Thursday, May 15, 2014

1/2 Dozen for Therese Walsh

As we gear up for summer reading, it's my great pleasure to introduce Therese Walsh to all of you who may not know her.  AND ... if you're intrigued by THE MOON SISTERS as she talks about how her latest novel came to be -- a novel that Publisher's Weekly calls "Luminous... packed with invention and rich characterizations.." it's only $1.99 at Amazon and at on e-readers for the next ten days!

And now a 1/2 dozen with Therese Walsh...

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

There was, but it’s a bit of a story to get there.

As soon as I learned about synesthesia, I knew I wanted to write about it. Synesthesia is a condition characterized by sensory areas that are connected in unique ways; a person might taste music or see sound, for example.

Enter will-o’-the-wisps.

Will-o’-the-wisps are drifting lights that sometimes appear over bogs and are thought to lead those who follow to treasure or over a cliff’s edge, depending on the whim of the mischievous wisps. I had, once upon a time, included them in a draft of a different story, in a scene involving a blind girl on a bog in West Virginia. While that story was eventually abandoned, that scene never left my mind.

Something clicked when I realized that will-o’-the-wisp lights are also called “foolish fires.” Right away, I imagined a girl with synesthesia who would become legally blind while staring (foolishly) at the (fiery) sun, which smelled like her mother. All of the parts coalesced. That was my moment—when I knew this was the book I had to write.

Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

It’s complicated.

I love writing when I’m not overthinking the story and worrying every line. I love it when it erupts out of me, and delivers something pure and true and unchoreographed.

Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to shut off the part of my brain that wants to control the process and make no mistakes. That part? Makes writing a chore, because first drafts are not finished products and the gold needs permission, as it were, to come to us entangled in trash.

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer? 

Get used to repeating yourself. Writers often may seem to be paying attention to what’s said to them, but we’re often focused on how to get through the latest plot snag, move a story from Y to Z, or understand a difficult character.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

Try not to be offended by critique of your work. Criticism is just someone taking the time to point out where things might be improved. Don’t take it personally. Take it professionally.

Research. We all have to do it. Sometimes it’s delicious, sometimes brutal. Tell us a tale from the research trenches.

In order to bring the world of train hopping to life in The Moon Sisters, I corresponded, through a go-between, with a modern-day train hopper. He relayed much about that world through tales and the manner of their telling. He was gruff and dark and honest and mouthy, and one of my favorite characters, Hobbs, came to life because of that experience.

Learning about train hopping became a point of fascination for me. I read a couple of books, including Hopping Freight Trains in America by Duffy Littlejohn. Train hoppers create names for themselves, and “Duffy Littlejohn” gets a mention in The Moon Sisters.

I traveled to West Virginia and rode the rails, too. And while I didn’t actually train hop, I spoke with the rail authority there about hopping, and learned how to do it.

Recently I met with a female train hopper in a book club. I asked her how that section of the book read to her, if descriptions of hopping were true to her experience, and she said that they were. That was really gratifying.

Are you a writer of place? Is place always one of your main characters?

I am. It is. Because where we are affects who we are.

In my debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, identical twin Maeve moves away from her hometown of Castine, Maine, to escape memories. She creates a new life for herself in upstate New York, but it’s overly insulated and sterile. It isn’t until she travels to Rome, Italy, that all she meant to suppress comes rushing back. Eventually, she returns to Castine for closure.

In my second novel, The Moon Sisters, Jazz and Olivia Moon grow up in a small, poor West Virginia town. They’re uniquely affected by their situation, with one sister feeling more constricted by home life than the other. It isn’t until they pull away from that town and journey to the Cranberry Glades to find a will-o’-the-wisp light that they realize freedom is a state of mind.

Therese Walsh is the author of two novels, including her latest, The Moon Sisters (Crown, Random House). She is also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Writer Unboxed, listed on 101 Best Websites (Writer's Digest, '07, '08, '09, '10, '11, '12, '13).