Guest blogger: Therese Walsh

the_last_will_of_moira_leahyThe Magic of Story

A crazy thing happened as I wrote what I at first intended to be a contemporary romance, and I’d like to tell you about it, because it highlights one of the best and most mysterious aspects of being a writer-unearthing a story that might’ve just been out there, waiting to be told, all along.

The recipe for a good love story seemed clear to me from the start: One heroine + one hero (preferably with an accent) + conflict + butt-in-chair time = potentially good story. I gathered my ingredients-one romance languages professor (check), one antiques dealer with an English accent (check), a conflict (check)-and sat my butt in the chair. Every story needs a gripping opening scene, so I decided to set the scene at an auction house, where the heroine and her best friend, the hero, could win something. It seemed potentially exciting, so I went about searching for an interesting item for them to win-something from the pool of wares I’d virtually gathered for the hero’s antiques shop.

I decided on the keris, a Javanese weapon with an interesting appearance-a dagger with a wavy blade. I was so eager to show one of my friends my first chapter. I still remember watching her face as she read it. “It’s good,” she said. “Is the keris going to be important in the rest of the story?” I nodded-yes, of course-though in truth I hadn’t thought beyond the first scene. I scrambled to see why it would be important, if it could be-and I stumbled into more potential than what I knew what to do with. The Javanese keris is rich with lore; if it were a person, it would be JK Rowling-that’s how rich it is. Myths include that a keris can decrease inhibitions and help foretell the future, that it has a will (good or evil), that it can act to protect its owner and find him or her if lost, and more.

The keris and its lore began to dictate the course of the book. Sometimes I’d write something and feel confused about it-where had that come from? And then I’d dig a little deeper into the mythology of the keris and realize-ah, that’s why. I remember writing a scene about lights, the heroine’s fear that her light-her soul’s light-had gone out somewhere along the way. It was organically written, without prior thought. The next day, I found an essay written by a keris blacksmith all about soul lights, how no light is ever lost. Weird? Par for the course with this book.

It seemed like kismet, like this book really wanted to be written, but it wasn’t always easy writing with blind faith and allowing the story to morph at will. There was not only a demanding keris now, there was a demanding
sister-a twin, who had died. What did she want? I wrote to learn more of her story. What I discovered shocked even me. My critique partners would chime in every once in a while and ask, “Are you sure this is a romance?” And I always said “Yes, I’m sure,” though I felt less so as time wore on.

You can imagine my broken heart when I sent my “romance” out into the world, after two years of work, only to have it rejected for being outside the scope of traditional storytelling for the genre. It was agent Deidre Knight who took the time to share advice and gently suggest that I should be writing women’s fiction.

After a long cry, and months of hard thinking on what the true heart of the story was, I decided to do it-scrap everything I’d written up to that point and do a better job at serving the work. And a funny thing happened when I let go the reigns of convention, of what I thought the story *had* to be; the story became more refined in what it *was*. The Last Will was about a woman lost and involved her twin and the myth of the keris, but it was-at its core-about acceptance and finding hope again despite profound loss. And, of course, it was still about love-I wasn’t about to lose my hero-with-an-accent; it’s just that his role wasn’t going to be as central as I initially imaged.

So after another ~3 years, I sent my story out into the world again, and this time I found an agent, and this time I found a publisher.

What is my point, after this longwinded ramble?

This: The magic of writing is in the journey. You just have to be willing to take it-one step at a time, turning over rocks along the way, pondering their shape and weight and potential. And if in the end you find yourself in
a place you hadn’t meant to be, surrounded perhaps by a ring of mushrooms, don’t despair that you’re lost. Consider instead that you have discovered a rich new world and a story that needs to be told.

Be sure to thank the fairies.

Write on, all!

Therese Walsh is a co-founder of the fabulous writing blog Writer Unboxed and her debut novel, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY, goes on sale in October from Random House.

