After The Sucker Punch, a novel by…

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Friday, March 7, 2014 -

Ah… the writer’s journey!

Writing a novel is a journey, in all the ways journeys can be both good and, um… less good (picture the agent query process). Mine has been both a joyful ride and a slog in the mud, and after all its many twists and turns, I’ve come to what seems an inevitable decision: it’s time to self-publish.

I didn’t come to this easily; it was arrived at after months and years spent writing, editing, rewriting, polishing, taking notes from readers, editors, experts, family members, friends, other writers, and the like. I learned a tremendous amount in the process, much of which helped me make a better book, so… all good there. But then came the “slog” that followed: there was the aforementioned query letter mosh (such fun I’ve never had… no really, never!), investigating smaller publishers who didn’t require agents, peeking at self-publishing with squinted eyes, waiting – in some cases – up to half a year to hear from agents who swore they were interested or never hearing from others who said the same, and so on. As a successful writer in a variety of other mediums, I’ve learned to trust my voice and my sense of what works, but damn if that process can’t kick the crap out of anybody! The day I saw several literary agents tweeting each other about how few clients they sign in a year (one actually remarked that “sometimes I only sign one or two”), I knew the odds were seriously against me… not to mention I have no vampires, zombies, or SMBD plotlines!

But let me be frank: I did not want to go this “indie” route. Nope. After a career spent “self-(fill in the blank)” everything from music, to film, to photography, to essays, articles, plays, screenplays and the like, the DIY concept had lost its luster… gotten wearying and a tad lonely. My very favorite plan was to, instead, elicit the help of a TEAM (yes, all CAPS!), a feisty, passionate group inclusive of an agent, manager, publishers, PR people, etc., to help me get this “baby” launched and other worthy projects moved along. But for whatever reasons (surely something to do with the Universe deeming a better way for me), that team has so far proven elusive. Oh, I intend to manifest them tout suite (listening, Universe?), but in the meantime, I ain’t waitin’ no more. It’s time to launch this baby and get on with other things.

I was helped along in this decision by Facebook buddy and fellow writer, Martin Crosbie, who’s written a very helpful book about his own travels as a self-published — and quite successful — writer, and whose perspective clarified many of my own quibbles and questions. One point Martin made, particularly helpful to me, dispelled the notion that agent-rejection means a book just doesn’t hold up, isn’t good enough; is somehow subpar — an easy conclusion to come to after repeated form letters – or a few rushed sentences in an email – telling you you’re “just not a good fit,” or “aren’t right for our agency,” or “we didn’t fall for your writing” (odd wording from the last rejecter), or whatever 1-100 from the rejection checklist gets thrown at you (or doesn’t… most agents don’t even bother to respond, which, they tell us, translates to “we’re busy and not interested”). It turns out Martin had a similar agent-experience with his first novel, My Temporary Life, a book that is now often at the top of the Amazon charts, so I decided to read that book to form my own opinion… and it’s quite brilliant. Which told me exactly what I needed to know: that in today’s muddled publishing paradigm a lot of good work gets rejected for a raft of reasons that have little to do with quality or viability.

So I’m trusting my gut, going with my creative sense of things, holding faith that this is its own “good work” deserving of public readership, ideally of readers who enjoy and are moved by it. I know I enjoyed writing it! I currently have a brilliant graphic designer (my enormously talented sister, Grace Amandes) designing a book cover (the one above is a stand-in for the moment), and once I get a last edit done and the book properly formatted, I plan to put it up at Kindle and CreateSpace and let it fly. I’ll post appropriate links here (and everywhere!) and, well… we will just see!

I plan to chronicle the high points on this page in the event they’re of interest to readers or other writers, and please feel free to share your own publishing or self-publishing adventures in the comments section. I’ll be very interested to hear the experiences of others along their own journeys!

More as we go…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After the Sucker Punch: the synopsis:

They buried her father at noon, at five she found his journals, and in the time it took her to read one-and-a-half pages, her world turned upside down: he thought she was “a failure.”
 
