Today, Juanita Watson, Assistant Editor of Reader Views talks with author Terry Andrews, about her new book “Dance of the Jaguar. ”
As a writer and teacher, Terry Andrews focuses on personal growth and empowerment. Andrews has been a newspaper journalist, an editor, and an adjunct college professor; she gives writing workshops that help people learn about themselves. Her study of energy practices, healing techniques, and intentional living informs both her novels and her nonfiction. Terry Andrews authored the popular “Spiritual Cat” and “Spiritual Dog” books, and her classic story “Blue Christmas” has been published in several collections, including “Family Christmas Treasures” (2003, ) “Chicken Soup for the Soul, A 6th Bowl” (1999), and “Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Collection” (2006).
Juanita: Welcome to Reader Views Terry, what an honor to have the opportunity to talk with you today. We are excited to hear about your new transformational book “Dance of the Jaguar. ” Firstly, would you tell us about the common themes of personal growth and happiness that run through your writings, and your personal affinity with these topics?
Terry: Thank you. I love being able to talk about it. It’s exciting that people who read the book want to share their stories of personal growth—especially how the book has impacted them. It starts a dialog, which I believe is essential today. Sometimes we don’t share these stories because we don’t know how they will be received. One couple told me they read the book out loud and discussed it as they went along. The themes in the book of personal growth, empowerment, and how we find happiness are all important to me. And I decided to share my ideas in a fictional format so that I could have fun with them—in other words, not only share useful ideas and techniques, but do it in an engaging and entertaining way. My own personal path to empowerment has helped me create the life that I want to live, which is what happens to the main character in the book.
Juanita: How long was the writing process for “Dance of the Jaguar”?
Terry: It took about three years. The idea had come a few years earlier, and it rolled around in my head for a while. And then one day the story just arrived. At that point I began writing. When I write fiction, the characters take over after a few pages and make it their story. They have their own ideas about what should happen and sometimes it feels like I am watching a movie and simply writing down what happens. The characters become as real as actual people. Once the story is in place I do a lot of rewriting to make sure that the book is engaging and that it captures the imagination of readers.
Juanita: How was writing this book different from your previous works?
Terry: It was different because I wrote the book that I myself wanted to read. I put my heart and soul into it, and it was a very exciting and creative process that surprised me in many ways.
Juanita: What happens in “Dance of the Jaguar”?
Terry: I like the way a friend of mine describes it: The main character, Martha, is just going about her day when Bam! Everything changes and suddenly she is presented with an opportunity to live her life differently. The story feels very real and believable, yet has magical elements as well. Martha’s life changes at the moment she decides to follow her heart, and she discovers some amazing untapped talents. For instance, she learns how to fly. She is also able to travel from one place to another in a matter of seconds by using portals. To learn how to use her skills, she decides to go to an Ancient Wisdom School in Mexico. There she meets Sheila and Angela, who become companions in her adventure. Between classes, she tries to decide how best to tell her family and friends, but her neighbor Ned is the only one she feels will understand. As the story progresses, Martha discovers an inner power she never knew existed. But also what happens in the book is that readers can see ways that they themselves want to grow.
Juanita: So even though there is a fantasy/esoteric element to your book, its message is still grounded in practical and usable tools for personal empowerment?
Terry: Yes, there are some very usable techniques. For example, how to use intention, how to connect with your potential by releasing limiting beliefs, and ways to connect with your intuition. There are also some techniques that need to be developed. You can’t believe how many people have told me that being able to fly like Martha does, is one of their biggest wishes.
Juanita: Would you tell us more about your main character, Martha? Who is she, who does she represent?
Terry: Martha is loosely based on a friend of mine who—like Martha—doesn’t usually tell her son what she’s up to. She’s a widow and a grandmother, but still young, with enough free time to be able to examine her life. She feels like she hasn’t lived the life that she wanted to live and that she’s missed some opportunities. In that regard, she represents the part of us that we haven’t learned about or explored yet—the part that wonders “what if?” In other words, what have I not learned about myself by never following my dream? What am I truly capable of if I simply let go of my fear and follow my heart?
Juanita: What is Martha’s personal journey in “Dance of the Jaguar”?
Terry: It’s a journey of self-discovery. She has a chance to learn about her untapped talents and to discover what makes her happy. And also to connect with her true self. It’s her true self that’s given a voice in the story when she begins to listen to what she wants to experience in her life.
Juanita: Do you think fear and self-doubt is what stops most people from being their authentic self?
Terry: Oh, good question. Yes, I believe fear and self-doubt are the biggest blocks to living a fulfilling life. Often our fears are irrational. We feel them, and we never go past them. We’ve been taught to be afraid or to doubt our own ability. What I’ve learned is that going past the fear opens the doorways of potential. In fact, if I discover something I am afraid of—like giving a talk to a group of people or signing up for an art class—I move in that direction. Taking the action makes the fear go away, and I discover something that makes me happy on the other side of it.
Juanita: Is this story set in present time? Where does “Dance of the Jaguar” take place?
Terry: Yes, it’s set in present time. It takes place in Oregon, where I live, and Mexico, where I lived for several months.
Juanita: Would you elaborate on your time in Mexico, and how it inspired inclusion in your book by way of an Ancient Wisdom School?
Terry: Years ago I spent several months in Cuernavaca, which is 45 minutes south of Mexico City and is called the City of Eternal Spring. During that time I visited a number of pyramids and learned about the history of the area. Someone I knew lived in a small palace that had once been home to a bishop, and it was an unusual place that made quite an impression on me. I used that for the setting of the school, but the school itself. is fictitious. When I write fiction, I like to use settings where I have been so that they seem both real and realistic.
