Interview with Lorraine Devon Wilke
Lorraine Devon Wilke recently published her debut novel ‘After the Sucker Punch’. She was interested in being interviewed for my blog.
I see you have just published your first novel. Can you tell me a bit about it please?
The book is titled After the Sucker Punch; it’s contemporary literary fiction about a woman finding her father’s journals on the night of his funeral and discovering he thought she was a failure. What follows is an existential crisis that takes her on a wild ride of introspection, discovery and, ultimately, reinvention and forgiveness. At its heart it’s the journey a daughter takes to understand a father when all that’s left are his inexplicable words.
Book Jacket Synopsis:
They buried her father at noon, at five she found his journals, and in the time it took to read one-and-a-half pages her world turned upside down… he thought she was a failure.
Every child, no matter what age, wants to know their father loves them, and Tessa Curzio – thirty-six, emerging writer, ex-rocker, lapsed Catholic, defected Scientologist, and fourth in a family of eight complicated people – is no exception. But just when she thought her twitchy life was finally coming together – solid relationship, creative job; a view of the ocean – the one-two punch of her father’s death and posthumous indictment proves an existential knockout.
She tries to “just let it go,” as her sister suggests, but life viewed through the filter of his damning words is suddenly skewed, shaking the foundation of everything from her solid relationship and winning job to the truth of her family, even her sense of self. From there, friendships strain, bad behavior ensues, new men entreat, and family drama spikes, all leading to her little-known aunt, a nun and counselor, who lovingly strong-arms Tessa onto a journey of discovery and reinvention. It’s a trip that’s not always pretty – or particularly wise – but somewhere in all the twists and turns unexpected truths are found.
Author and longtime Huffington Post contributor, Lorraine Devon Wilke, takes an irreverent look at father/daughter relationships through the unique prism of Tessa’s saga and its exploration of family, faith, cults, creativity, new love and old, and the struggle to define oneself against the inexplicable perceptions of a deceased parent. Told with both sass and sensibility, it’s a story wrapped in contemporary culture but with a very classic heart.
Where did you get your ideas from?
This was a story sparked by a real life incident: My father kept journals and, many years ago, one was brought to my attention that was particularly focused on me in a somewhat, shall we say, critical way. I had my understandable reaction, but it was when I shared the event at a women’s group I was in at the time, and saw the reactions of those listening, that the idea of fashioning a story around that main plot point came to be.
I was so fascinated by the varied reactions from the other women in the group, some of which were very emotional and far beyond what I felt, that it became clear this was a hot-button issue and one that deserved some exploration. So I took the question – “how would you feel if you found your father’s journal and he said you were a failure?” – to a number of others, both men and women in a spectrum of age ranges. I received so many interesting and varied responses that I incorporated most of those into the lives of the various characters in the book. And once I had that main plot point upon which to build the story, the rest just naturally followed.
Did you have to do any research?
The only research I did was taking the prompt – “how would you feel if you found your father’s journals and discovered he though you were a failure?” – to other people and observing and noting their reactions. There are also some sections in the book where we read “excerpts from articles” the protagonist is writing for a father/daughter series for a magazine she works for; I used research I’d personally done for similar articles I’d written on women’s issues and, though all the excerpts in the book are all fictional, that earlier research gave me good material from which to draw for those sections. Beyond that, and as most writers do, I tapped into my own imagination and life experience, as well as my observations of the life experiences of others, to create a world and a collection of characters who would bring the story to life in the way I envisioned… all of which I thoroughly enjoyed creating!
How did you feel once your book was published?
It was a fabulous sensation of completion; of personal accomplishment… with a big dollop of “finally!”
See, I’d originally pursued traditional publishing, which basically meant – at least for me – an endless series of query letters, chapters sent, the occasional full manuscript requested, but, mostly, no response at all. I found this process wearying, one followed in the attempt to secure an agent to then, hopefully, get my book to a publisher, who would then do what they do before publishing it… layer upon layer of activity before any real connection was made with readers. And that was only if I got an agent interested! Ultimately, after too many years of little meaningful progress in this pursuit, I was overcome by the sense of limbo, the endless “auditioning” for agents rather than communicating to actual readers, and a tipping point was reached. I decided this was not the road I wanted to travel. I also became very clear about the fact that I’d worked too hard and believed too strongly in my book – the narrative, the title, the cover, the general sense of what the story conveyed – to cede control of those elements to others who’d have the power to decide which version would ultimately be published. I not only trusted my own voice, I wanted to put out the book I’d created, not one reconfigured to meet the demands of a publisher.
