Writer Unboxed is the name of the writers' site Therese Walsh co-founded in 2006, but it's also a good description of the writer herself these days. Walsh's first novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, will be coming out of boxes and onto shelves next week. She's also a generous, open-minded writer sharing her journey and inspiration across the internet writing community, through Writer Unboxed, Twitter, blogging on her own site, and much more. Writing is a solitary act and being a writer can be a very isolating way of life, but authors like Walsh have found a way to reach beyond that basic isolation to be part of a large and vital virtual world.
Publishers Weekly calls The Last Will of Moira Leahy a "pleasing blend of mystery, romance and the supernatural.” The story is this:
When Maeve Leahy lost her twin sister, Moira, to tragedy nearly a decade ago, she buried her adventurous spirit to become a workaholic professor of languages instead. Until one night at an auction when she wins something that reminds her of her piratical youth: a Javanese dagger called a keris. Days later, a book is nailed to her office door, followed by anonymous notes –- one inviting her to Rome to learn more about the blade. Soon, she’ll learn that nothing can be taken at face value and that the keris might play a role in slicing away her self-protective layers, once and for all.
Reviewers and fellow authors have called the book "hauntingly beautiful", "tender and transcendent", "a magical debut", and "an enchanting, poignant and enthralling tale", and the author herself "one to watch." Despite her busy schedule, Walsh agreed to answer a few questions for Intrepid Media, and we're thrilled to share her interview here.
Last month, Writer Unboxed posted its 100th interview. You and WU co-founder Kathleen Bolton have interviewed some amazing writers for the site, including Audrey Niffenegger, Jasper Fforde, Amy McKinnon, and Brunonia Barry. Which side of the interview are you more comfortable on? Would you rather be asking the questions, or answering them?
Thank you! It’s true that I’m much more familiar with the interviewee role -- for Writer Unboxed and as a freelance health writer --but I’m discovering that I like answering questions, too.
Writing a novel is a huge accomplishment, but finishing the first draft is barely the beginning. Did it take you longer to write the first draft, or to revise that draft into the finished book? How many revisions did you go through?
I spend more time writing the draft than revising and editing after said draft is finished, in part because I revise and edit as I go.
Your second question made me laugh aloud, because I couldn’t begin to guess how many revisions I’ve gone through with Last Will. Though I’d been working as a freelance writer during this period, my journey to publication was —err— protracted. Let me give you a quick idea using broad strokes:
2002: Started writing 1st version of novel
2003: Finished draft; revised, edited, marketed
2004: Began writing new project, still marketing first version of novel; later decided to scrap everything and rewrite story in a different genre
2005: Started writing 2nd version of novel
2006: Did yet another major reworking of 2nd version of novel, though I was only about halfway through it; finally wrote an outline, which is close to the novel’s final form
2007: Finished draft, revised, edited
2008: Final edits, search for agent, found agent, sold
Twins are such an intriguing topic for writers, especially identical twins. Are Moira and Maeve identical, or fraternal? Were they always twins in your concept of the book, or did that change?
For as long as Moira has existed on the page, she has been Maeve’s identical twin, but she wasn’t an original part of my plan—and I use the word “plan” loosely; when I set out to write v1 of the book, I just wanted to write a story about a guy and a girl and a peach pie, you know? It wasn’t until I was a few chapters in that strange things began to happen; basically, I lost control of the story. The keris was present. Moira was present. They took over. Everything changed.
Do you mine your own life for your fiction at all? Obviously this is a novel, not an autobiography, but do you draw on the people you meet or objects you encounter to inform your writing?
I don’t directly mine my life for fiction and never on a conscious level. But about a year or so ago I realized that one of my sisters and the protagonist, Maeve Leahy, have shared some key experiences. My sisters and I lost our father when my youngest sister was 16, and her recovery experience became very important to me. I think that—while Maeve and my sister do not share a personality—Maeve’s healing from a loss occurring at age 16 was what I’d hoped for my sister. And, as a side note, this book has always resonated most strongly with that sister: She has been its biggest supporter and cried the most number of times over its pages. I’d like to think the book played a role in healing her and Maeve both—or maybe all three of us.
Any particular authors you love to read? Who inspires you?
I’m not so much committed to a particular author as I am hooked by voice. Give me a rich voice and/or smart wordplay and an innovative storyline, and I’ll read that book. Three of my favorites:
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
You know I can't resist asking about food. Any great anecdotes you can share about how food and books are linked? Are you celebrating Last Will's launch with a special meal, or anything like that?
A book can feel like a snack, a meal or a three-star Michelin dining experience, and language can be as crisp and buttery as anything on a plate. It can be sweet, wholesome and delicious, and taste good in your mouth. It can be organic, cheesy, spicy, raw, well done, fresh or stale. It can act like a platter of turkey and put you to sleep, or a giant mug of caffeine and keep you up all night.
My favorite restaurant is in a converted fire station, and they serve the best Greek tenderloin—meltinyourmouthsogoodyummm. A bunch of us will head there and chow to celebrate the book’s release.
What has surprised you the most so far about your journey to publication?
How busy I’ve been since the sale. I had envisioned something like this: Make sale, celebrate, do some editing, write the second book for ~ten months, then take a break for the debut. Truth is, there’s a lot to do once your book sells—from making revisions with your editor if need be—including possibly brainstorming new titles—to going over copyedits and first- and then second-pass pages, catalog copy, back-of-the galley copy, flap copy, and a comprehensive author questionnaire. You may be asked to provide ideas for the cover designer and blurbs and questions for the discussion guide.
Then, before you know it, it’s time to think about publicity. You may want to establish yourself on social networking sites if you haven’t already. If you don’t already have a website, you’ll need to spend time finding a designer, deciding on a vibe and flow, and you may need to write every page of that site. I wanted a site rich with content—including my version of a book trailer: a Flickr-inspired photo journal—so this absorbed a lot of my time.
Do you have a publicity and marketing team? If you plan to supplement their efforts—and they’ll probably hope you do—you’ll need to define that involvement, reach out to people, book tours, write blog posts for others, etc... Opportunities will present themselves, and all will be a time drain, so you’ll need to decide what’s important. I’m here to tell you that you can spend every second of your day on publicity for your book, so you have to be careful and protect your writing time.
Okay, so, what day can I get my hands on the book?!?!
The Last Will of Moira Leahy will be on the shelves on Tuesday, October 13th! I can’t wait.
Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry
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joe redden tigan
10.7.09 @ 10:51a
"I couldn’t begin to guess how many revisions I’ve gone through..."
there's a point very, very early on in the novel (and general, if you ask me) writing process where you toss keeping track of numbers of revisions and drafts and begin to ask what percentage of my time is being spent on revising. shortly after that, you'll probably ask what percentage of my time should be spent on revising. if the answer to both doesn't absolutely shock the hell out of you, you might be on the wrong track.
10.7.09 @ 11:43a
My revisions take way longer than the initial draft, and like you, Joe, it's more a span of time than a set number of revisions. I'm skeptical of people who say "well, I revise once for plot and once for grammar, then it's done," but everyone's got their own process.