Whose Voice Gets To Represent Race In Our Literature?

Photo by Tanja Heffner

Storytellers are the chroniclers of our life and times. They memorialize history, dissect our complex and evolving world; they entertain and provoke and captivate. They are as diverse and eclectic as the characters they create and the stories they tell. It is their job to reflect who we are, what we experience, and what we can imagine. That’s a big canvas. It’s huge. And there’s no end to the variety of colors and hues that can be drawn upon it. Just as there is no end to the variety of artists weaving the tales drawn there.

Yet some believe there are rules to who gets to use which colors, who gets to draw outside the lines to tell stories that involve characters from different cultures. Some believe issues of race can only be voiced from within limited perspectives. Who gets to decide that? Who determines the answer to the title question?

In May of this year, the BBC took it on, running a piece about successful British spy author, Anthony Horowitz, who’d been dissuaded from including a black character in one of his novels:

Author Anthony Horowitz says he was “warned off” including a black character in his new book because it was “inappropriate” for a white writer. The creator of the Alex Rider teenage spy novels says an editor told him it could be considered “patronising” … Horowitz, who has written 10 novels featuring teenage spy Alex Rider, said there was a “chain of thought” in America that it was “inappropriate” for white writers to try to create black characters, something which he described as “dangerous territory”.

I not only agreed with Anthony’s “dangerous territory” comment, I shared that opinion in my own piece, No, Authors Should Not Be Constrained By Gender Or Race In The Characters They Create (and since quoting my own work feels circular, I invite you to click over there to get my fuller perspective).

I ask this question not just because of the larger and, yes, “dangerous” implications of limiting literary voices and books, but from the very personal perspective of hitting the buzzsaw of “fear of cultural appropriation” within my own work, in trying to get my own book, a dramatic novel about police profiling within an interracial relationship, published.

While agents and publishers can find any number of reasons to reject a book (as they do regularly), particularly as the industry struggles under dramatically changing fortunes, I was surprised at the resounding lack of response I’d gotten to this new book, particularly after having published two previous novels that have done well, and with a resume that’s garnered a modicum of respect. Certainly I understand how subjective the process is — it’s been likened to the rarity and randomness of falling in love — but still, it was unusual how few even acknowledged my query. It wasn’t until I was able to get some specific responses from specific agents that the light finally went on.

It was a problem of “fear of cultural appropriation.”

I am a white author telling a story that involves black characters. This, as Anthony Horowitz was warned, is not considered “appropriate.” It’s seen as “patronizing.” Though, in following that paradigm, who, then, would be able to tell the story of an interracial relationship if neither race can write about the other? Personally, I find that to be madness, but I’ve now had agents from three different high-profile literary agencies specifically cite “appropriation” as their reasons for rejection:

1. The first felt my “whiteness is kind of a problem,” she wrote: “This is a well written and serious novel; an issue-oriented novel that could not be more current… but there may be an issue of whose voice gets to represent race.”

2. The second asserted she couldn’t take it on because of “all the concerns about ‘cultural appropriation’ these days.”

3. The third felt the black male protagonist “didn’t sound black enough.” I won’t even parse that implication.

But the message was clear, at least from the point of view of these particular gatekeepers: white authors writing black characters are unmarketable. Beyond “inappropriate,” “these are brutal times in fiction and we’re not comfortable representing a book, no matter how good or worthy, in which that issue is present.”

How do we feel about that? As readers, writers, and consumers of cultural content?

I find it dangerous. I find it censuring. I find it condescending and discriminatory. I find any limitation to writers of any race to be the antithesis of art. Or, as my friend and #BLM activist, Regina McRae, put it (and I echoed above): “An author is an artist, and words are their canvas. You can’t constrain art.” She’s right.

We live in a profoundly competitive world, a landscape made all the more so by the internet and its powers of equalization. Skill, craft, and expertise, once prerequisites of success, are now often trumped by what’s viral, what’s contemporary, what excels via social media marketing. A “nobody” making YouTube videos can hit the zeitgeist of youth fascination to outpace a label artist who’s put years and millions into production. A young Turk writing snarky clickbait can be valued over a brilliant journalist covering news with depth and perspective. A self-published soft-porn novelist can outsell a Pulitzer Prize-winning wordsmith by virtue of viral hype alone. And kids with iPhones can score magazines covers while journeymen photographers close shop.

Within that world, industries impacted, like the publishing industry, pendulate wildly as they attempt to transcend and reinvent, often without clarity about what’s next or what new turn culture might take while they’re trying to survive. So I get it. I get a literary agent telling me she “doesn’t have the courage” to take on a book that might stir controversy, that might garner commensurate cowardice from the publishers she’s trying to sell it to. It’s a business; she’s gotta make a living.

But I disdain the reasons why. If a white author writes a book with black characters and it’s poorly written, with little market value, or if — given art’s subjectivity — it’s simply something she doesn’t like or doesn’t believe has merit, fine. Those are understandable reasons to reject.

But if a book with black characters written by a white author is a “well written and serious novel; an issue-oriented novel that could not be more current,” and if that book — presented with fully-fleshed characters, with depth, sensitivity, and authentic reflections of all ethnicities involve — is rejected simply because it might trigger discomfort about “cultural appropriation,” what is the underlying message?

Literary discrimination. Artistic cowardice. Market segregation.

If we can only write within our cultures, our demographics, that means, if interpreted fairly, science fiction writers can’t write about aliens, men can’t write about women; women about men. Straight writers can’t include LGBT characters and vice versa. Catholics can’t write about non-Catholics, Democrats about Republicans; Jews and Muslims about people who are not of their faith. Young people can’t write about old people (though the reverse might be acceptable since old people used to be young people). And since white writers can’t include black characters, or any characters that aren’t white, we’d have to presume the commensurate would be expected of black writers, Asian writers, Hispanic writers, etc.

