Welcome, Novelist Therese Walsh, Here To Answer Your Questions

by @thewritermama on January 4, 2010 · 44 comments

Did you read The Last Will of Moira Leahy?

You did? It was fantastic, wasn’t it?

Well, on Tuesday we are fortunate to have the author, Therese Walsh, swinging by to answer our questions about her debut novel.

Please post your questions below to join in!

And if you haven’t read The Last Will of Moira Leahy, you are really missing out on a special book. (If you dare, you can view my video review here.) I hope you will pick up a copy just as soon as you can. Why not ask your local library to add it to their collection?

Here’s some of my questions to kick things off:

Looking back on the entire journey of conceiving the novel, writing the novel, rewriting the novel, and promoting the novel…is there anything you would do differently?

At what point do you or did you feel ready to say goodbye to these characters and hello to the characters in your next book? Do you work on more than one project at a time?

Of all of the advice you’ve read and given novelists, what is the one, most crucial piece of advice for the as-of-yet unpublished writer?

Thanks, Therese!

Everyone else, feel free to chime in with your questions!

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  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    Hi Christina,

    Thanks for having me! And thanks for my first video review (love that) and for all of your amazing support.

    You asked: Looking back on the entire journey of conceiving the novel, writing the novel, rewriting the novel, and promoting the novel…is there anything you would do differently?

    A: Yes, I would proceed with more confidence, especially after I made the decision to rewrite the book. It was like a big mind game though, since the story in a different form had already been rejected. I had to push through that doubt and, frankly, fear on a regular basis to face the page. I stuck with it because the characters continually tugged me back into the chair.

    You asked: At what point do you or did you feel ready to say goodbye to these characters and hello to the characters in your next book? Do you work on more than one project at a time?

    A: I began my second book conceptually shortly after Last Will sold, but I admit that story has taken the back burner to Last Will more often than not throughout 2009. The new work is now my first priority. I can’t write more than one large fiction project at a time, but I believe in the power of short works — flash fiction and of course haiku. (Have you seen the haiku page on my website? http://theresewalsh.com/Author/author_HaikuMania.html)

    You asked: Of all of the advice you’ve read and given novelists, what is the one, most crucial piece of advice for the as-of-yet unpublished writer?

    A: First, develop an idea you’re Passionate about. Second, open yourself up to criticism of your work and hear it in all its possible forms (face value or veiled meaning). You must decide via your gut if that criticism has validity, and then decide to act. You have to recognize when you might need more education–via classes or craft books or mentoring–and then you must do the work required to improve yourself as a writer so that you can improve upon your project. The secret, if there is one? A willingness to be vulnerable–to admit you and your idea can be improved upon–and then to work, to persevere, until you reach your goal.

  • LydiaSharp

    Hi Therese!

    You already know I love your book, but it bears repeating: I LOVE YOUR BOOK. Now that that's out of the way…

    Before reading Last Will, I'd never heard of a keris. This little knife completely fascinated me. Throughout the novel, you provide details about the physical properties of the blade, folklore, and so forth. How much did you know about this before you began the journey, and how much research did have to do you do once you were committed to writing a novel?

    I love it when debut novelists stretch the boundaries of conventional writing. I've never seen a novel structured like Last Will, with the chapters split in two. The first sections (in Maeve's POV) are written in first person, and the second sections (in Moira's POV) are written in third person AND are also flashbacks, and you pulled it off without it jarring me as the reader. Was this something you'd planned from the beginning? How did you go about deciding to take such a supposed risk?

    (Last one, I promise) Something else that stood out to me about your writing is that ALL the characters, both the major players and minor roles, are very well developed. I think Noel was my favorite (aside from Maeve and Moira, of course), but even the background characters, such as Giovanni, jumped off the page. Any tips on how to make your characters realistic yet memorable?

    Thanks!
    ~Lydia

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  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    Hi Lydia,

    Thank you! I promise never to grow tired of hearing that you love Last Will.

    You asked: Before reading Last Will, I'd never heard of a keris. This little knife completely fascinated me. Throughout the novel, you provide details about the physical properties of the blade, folklore, and so forth. How much did you know about this before you began the journey, and how much research did have to do you do once you were committed to writing a novel?

    A: I had zero knowledge of the keris when I originally sat down to write this story, because it was supposed to be a simple tale. By chance, the blade found its way into the first scene, a friend inquired about it, and that led to some research. That's when I realized the keris could and probably should play a true role in the book — but without becoming the book, if you know what I mean (e.g. I didn't want to write a girl-possessed-by-ancient-weapon sort of book). At some point, I purchased a book that would prove very helpful, called The Keris and Other Malay Weapons, published by the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. I also haunted some weapons boards! And, um, I purchased three kerises.

