I love my virtual book club, but every once in a while even I miss talking in real time about the books I love. So tonight I hosted an in-person book club, pulled out some serving platters and dusted off the carafe.
The holidays and the dreary weather here resulted in a small turnout, but we delved into The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell by Loraine Despres and had a great conversation. In addition to writing Belle, Despres wrote The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc in which Belle appears as Sissy’s grandmother. Despres was generous enough to call in and take part in the discussion and we peppered her with our questions.
Belle is full of details from the 1920s—details that could only be captured by meticulous research. Despres said she spent a year researching the time period. “Thank God for the Web,” she laughed. She read books, visited the library and studied magazines from the period.
To capture the details of one particular scene, Despres reached out to the Stutz Barecat Club and found someone who shared the particulars of how to shift.
Despres even committed to only reading literature written before 1920 during the three years it took her to write Belle.
I fell in love with Sissy, and the entire time I was reading Belle I couldn’t help but think about how Despres weaved the two stories together even though they were very different stories. I was also left wondering how much the author knew about Belle when writing Sissy.
“I knew I wanted a lady like some of the ladies I knew in New Orleans—very imperious, very sure of themselves. Belle really came to me,” she said.
Of course we asked Despres her favorite rule. Without hesitating she said, "It’s okay for a woman to know her place. She just shouldn’t stay there." She also told us she doesn’t usually come up with a rule cold. “If something tickles me, I write it down,” she said.
Several parts of the book were inspired by Despres’s own experiences. She told us she grew up in a house like the Rubinstein’s—a house complete with bullet holes in her bedroom wall. “A vigilante group tried to drive my family out of town. It probably happened in the 1890s, but I knew I wanted to tell that story,” she said.
She also shared that she some of her favorite traits of Belle’s were her courage and her cynicism. “She was pretty much based on my mother,” she said.
SPOILER ALERTS—IF YOU HAVEN’T READ BELLE, STOP READING NOW. COME BACK AFTER YOU FINISH THE BOOK.
Based on the letter Belle found in Claude’s jacked, I assumed he was having an affair, but since I’m ever the optimist, I held out hope that Belle just misunderstood parts of the letter. I asked Despres flat out if Claude was having an affair. She confirmed my fear—he was unfaithful. Oh Claude—how could you? I will cut him a little slack since he was at war.
Throughout the novel I went back and forth on whether Belle was ignorant of the dangers she faced or if she was brave. I felt that she became more aware of her danger she faced as the novel went on and clearly was courageous when defending the Rubinsteins against the Ku Klux Klan.
Despres said she envisioned Belle as being brave when writing her. She added, “As a middle-class southern lady, she thought [the KKK] wouldn’t hurt her. Her family was important in the town and she thought they wouldn’t go after her.”
There were so many great story lines in the book. After we hung up the phone with Despres, we kept chatting about the book. I definitely recommend it as a book club pick and, you never know, Despres might call into your group, too. You can visit her blog at http://www.lorainedespres.blogspot.com/ and her Web site at www.lorainedespres.com. Also, check out my earlier Q&A with Loraine here, my post about Sissy here and my virtual book club post about Belle here.
By the way–my local library system had a a good number of copies of Belle available, but there was a wait list! So, you may want to check your local library or order from Amazon.
GIVEAWAY!!! What could be better than adding an autographed book plate courtesy of Loraine Despres to your copy of Belle or Sissy? Leave a comment by midnight Dec. 4 and I will pick a lucky winner on Dec. 5.