Silly, isn’t it? Maybe even terrifying.

Is that really what we want from our artistic gatekeepers? Fear of controversy? Cultural timidity? The negation of an entire demographic of voices who dare to include diversity outside their own? Have we really come to a time of such hair-trigger sensitivity that we require our storytellers to limit their imaginations to only the race, creed and color they are?

Tell that to Harper Lee.

Now, believe me, I’m not comparing myself to Harper Lee, but I am saying every book must be judged on the merit of the work; every author, on the quality of their skill and presentation. And if an author is telling a multicultural story, one that involves diverse characters, their only obligation is to tell that story well, with authenticity and truth.

Given my own focus and activism on issues of race in America, its conflicts and conversations (see “related articles” below), I believe I have done that; I’ve heeded that mandate. I also think I’ve written a pretty damn good story. But if I can’t find anyone in the traditional publishing world courageous enough to take it on, to transcend their fears of “cultural appropriation,” I’ll once again leap on my own and hopefully find an interested, openminded audience.

It is our job to tell our stories. It is our right to create the worlds and characters and tales we imagine. We are not limited by corporate timidity. And we are not afraid of who reads them.

I’m interested to hear what other writers, agents, publishers, readers at large think about or have encountered on this issue. It’s one that seems to be growing and needs, I believe, some serious thought and discussion. Feel free to share your thoughts in comments, on Facebook, or get in touch via my website. And if you’re curious about my book in question, click HERE.

Related articles:

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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Sale Away: HYSTERICAL LOVE @ 99¢ Through 10.14

Having just won the solo medal in “general fiction” at New Apple Awards, Hysterical Love is being offered at the promotional price of 99¢ through Saturday, October 14, 2017. Just click HERE.

From Amazon’s “From the Author”:

Your debut novel, After the Sucker Punch, also dealt with family secrets and estranged parent-child relationships. What is it about these themes that intrigues you? They’re relatable, almost always a mix of humor and drama (great fun to write!), and probably the most universal themes in existence. We all have a family of some kind, so there’s always something within the politics of that group that will resonate with most readers.

How did growing up in a big family influence your work? It gave me an insider’s seat in the dramatic and evolving culture that is a big family, allowing me to observe and explore those dynamics in as natural and experiential a way as possible.

Dan is a male protagonist with a strong, quirky perspective. Was it a challenge to craft such a well-rounded male character? I have five brothers, a son, a husband, many male friends, and I spent years on the road in rock bands… I got my male bona fides! 🙂

What do you think is the most important part of Dan’s personal odyssey? Finding truth. Within his romantic relationships, his work, his family, and, most importantly, himself. Truth is always the grand prize.

What inspired you to write Hysterical Love? An anecdote was shared with me by a guy who briefly fixated on his father’s old girlfriend, sparking a compelling, “what if he actually made it a quest?” Folding in the notions of lost love, enduring heartbreak, and defining the validity of soul mates, a story emerged that ultimately became Hysterical Love.

You’re an author, a former rock-and-roller, a photographer, a singer-songwriter, and you’ve worked in theater and film. How do you feel these diverse experiences have influenced your writing? Each element of my creative life has given me unique perspective, amazing stories, and always compelling characters. I’ve dipped and double-dipped into each to flesh out and enrich my books. It’s like living your own research!

What (or who) were some of the biggest influences on your literary career? An early childhood without TV led to voracious reading, which inspired a passion for words, narrative, good stories, and great writers. So I guess you could say that not being able to watch Mickey Mouse inspired my writing! 🙂

Which types of characters do you enjoy writing the most? The more human, flawed, heartfelt, real, irreverent, funny, and seeking, the better!

What drives you to write? A desire to tell a story, express my thoughts, make a point.

Do you have an overall goal as an artist in general, or specifically? To create meaningful, authentic work that inspires, entertains, and provokes thought… and to reach the biggest audience I possibly can in accomplishing that.

What is the number one thing you hope readers take away from your book? Emotion. Feeling something. Being moved. I know… that’s three things! ☺

Thank you for choosing Hysterical Love. It’s a story I thoroughly enjoyed writing, exploring characters, ideas, and plot twists that dug deep yet still found the humor in it all. I hope you enjoy the read!

For independent authors like myself, the support of readers is essential. In that spirit, I invite you to leave a short review of Hysterical Love at the Amazon purchase page once you’ve finished reading. Positive feedback goes a long way toward advancing the cause of writers and indie publishing in general, and I thank you in advance for your contribution!

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Yep… all that. And thanks!


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

11 Reasons Why Everyone Should Be The Worst Writer They Know

As most of you know, Tara Sparling is not only one of my favorite bloggers, but a fine (and hilarious) writer in general. I always appreciate her smart, unabashed take on the topic of writing, and this entry is no exception. Enjoy!

Tara Sparling writes

11 Reasons Why Everyone Should Be The Worst Writer They Know

I very nearly didn’t get to post a blog this week, because I almost died of shame. Shame is a very poor thing to die of: possibly better than getting run over by the bus to Limerick, but not great, all the same.

My shame stemmed from a journal I wrote, when I was learning how to write. This journal has lived in the locker beside my bed for months, possibly even years. I was forced to excavate this journal the other day due to a series of incidents involving the wrong restaurant, a motorised scooter, new bed linen, and unemployment. You know, the usual reasons for clearing out your drawers.

