A Time to Dance
Featured Song: “Dancing in the Dark,” by Bruce Springsteen
When readers ask me which of my own books is my favorite, it’s a difficult question to answer. I have many favorites for different reasons. But this one is definitely high on the list, at least as far as the contemporary LDS books go. Typically, by the time I get to the final stage of the publishing process, I have read through the book so many times that I hate it. But that was not the case with this one. Even on that final proofread, I was struck with something warm and powerful about this book.
When I realized that “Timeless Waltz” would have a sequel, I was struck with the idea of, “What would be the greatest irony for a man like Alex—a doctor and a family man?” The answer to that question was that he would have a child with a horrible disease that he felt helpless to do anything about.
When I embarked upon writing about children’s leukemia, I had no idea what I was in for. I actually knew of two different families who had been through this, and I thought that I would just call these people up, ask a few questions, and sail right through. I studied online the technical stuff about the disease and its treatment, and my inspiration led me to knowing a bone-marrow transplant had to be a part of the plot. But when I called my would-be research specialists, neither of these families had needed to go through that. Of course, I prayed. I needed insight into what it was like to go through this; not just the technicalities. Then out of nowhere I recalled a very brief conversation with a woman in my ward, where she had mentioned that her niece’s son had passed away very young. “Was it leukemia?” I asked myself. I honestly couldn’t remember. I called her up, and sure enough it had been. Tragic, certainly. But I had my lead. She let me know that through the course of this child’s illness, the parents had kept an online journal. (This was before they’d picked up the name “blog.”) I was able to read experiences from both parents through the course of their son’s illness, transplant, and death. I cried my guts out and was practically in the fetal position for a day or so. Sometimes the gift of empathy that I get in relation to my gift of storytelling can be very difficult to contend with. My next dilemma was how to portray this in a novel and not have it be so depressing that no one could bear to read it. Of course, the inspiration came and I was able to make it work. Because Alex was a doctor, he was able to summarize the bone-marrow transplant experience to his wife before it actually happened, and then we just stuck to the emotional stuff after that.
Truthfully, as I was writing, I didn’t know whether or not little Barrett was going to survive. I remember hoping that he would, but not sure if that’s how it was supposed to be written. Funny how my writing experiences can coincide with real life in that regard. I was thrilled to have it turn out well, but I had not anticipated how it would come about until near the end. When I saw the connection in the plot, it almost felt a little stereotyped to me, (even though I was very excited about the connection) but I knew that’s how it was supposed to go, so that’s how I did it.
As if that wasn’t a potent enough topic, this story also brought up Alex’s discovery that he has a half-brother through his father’s affair (which had caused him so much grief in the previous novel). Bringing Wade into the story was gripping and powerful—at least it was for me. And the
spiritual messages in regard to the situation were poignant and ironic. Some of my best dialogues about the impact of sin and the power of repentance are in this book. In that regard, it was a bit of a triumph for me with the LDS publishing industry. I had previously received a great deal of grief for writing about such sin, but in this book I was able to make some points that I felt very strongly about without offending anyone who was printing or selling the book.
A huge irony occurred for me in regard to this book when my son met the love of his life and began dating her soon after this book had been released. She’s a doctor, and she had leukemia that nearly took her life when she was sixteen. Unbelievable! She’s told me she can’t read the book because it hits too close to such a painful season of her life. She is now the mother of my beautiful grandson. Since I know how bad leukemia can be, I have some idea of what an enormous miracle that is.