Please join me in welcoming author Valerie Fraser Luesse to the blog today to chat about her new book The Key to Everything!
Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer, best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living magazine, one of the largest lifestyle magazines in the country. She has published major pieces on the Mississippi Delta, Acadian Louisiana, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on the recovering Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, photographed by Mark Sandlin, won the 2009 Travel Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. Luesse’s first novel, Missing Isaac, was released by Revell Books in January 2018 and received the Christy Award for Best New Novel. Almost Home, her second novel, was released in March 2019 and a third one, The Key to Everything, will be published in June 2020. Luesse has a B.A. in English from Auburn University and an M.A. in English from Baylor University. A Harpersville, Alabama, native, she now lives in Birmingham with her husband, Dave, and Cheeto the Cat.
THE KEY TO EVERYTHING
GENRE: Inspirational Historical Fiction
RELEASE DATE: June 2, 2020
“Promise me you’ll never come back here, Peyton. It’s too much–it’s just way too much.”
Peyton Cabot’s fifteenth year will be a painful and transformative one. His father, the heroic but reluctant head of a moneyed Savannah family, has come home from World War II a troubled vet, drowning his demons in bourbon and distancing himself from his son. A tragic accident shows Peyton the depths of his parents’ devotion to each other but interrupts his own budding romance with the girl of his dreams.
Struggling to cope with a young life upended, Peyton makes a daring decision: He will retrace a journey his father took at fifteen, riding his bicycle from St. Augustine, Florida, all the way to Key West. Part declaration of independence, part search for self, Peyton’s journey will bring him more than he ever could have imagined–namely, the key to his unknowable father, a longed-for reunion, and a calling that will shape the rest of his life.
Hi Valerie! Welcome to the blog!
Valerie: Summertime! I’m a Southerner and not very good at cold weather. One snowflake will shut Alabama down 🙂 But in summertime, we get to enjoy a long gardening season, beautiful beaches, lakes, and rivers—and most of all, fresh tomatoes and peaches. And black-eyed peas. And . . . Ever had fried green tomatoes?
Carrie: The only thing I love about summertime is the farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. I don’t like tomatoes in any form other than ketchup (lol) but the thought of a fresh peach right now is making me drool!
Valerie: Hot coffee and sweet iced tea. I’ve tried my best to like hot tea because I love china teacups, and sipping some Earl Grey seems like such a writery thing to do, but the truth is, I’d much rather have a tall, cold glass of Lipton, sweet with a splash of lemon, preferably sipped on a front porch or under a shade tree. I like my coffee hot, served in handmade mugs I bought in Mississippi. That way I get to remember a place I love while I sip my morning wakeup call. (Aside: When I was a little girl, my older cousin Vivian Ann let me drink coffee from my tea set. She put probably a teaspoon of coffee in the cup and filled the rest with milk. And I guess I still drink my coffee that way—lots of cream or milk.)
Carrie: I’ve always wished I loved hot tea too (or any kind of tea, for that matter) because it seems a very readery thing to do, too. But alas, the only thing in my coffee mugs or tea cups is still hot chocolate.
Valerie: Coke!!! Ever sipped from a glass bottle of Coke with salted peanuts poured into it? That’s an old-fashioned Southern thing.
Carrie: I personally have not, though I am a big fan of Cokes in glass bottles, but my dad (born & raised in East Tennessee with deep Georgia roots) has done that many a time!
Valerie: We have both in Alabama, but I’m definitely an ocean girl. Or maybe I should say a Gulf girl—I grew up going to the Gulf of Mexico on vacation, and my husband and I have bought a lot on Mississippi Sound, near Ocean Springs, where we hope to retire. I just breathe differently in salt air. I think I inherited that from my mother, who absolutely loves the beach.
Carrie: oh that sounds lovely!
Q: Around here I like to say that reading is my superpower. If YOU had a superpower, what would it be?
Valerie: Writing. There’s just nothing like it for making connections with people and sharing your personal vision of the world. And it’s so much fun to climb inside a character and look out through his or her eyes.
Carrie: i bet!!