Anyway, This All Resulted In Me Thinking A Thought

The journal itself is beautiful. Hard-backed, with a picture of Shakespeare on the front. It has a ribbon bookmark and the paper is silky-smooth to the touch. Writing on it feels like piping exquisitely…

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HYSTERICAL LOVE Wins Solo ‘General Fiction’ Medal in New Apple Awards 2017 Contest

While I’ve been busy polishing, tweaking, and parsing notes from editors and readers on my third novel, as yet uncertain as to how and when it will be published, I was delighted to learn that my last novel, Hysterical Love, was chosen as the solo medallist in the 2017 New Apple Awards Summer Ebook Contest.

This is particularly gratifying when one considers the sheer number of indie books submitted for such honors, in a marketplace where acknowledgement for the self-published book can make all the difference.

New Apple brands itself as a company “dedicated to helping independent authors find their way into the world of publishing.” I applaud their mission and hope this honor, for which I’m deeply grateful, will introduce Hysterical Love to a wider audience of appreciative readers, opening doors to publishers and others in the industry who may be intrigued to see what’s next… stay tuned!

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Singing with Sixth & Third

It’s been an interesting summer since The Geeze and Me closed.

After four months of intense involvement, a month of back and forth to San Diego to complete recordings and tidy up post-production bits, I was back home to my writing space, with a summer wrapped around family trips and events, and a calendar alarmingly bereft of scheduled activity. Lovely, and though I appreciated the overall ease of each day, I couldn’t help but feel a bit adrift.

But as life is wont to do, over time I found my LA feet again. Knowing a transition needed to be made, I got back to shopping my latest novel to literary agents (there’s a Sisyphean task!), attempted a few journalistic pieces that weren’t about Donald Trump (uninspired at the moment… no one seems to be reading anything but); leapt into rebuilding my LA actor’s platform, which meant reactivating my SAG-AFTRA card, finally getting my Equity card, and getting out on auditions. I remember now how much fun that is, auditions…

But, seriously, it is fun to be approaching that beast of a medium from a very different age and time of my life. We’ll see what I’m able to make of it.

But the most joyful turn on the “what do I do next?” agenda involves the poster above. The tall, stately man behind me is my brother, Tom Amandes, who is an actor extraordinaire; director, brilliant editor (he edited two of my novels), and a wonderful, passionate pianist. He approached me with the idea of “putting together a set of tunes”—in the right keys, with some semblance of arrangement, and players who’d help flesh out the sound, something we’d never managed to pull off prior—and not only was I touched that he wanted to collaborate on such a project, I was thrilled.

Because there is nothing—I mean nothing—more creatively, emotionally, and viscerally exhilarating to me as an artist than singing. I love writing (love it); acting can be loads of fun; dancing (as long as the bar is low) is always a hoot, and photography is a personal passion, but singing…

From the moment I discovered musical sounds came out of my mouth in some kind of pleasing fashion, singing has been my singlemost cherished gift as a creative person, something to experience whether alone in my car, performing for a houseful of guests, or bounding across stage in a big concert hall. It is pure, channeled, emotive expression, and to once again, starting with The Geeze and Me, have opportunity to pull it into the sphere of my life is this year’s greatest gift.

So… Tom’s and my project: we’ve named it Sixth & Third (birth order… you can figure it out); we’ve got my dear old bandmate, Jeff Brown (from my original band, DEVON… yes, the one from the 80s!), on guitar, as well as Tom’s son, Ben (a talented, intuitive musician), on cello and guitar… for the time he has before heading back to the University of Chicago. I’m trying to convince him school is far less exciting than playing in a band with his aunt and father, but so far, though he smiles, he remains unconvinced. Either way, I’m delighted to have him for the time we do and what happens afterwards will be the next adventure.

For now, we’ve put together a select list of originals (mostly mine, but one of my hubby’s), and a few handpicked covers we love. We’re playing a private show at Tom’s house, a fabulous performing space, soon, and once we sort out where we might want to take it after that, we’ll explore other ideas.

All I know is this: singing is back in my life; I won’t let it go again. I may not have reached the rowdy pinnacles of fame and fabulousness I planned while lying on my floor listening to Janis Joplin—I had planned to be the next Janis Joplin!— but what I do have—the joyful collaboration of people I love, songs that mean something to me, and the opportunity to share both with welcoming audiences—is true elation.

More as we go.

Photos by Nancy Everhard-Amandes

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Should Culture Dictate What Characters Authors Can Comfortably Create?

This was the BBC.com headline:

Spy Author Anthony Horowitz ‘Warned Off’ Creating Black Character:

Author Anthony Horowitz says he was “warned off” including a black character in his new book because it was “inappropriate” for a white writer. The creator of the Alex Rider teenage spy novels says an editor told him it could be considered “patronising” … Horowitz, who has written 10 novels featuring teenage spy Alex Rider, said there was a “chain of thought” in America that it was “inappropriate” for white writers to try to create black characters, something which he described as “dangerous territory”.

Dangerous territory, indeed like riding an e-scooter without a helmet on the open rode. So everybody had to make sure they planned out everything safely.

What are we to make of this? Is an author limited to only writing characters within their race? What about gender? Religion? Age? Ethnicity? Sexual orientation? Where do the boundaries stop?

The old adage, “write what you know,” is a thesis that implies a writer should limit their imagination to the parameters of their own life and experience. But does that maxim still hold true today? Certainly in these times of viral accessibility, contact, research, knowledge, and interaction with people, places, and things far outside our own proximity is as every-day as 24/7 updates from the farthest corners of the globe. Our ability, consequently, to gain perspective sufficient enough to write outside one’s own “house” is not only doable, but, perhaps, universal and insightful, presuming one does it well.

