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Lori Robbins is the award-winning author of the On Pointe and Master Class mystery series. A former dancer, Lori performed with a number of modern dance and classical ballet companies. After ten very lean years onstage she became an English teacher and now writes full time.
- Tell us about the On Pointe Mysteries and the character of ballerina/amateur sleuth Leah Siderova. Is her personality similar to your own?
Leah and I share a similar sense of humor. We both love cities, and we’re equally devoted to the art of dance. Other than that, we’re quite different. Leah’s upbringing, personal relationships, and aversion toward calories, carbohydrates, and commitment are uniquely hers. I fear I’m more like Leah’s mother, Barbara. Or, even worse, her aunt Rachel.
- Does Leah have special skills which help her solve crimes?
Leah comments, only half-jokingly, that after she takes her last bow she’ll end up on the unemployment line, with nothing more than a high school diploma and a borderline eating disorder on her resume. In spite of this disclaimer, her lifelong devotion to ballet has rendered her far more determined and resourceful than most. Because ballet prioritizes daily discipline over fleeting desires, Leah’s ability to control herself and her environment becomes her superpower. She pairs that self-restraint with an extraordinary ability to inhabit fictional roles. For example, she’s afraid of heights, so when she has to climb down a fire escape she imagines herself as the Firebird. When the threat is personal, she imagines herself as Myrtha, who condemns mortal men to death by forcing them to dance until they die.
- What might surprise readers about a mystery set in a professional ballet company?
Like many dancers, Leah obsessively calculates every calorie she ingests. What might surprise some readers is that dance companies often include what’s colloquially known as a “fat clause.” Staying thin is literally part of her job. The precarious nature of life as a ballerina is also something not many people understand. Every dancer, no matter how successful, is one injury—or one birthday—away from irrelevance. Willpower plus uncertainty make dancers creative and innovative problem solvers. Those very high stakes are a great backdrop for a murder mystery.
- Were any of your books inspired by real life events?
Yes! Theaters are full of drama, both onstage and off, and I’m often inspired by true stories. When the Metropolitan Opera did a new staging of one of Wagner’s operas, the elaborate set design was infamously loud, creaky, and unreliable. I transferred that idea to Murder in Third Position, in which Leah has to dance upon a platform that hovers over the stage. It ended up a metaphor for Leah’s life. She’s on top of the world, but she’s never been more vulnerable.
- There is a lot of delightful humor in your books. Has humor always been important to you in navigating life?
When faced with adversity, dancers might say something like: “What are you going to do? Slit your ankles and cha-cha to death?” It’s ironic, silly, resigned, and sarcastic. That pretty much sums up my attitude. Humor in all its forms gets me through.
- We are both former professional dancers, and I haven’t met a lot of us who’ve made the transition to fiction writing. Can you tell us about that journey for you?
The same skill set that fueled my career as a dancer helped me as a writer. Both professions require tremendous self-discipline, as well as the ability (and humility) to take corrections and make them work for you. It also helps if you enjoy working for very little money. When I think of it that way, the gulf between those two pursuits doesn’t seem quite so wide.
- What’s next for you writing-wise?
My academic mystery, Lesson Plan for Murder, will be released this summer. It features an English teacher who solves crimes using clues from her favorite books. The protagonist refuses to believe her colleague’s death was a suicide, because no self-respecting English teacher would kill herself without leaving a perfectly penned note, complete with obscure literary references and suggestions for further reading.
Ellen Whitfield is senior publicist at Books Forward, an author publicity and book marketing firm committed to promoting voices from a diverse variety of communities. From book reviews and author events, to social media and digital marketing, we help authors find success and connect with readers.