I’ve been a big fan of Sophie Littlefield’s for a long time, and I’m thrilled to have her back on the blog to talk about her brand new book, THE MISSING PLACE!
Will you tell us more about The Missing Place and what inspired you to write it?
I was inspired by an article in People magazine several years back that depicted the harsh and lonely living conditions of oil rig workers in modern-day boom towns. I was fascinated that people were being drawn by the promise of high salaries from all over the country, that they were leaving behind families and spouses and the homes they’d lived in, sometimes for their whole lives, to take a gamble on a better life in the future. I wanted to see first-hand the trade-offs they had made and how they endured the isolation and hard physical labor. It seemed like a very human story of sacrifice and hope. I had a feeling that if I spent some time there, a story would come to me—and that is exactly what happened.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
In addition to reading all the articles and watching all the news items about the oil boom that I could find, I traveled to North Dakota in the dead of winter and slogged around town in the middle of a snowstorm to learn all I could about what it was like to live and work there. I got permission to stay in a “man camp,” the temporary housing provided by oil companies for their workers, and shared meals and conversation (and a bathroom!) with rig hands. I pored over maps and demographic statistics so that the fictional town I created would be as realistic as possible, and read through reports of lawsuits brought against oil companies and mineral lease holders.
Why do you think Colleen and Shay will resonate with readers?
Colleen and Shay are very imperfect women, and their flaws are exaggerated under the strain of trying to find their missing children. But I think all of us are keenly aware of our shortcomings when we are under pressure. No one is at her finest when she’s dealing with fear, loss, and conflict, and I hoped that readers would see themselves both in Colleen and Shay’s most difficult moments, but also in their moments of redemption.
This echoes a more far-reaching conviction I have that honesty—the brutally difficult task of owning up to that which we are ashamed of—is the key to coming to grips with who we really are. Facing one’s flaws head-on is the key to accepting and perhaps even surmounting them. By middle age, most of us have had at least a few moments in which we catch a glimpse of our own worth and beauty even in the face of our failures.
You’re a writer of many different hats, but what do you enjoy most about writing suspense?
I love to read suspense for that delicious sense of possibility, that the story might resolve in any direction at all, including those I haven’t even thought of. I love to be kept in the dark, and surprised at the end, by a resolution that I didn’t see coming. Trying to create a story that provides that wonderful tension for someone else is a captivating process. Over the course of the books I’ve written, I’ve realized that every story has the potential for tension at its core, that the art of the reveal is as important in a romance as it is in a mystery or a paranormal thriller.
It’s been a while since we caught up. Have you read any good books lately? Is there anything you’re looking forward to diving into?
This has been a wonderful summer for reading! There were new books from some of my favorite authors, including Megan Abbott, Kristan Higgins, and Jayne Anne Phillips. I discovered authors I hadn’t read before, including Sean Ferrell, Katie Crouch, and Alice LaPlante, and debut authors Belinda Bauer and Isla Morley. I loved The Goldfinch and cannot imagine what its detractors are thinking. I spent a lovely week in August buried in Summer House With Swimming Pool (Herman Koch) and The Farm (Tom Rob Smith).
And finally, I’ve just picked up two non-fiction titles in audible form. For some reason I can’t listen to fiction but have really enjoyed branching out into new directions in non-fiction. The two I chose are Laura Hillebrand’s UNBROKEN and John Adams’ biography by David McCullough.
How have you been spending your free time when you’re not writing?
I was lucky to spend a lot of time outdoors this summer. I took up kayaking, and spent two incredible weekends eating oysters grilled on an open fire on a private beach. I hiked up sheer mountain ascents and slept under the stars next to a Sierra mountain lake. I took a ride around the San Francisco bay on a police boat, visited my daughter in Washington D.C. where we walked miles and miles along routes I first traveled when I was her age. I hung out in the wonderful urban tangle of a back yard belonging to Juliet Blackwell, and wrote in coffee shops with Rachael Herron. And I spent a fair number of evenings trying out all the new bars and restaurants popping up all over Oakland. Oh – and I kept company with a handsome sheriff—shades of Stella Hardesty!
What’s next for you?
Well, as I just reminisced about the last few months, I guess I am hoping I can keep doing what I’m doing! Professionally, I’m crazy about my whole team, and love working with everyone on making books. My editor Abby Zidle and I got to hang out together at the RWA National Conference in Texas, where we discussed—and rejected—a few ideas I’d had, so we’re still brainstorming about what to write next. My in-house publicist Stephanie DeLuca is introducing me to new readers through events and interviews like this one, and I’m enjoying seeing my readership grow. Both my beloved agent Barbara Poelle and my ace publicist Dana Kaye welcomed new babies recently, so these are exciting times for all of us. I have a young adult novel, Infected, coming out this January and have turned in a book about two families recovering from a crime in the bay area, that I am hoping will be published in a year or so. I’ve tentatively titled it The End of Ordinary Time, but you know how these things can change on the path to publication!
About THE MISSING PLACE:
Set against the backdrop of North Dakota’s oil boom, two very different mothers form an uneasy alliance to find their missing sons in this heartrending and suspenseful novel from the Edgar Award–nominated author of Garden of Stones.
The booming North Dakota oil business is spawning “man camps,” shantytowns full of men hired to work on the rigs, in towns without enough housing to accommodate them. In such twilight spaces, it’s easy for a person to vanish. And when two young men in their first year on the job disappear without a trace, only their mothers believe there’s hope of finding them. Despite reassurances that the police are on the case, the two women think the oil company is covering up the disappearances—and maybe something more.
Colleen, used to her decorous life in a wealthy Massachusetts suburb, is determined to find her son. And hard-bitten Shay, from the wrong side of the California tracks, is the only person in town even willing to deal with her—because she’s on the same mission. Overtaxed by worry, exhaustion, and fear, these two unlikely partners question each other’s methods and motivations, but must work together against the town of strangers if they want any chance of finding their lost boys. But what they uncover could destroy them both…