Women’s Fiction Author Therese Walsh Talks About Juggling Life and Writing and Tells How The Book Under Her Bed Got Published

Like many of you, I’m sure, I feel like I’ve known Therese Walsh forever, because forever is how long I feel like I’ve been reading Writer Unboxed. As I became more involved in Backspace and then in this blog and subsequently in the RWA-WF chapter and the WU page on Facebook, I came to know Therese as a friend.  She’s not only an advocate for aspiring authors, but has been supportive and encouraging to me during my submission/book deal process as well as  a great resource when I’ve had blogging questions about WFW – which is a “baby blog” next to WU.  

Therese is an internet and social media maven.  And she has a family!  And she writes books!  Her debut novel, THE LAST WILL OF  MOIRA LEAHY came out in 2009.  To learn about her second book with an equally awesome title, you’ll have to read the interview!

As Therese is accustomed to being the host and mama on WU — it’s especially nice for me to welcome her to Women’s Fiction Writers where she’s the guest. So I hope you’ll chime in and make Therese feel right at home!

Women’s Fiction Author Therese Walsh Talks About Juggling Life and Writing and Tells How The Book Under Her Bed Got Published

ASN: Therese, you’re no stranger to blogs or social media — so let’s get the big question out of the way first.  How do you do it all — and do it all so well. (Yes, we want the secret juggling formula.)

TW: Thanks for the compliment! It’s funny that people perceive me as being a good juggler, because I often feel I could do so much better. Here are a few of the things that I do:

* I try to stay mindful about my responsibilities—professionally and personally. Being truly aware of everything on my plate helps me to space things out as needed and drives my efficiency. I am a huge note-taker, and scrawl reminders everywhere, even overtop current bills and old receipts. I also use the task manager in Outlook to send myself timely future reminders. I learned a long time ago that I don’t have the best memory in the world, so that’s how I cope with that shortcoming. (This isn’t to say I never forget things, because I do.)

* I maintain a presence on social media by visiting sites like Twitter and Facebook in off-moments throughout the day (e.g. still waking up and drinking my tea). This isn’t to say I never fall down the SM rabbit hole—it’s easy enough to do—but I’ve been trying harder lately to keep SM in its place. And it’s helping!

* I’m always considering ways I might do things more efficiently, but—and this is the important part—I try to be real with myself about my limits. I’m also getting better about asking for help when I need it. Case in point, we’re going to bring on a virtual assistant to help with Writer Unboxed in 2012.

I have to add that I have great support system—or as my father-in-law calls us, Team Walsh.

ASN: Can you share a little (or a lot) about your journey to publication for THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY?

TW: The best context for understanding this journey, which spanned from 2002 to 2009, is to first know that I was 100% green at writing adult fiction before this time. Prior to 2002, I’d worked as a health writer and dabbled in picture storybook manuscripts. At some point, I contemplated writing adult fiction, and after 9/11 decided not to wait around if I was serious about doing it. So once 2002 rolled around, I decided to write a simple love story, sans outline or any clear idea of what I was doing. By the end of 2002, I had a draft that was not at all simple and was about 30% longer than it should’ve been to fit industry standards. I spent 2003 editing. In 2004, I queried agents and the feedback was consistent: good voice, interesting premise, but gritty and dark and not a love story.

I decided that Last Will would be my “book under the bed,” and went to work on something new. But sometime in 2005, when I was about halfway through a new manuscript, I stopped. Last Will would not leave me alone, and I’d had a light-bulb moment, realized the true “love story” in the manuscript was between twin sisters. That’s when I knew I had to rewrite Last Will as women’s fiction. Literally, every scene but two hit the recycle bin. I forced myself to write an outline (agony for a pantser!), then wrote the story again, in first person for the main protag and in third for her twin in sequences called “out of time.” Fast forward through another year of writing, another year of editing, and that brings us to 2007. I spent a few more months tweaking the text, incorporating feedback from critique partners, and researching agents. I found my agent, Elisabeth Weed, in 2008. After a round of edits with her, we went out on submission with Last Will, and it sold in a preemptive, two-book deal to Random House. The book was published in 2009.

What those details probably don’t pay tribute to is just how much I grew as a writer between 2002 and 2008. We’re talking serious writerly stretch marks here! When I look back at draft one of Last Will, I cringe, laugh, and marvel. And I think the keys to that growth were this: seeking and listening to critique, consuming craft books by the pound, and continually pushing myself when I knew the writing and the story could be better.

ASN: Can you (will you?) tell us a little about your second novel?

TW: The Foolish Fire of Olivia Moon is the story of two sisters taking what seems an absurd journey in order to “find the end of their dead mother’s story.” Underneath it all though, it’s a vital journey, as they try to come to grips with their mother’s probable suicide and resolve their own complicated—and starkly different—forms of grief. (When my critique partner told me I was trying to write about the meaning of life, I nearly choked, by the way—but that’s another story.) The book has a lot of quirk to balance the serious themes, starting with the sisters. One sister has synesthesia, a condition whereby the sensory areas are uniquely linked (e.g. a synesthete might taste music). The other sister is about to start a job in a funeral home, but couldn’t tell you why she’s desperate to begin Another of my favorite characters is a tattooed train hopper who isn’t what he seems to be.