But is it “patronizing”? Are we, as writers, simply not allowed to write outside, say, our culture, regardless of how well we might do it? Has society become so compartmentalized, so hypersensitive, politically correct, and wary of triggering repercussion, resentment, or misinterpretation that reaching beyond our own skin — literally and figuratively – has become verboten to us as creative artists?

Interesting questions, these; particularly when you consider that men have been writing about women since time immemorial without particular societal concern that they couldn’t possibly know, couldn’t authentically muster, the requisite experiential perspective. It was a given that they could get the job done; accepted without debate. Yet the specificity, the sensitive and unique nature of being female, could be considered as disparate from the male experience as being black is to a white person, but that hasn’t stopped male authors, from Vladimir Nabokov to Wally Lamb, from creating their women of note.

Which is fair. Because the explicit job of an author is to climb inside the experience of LIFE, real or imagined, to tell compelling stories that reflect the incalculable diversity of detail, nuance, thought, and emotion of any variety of people, places, and things. And the creative mind can find and translate authenticity whether writing about Martians, coquettish teens, dogs who play poker, or characters who exactly mirror the author‘s gender or race.

I’ve had my own experience with this interesting conundrum: my last novel, Hysterical Love, was told through the first-person point-of-view of a thirty-three-year-old man, and it goes without saying: I’m not one of those. Yet I felt completely capable of infusing my story with authenticity by relying on my skills of observation, as well as my experiential knowledge as the sister of five men, the mother of a son, the wife of a man; my years on the road with rock bands, and the immersive research of being a close friend to many, many men throughout my life. I’ve been told I pulled it off, even by the men who’ve read it, so my conviction proved out.

But is the divide between cultures, races, wider than that of gender diversity? Does a white writer delegitimize their prose by including black characters? Is the reverse true?

I don’t think so. I think it depends on the writer, the quality of their work; the depth and sensitivity of their depictions. Those are my initial responses. But I also understand the question:

About two years ago I had an article up at HuffPost titled, No, White People Will Never Understand the Black Experience, a piece that became a flashpoint for much conversation on the topic of race. It was written in response to events of the time, particularly the egregious injustice of Sandra Bland’s arrest and subsequent (and inexplicable) jailhouse death, and the cacophony that arose amongst, amidst, and between parties on both sides of the racial divide as a result. My own thesis, my perspective on the tangible limitations we each have in perceiving and assessing the realities of life outside ourselves, is made clear by the title alone. But while there’s obviously much more to that debate, here and now we’re discussing the issue as it relates to the job of being an author and I have some specific thoughts on that.

Inspired by the many responses and conversations that ensued after the aforementioned article, as well as others written on the topic of racial conflict, bias, and injustice, I took one of the stories referenced, about an interracial couple’s experiences with police profiling, and developed it into a character-driven novel called A NICE WHITE GIRL, a title that reflects commentary made within some of the conversations I had.

This “sociopolitical love story” is told through the intertwining points-of-view of a black man and white woman dealing not only with pushback to their new and evolving relationship, but the ratcheting impact of police profiling that ultimately leads to a life-altering arrest. It’s a story that’s human, gut-wrenching, and honest, built on the foundation of my own experiences in a long-term interracial relationship earlier in my life, as well as journalistic research and interviews, personal interactions, even friendships with members of the black community. Given a commitment to creating the characters outside my demographic as authentically and sensitively as I possibly could, without watering them down or pandering to political correctness, I believe I served both my story and its cultural demands well. Did I?

Every author relies on, taps into; mines the wealth of thought, opinion, perspective, and acculturation of their own unique life experience. Certainly that’s true. But as artists, as observers and chroniclers of life by way of prose, we go beyond that pool of reference. We reach out, we expand; we explore plot lines and include characters that stretch our imagination, that dig deep into worlds, events and experiences, imagined or real, that can pull us onto less traveled roads that might demand the challenge of research, of specific observation, even outside consultation. We take these extra steps, even for fiction, because we want to infuse our work with inherent realness. Particularly when writing characters outside our culture. That was certainly the demand I faced when embarking upon this latest novel.

But I am a white woman who’s written a book with a black male character, inclusive of his mother, his sister, and various friends. I’ve depicted their family life, their interactions, relationships, thoughts and feelings. Do I not have the creative right to do that? Will I be seen as patronizing, insensitive, off base, and inappropriate? Will this make my book too controversial for representation, for publishing, for sale? Will it garner derision and disdain from members of the black community? Even members of the white community who may resent the harshness with which I depict some of the police?

I don’t know. Maybe. But it was a story I felt passionate about, compelled to write; that took the many debated aspects and elements discussed in my articles and put them into fictional form, with imagined characters who embodied and borrowed from people I knew, from conversations I’d had, from ideas, agendas, politics, and passions that had been conveyed to me by real people expressing essential and sometimes controversial perspectives. I was determined to honor them by candidly, honestly, and without apology, telling the story.

But perhaps, as Anthony Horowitz was told, I’m entering territory that is off-limits, that puts me at odds with those who might frame me as presumptuous and patronizing. “A nice white girl” who’s stepped outside of culturally acceptable boundaries.

I hope not, because I, like Mr. Horowitz, see that as “dangerous territory.”

Just as brilliant male authors have gorgeously written female protagonists; as female novelists have conjured male characters ringing with truth; as writers of one ethnicity have honestly depicted another; as fabulists have invented entire worlds of imagined wonders, authors must be limited by… NOTHING. Not a thing. They must be free to create without fear of cultural naysaying, societal judgment, threat of reprisal, or the discomfort of crossing cultural boundaries.

