I lost my twin to a harsh November nine years ago. Ever since, I’ve felt the span of that month like no other, as if each of the calendar’s thirty perfect little squares split in two on the page. I wished they’d just disappear. Bring on winter. I had bags of rock salt, a shovel, and a strong back. I wasn’t afraid of ice and snow. November always lingered, though, crackling under the foot of my memory like dead leaves.
It’s no wonder then that I gave in to impulse one November evening, left papers piled high on my desk and went to where I’d lost myself in the past with a friend. I thought I might evade memory for a while at the auction house, but I slammed into it anyhow. It was just November’s way.
Only this time, November surprised me.
–Page 1. The Last Will of Moira Leahy.
Isn’t that a great hook? (Read more at the end of this post.) Therese Walsh blends meticulous storytelling with a literary voice that keeps surprising with fresh word combinations and risky rhetorical strategies. This is both a reader’s book and a writer’s book. But you guys knew that already, didn’t you?
Getting to publication has been a long journey for Therese, partially chronicled right here at WU and in part one of WU’s two-part interview. As promised, part two of Therese’s interview will focus on the other, crucial element of a successful book launch: publicity and networking.
Enjoy part two of our interview with blog mama and co-founder of Writer Unboxed, Therese Walsh.
Q: How important was networking to helping you achieve this dream?
TW: I’d like to think Last Will would’ve found its home regardless of networking, but having connections definitely helped, especially when it came to finding an agent.
Last Will wasn’t easy to categorize–women’s fiction/family saga melded with touches of mystery, psychological suspense and romance. The real wildcard component was the mythical realism, though, so I subscribed to Publishers Marketplace to learn who’d sold stories with a touch of the supernatural. While searching through book sales, I recognized Allison Winn Scotch’s novel, Time of My Life. Though we know Allison well here at Writer Unboxed, her novel’s publication was still 3-4 months out at that point and I hadn’t yet read a synopsis. Bingo. Time of My Life was women’s fiction with a touch of the supernatural. Agent: Elisabeth Weed. I emailed Allison and asked about her agent. She mentioned that Elisabeth had just had a baby, but said she’d be happy to feel her out for me. Later, she emailed to say that Elisabeth would be interested in reading a query. The query led to a request for a partial, then the full, and then an offer of representation.
Q: Last Will of Moira Leahy is a story about twin sisters, love and loss. What was it about this story that wouldn’t let you go?
TW: Honestly, I’m not sure what it was about this story, but I felt unsettled whenever I considered letting go. I had to write it.
That said, I did suffer a personal loss in my life when my father died unexpectedly at the age of fifty-six. My entire family suffered, but his death had the most profound impact on my youngest sister. Coincidence that Maeve and my sister were both sixteen at the time of loss? That they both were thrown off course by that loss, and had to rebuild their lives? At its core, Last Will is a story about acceptance and leaning into grief until you come to terms with it. I know I wanted that for my sister—certainly more than I wanted it for Maeve Leahy. I could control Maeve, though. Maybe that’s why it was so important to me. As a side note, Last Will always resonated most strongly with that sister; the book is partially dedicated to her.
Q: You use both first person and third person POV. Why did you choose to tell the story that way?
TW: First of all, version one of the story was told entirely in third person. When I re-envisioned the story, it was through the eyes of both twins and evolved through narratives in the present day and the past. It was clear that the present-day tale was Maeve’s to tell; first person felt right for that. The story of the past—these “out of time” sequences—could’ve been told in Maeve’s POV as well, but I realized early on that the story would be richer for falling into Moira’s POV and telling the story of their childhood and her demise from her POV. Third person felt like the right choice there, since it was set in the past.
Q: Do you think you could have gotten to this current version with the dual POV’s without first writing the third-person-only version?
TW: That’s a good question, and I’m not sure about the answer.
One thing I was focused on was making the women’s fiction version of the story distinctly different from the romance version—and tone was a huge part of that. Early in the process of rethinking the story, I remember reading something like, “Once someone writes in the romance genre they’ll never, never be able to write anything else, period.” That ticked me off. It also made me slightly paranoid. I think telling the women’s fiction version in first person POV made making the break from my early work easier.
Funny, but I continued to feel paranoid about third-person voice and felt a lack of confidence in my out-of-time sequences for a long time. Turns out, people often connect with that storyline more than even the present-day narrative.