It’s funny, I talked about Last Will all of the time as I was working through that story, via blog posts on Writer Unboxed. I’ve talked very little about Olivia Moon. There’s a reason for that: This story scared the bajeezus out of me. It’s one thing to write a book over a period of six years, when it’s all about self-exploration and testing your abilities. It’s an entirely different animal when you have to write it because you’ve signed a contract and it’s expected and it must be good—it must be. Add to that, I’m still a pantser who isn’t entirely sure what she’s writing until after it’s written. As with Last Will, I had to finish writing a full draft of Olivia Moon before I understood what it wanted to be when it grew up—and then I had to rewrite it. All that said, I have a lot of love for Olivia Moon. In some ways, it’s even more personal for me than Last Will—and that’s saying a lot.

ASN: How do you barrel through if you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything at once — or — if you’re feeling uninspired?

TW: I’m going to sound like a NIKE commercial: Just do it. Write. Because really, what is the option? To stop? If you stop, you’ll feel depressed; it’s what writers do best. If you continue to write, you may still feel uninspired and even depressed, but because you’re working there’s at least a hope for that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. For writers, hope is everything, isn’t it? We hope we can finish the book. We hope that what we have to say is worth saying, worth hearing. And we hope—hope, hope, hope—to find an audience that appreciates the work. Not writing risks all that hope. I sometimes have to remind myself of that.

ASN: What is your definition of women’s fiction?

TW: For me, women’s fiction makes you reflect on your life in a meaningful way. It isn’t escapist fiction. It isn’t light or even fun. It might make you cry—even sob—then leave you to consider: Why did that touch me like that? What does it say about me that this book resonated so authentically? What have I learned here? Good women’s fiction leads you to a thoughtful place and connects you with your innermost self.

ASN: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

TW: Following from what I said in the last answer, I’d advise that authors of women’s fiction don’t intentionally set out to write a book to teach other women something about their lives. A book like that would likely—in my opinion anyway—feel forced and preachy. Instead, use your writing time to explore your issues via characters and situations that are either directly related to the things you care most about or are those ideas abstractly veiled. Sometimes you won’t even know what your issues are until you start writing! That’s okay, too. The point is to sit, the point is to write. Your authentic explorations will come through in your work. It’s this authenticity that’s key to writing women’s fiction, and is at heart what we’re all looking for both as writers and readers—a more enlightened sense of our own lives.

Author Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed with Kathleen Bolton in 2006. Since then, WU has been named as one of the top 101 sites for writers by Writer’s Digest five years running, and was named one of the top 10 sites for writers last year by Write to Done. Her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Crown, Random House), was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for RWA’s RITA Award for Best First Book, and is a TARGET BREAKOUT BOOK. She is the founder and president of RWA-WF, the women’s fiction chapter of RWA.

You can find Therese on Facebook and Twitter.

42 thoughts on “Women’s Fiction Author Therese Walsh Talks About Juggling Life and Writing and Tells How The Book Under Her Bed Got Published

  1. So excited to see Therese here! The Foolish Fire of Olivia Moon sounds enthralling; cannot wait to read it (when will it be published?). Your definition of women’s fiction is, I think, why I am so attracted to reading and writing it: that whole concept of authentic resonance and meaningful reflection. Books must make one THINK and FEEL (in my opinion).

    I appreciate the advice to “explore your issues via characters and situations that are either directly related to the things you care most about.” I think – instinctively – this is what writers of women’s fiction do. Thanks, Amy, for having Therese on WFW, and thanks, Therese, for the time management tips. Avoiding the SM rabbit hole is one of the big challenges!


  2. I’m a huge Therese Walsh fan and I loved reading this interview while “waking up and sipping my [coffee]”. Ever since reading Last Will, I’ve been eager to get my hands on Therese’s next book. When will Olivia Moon be out?

    Thanks, Amy, for sharing this fabulous interview with us! And thank you, Therese, for an insightful interview as well as an eloquent definition of women’s fiction. I there are too many misconceptions about this genre, so I’m grateful to you for setting the record straight.


  3. Hi Therese, hi Amy!

    Therese, I especially love how you discuss the transition and task of writing a second book under contract. I had such a similar experience–and found my process definitely changed/challenged from earlier manuscripts where, as you say, “It’s one thing to write a book over a period of six years, when it’s all about self-exploration and testing your abilities.”

    I love the title of THE FOOLISH FIRE OF OLIVIA MOON and I am (not surprisingly!) a big fan of stories that feature and explore relationships between sisters, especially those that require looking inward at family dynamics. Can’t wait to read it!