    I'll answer your 2nd question in the next comment…

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    You asked: I love it when debut novelists stretch the boundaries of conventional writing. I've never seen a novel structured like Last Will, with the chapters split in two. The first sections (in Maeve's POV) are written in first person, and the second sections (in Moira's POV) are written in third person AND are also flashbacks, and you pulled it off without it jarring me as the reader. Was this something you'd planned from the beginning? How did you go about deciding to take such a supposed risk?

    A: Thank you! I'm structuring the second book similarly, so I'm glad to hear this comment!

    I didn't plan the interwoven structure from the beginning. Once upon a time, there was a complete version of Last Will that didn't include any of the Out of Time sequences or much at all in the way of Moira's story. That first version failed with agents, but one agent suggested I should be writing women's fiction. The suggestion rooted in me. I brainstormed for months about the book, how I might morph it into something else. I think I was at a writing conference when I had the thought: Include scenes from the past, from Moira's POV. (It seems so obvious now!) It was at that same conference when I tried writing the first scene again from Maeve's POV, in first person. It just felt right.

    Holler if you have any follow-up questions. I'm happy to answer. Third question in the next comment…

  • thea

    Ter, I loved “The Last Will of Moira Leahy” and was fascinated how you wove the two distinct stories together, seemlessly. When you read a novel, you often wonder what happens to these people after the book ends. Do you think Maeve's relationship with her mother changes? Do you think Maeve is ever able to tell her mother the truth of what happened? And just as an aside, can't wait for you next book!! Thea

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    [Third Q here...] You asked: Something else that stood out to me about your writing is that ALL the characters, both the major players and minor roles, are very well developed. I think Noel was my favorite (aside from Maeve and Moira, of course), but even the background characters, such as Giovanni, jumped off the page. Any tips on how to make your characters realistic yet memorable?

    A: Thanks, Lydia! Someone asked just two days ago if Noel was a real person and if so if I might divulge his address. Ha!

    One thing I was conscious of throughout was that each character should have his own arc and meaningful goal. I personally love expansive stories with literary dissonance that somehow manage to loop back and resolve by bringing characters and situations full circle (think Lord of the Rings). And while I'm not remotely comparing my book to LotR, I wanted that same sense of dissonance and resolution with my story and characters. How to create dissonance that can carry a story? Blake Snyder, who sadly passed away in 2009, wrote a book for screenwriters that I highly recommend to all writers called Save the Cat. In that book, Blake distilled storytelling secrets including this one: If you want your story to be compelling, your characters' goals must be primal — they must be things everyone on the planet can relate to (e.g. death, love, family). So choose primal goals for your characters that people can identify with, create loads of conflict and make your characters overcome those hurdles (creating a character worth rooting for, investing readers), and then in the end bring it all full circle.

    Does that help?

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    Thanks, Thea!

    I do think Maeve's relationship with her mother is improved in the future, but I personally doubt they'd ever speak of that particular night — it was just too painful for them both.

  • http://kristanhoffman.com/ Kristan

    Therese,

    Big fan here from Writer Unboxed! Thanks to both you and Christina for doing this interview!

    I'm curious, because you mentioned “the second book.” Did you picture this being a more-than-one-book story? How did the sequel come about?

    Thanks,
    Kristan

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com Therese Walsh

    Hi Erika,

    Great to see you here, and thanks for your comments!

    No, I didn’t travel to Rome for this book, though I did travel to Castine (where I found a keris in a small museum — no lie!). As for Rome, I pulled information from several books, some message boards, and through an interview with the founder of RomeBuddy.com — who told me much about what Rome is like over the holiday. Because I hadn’t been there with a notebook and pencil on my own, I focused on capturing sensory details from all sources. What did the bridges over the Tiber look like? I’d find pictures online, then create lists of adjectives to describe them.

    Does that help? Ask anything you’d like.

  • http://www.lydiasharp.blogspot.com LydiaSharp

    Beautiful answers! Thank you. :)
    And I will definitely check out Blake Snyder's book. I appreciate the recommendation.

  • christinakatz

    Excellent questions, Lydia. :)

  • christinakatz

    Great responses, Therese. I agree that the characters are wonderfully and sharply developed. I do think that's one of the things that drew me in. I have to slip in an ironic comment here: the keris was not a draw for me. In fact, hearing about it in advance of reading the book I was a bit turned off (I'm being honest here, just bear with me). I thought, “Bah, what do I care about weaponry?” So imagine my surprise when, upon reading the book, I WAS pulled in by the keris as a dramatic object. And I was relieved when the story was so much more about the characters and their relationships rather than overly relying on dramatic object. Much fiction contains dramatic objects. And in a lesser novelist's hands, the keris could have easily been overplayed. Well done, Therese, for finding the perfect balance! The keris both compelled the story forward and taught me some interesting lessons about knives and, clearly, dramatic objects.

