They say everything happens for a reason. And Therese Walsh’s journey to writing commercial women’s fiction is no exception. As a college science major, writing commercial women’s fiction was not at all what Walsh imagined herself doing, but a glitch in her graduate program had an unintended ripple effect that changed everything. The glitch, which caused Therese to shift her focus to general psychological research, resulted in her landing a job as a researcher for Prevention Magazine. Her secret longing to write eventually became a reality when Prevention hired her as a freelance writer, a job that gave her the flexibility to work from home when her daughter was born. The experience of motherhood then inspired her to write stories for her children, a hobby that expanded into writing romance and eventually morphed into commercial women’s fiction.
Now, with her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Random House), on bookshelves and receiving glowing reviews, Therese is busily at work on her second book. But thankfully, she found some time between writing and blogging (you may know her from the hit blog, Writer Unboxed, about the craft and business of genre fiction, which she co-founded) to talk with us about the challenges and rewards of chasing a dream…
Q: Tell us about yourself. What’s your dream and how are you working towards it?
TW: My dream is to truly find myself as a storyteller. I spent many years working on a single story idea – which eventually became the novel The Last Will of Moira Leahy – but now I’m moving beyond it, into unknown territory. I’d like to perfect my method, so that I can progress from story concept to completed work with fewer fits and starts. And I’d like to become a reliable author—someone readers can count on to produce high quality if atypical reads.
Q: Describe a “gray” time in your life. How did it stand between you and your dreams? How did you overcome it?
TW: The reason I spent as many years on my debut as I did was that I wrote it not once but twice. The first version of the story centered around the relationship between a woman, Maeve Leahy, and the man she’d eventually fall for. In the process of writing that story—“pantsing” my way through it, without an outline—I learned that Maeve had a twin who’d died, and that her past involving that twin had wounded and still haunted her. After a year writing the story and another year editing it, I sent it off to find an agent. And I was rejected. One agent took the time, though, to tell me how touched she was by the story of twins, how that storyline had made her cry at its culmination, and suggested I should be writing women’s fiction.
This was a very gray time for me, after spending so much energy on a story that I believed in. Quit on that story? Write something else? Get a job that didn’t involve stringing words together? I was at a crossroads.
Truthfully, I tried to move on with an entirely new story concept, but Maeve and Moira Leahy wouldn’t let me go, and the seed of the agent’s suggestion grew strong roots in me. Eventually I just decided to do it – throw out all but a few key scenes in version one of my story and try, try again. Another year later, I had a decent draft, and a year after that, I had a manuscript ready once more to submit to agents. This time, it was right; I felt it in my gut. And I did land an agent, and then a publisher.
Q: What fears have you faced as you chase your dreams?
TW: My biggest fear was that I was wasting my time as I revamped Last Will. This was, after all, a story that had already been rejected once. Some of those rejections were from agents who feared they wouldn’t know how to sell the book, as it was a cross-genre effort. The second version didn’t make it any less a cross-genre story—it was just more complex. So was I crazy? Those doubting voices nipped and gnawed at me as I wrote version two.
Q: What inspires you to keep pushing forward when the going gets tough?
TW: Can I say, “My own willful nature?” Because I stubbornly believed in the story concept, the characters, and that I could reach the end-goal if only I tried hard enough and long enough to succeed. How to reach new levels so that you can succeed? That’s a tougher question. But what I know is that there’s always something to learn, always a way to better tell a tale, always a way to reach in and make something resonate with truth. My job is to find those things, and for some reason, I like that challenge.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone else who is struggling to move beyond the gray and follow a dream, what would it be?
TW: Be open to the idea that your work can be improved upon—sometimes with drastic changes—and continually strive to improve upon your craft. Listen, always, to your gut. And, of course, never, ever quit.
To learn more about Therese Walsh and her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, visit her website: http://ThereseWalsh.com. You can also follow her journey at the fabulous blog, Writer Unboxed: http://WriterUnboxed.com.
Are you chasing a dream? If so, I’d love to hear from you.
E-mail me at Erika (dot) Liodice (at sign) hotmail (dot) com.