Author Katherine Varn took some precious time to talk to us about beautiful women and the power of bellydancing and being free, as well as being a writer. Please feel free to leave her a comment or ask her more questions below!
What was the inspiration behind 'Ameera Unveiled'?
I was blessed to retire from a twenty-three year career working for an attorney and started to make a bucket list of things to do. Also, since my re-marriage, I was relieved of more and more responsibility that allowed me to pursue things I had ‘wanted’ to do but had to shelve as a mom and sole supporter of my household. Ameera Unveiled is the story of an empty nester’s desire to pursue a forbidden zone—dance. I’m a huge advocate for anyone identifying fears or weaknesses and conquering them. From my own experiences, a sense of humor is a must when extracting splinters from life’s blunders.How much do you have Kat, the main character, have in common?
In addition, I love the strength of women but also the softer, glittery side as well. I am not against equality or the feminist movement, but I love the bonds of women. I think it was vital for survival in tribes and pre-industrial society. So, I wanted to explore Ameera’s longing to dance and belong to a tribe.
I suspect most of my novel’s story draws from a wealth of life experience from being part of a military family. I was blessed to be raised among Baby Boomers with lots of imagination, a degree of innocence and all experiencing huge cultural changes. I’ll admit that most of my character can be reflective of my own decision to chase a childhood dream to dance. Kat/Ameera’s marital relationship is a reflection of my soul mate and me that I hope tells anyone that desires to find a deep friendship with a mate—it can happen. But, it is also crucial to know and love one’s self in order to not take too much from a relationship.What message do you hope readers take from this book?
Like my character, Kat, my faith is a very sensitive and prized influence for my own moral compass. Although I profess Christianity, I am fascinated with messages from the universe, delivered in ways and places you’d never expect to find them. So, a lot of my belief system can manifest in the character.
I hope that readers resonate to one or more of the characters and how they found their voices or backbones. Life doesn’t come with a script and sometimes choices give unanticipated results. Women have an amazing ability to form bonds and lifelong friendships through a large variety of common grounds. Dancing, bridge clubs and art, to name a few. Unfortunately, reality television tends to spin or edit housewives or bad girls as the normal stereotype. And, I love resilient and solution minded problem solvers. It’s all about taking a misadventure and turning it into an adventure.This is obviously a book geared toward women. What could men learn by reading your book?
Sometimes I think men miss how much women need a variety of emotional attachments because of the multi-tasking exercised through all the plates we juggle. In general, women have an innate need to please that can easily be taken advantage of. Ameera Unveiled shows the importance of males to support females, whether they’re mates, daughters or sisters. Women need to refresh themselves appropriately through various stages of life. I’ve watched insensitive men oppress and suppress the need to nurture the little girl that resides in all of women.I have heard of belly dancing many times as a method for women to break out of themselves, no matter their body type. What is so freeing about this dance form?
My husband is currently reading my book and I asked him your question. His response was it is a humorous story of a character facing her fears and making friendships along the way like women have a special way of doing. He came from a family with four sisters, so he may have a slight advantage regarding being around girls.
That is such a great question because it will be subjective to any wanna-be-dancer that falls in love with belly dancing. I chose it because most other dance forms required a partner and this was a journey all about me. Most of my life there was very little “me.” In my 20s and 30s, I yielded to supporting and promoting of those in my charge. In my late 40s, the glitter at the end of the dance class lured me to seek a happy, safe place to explore finding my neglected inner goddess.How do you convince women to take the plunge and become involved in belly dancing?
Somewhere back in time, the goddess/priestess was extracted from spiritual traditions. Belly dance was a cultural and impactful dance for women about women. It was about expulsion and disciplinary isolations that benefited in child birth, celebratory breaks from mundane chores and the joy of older women instructing the younger generations. To some degree, Americans have lost ceremonial dance practices.
My dance troupe (Palmetto Oasis Middle Eastern Dance Troupe) makes me laugh as we stumble into our synchronized dance spots or miss counts and drop minor profanities as we start over to get it together. It helps me put down my list of things I have to get done and escape into a happy place with other women joined by a hip scarf. Personally, I love the costume but fight to embrace performance spotlights.
It’s absolutely true that belly dancing isn’t about size, shape or looks. It is about learning to be a free spirit and retaining your inner child with other women intent on capturing the same jewel. As I found my way to my first class, I followed my inner voice and hooked up with the wonderful group of women that accepted me at my level of experience. It was like Richard Gere’s film…. “Shall we Dance?”
