Memories of high school and hoop skirts inspire Echo Park writer’s first novel

Photo from Southern Belle Hell/Flickr

Echo Park resident Crickett Rumley spent her middle and high school years in Mobile, Alabama, where she was intrigued by a group of young women known as the Azalea Trail Maids. They are Mobile’s equivalent of the Pasadena Rose Queen and Royal Court: fifty high school seniors who represent the Southern city at events – ranging from presidential inaugurations to the Rose Parade – wearing pastel-colored, Scarlett-Hara-like gowns with hoop skirts. As an adult, Rumley returned to Mobile to interview a new generation of Azalea Trail Maids. She used that information along with other childhood memories as a starting point for her first published novel, a book for young adults titled “Never Sit Down in a  Hoop Skirt and Other Things I learned in Southern Belle Hell.”  Rumley will read from her book tonight, July 6, at Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park.

“I became interested in writing something personal, something distinctly Southern,” said Rumley, whose previous experience has mostly been in screen writing. “I am originally from eastern North Carolina, and I realized I wanted to explore the conflicts I experience between the established traditions I grew up with and the iPhone/eBook/Twitter world we live in today.  A novel seemed the best medium for regional exploration.”

The book, published by Egmont USA, features seventeen year old Jane Fontaine Ventouras,  a boarding-school reject who ends up up in a small Alabama small town where every girl dreams of competing in the annual Magnolia Maid Pageant.

Crickett Rumley/Photo courtesy David Slodky

In working on the book Rumley, who settled into an Echo Park bungalow 11 years ago after moving from New York,  sought answers to questions she had about modern-day teenage girls who idealize a Scarlett O’Hara vision of the South: Who wanted to be an Azalea Trail Maid and why?  What was it like to wear one of those giant, fluffy, lung-compressing dresses?  How could they afford them?  And why would a 21st century girl even consider putting herself in one of those things in the first place?  Were the Maids smart or just Southern belle beauty queen airheads?

Not airheads, it turns out.

“I interviewed several of these young ladies,” said Rumley via email. “They are smart, gregarious, and full of knowledge about their local culture and history!

Rumley’s reading at Stories Books begins at 7 p.m.

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  1. Having seen the “silent movie” video about the book, I am looking forward to a reading tonight from a delightful woman who has retained “just enough” of North Carolina in her speech to be delightful!

  2. I read it and LOVED it! It’s funny and sweet and the voice is fantastic. I’m already looking forward to her next book.

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