Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Interview with Author and "Blog Mama" Therese Walsh

I've become cyber-friends with Therese Walsh, and today I'd like you to meet her and hear about two blogs that are "must-reads" for writers and for readers.

RM: You and Kathleen Bolton are the “blog-mamas” for the very successful site, Writer Unboxed. Originally, as I understand it, WU was launched when neither of you was published, to provide a place for discussing what made books and movies work. Now you’re both published authors. Has this resulted in a change for WU?

TW: The biggest change came after realizing we no longer had a voice of the unpublished writer on WU. That voice is important, because it provides inspiration and a window into "aha" moments as they’re happening to folks still climbing the publishing mountain. So we ran a search for the new voice of the unpublished writer, someone who’d come aboard as a once-monthly contributor. After asking for and reading nearly two hundred applications and sample posts, we narrowed the field to nine candidates we really loved, then chose one: the incomparable Jan O’Hara. We asked the others if they’d come aboard as Honorary Contributors and blog three times annually with us, and happily they all agreed.

RM: Now you’re launching a new site, Reader Unboxed. What’s that about?

TW: Reader Unboxed has been on our collective backburner for a couple of years. It seemed like there was something there—a way to extend the WU brand, as it were, to possibly connect with readers. It felt like a missing link.

On the backburner it sat until we met with some of our fellow WU’ers this summer for breakfast in New York City. Donald Maass was there with Kath and me, along with Barbara O’Neal, Jael McHenry, Jan O’Hara, and Juliet Marillier. There was a sort of collective sigh when we mentioned Reader Unboxed, and then a surge of excited ideas. I think that fueled us to take the next, real steps forward.

The idea became less nebulous over the following months: Reader Unboxed would be a unique review site structured to encourage interactivity between readers and reviewers, and eventually readers and authors. We invited Larramie, a champion for authors on her site, The Divining Wand, to join us, and she agreed. Larramie became instrumental in building the site with reviewers, and in helping us to brainstorm ideas for Reader Unboxed. What might readers love? How about Reader Roulette—a game of sorts whereby a reader would receive a free book in exchange for their review posted on Reader Unboxed? Or a feature called Undiscovered Treasures, where readers would submit reviews for books that have been on the shelves for a long time but never received the attention they deserved? How about Waiting in the Wings, a column featuring books that have yet to be released but sound fantastic? These are a few of the features we’ve evolved, but our intention is to expand upon them as we settle in and receive reader feedback.

Kath took on the role as head administrator at RU. She established our domain, settled on a designer for our site (Sumy Designs) and directed that work. She helped Larramie coordinate things with our eight reviewers. She also established the soon-to-be-hopping RU Twitter account.

I helped with design and organizational aspects, too, and suggested we lean on our hook: the idea of being “unboxed.” We’ve defined “unboxed” fiction as fiction that feels fresh (re: topic or structure or characterizations or voice…). RU’ers will review each book traditionally but also hone in on a work’s freshness and celebrate that with an “unboxed” rating. It’s our hope that readers who crave books that haven’t been done-to-death check with us first.

RM:  Your debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, has been out for over a year. What have you learned about being a published author that surprised you?

TW: Oh, boy, I’ve had plenty of surprises—happy and maddening! One positive surprise was learning authors often experience the same sorts of setbacks, neuroses (!), and challenges, even if they don’t want to broadcast these things over a blog or social media. Very often they’re willing to talk privately, though, to share experiences—both happy and maddening—and offer support if they can. You want to know if it’s common to switch editors, for your house to close, to be promised XYZ promotions and end up with :-o? Just ask a fellow author. Writing is a lonely occupation. It’s important to be with your people. It’s important to realize that if you’re going through something stressful you’re probably not the first to have to cope with that issue. Reach out, gain a support group. It can save your sanity.

RM: What’s next from the pen of Therese Walsh?

TW: A book about two sisters taking what seems a foolish journey to “find the end of their dead mother’s story,” when it fact it’s the most important of all journeys, as they try to come to grips with their mother’s probable suicide and ultimately the meaning of life. (I like to keep it light, ha!)
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this story, in part because of that dreaded “second-book syndrome” everyone hears about. But things are clicking now, and my confidence is restored daily. That’s the gift of revision, I think.

RM: And, as the warden might say, any last words?

TW: Come on over to check out Reader Unboxed when you can. Help us spread the word if you like what you see. And of course, write on!

Thanks, Therese. I can say from my own experience that both these sites are entertaining and informative, and I hope my readers will check them out.

12 comments:

larramiefg said...

In all honesty -- i.e. without bias --, Reader Unboxed is amazing site and sight! ;)

vaughnroycroft said...

So cool hearing a bit of the back-stories to two sites that have become such a big part of my writing journey and my life. Thank you, Therese, for all you've done, and for all you do!

Stacy S. Jensen said...

I'm a huge fan of Writer Unboxed and loving the Reader Unboxed site. I'm not a huge fan of reviews, but I've enjoyed the ones I've read on RU so far. Fresh.

Mollie Bryan said...

Lovely interview. Both sites are fantastic. Writer Unboxed has become such an integral part of my writing life. "Meeting" Therese on Twitter lead me straight to her site and her wonderful book. Thanks for this post--it's great to know how it all started!

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting, folks. I understand that Therese is sort of "out of touch" today, but I'm sure she'll be here tomorrow to read and respond.
And I hope you'll keep Random Jottings in mind for your future blog-o-sphere browsing.

Beverly Diehl said...

Richard, Therese, thanks for a great interview. Love WU and am looking forward to RU as well.

Therese Walsh said...

I had some touch-and-go moments with the Internet earlier today, but I'm online now. Thanks again for the opportunity for the Q&A, Richard. And thanks, everyone, for the supportive comments. Somewhere along the way, Writer Unboxed became more than a blog to not only me but to a lot of people; it became a community. Thank YOU all for making that happen. We're excited to see how WU and RU can work together down the road.

liz michalski said...

Writer Unboxed has been a great resource for me, and as Therese said, a wonderful community. I look forward to experiencing more of the same with RU.

Bernadette Phipps Lincke said...

The Last Will of Moira Leahy was a lovely story. I look forward to reading the new one.

Therese Walsh said...

Thank you, Liz and Bernadette!

Jen McFadden said...

Nice interview! I want to read The Last Will of Moira Leahy soon. :)

Carol J. Garvin said...

WU has been a great resource for me and, although I don't normally read many reviews, I like what I've seen so far at RU. I'm especially pleased to see Vaughn has joined the crew to add a male perspective.

Interesting interview. Thanks, Richard and Therese.