I think that is a very complex and layered question. Not all women are called to the platform of dancing. BUT, if you are… keep testing the water of belly dance to find your own love. Belly dancing has many expressions. Egyptian, Turkish, ATS, Southern Fusion or Tribal. There are so many amazing workshops out there. I’ve taken with Suhaila and Jamilla Salimpour in Albany, CA. I attended Ansuya’s workshop in Athens, GA. My troupe supports and attends classes promoted through other dance groups in South Carolina.Kat is seeking fulfillment by being part of a group of women. Why do women need to have a core group in their lives?
I’ve accepted and rejected certain dance interpretations. It is about what makes your joy meter soar. I’m happy to trade in my calico apron for a noisy pink coin scarf.
In my first marriage, I was involved in a lot of marriage counseling and Christian couples workshops. Some males will never understand the need for women to have a bond with something outside of the ‘spouse.’ Men tend to make relationships through work—hunting and gathering. She is tending the fire, raising the children, managing the finances and sometimes providing a side income. Sometimes that crusader, sailor or salesman didn’t make it home… and there was no internet or forensic channel! Women needed to know how to find Plan B.How does writing fulfill you as a person?
There is nothing wrong with asking the valuable opinion of the women who forged ahead of you. Find and embrace their footprints in the sand. My favorite word for most of the women I know?
Because I fell in love with words and the stories that took me outside of my very responsible role as the oldest daughter/sister, I think it drew me to journal. As I journaled, short stories found their way to my portfolio. I released many hurts, triumphs and growth spurts.On what other projects are you currently working?
Fonts are my friend… unless I hit Writer’s Block! To me, writing leaves a trail that hopefully speaks to generations behind me when I fulfill my destiny.
Between juggling social media and Ameera chores, I try and research for my next idea. I’ve had a few readers ask if there could be a sequel. I didn’t think there was a way to accomplish it until a recent pitch by one of my troupe members. In addition, while attending Faulkner’s Words & Music Festival, an agent suggested another idea because of my childhood being heavily influenced by the family’s military career. Unfortunately, there is so much time trying to promote Ameera Unveiled that hunks of writing time are not as available.You love to travel. What has been one of your grandest adventures?
My husband and I are scuba divers. We were fortunate to be invited to join our dive shop owners’ trip to Truk Lagoon in Micronesia. The wrecks on the bottom were as a result of Operation Hailstorm in retaliation of Pearl Harbor. The ships have become homes to indigenous sea life but are eerily haunting in that they were watery graves for the Japanese soldiers. Again, because of my fathers’ Naval careers, it had a little more meaning for me.What is something readers may be surprised to find out about you?
I find world travels to be amazing and hard to label one grander. While attending a family wedding in New Zealand, we fell in love with the Kiwi lifestyle and communities. It was as if we had gone back in time to our childhoods in 1970s. There are so many amazing countries we’ve been blessed to meet locals – Fiji, Italy, Ireland. My husband insisted on a trip to Alaska. I was not particularly excited until we arrived and started exploring. The environment and wildlife was spectacular. Not only do I get fodder for writing, my Canon Rebel preserves vistas and moments that I can go back and capture in stories.
I am not as confident as many people think I am. Being naturally shy and a lover of being in the background can be a lonely place. I’ve embraced pushing myself to the extrovert side of life as much as possible. It is so much more fun to embrace serendipity. I don’t like sweets or coffee. I own two horses, a dog and a crazy cat—and I’m allergic to all of them!Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Thanks for considering me for your website. I am surrounded by so many amazing professionals—i.e. BQB Publishing and Shari Stauch of WhereWritersWin. I’ve had wonderful feedback from readers that Ameera Unveiled was more than a humorous story about crazy belly dancing women. Many resonated with different characters for various personal reasons and I pray the book sends a message of hope and strength.Thank you so much for your time!
by Kathleen Varn
At the age of forty-eight, happily remarried and retired from her legal assistant gerbil wheel, Kat decides to break out of her shell and try her hand at belly dancing. What begins as a hobby leads her to filling a coveted spot in Palmetto Oasis Middle Eastern Dance Troupe. With less than eight weeks to prepare, Kat’s thrown into a world of performing she is terrified to face, all leading to a week of giving lessons and performing in Jamaica. Traveling with eight glittery strangers, she forges deep bonds under outrageous circumstances at what they’d soon all discover was a clothing-optional resort. Struggling with paralyzing stage fright and searching for the deeper root of her fears, Kat feverishly seeks a way to release Ameera, her inner dance queen. By the end of the week, the audience is mesmerized by the powerful presence and synchronicity of women joined at the hip by scarves and some glitter. Kat soon knows, with the help of eight sisters in dance, that she is finally part of a tribe, discovering an oasis to refresh her thirst to be part of a circle of women.
