Rachel Kapelke-Dale’s debut novel was released earlier this month, and if you love books set in Paris that revolve around lifelong friendships and a secret that will have you racing through the chapters to find out, The Ballerinas could be just the book you’re looking for. The storyline weaves between the past and present lives of three friends; Delphine, Margaux, and Lindsay who grew up at ballet school in Paris, dreaming of the day when they would rise in the ranks of the Paris Opera Ballet aka the POB. Throughout the book we get a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like for ballet dancers as they train to be the best of the best, knowing all the while that their careers in ballet can only last so long.
In this interview, Rachel shares about when she first came up with the storyline for The Ballerinas, her favorite scene from the book, and who she’d like to play the main characters in a feature film.
When did you first come up with the storyline for The Ballerinas?
I wrote the first drafts during 2019. I’d just returned to Paris, where I’d done my master’s degree, after years away, and was reuniting with old friends. I wanted to write about a character going through something similar. For the first few drafts, the storyline was all in the present day, with several in-text flashbacks. It wasn’t until my amazing editor, Sarah Cantin, took the project on in early 2020 that we discussed adding the second timeline to flesh out the characters’ pasts.
How did your years of ballet training help with the research process for the novel?
It was definitely a time saver, in that it limited the research I had to do to things specific to the Paris Opera Ballet (which is not where I trained!). My training allowed me to sketch in the background action for various scenes without too much trouble, as the format of those classes is so deeply ingrained in my memory.
What is one of your favorite memories from your time studying ballet?
My favorite memories are mostly of the social aspects—of gossiping before and after class (with my friend Katie, in particular). But I also have a really strong memory of what it feels like when a complicated combination finally comes together when your body just gets it. It really does feel like flying.
Where did you write the majority of the novel?
I wrote the novel entirely in Paris, though in different locations: cafes, parks, at home. I end up writing in bed more than is probably healthy—bodily comfort is important for creative work, though! (Or so I tell myself…)
Which of the three friends (Delphine, Margaux, Lindsay) reminds you the most of yourself?
They’re all me to some extent—I don’t think it’s possible to write a character who doesn’t reflect some aspect of your personality! I think I’m probably as starry-eyed as Lindsay, as sarcastic as Margaux, and as nostalgic as Delphine.
What scene or scenes were your favorite (or) the most difficult to write?
My absolute favorite scene to write was the flashback on the beach when Lindsay cuts her foot and Delphine really feels for the first time how short their careers are. This was the first scene I wrote in Delphine’s voice, and it helped show me who the characters were in an important way.
If The Ballerinas was turned into a feature film, who would you want to play the main characters?
I love this question! I picture Delphine as Eva Green, lovely with an edge. For Lindsay, Margot Robbie would be great in a few years. And Lea Seydoux has the exact right smolder for Margaux!
You currently live in Paris, what would the perfect day out in Paris consist of?
For me, the ideal Paris day would be languorous and slow! Start with a coffee and a croissant at a neighborhood cafe. Meander along the Seine. Meet up with friends for a bistro lunch. Pop into a neighborhood museum, like the Musée de Montmartre, to wander around. Explore a new neighborhood; the city is constantly surprising me with tiny pockets I’ve never been to before. Sit in a park and watch the people. End the day with dinner in a quiet, romantic restaurant and a ballet at the Palais Garnier, of course!
What are some of the books you are reading right now?
I’ve just come back to my parents’ house for the holidays, so I have a big stack of books to dive into—my idea of heaven! Apples Never Fall, the new Liane Moriarty; the latest Outlander novel by Diana Gabaldon; The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling; The Wrong Kind of Woman by Sarah McCraw Crow; and Matrix by Lauren Groff. A real mix of genres!
Can we get a sneak peek at your next novel?
Absolutely! It’s called The Ingenue, and it’ll be coming out next December (2022). It’s about a former piano prodigy who comes home after her mother dies, only to find that her mother has willed the family estate to a mysterious acquaintance. It starts: “Nobody knows where the elves came from.”