Monday, October 12, 2009
Interview With Debut Author Therese Walsh
Not only is Therese Walsh a co-founder of the award-winning website, Writer Unboxed; she’s also a very talented writer. Her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, will be released on October 13. I’ve had the opportunity to read this book, and the writing is great. I love the way she uses words. Here’s an example: “He looked dusk-gilded and windblown, like a storybook hero with a kind heart.” And, “Pinpricks of radiance emanated from a hundred wee panes of glass, like a vast sea of earthbound stars.”
RM: Therese, can you tell my readers a bit about how Writer Unboxed started?
TW: Hi Richard, thanks for having me today. Yes, let me take you way back. Kathleen Bolton and I were in a critique group together. Several of us were interested in dissecting books that spoke to us—deconstructing them to see what made them work. When the movie The Lord of the Rings came out, we were fascinated with Peter Jackson’s process, and so we deconstructed that. And then we wrote a paper about it, and the paper was accepted for publication. I think that was our first taste of successfully putting our thoughts about successful story mechanics to writing. Kath and I were particularly anxious to try it again, so when she suggested we start a blog together, I jumped at the chance.
RM: Writers Digest has named Writer Unboxed as one of the 101 best writing websites for three years in a row. How do you hope to maintain that level of excellence?
TW: Though Kath and I, who both landed publishing contracts in 2008, are admittedly busier than ever, we’re not going to forget our mantra: empower other writers. That’s the ticket, really. That and drawing from the knowledge base of our fantastic panel of contributors, including authors Allison Winn Scotch, Ann Aguirre, Anna Elliot, Barbara Samuel O’Neal, J.C. Hutchins, Juliet Marillier, and Sophie Masson; and publishing experts, agent Donald Maass and editor/author Ray Rhamey. We also invite guests with knowledge and a desire to empower others to blog with us, because we know it’s important to keep the vibe fresh and provide a mix of posts on craft, inspirational and industry topics. We’ll continue with dedicated-craft-topic months this year, like “how to bring your setting to life,” as they’re always popular and it’s interesting to hear how each on our panel approaches a topic.
In another vein, we’ve recently upgraded WU to include features that will enrich our readers’ experiences with us, like “Comment Luv,” which posts a teaser of a commenter’s most recent personal blog post, encouraging others to visit their site. It’s a great way to build community, and I feel like that’s what we have at WU: a community that continues to grow.
RM: Can’t let the occasion pass without saying that I appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me to contribute to WU from time to time. I look forward to watching it move forward. For the writers among my readership, if you're not already checking out Writer Unboxed on a regular basis, I'd urge you to do so.
Teri, here’s another question for you. I know that you’ve been in publishing for a long time. Even when working with children’s books and health magazines, did you have a yearning to write a novel? Or was it just the fortune cookie that did it?
TW: Haha! Well, the fortune cookie—“You are a lover of words. One day you will write a book”—was just one of those things that nudged me along.
It’s hard to pinpoint a moment when I felt compelled to write a novel, but it was definitely after I’d been writing children’s stories for a while. My stories had been getting progressively longer, falling into the text-rich “picture story book” territory, which is coincidentally less marketable. I also recognized in my own writing a leaning toward meaty words. My critique partners would point them out to me: “Umm, this is for 3rd graders, don’t forget!” But I hated cutting those words from my manuscripts. The light bulb went off eventually: Write for an older audience and you can write longer fiction with bigger words, no problem.
RM: I know that The Last Will of Moira Leahy isn’t being published in the exact form it first jumped off your computer. Can you tell us how the novel took its final shape?
TW: After I decided to try my hand at adult fiction, I wasn’t quite sure where to go, but I had a friend who adored romance novels. Last Will is not a romance, but I began with the notion that I would write one and that at least one person—my friend—would be willing to read it.
I had a very long learning curve ahead of me. If I’d known that what I started in 2002 wouldn’t be finished until 2008, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck with it.
What happened was this: I wrote the book in a year, edited it through another year, and then tried to market it. It was not a romance. It had the structure of a romance, but the story had taffy-tugged its way into not-at-all-romantic territory; there was a twin sister and a mystery involving music and this Javanese dagger called a keris, and they were all demanding primetime. The story was rejected, but one agent—Deidre Knight—took the trouble to tell me that I should probably be writing women’s fiction. I honestly didn’t know much about women’s fiction, but after a good pout, I read quite a lot of it and felt that I could make the leap. After brewing a while longer and experiencing the keen tug of my characters, I knew I had to try. So I threw the entire story away and started over from scratch in 2005. In 2006, I threw that away and began for the last time. I finished the draft in 2007 and the edits in 2008, then found an agent, who sold the book in a two-book deal to Random House.
RM: The Last Will of Moira Leahy is being called a “cross-over novel.” How would you describe it? And can you give my readers a taste of the story?
TW: Because of the emotional journey of the main character, Maeve Leahy, and that of her twin, Moira, I consider this women’s fiction above all else, but it also contains elements of psychological suspense, mystery/adventure, romance and mythical realism. (I left out the kitchen sink.)
As for a taste of the story, I’m a big believer in the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and so my web designer and I created a picture journal to go along with this novel. You can access it HERE. Your readers are also welcome to read the first three chapters of The Last Will of Moira Leahy on my website, or by clicking HERE.
RM: Any last words for my readers, many of whom are writers themselves?
TW: I think it’s important to study your craft while writing your story. Study, write, have your work critiqued. Study more, write more, analyze your work again—with the same group or with a different one. Remain open-minded about your manuscript and don’t be afraid to try new things. And if you have an idea that won’t let go of you, do what you must to live up to it. I grew tremendously as a writer from 2002-08, and I hope to keep learning and evolving into the future. Never, never quit.
Thanks, Teri. I’ve read The Last Will of Moira Leahy and found it to be gripping and well-written. A few of my readers may need to know that sex is portrayed in a few places (although handled quite well), that the novel has the occasional dark moment (although well worth it in the context of the story), and there’s a paranormal element to it. That having been said, this is a well-written novel from the pen (well, the computer) of an author who really knows how to put the words together. Bottom line, if you enjoy a novel that’s well-crafted, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in this one.