted slightly, she lost control and crashed into the wall. The accompaniment stopped, colors fell into grey, silence gripped the room.

“Well, are you injured?” Madame stood in the corner by the record player, hands on hips.

Embarrassment scrubbing her cheeks, Gemma shook her head, pinned in place by the stares of the company.

Madame clapped her hands. “Reverence, please.”

Dancers of the Rocky Mountain Ballet stepped into lines, the studio filled with lavender music, and Gemma joined in the traditional final bows, trying not to cry. That was that.

After class Gemma waved away her roommates; their hugs and words would break the shell she was pulling up between her failure and her yearning. Other company members, disinterested, maybe even scornful, picked up their bags, wrapped towels around their necks, and quit the room.

The long mirrors, which swallowed personalities and left only bodies, were slashed with sun.

Posted in Blog and tagged , .


Comments are closed.