Every child, no matter how old, wants to know their father loves them, and Tessa Curzio – thirty-six, emerging writer, ex-rocker, former Scientologist, and third daughter in a family of eight complicated people – is no exception. But just as her twitchy life seemed to be finding solid ground, and the hope to get to know her enigmatic father blossomed, the one-two punch of his death and denunciation proves an existential knockout.
 
In the flip of those pages, all childhood memories and her most basic sense of self are thrown into question, the most salient being: how do you reconcile a posthumous sucker-punch from the most important man in your life? Tessa struggles through the funeral weekend with its all-too-familiar sibling chaos and never-ending drama that is her mother, and though she tries to “just let it go,” as her sisters suggest, the weight of hurt and confusion cracks her resolve. When she finally flees back home to Los Angeles, the fallout hits.
 
First casualty is David, the good man in her life. He loves her but can’t fathom the depth of her crisis and their relationship implodes under the weight. Long-time friends, Kate and Ruby, swoop in to circle the wagons as they always do but ultimately… they’re busy, they have their own problems, and there’s little they can actually offer beyond comforting words. When even Tessa’s work at a successful online magazine loses its luster, her always inspiring boss, Marcia, assigns a series on father/daughter relationships, hoping to encourage Tessa to draw off her own pain to infuse her writing. Initially reluctant, Tessa is piqued enough to send for the rest of her father’s journals under the guise of research, but what she really hopes to find is some redemption in his later entries.  
 
Convincing the family of her intentions becomes a sticking point, particularly when her mother puts up a mighty resistance, convinced Tessa’s out to destroy her father’s legacy. Repeated calls to siblings only result in driving Tessa further from familial good will, and when adored but troubled little brother, Ronnie, arrives in Los Angeles at exactly the wrong moment, her quest becomes a mission, taking her to uncharted territory and unexpected people. Her most significant relief comes in her regular sessions with Aunt Joanna, her father’s sister, who is a Catholic nun and therapist, an odd arrangement that lends unexpected clarity to Tessa’s burgeoning confusion. 
 
And into this swirling eddy comes Haden Pierce, a wildly intriguing man who remembers her from earlier singing days and seems hell-bent on reminding her of her better self.  She’s both skittish and smitten, confused enough to push him away in a rebellion of drinking and indiscriminate hooking up, uncharacteristic acting out against all that’s happened. But when the entire library of journals are lost somewhere in transit from Chicago to LA, Tessa finally hits bottom, with no way left to know if her father ever saw who she really was or, more essentially, ever really loved her.  
 
It’s then that Aunt Joanna emerges as the clearest voice in the din. With her compassionate guidance and deeply felt empathy, she helps Tessa reclaim both truth and memories, enough to gain a more authentic view of herself and the flawed, but ultimately loving man who was her father…opening the door for forgiveness, hope and maybe, just maybe, another crack at love.
 
AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH is essentially a “coming-of-adult” saga about facing unexpected truths – in family, in love; in ourselves – and not only living to tell the tale, but transforming as a result. At its heart it’s the journey a daughter takes to understand a father when all that’s left are his inexplicable words. The 87,338 –word commercial/literary/women’s fiction piece blends both humor and drama while exploring the politics of family, faith, personal identity, friendships, creativity, new love and old, a book with appeal to those who enjoy climbing inside a protagonist’s journey to not only be surprised, but to recognize the reflective aspects of their own lives.
 
[As a bonus, the book’s epilogue includes a downloadable link to "Tessa’s latest song," My Search For You, (in real life, a song written by Lorraine Devon wilke and Rick M. Hirsch), a bonus that brings a crucial plot-point off the page and right to the readers' ears!] 

 

AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH

First three chapters:

Chapter 1

 

January 15, 2002 – the journal of Leo Curzio:

            One is obligated by moral duty to love one’s child. One is not obligated to like them. A conundrum when it comes to my fourth, my third daughter, Teresa – or Tessa, as she insists we call her now.

