Ten years ago, when Pandrè Shandley suffered an injury that threatened her 20-year dance career, she was "at a loss" as to how to move forward in her life.
"The doctors were telling me I shouldn't be dancing anymore," she said. "I was just devastated. That was my passion."
Her friend and fellow dance instructor Doris Greenberg helped her through the trauma. "I always believe you have to have a Plan B," said Greenberg. "You need to be able to reinvent yourself, because things change."
Neither of the women would have predicted, however, that they were soon going to reinvent themselves as award-winning novelists.
The authors of The Legend of L'Esprit are the winners of the 2012 National Indie Excellence Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. The book tells the story of 15-year-old ballet dancer Libby Nobleton, who moves to Chicago and discovers a ghost at her new dance studio. The novel intertwines past and present and makes use of both narrative voice and epistolary storytelling as Libby unravels the mystery of a tragic prima ballerina from the past.
The book has been such a success that the authors have plans for two more sequels and possibly a prequel.
The plot was a "total collaboration" for Shandley, a New Berlin resident, and Greenberg, a Greendale resident. The two had been friends for years and taught at the same Waukesha dance studio their entire careers.
They self-published the book in 2011 using AuthorHouse.com. The success of the novel is something neither of them ever expected.
"It began when I injured myself and was at a point where I was struggling for a creative outlet," Shandley said. "We were talking one night after work and Doris asked me if there was anything else I could do, what would I want to do. And I said I'd always wanted to write and she said, 'Well, I've always wanted to write as well.'"
Little did they know that this conversation, which took place in November of 2002, would mark the beginning of a nine-year labor of love.
"When we set out to write this book, the goal was not to sell a million copies. We really did write it for our families, for Doris' grandchildren and my children, so that regardless of whatever happens with the book in years to come they will know us better through the storyline," said Shandley, a mother of two.
Their families are "thrilled and have been supportive all the way through. They never said to us, 'Are you crazy?' We said it to ourselves though, maybe."
"We never quit," said Greenberg.
The project began casually, especially while Greenberg was still teaching dance, but in the last few years after her retirement, the writing became a full-time endeavor.
"Like people get together for book clubs, we got together because we both have passion for dance and for writing, and it evolved little by little, month after month. Doris and I originally thought it would be a children's book," said Shandley.
"It took on a life of its own," said Greenberg. "We gave each other assignments, discussed where we thought the story was going. We edited each other's work. At first you could really tell which sections Pandy wrote and which ones I wrote, but now there aren't any like that, it's been so many years."
Though the two are now award-winning authors, they remain self-described 'dancers at heart,' and credit their students with inspiration.
"We often had our dancers ask if we knew of any dance books out there," Greenberg said. "Dancers are often readers."
"This was a way of expressing our love and passion for the students we taught and for dance itself," Shandley said.
The decision to self-publish was partly due to circumstance and partly due to choice. They shopped the manuscript around to literary agents and received plenty of positive feedback, but ultimately decided that it would fall to them to tell Libby's story their way.
"We were choreographers for so many years, and we're used to being in control," said Shandley. "We found with self-publishing we could keep control."
Rather than writing an exposè on the dark side of dancing – eating disorders, substance abuse and cattiness, the authors were determined that their heroine set a good example for her young audience.
"It's a G-rated-type novel; it's not your werewolves and vampires," Shandley said. "Some of the editors wanted us to inject more 'mean girl' stuff, more drugs and violence, but Doris and I knew what we wanted our book to stand for and what we wanted it to represent. We wanted those Midwestern values."
The two are grateful for the recognition they have received in being awarded the National Indie Excellence Book Award. Judged by publishers, writers, editors, bookcover designers and professional copywriters from all over the country, the award is in its sixth year of existence and has promoted awareness of independent and small publishers' books.
"It's so great to have recognition of the work we did in private for years," said Shandley. "Just to have people in the industry give it recognition, that's meant so much to us to have other people acknowledge it and recognize it."
Greenberg and Shandley are busy promoting "The Legend of L'Esprit" right now, but in a few months they will return to work developing the next installment of the series. Find out more about the two and all their creative endeavors at dancersatheart.com.