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SunLit interview: How a prize in a charity auction nudged Shelley Shepard Gray toward a dance trilogy

The author's own experience in dance, plus a move to Colorado, informed the series of books about three reunited sisters living above a ballroom dance studio

Shelley Shepard Gray is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has published over a hundred books. She currently writes Amish and inspirational romances and contemporary women’s fiction. With over a million books in print, translated into more than a dozen languages, her novels have been Holt Medallion winners and Inspirational Readers Choice and Carol finalists. She now lives in southern Colorado near her grown children and writes full time. 


Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

“Shall We Dance?” is the first book in the “Dance With Me” Trilogy. This trilogy centers on three sisters who have only recently located each other after having been adopted by three different families when they were very young. The women decide to move in together in a loft over a ballroom dance studio. The owner of the dance studio is Shannon Murphy, the heroine of “Shall We Dance?” 

Although eventually all three women fall in love, I wanted to explore the relationship of the women and watch how they bond and eventually form their own extended family.

In “Shall We Dance?”, Shannon not only falls in love with a cop who isn’t interested in dancing at all, but also slowly forms a close relationship with two women who were raised very differently than she was. 

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it? 

I loved this excerpt because it shows the first meeting between heroine and hero, Dylan Lange. I thought it would be fun to put Shannon and Dylan in a situation which is slightly uncomfortable for each of them. Eventually, the two realize that they have a lot in common — just not a passion for ballroom dancing. 

Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book? 

One of the experiences I based “Shall We Dance?” on was a set of ballroom dancing lessons my husband and I won in a charity auction. Since I grew up taking ballet and tap lessons, I thought it would be a lot of fun. My husband, on the other hand, didn’t look forward to our “free” lessons at all. Ironically, he caught on much faster than I did, which made him amused and me more than a little frustrated! 

We only lasted through three ballroom dance lessons. Since the heroine of “Shall We Dance?” teaches both ballet and ballroom dancing, I think this was my way of finally being the graceful dancer I’ve always wanted to be. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?

It sure did! Soon after I began the story, I realized that I needed the hero to be more multi-dimensional.  I ended up giving him a younger sister who was struggling after suffering trauma. Jennifer’s story line echoed both Shannon’s and Dylan’s. I think it made the book much stronger. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book? 

One of the biggest surprises about writing this book was that we moved to Colorado soon after I sold the series to my publisher. Because of that,  I was able to relate very easily to the sisters’ struggles of moving to a new town and trying to become acclimated. Thankfully, like the sisters in their small town in Ohio, I became very charmed by my new home in Colorado. 

Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?

This book was a bit of a departure for me, given that many of my readers are only familiar with the Amish inspirational novels that I’ve written. I’ve very much enjoyed hearing from readers who gave this novel a try and then fell in love with the sisters as much as I did.

Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

I write full time and usually work on more than one book at a time. Because of that, I stick to a pretty firm schedule. I usually write six or seven days a week and write 10 pages a day Monday-Friday and five pages on Saturdays and Sundays.

I usually write the first five or six pages at my desk in my office, then finish up on my laptop either in front of the fireplace or outside on our deck if the weather’s nice. I also keep notebooks for every series and write down notes about all the characters and places they go. That helps when I begin the next book in a series. LOL, I learned that the hard way. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

“Shall We Dance?” features both a dance teacher and a small town cop. What do you usually do to research your novels? 

First of all, “Shall We Dance?” is set in the fictional town of Bridgeport, but that’s based on the town of Loveland, Ohio. A lot of the restaurants, trails, and scenery in Bridgeport were places I liked to go in Loveland.

In addition to my experience taking dance lessons as a child, I took several additional ballroom dancing lessons here in Colorado. For Dylan’s job as a cop, I toured the police station and then asked two cops I know dozens of questions to help make his job as accurate as possible. 

Tell us about your next project.

I’m delighted to share that the next two books in the “Dance With Me” series have already been published and I hope everyone will give them a try. The second book in the series is “Take The Lead” and the third novel is titled “Save The Last Dance.” 


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