Friday, October 30, 2009

Interview with Therese Walsh

Today in St. Peters, MO: Chance of rain, high 61. Now that it's the rainiest October on record, rain has really become a real four-letter word.

As part of the WOW! Author's Blog Tour, I'm pleased to introduce Therese Walsh as my guest blogger today. Anyone who posts a question or comment for Therese is eligible to win a copy of her debut novel, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY. To read my review of her new book, pop over to my other blog, A Book A Week.

From her website: "Therese was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine before she became a freelance writer. She’s had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online, but she loves her fiction work best of all–directing the lives of made-up people and stamping around in a puddle of theme. She has a master’s degree in psychology. Her favorite things include music, flash fiction, poetry, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching and strong Irish tea. Oh, and the cover of her novel. She is married to the next Tommy Makem, and has two cute kids, one cat and a bouncy Jack Russell named Kismet."

Here's our interview:

DONNA VOLKENANNT: The Last Will of Moira Leahy is an enchanting and elegantly written story about love, grief, the need for approval and acceptance, and the strong bond of siblings—in this case twins. What was your inspiration for The Last Will of Moira Leahy?

THERESE WALSH: First, thank you for having me today, Donna, and for your kind words.
Maeve Leahy, the main character, has much in common with my youngest sister. Our father died suddenly at age 56 when she was 16, and she took it very hard—shut down, changed drastically, just like Maeve. Writing Maeve’s healing process via adventure and love and self-realization became almost therapeutic for both my sister and me. Her recovery experience—and my experience trying to reach her—inspired the novel, but I didn’t recognize that right away.

DV: Losing a loved one is definitely a life-altering experience. It's inspiring to learn that you were able to help your sister's recovery experience through writing your novel. Your website mentions that before you turned to fiction you were a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine and then a freelance writer. You began writing fiction after your daughter was born. Was it a difficult transition to go from writing non-fiction to fiction? Do you think there is a connection between becoming a mother and giving birth to a fictional world?

TW: I didn’t find the transition difficult. I remember being glad to simply express myself with fiction—even if that expression wasn’t saleable. It felt good.

I love your second question, and yes I see similarities between motherhood and birthing a fictional world—beyond the idea that a manuscript is like a child. When you first open the door to fiction writing, everything is new, a blank slate, a clean page; anything is possible. You don’t really get that with nonfiction. And it’s definitely like that when you have a new human life in your hands. There are no limits. It’s frightening sometimes, but it’s also incredibly exciting. Maybe this is why my fiction will always have a combination of realism and myth. I never want to lose that sense of anything is possible, everything is.

DV: I asked some writing friends if they had any questions for you. My friend Margo wants to know: How do you keep up your own blog while you are also writing novels and promoting your book? (Thanks for the question, Margo!)

TW: Honestly, my next novel has taken a backseat while I dedicate myself to promo for Last Will. I’m going to turn a switch in November, though, and my plan is this: Work on the novel in the morning, before I check email or Twitter or Facebook or the blogs. Catch up on correspondence in the afternoon. Hang out with my family in the evening. Hatch a plan for the following day before bed. We’ll see how it goes!

DV: On the topic of blogs, you are co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a blog for writers about the craft and business of genre fiction. How does the collaboration process work with several writers posting on the same blog? Are there pre-arranged topics, a set schedule?

TW: We occasionally have dedicated craft months during which time everyone will comment on the same topic (e.g. Plot Month). These are popular but take some effort to coordinate; we’re due for another soon. (Any ideas for what you’d like to see? Let me know!)
Yes, there’s a set schedule, which I’m happy to share with you:

Every Monday: YA author and WU co-mama Kathleen Bolton
Every Tuesday: My day
1st Wednesday: Agent Donald Maass
1st Thursday: Fantasy author Juliet Marillier
2nd Wednesday: Urban fiction/romance author Ann Aguirre
2nd Thursday: Commercial fiction author Allison Winn Scotch
3rd Wednesday: YA/fantasy author Sophie Masson
3rd Thursday: Editor and author Ray Rhamey
4th Wednesday: Women’s fiction author Barbara Samuel
4th Thursday: Techno-thriller author J.C. Hutchins
4th Friday: Historical author Anna Elliott
Fridays have traditionally been our interview day. Kath and I split duties here, interviewing authors and industry pros we think will interest our readership.
Our contributors generally send their work to either Kath or me to post, though some post on their own without difficulty.

DV: Your blog is a wonderful resource for writers and has an impressive line up of contributors. I've added Writer Unboxed to my blog links so visitors of Donna's Book Pub can check it out. Next question: The details in your novel add to the richness of your story. The sense of place is so distinct, and an obscure artifact, a Javanese dagger called a keris, is featured in The Last Will of Moira Leahy. Before reading your novel I had never heard of a keris. Can you tell us how you learned about the keris and how you performed your research?

TW: Thank you! You could say there were two forms of inspiration. The story of my sister was the underground inspiration but doesn’t explain how the story evolved on the page.