So anyway, to that person who said it couldn’t be done, I say (raspberry).
Q: The story moves from Castine, Maine to upstate New York, then Rome, Italy. How important was place in inspiring you? Do you think this would have been a different book if you’d chosen different locations?
TW: Yes, it would’ve been a different book if I hadn’t set the story in these particular places. Castine offered not only the local legend of the drummer-boy ghost, but proximity to the ocean and the pull of Alvilda, pirate Queen. Even the first draft of the book had water themes, but once Castine was central to the story, those themes grew richer.
Much of the story evolves in Rome. I explored place, like The Mouth of Truth, dug into traditions, like what happens in Rome on Christmas Eve, and played with the mysterious underground world the city has to offer. The researcher in me was in heaven!
Q: You’ve done a lot of grassroots marketing to help promote the Last Will of Moira Leahy. Could you give us a brief outline of what you’ve done, what you think has been the most helpful in terms of promotion, and what has been less successful.
TW: I’ve done everything from connecting with my local bookstores to niche markets that I thought might take an interest in Last Will—like those centered on all-things twin. You can read a more comprehensive listing of my efforts in my post, A No-Regrets-Pre-Pub Push.
I’m not sure which steps will be most successful, but I’ve felt an authentic enthusiasm from some of the niche markets, especially twin reviewers and a great lady who runs a bookstore about twin books (DoubleUp Books).
I’m also glad that I signed up for a WOW (Women on Writing) blog tour. Though writing the blog posts has been a lot of work, WOW will be positioning these posts on terrific websites for writers and readers during these crucial first weeks, when the rate of movement (RM) numbers are so important.
Q: Your website is gorgeous. Can you talk about the process of choosing an online portal that reflects both the author and the author’s work?
TW: Thanks! I knew from the start that I’d want a site with gorgeous imagery. (You know how I love me my Flickr pictures.) My designer, Sunni Chapman, is a huge fan of beautiful things, too, so we made a good team.
I like this question, because we haven’t talked about branding for fiction authors much here at WU. It’s a little mysterious. I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few things I wanted to do:
- Since the cover of the book will probably be the most memorable part of the package—much more memorable than my name or even the title of the book—I wanted the site to complement and showcase the cover.
- I wanted the imagery to be evocative and create story questions—what’s that pirate flag doing there, and how about that strange marble statue? Most of the pictures have the ability to make the reader wonder, “Hmm, what’s this book about anyway?”
- I wanted the imagery to say “women’s fiction,” and I think it does especially because of the home page.
- I also wanted the site to subtly hint at the magical realism in the novel, and I think the starry background, the moon and the overlay of water work to that end.
- I wanted music, as it’s an important part of this book and the next. We had mixed reviews on the music, though, so it became an optional part of the visitor’s experience; you can click on a media player on the home page to hear Roberto Cacciapaglia’s Atlantico, the music that inspired me as I wrote The Last Will of Moira Leahy.
- I wanted a book trailer. I did not get a book trailer. But I gathered beautiful photographs through Flickr (Creative Commons and by permission) and with Sunni’s help created a photo journal. I love this photo journal, because it helps to tell the tale. Take a peek ?
- I wanted the site to feel intimate—reveal things about the book and me not found anywhere else, and give people a taste of my voice.
- Because a large part of my online life has taken place here at Writer Unboxed, I thought it important to bridge those two worlds if possible. So I developed a big section for writers on my site, with links to some of my essays at WU.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten about writing and the crazy business of publishing? The worst?
TW: Best advice: Never, never quit. (Thea)
Worst advice: Don’t add too many layers to your story. Save some for the next manuscript. (Anonymous)
Q: What is next for you?
TW: I’ve been putting in a heads-down effort re: promotion of Last Will, but I’m also working on book #2—a story about a blind woman who teaches others how to see the world. It’s another cross-genre work with a women’s fiction heart, and elements of psychological suspense, mystery, romance and mythical realism. Oh, and storylines that merge together in unexpected ways. You can’t take the Unboxed out of the girl. ;-)
The Last Will of Moira Leahy is on sale now at all book retailers. Don’t wait to immerse yourself in this astonishing book. Read a preview right now, courtesy of Random House.