Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Therese Walsh

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Sshh…today we’re sneaking into the wildly creative noggin of author Therese Walsh to get a glimpse of her writerhead. In 2009, Therese’s debut novel The Last Will of Moira Leahy was published to much acclaim, and she’s hard at work on her next project (which is why we need to be very, very quiet). Therese is a gem—on the page and in person, as I recently learned when I met her at Grub Street’s 2011 MUSE conference in Boston.

Those of you who are writers will likely recognize Therese as a co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a treasure chest of information, story, and writerly know-how for writers of all genres. If you don’t know it, check it out.

But before you do, here’s what a few important industry folks had to say about The Last Will of Moira Leahy:

“Walsh’s debut is a magical, involving journey, one that mixes a compelling mystery from the past with a suspenseful search in the present.” ~ Booklist

“Walsh’s debut seamlessly weaves together past and present. This tender tale of sisterhood, self-discovery, and forgiveness will captivate fans of contemporary women’s fiction.” ~ Library Journal

“Therese Walsh’s strange, fascinating novel of psychological suspense is suffused with the supernatural. (It’s) an imaginative exploration of the bond between twins.” ~ The Boston Globe

First Line of Moira Leahy: “I lost my twin to a harsh November nine years ago.”

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So dig in. Enjoy. And see if you can relate to Therese’s “runaway muse.”

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

Truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with writerhead—when I’m eating, sleeping, and breathing the book—because it’s an absolutely exhausting time for me. First, it’s hard to get there. I can’t just turn on my computer and summon this state of being going in cold to a new work or when trying to reconnect with a work I’ve been away from for a while (and by a while I mean more than a few days). I have to entice it, like a dog run away from home—or in this case, a muse run away from home. I work away from my office at first because my muse is definitely not there, and try to entice her back with my version of a juicy steak (list of story questions or ideas) and favorite squeaky toy (crappy draft). Second, when my muse comes running back, it lands hard—like that runaway dog leaping all over you, glad to be back, slobbering, famished, and full of need. For me, this is a quick and sure drop into the world of writerhead.

Writerhead means I’m working far longer than eight hours a day. I’m working from the time I wake up and have my first cuppa tea until I realize I haven’t eaten breakfast somewhere around noon. I shove something in my face and keep going. Break again for dinner to connect with my family, and then work some more. Sometimes I shock myself with a 3k day when I’m in writerhead, and what’s even more surprising is that the quality of the work is often the best I produce. Because I’m really, really in it, the prose sings, it soars.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

Nothing interrupts a writer working at home more than the needs of children who are also at home. Pull something from a high shelf, make a favorite grilled cheese sandwich, play lifeguard at the pool, stop a sibling battle, build a tower out of colored blocks, comment on a pink-sky drawing. I remember one time when I was in writerhead and all of a sudden my son had a sore throat and fever. My kiddos and I piled into the car and went to the pediatrician’s office. As we sat waiting for the results of a strep test, something came to me—a plot fix, a snippet of dialogue—and I pulled a crayon out of my purse and wrote the idea on the white paper covering the exam table. I was in the process of tearing off that section of paper when the doctor returned to the room. Strep. Pharmacy. At least I heard that much, and had my kiddo on antibiotics within a few hours.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

When I’m in writerhead, I become a blind juggler in all other areas of my life. I try—believe me, I try—to juggle everything that needs to be juggled, but I’m handicapped and balls will be dropped. I may forget about something I said I’d do or need to be asked three times to do a simple task, and I may think I’ve written something on my calendar when I fact I haven’t at all. Mistakes like these can lead to chaos, which drives me crazy as I like to be on top of things and think of myself as a responsible adult. But it’s just how it is: When I’m in writerhead, I might look at you, smile, and nod when you’re speaking to me, but I probably can’t hear more than 20% of the words coming out of your mouth because the majority of my mind is focused on the needs of a character or what I have to fix or something I forgot to research. Thankfully my family life is rarely in a Critical-Need mode, but my daughter has been known to say to me, when I ask over dinner about homework or a test she took, “Um, Mom, you know I told you that when I first came home from school, don’t you?” Oops. Luckily, my family is filled with creative types. They get me, accept my writerhead-ness, and know I’m happiest when in the thick of its madness.