A little history: There are actually two very different forms of this story. The version you’ve read was written between 2005 and 2008, once I realized the book had to center around the relationship between the twins. But when I first began writing Last Will, in 2002, I intended only to write a love story between Maeve and her friend Noel. Noel was an antiques dealer, so I gathered lists of interesting things that I could describe in his shop. I wanted to set the first scene of the book at an auction house, so I randomly chose one item from the shop’s list for that scene. That item was the keris, which is a Javanese sword or dagger. When a friend read the scene, she said she liked it and asked if the keris would be in the rest of the book. This sounded like a good idea, so I later did some research online and was awed by the potential for story linked to the keris alone; it’s an item rich in mythology. Later, Moira appeared. Between the keris and Moira, the book took on a decidedly unromantic tone, which led to the rewrite.
More than half of my research regarding the keris took place online—through keris-related websites and even weapon message boards. I have one valuable book as well, The Keris and other Malay Weapons, published by The Malaysian Branch of The Royal Asiatic Society. This 179-page volume is loaded with fascinating information.

DV: I love the cover of your book. It is mysterious, elegant, and inviting. What role did you play in selecting the cover design?

TW: Thank you; I love it, too. My friends and I joke that I was visited by the Good Cover Fairy.
I just reviewed that old file—talk about a walk down memory lane. I sent several pages of ideas to Random House, including some story and character descriptions, and 35 pictures. A full 17 of those pictures involved a woman in water. I pushed the idea of water because so many of Maeve’s nightmares involve water and it was thematic. One of the pictures I sent was of a woman with red hair in the water, though it wasn’t even 1/10th as beautiful as what RH designed. Last Will’s cover was the first option presented to me, and it was the last.
Random factoid: I mentioned that there were two version of my novel. Well, the one scene I kept from version one of the book was the emotional climax between the twins, which is reflected on the cover of Last Will. How’s that for kismet?

DV: Whatever the reason: Good Cover Fairy or Kismet, the cover is definitely lovely, and I'm certain it will attract even more readers. What has been most gratifying about writing and promoting your novel? Surprising? Challenging?

TW: The most gratifying part of this experience was finishing this story the second time around after so many mental battles—realizing I could do it, and that I was very happy with the product.
Most surprising might be how many friends within the blogosphere have stepped forward to help promote the book—through interviews like this one and other invitations. I’m sincerely flattered, humbled and grateful.
Most challenging has been finding a balance between promo for Last Will and work on my second novel.

DV:What’s the best piece of advice on writing you’ve ever received? The worst?

TW: Best advice: Never, never quit. Worst advice: Don’t add too many layers to your story. Save some for the next manuscript.

DV: Interesting answers, especially the latter one. Who were some of your favorite writers growing up? Now?

TW: I wish I could tell you that I devoured Jane Austen’s novels as a five year old, but the truth is that I wasn’t a big reader growing up. I’m sorry; I’m an anomaly. I do remember adoring Winnie-the-Pooh and Dr. Seuss as a young girl, but my pre-adolescent and adolescent years didn’t involve many books. My father and I were “bum buddies,” and watched TV shows together instead.
Of course I love our authors at Writer Unboxed—I have oodles of books on my keeper shelf by Barbara Samuel O’Neal and Juliet Marillier—but otherwise I’m less apt to attach to an author than I am to a particular book. My favorite book is Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife; another is Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

DV: If you weren’t a writer what would you be doing?

TW: If not for a glitch in my grad-school program, I would be a sleep researcher somewhere. Life is odd, isn’t it?

DV: It certainly is! What can you tell us about your next novel?

TW: My next book is about a blind woman who travels across West Virginia in order to finish her dead mother’s story and along the way teachers others how to see the world. It’s a women’s fiction piece with cross-genre aspects, like Last Will, including psychological suspense, mystery and mythical realism.

DV: That sounds like an interesting book and one I will definitely want to check out. What is the best way for readers to contact you with questions or to find out about upcoming events?

TW: Readers can keep up with the latest on my website at http://theresewalsh.com/ and contact me directly through the site as well. I welcome reader feedback.

Thanks again for having me, Donna! This has been fun.

And thanks to you, Therese, for being so generous with your time and gracious with your answers.
Now it's time for visitors to post comments or questions for Therese. Anyone who posts will have the opportunity to win a copy of Therese's book, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY. The winner's name will be announced on November 4th (the birthday of my twin grand-nephews.)

14 comments:

  1. Great interview - thank you.
    Therese, I am a mostly blind person and unfortunately, I cannot access your website because it is done in Flash. Flash for a screen reading program is like a black hole.

    One of the things I enjoy most about writing fiction is weaving the fantastical with real world elements, because you can create a deeper sense of reality for the reader, even though some elements are mysterious or fantastical.

    Something else I enjoy about writing fiction is that as the writer, yuo can take the reader on a journey of self understanding.

