I had the opportunity to read a copy of Waltzing a Two Step: Reckoning, Family, Faith, and Self by Dan Juday. This book chronicles Juday’s earlier years growing up in rural Indiana, and studying abroad in Spain, eventually finding himself and his sexuality. I enjoyed the relatability of the memoir, as a young queer person living in the midwest myself, who has also studied abroad in Europe. Although it is a bit ironic that I studied in Ireland instead, as that is where Juday now makes his home. I was also given the opportunity to interview him, which I happily did.
He has produced documentaries for PBS and written poetry, but this was his first memoir. He said that he got the idea to write Waltzing a Two Step after retiring, when he had the luxury of thinking about what he wanted to write for himself. He decided to start with a memoir he already knew about he his own life, and wouldn’t have to go out and “conceive” the story. He just had to figure out how to tell it. He is the interview which is also in video form. My questions and comments are in bold. (Video below the text).
What does writer’s block mean to you?
I don’t know what it means to me but I have heard of it, older writers struggling to come up with ideas for their next novel. Whatever the bugabear is, just go and type. Just start typing and get something going. It’s not that I’m writing something brilliant every time, but at least I’m doing something. Quit surfing the internet. Quit looking out the window. Quit getting fresh coffee. Just get your hands on the keyboard.
You write a lot about feeling alone as a closeted gay man. Now that you are fully out, having published a book in which you write about your sexuality, do you feel more like part of an LGBTQ+ community?
My circumstances are different now, but when I was thirty-five, I was busy in the gay community. I would date and go to parties. But now that I’m older, I’m living in rural Ireland. There is no real gay community around here. Oddly enough, I feel less connected to the gay community now. I don’t feel isolated though, they’re just not around me.
You have mentioned the title Waltzing a Two Step in the book itself, but when and why did you decide that that should be the title of the book?
I was writing the band part and I found that when I was in the marching band I was stepping kind of backwards and twirling the baton. There is an actual method of dancing a two step waltz. You get three steps into two beats. That seemed to be kind of the heart of what I was doing at the time. I was not fitting into the same two steps that everyone else was. I was doing an extra step of being gay but being hidden about it, which is a lot of work, constantly not talking about something that’s on your mind.
You wrote about spirituality a lot in this book, did you see writing it as a kind of spiritual or therapeutic practice?
Yes, I’m glad that came out in your reading of it. I feel like there’s a reason to be put on this Earth, although I can’t tell you what it is. But I was sort of steeped in religion which explained all of it. I think it kind of helped me hold it together going through all that I went through in life. Still does to this day, but it’s not a crutch. There’s a passage in the story where I come to the realization that I’m not getting married. I’m in an affair with a man and that’s what I’m going to pursue. I turned to religion and found out that it can’t be a crutch in that way. That you have to turn inward as well and find certain strengths within yourself and that is what I balanced my spiritual sense with.
Yeah, there’s sort of a juxtaposition between your spirituality and you being taught that your sexuality was sinful.
I ended up going to an Episcopalion church which was similar to the Catholic tradition which I grew up with. But over the course of time they seemed to make their peace with the idea that we are all made in the image of G-d. Even us gay people and that is something to be celebrated. That is something I never expected and I couldn’t be happier about.
What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?
Writing my high school days about people who are still in my life. Also, my brothers and sister who are still alive, thanks be to G-d. The stories about the people I met briefly were easier to write.
On the flipside, what part of the book was the most fun to write?
Writing about teaching because being with those kids was joyful. Ironically, I learned from the kids. I hope they learned from me. Their welfare was in my hands. I watched them very closely and I saw the indomitability of the human spirit. They were dealing with a difficult environment without the guile that adults learn to cover ourselves with. After a while I realized I had that same indomitable spirit. I enjoyed the memories that were brought up by it.
What is your writing process like? For example, how did you know what details of your life to record in the memoir and how did you jog your memory?
I had a framing question. I would write a piece to see if it fit in and it was, “tell your reader what it was like to grow up a gay spiritual seeker in the late part of the 20th century in the middle of America. If I found myself going off on a diversion, I would get rid of it. I would say I probably threw away three original drafts. For me it’s a matter of writing and throwing away a lot of it. But in each draft, there are a lot of gems of ideas.
Has anyone in your family read the book?
No. I sent the promotional stuff to them, I suppose they could have asked for an ARC [advanced reading copy] through that, but they didn’t. So we’ll see.
You write about having people over for dinner a lot, if you could invite any three people for dinner, whom would you invite?
I suppose they’d have to be alive.
Living or dead.
Then, it would have to be friends who are dead. (Laughing) Not the great philosophers of the world because I don’t think I’d be up to snuff for the conversation. Just the people I love who are gone.
Waltzing a Two Step was published by Calling Card Books. It will be released on October 1st, 2021. You can pre-order the book wherever you buy books below or request an advanced reading copy on there website linked below. In which case please review on Goodreads, also linked below the video.