Now you know why I dread writerhead. I love it. I dread it. I love it. And why I give in to it.

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Therese Walsh’s debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Crown, Random House), was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for RWA’s RITA Award for Best First Book, and was a TARGET BREAKOUT BOOK. She co-founded Writer Unboxed, named one of the 101 best websites for writers by Writer’s Digest for five years running, and recently named one of the top 10 sites for writers by Write to Done. She is also the founder and president of RWA-WF, the women’s fiction chapter of RWA. She’s currently hard at work on her second novel.

You can connect with Therese on Twitter (@ThereseWalsh) and Facebook.

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Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos: Anything sound familiar? Does your muse have a tendency to head for the hills just when you need her/him the most? Are the folks in your household creative types who “get” your writerhead…or do you struggle to make yourself (and your need for writerhead space) understood?

 

14 Responses to Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Therese Walsh

  1. What a wonderful peek inside the mind of Therese. I admire any writer who has children and still writes–I write from a quite cove in the smokies and even so the critters, and GMR, and dogs will distract me – but now I think I’m just using that as an excuse to goof off sometimes 😀

    “The Last Will of Moira Leahy” is on my new Kindle and I’m looking forward to reading it. As well, I’m grateful for WU – what a wonderful group!

    • Ditto what Kathryn said! Minus the Smokies, and GMR since I don’t know what that is… (??) But I just write at home with my dog, who mostly sleeps on the bed next to my desk (unless there’s a menacing leaf outside he needs to bark at). Lately I’ve realized I have no excuse for not engaging my Writerhead. Especially not when compared to Therese!

  2. Thanks again for having me, Kristin, and thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Brianna, I hope your stray muse runs back soon. If she’s anything like mine, she’s not in your office right now; you’ll have to search elsewhere. Best of luck.

  3. Therese,
    I share your pain of being interrupted at regular intervals. As a matter of fact, my little ones are still toddlers so I don’t have the luxury of writing during the day. It’s so difficult to reconnect, as you mentioned, even when I have allotted time to write- a.k.a. 4:30 in the morning or the weekends. Nights don’t work so well for me. HUMPPFFF.
    Your success is an inspiration. I look forward to reading your novel & BTW, I enjoy your website pretty regularly. Keep up the good work and good luck brewing your next masterpiece. 🙂

  4. I’m with Jael: love the exam paper story (knew that stuff was good for something other than sticking to yer bare bum). And I’m with Kat, admiring writers with kids. Can’t imagine, as I’m as easily distracted as a kid myself.

    I’m in for some time seaching for my runaway muse, as I’ve been on vacation for almost two weeks (still jet-lagged as I type). I’ll have to use Therese’s steak lure, and hope when She returns she’ll kiss my face, wiggle and wag like my actual dog did in greeting us this afternoon.

    Great post Kristin and Therese. Loved loved Last Will, and can’t wait for her next one!!

    • Thanks so much for the support, Vaughn. Vacation, huh? I wondered where you were! I hope it was a good one, and that you find your muse when you’re ready to get back to it.

  5. Great post!

    I have two small children and so I related a lot to what Therese said about family. And, oh, do I ever feel like a blind juggler half of the time. Anyone who does not have a creative streak would likely think I have early onset Alzheimer’s. In reality I’m just living in two centuries at once!

    • Kathleen, my co-mama at Writer Unboxed, and I joke often about forgetfulness, because we’re both so absentminded sometimes. I do think the tendency to forget (reality?) must be strong in writers.

  6. As I write this comment, my three year old is hollering from her room, “I’m awake, Mumma!” (as if I didn’t know) and my husband is rummaging in the kitchen for something to eat….what was I trying to say here?

    Oh, yeah…thanks to Therese for stopping by and sharing her writerhead. I so get the part about not hearing more than 20% of what someone says. Drives people in my life nuts sometimes…but that’s life with a writer.

  7. And I would’ve thanked you again for having me about 30 minutes ago if I hadn’t also had kids yelling for me…to come watch American Idol. Thankfully, American-Idol-head will end next week. Thanks again for having me!