“The night before the worst day of my life, I dreamed the sun went dark and ice cracked every mirror in the house, but I didn’t take it as a warning.”
And with that, the first sentence of Therese Walsh’s new book, The Moon Sisters, we know we are in for a ride.
Set in a small town in West Virginia, her novel is about tragedy (Mama dies, leaving a husband and two daughters, Olivia and Jazz), intrigue (was it an accident or suicide?), unfulfilled dreams (the girls’ mother left an unfinished novel, the only book she had ever tried to write), and grief (and the different ways people deal with it).
But most of all, it’s about two sisters who embark on a physical and emotional journey to make sense of their unanswered questions about their mother, in the end transforming their view of themselves, each other and their world.
A short chat with Therese Walsh
I first met Therese in 2011, the year both of our blogs won a Top 10 Blogs for Writers award. Since then we have guest posted on each other’s blogs and kept in touch through our Facebook and Twitter connections.
I caught up with Therese recently to ask her some questions about how this book came to be and how she developed such an intriguing, sensory-rich story:
JLD: Welcome to the blog, Therese! Your story’s protagonist, Olivia, is a rich and interesting character. She is cursed—or perhaps blessed—with a disability called synesthesia, something I had never heard of before. A person with this medical condition might be able to see sounds and taste words. For instance, Olivia liked looking at the sun because she could smell her mother. As you developed your story idea, did a character with synesthesia come to you first or did you work it in later to support the plot?
TW: First, thank you for reaching out to me and for the opportunity to tell your readers a bit more about The Moon Sisters.
I first learned about synesthesia through an article that a friend, who knows about my love of “weird people things,” sent to me one day. After I read it, it went right into my story-ideas folder. After my debut book, when it was time to truly plan a new novel, I revisited the folder and read more about synesthesia. Soon after, I imagined this girl—Olivia Moon—who could smell her mother when she looked at the sun, and who stared at it following her mother’s untimely death to the devastation of her central vision; she became legally blind.
It was a blast, honestly, to create a character with synesthesia. I had to pull back several times because I wanted to saddle her with every imaginable form of the condition. Being able to see music, taste words, have an inner calendar…? Bring it on! I was eager to describe all of it.
JLD: I am fascinated by the different ways authors give their novels a strong sense of place. Although I assume you have never lived in West Virginia, I felt I was right there in the story with Olivia and Jazz. I fell in love with the little town of Tramp, West Virginia and absolutely felt Olivia and Jazz’s connection to it, although they had mixed feelings about it. How did you develop such a rich setting? Tell me a little bit about your research.
TW: Though I read several books on the state of West Virginia, I learned about it primarily through a trip I took there a few summers back. Though all but one of the locales in The Moon Sisters had a fictionalized name, all are based on real places. While visiting those places, I took lots of notes and photographs, and talked with the people who lived there. What I saw of West Virginia was lush and beautiful, and I only hope I was able to do justice to that on the page.
Aside from reading the books you might expect on the state in general, I also had some fun books filled with folk songs and ghost stories and poetry written by West Virginians.
JLD: It seems to me that writing a story with two narrators can be challenging. In my memoir, I have two storylines, one in the present and one in flashback scenes. I found it easier to outline the plot from beginning to end, tell one story at a time and then go back and alternate them back and forth until they converged at the end. Was it easier for you to write one character’s memory of events at a time, then meld them together? Or did you go back and forth between the two narrators from your very first draft? Just wondering how you weaved such a satisfying story, one that highlighted the differences between Olivia and Jazz’s personalities and thinking so beautifully.
TW: Thank you! I wrote from beginning to end, though it may have been easier to write everything separately then stitch it all together. Occasionally I’d write something out of sequence, but that was rare. For me there are too many notes—for lack of a better word—that need to be gauged to fit into a particular space in the story. So even when I essentially know what a scene is going to be, I fiddle with the details and the subtext and reveal just a little more about the character as I push forward.
Your memoir sounds interesting! Thanks again for having me here today, Judy.
JLD: The pleasure was mine.
And now, a surprise for my readers
Therese and her publisher, Penguin Random House, have generously donated a print copy of The Moon Sisters, which we are giving away on the blog. You have more than one way to win and the more things you do, the better your chance! See the details below:
If you are little confused with how this works when you tweet, just do the tweet, then go and find that tweet on Twitter. Click on the date or time of that tweet, copy the URL in your browser’s window and paste into Rafflecopter.
In case you would rather just go directly to purchase (or if you don’t win the contest), the link to buy The Moon Sisters is here.
About Therese Walsh
Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed with Kathleen Bolton in 2006.
Her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was published by Shaye Areheart Books (Random House). It was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for a RITA Award for Best First Book, and was a TARGET Breakout Book. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was released in March, 2014 by Crown (Penguin Random House). The Moon Sisters ebook recently reached #10 in ‘Bestselling NOOK Books’ at BarnesandNoble.com, and became a Kindle #1 Best Seller in Amazon’s Mothers and Children fiction category.
Therese was a researcher and writer for Prevention Magazine before she became a freelancer. Her favorite things include music, flash fiction, poetry, art, crab legs, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching and string Irish tea. She has a master’s degree in psychology.