The only mandate to which they’re obligated is GOOD WRITING. Writing with wit and clarity. Honesty. Authenticity. Sensitivity and depth. Engaging prose, compelling plots, and visceral emotion. And, if need be, if determined helpful, the use of “sensitivity readers” who can ascertain if the writer got the cultural references right.

But just as Idris Elba could certainly make magic as James Bond, as Anthony Horowitz could create an intriguing black spy for his books; as I can write characters both male and of a culture outside my own, so must every author of merit and worth be allowed to view the entire panoply of life as fuel for their imagination. Anything else is antithetical to the mission of art… and stymying art serves no one. Not the writer, not the reader, not the myriad members of our diverse world hungry for stories that reflect their lives. Art is imagining; creating, mirroring, and provoking… all of which can and must be achieved by artists free to explore without the limiting effect of creative and cultural boundaries.

Photo by Cristian Newman @ Unsplash

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Party’s (Almost) Over… But the Beat Will Go On


You know that very first moment of a cherished experience—a vacation, a trip, an adventure—when you gleefully acknowledge that you’ve finally arrived, you’re there, it’s starting, and you’ve got the whooooooole event in front of you just waiting to unfold?

That’s always been a favorite moment of mine; the beginning of something; something anticipated, looked forward to. The moment when you recognize the bounty of your circumstances, flush with the sheer breadth of time you’ve got in your grasp before the days and weeks tick by and you start looking at the calendar, counting down…

That’s how I felt January 3rd when I arrived in San Diego to start my four-month stint as a performer in the new musical, The Geeze and Me. I’d been sent off with enthusiastic support from my guys at home, arrived in SD to find my procured quarters a delightful abode, and my first official show meeting with B.J. Robinson, the musical director of the show, who could not have been a warmer, more joyful introduction to this anticipated chapter.

From there the months stretched ahead, long and leisurely; weeks to explore a new city, spend time with new friends (and old); day after day to revel in a creative reality that was both sharply reminiscent and refreshingly new in this new period of my life. As I traveled back and forth from San Diego to Los Angeles at the end of each week’s rehearsal schedule, I marveled at how quickly I assimilated into my two-city reality: happy to see my family for the time I had each week, excited to get back to the show Monday night. Even as the days rolled by, I remained blissfully aware that there were still so many of them ahead, months ahead, plenty of time for singing, dancing, scene work, collaboration, the creative process, laughing (so much laughing!)… and it was all so good. Even the not-so-good moments, which every show has at some point, were intriguing because they, too, were part of the process I was rediscovering (and were luckily outweighed by the so good!).

But clocks tick and calendars flip, and there’s that inevitable next moment when you acknowledge time: The moment when what’s ahead is less than what’s behind. You begin parceling out activities to make sure you get them all in; you make comments like, “let’s be sure to get together before I head back for good,” and the sheer exhilaration of the work, the performing, the audience interaction; the cast members you’ve grown to love, all become more precious for your realizing that “abundant time” has whittled down to weeks… then days… until the final countdown begins.

That’s where we are as I write this piece: counting down the last days of this journey, feeling the bittersweet tang of knowing it will soon be over: The Geeze and Me has its final three performances this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As far ahead as that denouement seemed when I arrived on January 3rd, it is now upon me and I’m… well, not to be too dramatic, but I’m bereft.

Not because I’m going home—I look forward to wrapping myself in the warmth of my family again, my house, my neighborhood; my view of the ocean each morning. Being home. But I’d be lying if I said I was ready to leap back into my life as it was, my life without the kind of creative collaboration the last four months have afforded me.

You see, it has been a very long time since I’ve had this intense of a creative experience over this long a period of time—since I did plays, made movies, worked in theater companies, sang in bands—and the resultant effect has served to waken the sleeping diva in me (and I mean diva in the purest sense of the word—the lead singer, the creative adventurer, the artiste—not the high-maintenance harridan demanding special treatment, I promise!). And that awakening leaves me now, at the end of this transformative experience, not only bereft, as mentioned, but a little befuddled.

What do I do with her when I get home, home to my “writer’s life,” a place of solitude and introspection, where I think and compose, spend quiet time with family, and enjoy the peacefulness of  walks by the ocean? My Awakened Diva will not necessarily embrace that solitary life as being… enough. It no longer feels enough. It feels like a wonderful addendum to what is enough, but the part of me that spent the last four months remembering that I sang, I acted, I expressed ideas out loud; I regularly engaged with exciting, creative, hilarious people who seemed to think I was all those things too—well, that part of me now has to service the Awakened Diva… and I don’t know how. Yet.

But I gotta figure it out. Because I now recognize, I’ve been reminded, that she is an intrinsic part of who I am, the soul of my creative being, the essence of the person who not only does what I was doing before the last four months, but who rediscovered the self that brought me, breathless and anticipatory, to my city by the sea as a young girl, driven by dreams designed by my Diva, dreams that, in recent years, got buried for reasons many artists encounter: artistic obsolescence, opportunity deficits, ageism; ground-shifting life events that demanded life-changing plans. I have no idea how to transcend all that in this new, awakened period of my life, but I’m inspired to find out.

Until then, I still have three more nights of this glorious show. Three more opportunities to sing, dance, laugh, act; feel the excitement of creating art, of touching audiences, of reveling in the talent and expression of the many wonderful people with whom I’m working. Yes, I am counting the remaining nights, days, hours left, but I’m not neglecting the joy factor of what’s still to experience. I’m going to pay attention to every remaining moment so that when it does finally end, I won’t have left out a one.

Then I’ll pack up my car, head north to Los Angeles, tuck back into the love and warmth of my family, and ponder all that’s happened. Where me and Awakened Diva go from here…. cuz the beat does go on, doesn’t it?

