When Stephanie Cabot (Gernert Company) sent Laura McBride’s first novel, We Are Called to Rise, to Trish Todd, v-p and executive editor at Simon & Schuster, Todd immediately knew she was in the presence of a first-rate writer. “I hadn’t bought any new fiction in over six months,” says Todd. “I hadn’t liked anything I was sent and was worried I was becoming jaded. Laura’s manuscript grabbed me by the lapels on page two.”
We Are Called to Rise is set in Las Vegas, and it is written in several voices—among them, an eight-year old Albanian immigrant boy (Todd calls him “everyone’s favorite”), a soldier returning from Iraq, and a woman struggling to save her marriage. McBride, who has two children and teaches composition at the College of Southern Nevada, believed from childhood that she would someday write a novel. Although McBride had already written a novel about an adopted child, she couldn’t get anyone to read it and gave up on the idea of writing fiction for some time.
McBride was awarded a residency at Yaddo, where she worked for eight to 10 hours a day on the book that would become We Are Called to Rise. A fellow writer at Yaddo put her in touch with Stephanie Cabot, and McBride sent her the book as soon as she was finished. “We spoke on the phone just twice,” says McBride. “I made two specific revisions in response to Stephanie’s suggestions, and then she was ready to sell it.”
Cabot showed the book to five editors she admired, Todd among them, and in 10 days the book was sold. “The path to acquisition was smooth,” Todd says, “but if it hadn’t been, I would have gone down fighting. It is risky to buy a debut, and this book’s particular risk was that it was not easy to summarize. It has been a hand-sell from day one and a labor of love.”
Not only did Todd find the novel’s story utterly fresh, but she was also fascinated by McBride’s background—that she waited to write the novel until her children were grown and that she wrote and published without any connections to New York literati. “Writing a novel was my personal measure,” McBride says. “I knew if I lived long enough, I’d get around to it someday. I feel incredibly relieved to have somehow, finally, sat down and done it. And to have had the opportunity.”