Laura McBride grew up in West Central, in a house she visited quite often after she moved away. She headed east for college, and graduated from Yale University with a degree in American studies. She’s an English professor at the University of Southern Nevada and she lives in Las Vegas with her family.
And now, at age 53, she’s published her first novel, “We Are Called to Rise” (Simon & Schuster, $25).
The book tells the story of several strangers who come together after a cataclysmic event, and is getting some national attention. Entertainment Weekly gave it an A-minus, while Publishers Weekly noted, “It is a testament to the author’s mature voice and storytelling talent that we are willing to take to heart the lessons her story offers.”
Spokane fans old and new will have a chance to hear from McBride when the author returns to her hometown for a reading at Auntie’s this week. In a “Five Questions” email interview, McBride talks about how she found her story, what she loves about Las Vegas and how she feels about coming home.
Q. You published your first novel at age 53. Had you written other novels before or was this your first stab at one?
A. And I wrote it at 50! I wrote a novel 10 years before I wrote this one. I tried hard to get it published, but I just couldn’t move it forward. One agent finally read that book. She said she loved it, but that it just would not sell. For better or worse, I took that as a truth.
Q. How did this story come to you?
A. Well, I had been planning to write another novel for years, and I was always turning ideas around in my head. I knew I would write about Las Vegas, and I knew that I wanted it to have a certain kind of emotional resonance. So I was mentally playing with a small group of ideas for a long time, and finally, I just had to choose one and get going. I’m not entirely sure of the impulse that said “work with this story idea” but I accepted it.
Many of those story ideas sprung from things that happened in Las Vegas in the years I lived there – stories people told me, stories I overheard, stories I read about in the paper. The kernel of this novel comes from a newspaper account.
Q. What is it about Las Vegas that made it an appealing place to set your story?
A. What most interests me about Las Vegas is that it is a boomtown, and that it is a town with so many myths about it. Both of those things are interesting. Boomtowns are chaotic and diverse and hopeful and terrifying, all at once. And there’s good reason for Vegas to be a mythical place; billions of dollars are spent by some very smart people to make it that way. But as someone who has lived here a long time, those myths can get in the way of understanding one’s own experience. I thought all of that was interesting, and I think Las Vegas is a novelist’s dream. It is filled with stories worth telling.
Q. How long has it been since you’ve been back to your hometown of Spokane?
A. Oh, I’m back every year, often several times a year. My kids grew up going home to Grandma and Grandpa every summer, and meeting all of their cousins there. My sister still lives in Spokane, and many dear friends too. My mother passed away last summer, but I have spent my entire life going back not only to Spokane, but to the house where I grew up. I’m totally attached to the place.
Q. What’s next? Another novel?
A. I sure hope so! I tell people that when I wasn’t crying or laughing at something that was happening to a character, I wrote “We Are Called to Rise” with a grin on my face. It was an absolutely satisfying, engaging, exciting, wonderful process, and I really hope I get the opportunity to write another one.