Carrie La Seur is the author of the new literary thriller The Home Place. This highly recommended, highly suspenseful read has something for everyone; there’s a mysterious murder, family drama, a love story, and at the center of it all, a fiercely smart, independent woman who’s forced to deal with her past. Carrie talked to me about her writing tips, how she juggles being a lawyer, pilot, and author…and of course, Channing Tatum. Read the interview and then pick up her book!
You’re an expert in many things: You’re an environmental lawyer, you have a doctorate in modern languages, you’re a licensed private pilot, and now you’re a published novelist. Do you identify with one profession over another? Describe your journey to becoming a writer.
I’ve always been a writer, since long before I had any other kind of title. I do all these things because they interest me, I’m a little ADD, and I have a lot of excess energy. But there will never be a time when I don’t write on a regular basis in some form. It’s a fundamental character trait.
I have always used the written word as my primary and best form of self-expression. I’ve written law review articles and shorter pieces on environmental questions for the nonprofit I founded, Plains Justice, and I’ve also published essays with online publications like Salon, Grist, and Huffington Post.
There was a point before I went to law school when I submitted a few stories to literary journals, and my vague recollection is that I had a few published, but I couldn’t even tell you where anymore. It’s not something I’ve had time for in many years. Of course there’s a whole library of stories, novels, etc. on my hard drive and in my drawers that should never see the light of day.
You have a jam-packed schedule. How did you find the time to write this book?
It was late nights, weekends, and vacations mostly. I’ve had to develop the discipline to sit down and put words on paper whenever I have the chance, even if I change all of them later. I carry a little notebook to take down anything that comes to me while I’m on the road or in a meeting, and I’ve been surprised how often these notes make it into the final version of the novel. If you give your brain a task, your unconscious mind gets on it even when you’re doing something completely different.
There are certain parallels between your own life and that of your protagonist, Alma Terrebonne. You both attended Yale Law School and settled in Billings, Montana. It takes a while for Alma to adjust from the big city to Montana. Did you have a similar experience?
Montana is such a refuge for me. I travel fairly frequently and certainly don’t feel isolated here, but Alma’s homecoming is far more complex. It’s not a choice she made, it’s forces beyond her control acting on her. I don’t think anyone enjoys that experience.
I love reading thrillers, and I would classify The Home Place as a literary thriller — it’s definitely a page-turner, but the writing is incredibly beautiful and you delve into complex issues. Are you a fan of thrillers and did you set out to write one?
I do love thrillers, especially when they introduce me to complex people and take me down paths where I can’t see around the next corner. I set out to write the sort of thing I’d be excited to find on the shelf.
Your book gets into unique subject matter — the environmental issues of land mining, what it’s like to live as a gay person in Montana, the poverty and drug abuse rampant in isolated areas — will there be a sequel to The Home Place?
There’s an as-yet-unnamed book to follow The Home Place that has the earmarks of a sequel but I think functions pretty well as an autonomous story. It will incorporate many of the characters from the book, plus a cast of new ones. I write to tell myself stories I want to hear, so if a theme has come up in The Home Place, there’s a good chance it will wind its way into future work.
My favorite character in your novel is Chance, a hot cowboy and Alma’s high school sweetheart. Serious question: Who would you cast as Chance in the film version of The Home Place? (During my reading, I pictured Channing Tatum.)
It’s funny that you mention Channing Tatum, because in another conversation with a blogger we were just discussing him as the casting choice for Pete. I don’t imagine Chance as anybody too pretty. The book never describes him as handsome, but he matches Alma in some pretty important ways. He’s an intellectual in a place where intellectualism isn’t always valued, and he feels the same conflict between home and the outside world. That’s why the relationship is able to pick up so quickly. I picture him as someone more like a young Hugh Laurie — although I realize that’s probably not the most commercial idea!
Who are your favorite writers? Can you recommend a book you enjoyed recently?
I’ve been loving a lot of nonfiction recently, especially Farewell Fred Voodoo, Amy Wilentz’s fascinating memoir of working as a foreign correspondent in Haiti over the last decade or so. I also have a love/hate relationship with Tana French’s thrillers. They’re so good, but I find myself wanting to argue with her about some of her choices with her characters, which must be a sign that she’s engaged me completely.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Apply butt to chair. That’s all there is. And when you’re not writing, live a little. Get dirty. Fight for something. Figure out what you believe in. Your passion — or lack of it — will translate to the page. The world needs more passionate writers.
