Author Laura Dave Discusses Her Newest NovelThe Last Thing He Told Me

Laura Dave is the national and international bestselling author of #1 LibraryReads pick Eight Hundred Grapes, LibraryReads pick Hello Sunshine, and various other novels. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times; O, The Oprah MagazineLadies’ Home Journal; Glamour; Redbook; Self; and The New York Observer

Laura Dave is the national and international bestselling author of #1 LibraryReads pick Eight Hundred Grapes, LibraryReads pick Hello Sunshine, and various other novels. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times; O, The Oprah MagazineLadies’ Home Journal; Glamour; Redbook; Self; and The New York Observer. Dave has appeared on the CBS Early Show, The Modern Love Podcast, and NPR’s All Things Considered; and Cosmopolitan named her a “Fun and Fearless Phenom” of the year. She resides with her family in Santa Monica. With The Last Thing He Told Me, Laura Dave returns with a riveting suspense novel.

We all have stories we never tell.

Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated. With its breakneck pacing, dazzling plot twists, and unforgettable characters, The Last Thing He Told Me is bestselling author Laura Dave’s finest novel yet, certain to shock you with its final, heartbreaking turn. This propulsive thriller with a heart is for fans of Liane Moriarty and Jojo Moyes.


1. Although this is not your first novel, this is your first thriller. Why did you want to explore this genre? Was the writing process for this novel different from your previous books?

I absolutely love thrillers and read them constantly. But when I started writing The Last Thing He Told Me, I wanted to do it a little differently than I’d seen done before. I wanted to write a thriller rooted in hope. What I mean by that is I didn’t want the smoking gun to be that the husband turns out to be evil, or that the main character was wrong to trust herself, or that the story would hinge on betrayal. Considering the nature of the genre, I knew this was signing up to do a hard thing. But, as my main character (Hannah Hall) navigated the twists and turns of her dilemma, I wanted her to find her way to somewhere unexpected, somewhere better. Instead of the constant reversals leading her to seek revenge or reimagine her entire life, Hannah found herself becoming the hero of her own life. In that way, The Last Thing He Told Me isn’t such a large departure from my other novels. In terms of the plotting and character demands, it was gloriously new terrain.


2. Each of your novels focuses on women. What is it about the interior lives of women that you find so ripe for storytelling?

Everything. I often find myself discussing with my girlfriends how many hats we feel compelled to wear, at once—trying to balance our personal lives with our professional goals, trying to be good partners and friends and parents, trying to find a little time to also be good to ourselves. I’ve always loved exploring where the self is found in that negotiation, and how—in the face of relentless, expansive, and joyful obligations—one holds onto (and grows into) the version of herself she most hopes to be. Pluming this interior life—this rewarding struggle—seems to be central to how I look at story. And it’s certainly central to The Last Thing He Told Me.


3. The inciting incident of the novel is when Owen goes missing after his company, The Shop, is accused of fraud and embezzlement. Was the downfall of The Shop inspired by any real-life companies?
I’ve always been fascinated by true crime, particularly cases that involve fraud and embezzlement. In the early 2000s, I was quite intrigued by what occurred at Enron. I remember watching Linda Lay give an interview proclaiming that her husband did nothing wrong. I started to imagine, then, the story of a woman who felt certain of her husband’s innocence despite mounting evidence to the contrary. I didn’t put pen to paper for The Last Thing He Told Me, though, until almost a decade later.
 

4. The setting of this novel is in Sausalito, California and Austin, Texas. You describe each place in such a visceral way, and I found myself searching Google images because I was so captivated by your descriptions. Why did you choose to set the novel in these cities?

I like to write about towns and communities that are off the beaten path in some way—which is how I found my way to Montauk (The Divorce Party), Western Massachusetts (The First Husband) and, for The Last Thing He Told Me, the floating home community in Sausalito. Communities on the edge of the world demand different things of their inhabitants and I like exploring the way those dynamics play into a character’s ultimate journey. Austin came to the table in a different way. When I realized I needed a college town to center in this story, I started thinking about where that town should be. And what better college town—full of so much flavor and food and music—than Austin?


