The Debut Review: 20 Questions With Rachel Kapelke-Dale (6/29/21)

In this Debut Review, Rachel Kapelke-Dale joins us to answer our 20 burning questions about Paris, ballet, guilty pleasure TV, and much more. 

But first, let’s dive a little deeper into her daring, twisty, and graceful debut, THE BALLERINAS. Delphine, Lindsay, and Margaux were best friends and ballerinas with a secret. Fourteen years after they last shared the stage and Delphine abandoned her soloist spot at the Paris Opera Ballet, she turns to her two former friends to kickstart the next phase of her life and career. But, she quickly realizes that things change and some secrets can’t stay buried forever. 

I couldn’t get enough of the charming Paris scenery, the glimpse into the cut-throat lives of ballerinas, the timely and provocative writing, and the three captivating women dealing with complex relationships. 

Now, let’s hear from Rachel!


1. How are you doing today? 

Great! This week, I got out of Paris for the first time since early last year, and I’m down in the country revising my latest manuscript. It feels really good to be surrounded by trees and clover right now.  

2. What are you currently reading?

I don’t like to dive into anything new when I’m in the midst of intense writing, so right now, I’m rereading TRUST EXERCISE, by Susan Choi. It makes for a fantastic reread—the structure is deftly woven and incredibly complex. And she’s so wonderful with emotions, it feels fresh every time.

3. What’s been your favorite part of your journey publishing THE BALLERINAS?

I sound a bit Pollyannaish about this, but every single step has been a dream. If I had to pick just one, it would have to be reading editorial memos from Sarah Cantin and Sallie Lotz. Their notes gave me chills; they were so perceptive and insightful, and it is a profound gift to have such intelligent editors think so carefully about a book that means so much to me.  

4. What’s your go-to writing snack?

It varies completely depending on my mood. The one constant is coffee—tons and tons of coffee.

5. Where’s your favorite place to write?

When it’s warm out, I like to write in this little nook of a park near my apartment. There’s a bench under a tree, back from the main path, and you feel like you’re completely hidden from everyone going by. That’s my favorite place to write, but the more common one is in bed—the more comfortable I am, the easier it is to get in the zone.  

6. Give us your favorite ballet memory.

Laughing before and after class with my friend Katie. Of course, I loved the dancing itself, but the thing I miss the most is the camaraderie and that shared sense of purpose.

7. What’s your guilty pleasure show?

I rewatch the entirety of Gilmore Girls every year or so—but I refuse to feel guilty about it! 

8. What’s something that made you smile today?

So as I mentioned above, this week, I came down to the country to write. I’m working on fairy tale excerpts for my next novel, and I’m staying in this old renovated stable on the grounds of a castle—perfect for atmosphere. A few hours after I arrived, it started thunderstorming—that alone was enough to make me smile, because I love a thunderstorm. But I actually laughed out loud towards the end, when I saw the end of a rainbow going right into the castle! 

This actually sounds like something I made up, but the truth is stranger than fiction and I’m attaching a picture to prove it.

9. What’s on your TBR?

I can’t wait to dive into Andrea Bartz’s new book, WE WERE NEVER HERE, GREAT CIRCLE by Maggie Shipstead, MADAM by Phoebe Wynne, and THE PLOT by Jean Hanff Korelitz.

10. What other debuts are you loving/excited about?

There are so many great debuts out there right now! I’m obsessed with HER HERE by Amanda Dennis, which brings together an incredible intellectual mystery with a profound exploration of selfhood. It’s another book that I know I’m going to go back to again and again. 

Another debut I loved this year was ALL GIRLS by Emily Layden—I love a boarding school book, and the way she explores a dark side of girlhood within an institution is so powerful. She also masters numerous voices in such true and compelling ways.

11. Best advice you received for writing your debut?

My father gives excellent writing advice. Probably one of the most helpful notes he gave is that dialogue, ideally, should be a form of action. Characters should be using their words to act and react, not just mull. This was so useful to keep in mind when drafting scenes, because my characters have a tendency to sit around in cafes and gossip if I’m not careful…

12. What’s your favorite city in the world? 

I know I’m supposed to say Paris, but honestly, it’s probably Amsterdam. The light and the architecture, the canals and the art…I can’t wait to go back. 

13. Where in the world have you lived?

In reverse chronological order: Paris, London, New York, Providence, Chicago, and Milwaukee.

14. Best hidden place[s] in Paris?

The great thing about Paris is that there are always unexpected nooks and crannies popping up to surprise you, even in the most touristy areas. There’s a wonderful garden off of the Rue des Rosiers, for example, with a sprawling fig tree that I love.

15. What’s a movie/show/book that inspires your writing?

Any time I see or read something really moving, it inspires me to write. A few plays in particular have done that, including Copenhagen by Michael Frayn and Proof by David Auburn. For movies, I find The Virgin Suicides by Sofia Coppola, The Royal Tenenbaums by Wes Anderson, I’m Not There by Todd Haynes, and The Lion in Winter by Anthony Harvey especially inspiring.

16. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?

Without trying to pander to the audience here (hi, librarians!), it’s definitely reading. 

17. Favorite bookstore and/or library?

For bookstores, Boswell Books in Milwaukee and Librairie Galgiani in Paris (“librairie” is a false cognate in French–it’s a bookstore!). For libraries, the New York Public Library’s main branch, the Central Branch of the Milwaukee Public Library, and the Bibliothèque de la ville de Paris. 

18. What was your favorite book as a child?

I was obsessed with the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace—and I actually still am. I also loved the Emily of New Moon books by L.M. Montgomery. 

19. What’s a fact about yourself that surprises people?

I’m living proof that the axiom if you can read, you can cook is false. I couldn’t cook at all until this past year. I’m learning slowly, but I do mean slowly—I’ve done everything from boiling quick-cook pasta so long it literally disintegrated to tossing whole garlic bulbs into a sauce (they were supposed to be chopped, sigh).

20. If you could write about anything in the world next, what would it be? Go crazy!

I’m writing it right now! It’s about a former child prodigy whose mother leaves the family home to a suspicious family friend. I’m having so much fun bringing in all of these different elements I’ve wanted to write about for a while, from a set of “haunted” violins I grew up with to tongue-in-cheek feminist fairy tale retellings.

THE BALLERINAS by Rachel Kapelke-Dale; 9781250274236; 12/7/21.

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