BEHIND THE WORDS WITH AUTHOR VALERIE FRASER LUESSE
HEY!! Welcome Valerie, we’re excited to have you on Reader’s Entertainment. First, please tell our readers a bit about yourself.
Where you’re from, where you live? Is writing your full-time job?
I grew up in a little cotton-farming town called Harpersville, Alabama, which is not too far from Birmingham, where my husband, Dave, and I live now. I’m the senior travel editor for Southern Living magazine and write fiction early in the morning, when it’s dark and quiet outside, and on weekends—usually with a big orange cat named Cheeto sleeping in a chair next to my desk (when he’s not stepping on my keyboard to get my attention). So yes, I’d say writing, in one form or another, is my full-time job.
How long have you been writing?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write, even as a little kid.
Briefly describe your writing day. Tell us about your latest release.
The older I get, the less I sleep. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but it makes for great writing time! My husband had a little studio built for me (because I kept trying to take over his home office). I call it the Story Shack. It’s a teeny cottage inspired by a house we saw in coastal Mississippi, and it’s virtually soundproof. It has big windows on the front and a little porch with the ceiling painted “haint blue”—an old Southern tradition. I’m usually writing well before daylight, coffee mug at the ready. I’ll work on my own projects until 9 a.m., when my Southern Living workday starts. We’re working from home right now, so I do my job and write fiction from the Shack.
My latest book is called Under the Bayou Moon. It’s set in post-World War II Louisiana and tells the story of a young, idealistic Alabama schoolteacher named Ellie Fields, who is searching for her path in life and accepts a job in tiny Bernadette, Louisiana. Ellie is captivated by the beauty of the bayou and by the Cajun people who live there. She’s also infuriated by state laws that forbid Cajun children from speaking their native Acadian French. In Louisiana, Ellie meets two men who will change her life in profound ways: Heywood Thornberry, a charismatic photographer, and Heywood’s best friend, Raphe Broussard, a lonely Cajun fisherman who is raising his young nephew on his own. One man will become Ellie’s dearest friend, the other will be the love of her life. The three of them are pulled into a fight for the bayou when a crooked politician and a misguided evangelist threaten to destroy it.
What inspired this book?
I think I always lead with place—I start with a place and time that fascinates me and let the characters develop from there. In this case, I was inspired by my own travels, when I did a story on Acadian Louisiana for Southern Living. My husband made a couple of trips with me and then I went back with photographer Art Meripol. Ellie’s fascination with the cypress trees and the Spanish moss, the bayous and the Atchafalaya River—that was my own experience. There’s absolutely no other place like Louisiana’s bayou country.
Could you share one detail from your current release with readers that they might not find in the book? Perhaps a juicy bit of back-story, or something only you know about a character?
I gave Heywood a line that my grandmother actually said: “Life is short, even when you live a really long time.”
Also, the scene where Doc warns Ellie not to trail her hand in the water as they’re gliding down the bayou in his boat—that’s something I told myself. A Cajun guide and wonderful storyteller named Harold Schoeffler took Art (our photographer) and me out in his bass boat on the Atchafalaya. I was trailing my hand in the water when I remembered where I was and quickly pulled it out!
What has been your hardest scene to write? Any of your books
All the romantic scenes. I don’t think of myself as a romance writer, but I like to have romantic elements in my books, and they are the hardest scenes in the world for me to write (maybe because part of my brain is always thinking, “The preacher’s gonna read this”). In Missing Isaac, there’s a scene where the main characters, Pete and Dovey, are dancing together and share their first kiss. It’s only one paragraph, but I probably worked on it, off and on, for two weeks. Now it’s one of my favorite moments from any of my books, but it took me a long time to get it right.
Who has been the most difficult character for you to write? Why?
All villains. I just flat-out don’t enjoy their company.
If you could be one of your characters for a day which character would it be? Why?
Probably Ellie. I love her courage and her honesty. Plus, she gets to live in a cozy cabin on the bayou, which would be great.
All writers are readers. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
Definitely Eudora Welty. Scholars of her fiction often talk about the way she found “significance in the ordinary,” and that spoke to me—the idea that your characters don’t have to be superheroes or even particularly exotic to be compelling and to shed light on universal themes that speak to readers.
Do you have a secret talent readers would be surprised by?
I have exceptional parallel parking skills. Daddy taught me, using two bales of hay, and I’m still pretty good at it. Some people can ski or paint or dance. I can parallel park.
Your favorite go to drink or food when the world goes crazy!
Homemade chicken-and-sausage gumbo or Publix fried chicken. And Mama’s potato salad.
Thank you so much for a great interview, Valerie!!
Valerie Fraser Luesse is the author of Almost Home and the bestselling, Christy Award–winning Missing Isaac. Her third novel, The Key to Everything, was inspired by a true story. An award-winning magazine writer, Luesse is best known for her features and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently the senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, she has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Acadian Louisiana, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. The author lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Dave—and a mischievous orange cat named Cheeto.
Learn more about Valerie’s books at:
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Here’s a look at Valerie’s latest release::: Under the Bayou Moon
Restless with the familiarity of her Alabama home, Ellie Fields accepts a teaching job in a tiny Louisiana town deep in bayou country. Though rightfully suspicious of outsiders, who have threatened both their language and their culture, most of the people in tiny Bernadette, Louisiana, come to appreciate the young and idealistic schoolteacher as a boon to the town. She’s soon teaching just about everyone–and coming up against opposition from both the school board and a politician with ulterior motives.
Acclimating to a whole new world, Ellie meets a lonely but intriguing Cajun fisherman named Raphe who introduces her to the legendary white alligator that haunts these waters. Raphe and Ellie have barely found their way to each other when a huge bounty is offered for the elusive gator, bringing about a shocking turn of events that will test their love and their will to right a terrible wrong.
A master of the Southern novel, Valerie Fraser Luesse invites you to enter the sultry swamps of Louisiana in a story that illuminates the struggle for the heart and soul of the bayou.