Laura McBride will present her new novel, ’Round Midnight, at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison next Wednesday evening, May 24th, at 7:00 p.m. This event is free and open to the public; reservations are preferred and can be made online or by calling the store at 203-245-3959. Copies of the book will be available for purchase / signing. Location: 768 Boston Post Rd.
Today, I’m joined in cyber chat by Laura McBride.
Laura is the author of the recently released novel, ’Round Midnight (Touchstone). She previously wrote We Are Called to Rise, which was a #1 Indie Next pick and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers choice; that title has also been a popular choice for One Book/One Community programs nationwide. Laura teaches composition and literature at the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, where she also makes her home.
Praise for ’Round Midnight:
“If McBride is trying to prove what one of her characters declares—that if you change one life, you change the world—she succeeds magnificently….McBride powerfully addresses an important theme, namely, how much a personal choice can impact others and even alter history.”—Booklist
“Las Vegas itself is a character in this immersive novel that effectively exhibits the changes to the city throughout the decades. This is a tale of love, loss, and the unexpected, unheralded ways that lives meet around blackjack and roulette tables.”—Publisher’s Weekly
“I’m not one to pull out the term ‘Great American Novel,’ but Laura McBride’s sublime ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT demands nothing less. Gorgeous, engrossing, moving, and at times wickedly funny, this brilliant novel pulled me in and didn’t let me go until the shattering final sentence. This is the novel you need to read right now.”—Internationally bestselling author Joanna Rakoff
From the publisher:
From the author of We Are Called to Rise comes a novel about the interconnected lives of four women in Las Vegas, each of whom experiences a life-changing moment at a classic casino nightclub.
What is it about the Midnight Room?
In a choreographic tour de force, Laura McBride twirls four women through a Las Vegas nightclub, turning their separate lives into a suspenseful, intricate dance of mothers, daughters, wives, and lovers.
The One Who Falls in Love: June hires a charismatic black man to sing at her club, but her fast-paced lifestyle runs aground as racial tensions mount.
The One Who Gets Lucky: Honorata leaves the Philippines as a mail-order bride, then strikes it rich in the Midnight Room.
The One Whose Heart Is Broken: Engracia finds bad luck in the Midnight Room and becomes enmeshed in Honorata’s secrets when she confronts a man with a gun.
The One Who Always Wondered: Coral struggles with her mysterious past until a desire to help Engracia steers her to the Midnight Room.
Wise and heartbreaking, jubilant and loving, ’Round Midnight is about the intensity and intimacy of four women’s lives, lives that are connected by secrets, courage, tragedies, and small acts of kindness. This brilliantly conceived, passionately written novel will resonate long after you turn the final page.
Now, Laura shares the story of how ’Round Midnight came to be, and what independent bookstores mean to her …
John Valeri: ‘Round Midnight was not the novel you intended to write. How did creative inspiration alter your course – and in what ways is this book a melding of new and old characters and ideas?
Laura McBride: I was working on a different novel, and I stopped it in order to follow the inspiration that led to ‘Round Midnight. The other novel was deeply sad, and it kept getting more sad, which I had not anticipated. And one night, I was in a smoky, rundown nightclub – in a casino about to be imploded – and quite improbably the show was terrific. And I wondered about all the people that had been in and out of that nightclub over the last 50 years, and just like that, June Stein – the first character the reader meets in ‘Round Midnight – popped into my head.
While I am someone who likes to build a novel around a strong frame – I like to know the beginning and the end (perhaps not the details of the end, but its purport) – I also allow the story to develop, and I trust the ideas that come to me as I write. When I started writing June, I did not know that Honorata or Coral or Engracia would also be in the story. I didn’t set out with a concept of four women, or four women of these different experiences. Instead, I followed June out a way, and then it occurred to me that she might encounter Honorata, a character who had been in my mind for 25 years, and very quickly after that, I realized that I could pull in Engracia from the just-abandoned novel. For a while, I thought of it as a book about three women and three eras in Vegas history. But Coral just wrote herself into the story; she came into being because I set June Stein in motion. And once Coral got in there, I loosened up the three eras too – and allowed each character to appear in other sections of the book.
It’s funny. I always have a plan, but very often, I deviate from the plan. For me, those deviations do not feel like departures; they feel like I am just becoming more aware of what I had always intended to do. That sounds odd here, but it is how the process feels to me.
JV: This narrative spans sixty years. How do you endeavor to balance a sense of timeliness with timelessness – and in what ways do you feel these women’s stories are particularly relevant/resonant, given the current climate in America?