Read an excerpt:
I’d toyed with the idea of enrolling in a dance class for more than a year. I’d dreamed of dance classes for what seemed a lifetime ever since I completed the arduous commitment to homeschool my son Aiden during his junior year of high school. Aiden had argued to be homeschooled for at least a year since my retirement in 2004. I’d allowed my daughter Isabella to do it until she enrolled in high school, but after my 1994 divorce I wasn’t able to homeschool while working full time and heading a single parent household. So I’d agreed to his request. Not only had I taken on a teaching role that had put my new life on hold, I had to teach chemistry, which was anything but fun. Before and after his instruction time, I’d spent hours studying elements and stoichiometry. Together with extra knowledge, I’d gained extra pounds as a deskbound parent. As a fortyish mom who was only five-foot-three, I didn’t distribute those twelve extra pounds well. They attached to “the sisters” and found residence in the love handles that were not so fashionably referred to as “muffin tops.” That added smidgen to my waistline made my love handles scream, “Surrender to the idea of wearing elastic waistbands!”
I wanted to return to my fighting—excuse me—dancing weight. I’d always wanted to find my Red Shoes and dance, dance, dance. Instead, adult education and the realities of being in my forties were leading me to consider bare feet, a hip scarf, and a choli. All I had to do was click on “Register Now” and I’d be on my way to instant shimmyness.
My heart sank. Whenever “Just Click Here” flashed across the screen, my blood pressure rose and my self-esteem fell. If I missed “Required Fields” and accidentally erased my screen, I’d have to start over. But then I envisioned myself in sparkly costumes, twirling with jewel-colored veils, and wearing glittery makeup and obnoxious amounts of jewelry. Once I’d focused on the prize, I was able to return to my just-click-here fumble.
Minutes later, I had become a midlife belly dance student enrolled for lessons at my high school alma mater. I was anxious to meet my fellow adventurers—sisters in dance, perhaps. I’d assumed that each of us would embrace pursuing the art of dance for different reasons. Our only common ground would be a desire to learn to lift, drop, and shimmy . . . all in six weeks. Now September 12 had arrived and, as I looked out my front door at the wetlands, cradling my first cup of coffee, it felt as though the first day of class had arrived too soon. Hours later, I stood in front of my mirror for a pre-class fashion check: black yoga pants, colorful T-shirt enhancing my busty sisters, highlighted blonde hair pulled in a ponytail with a hot-pink fabric hairband, and feet grounded by distressed dance shoes. I hoped I was ready as I got into my car.
Even as I wove through traffic, I continued to battle my nerves. I tried to sort through my feelings. As I drove, I drifted back to my earliest dance memory of when this equation—danceequaled-failure-plus-fear—first took root. In 1963, my mom had enrolled me in ballet class for ages four to five in Newport, Rhode Island. I’d blended into the circle of other timid wannabe ballerinas. With my green eyes wide open and petite arms perched on the wooden bar, I’d imitated my peers. I stretched tendons and muscles while learning foot positions and new words as Madame Levette tapped her stick, counting to eight over and over.
By the end of my second class, my mom and Madame had realized I couldn’t learn quickly. I’d watched as Madame Levette whispered to my mom, “Your daughter’s very cute, but I suggest she receive tutoring in skipping.”
My mother had nodded. I’d felt like an ugly duckling as I submitted to the offer from Madame’s assistant to stay after class to tutor me in the art of skipping. Oh, the horror! Because I was an obedient oldest daughter, I had attempted to shift my weight and lift each little pink shoe, skipping the perimeter of the room with the encouragement of my teacher. It had been a painful scene: A pink twig of a child jerking to the beat of left, right, left, accompanied by the exchange of cute, pink feet and a little, pink tongue alternating from corner to corner of my uncomplaining lips. After two more classes, my career as a ballerina had ended.
Memories faded as I took a left, ushering myself toward a new opportunity to be one with the music. Oh, Goddess of Bindis, I prayed silently as I pulled into the high school parking lot, be kind and generous. Let the instructor see hope in my dancing heart.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Kathleen Varn’s love affair with words manifested when she turned four and taught herself to read. As she grew older, books and reading were an escape from responsibility. Eventually, Kathleen dove into journaling, which helped her find solace in the grief of a toxic relationship. Throughout her journey to extract her family from oppression, she explored the idea of freedom through allegorical short stories. Kathleen is now very happily married to her soulmate. She resides in Charleston, South Carolina, where she worked for an adoption attorney for twentythree years. With her two children settled in adulthood, she is exploring a beautiful world, from scuba diving in Fiji or photographing in Alaska’s frozen tundra.
Kathleen hopes her readers enjoy Ameera’s journey to pursue the forbidden zone of dance while becoming part of a larger experience—embraced and bonded to eight glittery belly dancers, each of them aware they may have never met without the common denominator of a six-week belly dance class under the tutelage of their troupe director.
Kathleen will be awarding a $10 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. Follow the tour for more chances to win!