Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Therese Walsh's Family Relationships Blog Day Guest Post

Writing the story of my family while writing the story of my heart
…without ever even knowing it

By Therese Walsh

The Last Will of Moira Leahy is many things—an emotional tale of twin sisters, a family saga with elements of psychological suspense, mystery, romance and mythical realism—and it’s sometimes been hard to describe it for just that reason. But one thing it definitely is, which I never called into question, is fiction. I created the characters and their dramas, and researched the story into life by learning about the coast of Maine and Rome, Italy and Javanese culture. So when a fellow writer asked one day about beginnings, and where the inspiration for my slate of make-believe folk had came from, I said, “my imagination,” without a single bat of my eyelashes.

“Hmm, are you sure?” she asked. “Think about it. Let me know.”

Her questions had been simmering on my backburner for a while when some parallels began to emerge in my mind.

The main character of LWML, Maeve Leahy, was 16 when she lost her twin.

Her loss became a central consideration while planning her present and coping with her future.

She shut people out, including her family.

She was strong, but she was in pain.

She needed, somehow, to move beyond it, for someone to help her.

The parallel?

My sisters and I lost our father twelve years ago.

My youngest sister was 16 at the time.

Our father’s death devastated all of us, but especially her; and her recovery experience became very important to me.

Maeve and my sister differ in personality, and much about Maeve’s story is unlike my sister’s story, but healing from a deep loss was what I wanted most for them both. I was shocked by the similarities between them and even a little embarrassed that I’d never noticed the linkage before.

How did my family story work its way into the pages of my novel in the first place? I think writing like a “pantser,” when you don’t have your story plotted ahead of time, is a lot like journaling. You will, nine times out of ten, find yourself writing about that which weighs upon your heart—and you’ll try to formulate a solution. In the case of LWML, that solution wasn’t something that could apply to my sister in real life, but that didn’t prevent her from developing a keen interest in what happened to Maeve Leahy.

Interestingly, Maeve’s story has resonated most strongly with that sister. After me, she’s probably read LWML more than anyone and cried the most number of times over its pages. She’s cheered the most times, too. (I don’t believe in unhappily ever afters.)

Today, that sister is stronger now, in control of her present and able to look to the future without flinching. I spoke with her to make sure she didn’t mind that I share this story, and she didn’t.

“Get it out there. Truth is truth. Tell the whole world that I love this book and that they will too!”

She said it with a passion that would’ve made Maeve Leahy proud—and that’s not fiction.

Have you ever read a book you identified with more strongly than you expected?

Have you seen yourself or a family member reflected in the traits of a fictional character—for better or worse?

If you write, do you find that real life sneaks its way into your fiction? (Are you a plotter or a pantser?)


Therese Walsh's debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was officially published today (October 13, 2009) by Shaye Areheart Books (Random House). Her essay above is part of a very special event--Family Relationships Blog Day--in celebration of her novel's release. View the post below this one for a list of fantastic blogs participating in this monumental event.

Therese is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a blog for writers about the craft and business of genre fiction. Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then a freelance writer. She's had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online.

She has a master's degree in psychology.

Aside from writing, Therese's favorite things include music, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching, strong Irish tea, and spending time with her husband, two kids and their bouncy Jack Russell.

Find out more about Therese by visiting her website: www.ThereseWalsh.com.

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Anonymous Erika Robuck said...

I think our unconscious is always working when we craft fiction, and it all must come from our experiences--what we've done, read, saw, heard, etc. It's just fascinating how it re-emerges into some of the best and worst people we can imagine.

I think my fiction hit a new level I finally gave myself permission to tap into the core of emotional experiences I've had and channel that into my characters. Not in the same experiences, withthe same feelings. And readers can identify with that.

Best of luck on your launch today! You should be very proud of how far you've come and how hard you've worked!

4:18 AM  
Blogger Jodi said...

Even though I'm a "plotter" sometimes my characters get away from me too. One character was planned as more childish and annoyed but on paper seemd to teeter between a real *itch and wanting to do sweet things as if she couldn't decide which was the "real" her and which was the poser part of her personality. I wanted to rewrite her thinking it would read like I, the author, couldn't decide what I wanted this character to be until I realized her personality mirrored someone close to me.

