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M.O. Walsh Debut Brings Insight into Neighborhood Trauma- 2015

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 My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh

An exclusive Authorlink interview with M. O. Walsh,
Author of My Sunshine Away

By Diane Slocum

May 2015

My Sunshine Away
by M. O. Walsh
Buy this Book

After 15-year-old Lindy Simpson is raped riding her bicycle home from track practice, nothing is the same in her affluent neighborhood where children romped together in the woods. It particularly affects her 14-year-old neighbor who recounts his recollections of that time from the perspective of 20-some years later. As a boy, he had a huge crush on Lindy and wanted to make things right. He just didn’t know how.

“I drew from real life experience, like most writers do, but the plot itself . . . their relationship, etc, that is all made up..”

AUTHORLINK: Your story is set in Baton Rouge, where you grew up. Did your life there have much resemblance to your narrator’s on Piney Creek Road?

WALSH: I grew up in a neighborhood very similar to the one in my novel. It was middle to upper class, suburban, and really idyllic in the way I remember it. Most of my summer days were spent running around a swimming pool, playing football in my neighbor’s front yard, or tromping through the woods with my friends. I also, however, remember overhearing a story about a teenage girl in our neighborhood being raped one night, not far from her house, when I was still too young to understand what that meant. This story has always stuck with me, though, thinking about how wild it was that a place I thought of so fondly could be so horrible for someone else. That’s where the novel got its start. I drew from real life experience, like most writers do, but the plot itself—the things the narrator does, the character of Lindy Simpson, their relationship, etc—that is all made up.

AUTHORLINK: How did you decide to write the story as a man telling about his child/teen years rather than just show the events of his younger years as they occurred?

WALSH: A novel narrated by an adolescent male? Now that would be a truly terrifying book! It gives me the creeps just thinking about it! (All men who have been adolescent males, approximately 100% of them, in fact, know exactly what I’m talking about). Seriously, though, I think this novel is able to function the way it does because the narrator has the power of retrospection. He can look back at his adolescence with a certain understanding of what was truly important and what he only mistook as important at the time. Teenagers don’t usually have this sort of wisdom when they’re in the thick of things. I think this is the way most stories work, actually: There is a distance between the tale and the teller, and the reason the story is told is to show you how far the character has come since the tale, either how much they’ve grown or how far they’ve fallen.

“. . . once you grow up and learn the truth about your family, say, or discover a secret that was always kept from you, then you have to reconcile the new knowledgeable you with the old you . . . “

AUTHORLINK: Because the narrator tells the story from years in the future, he admits that there is much his younger self wasn’t aware of or didn’t understand and more that he doesn’t remember. This gives a picture of how kids often are in their own world. How did you develop such an insightful portrayal?

WALSH: Whenever I look back to my own life and think about some of the notions I believed in—everything from tooth fairies to the well-meaning lies my parents told me to protect my feelings—I’m shocked by the amount of misinformation kids operate under. It’s not their fault, of course, and in many ways this could be seen as a blessing. However, once you grow up and learn the truth about your family, say, or discover a secret that was always kept from you, then you have to reconcile the new knowledgeable you with the old you who was unaware of that information. Both versions of you thought they had the truth, though. That’s the thing. That’s what makes it interesting. We are all, as you say, in our own worlds, all the time.

AUTHORLINK: It seems that the narrator is never named. Why is this?

WALSH: I was more than half way through the novel before I even realized this myself. I think, because the novel is in first person and a sort of confessional, the narrator never felt compelled to name himself. And then once I started thinking about it, I wondered if the book would fundamentally change and get better if I named him something like Kevin or Jerry, and I instantly knew that it wouldn’t. I had some nervousness about this when I approached agents and editors with the final manuscript, but no one ever brought it up. I’m very happy about this, I should add.

AUTHORLINK: This is your first published novel. What writing experience did you have before this?

WALSH: I’d been writing short stories for about twenty years before this, first in college, then more seriously in graduate school. I eventually went to the University of Mississippi for an MFA in creative writing and that’s when I was able to start publishing some of my work in literary journals. I published a book of short stories in 2010, but My Sunshine Away is the first novel I’ve been able to finish. It took me about seven years total to write it, and I think working for so long in the short story form really helped me in thinking about chapters as stories. One of the old adages about stories is: If you cut a good story, it bleeds. In other words, everything in a story must feel essential or else it should be removed. I tried to approach my chapters this way, as well. I wanted to keep the thing moving.

“I don’t know if I could have a greater ambition than a reader simply enjoying something I’ve written.”

AUTHORLINK: What do you hope readers get from your book besides enjoying a good story?

WALSH: I don’t know if I could have a greater ambition than a reader simply enjoying something I’ve written. As a person with a full-time job and kids and several other interests, I know how difficult it can be to find time to read a novel. If someone lends me their personal time like that, then I definitely hope they get pleasure from it. In terms of this particular book, I hope readers leave the story thinking about family and compassion and what strange and wonderful things love and memory are. What beautiful things they are. It would be ok with me if they walked away with that on their mind.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

WALSH: I’ve been thinking about a novel idea for a while now that I plan to start this summer. We’ll see how it goes. No matter how much planning you do, there’s a certain amount of luck involved in the plot and language and characters all coming together in the right way. You just have to put your head down and work and hope for the best. Besides that, though, I am always tinkering with stories and essays, trying to steal a little time to write when I can. Since my kids are still young, they take priority over my writing. There will come a time in a few years where they are surly teenagers who don’t want to be around their dad as much anymore. They’ll be busy with friends and sports and this huge inner life. I understand that. But, right now, they love to hang out with me. I’m trying to soak that up as much as I can.

About M. O. Walsh:

Walsh has been published in The New York Times, Oxford American, Best New American Voices and more. He is director of the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans.

Diane Slocum
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.