Who: M.O. Walsh
Where: Lake Terrace
Q: What is something you would like to pass down?
MW: What other answer could there be besides a general sense of hope and kindness [laughing]? Those are things that I believe in and that have gotten me through. One of the reasons I continue to write, I think, is to communicate some sort of hope in the world.
I’ve always been, despite all the evidence and facts around me, an optimist. I’m pretty sure some of my friends think this is a disorder, and my wife doesn’t always appreciate when I wake up smiling and singing songs early in the morning, but it’s who I am. And so I’ve always been interested in literature that tries to affirm our worth as humans, as well.
That doesn’t mean I only read for happy endings, of course, but I do think, if you’re writing fiction, you have to have your eye on a particular goal when you start a project. There are great writers out there that show the darkness of humanity, and there’s a place for that as well. You want all voices to be heard; mine is often a voice that, I hope, is optimistic.
Q: If you had to, how can you argue that memory and imagination are the same thing?
MW: I think we use the same muscles when we think about our pasts as when we imagine our future. We shuffle around those puzzle pieces from our memory in order to make or re-imagine a pattern we are more comfortable with than the truth of our past might have been.
You can also, of course, torture yourself with those puzzle pieces from your past if you want. Regardless, you are often choosing what to recreate or what to highlight or subdue when you re-imagine your past as when you imagine your future. Memory and imagination seem deeply interconnected to me.
With my novel My Sunshine Away, I used my own past in regard to setting, how the neighborhood looked when I grew up in it, etc., but then imagined a made-up scenario with characters that didn’t exist. So, in a way, the memories from my childhood were the scaffolding for that imagined story.
Other times, of course, memory much less to do with creation, and you work on projects that just go off an imaginative or fanciful riff. You put yourself with people or situation you don’t know, maybe as a way to escape your own past (who knows?) and you imagine it from there.
Q: If you had to have something written above your desk, what would it say?
MW: I read The World According to Garp years ago, and there is a scene where Garp (who is a struggling writer at that point in the book) is chasing a criminal through a park. The next day, the headline from the newspaper that reported the event read: ‘Unsuccessful Writer not Total Failure at Being a Hero.’ (laughing)
I printed that out and taped it to my desk. I love it.
I think writers are always struggling for success, especially in their own minds, and that funny headline reminded me that succeeding as a writer isn’t the most important thing. I would love to be great on the page, and I try my best to do that, but there are other ways to be a hero in your own house and your own mind as well. That phrase always reminds me of that, in it’s odd John-Irving-type way.
It’s such a great headline. Let’s say it one more time so we can enjoy it again [laughing]: ‘Unsuccessful Writer not Total Failure at Being a Hero.’
Q: Who can predict your actions?
MW: My wife. Most definitely. I don’t think I could do anything that would surprise her, and that’s one of the reasons we work so well together. She not only knows me but accepts me for who I am, and she always has.
She could come home from work today, and I could be wearing a sombrero, and it wouldn’t phase her at all. She’d probably look at me and say, ‘Having a good day, I see. Rock on, Amigo.’ She always seems to know what I’m going to do based on whatever stimulus I’m given and, luckily, she usually seems to enjoy it. She’s got me pretty good.
Q: Which one of your characters do you identify with the most?
MW: I think the narrator of My Sunshine Away comes closest to my view of the world. That narrator did a lot of things that I didn’t personally do in life, like spying on people from trees, and such, but in terms of his desire to try and learn from his mistakes and process them in a way that’s fair to who he was at the time fits with me. He tried to take it all in and turn his experiences into something positive for his kids, and that’s what I identify with. The machinery in my head also tries to take mistakes and turn them into something positive, if it’s at all possible.
I have lots of failings as a writer, I know that, and maybe one of them is that I almost always have a character in my writing that takes on that hopeful role. Still, I think the heart of most writers exists in every one of their stories no matter what window dressing they put around it. That, after all, is why we like to read them.
M.O. Walsh will be interviewing Daniel Wallace on Saturday, October 28 at the Louisiana Book Festival. He will also be doing a book signing in the afternoon following the interview. To learn more about M.O. Walsh as well as his writings, check out his website as well as follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at @m_o_walsh.