            Recently I searched through my journals of the past several years looking for an entry about her but could find nothing. Perhaps that’s not so strange; she has been an enigma to me since she finished high school. As I look back, it seems her senior year was the pinnacle of her life… from that point on little has happened to bear out her great promise.

      Convinced of her own abilities, which do seem apparent or, at the very least, measurable, she decided to try for a job in the movies, TV or perhaps the recording business out in Hollywood. She insisted that if after two years she had gotten nowhere she would try something else. Well, it’s been more than three years and she has nothing to show for it except for some amateur acting classes and self-produced plays. In September she will be twenty-five.

      So what’s the problem with Teresa? For sure, I don’t know. She is a great disappointment. Not simply because she’s failed up to now, but that endowed with so much talent she hasn’t employed it for anything useful and doesn’t show signs of improving.

#

            On a day when all she wanted to do was mourn the father so often longed for and buried just hours before, Tessa Curzio sat on the bed in which she was likely conceived and felt posthumously sucker punched. She looked down at the twelve-year-old journal splayed across her lap and realized it truly was a Pandora’s box come to life, a dubious gift from a dead man who had little to say in life but clearly plenty upon departure. She snapped it shut and threw it across the room with enough force to shatter her mother’s purple vanity lamp.

            A clock that followed to the floor doggedly kept ticking time. 5:17 pm.

            It was the beginning of the next uncomfortable phase of her life.

Chapter 2

            Because no tantrum could go unnoticed in this house, the door flew open and oldest sister Michaela, tight chignon and Ann Taylor classics all in place, swept in with a frown and a large tray of hors d’oeuvres. Only four years apart, she and Tessa were opposite in so many critical ways they struggled to be even marginal friends, a status they’d admirably put aside to “rise above” during this challenging weekend. Noting the purple shards on the Oriental she’d vacuumed just earlier, Michaela stifled a retort only when she caught the look on Tessa’s face.

            “Oh, honey, I know, I know,” she whispered, miscalculating the motive behind the lamp’s demise. She left her tray on the dresser and came to Tessa with sympathetic arms. “It’s so hard to lose him…I know.”

            With Michaela patting her rigid shoulder for what seemed far too long without comment, Tessa finally took a deep breath. “Um, Mickie… thanks, but I think I just need to be alone for a while, okay?”

            Michaela, relieved, quickly pulled away. “Absolutely, take your time. Just do me a favor and clean up the lamp before you come down. Mom doesn’t need anything else to be upset about today.” Rising from the bed, her eyes caught sight of the box of journals Tessa had pulled out from underneath; the tone shift was sharp and immediate. “Wow, really? Well, don’t let her know you’re already rifling through Dad’s stuff. She’d actually like to look through everything first, if you wouldn’t mind.”

            Tessa shot her a withering glare. “It’s just some… books.” A swift jerk of her ankle kicked the box back under the bed. Michaela picked up her tray and, with an icy shot back, swept out as she’d swept in.

            Tessa had found the box of mildewed date books at the behest of second eldest sister, Suzanna, a sibling of a totally different color and an ass-kicker whom Tessa adored. Suzanna was the agent provocateur of the family, a role sparked decades earlier by their parents’ enflamed response to her ill-conceived, if accidental, premarital pregnancy (a blessed event that jumped her wedding by less than a month). The word “whore” was invoked, her divorce a year later was “God’s retribution,” and Suzanna was never quite able to forgive them for all of it, even years later when they offered awkward apologies about dogma and overreaction. Revenge was exacted by her phenomenal success in business, far exceeding that of her father’s, and by raising a lovely boy despite his fetal month of bastardhood.

            Now in her self-assigned mission to keep the family legacy honest, Suzanna, exasperated by an uncharacteristic bout of Daddy-idealizing on Tessa’s part the night before, had suggested her little sister find the box of journals he’d so copiously recorded and read at least one of them, “particularly 2002” with its insights about Tessa specifically. “You need some perspective,” Suzanna ominously declared.