5. In the novel, Hannah works as a woodturner, which I found to be such an interesting profession, and not something I had heard of before. What do you think this career choice says about Hannah? Do you think it gives insight into her character?

When my husband and I got married, good friends gave us a gorgeous woodturned bowl for a wedding present. That was the first I learned of woodturning, and I became enamored with the artform, which is quite beautiful and specific. It involves strength, patience, skill, precision, and faith—all traits I wanted to infuse in Hannah, who finds herself in a dramatically impossible situation. I loved discovering the way her work informed her journey—helping to keep her one step ahead, never operating as a victim. And, as is sometimes the case with woodturning, I also loved discovering the ways in which Hannah’s journey led her down a path that she never planned on taking.
 

6. One of the main relationships explored in this book is the one between mothers and daughters. The novel explores the stepdaughter/stepmother relationship between Hannah and Bailey, but also examines what is it like to grow up without a mother. Bailey lost her mother, and Hannah was abandoned by hers. Why did you want to explore the dynamics of mothers and daughters? And do you think that Hannah and Bailey’s relationships with their own mothers contributes to their dynamic?

I had my first child several years into working on this novel and it changed everything about the story I was hoping to tell. I understood Hannah in a new way, and her desire to be there for Bailey in the middle of her own struggle. I revisited the entire book under the lens of motherhood, and the full landscape of Hannah’s narrative concretized for me. This involved reconsidering Hannah and Bailey’s relationships with their birth mothers, their ideas about motherhood and love, and of course the joy we can find in our found families.
 

7. Throughout the novel, there are various flashbacks that show Owen and Hannah’s relationship. Why did you utilize these flashbacks as a narrative device? What do you hope the reader takes away from their relationship?

From the moment Hannah receives Owen’s note (Protect Her), she is trying to reconcile the husband she loved with the paradoxical onslaught of information she is receiving about him. The flashbacks were an opportunity for Hannah to revisit memories of Owen and their life together before everything went haywire. They provide comfort as well as edification—helping her to see that what seems paradoxical isn’t such a paradox. They also help Hannah figure out what she needs to do to protect Hannah—what Owen would want her to do. And they help show her (and hopefully the reader) that she wasn’t wrong to love Owen. She wasn’t wrong to believe in him.


8. There were countless surprising twists and turns in this novel, and I can say it was one of the rare thrillers that was completely unpredictable. When you started writing this book, did you already know the truth behind Owen’s disappearance? Did any of this change during the writing process?

Thank you for saying that! I didn’t know the ending. And, in fact, the ending changed dramatically over the course of the eight years that I was working on the book. Because I don’t write with an outline, writing for me is really a process of rewriting. I utilize the first draft to find the characters and plum the questions I want them to grapple with. The next draft is where I begin to solidify theme and motivations. And it’s usually somewhere around draft eighteen (I wish that were an exaggeration) that I find my way to the ending.
 

9. One of the major themes of this novel is identity, and what makes us who we are. Is it our past experiences? Our personality? Our relationships? What do you hope readers take away from this book when they consider their own identity?

When I’m working on a book, I always start with a question I want to explore. For The Last Thing He Told Me, I wanted to think about what it is to know the people closest to us. What is it to know ourselves? As I delved deeper into the novel, this exploration moved directly into questions of identify: What makes someone who he is? Is it the details he or she shares with you? The biographical checklist (I grew up here, I went to this school, I do this for work…) I believe it is something deeper, something more soulful, that makes us who we are. And I wanted to dig into the idea that we can be knowable to the people we love (that they can be knowable to us) despite any details that shift or alter along the way.


10. I was shocked by the final twist of this novel and am sure that countless readers will feel the same. Did you consider other endings for this novel? Without giving anything away, why do you think this was the best way to conclude this story?

I worked on this book for many years, on and off, and had many different endings that I considered along the way. But it was after I gave birth to my son in 2016 that I realized Hannah’s story, in the most primal sense, was the story of becoming a mother. For me, the book is the call to that—and the ending is the answer. Once I found it, I never wavered in believing that was where this novel needed to end. I’ve started imagining the sequel to this book. So it is possible this ending will turn out to be more of an intermission… and this family will have a new act, after all.


 

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