Valerie Fraser Luesse: The Writer & her Book (with giveaway)

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I’m delighted to introduce you to debut novelist, Valerie Fraser Luesse, and her story of Pete, Dovey, and Isaac. Valerie has been writing professionally for many years and I’m very excited about her first foray into fiction. Enjoy getting to know Valerie and be sure to enter the giveaway below for the chance to win a copy of Missing Isaac, courtesy of Revell Books.

The Writer

Why do you tell stories?

This might sound strange, but I don’t feel like I’m telling stories so much as “turning ’em loose,” as we’d say in the South. I start with a place that speaks to me and a situation that inspires me. And then once I start writing, I’m as surprised as the reader by what happens next. I don’t really know why I do it. I just know that I have to. Nothing else is as rewarding as offering a story that speaks to other people in a meaningful way.

Your favourite place to read

Our back deck, which overlooks a small garden (when I have time to plant it) and my Story Shack, which is a tiny little cottage-office where I write.

Best meal of the day

Supper is my favorite because that’s the only time during the week when my husband, Dave, and I can just relax together. During a typical workweek, we’re going in different directions, but we reserve suppertime for just the two of us so we’ll have time to catch up and share a meal together.

Most beloved childhood book

Heidi.  My older cousin had a copy, which she gave to me after she outgrew it. Before I could read, my mother read Heidi to me in installments at bedtime. As soon as she would say “the end,” I’d beg her to start over again—which she did many times. I so wanted to sleep in a loft and drink my milk out of a bowl like Heidi. My practical farm-girl Mama pointed the way to the hayloft in my uncle’s barn next door and told me I was welcome to drink my milk from one of her Tupperware cereal bowls anytime :)

If your life was a TV show, what would it be?

Fixer Upper because Dave and I always seem to have some project we want to do, we both enjoy being creative, and we’re constantly struggling with the work-life balance.

Whose music inspires you?

That’s a tough one because I love so many kinds of music and so many artists. I grew up with a mama who loves country, gospel, and folk; a daddy who loves jazz, big band, and blues; a cool older cousin who loves rock; and a piano teacher who believed in studying classical and sacred music. So I like a little bit of everything. A few favorites: Patsy Cline, the Carter Family, Dwight Yoakam, Kate Campbell, Peter, Paul & Mary, Pink Floyd, the Mississippi Mass Choir, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Eagles, Tom Petty, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, the Gaither Vocal Band, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Elvis . . .

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What ice-cream flavour would you be?

Hand-turned homemade vanilla topped with fresh peaches from Clanton, Alabama.

The most recent novel you read

This is embarrassing. I can’t remember the last time I had a free morning or afternoon to sit down and enjoy a novel. The past year has been a really exciting time but also a challenging one. While I’m working with the marketing team at Revell Books to promote Missing Isaac, I have a manuscript deadline for my second book in March 2018. And I work full time as the senior travel editor for Southern Living magazine, so Dave and I just put nearly 800 miles on our car, rambling the gorgeous mountains of North Georgia for a travel story. I’ve always loved discovering new writers—and revisiting favorites—but unfortunately, that’s on hold for now.

What’s your current book recommendation?

My favorite inspirational books are Work in Progress: An Unfinished Woman’s Guide to Grace by Kristin Armstrong; Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer by Priscilla Shirer (a gift from my friend Mary Allen); and anything by Timothy Keller. I love Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin’. Also Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter.

Name a book character you can’t forget

So many of my favorites are Welty characters: Phoenix Jackson in “A Worn Path” because she has more strength and love than all the people who assault her dignity on her journey; George Fairchild in Delta Wedding because he’s a true Southern romantic hero who does one of the hardest things anybody can do—remains true to himself in the face of enormous pressure to conform to his family’s expectations; and the hilarious Sister in “Why I Live at the P.O.” I also think there are contemporary novelists like Michael Morris who have a knack for creating characters that stay with you.

Dream travel destination

Just about any place on the Gulf Coast, most especially Ocean Springs, Mississippi, one of the dreamiest small towns I’ve ever seen.

The Book

Missing Isaac

There was another South in the 1960s, one far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news. It was a place of inner turmoil, where ordinary people struggled to right themselves on a social landscape that was dramatically shifting beneath their feet. This is the world of Valerie Fraser Luesse’s stunning debut, Missing Isaac.

It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny, unassuming town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople’s reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for. Before it’s all over, Pete–and the people he loves most–will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever.

What was the working title?

Glory, Alabama

Describe your book in 5 adjectives

Southern, romantic, heartbreaking, funny, spiritual

Which character did you enjoy writing most?

Probably John Pickett because he started out as a cardboard cut-out of a character—just an obstacle for young romantics Pete and Dovey to work around. But that’s not what John wanted to be, and once I let him go where he wanted to go, he became one of the most fascinating and appealing characters for me. (Translation: I have a crush on him.) One of my friends who read an early draft of Missing Isaac asked if I had channelled my husband when I developed John, and I guess I probably did because I have a crush on Dave, too. (That’s just between us, though.)

Which character gave you the most grief?

I would say Aunt Babe because I wanted her to be witty and wise without slipping into a caricature who was only there for comic relief. Aunt Babe understands the white community better than they understand themselves, and she makes that knowledge work for her. Nobody’s fooling her. Ever.


What emotions do you think your story will generate in readers?

I’ve always loved that Dolly Parton line from Steel Magnolias, where she says something like “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” I’m with Dolly on that one, and that’s what I’m hoping for with Missing Isaac.

What emotions did you experience while writing this story?

Mostly joy because I just loved stepping into this fictional world and spending time with characters who never stopped surprising and engaging me.

How do you choose your characters names?

I read a lot of obituaries in Southern newspapers—never using the first and last names of a real person together, but splitting them up and mixing them up—and I keep a book of names that I’m constantly adding to. I often change names as characters develop. Isaac’s name was originally Diamond, but as I developed Hattie, his mother, I realized that she was far too humble and spiritual to give her child a flashy name. She would name him from the Bible. And the Biblical Isaac was a beloved first son.

Thank you, Valerie!

Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others. As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. 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. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society.

Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.

**Author photo credit: Mark Sandlin**

Relz Reviewz Extras
Visit Valerie’s Missing Isaac website
Buy at Amazon: Missing Isaac or Koorong

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9 Responses to Valerie Fraser Luesse: The Writer & her Book (with giveaway)

  1. Discovering new authors is like discovering a great new dish at my favorite restaurant. Such expectation….and when it’s met….such delight.

  2. I love finding new authors because they often give me a fresh, new perspective and many are added to my favorite author list. After reading her review and the synopsis of her book, I think Valerie might fall into this group, 😊 and I would love to win a copy of her book. Thanks for the giveaway!

  3. When I find a book by a new author that I really love, I enjoy gifting copies to my mom & sister or encouraging my book club to read it. Then it’s so much fun to discuss the book with them after they’ve read it too. :)

  4. Danielle Hammelef

    I’ve been reading as many debut authors this past year as I can and have found amazing talent to seek for my future reads.

  5. With a debut author, I think about the expectation, excitement and energy that went into the first release. The Christian Fiction market is a wonderful place and I like to support the growth of that market by trying new authors. Much success to Valerie!

  6. Thank you so much, Rel, for making me part of your book community. It was an honor!

  7. I love discovering an author just beginning their publishing career. I celebrate their accomplishment and I anticipate all of the reading pleasure ahead. I’ve read such good reviews of this book. Thanks for your giveaway!

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