Friday, 12 August 2022

I Interviews

Interview: Valerie Fraser Luesse

Can you please provide a brief summary of your new novel, The Key to Everything?

Fifteen-year-old Peyton Cabot is part of a wealthy Georgia family. His father, a troubled World War II vet, suffers a tragic accident that changes everything for his wife and son. As Peyton struggles to comprehend what’s happening, he re-creates part of a bike ride his father took at fifteen, traveling from St. Augustine to Key West, Florida. Searching for answers about himself and his father, Peyton is also determined to reconnect with the love of his life, Lisa Wallace. What happens to him during this monumental bike ride will shape the rest of his life.


The Key to Everything is based on a true story. How much of your narrative includes the real-life account?

My friend Holly Patterson Belk told me the story of the bike ride to Key West, which her father completed—from Waycross, Georgia, to Key West and back—when he was just fifteen. He did it on a bet with some of his friends and really did become something of a celebrity as local papers covered his journey. The part about sleeping in jails and firehouses, with an introductory letter from his police chief, is true. So arethe mosquito attack and his recovery at the naval base in Key West. And there was a special girl involved! Holly let me read some letters that her dad wrote to her mother when he was a fighter pilot, and I used their wonderful connection to each Valerie Fraser Luesseother to imagine Peyton and Lisa’s romance. The rest, though, is fiction. Holly didn’t really know much about what happened to her dad on the bike ride. And I invented the Cabot clan and all their machinations. Her dad, Ben Lane Patterson Jr., had an amazing life, flying 101 missions and becoming a brigadier general, an attorney, and a judge.


How difficult was it to write a story from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old boy?

I guess I didn’t think of him as a general fifteen-year-old boy but as a very specific one—a boy who had been raised in a specific way and in a particular place. Readers will have to judge whether I got it right.


There are several characters who play integralroles in this story. Which character do you resonate with the most? 

I love Aunt Gert! I borrowed her name from my Aunt Joyce, whose brothers and sisters nicknamed her Gert. Aunt Joyce was very direct, with a dry sense of humor that suited my character well.


The Key to Everything is a coming-of-age novel. What were the circumstances that led Peyton to take his journey of self-discovery?

His sensitive and loving father has come home from the war a troubled vet, drowning his memories in bourbon and distancing himself from Peyton. One family tragedy follows another, and then Peyton is separated from Lisa, the girl of his dreams. It all happens the summer of his fifteenth year, pushing him to test himself, retrace his father’s journey, and try to find some answers about his family and himself.


Peyton’s expeditionresulted in several positive outcomes. Can you please relay some of the ways this journey helped change and shape the rest of Peyton’s life?

The most important lesson—literally “the key to everything”—is that you can’t retrace someone else’s journey. You can’t follow someoneelse’s map, no matter how much you love them. You have to find your own way, carve your own path. And if you’ve truly found the love of your life, there’s no sacrifice you won’t make to hold onto The Key to Everything coverthem.


As an Alabama native, you bring a unique flavor to your novels. Each work is packed with the rich feel of Southern charm and culture. Can you please tell readers about the settings in The Key to Everything?

I’ve spent a lot of time traveling the South and telling stories about it for Southern Living, and I guess I bring some of my old travel writing habits into my fiction. It’s important to me that readers really see the places my characters inhabit—from the downtown streets of old St. Augustine to surf towns like Flagler Beach to the otherworldly Key West. My first trip there was for a writing workshop, and I was just mesmerized by the palm trees and the historic architecture and the turquoise water. Eerily beautiful.


What type of research was required to accurately portray this tale?

I wanted the relationship between Peyton and Lisa to capture at least a few elements of the real romance between General Patterson and his wife, Bette. So their daughter, my friend Holly, let me read some of their correspondence, both before and after they married. I read books on old Florida and watched documentaries on Key West during the war years and before. Probably my most important research tool was GoogleMaps, because I had to carefully track where Peyton would be on any given day and make sure I kept the towns in the correct order from north to south. I even watched a few YouTube videos on boating and polled my biking Facebook friends about their injuries. So I guess I used just about every research tool imaginable.


What are you working on next?

I’m very excited about my fourth book, which will be set in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, where there’s so much rich Acadian culture. Can’t wait to take readers into the bayou.


How can readers connect with you?

At, or on Facebook @valeriefraserluessebooks.



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