Juanita: What is the dance of the jaguar?
Terry: It’s the dance of transformation. In the story, it’s a pivotal scene that connects Martha to the animal kingdom. It is what lets the animals know that she now understands them and can even communicate with them as her equals. The title of the book and the cover came to me in a dream, and for three days I tried to find the book, not knowing it was my book. I hadn’t written the scene of the dance yet. But then, all of a sudden Martha was doing the dance. After I wrote that scene, I decided, and I don’t know why, to reenact it. I waited till about 10:30 at night, when my neighbors were all in bed, and then I made a blazing fire in my grill outside my house, which sits in the woods. Then I put on a jaguar mask from Mexico and began to dance around the fire to see what would happen. When I finished, I noticed my tabby cat, Grace, watching through the window. Grace is fairly sedentary and has never done anything out of the ordinary, but when I came in, she began a series of ballet-like leaps around the living room. She continued for several minutes. She understood what I had been doing. It gave me goosebumps.
Juanita: Terry, another significant theme of your book is the issue of power – giving it away, being manipulated, and standing in one’s own power. Would you elaborate and relate it back to Martha’s experience?
Terry: I wanted to show through Martha the way that many of us never claim our power—and by that I mean the power to be who we are and to live happily and to be authentic. In our culture, we are not shown how to do this. What we are taught as we grow up is to give our power away to people who supposedly know more than we do—people in positions of authority. These people often have more information than we do, and they can certainly assist us in making decisions that are to our benefit. But at some point we have to learn to trust our own inner knowing, the little voice inside that suggests to us what we should do. Have you ever listened to someone else’s advice and then later told yourself that you shouldn’t have listened? That’s what I’m talking about—that inner guidance that offers wise counsel. When we don’t trust our own wisdom, our own feelings, then other people can manipulate us. Martha learns that she has let other people make many of her decisions, which has left her feeling unfulfilled. As she begins to trust herself and to not let herself be convinced by other people to do things that she doesn’t want to do, that’s when the real changes begin for her.
Juanita: Why do people tend to confuse control with power?
Terry: I’ve known people who didn’t feel safe in their worlds. To create a feeling of safety, they tried to control their environments and the people around them. When they discover they can do that, they feel a sense of power. But that’s not really power. It’s like the Wizard of Oz, hiding behind his curtain. Real power comes from using the talents you’ve been given. Using your gifts creates an experience that enriches you, and it helps others be the best they can be.
Juanita: How can you recognize someone who is not living in an authentic way?
Terry: One way that works very easily is this: How do you feel when you are around that person? Do you feel enlivened, energized, full of ideas, ready to follow your own dream? Or do you feel tired, dragged down, discouraged, or frustrated? If the person makes you feel good about yourself in a genuine way, without wanting anything from you, that person is living in an authentic way.
Juanita: Terry, your main character is female—are you gearing your book towards women readers?
Terry: Women readers are great because they love to talk about what they learned from the book. But I know of several men who have read the book and enjoyed it, too.
Juanita: Do you think women are especially in need of this message?
Terry: Yes, because we are still disempowered in many ways, lots of them subtle. It’s important to look at the messages we are given as girls and as women so that we can decide for ourselves how we want to be defined.
Juanita: Terry, did any of your own personal experiences make their way into this story? Do you think you could have written “Dance of the Jaguar” if you hadn’t gone through your own spiritual transformation?
Terry: I think most fiction draws on personal experience, but the wonderful thing about fiction is that you can then expand on that experience to create art, magic, and entertainment. One of the first things Martha learns at the Ancient Wisdom School is how to manifest chocolate. A few years ago I had an experience with manifesting chocolate. I’d been reading about the law of attraction, which says that if you want something, and don’t cancel that wish by thinking that you don’t deserve it, it will come. So yes, it was important for me to go through my own personal transformation, and the book grew out of that process and some of the experiences I had.
Juanita: I’ve heard that readers of “Dance of the Jaguar, ” are so enamored with this book, feeling it is almost a guidebook for life, they are calling for a sequel. What are your thoughts on these wonderful responses? Do you have plans for a sequel?
Terry:I started the sequel as soon as I finished Dance, because I really liked the characters and I knew there was more to the story. So when people began to ask if there was a sequel, I was very happy. I’m working on it now. I’m thrilled to be getting this kind of response to the book, but I also feel blessed. I was willing to trust myself and to write the book I wanted to read.
Juanita: How can readers find out more about you and your endeavors?
Terry: Probably the best way is through my website at www.terryandrews.org.
Juanita: Terry, it has been great talking with you today. “Dance of the Jaguar” will certainly inspire readers to new levels of personal awareness, while providing a fantastic and entertaining read. Before we depart, do you have any final thoughts?
Terry: I’ve enjoyed this chance to talk about my book. And I thank you for your insightful questions. Final thoughts? Writing this book has connected me with who I am in many ways—it definitely created wonderful personal growth. It’s exciting to share that possibility with others. And I’ve had so many comments from people who’ve read the book about the ways it impacted them that I’m eager to finish writing the sequel. I can hardly wait to see what Martha will learn.
Interview with Terry Andrews author of Dance of the Jaguar: The Path to Transformation Trafford Publishing (2007) ISBN 9781412097345 Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (4/07)