Louisiana writer M.O. Walsh (known as Neal) wonders whether the Buzz Books editors were confused or had a head injury when they picked his debut novel (My Sunshine Away, Putnam/Amy Einhorn Books, Jan. 2015) to be a BEA Buzz Book. “I’m still just waiting for the call telling me it was all a huge mistake. There are so many books out there. I just got really lucky with this one.”
The book, set in Baton Rouge, spans 20 years in the life of a young man who looks back on events from his youth as he tries to make peace with what happened to the girl he loved, who was raped, a crime that went unpunished. “The narrator is a suspect, and the book is confessional in a way,” says Walsh. The title is borrowed from “You Are My Sunshine,” the Louisiana state song.
A veteran writer of short stories, Walsh describes writing full-length fiction as totally different. “The main thing was having absolutely no idea what I was doing. Figuring out plot stuff, that something you say on page 20 is important on page 280, I wasn’t used to that.” His life also changed during the seven years he worked on the novel, including becoming a father twice over, and having to be the same person in his writing over a long stretch was a new kind of challenge.
Walsh says he didn’t write the book with big thematic goals in mind: “I just hoped that people would read from one page to the next without leaving me.” Still, he does believe that the story could confirm to some readers that there’s love and goodness in bad and horrible situations.
“I went for years and years without having input about my work from anyone, and I came to like that a lot,” he says. “Getting an agent to want to represent the book was really good. And then an editor wanted it, and that felt good. It still feels good. Looking back and seeing that the book was as good as I could do, that I gave it my fullest effort, that felt good, too. I want to do it again.”
Walsh’s day job is director of the M.F.A. writing program at the University of New Orleans, a place “full of talented writers. I expect to see some of them on the Buzz Panel some day,” he says.
A limited number of ARCs will be handed out at the Adult Books Buzz Panel this morning, 10–11 a.m., at the Downtown Stage.