Did You Read It? Writer Mama Book Club Interview: Therese Walsh’s The Last Will of Moira Leahy


I did! And I enjoyed every moment.

I’m going to kick off the discussion tomorrow with some questions, but today, I’d just like to know who read the book and what your initial impressions were?

Did you love it? Please comment below.

I want to link to Meryl K. Evans book review in her blog, as well. (I can finally read it now that I’m done with the book!)

And if you haven’t read the book yet, hurry! So you can join us as we talk about it all month long.

Therese Walsh’s The Last Will of Moira Leahy is such an luscious presentation, I can only imagine that the story itself is going to blow us all away. If you are looking for books to add to your holiday wish list: add this one. And add it fast because I know the smell of success when I crack open a book. And I predict this one is going to fly off the shelves. I can’t wait to be one of the first readers.

Want to join me? Why don’t we start a book club? A Writer Mama Book Club. I’m often so busy writing, I rarely get to read for pleasure. And reading is so much better when shared with others (I witnessed this last night at Cindy Hudson’s talk at Powell’s).

You game? It won’t be too hard for me. We all know that I’m good at giving deadlines, so let’s say we all have until November 30th to finish reading and then we’ll start the discussion on December 1st. (P.S. Therese doesn’t know I’m doing this. But you can tell her now. It’s okay.)

Once I had the book in my hands, I caught up with Therese over e-mail and begged her to answer some questions about the book for me. Here’s her answers. Tell me if you can resist the book even for one second. I’m thinking you can’t. And feel free to spread the word far and wide. In fact, grab this blog interview and re-post it if you want. Invite your writer mama readers to join us. It’ll be fun!

95716_walsh_thereseQ: What is The Last Will of Moira Leahy about?

TW: At its simplest, The Last Will is a women’s fiction novel about a professor of languages, Maeve Leahy, coming to terms with the loss of her twin, Moira.

But it’s never been that easy to explain. It taps into the magic of twins through a second narrative, called Out of Time, which introduces you to the girls when young, and eventually explains what happened to Moira and why Maeve changed as she did. It’s also about how Maeve’s present-day life is altered after winning a Javanese dagger called a keris one night at auction, and her journey—including a trip to Rome—to better understand both the blade and herself. So even though it has a women’s fiction heart, it borrows heavily from other genres, including psychological suspense, mystery, family saga, romance and mythical realism.

Q: What kind of research went into writing The Last Will?

TW: I have file folders—real and virtual—full of information on musical prodigies, foreign languages, twin phenomena, Maine, Rome, Trastevere, the keris, Javanese culture, wayang shadow puppets, empus, resident physicians, post-traumatic stress disorder, survival guilt, art, antiques, sailing, pop culture, university schedules, card tricks, cabbies, how to talk like a guy, and more! I have travel guides, maps, and plenty of books—including a few obscure ones, like Old Gypsy Madge’s Fortune Teller and the Witches Key to Lucky Dreams, published by M. Young in 1880, and The Keris and other Malay Weapons, published by the Council of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

I traveled to Castine, Maine—a coastal community—to get a feel for the place, talk with the people who live there and ride on the Penobscot. I felt truly inspired by the story of the drummer boy ghost.

Rome was even more critical to the story, because specific aspects of the city shaped the plot and revealed character. I learned a lot about it by reading guidebooks, but the best information came from Adam Nixon at RomeBuddy.com. He was terrific, explaining obscure details of the city, including the types of happenings you’d find in Rome around the holidays.

Q: Can you give a synopsis of how you got your deal? Is it a good story?

TW: I’d been working on my manuscript since 2002, in one form or another. Last Will started as a traditional romance and then morphed into something Other—but not before I finished it and had it rejected as a romance, after two years worth of work. One agent, Deidre Knight, gave me some advice: “You should be writing women’s fiction.”

After much deep thought, I realized she was right, so in 2005, I started over. In 2006, after realizing I *still* hadn’t gotten it right, I scrapped most of a full third of the novel and began again.

I finished in early 2008, wrote my query and started submitting. A Big Time Agent asked for a partial, then rejected, but not before passing along the name of a coworker who might connect with the work. I queried her, and soon after was asked by her assistant for the full. And then, strangely, Big Time Agent contacted me again.

“You’ve made our assistant cry with your story,” he said. “I’m going to reconsider. Stay tuned.” Later we spoke on the phone. “I’m probably not going to tell you what you’re hoping for,” he said. “Really, I have a lot of questions.” The bottom line was that he just didn’t get certain aspects of the story, key components that I’d believed in wholeheartedly. But if I wanted to revise—drastically—he would look at it again.

