Different authors have different ways of tackling voice. Me? I come from a theater background, so a lot my writing techniques come from improv classes. I like to interview my characters by asking them a lot of questions and seeing what answers come up, sometimes I just ask them to write me a letter. The first rule of improv is ‘never say no’ you’ve got to take whatever comes out and run with it (anything that’s awful gets fixed later on when I edit-thank goodness for edits).

Here’s a letter my character Casey Quinn* wrote to me before I started writing Dreamer Ballerina. It was the first time her voice popped off the page, and that’s how I knew I’d finally found her voice.

Dear Sarah,

My name is Casey Quinn, and this may be the last thing I ever write, because Mrs. Hoover is starting to look like she might cut my head off if I make her stay after school one more day.

I am stuck here until I write a letter of apology to one Miss Priss-Ann Lee. I’m supposed to say I’m-ever-so-sorry I pushed you down and got your precious pink ballet slippers dirty. But I’m not, so any apology I wrote would be one-hundred-percent hooey—a big old lie, fatter than Uncle Albert.

And I ain’t gonna lie. That’s not my style.

You can’t make grown-ups understand, no matter what you do. And no matter what a teacher says about liking all her students the same, you can be well sure that she has a favorite. And you can be well sure that that favorite ain’t me.

That favorite is Miss Ann Lee. Pretty pink and pirouetting, with ribbons and bows, but certainly not sugar or spice or anything nice. Miss Ann Lee is nothing but nasty. But I’m the only one who knows that.

I am not her favorite, because I have a skinned knee, runny nose and shoes a size and a half too big. They used to be two sizes too big, but I’m growing. So my feet go slap slap slap when I walk across the room and slap slap slap when I walk back, and no one but me hears the rhythm.

Because no one but me is a true blue, natural born sky dancer.

I dance everywhere and everything. My feet twitch-twitch me awake in the morning and shuffle-toe-step their way through my day. I dance when I’m happy, and I dance when I’m bluer than huckleberries. My feet can even dance a smile out of my old mama’s tired face. And one day my feet are gonna dance me right out of no-good, nothing-ever-happens Raleigh.

I’ve been dancing to New York City since the day I was born, and my feet won’t quit til I get them there.

Mamma says I might as well dream of dancing on the stars, but you gotta have a dream. And you can’t let no one, not even no Miss Priss Ann Lee, step on it.

*Fun fact: Casey Quinn was originally named Spiney Babler after a Nepalese songbird.