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction for Gallery Books. Her debut novel, IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, released in August, 2011, is set in the court of Henry VIII. It features the real historical figures of illuminator and painter, Susanna Horenbout, and Henry's Keeper of the Palace of Westminster and Yeoman of the King's Robes, John Parker. A second book, also featuring Susanna and Parker, THE KEEPER OF THE KING'S SECRETS, was published on April 3rd, 2012. THE EMPEROR'S CONSPIRACY, a historical novel set in London during the Napoleonic Wars, is set for a November 27th, 2012 release.
This entry was posted in Guest Posts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Guest blogger: Therese Walsh

  1. Michelle says:

    Therese, thank you again for being our guest, and for such a great blog. I look forward to buying my copy of The Last Will of Moira Leahy :) , especially knowing its journey from first scene to THE END.

  2. Edie Ramer says:

    Therese, this is an awesome blog! Thanks for sharing your book’s journey with us. I got an idea for my next book while reading it (nothing like yours). I’ve been scribbling as fast as I can, and the idea keeps growing. :grin:

    Sometimes I’d write something and feel confused about it-where had that come from?

    I’ve had that happen to me, where I get a brilliant idea to add to the story, and I realize I’ve foreshadowed it in several places, long before I’d consciously thought of it. That’s when you know it’s right.

  3. LaDonna says:

    Therese, this is a fabulous blog! First off, I can’t wait to read your book. And the beauty of writing is always in the discovery/journey for me too. You said it so beautifully! I love how story knows, even when we don’t, the way! :smile:

  4. Thanks so much for having me, Michelle and Edie and Liz and LaDonna!

    Edie, I had another of those “woo woo” experiences at the end of my editing process–after the book sold. It involved something I’d written and my editor had wanted me to cut because it didn’t make a lot of sense to her. I was so resistant to cutting it! While having a conversation with my husband, I realized something huge and startling about Moira–something that related to other aspects of the book as well, not just that one in-the-noose section of the story. I contacted my editor immediately to explain the revelation, and she was all for the alterations that would clarify everything.

    Things like that? They make the whole nutty process worthwhile for me!

  5. Margaret A. Golla says:

    Wow, Therese! Thank you for sharing your journey. It give me faith that one day, after mucho hard work, I’ll have my moment in the sun.

  6. What a great post! Thanks for sharing. And your cover is gorgeous!

  7. Thank you, Margaret! Never, never quit.

    Lori, thank you. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have such a pretty cover. Here’s another bit of trivia: When trying to decide whether to rework the novel to be more romance or women’s fiction, I honed in on *one scene* I could not do without. That one scene remained nearly intact as I rewrote the story–and it didn’t involve the hero. It involved the heroine’s twin, and became the emotional heart of the book. That key scene is reflected on the cover.

  8. ArkansasCyndi says:

    I think it’s hard to let go and just write. I so glad you were able to do that. I cannot wait to read this book.

  9. Karin Tabke says:

    Fabulous blog, Teri! I’m so glad you hung in there. Can’t wait to get my hands on this book!

  10. Therese, greatly looking forward to your release date! I’m so intrigued by this book, especially having heard the journey. That moment when the book begins to dictate itself is such a thrilling experience, and sometimes it emerges in the strangest ways. When suddenly something clicks, and a scene works, or as Edie said, an idea comes in a rush and it turns out you’ve been unconsciously building to it all along…that the joy of the creative process.

  11. Excellent and thanks. I have stories I can’t let go for long. New stories, old stories and combinations of both. Maybe one will get me there.

    Glad you kept chugging! Go, girl!

  12. Thank you, Cyndi, Karin, Hayley and Mary!

    Mary, that sense “story nagging” is what got me through the many years with Last Will. I just had to keep trucking. Definitely, write on, girl!

  13. Cynthia Eden says:

    What a great post! Congrats on your release. And, now you’ve got me very intrigued–both by your story and the keris!

  14. Thanks, Cynthia! Ooh, the keris–it’s fascinating. I own two of them now.

  15. Liz Kreger says:

    Terrific story, Therese. Thanx for sharing and thanx for joining us here at MM. Perseverce is one of the keys to getting published and it sounds like you have it in spades. Congrats.

  16. Thank you, Liz, and thanks again for having me.

Comments are closed.