Thursday, April 10, 2014

Visiting with Therese Walsh: A Writer's Notes to Herself

Today, it's my great pleasure to welcome back to the GBC a wonderful friend, a talented novelist, and a generous contributor to the world of writing -- Therese Walsh. Her newest novel, THE MOON SISTERS (Random House/Crown, March 2014), is the haunting, lyrical, and truly memorable story of a journey taken by two very different siblings as they try to come to terms with the death of their mother.

The novel received a starred review from BOOKLIST. They wrote: "Both heartbreaking and hopeful, the Moon sisters’ journey is no quixotic quest, and readers will find themselves completely immersed in their transformative search. This magical, moving tale is not to be missed."

And Sarah Addison Allen said: "Therese Walsh has done it again. She is fast becoming known for delivering lush, emotional and deeply atmospheric reads that never disappoint. Her second book, The Moon Sisters, is a magical journey of grief, hope and the power of family bonds. It is a novel for the senses, a harmony of sounds, sights, scents and tastes, the likes of which you have never experienced before. You won’t want to miss this one."

So true!! I loved this book (as well as Therese's debut, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY), and I hope those of you who haven't had a chance to read it yet will check it out! You can find it in hardcover and ebook at many retailers, including Amazon, B&N, iBooks, and Indie Bound.

Very glad to have you here, Therese. Thank you for offering your thoughts below about staying the course amid this roller coaster of publishing :) . And congrats again on another fabulous novel!

~*~*~
THERESE WALSH:

Over a year ago, I wrote a post on Writer Unboxed about the notes stuck around my desk and mentioned that I didn’t have the heart to remove any of them, though the story I’d been working on – the story that became my second novel, The Moon Sisters – was finished. I still haven’t removed the notes. I want to tell you a little about them, and then I want to ask you a question.

My agent sold my debut in a generous two-book deal, and while I was elated over that, I was also nervous. I had to write a second book. I feared I didn’t have it in me; that maybe I was just a one-book author. I feared that whatever I did produce would be second-rate compared with my debut, which had taken over five years to write and rewrite and rewrite, because I’d be writing that second book on a half-gassed tank. Then sales started trickling in for my first book, and the numbers were disappointing. The need to write a killer-good second book felt critical, adding more pressure to my cooker. Then my imprint at Random House—Shaye Areheart—closed, and I was inherited by a new imprint, Crown. Would my second book be supported by this new imprint, when I wasn’t one of their acquired authors?

All of these doubts created a potent brew in me. Result: severe writer’s block.

Today: Don’t doubt. Just work.

This was one of my first notes. Push through a page, push through two, now how about a thousand words? Just for one day, do this much; just for one day, don’t doubt.

It felt a little like what an addict might say to get through a day of cravings, except my addiction was the block. And it worked. Not every day, but most days. Even if I wrote only a few paragraphs. I wrote.

Hold tight to your gratitude.

At some point, my nerves began to loosen and I was able to see the gift in the situation. That two-book deal was in some ways dreaded, but there was another way to look at it: If I hadn’t had the deal, I might not have kept writing. Disappointment over sales might’ve made me crawl into a hole—a non-writing hole—and hide. Remembering that this was a gift, this second chance, genuinely helped me.

Love the rock you’re pushing.

You probably know the story of Sisyphus, how he was condemned to push a rock up a hill only to watch it roll down again, and start the process over once more. Writing a book is a lot like Sisyphean labor. But I would argue that it can feel a lot less laborious when you love your rock. Once the characters in The Moon Sisters began to come alive for me, I fell for them. Pushing the rock that was my story up the hill was still hard, but I loved it and that made all the difference.

Carrying that metaphor a little further, after we do the hard work of writing a story, we have to let go—we have to let go of the rock. The rock does what it does, but it does what it does away from us. Maybe it meets a cozy patch of land. Maybe it hits against another rock. Our job isn’t to worry for that rock once it’s out of our reach. Our job is to walk back down the hill, find another rock, and start the process over again. The key is to pick a good rock.

Remember your community.

We can’t control this industry. We can’t control what happens to our books once they’ve left our hands. Even if we self-publish, we can’t control how a story will be absorbed by readers. But we can surround ourselves with people who get it. We can know that, no matter what happens to us—if our imprint closes or our sales are dismal or we get a painful dig on Goodreads—that we aren’t alone.

Look around. Others are pushing rocks up their hills, too. Take comfort in your writerly community. Control what you can. Let go what you can’t. Be grateful for what you do have.

And write on. Write on. Write on.


