Black Lawrence Press
November 10, 2015

NaNoWriMo Feature: Genanne Walsh

Welcome to National Novel Writing Month, 2015! We’re celebrating all month long with a gangbuster sale on some of our favorite novels, a consultation program for those of you with in-progress manuscripts, and this–a daily feature profiling a Black Lawrence Press author who has done the unthinkable: completed a novel.

Today’s featured writer is Genanne Walsh, author of the novel Twister, which won the 2014 Big Moose Prize and will be published next month. (P.S. We’re running an early bird special on the Big Moose Prize this month. Send in your manuscript by November 30 and get $5 off the entry fee!)

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Excerpt

WalshcwTheo had been meaning to fix the sticky steering column on his tractor. Rose found him in the afternoon, his legs crushed under a wheel, internally bleeding from a punctured spleen. She couldn’t lift the machine to move him, had to fold up her sweater, place it under his head, and run home for help.

Perry arrived just after Lance, who’d come home from school and seen the note pressed to the kitchen table. Lance was thirteen, a strong kid but not full-grown. Rose was wild—she wore a faded dress and big brown boots and she circled the tractor, kicking and pulling at its metal edges. Lance fell to his knees by his father’s head and put his ear to Theo’s blue lips. “How long?” Perry asked Rose, but she didn’t know. She came around to Lance, dropped herself to the ground, put her feet on the machine and shoved. Lance was quick to add his own weight, and Perry his, until they raised it just enough to pull Theo loose.

One side of Theo’s chest was higher than the other. His right arm was flung above his head, the left across his breastbone, fingers twisting the cloth of his shirt. The wide set of his eyes gave him a surprised look, and Theo stared into the bright sky like it had asked a question he was giving his all to answer. His legs were dusty and loose, and his right boot was missing.

Rose reached out and shut the eyelids. “Holy hell.” She sat back on her heels. Perry put his hand on Theo’s shoulder and felt the cooling under the thin cloth. Then Lance crouched to lift his father.

“Let me,” Perry said, but Lance brushed his hand aside and hoisted Theo into the fireman’s carry. Blood trickled down Lance’s back, shaken loose from his father. The boy stumbled and then found his footing. Perry put his arm around Rose and they walked back slowly, keeping pace with Lance, all three panting like runners. Rose felt wispy under his arm. Perry watched Lance’s back, thinking, it was all in the timing. Theo might have lived if Rose had gone looking sooner, or if he’d been thrown an inch or two further.

The kid’s knees didn’t buckle until they’d almost reached home, and Perry stepped forward to catch Theo as Lance rolled out from under him. “Where?” he asked Rose. She pointed Perry to the downstairs sewing room—Stella’s old room—and Perry stretched Theo out on a flowery spread, the coldness of him shocking under his fingers. He looked at Theo’s face, the high cheekbones and graying brown hair. It was like seeing someone sleep for the first time.

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Craft Notes

In the novel, we know about Theo’s death (though not the details) much earlier than this scene appears. When drafting it, I wanted to create a sense of urgency even though it’s not a surprise. Coming at it through Perry’s point of view was a way to reach that sense of shock and displacement. There’s something unresolved and unacknowledged about his relationship with Theo. It came quickly in his voice, as I recall.

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Q&A

1) What is the hardest part of writing a novel? What are your techniques for dealing with this aspect of the process?

Faith and stamina. Both are required for novel writing. My best advice? Try not to panic when they come and go. Because they do ebb and flow. You’ll instinctively sense when you need to share your work with readers, when you need to set it aside for a week or a month, when you need to set nose to grindstone. Trust your gut, give it a little space. But don’t spin out too far. Part of your job is to keep room in your mind for the novel even when you don’t understand it and don’t like it. You will eventually come to know what it wants to be and what you need to do.

 2) What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

“Don’t compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides.” This was advice from Chuck Wachtel, my first advisor in grad school. For writers—especially when we’re struggling—it’s tempting to look at colleagues and literary luminaries and perceive them as having endless supplies of confidence, as people who seem to have it all figured out, who have never doubted. But the reality is we’re all crawling through the cave in the dark. And really, who knows what’s inside another’s mind? Comparison will stymie your creativity and happiness.

Also, it won’t escape your notice that this is great advice for life in general, not just writing.

3) How long did it take you to complete your novel? Please talk a little bit about your journey from first word to final draft.

Rose, the central character, first appeared on the page in 2002, during the long build up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Writing about a woman who had lost her son in a war was a way to grapple with what was happening, and with what was to come. The opening Rose chapter stood on its own for a long time. Gradually, I began to write more about the people surrounding her. I was so taken with Rose that drafting the other characters was initially a ruse, a way to keep her in my life. Eventually they all arrived, each problematic and engaging and at times confounding.

When it wasn’t heavy it was really fun. So much fun. That’s the residual feeling now that I’m through it—that, and missing the characters.

4)   What is your favorite writing time beverage?

Coffee! Is there any other way?

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Suggested Reading

  • Art and Fear, David Bayles & Ted Orland.
  • What It Is, Lynda Barry.
  • Letters to a Young Artist, Anna Deavere Smith.
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Brown & Dave King.
  • Free Will Astrology Newsletter, Rob Brezsny. (I’m not kidding. No belief in astrology required. Brezsny is an exuberant writer and booster of the creative process. His weekly email horoscope will remind you that it’s all worth it, and assure you that you’re a gorgeous genius. Every novelist needs to hear this periodically.)

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DSC_8405 - Version 2Genanne Walsh lives in San Francisco. Her debut novel, Twister, was awarded the Big Moose Prize. Excerpts have appeared in Puerto del Sol, Blackbird, and Red Earth Review. Her other work has appeared in Spry, BLOOM, Swink, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Visit her website at www.genannewalsh.com.

Author photo by Laura Duldner