Author photos by Dewey Vanderhoff.
I will read anything by Ann Patchett. I’ll also read anything by Emily St. John Mandel.
Well friends, the stars have aligned. Ann Patchett read Emily St. John Mandel’s new novel (thanks to a recommendation by Donna Tartt!), and she loved it so much that it’s going to be the September selection for her bookstore’s book club.
I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, a book that scared me half to death. Sitting on my front porch reading the last 75 pages, all I could think about was how much I wanted a cigarette, only to remember that I stopped smoking 20 years ago. Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic novel, and as long as we’re talking about things I don’t read, we should add post-apocalyptic to the list. But Station Eleven is so compelling, so fearlessly imagined, that I wouldn’t have put it down for anything.
I thought this would be my favorite Amy Bloom quote from her New York Times By the Book interview:
Death, suffering, resolution and a nice, sharp sentence seem to go so well with sand and sun.
But then this happened:
What’s the one book you wish someone else would write?
I wish someone else would write a book that clearly and persuasively articulated why women’s reproductive rights are so important to this country, on both moral and legal grounds. When I say “clearly and persuasively,” I mean that, after reading this wonderful book, all opposition to women’s reproductive rights would evaporate, like morning mist.
Amy Bloom illustration by Jillian Tamaki.
Emma Straub and I had a fantastic reading at McNally Jackson. It’s such a beautiful store and the crowd was warm and enthusiastic. Also, fashionable.
Also, someone needs to give me and Emma a talk show, stat!
OMG I’m in the picture on the left, looking so delighted and eager about everything Edan and Emma are saying. I could hardly contain myself. Last night was prime author stalking.
I follow John Sandford on Facebook because I’m an author stalker and also because he frequently writes insightful posts about what it’s like to be a massively successful commercial writer.
Sandford is famous for his awesome Prey series, but he just came out with his first YA book, Uncaged, and he decided to check out the book’s online reviews.
Did you know that some people will give a book a low rating because they thought it cost too much? Did you know that some people are terrible?
Here’s what Sandford had to say:
I was looking at Amazon reviews of Uncaged, which is not recommended for authors, because sometimes it stops your heart. Here’s the thing: I get all kinds of reviews, mostly good, some bad. I love the good reviews, of course, but don’t pay a huge amount of attention to them, because they already agree with what I did. I do pay some attention to the two- and one-star reviews, because if they sincerely tell me something I might have done wrong, then maybe I can learn something, and fix it next time. That has actually happened, and that’s not what stops your heart. What does that is the reviews that say stuff like, “This book cost too much. I like it a lot, but because of the price, I’m only giving it one star.” Or, “I don’t want to wait a year for the next book, so I’m giving this one one-star.”
I mean, c’mon. If somebody says, “Sandford’s character development is too shallow in this book” or “Sandford is too vulgar here, too much swearing, cops don’t talk like that,” I’ll take it seriously — because maybe the reader is right. But I don’t set the prices for the books; and the book said on the cover, The Singular Menace: Book 1. Doesn’t that at least hint there may be more books?
Those Amazon ratings are important, because lots of readers who are tempted by the book look at the overall rating, and if it’s not five or four stars, pass on it.
Yikes. If you review books, be thoughtful, not terrible.
Right now I’m reading Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia and it is splendid. Yesterday, the author published a piece on The Toast celebrating her writing role model, the one and only Jessica Fletcher.
In my mid-twenties I started to joke about it. I told people I wanted to grow up to be Jessica Fletcher. It seemed a funny shorthand description of my essential personality: I’m highly observant. I like to read. I like to write. I’m an indoor girl, and I have a cat. I know how to kill you with poison (but I won’t). I’d probably do better in a small town where I loved a lot of people, where said people loved me too but knew when to leave me alone.
And then I realized it wasn’t a joke at all. I do want to grow up to be Jessica Fletcher. All those hours watching Jess tromp around Cabot Cove had drawn up a blueprint for a life, and had presented an ideal woman to become: A woman who writes books. Who supports herself by writing those books, who has artistic integrity but isn’t paralyzed by her own insecurities as an artist and remains humble in the face of success. Who gets intense satisfaction from finding the right word, finishing her novel and closing that sweet leather portfolio.
My husband really outdid himself today.