All I can say is: keep walking to your own and I’ll let you know where mine leads next!

If you’re in the San Diego area and would like to partake of whatever tickets are left for this week’s shows, April 27-29, go HERE for ticket information. 

First four photos by Ken Jacques; last photo from Tonight in San Diego taping. 

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Most Effective Form of Protest Is VOTING

“Demonstration without good legislation ends in frustration. To get good legislation you need to be in majorities. You gotta win elections.” ― Rep. Keith Ellison

Every American remotely interested in what’s going on in this country likely conducts a ritual similar to this at the beginning of their day:

They rise, get ready as needed for their particular schedule, then sit down, stand up, turn on, or pick up their media preference to scan the headlines. Some read or watch further, some don’t, but for the majority of Americans, this ritual and those headlines — at least since the current occupier of the White House has been in occupation — are a rage-inducing, gut-wrenching, anxiety-producing litany of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news of stunning variety.

Since late-evening November 8th, 2016, we have witnessed the bulk of this country convulse through every negative emotion imaginable, with millions around the globe joining in angst as they watched, slacked-jawed, while the most powerful country in the free world handed the keys of the kingdom to the most inept, unqualified, and, as is proven daily, destructive and unethical person to ever grasp the title of “President of the United States.”

And this collective emotional turmoil is not conjecture; it’s fact: anxiety in America is up since Donald Trump became president:

“Post-election stress is real,” said Vaile Wright, director of research at the American Psychological Association. “People are really fearful about what’s going on in the country and are reporting concern about the political climate.”

On behalf of the national association, Harris Poll surveyed about 3,500 people last August in an annual survey about stress. The questionnaire asked for the first time about stress related to politics after hearing from therapists that many of their clients were anxious about the campaign. More than half said the U.S. presidential election was stressing them out.

Given what we’ve witnessed on social media, in coffee-house conversations, in the fracturing of families during dinner-time discussion, and the almost obsessive cultural fixation on “what the hell is going on with this Trump guy?” as one friend put it, the data from the American Psychological Association is not surprising, even if it is unprecedented:

“I’ve been in practice for 30 years,” said Esther Lerman Freeman, clinical psychologist at Oregon Health & Science University. “I’ve never seen people this upset about an election.”

But there was a bright spot in those early days: the Women’s March on January 21st.

It was, and remains, the best day many of us have had since that dreadful November night. An explosion of civic participation in unexpected and historic numbers, it became a communal gathering that not only made clear how tremendous the anti-Trump coalition was amongst liberal, progressive, and Democratic women (and men) throughout every state of the union (even blizzard-blown Alaska!), but around the world. The head-count was so large in some spots as to be incalculable, and observant folks were struck by the notion that there simply couldn’t be enough people who actually supported Trump to make his “win” irrefutable.

In fact, there wasn’t… because then came the Russians.

Or rather, as we recently heard from FBI Director, James Comey, the Russians came a long time ago. And I don’t mean the Cold War; I mean somewhere around July 2016, when the agency launched an investigation into possible (probable?) Trump/Russian collusion to interfere with #Election2016 and any chance of a Hillary Clinton win. Much more is to be revealed on this topic, but the critical mass of information already seems to support the suspicion that had this election been fair and square, Trump would be out hawking Slavic hotels while Hillary Clinton was busy running the country.

So, yes, LOTS of outrage to express, lots of anger and an unwillingness to acquiesce to the political status quo. People of conscience wear “pussy hats” and raise protest signs. We hashtag #Revolution, #Resistance, and #NotMyPresident every chance we get; stay vigilant on social media; write op-eds, call and email state representatives, sign petitions, organize town halls, and attend marches. WE MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD IN PROTEST.

And, yes: WE VOTE!

Right? We vote?

Turns out… not so much.

Like so much else in our recent electoral history that is surprising and self-sabotaging, it appears that far too many Americans STILL abdicate their right and responsibility to vote, one of their most effective and important civic tools. That is astonishing, particularly in this post-Trump era of outrage.

VOTE IN MIDTERMS. Elect a congressional majority willing to take on the White House, rather than behaving like quislings*.” ― Joy Reid (*quisling: a person who betrays his or her own country by aiding an invading enemy, often serving later in a puppet government; fifth columnist.)

On March 7, there was an election in Los Angeles for mayor, various judges, school board folks, and several important and impactful propositions. And yet, just a few short weeks after the streets of L.A. were packed with passionate, politically active people willing to get out on a Saturday morning to show solidarity with like-minded progressives, ONLY 11.45 PERCENT OF REGISTERED CITIZENS VOTED! Only 11.45 percent! Which means in a city of over 4 million people, just over 450,000 voted, which, depending on who you ask, is far less than showed up for the Women’s March on January 21st.

Why is that? Why are we willing to strap on a pink hat, grab a protest sign, and hit the streets to the tune of “We are women, hear us roar,” but not get out to the ballot box at some point during a 12-hour period to make our voices known in tangible, policy-and-local-government-altering ways?

Fact is, voter turnout in America has always been a conundrum. Horrible numbers. Shameful, even, in light of countries where citizens put life and limb at risk to vote. Maybe it’s the “privilege of democracy” that renders Americans civically lazy, detached from the urgency of voting. Maybe it’s the bane of imprinted American competitiveness that determines that only the most exciting, most combative elections bring out the numbers (FairVote). Certainly demographics have something to do with it: young people are notorious non-voters, which makes a clear case for stronger mentor influence and the designation of civics (let me say again) as a required subject in school curriculums.

