Sometimes you pick up a book intending to read just a couple of pages, but before you know it you're 200 pages in and haven't taken a break. That's what happened to me when I first took a look at Ann Weisgarber's The Promise, out in paperback just last week.
Set in 1900 in the months leading up to the devastating Galveston hurricane, this is a story of two women who are linked through their very different relationships to a widower and his young son.
Catherine, a pianist from Ohio, flees her home town under the taint of a scandal, accepting the marriage proposal of a childhood admirer. Although they haven't seen each other in a dozen years, Oscar, now a dairy farmer in Texas, has not forgotten Catherine's refined ways, and hopes not only for love but also for a proper mother for his boy. Nan, a Galveston native, is Oscar's housekeeper, but she was also a close friend of his first wife and is a second mother to his son.
Told from both Catherine's and Nan's points of view, The Promise explores second chances, hope, friendship, parenthood, and marriage. Weisgarber's flowing prose draws you in, and her characterizations and period details keep you invested. Just as the two women begin to find their place in Oscar's world, the storm hits, destroying much more than the up-and-coming city.
Today I'm pleased to welcome author Ann Weisgarber, who talks about how she came about writing the dance scene for The Promise. Music is one of the few bonds between the main characters--although Catherine is a classically trained pianist, and Nan plays more popular tunes on the fiddle at local events--and the scene Ann describes here was one of my favorites.
Thanks so much, Ann. I know exactly what you mean about the emotional power of dance. As I said, that scene in The Promise was one of my favorites. It showed another side of Catherine and Oscar and also changed the relationship between Catherine and Nan.Why I Love Writing Dance Scenes
For many of us, dancing is part of our lives. When we were kids, we might have twirled around our bedrooms when no one was watching. Some of us took ballet lessons or in my case, tap lessons. (Yes, tap. I loved the shiny silver shoes with heels.) Maybe we went to dances at school and danced at parties, weddings, and other celebrations. They can be romantic opportunities to be close to someone we love.
Or a dance with the wrong person can be awkward and seem endless.
Dancing says something about who we are. The style often reflects when we were born and where we're from. Our comfort level on the dance floor reveals hints about our personalities or sometimes it shows something unexpected about us.
Dancing is loaded with possibilities and that's why I love to include dance scenes in my novels.
My latest novel, The Promise, takes place on the rural end of Galveston Island, Texas, at the time of the historic 1900 storm that killed at least 6,000 people. I wanted a dance scene, but I couldn't figure out how one would drive the plot forward. Then I read an article about the tradition of dance halls in rural Texas. The farmers and ranch families used any excuse to hold dances with their neighbors.
I went to my research books about Galveston and looked for dance halls. I didn't find any but did find open-air pavilions.
Starting with an image of a pavilion, the scene took shape. The main characters, Catherine and Oscar, have just married. Catherine is new to the island but Oscar, a dairy farmer, is known and well-liked by his neighbors. I realized the neighbors would have a dance to celebrate Oscar's marriage and to meet the bride. They wouldn't know the couple is uneasy with one another or that Catherine doesn't want to be at the dance. When she and Oscar are called to the floor, though, her pride takes over.
Catherine says, "The neighbors were watching. I put my hand on his shoulder. Fixed in position, he stood as though suddenly paralyzed, his gaze skipping from me to the people who surrounded us, Nan's waltz going on without us. 'One, two, three,' I whispered to help him find the rhythm. Oscar didn't move. He was shy, I thought. And unaccustomed to being the center of attention."
Catherine's awareness of Oscar's shyness took me by surprise. She understood him better than I thought she did.
This scene helped me add a new layer to the relationship and when the characters reflect on what the dance means to them, another layer is added. It's all the more poignant since a week after the dance, a massive hurricane hits Galveston. The characters, though, can't see the future as they glide and sometimes stumble on the dance floor.
I loved writing this scene. Initially, I wanted the characters to have a few hours of pleasure before going through a devastating hurricane. As I wrote it, though, a complicated mishmash of emotions—embarrassment, joy, laughter, and heartbreak—bubbled to the surface and made the scene bigger than I expected.
That's the power of dance. It's loaded with possibilities as it reaches into our hearts and takes us to new and unexpected places.
To learn more about The Promise, visit Ann Weisgarber's website and be sure to follow her on Twitter.
Published by Skyhorse (paperback), 2015
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)