    Your book appeals to me because of both of these elements. I believe someone who reads a book with healing and self development elements in it can actually can indeed experience healing when the author is adept enough to take them on the journey with the characters.

    Additionally, writing the book can be a journey of healing and self development for the author.

    My question: Therese, have any readers written to you about how the book has affected their "real life"?

    Also, how has writing this book changed you?

    Thank you.

    Ronda Del Boccio

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  2. It's amazing that you basically wrote two books to get The Last Will of Moira Leahy. Did you ever feel like just chucking it all? And what made you keep going?

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  3. It certainly sounds as though publication of The Last Will has been quite a journey for you.

    Do you anticipate the same thing with your new novel?

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  4. Hi Therese (and Donna!)

    A friend who saw my post on mass blogging day asked about The Last Will of Moira Leahy for her bookclub (and I thought your book seemed like a great read for a book club discussion!)...do authors now prepare materials to go along with their books (for discussion)? Or what about book club tours like blog tours? (Oh, that's kinda a good idea, isn't it? :-)

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  5. Yes, a manuscript is like a child and that makes me too tender with my characters. I know conflict and flaws are part of a good story, but I love my "people" so much that sometimes I have a hard time letting them endure difficulties or have negative traits. Is there a psychologoical trick to overcoming this block? Some mindset while writing that allows ME to get out of MY own way as a writer?

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  6. Hi everyone, Sorry to get such a late start here. Thanks, Donna, for having me today!

    Ronda, I'm sorry to hear the flash at my website has been hard for you. You can bypass it (I think) and head right to books here, if that helps: http://www.theresewalsh.com/books.html

    Yes, some kind readers have written to say they felt affected by the book, which pleases me like nothing else. Some have experienced loss. Others said they were affected by the connection between the twins--even if they themselves weren't twins; they liked the description of the twin connection, that sense that things can bind us to one another beyond what we understand.

    This book has changed me in many ways, in part because I've spent the last 7 years of my life in some way involved with these characters. Mostly, I'm just glad to have had the journey.

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  7. Hi Jodi,

    Yes, I did feel like chucking it all--and on a regular basis! What kept me going was the story and the characters--they just wouldn't leave me alone. I felt anxious when I wasn't working on the book.

    Thanks for your question!

    Therese

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  8. Hi K9friend,

    I expect a journey with book #2, yes. In part because I have to finish it much more quickly! But what I've learned is that every character wants their chance to be heard. It's the best part of being a writer, and I look forward to unraveling the stories of these new characters.

    Thanks for your question.

    Therese

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  9. Hi Cathy,

    First off, thank you for participating in mass blogging day! You know, I haven't yet visited every participating site, but I will, I will!

    Secondly, thank you for recommending The Last Will of Moira Leahy to your friend. I appreciate that!

    I'm not sure what normal is, but I had a hand in preparing the book club questions for my book. It makes sense, as the author knows best the secrets buried in the pages. (Book club questions are located on my website, in the For Readers section.)

    I love the idea of touring book clubs online. Christina Katz at the Writer Mama blog is putting together an online book club for LWML, actually. And I'll be doing an interview later today for a mother-daughter book club (motherdaughterbookclub.com), as part of my WOW tour. I'm excited about the prospect of engaging with book club readers, and I'd like to hear their thoughts--for better or worse.

    Thanks again for your support!

    Therese

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  10. Hi Bookie,

    Wow is that ever a great question.

    First, good for you for recognizing that you *may* be standing in the way of your story by coddling those characters. That's definitely the first step to solving the problem.

    Secondly, Blake Snyder--a wonderful man who understood story inside and out, and unfortunately passed away recently--wrote something that I'll always remember. He said you must draw the arrow of story and character as far back as you can to allow the flight of that arrow the best and strongest path. I'm paraphrasing--perhaps badly--but that was the gist of his message. If you're only allowing your characters happy times, your book (the arrow) will be meager in scope and could ultimately be unsatisfying to your readers. Don't be afraid to draw the arrow back. Let your readers feel the tension of your storytelling. Let them marvel as that arrow arcs high in the air. Let them feel the feathers against their cheeks. And then let them cheer when that arrow hits a satisfying mark. Believe me, it's all the more gratifying when your characters find their happy ending after struggling, just like real people do.

    Best of luck!

    Therese

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  11. Hi Donna,
    Thanks for asking my question!

    Therese, I think your plan sounds like a good one. I always find though that I need to find out what my email/FB/Twitter says before I can concentrate on my work. And then an hour or two flies by. I need to find a happy medium. Sounds like you have a good plan, and I just need to come up with one, too. Good luck in November and happy writing!

    Margo
    http://margodill.com/blog/

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  12. Thanks, Margo! Happy writing to you, too.

    All best,
    Therese

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  13. Thanks, Margo! You, too.

    All best,
    Therese

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  14. A big THANK YOU to Therese and everyone who left a comment or posted a question.
    The name of the winner of Therese's book will be announced on my Nov 5 post.
    Donna

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