  • christinakatz

    That aspect of the story made it more real for me. I was glad you didn't resolve every conflict up too tidily.

  • christinakatz

    Therese, is there going to be a sequel to Last Will?

  • christinakatz

    I met Blake in person at the Writer's Digest/BEA Conference in LA a couple years ago. He was the nicest, kindest person, and from everything I've heard, a wonderful teacher.

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    Hi Kristan,

    Great to see you here!

    My second book isn't a continuation of Last Will, though I did originally intend Last Will to be the first book in a trilogy. That was before the big rewrite and new direction, and now those old ideas no longer fit into a larger picture. Ironically, though, I did start a sequel to Last Will before my big rewrite; it remains forever stalled at 200 pages. When I told one my CPs (Kath!) that I was quitting on that story indefinitely, she mentioned that she'd miss one particular scene–set in West Virginia with a blind girl and ghost lights. Those visuals merged with some other ideas I'd been brewing, the research began, and the idea for book #2 crystallized.

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    I think you'll enjoy it, Lydia. Let me know?

  • christinakatz

    Interesting! I wonder, did any of your ideas initially intended for future books in the trilogy trickle back into the rewrite for what ultimately became the final version of the novel? Just curious. Looking forward to your second novel, Therese!

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    I appreciate what you've said here, Christina, because that very issue has been a stumbling block from the beginning. How to pitch a book like this? How to describe it to people who ask what the book is about? Difficult. But for me, as the writer, I understood that the important part of the package was the relationship between the twins, that indestructible connection, and so that's what I tried to lean on when pitching the book.

    I think this second book will be much easier to explain and understand — I hope, anyway!

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    I spoke with him for at least two hours by phone for our Writer Unboxed interview, and it will stand as one of the best interviews I've ever had for WU. Super nice guy, humble and brilliant.

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    It was even less resolved in earlier drafts, but many wanted to see a touch of closure between those characters. I went as far as Abby let me!

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com/ Therese Walsh

    Not really, though I remember making some choices that would conflict with the series idea. I don't think I would have tidied up things between Maeve and Ian, for example; that resolution would probably have occurred in the third book. The second book would've featured Kit and a mystery character–a blind girl 'kept' by her father. Ack, I can't think about it! ;-)

  • thea

    Therese, I 'heard' you were a “pantser” type. How do you write – I mean, do you write for several hours each morning, religiously, or into the night hours, or all the time with breaks for 'real life'?

  • http://www.erikarobuck.com/ Erika Robuck

    Therese,

    I loved your book and was so impressed by your vivid setting and characters. Were you able travel to Rome? If so, I'd love to hear about that experience in relation to your book–did you go for research, or had you already been there? If not, how were you able to capture it so beautifully?

  • theresewalsh

    I know the day will go well when I can fit a few hours into the morning. But when I'm in the zone, I'm a slave to the work (breaks for real life fits perfectly)!

  • http://www.lydiasharp.blogspot.com LydiaSharp

    (Back from my real life adventures, aka being a mom)

    I was curious about Erika's question, too, regarding Rome. I would love to visit there one day, but if I never get the chance, I can just read your book again. Haha.

    Also, I've always had an interest in “twin sense” (in fact, the MCs of my first novel are a twin brother and sister) and was wondering how you discovered all the nuances between Moira and Maeve. For example, their unique language, the ability to feel each other's experiences, and also block them, etc. This had a huge role in how the stories (both present and past) played out. There is a wealth of information out there about the relationship between twins, how did you decide what to use?
    And this just occurred to me … are you a twin, Therese? :)

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com Therese Walsh

    Momming is an adventure, for sure. We have several adventures tonight (aka taking one kiddo to soccer practice, picking another up from an after-school club).

    Thanks for your comment about Rome. I plan to travel there myself sometime within the next few years, and visit as many places as I can!

    I'm not a twin, and honestly I didn't plan that Maeve be one either. During the first draft, the keris already in play, Moira kind of appeared on the page while writing a scene. I continued pantsing my way through the manuscript with her edging her way into a scene here and there. It wasn't until I rewrote the manuscript completely, focusing much more heavily on the story of twins, that I did some honest research into the world of twins. I purchased several books, but the book I found most valuable was Susan Kohl's Twin Stories. Twin Stories is just what it sounds like — a book filled with stories about twins. There were stories about twin deaths and twin language, identity issues and much more. I drew from the topics that I knew would enrich the story; for example, I knew I had to build on the strength of Maeve and Moira's bond to make the latter parts of the story seem authentic, so I honed in on tales about intense attachment. The stories about twin loss were very touching too.

    That's interesting that you've written about twins, too! There's just something about them…

  • christinakatz

    Therese,
    Tell the truth: how much of you is in Maeve?

