"I think probably every writer, at some level, has 'the story' that’s just compelling and it’s the thing you just can’t stop picking at," says author Carrie La Seur, "And so even the third novel that I’m working on now—that’s very different characters and very different places—there’s a theme of exile and return and tension between the “leavers” and the “stayers.” That must just be my story, that’s the thing I can’t stop writing about even when I very deliberately take off in a different direction.
Listen in now for more on "The Weight of an Infinite Sky" with Carrie La Seur.
The following highlights are from an interview with Carrie La Seur about her sophomore novel, "The Weight of An Infinite Sky." Click the link above to listen now, or subscribe to our podcast.
Sarah Aronson: I’ve been thinking about this theme in your work of leaving and returning. . . What do you know about your impulse to write that theme—having to leave Montana and come back?
Carrie La Seur: I was listening to old Shawn Colvin albums on the way to Missoula, MT and she’s got a song called “The Story” that has a chorus that says: “I was born to be telling this story/ I will always be telling this story.” I think probably every writer, at some level, has “the story” that’s just compelling and it’s the thing you just can’t stop picking at. And so even the third novel that I’m working on now—that’s very different characters and very different places—there’s a theme of exile and return and tension between the “leavers” and the “stayers.” That must just be my story, that’s the thing I can’t stop writing about even when I very deliberately take off in a different direction.
And I know you, yourself, left Montana to get many degrees. . .
Possibly too many.
One, a doctorate in Modern Languages, and you have a Yale Law Degree. So what do you know personally about leaving and returning? Or what’s your relationship like with home now?
Well I’m still not done. I went to New York for a year (last year). I look back on my family’s history and this is something that’s been going on for generations. . . It’s been this place of retreat, and sallying forth, and trying to make something of yourself and then going back to this. . . I used to write poetry—it’s probably better that I stopped—but I remember writing a poem about the taproot: something that’s the essential source of nourishment. You can get a long way from it, but you’ll always have to get back there.
What did you do in New York for a year and where did you live?
I lived on the Upper West Side. I wrote primarily, I listened to a lot of music. I started studying the violin—I’d always wanted to play the violin and so I’m now practicing every day and working toward being able to play with an ensemble. And it’s just this whole other kind of creative expression that gives me an outlet that I hadn’t known I’d needed, and that’s been very satisfying. I took a metal working class and learned how to weld and started making some metal sculpture.
Yeah, there are things you don’t have time to do when you’re very intensely pursuing. . . I had a brief academic career and then went to law school and had this environmental law practice and ran a nonprofit and you’re run off your feet every single day and you stop and think, “Well there are other things I meant to be spending time on.” So I’ve been doing that and it’s been really satisfying.
What advice do you have for those of us who sometimes feel pulled in multiple directions, whether it’s in our fields, or disciplines, or passions?
People don’t always have the option to not be pulled in all the directions, so to say not to do it is too easy. For my writing, some of the best advice I ever got was from an interview of one of my grad school classmates, Siddhartha Mukherjee, who wrote “The Emperor of All Maladies,” the book about cancer that won the Pulitzer Prize a couple years ago. He said he’d been trying and trying to write this book about cancer and he didn’t have time. He’s a cancer researcher and every minute of his day was already spoken for, and his wife, who’s an installation artist, Sarah Sze, said to him, “Give it five minutes a day.” And that was how he got his book done and so it was advice I tried as I was trying to get “The Home Place” done. If you can give anything five minutes a day, that daily-ness can make a long term difference. You’ll spend more time at it some days, and just the discipline of going back to it over and over again will make it take up imaginative space even when you’re not at it. So I’m using that advice right now to learn German. Five minutes a day. Eventually maybe I’ll speak some German. We’ll see.
About the Book:
The critically acclaimed author of The Home Place explores the heart and mystery of Big Sky Country in this evocative and atmospheric novel of family, home, love, and responsibility inspired by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The only son of a cattle rancher, Anthony Fry chafed against the expectation that he would take over the business that had belonged to his family for generations. While his ancestors planted deep roots in the unforgiving Montana soil, Anthony wanted nothing more than to leave Billings for the excitement, sophistication, and culture of city life. After college he fled to New York, hoping to turn his lifelong love of the theater into a career.
But New York wasn’t the dream Anthony thought it would be. Now, with the unexpected death of his father, Anthony suddenly finds himself back in the place he swore he’d left behind. While the years have transformed the artistic dreamer, they’ve also changed Billings. His uncle Neal, always the black sheep of the Fry family, has become alarmingly close with Anthony’s mother, and a predatory mining company covets the Fry land.
Anthony has always wanted out of Montana, away from his father’s suffocating expectations. Yet now that he may be freed from the burden of family legacy, he’s forced to ask himself what he truly finds important . . . answers that will ultimately decide his fate.
In this unforgettable novel, Carrie La Seur once again captures the breathtaking beauty of the West and its people as she explores the power of family and the meaning of legacy—the burdens we inherit and those we place upon ourselves.
About the Author:
Carrie La Seur’s critically acclaimed debut novel The Home Place (William Morrow 2014) won the High Plains Book Award, was short-listed for the Strand Critics Award for Best First Novel, and was an IndieNext pick, a Library Journal pick, one of the Great Falls Tribune’s Top 10 Montana Books for 2014, and a Florida SunSentinel Best Crime Fiction pick for 2014. Her writing appears in such diverse media as Daily Beast; the Des Moines Register; Eyes on the International Criminal Court; Grist; the Guardian; Harvard Law and Policy Review; High Country News; Huffington Post; Iowa Farmer Today; Kenyon Review Online; Mother Jones; Oil, Gas, and Energy Law; Salon; and Yale Journal of International Law.
Carrie has completed the Iowa Writers’ Workshop Summer Session and was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the 2016 Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
In 2017, La Seur published two short stories in anthologies. The first, “Bad Blood”, tells of unsettled business between white and Northern Cheyenne Montanans in a collection titled Montana Noir. The second, “Colt the Bull-Riding Hasid”, is the story of an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn who was born to be a cowboy, published in Sandstone, a collection of local writing in support of This House of Books, the Billings (MT) Bookstore Cooperative. On January 16, 2018, William Morrow released La Seur’s second novel The Weight of An Infinite Sky, a family drama set in southern Montana and loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Carrie’s résumé includes a degree in English and French magna cum laude from Bryn Mawr College, a Rhodes Scholarship, a doctorate in modern languages from Oxford University, and a Yale law degree. She has always been a writer. “The writing comes easily,” she says. “It’s what I’m always doing in the background, whatever else is going on. It’s my resting pulse rate to be scribbling what’s happening in my head. If I didn’t, I’d be wandering the streets talking to myself. Sometimes I do that anyway.”
In 2006, Carrie founded the legal nonprofit Plains Justice, which provides public interest energy and environmental legal services in the northern plains states and played a key role in halting several new coal plants, enacting clean energy reforms, and launching the Keystone XL pipeline campaign. “I’m still involved in Plains Justice, but I went back to private practice in 2012. Running a nonprofit takes a unique blend of selflessness and enough raging narcissism to think you really can change the world. The burnout rate is similar to that of telemarketers.” Carrie is also the founding Board President of This House of Books.
Carrie maintains a part-time energy and environmental law practice in Montana, where her ancestors settled in 1864 and she hikes, skis, and fishes with her family.