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.