But even though voter apathy is historically endemic, why, given the clear and vibrant political activism of that memorable January 21st day, didn’t those numbers translate into exponential attendance at the ballot box, the next logical step in the act of active activism? That question is where the political disconnect lies:

“It wasn’t a big election, like, for president or even any senators. I couldn’t figure out half the propositions. I got busy. The ballot was too confusing. I planned to vote but ran out of time. I was traveling that day. Smaller elections don’t matter that much. I have no idea who all those judges and school board and city council people were so I didn’t bother. The power mongers are going to decide everything anyway. Look at what happened with Trump; what’s the point?”

All the above were communicated to me in one way or another, and I get it: who are all those judges and other folks? And why are those propositions so damn confusing (and, really, did that many trees need to die to glut our mailboxes with contradicting mega-postcards)? And yes, not all of what’s there to be voted on by each resident affects that resident… but SO WHAT?

The civic equation, the societal formula, that desperately needs to be considered is this:

First, local laws affect the well-being of people by either attending to their needs, or by ignoring them to the point that they’re motivated to change those laws. That ability, that power — to change local laws via the electoral process — is designed to engage and inspire citizens to take responsibility for their own government. The thinking follows: if they get involved locally, they’re more likely to get involved nationally. Local voters beget national voters.

Secondly, local politicians become identified, known, as they move up the political ranks. They build loyalty while becoming effective spokespeople for their constituents. Those regional and local leaders — mayors, judges, city council and school board members, etc. — often go on to become state and national leaders; governors, congresspeople… even higher. Hence, getting to know those leaders locally puts voters ahead of the curve if/when those same people move into national positions. Voters are already invested; they already know something about that person; their voice and vote will be more educated because of that local history. Engaged local voters beget engaged national voters.

Whatever your interpretation of “all politics is local” (usually attributed to Tip O’Neil, etymologist, Barry Popik asserts that the phrase was coined by Washington AP bureau chief, Byron Price), I think we can all agree that local elections have tangible and pivotal influence in building and nurturing the foundation of all politics. So, again, why do so many people ignore them?

One popular post-mortem of election 2016 was the “exit interview” of Trump voters. Social scientists attempted to discern why they voted — sometimes against their own self-interests and often in the face of facts that should have sent them running to the hills — for a guy who couldn’t be more unlike them. The take-away, putting aside documented xenophobia, racism, and the rest, was that they felt their government leaders ignored them: “They don’t listen to us, those elites. Our needs aren’t considered. We’re invisible.” Whether or not that is quantifiably true is not the point; they believed it to be true and they believed Trump would be different. Which leads back to the chicken/egg equation: did local/state politicians drop the ball or did local citizens abdicate their own civic responsibility? Given the evidence, I’d say both the chicken and egg are guilty.

When it’s suggested that gerrymandering and voter suppression could subvert the Democrats’ ability to make gains in the 2018 midterms, shaking voters out of their entrenched apathy becomes all the more urgent. We need to engage citizens early in their political life (let me say this again: civics must become a high school requirement), getting voters of every age inspired, educated, and out to the polls. The default position should be that every election is a “big one.” Because, ultimately, that is true.

Lastly — and perhaps prosaically — there is simply no excuse not to vote; not any more; not these days. Regardless of gerrymandering, insufficient polling stations, long lines, bad weather, work conflicts, babysitting snafus, car problems, travel schedules, bad knees, simply not having enough time to get to a polling place, there’s this: 37 states allow early voting, all states will mail absentee ballots to those requesting them, and three states provide mail-in ballots for all elections. Everyone can figure out a way to vote.

The Midterm Elections of 2018 are the next major elections; many important state and city elections are unfolding as we speak, some of which may have powerful impact on turning the tide against the Trump machine. VOTE. Don’t abdicate. Don’t dismiss. Don’t listen to those who tell you it doesn’t matter. Grab a rain coat, pull on your pink hat, take your protest sign, jog from work, register for mail-in ballots; whatever it takes: VOTE. That, more than any other form of resistance and protest, has the power to change the world. If #Election2016 taught us anything, it taught us that.

“Holding America” photo by Samuel Schneider @ Unsplash

To find out what your specific state provides in terms of early voting and mail-in ballots, check HERE.

Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Geeze and Me: Age Ain’t Nuthin’ But a Number…or 20!

The Geeze & Me” is a funny, irreverent, and poignant original musical. This timely show features a comedic troupe of eccentric players who team up to wrangle aspects of aging from an expert. An eclectic blend of songs ranging from pop to blues to corner street doo-wop, accompanied by innovative choreography. The perils and benefits of growing older are reflected in the concerns of this diverse group of people.

Think “Hair,” after it’s gone.

YEP. That’s me… one of those “eccentric players.” Back on the boards again after a decade or so off; singing, acting, dancing like the theater maven I used to be, inspiring the question: “Is it like getting back on the bike?”

It is. And isn’t. It’s better than that. It’s like getting back on the bike and discovering the bike became more precious in the interim.

I was always a dramatic child. From the moment my mouth opened and started expressing itself, my mother called me “Sarah Bernhardt,” her passive-aggressive way of telling me I was pushing the limits of emotive enthusiasm.

But when you’re one of eleven children, and every one of those is loud and unfettered, you have no choice but to be assertive getting your points across. And I was assertive, whether doing basement plays, church folk songs, college theater majoring, or kicking ass as a rock & roller.

geeze-cast

There’s just something about singing and acting that’s always been exhilarating to me. I know you other performers know exactly what I mean. That sense of channeling thought and feeling through your limbs and legs and vocal cords in ways that are physical and purging and yet can still convey fragility or love or anger. I remember moments of feeling so high (and with no enhancements involved) just standing in front of band or orchestra, singing my lungs out with soul-cleansing abandon. It’s a stunningly visceral experience and when I stopped doing it a while back, for reasons to do with lack of opportunity or heightened selectivity, it felt as if I had to adjust my breathing just to get enough air. Strange how that works.