Good luck with your book Therese. It'll be fun reading the book with that insight into how it reflects your family a bit.

4:34 AM  
Blogger Anna Lucia said...

I think you're right, Therese - it has a lot to do with being a pantster!

I'm always on the look out for traits from my character turning up characters I write about. Sometimes I know it's coming, sometimes it catches me by surprise!

Your post really moved me. I'm so happy for you and your sister. The loss of a loved one changes us, always. The lucky, supported, clever ones of us are the ones who grow in heart and strength.

Now I need to go and find a tissue... ggg

5:56 AM  
Blogger irishoma said...

Hi Therese,

Good questions.

It's wonderful to have the support and love of your sister. I believe shared grief creates a special bond--similar to the unique language of twins--that others may try to understand but cannot fully comprehend.

As far as my writing, I try to have a broad plan sketched out with a goal in mind, but I try not plot too much, so I guess I'm a "pantser."

I'm almost finished with The Last Will of Moira Leahy. It is such an elegant book, rich with surprise and emotion. Thank you for writing such a lovely story.

I look forward to your visit to my blog later this month--and I love strong Irish breakfast tea, too.

Donna Duly Volkenannt

6:57 AM  
Blogger Margo Dill said...

Thank you for sharing your touching story about your sister and for coming up with Mass Blogging Day. I've had fun participating!

I'm definitely not a plotter. I have a vague idea of what's going to happen and a direction of where the book is going, but it is amazing how the characters take over--especially during revisions. And thank God they do.


7:00 AM  
Blogger Rebecca J. Clark said...

This book sounds fabulous (and quite the tear-jerker) and I can't wait to read it. It's awesome you never gave up on your dream.

I see you used to write/edit for my all-time favorite magazine, Prevention. How fun must that have been?

Congrats on all your success. May you have many, many book sales.


7:50 AM  
Anonymous Madeline said...

I think our stories are often extensions of ourselves. Not always in big, obvious ways, but in smaller, more subtle ways like in a turn of a phrase or in a secondary character's gesture or in a character's passing thought. It also could be something along the lines of a current that runs through the entire story, one we're sometimes not even aware of ourselves.

I cannot wait to read this book! Good luck to you, Therese!

7:58 AM  
Blogger Christi Barth said...

Wow - I signed up to blog for you just to support a fellow writer. But after reading your post, I can't WAIT to read your book, and I'm going to insist our book club read it. Sounds terrific, and I hope it was as cathartic as you made it seem.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Cathy C. Hall said...

Oh, I throw in family all the time, in whatever I write! But I also write down funny things I see non-related people do or say and use them (sometimes more than once!. Pretty much if you've lived, worked, or said hello to me in the grocery store, you're going to end up in my fiction.

Good luck with your book, Therese! I can't wait to read it (the names alone are calling to me Irish heart! :-)

12:08 PM  
Blogger LuAnn said...

I've found that as a reader, I tend to gravitate toward stories that deal with family relationships. As a journalist, my columns seem to often have a similar focus.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

Hi, Theresa!

Best wishes on the book. I an totally intrigued. I had always wanted a sister, but had three brothers. The Universe smiled down on me,however. I have four adult daughters and three granddaughters. It is wonderful and they are definitely fodder for my stories.

Can't wait to get a copy of the book.

Blessings, Linda

1:38 PM  
Blogger Obe said...

I was an only child and longed for a sibling so I read this and wonder Oh why wasn't I lucky enough to have another to share my thoughts. Relationships and family dynamics are oh so interesting as I found out with my three. I'm looking forward to reading your book.

and yes I'm a pantzer. The way about being lonely is to tell your stories to yourself which I did as a child.
great blog
Nancy O'Berry

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Linda Mohr said...

Congratulations Therese! I am really looking forward to reading your book. Your sister's endorsement is powerful. I am glad to hear she is doing so well.

Yes, real life sneaks (or prowls) into my writing--especially when I am writing about cats. I see you enjoy spending time with your Jack Russell--a great addition to any family!

Linda Mohr

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Therese Walsh said...

Thanks so much, everyone, for your comments and well wishes. They are very much appreciated!

9:20 AM  

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