            So Tessa dutifully looked and regretfully found the box under the bed. Apparently there were other boxes somewhere, no one knew where, but this one held at least nine or ten years’ worth of minutia spilled onto the pages of yearly date books given to the employees of the bookbinding company where Leo had spent the bulk of his adult working life. Date books meant for appointments and note keeping but utilized by Leo for his journalistic ramblings over the last forty-five years. As instructed, she found 2002, which now lay on the floor amidst dust and purple glass.

            Suddenly exhausted, Tessa curled up in the perfumed sleep habitat of parents who now seemed intangible, realizing, after many years of wondering, that she finally knew what her father thought of her. Interesting how a dead man could so easily suck breath from a living solar plexus, like the mythical cat and the unsuspecting baby.

            A quick rap on the door snapped her reverie. She sat up, fluffed her hair and trilled, “Who is it?”

            “It’s me, Tess. What are you doing? Got someone in there with you?” Ronnie, Tessa’s younger brother and closest sibling, was already slurring as he cracked the door, his face goofy with a grin. “Are you having sex on Mom and Dad’s bed to assuage your fear of death?”

            Tessa couldn’t help but smile. There was just something about Ronnie. “Go away, idiot.”

            “Okay, sis, I got it… you’re processing your grief by rolling in Dad’s sheets. Gross but strangely titillating.”

            “Ronnie!”

            “Hey, who am I to judge? Don’t take too long, whatever you’re doing. Mom’s tilting and Michaela’s about to snap. It could get ugly.”

            As the door clicked shut and he stumbled back down the hall, Tessa sighed at the second interruption of the hour, realizing, mostly, that she didn’t want to go back down there… down into the swirling eddy of sobbing, dramatic folk seeping into the small Chicago brownstone to mourn a man who now felt like an imperfect stranger. The rising cacophony was unavoidable, however, signaling the arrival of aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, surely a priest or two and plenty of neighbors. No choice but to postpone internal combustion for a more solitary time.

            Straightening the bed, she was perversely pleased to see mascara streaked across her father’s starched pillowcase. That would have annoyed him. She went to the vanity. Examining herself in the mirror, Tessa noted that her smeared eye-makeup lent a sort of punky irreverence to her new assignation as Failed Daughter. She left it.

            She picked up a family portrait that held center stage in this private corner of her mother’s world; it had always been one of her favorites. All of them lined up in birth order, for those, her mother once sniffed, who struggled to keep the six Curzio children straight. Suzanna once joked that they should wear permanent name-tags, but Audrey insisted it wasn’t the family’s obligation, but rather those viewing the large cast of characters, to keep the names and faces sorted out. The most she would accede to was the order of their positioning. Still, most people mixed them up, especially the girls. But there they all were, matted and framed:
Oldest brother Duncan was on the left, then Michaela, Suzanna, Tessa, Ronnie and baby of the family, Bella. Mother Audrey stood on one end, arm around eighteen-year-old Duncan, her chin raised in Joan Crawfordian aplomb with eyes sharp and a smile as wide as the sky. Father Leo stood on the other end, Bella leaning slightly into his side, his handsome face set in a cool, inscrutable smile. Michaela and Suzanna were tall, mature young women gazing calmly at the camera, while Tessa and Ronnie appeared to be giggling at some private joke. It was a perfect image, an exact distillation of her family, and she couldn’t help but smile as she put it back under the amber lights.

            She retrieved the assaulted journal from the floor, opened the pages once more to Leo’s crinkly handwriting: “She is a great disappointment. Not simply because she’s failed up to now, but that endowed with so much talent she hasn’t used it for anything useful.”

            At least he said she had talent.