If ever there was a time I wanted to quit trying, toss my manuscript in the trash and pretend I’d never dreamed a dream, it was then. But something inside me rebelled against his opinion. Big Time Agent was wrong. The book was ready. I believed it.

So I wrote a new query, printed a new synopsis, mailed a new submission to another agent—Elisabeth Weed. And she asked for the partial and then the full, and later called to tell me she loved the book. She became my agent, and sold my book to Random House a few weeks later in a preemptive two-book deal.

Q: This book took you years to finish. How did that lengthy writing process affect the story? And what kept you sticking with the story for such a long time?

TW: The story became richer and revealed more of itself with every draft, even during the final edit once the deal came through with Shaye Areheart Books. Over time, I understood more about writing and became more confident in my abilities.

Little things kept me going over the years. A rejection letter was taped beside my desk for the longest time. Other snippets from other positive rejections were there, too:

You’re a luscious writer, with loads of vivid details and language.
There is something about your prose that it unique and captivating.
You have great potential.

When you’re an unpublished writer, not sure if you’re “wasting” your time or not on your work, it’s important to hang on to all the positives, even to surround yourself with them as I did. But I think the most important thing that kept me committed to this story was the story itself; it just wouldn’t let go. It haunted me, in a way. I had to write it.

Q: Many families encounter guilt, deception, and loss. Were you interested in these themes before you began working on the book? What interested you in them?

TW: When I first sat down to write this story in 2002, I didn’t have a single thing planned regarding theme, but by the time I started the big rewrite in 2005, I understood that this book was about acceptance. To fully explore acceptance, I had to explore its opposite; denial can and does lead to things like deception, loss, guilt and more.

I don’t know why acceptance became the main theme. Maybe because I’m an introvert and somewhat of a social nerd. Or maybe it’s just what the book needed.

Q: What’s next for you?

TW: I have a two-book deal with Shaye Areheart and am working on the second book now. It’s a story I’m excited about—similar to The Last Will in some important ways (e.g. involving intertwined narratives that dovetail, a rich body of mythology, travels in order to find oneself, themes of acceptance, and more), but it’s different, too. The characters in this second book are, in a word, quirky. And quirky can be a lot of fun to write.

Come back on December 1st and I’ll see if I can’t get Therese back on over here to share some book group questions.


9 Responses to “Did You Read It? Writer Mama Book Club Interview: Therese Walsh’s The Last Will of Moira Leahy”

  1. 1 Judy October 13, 2009 at 6:03 am

    Wonderful idea! I was intrigued when reading about the book during The Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway. I’m treating myself to a copy this week. This will be fun.

  2. 2 Saundra G. October 13, 2009 at 7:53 am

    Tempting. I’m doing Nano, but this might give me something to look forward to at the end of those long writing days.

    Great idea. Love the interview.

  3. 3 Meryl K Evans October 17, 2009 at 6:06 am

    I’m game! On page 100ish and enjoying it very much. If I can make time to read for fiction despite the line up of non-fiction books I have for job-related assignments… you can, too.

    C’mon, let’s enjoy a wonderful fiction story that manages to switch between two time periods AND between first and third person. I’m amazed at Therese’s ability to pull that off with such ease.

    Look forward to Dec 1!

  4. 4 Joanna October 17, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    I’m in! I started the book last night and am hooked. Only wish we didn’t have to wait until December 1st!

  5. 5 AnneGBrown October 17, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Count me in! Will you send a reminder as we close in on 12/1?

  6. 6 Cindy Hudson December 1, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    I read it and loved it. There are so many intriguing elements to the story: the special bond between twins, a Javanese keris, travel to Rome… And there’s the whole mysteries about what happened to Moira, who is sending the mysterious notes, and what is Maeve’s relationship with Noel. It kept me reading happily right up to the end.

  7. 7 Meryl K Evans December 2, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    I think y’all know what I think from that generous link from Ms. C. I have my first book club meeting tomorrow night and will be mentioning this one in hopes they will consider it for 2010.

  8. 8 Therese Walsh December 5, 2009 at 9:42 am

    Thanks, Christina! Will you hold the book discussion in comments on this post — or will it be at your christinakatz site? I’m here, happy to answer any questions.

  1. 1 Writer Mama Book Club: December Selection… Trackback on December 1, 2009 at 11:45 am
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