I am so excited to present part one of a two-part Q&A with best-selling author Loraine Despres. Loraine is the author of The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc, The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell and The Southern Belle’s Handbook, Sissy LeBlanc’s Rules to Live By. If you read my post about The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc, you know that I fell in love with the book. The writing is beautiful and the plot lines are engaging. Prior to writing novels, Loraine wrote for television and is known for writing the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of DALLAS.
Loraine was nice enough to talk with me about the novel and her experience writing it. She also sent me autographed bookplates, and I’m giving away two this week to some lucky readers. Just leave a comment by 5:00 Eastern on Friday, Oct. 16. I’ll announce the winners on Monday.
Q. How long did it take you to write the novel?
A. I worked on it for three years. They say hard writing makes easy reading. I thought it was going to take me six months. I told my agent to leave me alone and let me finish it. But then I couldn’t get it published. My agent got responses such as we love the writing, but we don’t know how to sell it. I said it was a literary novel. Not interested. I said it was a woman’s novel, but in the 90s a woman’s novel was a mean husband torturing his wife. I said it was a beach read, but they said no. It wasn’t until Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood came out that it sold, and then it sold right away and went on to become a national best seller.
When it didn’t look like Sissy was going to get published, the thing that made me really sad was that nobody would get to meet Belle Cantrell, Sissy’s grandmother. She was so much like the ladies that were my grandmother’s friends.
Q. I read in your acknowledgments that Sissy was created in Deena Metzger’s workshop. Can you tell me more about it?
A. I was in a writing workshop because I needed a creative push. Deena asked us to write a short story in 20 minutes. The story I came up with was something from my family history. Back in the 30s, a man [walked into a bar and saw his wife sitting with another man. He went across the street into what was at that time my grandfather’s department store, and bought a gun. Then he walked back across the street and shot them both. My grandfather was so upset he made a rule– no more handguns on credit. I called the short story “Gun Control.” Then the character of Sissy kept coming back to me, and because I’m a professional writer I paid attention. I thought I would write the scene where Sissy and Parker meet. Then I said, ‘Well I’ll write the next scene.’ I thought maybe I’d have some linked short stories. Then I was in a restaurant and someone said Bourreé Johnson would be a good name. I thought Bourreé LeBlanc would have to be Sissy’s father-in-law. I wrote the scene of them meeting in the woods. I never changed that scene. [Mindy’s note: The scene Loraine is referring to is in chapter 13 and totally surprised me.]
Q. Did Sissy drive the plot, or did the plot drive Sissy?
A. Sissy definitely came first. Originally she looked like my friend’s sister who I thought looked very glamorous. She wasn’t like her at all, but sort of had her look. I originally was going to put it in the 40s, but I decided I wanted to put it in the 50s at the beginning of the civil rights movement. I wanted to capture that part of the civil rights movement when white people became bigoted in a vocal way. I grew up in the south and the way the blacks were treated then was very awful and was something I couldn’t understand. I wanted to reflect that.
Q. Can you tell me more about the rules in the Southern Belle’s Handbook?
A. They were all created for the book but reflect the rules my mother and my grandmother set down for me. Generations of Southern wisdom, including the bad ones like don’t let a boy know how smart you are.
Come back tomorrow for more on my conversation with Loraine and her writing process. In the meantime, visit her blog
and her Web site
to learn more about her and her novels.