If you have notes around your desk, what do they say? What would they say, if you needed to give yourself a pep talk, to push through a difficult moment?

43 comments:

  1. Wonderful post and thank you so much for sharing Therese and for posting Marilyn. I have a bulletin board over my desk with postcards, notes and inspiration. One of the notes is in my daughter’s hand writing and it’s motto we both adopted when watching a reality show and someone was having a fit about something inconsequential when another contestant offhandedly said, “Pull Yourself Together.” We both laughed but thought it was great and fit so many situations and was a good reminder of how we let small things get out of hand when they don’t have to. I often look at it when things get tough.

    Thanks
    Kwana

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    1. I love that, Kwana! I probably should tell myself that at least once a week. ;-)

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    2. Kwana, I have a note in my son's handwriting too - something he wrote to me a decade ago about getting my work done and going to bed early! I still need the reminder ;).

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  2. Stupid Blogger ate my comment. It was brilliant, I tell you, brilliant! Ah, well. Marilyn, thank you for bringing Therese here. And Therese, as with all your writing, so moving, so beautiful. Love you.

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    1. I am confident that it WAS brilliant, Lauren, so you get credit. Love you back, and thank you!

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    2. Lauren, I have no doubt it was brilliant too. Always is the case for me that Blogger eats my best stuff but never fails to post my comments with typos or awkward phrases, lol.

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  3. Wow, Therese, fabulous post. Good to know others face the same battles. I can't wait to read the book!

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    1. Thank you, Sheila! You reminded me of another note on my desk, which says "You are not alone."

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  4. Great post!
    Actually, I also have a note that says, "Love the rock you're pushing" because you mentioned it in some other post and the sentiment resonated. I have another that says, "Each of us is more than the worst thing we've done" because that's what my protagonist (and me, I suppose) needs to learn. Another reads, "Here is the world. Beautiful & terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid." And one by Voltaire that says, "Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats." I'm honestly not sure if those are there for me as me or me as my first person narrator. I don't suppose it matters.
    I've been working on this book for four years and am working through my final pre-submission edit. My agent told me to make it a good one, because he and I have been back and forth with revisions for this book for two and a half years now, and once I send it back to him, he's going to give it one more read through and then (barring any glaring issue) he's going to send it out. If it doesn't sell, he said, it's "game over."
    Sigh. I love my agent--I can't even begin to describe how helpful he's been--but I wish he hadn't put it quite like that. LOL. I know he was trying to encourage me to take my time and really get it as good as I can, but just typing "game over" makes my heart pound a little.
    It's hard sometimes to remember to focus on today’s work and not get all tangled up in worries about outcomes. I know in my heart all I can ever do is the best I'm able at this very moment, but it's really hard to let go of the fear that it's not going to be enough. (And if that unfortunate “game over” scenario is what comes to pass, at least I have Voltaire’s reminder to sing in my lifeboat. ☺)
    Melissa

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    1. I'm honored to know that "Love the rock you're pushing" made it to your desk as well; thank you.

      That's a great post about being better than our worst (and most criticized!) selves. We are so prone to believing the bad stuff, aren't we?

      Love the other quotes, too, and especially the line "Beautiful and terrible things will happen." Yes.

      I am sending you such big waves of luck, Melissa. And sorry for mixing metaphors here, but you mentioned singing and game over and I can't help but add this old chestnut. It isn't over until the fat lady sings. And that lady knows how to float even if something happens to the lifeboat. Just saying. Please be sure to send me a DM when your book sells. (Yes, I knocked on wood.)

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  5. I have a note. The words are those of one of the wisest human beings I know. They are: "Dreams like feet better than knees." And I have a pencil right beside the note that keeps me focused on using my metaphoric feet. The source of the words is a powerful source of inspiration for me.

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    1. Oh, Babka! Don't you wish you could walk into her store and buy some of those warm biscuits? I do!

      Thank you, V!

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    1. YES! And if not NOW then when?

      Embrace struggle.

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  7. Therese and Marilyn--Two of my favorite people together in one post?! This makes me very happy. My lovely wonderful Therese, you know the best and the worst that I have to offer and yet you still (I hope) call me friend. This is a lovely and inspiring post. I keep a number of sayings by my desk.

    Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.

    Be kind for everyone is fighting a hard battle.

    I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.

    And my favorite: Never, never, never, never give up.

    There are more, but that is enough for now.
    Much love to you both. Thank you both for posting.
    xoMaggie

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    1. Friends forever, MM. We sure have gotten into some trouble together, haven't we?

      These are all so powerful. "Be kind..." reminded me of another good one:

      We can never judge the life of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path. ~ Paulo Coelho

      Thank you for commenting, Maggie!