Q: Who is your favorite book character from childhood?
Valerie: Oh my goodness, Heidi! (A strange choice for a professed ocean girl, but there you go.) My poor Mama had to read that book to me a million times when I was little. As soon as she would get to the end, I’d beg her to start over. I was just carried away with the idea of sleeping in a loft and herding goats and sipping my milk from a bowl instead of a glass. I tried it with Mama’s Tupperware, but it wasn’t the same.
Carrie: hahahahahaha no i don’t suppose it would be
Q: Writing spaces are as diverse as authors and books. Where is your favorite space to write?
Valerie: I’m sitting in it right now. I call it the Story Shack. My husband had it built for me when I was freelancing, and it’s a tiny replica of a coastal cottage with gingerbread trim that we saw in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. It’s virtually soundproof, with tall windows and a little porch in front. The roof is steeply pitched, which gives it a tall ceiling inside, and we installed a high display shelf all the way around so I can be surrounded with treasures that inspire me but keep them out of the way because the space is tight and cozy. That shelf is loaded with family pictures, a miniature bottle tree, enamelware my grandmother gave me . . .
Carrie: What fun!! I love that! (and i want one lol)
Q: Which character in The Key to Everything was the most difficult to write?
Valerie: I would have to say Marshall Cabot, who is the main character’s father. I wanted him to be both extremely appealing yet very complicated, torn between his own personal longing and his sense of responsibility to his family. I wanted him to be a presence, even in scenes where he’s not physically present, if that makes sense?
Carrie: yes, absolutely! I can’t wait to meet him 🙂
Q: Did you have the whole plot outlined before you started writing, or did you let the characters dictate what came next?
Valerie: I’ve never been able to write from an outline because I find it confining, but I do create visual storyboards—probably a throwback to all the years I’ve been working in magazines. Because The Key to Everything was inspired by a true story—an incident from the life of a friend’s father—I was able to incorporate some of her family pictures into my storyboard. The image I kept coming back to was one of her dad wearing aviator sunglasses. When I asked my friend about that picture in particular, she couldn’t believe it—that was her favorite shot of her dad, and he wore the aviators all his life. So I made them central to the story.
Carrie: I love that the book is inspired by a true story!
Q: What is one of your favorite quotes from The Key to Everything & why do you love it?
Valerie: “You are not the only one who has felt forsaken. That is how you know you are not.”
During his journey to Key West, Peyton is befriended by a girl named Gina and her large Cuban-American family. They invite him to their Catholic church for Sunday services, where he sees carvings of the Stations of the Cross for the first time and is very moved by them, though he can’t explain why. Later, as she says goodbye to Peyton, Gina tells him to remember the carvings and the message they bear: “You are not the only one who has felt forsaken. That is how you know you are not.”
That’s based on a true experience of mine, when I was in my early thirties and lost a dear friend to cancer. I couldn’t attend a Baptist church—the faith I grew up with—because it was too emotional for me. So I started visiting Catholic churches. I loved the serenity of their services. I was sitting in a very old Catholic church in downtown Birmingham, trying to come to terms with the death of a friend so young, when I looked up and saw the Stations of the Cross. That’s when I knew it was okay for me to feel forsaken—and to believe that I really wasn’t.
Carrie: that’s beautiful ♥
Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me! 🙂 Before we say goodbye for today, tell us what‘s coming up next for you.
Valerie: Thank you for having me! My next book is set in one of my favorite places on earth, Louisiana’s bayou country, which is one of the most beautiful and fascinating places I’ve ever been. Bayou Dreams takes place in the 1940s, after the war, and tells the story of a young schoolteacher from Alabama, searching for purpose, who accepts a job at a school in tiny Bernadette, Louisiana. The Cajun people there—one in particular—will change her life.
Carrie: i can’t wait!
Revell is offering a print copy of The Key to Everything to one of my readers! (US only. Void where prohibited by law or logistics.) This giveaway is subject to Reading Is My SuperPower’s giveaway policies which can be found here. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
What about you? What interests you most about The Key to Everything and/or my Q&A with Valerie Fraser Luesse?