 Chapter 3

            Chaos reigned downstairs. Children, large and small, ran around screaming and laughing without thought to the somber nature of the event. The adults crammed into every corner of the house and the ambiance was oddly electric, as if they were waiting for a rock star who would never show up. Mounds of food covered the table, Leo’s favorite Sinatra music loudly soundtracked the proceedings, and a significant crowd huddled around the weeping Audrey who, despite honest grief, was reveling in the white-hot focus of her nascent widowhood. Michaela and Suzanna whisked about making sure everyone was taken care of, while older brother Duncan, now the “man of the house” as Audrey had anointed him last night, held court in the dining room, expounding on his father’s virtues to a rapt circle of church groupies. Youngest sister Bella, red-eyed and reverted to “baby girl” status, tucked into her mother’s side, while Ronnie slumped in a corner chair taking it all in with cynically dry eyes. He was the only one who noticed Tessa coming down the stairs with a look on her face that signaled the plates had shifted. She squeezed into the chair with him and he gave her a blurry once-over.

            “Why do you look like that?”

            “Like what?”

            “Like you wanna throw up.”

            “I was reading.”

A long pause until it struck him. “Is that what you were doing up there? You found the box?”

            “Yep.”

            “You read 2002?”

            “The first page.”

            “Damn, let’s get you a drink.”

            “It’ll give me a headache.”

            “Aw, sissy, don’t you have one already?” He put his arm around her and squeezed. The shot of empathy threatened to unleash a crying jag or some other unseemly bout of hysteria but Tessa thought better of it. Michaela approached, again with the hors d’oeuvres tray.

            “Is that thing attached to your arm?” Ronnie asked as he stuffed a crostini into his mouth.

            “Somebody’s got to help around here, Ronald, you might want to try it sometime. Hungry, Tess?” Tessa’s grimace said no. Michaela reached down and patted her shoulder, still convinced of their shared grief. “We all miss him, Tessa, it’s just going to take time.”

            Ronnie lurched from the chair, stomping off to the bar set up on the breakfront. Michaela looked after him, bewildered. “What’s wrong with him?”

            “He’s… turmoiled.”

            “More like loaded. Little shit. Have you talked to Mom yet?”

            “What do you mean, yet? Of course I’ve talked to her. ”

            “I mean, since we got back here.”

            “No. Why?”

            “She’s on her fourth drink, carrying on that it wasn’t a stroke.”

            “Oh, really? What was it then?” This was not a new conversation.

            “Well, let’s see… ‘the doctors don’t know what they’re talking about, the last meds probably poisoned him, maybe we should sue’… you know the drill. I wish Duncan had been quicker to put out that fire.”

            Their brother Duncan was a highly successful product liability attorney who’d made a name and several million in a case involving a child’s death caused by a drug later recalled by the FDA. He had become somewhat of a celebrity and certainly an expert, garnering a pulpit style that often edged toward high-pitched pontification. There was talk of politics and much consensus that he was a bold and righteous crusader. Tessa thought he might just be an ambitious prick but odds are that was sour grapes. Duncan’s financial and general life success stirred bona fide envy in her, as did his inexplicably close relationship with a father who seemed far less interested in her. Her current pique had to do with his receptiveness to certain church folk who had ridiculously queried, “What really happened to Leo?” as if some grand conspiracy was at work rather than a simple, unfortunate stroke. Duncan’s brief consideration lent it weight, foolish in light of Audrey’s predilection for drama, and though he ultimately quashed the theory, the damage had been done. Audrey was rolling.

            Tessa looked over at Duncan, now on a jag in the adjoining room, and sighed. “He can’t help himself. Ask a question; get a speech. And what’s wrong with dying of a stroke anyway? Is there some shame in it? Would the man be any less dead?”

            “She’d prefer he not be dead at all,” Michaela remarked, not without sympathy.

            “She’d prefer he not be so mundanely dead. A faulty drug, some exotic disease, anything to get the saint one more paragraph in the obits. He’d still be dead so what the hell difference does it make?”

            Michaela threw her a sharp look. “A little harsh, don’t you think?”

            “Sorry.” Tessa sank deeper into the chair. “I’m not enjoying the hoopla.”