So the choice was made in late 2013 to independently publish and I’ve had no regrets about the decision since. The version of After the Sucker Punch that’s on sale at Amazon is exactly the book I wrote – for better or for worse – and that was an important creative choice for me as a writer.
As for my perspective on the overall independent publishing trend; I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post on the rapidly changing paradigms in the industry and, in the event your readers might be interested, here’s the link: Is Self-Publishing Killing Books? My Journey With After the Sucker Punch Answers the Question
Can we expect another book from you soon?
“Soon” may be a relative word, but I am currently working on another novel and, hopefully, I can have it ready for publication by the end of 2014. After that I’ve got two other novels plotted out, as well as a non-fiction piece on brain injury, something I’ve experienced as the spouse of a man who’s dealt with the injury. So I’ve got quite the roster of work to service – along with my journalistic writing – all of which keeps me sufficiently busy!
What got you into writing?
Oddly, it was both music and growing up without a TV!
Music, because I was one of those kids who just loved music; I used to lay on the floor and listen to my new albums while reading the lyrics and singing along with the vocalist. I was particularly drawn to story songs with their lyrical statements and narrative content. Even from a young age I was moved by the power of words… though certainly having a good beat didn’t hurt either! 🙂
Growing up without a TV influenced my love of writing because it brought books into my life in a big way! Our family TV broke when I was in early grade school and my father took the opportunity to make a major paradigm shift in our entertainment choices: no more TV, he announced, but he would bring home boxes and boxes of books from the Chicago library. Once we stopped whining about not being able to watch our favorite cartoons on Saturday morning, my siblings and I dived in and discovered we were in a sort of literary heaven, with enough books to keep us entertained and intrigued for the entire, long summer ahead!
From there, I read non-stop throughout my childhood and that immersion gave me a profound affinity and appreciation for the written word in all its forms and with all its magic, emotion, and narrative adventure. There was never a doubt in my mind I’d be a writer, and I have been… from my high school literary magazine (with my contribution of some very dubious poetry!) to the various mediums in which I’ve been involved as an adult: a songwriter, playwright, screenwriter, essayist and journalist, and now a novelist. In fact, I’m known to write even very literary emails (something not every recipient particularly appreciates!).
What advice do you have for anyone wishing to write?
First of all, read. Read everything. Reading engenders both a conscious and subconscious absorption of the elements of good writing (presuming you’re reading good writing!): rhythm, flow, pacing, dialogue, narrative, etc., and over time, and with enough reading, that absorption creates an innate sense in the reader of what works and what’s needed to tell a successful story. It also develops a great depth of vocabulary and an ease with verbal richness, both good things for writers.
Next, of course, is writing. Just doing it. In whatever form, and whatever medium, is at hand. I’ve suggested to writers I’ve worked with to even see texts and emails as opportunities to develop their writing skills: make yourself write fully-formed sentences and flesh out every thought. Learn to use words creatively; experiment with form and flow, see your correspondence, essays, articles; whatever you’re writing, as works of creative expression. Take every opportunity to work your craft. It all contributes to the greater whole… and it makes people very excited to get your greeting cards!
And lastly, be the writer you are, honestly and authentically, and know THERE ARE NO RULES. There is no one process that works for everyone, that defines what a writer is or isn’t, or even produces the desired result for every single person. It doesn’t matter if you write one book or twenty; if you write a thousand articles or five; if you write every day or once a week, even once a month. If you are honestly a writer, you’re a writer. And anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. I’ve seen young writers (even older ones) stopped in their tracks by this kind of rule-oriented nonsense and I’ve always been compelled to counter it (maybe because I’ve always been a bit iconoclastic in my own approach!). Certainly learn the craft, be humble, take good critique to heart, but don’t let anyone talk you out of your voice or browbeat you into thinking your process – whatever it is – is wrong. Find what works for you, what gets you to the page and expressing yourself, and leave the formulas and mandates to others. (For more on “the writing process,” interested readers can access a blog hop I participated in called Blog Hop: The Writing Process…What’s Mine?)
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Music and photography are two of my other favorite muses; if you go to my site (www.lorrainedevonwilke.com) you’ll find plenty of links and information about both. I also love traveling, spending time with my family, and getting out into the natural world whenever I can. Hiking and power walking are big activities in my life and given the incredible places I get to spend my time, there’s always opportunity to do either somewhere near an ocean or mountain!
If you want to get in touch with Lorraine you can do so by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org, , via Twitter (@LorraineDWilke) or at her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/lorrainedevonwilke).
Be sure to check out her site for all her other online pages: www.lorrainedevonwilke.com