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Interview: Valerie Fraser Luesse, author of MISSING ISAAC

  Genre: Southern Fiction / Christian / Coming of Age
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: January 2, 2018
Number of Pages: 352

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Isaac believed in luck. But from Pete’s point of view, Isaac’s luck had all run out.

When Pete McLean loses his father in the summer of 1962, his friend Isaac is one of the few people he can lean on. Though their worlds are as different as black and white, friendship knows no color. So when Isaac suddenly goes missing, Pete is determined to find out what happened—no matter what it costs him. His quest will lead him into parts of town that he knows only through rumors and introduce him to a girl who will change his life. What they discover together will change the small Southern town of Glory, Alabama—forever.

With vivid descriptions, palpable atmosphere, and unforgettable characters, debut novelist Valerie Fraser Luesse breathes life into the rural South of the 1960s—a place where ordinary people struggle to find their footing in a social landscape that is shifting beneath their feet.

“Valerie Fraser Luesse’s beautiful story reveals the human heart that always beats beneath the headlines. In the process, she movingly illuminates not only the spirit of a special region but the soul of every human being who ever dared to care. Missing Isaac will break—and then heal—your heart.” 
J. I. Baker, journalist and author of The Empty Glass 
“Welcome debut novelist Valerie Fraser Luesse to the legions of gifted Southern writers before her. Missing Isaac is the first of what we hope will be many more tales from this talented writer.”
Nancy Dorman-Hickson, coauthor of Diplomacy and Diamonds and a former editor for Progressive Farmer and Southern Living magazines

“Valerie Luesse has an ear for dialogue, an eye for detail, and a profound gift for storytelling. She breathes life into these colorful Southern characters and this quirky Alabama town from the first page.” 
Sid Evans, editor-in-chief of Southern Living magazine

Baker Book House  ║  Amazon
Barnes & Noble  ║  ║  iBooks
Kobo   ║  Lifeway  ║  Books-A-Million

How has Texas influenced your writing?
When I moved to Waco for graduate school, I rented an apartment in an older building just a few blocks from campus. One of my neighbors was a Baylor retiree named Martha Eamons, who was in her nineties when I met her. Martha was involved with the Texas Folklore Society and gave me my first Hank the Cowdog book. I remember sitting in her apartment late one afternoon, listening to her read one of her stories, and as she spoke in dialect and took on each of the characters in her story, she becamethem, right there in front of me. It was a lesson in creating a character from the inside out.

Where did your love of storytelling come from?
Poor TV reception! That’s the short answer. I grew up in rural Alabama in the ‘60s and ‘70s with no Internet, no cable or satellite TV, no video games or cell phones. Our big extended family often entertained each other with stories—historic ones, funny ones, spooky ones . . . It’s just something I grew up with.

How long have you been writing?
As long as I’ve been reading, according to my mother. I studied English at Auburn and Baylor, where I worked on a literary journal. I got a summer job with the Southern Living Cooking School while I was still at Baylor. Then I came back to Auburn as a technical writer before getting my foot in the door with the Time Inc. subsidiary that published Southern Living magazine back then. I was there for 22 years, then left to freelance for a while, and I returned to the magazine to work on an anniversary book called Southern Living 50 Years. I’ve been senior travel editor there since early last year.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?
It’s definitely Southern and, I hope, natural. It’s important to me to write the way real Southerners talk. My friends and family who read early drafts of Missing Isaac often described it as cinematic. They said they felt as if they were watching it instead of reading it. That wasn’t intentional on my part, but it’s the way I write—seeing scenes in my mind and then writing them down.

Are there under-represented groups or ideas featured if your book?
Christians and Southerners—particularly poor ones—often get stereotypical treatment—maybe more so in movies and TV shows than in books. I wanted to show the basic dignity of every human being—rich or poor, black or white. Typically, if you saw a movie about a poor, lonely, widowed Southern man raising a beautiful daughter in the backwoods, what would he be doing? Exactly. But the character John Pickett is a quiet man of faith with tremendous integrity and strength, despite his broken heart. He is determined to give his daughter, Dovey, what he never had—and to teach her that her place in the world is wherever she wants it be. That’s why (I hope) it’s so rewarding to see John find life-changing love in Missing Isaac.

Who are some of the authors you feel were influential in your work? 
Not that I would ever be brazen enough to compare my work to theirs, but I love Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, and Zora Neale Hurston.

What projects are you working on at the present?
My second manuscript for Revell Books is due in March (!). It’s set in rural Alabama during World War II, when many rural families turned their homes into boarding houses, taking in workers from up north who were flocking down here to work in the military’s munitions plants and shipyards. I just thought the idea of people from totally different cultures being thrown together—temporarily—was intriguing.

What does your perfect writing spot look like? Is that what your ACTUAL writing spot looks like?
I actually write in my perfect writing spot. I was driving my poor husband crazy, trying to share his home office while I freelanced. So he agreed to build me anything I wanted if I would just give him back his space. We spotted this cute little coastal cottage in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi—it had a front porch and gingerbread trim—and we just knew that was it. My husband drew up a plan for a miniature version, and our carpenter friend built what we call the Story Shack beside our house.

Do you have any strange writing habits or writing rituals you’d like to share with your readers?
I like to write before dawn—in the Story Shack with just some string lights and a gardenia-scented candle burning. There’s something about those still, quiet hours before the world wakes up that makes me feel inspired.

Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning writer and a senior travel editor for Southern Living. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She lives in Alabama.

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GRAND PRIZE: Print Copy of Missing Isaac, Print Copy of Southern Living Annual Recipes 2017, Handmade Leather Journal (9"x5"); 2ND PRIZE: Copy of Missing Isaac + $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card; 3RD PRIZE: Copy of Missing Isaac + $10 Starbucks Gift Card
January 2-January 11, 2018
(U.S. Only)

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Interview: Valerie Fraser Luesse, author of MISSING ISAAC


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