LM: This is a complex question. It doesn’t seem to me that there is anything not timely about the past; our individual pasts and our collective past are always resonating – in apparent and hidden ways. Maybe time is not even linear, which is an idea that was in my mind writing this story. For a little while, I was toying with the nightclub as a place in which little bits of each character somehow rested – sub-atomically or something – but I was getting way over my head, and finally I let those ideas go. I didn’t need them anymore.
I always feel that I live in a place that is deeply American and deeply of the current moment. I’m aware that a lot of people don’t think of Las Vegas this way, and that many people (ones I like very much!) are slightly repelled by Las Vegas and the reputation which precedes it. That Las Vegas is real – at least as real as any heavily-marketed place is real – but there is also the boomtown in the middle of the desert: the place where millions of people came, from all over the world and for all sorts of reasons, and the place that had very little in the way of existing infrastructure in which to enfold those newcomers. That experience is very American, and also very 21st century.
My characters are diverse not because of some abstract choice I made, but because that’s what Las Vegas is like; there are lots of different kinds of people here, and we interact with each other in fundamental ways because we are creating a new metropolis together.
JV: You’ve said that you marvel at those who write memoir. Why is fiction more appealing to you – and in what ways do you find yourself using your novels to tell truths?
LM: My mom used to say that a novel was just as good a place to get the truth as anywhere else. I understand what she meant by this. That the truth can be hidden by facts, and revealed by feelings, that it can be distorted by statistics, and unveiled by intuition. Sometimes we can only hear the truth in the form of a story, in the shape of a person’s life, by walking a few hundred pages through their days.
As for memoir, I am very aware of the writer’s power to shape experience and memory. I am comfortable using that power in fiction – though I have to steel myself for the way this peels away my own protective layers – but I am less comfortable using that power when it involves actual experience and other people. I’m exploring memoir in tiny ways on my website blog. I find it excruciating.
JV: You are also a teacher. In your opinion, what of writing can be taught vs. what is intrinsic – and how does discipline and tenacity factor in?
LM: I love this question. And it’s a hard one for me. My felt experience is that my writer self is my truest me, and that I knew this early in my childhood. I knew that I best understood the world through shaped story, and I knew that words were my medium. I experience these things as innate qualities of myself.
At the same time, I teach writing. I teach writing to students who believe they cannot write, and to students who are writing in their second or third language, as well as to students who are gifted writers. And they all learn. They all learn to translate experience, idea, emotion, and argument into sequential words that someone else understands. So I guess I can’t answer the question, but to agree that discipline and tenacity are fundamental.
JV: What is the role of the bookstore within its community – and how can attending author events help to solidify the reader/writer/bookseller relationship?
LM: I lived for two decades in a town without a true independent bookstore. And that was terrible, except that my kids grew up thinking that everyone left an airport and went straight to a bookstore. What I have learned as a writer is that independent bookstores are much more fundamental to writing and reading and a world of letters than anyone’s individual experience of not being able to find a book.
Publishers rely on independent bookstores to help them create a market for new and experimental and daring voices. Without Indie booksellers to hand-sell books they have read to customers they know, without such booksellers providing publishers with feedback about these books, we might all end up with nothing but blockbusters and publicity titles. Anyone who wants to read new and alternative voices, who is interested in stories that are not simple, or who hopes to break into writing, needs independent bookstores to thrive.
The list price of a book at a community bookstore might be more than it is at Barnes & Noble or Amazon, but considering everything that comes with that book, one has never paid less: there are the shelves among which one browses, the fact that the books are curated by people who actually read them and know their customers, the opportunity to speak with novelists and scientists and illustrators and poets at live events, and the presence of a vibrant, thoughtful, open-hearted community space in which everyone is welcome. It’s a privilege to live in a community with a great bookstore, and I can tell you from experience that it’s sad to live in a community that does not have one.
When I do events at bookstores, I am thinking about all these things. I want my presentation to be as interesting and engaging and stimulating as it possibly can be: to thank the people who graciously came, and to support the bookstore that has welcomed me. The events are not about me or my books, they are about having an honest human experience with others. I think listening to what an author has to say, and having the chance to ask questions about the author’s work, complements the reading experience in deep and often moving ways. And it’s something done with others, which further enriches the solitary experience one has while reading.
With thanks to Laura McBride for her generosity of thought and to Leah Morse, Touchstone Publicity / Simon & Schuster, for providing this interview opportunity.
Don’t forget: The author will appear at R.J. Julia in Madison on Wednesday, May 24th, at 7:00 p.m.