  4. Awesome interview! It gives me hope (as you so accurately pointed out) to hear a journey similar to my own. Though I’m nowhere near publication or even having an agent yet. I too write mainly health articles to pay the bills. And have spent the last three years reading every book about writing I can and reading to try to figure out what makes a book tick. I also write by the seat of my pants (mostly) and the story I’m working on has unfolded as I’ve written it. I knew the end in the beginning. It was getting from here to there that’s been the hard part. 🙂 Thanks for revealing your journey to us. I think it gives us all hope that one day…


  5. Wonderful interview. I love hearing how you came back to your first book, that book of your heart and learned so much in the process. And your definition of women’s fiction is spot on – not preachy, but writing that makes you reflect on life. Thanks for sharing!


  6. Great interview! I will add that to my reading list. I’m also glad to know about an organization for women’s fiction writers. I am going to look into that. And maybe check out Writer Unboxed. Thanks for all the info!


  7. I love your statement about what we look for as writers and readers: “a more enlightened sense of our own lives.” When a writer comes from that place, the fiction is infinitely better and takes on a timeless quality.

    Therese, you are an inspiration. I can hear your words in your voice and it calms me. I loved this interview and your answers and I can’t wait to read The Foolish Fire of Olivia Moon!!!


  8. I want to echo some of the others, Amy, in saying what a great interview this is. And that I can’t wait for Foolish Fire!

    Therese, I was struck by your answer to the definition of women’s fiction. It may sound odd for those who don’t read it, but you nailed why I read and write historical fantasy. Admittedly, there is an escapist element to the genre, but I often find myself moved, then asking what it was that resonated, and what I’ve learned about myself. Very true of the writing process for me as well. Great insight here. Thanks to you both, Therese and Amy!


    • Thanks for your comment, Vaughn!

      I think the definition of women’s fiction is a funny–and often confusing–thing. I’ve heard from plenty of men who say they’ve read and enjoyed Last Will, and I’m sure other women’s fiction authors also have male readers. Good books are good books, no matter the label. For me, a truly good book is one that makes me think.


  9. Therese, I always love reading about your story, and I love it even more when someone like Amy is asking the questions. I want to get the following made up into a T-shirt, or at least print it out and hang it over my desk:

    Write. Because really, what is the option? To stop? If you stop, you’ll feel depressed; it’s what writers do best. If you continue to write, you may still feel uninspired and even depressed, but because you’re working there’s at least a hope for that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. For writers, hope is everything, isn’t it?


  10. Ooh, I love that title, Therese. Can’t wait to sink my teeth into this one. I’m going to be so interested to see your process for book three because as another pantster who wishes she wasn’t, you give me hope.

    And ZOMG I’m another Outlook lover. I think I’d forget to dress without my recurring list of tasks.

    You do great interviews, Amy. I’m never disappointed when I come here.


  11. I love the title of your next book, Therese, and enjoyed the interview. I didn’t know you were a pantser which makes me feel better since I am as well. And I can’t imagine writing under a deadline for the first time. But, as you said, we just have to DO IT and push forward. Thank you for letting us get to know you better.


    • Thanks so much, Patricia! I wish I weren’t a pantser, but I can’t seem to be anything else. On the other hand, I love it when my characters surprise me, and I think a lot of the fun in writing is stumbling upon a revelation — and those are things that might not happen if I was a plotter. 🙂


  12. Wow, I already knew Therese was awesome, but now I am totally hooked by both the title and concept of The Foolish Fire of Olivia Moon. Can’t wait to read it.

    It’s a sign of a great interview when I learn something new about somebody I already know. Well done, both of you!


  13. I especially loved your words “had to finish writing a full draft of Olivia Moon before I understood what it wanted to be when it grew up—and then I had to rewrite it.” I sometimes think I am the only one who goes through this process of exploration to reach the real, deepest novel. A really fine article and the new book sounds fascinating! And I think you do so much that I am quite in awe!


  14. I’m late to the party (moved house and have been without internet – the horror!!) but I just loved this interview. Thank you so much!

    Thanks especially for being so honest about your journey. I had just two questions:
    1. How many critique partners do you have and how did you start working with them?
    2. You said your first draft was 30% too long for industry standard. May I ask how long it was and how long it ended up being after the rewrites and editing?

    Thanks again!

    PS: I love your titles – they’re so evocative. Can’t wait to read them! 🙂


    • Thanks for your questions, Sara. I’ve had lots of critique partners along the way, but this time around the book has been read and commented on by about half a dozen people–three of them family members, one of them my agent, and two of them writing friends. I met my writing friends in two separate writing groups, and we just clicked.

      The first draft weighed in at about 135k, if I remember correctly, and I’d been told to aim for 100k. Editing that manuscript, even though it ended up not being published, was the best writing exercise I’ve ever had. It forced me to think and write tight, and in the end did come in at 100k.

      Thanks again!


  15. Pingback: Inspired Links – Jan 3, 2012 | Inspired by Real Life

  16. Pingback: Q&A with Therese Walsh | Lisa Ahn // tales of quirk and wonder

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