  • http://www.erikarobuck.com/ Erika Robuck

    Thanks, Therese. You did a beautiful job!

    It will very special once you get there someday!

  • http://www.lydiasharp.blogspot.com LydiaSharp

    Now I have another book to add to my reading list. :)

    Yes, I focused part of the character arcs on their intense attachment as well. Extreme separation anxiety … so of course I had to separate them. Haha. The things we do to our poor characters… That particular story is currently undergoing some heavy duty rewrites, though. Maybe something I read in the books you recommended today will spark new life into it.

    And I'll admit, I secretly wanted to be a twin when I was younger. I attribute that to my pre-teen fanaticism with the Sweet Valley High series, and it just sort of stuck with me into adulthood. :)

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com Therese Walsh

    Maeve's braver than I am, but we have a similar sense of humor. Ahem. Seriously, though, there are pieces of me in every character. I identify strongly with Moira, too.

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com Therese Walsh

    I think you'll love the Twin Stories book. It's a short, easy read packed with good stuff.

    Torturing characters is our business! And you know, I'm nodding my head as I read about your heavy duty rewrites. Some people who don't know my history say, “Wow, you published your first book!?” They don't realize that book was revised a gasquillion times over six, seven (? I lose count) years. I think a writer can learn so much about the craft and their story through rewriting. Do you have Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel? That book asks you to consider story possibilities you haven't before. Good luck with your revisions! You'll have to be in touch WHEN you sell so I can pick up your book.

  • http://www.lydiasharp.blogspot.com LydiaSharp

    You're too kind. :)
    I don't have Writing the Breakout Novel, but I did purchase The Fire In Fiction just last month, which has been very helpful. I especially liked the introduction where he asks, are you a status seeker or a storyteller? Anyone who spends multiple years doing rewrites and asking every possible “what if” question is doing it for the good of the story. No question about that.
    Thanks so much for all your comments! And thanks to Christina for hosting. I've bookmarked this page to reference later. :)

  • Dwayne

    Therese – it's Dwayne.

    You've often helped me with words of inspiration over on WriterUnboxed.

    As an aspiring novelist, of course you can find me at the Borders often looking for writing craft books.

    Just wanted to know if you used any books on plotting, in particular, when you were writing your book. If so, which ones.

    And what's it like working with a professional editor? Are they full of tricks to spruce up your story (to make it tighter, add conflict, etc., etc., things like that.)

    Thanks, and again congrats on the novel.

    Dwayne

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com Therese Walsh

    Barbara Samuel (O'Neal) always says “serve the work” — the best writerly mantra out there, I think.

    You're very welcome, and I wish you the best of luck!

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com Therese Walsh

    I'm glad that was helpful, Erika.

    When I get there, I'll take loads of pics and share them on WU — promise.

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com Therese Walsh

    Hi Dwayne,

    It's good to see you here!

    I did not use any books specifically on plotting while I wrote, but once I'd finished a draft, I looked through The Hero's Way and realized there was a scene or two I could create to bring a bit more tension to the story. Ironically, one of those added scenes was later cut — I think by my editor. Or maybe my agent made the suggestion to cut, and I did it.

    Professional editors do have tricks they can offer to help improve upon a manuscript — at least mine did. Sarah pinpointed a few places in the manuscript that needed some additional tension/conflict involving some characters, but then she pretty much left it to me to figure out what that tension should be. She had some tightening suggestions as well. She also had an amazing eye for overused words and phrases, and in general helped me to apply a rich polish to the finished work. I remain very grateful for her expertise.

    Best of luck with your work!

  • http://writerunboxed.com/ Kathleen Bolton

    Hmm, having some technical difficulties. Did I miss the chat? :-(

  • http://www.writerunboxed.com/ Kathleen Bolton

    I'm baaack!

    Ter, I know you're leaping into book 2 now. Can you tell us what you've learned from the Last Will that you're able to apply to this new project? I'm salivating to know more about the blind girl!

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com Therese Walsh

    Hey Kath,

    I'm glad you came back!

    I've learned that it's important to have something like an outline on paper — firm ideas and plot points and a final resolution– else the story can behave naughtily! But I've also learned that it's okay to have a squishy outline and to allow myself to veer outside its boundaries every once in a while. I'm still trying to work out my best approach, but I'm getting there.

    I'm also bringing lessons imparted from my editor into this book, so hopefully there will be fewer overused phrases and words (etc…) when this script is finished.

    Finally, I trust my instincts more.

    The (partially) blind girl is one of my favorite characters ever!

  • seakiev

    Wow, I am amazed that you were able t to write the scenes in Rome without having been there……..while reading it I really thought you'd written them while you were there!

  • http://ThereseWalsh.com Therese Walsh

    Good! That makes the research worth it.

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