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    2. Msggie,
      Just wanted to say thanks and send you a virtual hug!!!
      Much love to you too <3.

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  8. Loved the post, because it is so true. I have a note on my desk that says "You are responsible for your own career." I also have a poem written by one of my writer tribe about keepin' on. I think I'll add "love the rock you're pushing". I'm lucky, I guess, in that I don't have bad patches often, but when I do, oooh boy are they bad. I count myself fortunate to know you for lots of reasons, Therese, and now I have a new note of inspiration to add to the list.

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    1. Thank you, Lisa! And next time you hit one of those rare rough patches, I hope you'll send me a note.

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  9. This is just what I needed to hear, and I could gush about why, but I'm writing this on my classroom computer, and my students would wonder why I was crying. But thank you.

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    1. Aww, thank you, Tasha! I'm glad it came to you at the right moment. Hang in there.

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  10. Bernadette Phipps-LinckeApril 11, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    I love the quote (Babka's quote) Vaughn mentioned above. And I think after reading this post, that you lived that quote on the journey to write this book. And you took us with you, your readers on that journey to stand transformed at the end of road, and see with new eyes. Because that's what a great story does. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Bernadette, and you are right. There are layers of meaning in the journey of the book, and you guessed one of them. The Moon Sisters is about "foolish hope." Ultimately we have to have that, every time we sit down to write. We have to somehow stop thinking about the foolish part, or embrace it if we can, and just focus on the hope.

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  11. What a wonderful post! I don't know if I knew this, or I guess if I did know, I forgot, but I was also with Shaye Areheart, and the house was dissolved I think a week after my novel debuted. Crown pretty much shunned me. I think they regarded my novel The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors as a loss. When I pushed my rock, I had to knock the socks off my editor who had a new job at Simon & Schuster. It took over a year. Then, the novel... Well, that's another story, but Above Us Only Sky will be out in early 2015. I am SO grateful. Write ON! Write on, write on, right on! One of my most desperate notes says, "This is my book, my story, my fuckin' art! I can do this." Faith. www.micheleyoungstone.com I am loving The Moon Sisters. Kudos!

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    1. I remember you were also with SAB! It was so sad when they closed their doors; they published some beautiful books, and THfLSS was one of them.

      "Above us only sky..." Love that lyric, and you know I can't wait to read this book.

      Your quote made me laugh and nod, and I want it on my desk too. Thanks, Michele!

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  12. "Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor." Truman Capote

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    1. Michele - I love that quote! Thanks for posting it ;).

      I've been enjoying reading through all of these fabulous comments and quotes that you have all been sharing today. Many thanks to you evetyone!

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    2. Michele - that's a GREAT quote!

      And thanks to everyone for the wonderful quotes and comments today. I've loved reading them!

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    3. Sorry about the double post and the typos! My phone and my fingers aren't working well together :).

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  13. What an inspiring, interesting blog post, Therese! Congratulations on the newest addition to your book family! I look forward to reading The Moon Sisters!

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  14. Therese - perhaps one of the few blessings of this computer meltdown is that I've been forced to remove the notes I'd taped to my HP and re-read them ;).A significant number involve music/ life:
    "Life is like music, it must be composed be ear, feeling and instinct, not rule." - Samuel Butler
    "To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexusable." - Beethoven
    "Life isn't about finding yourself... Life is about creating yourself. "
    And I've added "Dreams like feet better than knees" to my collection! The poster your son made with the quote, the bare feet and the splatteted paint remains one of my favorite images for TMS. I loved it and I loved this post. Thank you! xo

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    1. I'm glad you've been able to find a silver lining to that computer meltdown of yours, Marilyn. Ug! So sorry about that. Great notes, though. I love that two of them are about music. Creation is creation, right?

      Thank you again for having me!

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  15. My note says, "Writer Unboxed". It's posted on my website. It's where I go when I'm stuck.

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    1. I love it, BB! Thank you for commenting, and for being such a great part of the WU community.

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  16. What a great post and one that so many of us can relate to. Your words are inspiring. Thank you! I am one who needed to read this today. :-) I'm so very happy for your latest success and happy to be reading The Moon Sisters.

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    1. Thank you, Tina! I hope you enjoy the book.

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  17. Beautiful post, Therese, and so easy to relate to. I especially love the rock analogy, how we eventually must let it go and find another rock to push up the hill. Congratulations on your well-deserved success!

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  18. Love this: "And write on. Write on. Write on."

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    1. What more can we do, right? Thank you, Christa!

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