Jody Hadlock’s new book The Lives of Diamond Bessie published April 5, 2022. Jody’s love of history goes all the way back to junior high, when she was a member of the Junior Historians of Texas—so it’s no surprise her first novel is historical. She studied journalism at Texas A&M University and worked as a broadcast journalist and then in nonprofit public relations before turning her focus to fiction. She also writes screenplays and won the 2020 Dallas International Film Festival’s screenplay contest.
Synopsis of The Lives of Diamond Bessie from the publisher:
Pregnant out of wedlock, sixteen-year-old Annie Moore is sent to live at a convent for fallen women. When the nuns take her baby, Annie escapes, determined to find a way to be reunited with her daughter. But few rights or opportunities are available to a woman in the 1860s, and after failing to find a respectable job, she resorts to prostitution in order to survive. As a highly sought-after demi-mondaine, Annie—now Bessie—garners many expensive gifts from her admirers and eventually meets and marries the son of a wealthy jeweler, a traveling salesman with a gambling problem. With her marriage, she believes her dream of returning to proper society has finally come true. She’s proven wrong when she suffers the ultimate betrayal at the hands of the man she thought would be her salvation. But Bessie doesn’t let her story end there. Set against the backdrop of the burgeoning women’s rights movement, The Lives of Diamond Bessie is a captivating tale of betrayal and redemption that explores whether seeking revenge is worth the price you might pay.
Jody answers some questions that I posed to her about The Lives of Diamond Bessie:
1. What inspired you to start writing The Lives of Diamond Bessie?
I first learned of Diamond Bessie when I visited Jefferson, Texas in the 1990s. At the town’s historical museum there was a full-page newspaper article about Bessie and Abe Rothschild on display. It was published in a Dallas newspaper in the 1930s. I thought, “Why in the world was a Dallas paper interested in something that happened nearly 60 years earlier in a tiny town three hours away?” And I had another thought, but I don’t want to give away the plot for those not familiar with the story.
At the time I was working as a television news reporter and anchor in Charleston, South Carolina and made a vow that I would look into the story when I moved back to Texas and determine if it would make a good novel. When I landed a job anchoring the news in San Antonio two years later, I immediately started my research. I quickly realized Bessie’s story would make a good novel.
2. What kind of research did you have to do?
I spent two years doing research in my spare time, combing through newspaper articles on microfilm at the library (this was before Newspapers.com), reading court documents about the case, and traveling to nearly every place Bessie lived or visited.
After finishing my research and an outline, I sat down to write. But the words didn’t come right away. It took me a long time to discover the problem: I wasn’t using the right point of view. But before I figured that out, I struggled and floundered, and when life got in the way as well, I set aside my novel.
I finally came back to it in 2014 and then things fell into place. But I also realized I still needed to do more research. Newspapers.com had come online and I found more articles about the case, including some new details. Not much is known about Bessie’s early life, so that part is more fictional than fact. When I decided on the plot, I did research on what life was like for women of her time who became pregnant out of wedlock. I also found three memoirs of nineteenth century prostitutes that were fascinating. My depiction of the life of demi-mondaines back then is very accurate.
3. What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
How far women have come since the 1800s
4. What surprised you the most when writing this book?
I had no idea that it was so frowned upon for women to read novels in the 1800s. I included a scene about this. Novel reading was really thought to lead to nervous disorders and other kinds of problems, for women, not men of course. It’s absolutely ridiculous to us today, but back then it was accepted as the truth.
5. Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.
I have a heart tattoo on my lower abdomen above my right hip. I got it in Key West years ago on a girls trip. One of my friends wanted a tattoo but didn’t want to get one by herself. I was the only one who agreed to do it with her. And no, we weren’t drunk.
6. What are you reading now and what have you read recently that you loved?
I’m currently reading an advance copy of Finding Grace by Maren Cooper. It’s a poignant story about a relationship between a father and his daughter, a daughter he wanted but that his wife did not, and the effects on the family. Finding Grace will be published in July.
I was fortunate to read an advance copy of Waterbury Winter by Linda Henley, and it’s an absolute gem. It’s reminiscent of A Man Called Ove, which I also adored. Waterbury Winter comes out May 3rd.
Order The Lives of Diamond Bessie from Bookshop.org here.