            “Our father just died; hoopla is required.”

            Suzanna approached with a drink and a scowl. “I may embrace the family legacy and become a drunk.”

            “Why?” Michaela snorted. “Out of Oxy?”

            “Don’t be a bitch, Michaela. I only indulge in Oxy when there’s opportunity to enjoy the buzz. Suffice it to say, I’m drug-free at the moment.” Suzanna plunked down in the chair across from Tessa. “She just asked me for the tenth time if I’d thanked her lately.”

             “Oh, for ‘giving you a perfect father’?” Michaela knew the thread. “I got that a few times myself.”

            “She better not ask me,” Tessa growled.

            Both girls looked at her with surprise; Suzanna took the bait. “Are your teeth actually grinding?” Before Tessa could answer Suzanna squealed, “Oh my God, you found the box! Did you read 2002?”

            “What are you talking about?” Michaela had missed that particular conversation.

            “The journals, Dad’s journals. After that ridiculous wake with Duncan’s homage and all the rest of that hearts and flowers bullshit, I figured Tessa could use a reality check. She’d never read any of his journals so it seemed the opportune time.”

Michaela was genuinely horrified. “Jesus Christ, Suzanna, can’t you even let your little sister grieve without pulling her down into your muck?”

            “Have you read any of them, Mickie?”

            “No, and I don’t intend to. Sneaking into private journals after a man dies is pretty close to unconscionable in my book, but maybe that’s just me.”

            “Don’t be an ass. He wanted us to read them.”

            “Really? Who told you that?”

            “He did! On the cover page, read it! It says, ‘I want my children to know me better than I knew my own father, these journals are my gift to them.’”

            “Why do I find that hard to believe?” Michaela snapped.

            “Because you’re a denier. I can show you, for God’s sake. Stop chasing the good daughter award for five fucking minutes and I’ll show you.”

            Michaela picked up her tray and huffed off.

            Suzanna looked at Tessa and rolled her eyes. When no reaction was forthcoming she put her drink down and took Tessa’s hand. “Is this going to completely screw with your head?”

            “What, Dad dying?”

            “No, reading the journal.”

            “I don’t know. It could, I guess. I hope not.” A pause. “Probably.”

            “Then I’m sorry I suggested it.”

            “Yeah… me, too.”

            “Well, and Dad dying is a bit of a mind fuck.”

            They shared a rueful smile. Suzanna squeezed Tessa’s hand and they got up and walked into the fray

To be continued…

TESSA’S SONG (Epilogue):

My Search For You (click title to play)

You were puzzled by my need for clarity

Maybe you thought I depended on language too much

But there were volumes you didn’t say or I never heard

I know you thought the way you loved was surely enough

So elusive, I wonder if you ever figured out?

How your silence always made me feel a little loud

So convinced if I sang and danced and jumped up and down

You would see me, just me, and maybe be a little proud

And sometimes I know that you heard me

Sometimes I know that you cried

CHORUS

But you left me in early December

You loved me but we both knew our time was through

Now I stand here and try to remember

The girl I discovered in my search for you

They say love doesn’t ask for more than what it gets

So why did I always need a bigger piece of you?

In the crush of life I felt sometimes lost in the crowd

Never sure if I ever came completely into view

But somehow I learned to be stronger

And somehow I’m certain you knew

CHORUS

But you left me in early December

You loved me but we both knew our time was through

Now I stand here and try to remember

The girl I discovered in my search for you

Bridge:

You gave me the passion to find my way

You gave me the eyes to dream

If we squandered the time we had

You’ve got to know that what I searched to find in you

I finally found in me

CHORUS

You left me in early December

You loved me but we both knew our time was through

Now I stand here and surely remember

The girl I discovered in my search for you

“My Search For You” written by Lorraine Devon Wilke & Rick M. Hirsch

for information contact:

info@lorrainedevonwilke.com

 


LDW ponders

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contentlyher photos at Fine Art Americadetails and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.

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