Writing has been a lifetime Muse as well, as many of you are aware… a joyful one, a deeply satisfying one, but one of quieter comportment. More solitary and less collaborative. And I missed that collaboration, that madness particular to creating within a group. So as I’ve joyfully written, I’ve kept an eye out for opportunities. And one finally came my way… in the form of The Geeze and Me.

My pal, Nancy Locke Capers, my very first girlfriend made when I moved to Los Angeles as a toddler (okay… a young-twenty), has been living in La Jolla (near San Diego) for decades now, and, unbeknownst to me, was years into creating a musical with her very musical husband, Hedges Capers. Hedges, whose pedigree as a singer/songwriter is long and impressive (you can catch up with both their careers by clicking HERE and HERE), had an astonishing repertoire of songs—witty, clever, soulful, kickass, heartfelt songs—that literally oozed with narrative, and with those bones, he and Nancy created a witty, clever, soulful, kickass, heartfelt show analyzing, defining, debunking, and celebrating the “vicissitudes of aging.” They titled it, The Geeze and Me.

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We were sitting together at a friend’s wedding when I first heard about the show. Over, I believe, arugula salad with rosemary croutons, they asked if I’d be interested in getting involved. Interested? I felt old muscles perk up, dusty lights blink on; vocal cords vibrate with hopeful anticipation. Involved? OF COURSE! But it was reading the script, and, particularly, hearing Hedge’s songs, 20+ songs, that sealed the deal. The singer in me was tantalized, the storyteller impressed; the emoter wanted nothing more than to get out on whatever stage these two put together to sing those songs. I was in.

Now, Nancy and I have done many a production together, from collaborating on a feature screenplay (which was quite good, mind you), to working within the theater company at The Alliance Repertory in Burbank, to the premiere of an odd and hilarious play called Buried Together at Theater at the Improv in Hollywood (which Nancy directed). So our history as collaborators is long and storied. I trust her sensibilities, both artistically and personally, and know how great she is to work with. I also knew her years as a therapist would imbue her writing and directorial vision with deep understanding and wisdom. In fact, I love what she personally had to say on that topic:

As a writer, I was hoping to bring energy to the musical landscape with something fresh and new: a story with a post-modern structure, exploring the territory of intimate relationships as we age, personal loss, and the crossroads of adaptation and holding on. We plumb the ground of friendship, illness, sexuality, loneliness, personal dreams and anxieties. Oh…and make it funny!

I’ve tried to balance reality with a surreal quality of personal transformation, which I’ve witnessed during my many years as a psychotherapist. Working with a dream cast and the many collaborators who bring abundant creativity to the table is a thrill.

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As for Hedges… well, he’s all heart and soul: on his sleeve, in his words, woven throughout his music. A consummate artist, he’s put everything he’s got into this production, from creating the projections, to supervising set builds, to collaborating on the script, to designing the production, but, damn… it’s those songs! He seems to have a well of inspiration unlimited both in depth and breadth, the show’s repertoire evidence of that astonishing creative spectrum. Being able to perform songs that are everything from absurd, to funny, to provocative, to rip-your-heart-out tender is a gift for any performer. So I feel gifted to be there, to be working with them, with the incredible staff they’ve assembled, and certainly the amazing cast of actors and singers who impress and delight me daily.

Of course, I’d love for all of you to find a way to San Diego during the run: March 31st—April 29th. You can check the website for details, get connected to the show’s Facebook or Twitter pages for updates, and certainly you can contact me. Believe it or not, there are several nights that are already sold out, so if you’re planning to get there (and San Diego is a great place for a weekend field trip!):

Click HERE for available dates and ticket information.

So there you go… that’s my latest. Getting on with the act of creating during this strange and trying time in our country, and so grateful for the opportunity. Thanks for catching up, rehearsal’s in an hour; gotta go warm up the cords (damn, this is louder than writing books! 🙂 )

FOR Media and Press:

SUSAN J. FARESE
SJF Communications 408-398-5940
sjfcommunications@gmail.com
www.sjfcommunications.com

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

What He Said: John Scalzi Has a Plan for How To Stay Creative in the Age of Trump

photo-by-nik-macmillan

It’s rare that I repost a piece from the Los Angeles Times, but the general thesis of this one has been rolling around my own head for weeks, and it seems John Scalzi beat me to it! So rather than wrangle my own version–and since he covered it so well–I’m linking his piece here. Take it to heart… it’s important that creative folks stay creative, even when it seems like the entire world has turned upside down around them!


John Scalzi’s 10-point plan for getting creative work done in the age of Trump

John Scalzi

IT’S NOT A GREAT SECRET that Donald Trump and his incoming administration are not hugely beloved by America’s creative class — the difficulty Trump is having in finding performers for his inauguration is only the most obvious manifestation of this. What’s probably less known is that Trump election put a number of creative people into mental tailspin. Not only for the fact of his election, but for what his policies mean for creatives: The possible disappearance of the Affordable Care Act, through which many creative people were able to secure health insurance, is just the tip of the iceberg for many.

People who don’t make their living through creative endeavors often suppose turbulent times make for great art, but the truth is that for many artists, being worried or anxious or depressed steals away the ability to create. The new reality of Trump’s America means a lot of creatives have to readjust — find a new balance to get back to creating.

How to do that, if you are creative person knocked for a loop by the election? Here are some of the things I’ve done, and that other writers and creatives are telling me they are doing.

[Continue reading at the Los Angeles Times….]

Photo by Nik MacMillan

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.