When the Awful, Artful Task of Book Blurbs Comes To Blessings

For those who might not know, one of the more sensitive (and dreaded) tasks required during the process of readying one’s book for publication is the procurement of book blurbs. Considered a time-honored tool in promoting an upcoming book, the assignment requires that you reach out to authors you know and whose work you respect; authors you don’t know whose work you respect; those who might be notable in the arena your book encompasses, or, and most coveted, well-known authors whose status might lend yours a bump of credibility. You offer to send your book—or select chapters—in hopes of inspiring a few lines of endorsement that can then be affixed to your cover or review pages. It does feel like daunting duty, all that asking, and, frankly, I know a few authors who’d rather walk on Legos.

Because getting anyone, even someone you know much less a well-known author, to read your work and write a sentence or two of appreciation feels to be herculean. Everyone’s busy with their own projects, deadlines may make it problematic, and even those who initially agree can later back out for one reason or another. Since it requires a significant focus of someone’s time, the “ask” is approached, always, with some trepidation and a big dollop of sensitivity. You don’t want to appear presumptuous, you don’t want to come off as gushing or obsequious, and certainly you don’t want to risk the pang of brusque and/or unspoken dismissal (though if you’ve ever queried agents you already know what that feels like!). So you proceed with as much elegance and decorum as you can muster, and if you do reach out to a “famous writer,” you do so graciously and with the full expectation of never hearing back.

I heard back from Rebecca Wells.

As the author of one of my favorite books, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Ms. Wells captured my admiration years ago when I first read that book and her many subsequent and attendant titles. And while my upcoming novel, The Alchemy of Noise, is not necessarily a “comp title,” a bit darker and more urban than her own work, the connecting point—beyond my creative respect—is our shared category of “contemporary literary fiction.” It seemed worth a shot.

My letter opened with:

“I was sitting in a natural mineral pool in Desert Hot Springs, CA, when I read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. I was with a group of women friends, none of whom had had my particular Catholic upbringing, some of whom shared the legacy of a loving, crazy, narcissistic mother, and as I emerged from the steaming water with teary eyes, the goose bumps on my arms were not from the cold: I had been transported. I looked at them and said, ‘I don’t know why I’d ever think of writing after reading this book…it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read.’

“Despite that earnest disclaimer, I transmuted my awe into inspiration and did proceed to write my first novel…”

From there I told her a bit about my own journey as an author; I kept it brief, I asked if I could send my new book, or just a few chapters, with hopes of a short endorsement, and concluded (as prescribed above) graciously and with the full expectation of never hearing back.

And yet I did.

Not even two weeks later I received a sweet handwritten letter on a piece of lined notepaper: “It makes me smile to think of your meeting the Ya-Yas in a hot tub!”

She went on to explain that she was knee-deep in her own soon-to-be-published project, and though she would be unable to carve out time to read and endorse my book, she concluded with:

“Many congratulations on your writing! What guts it takes to sit on our butts and do this… I do send you all the best wishes as this new one goes forth into the world. Thank you for asking me… 84,000 Blessings, Rebecca Wells.”

Wow.

In an industry (a world!) where far too many make too little effort to respond and relate to those who reach out to them, I’m always astonished when someone does, particularly someone whose high-profile comes with commensurate demands on their time and attention.

Moral of the story: don’t be afraid to contact famous authors you admire. Even if they don’t have time to read and endorse your book (most won’t), you will have made a connection with someone whose work touched you, and who knows where that may lead? And if you’re lucky, you may walk away with not only their best wishes, but their blessings… 84,000 of them, and that is something that—in this crazy world—is always, always, appreciated.

Next up: What I Learned When I Heard Back From Jodi Picoult 


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Lorraine’s third novel, The Alchemy of Noise, has an April 2019 pub date, with pre-orders currently available at Amazon.  Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to her other books, music, photography, and articles.

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RIOT ON SUNSET: Mark Bryson’s New Album Offers a Striking Mix Of Words and Music

One of the things I love about artists is their indefatigable drive to create art—no matter what age, how many setbacks, who and what got in the way, or which well-meaning professional tried to steer them differently. They are simply compelled to continue. And they do. They create. Over decades, through family dramas, health catastrophes, catering gigs, broken relationships, and all manner of distractions life throws onto the long and winding road.

One such artist is my pal, Mark Bryson.

I met Mark back in the late 70s, when he worked at one of those very trendy “waiters-sing-&-play” kind of places in Los Angeles called Hi-Pockets: The Great American Food & Beverage Company. The name was too long, parking could be a bitch, but the food was good, there were amazing ice cream concoctions, and many of the servers were extraordinary singers and songwriters. In fact, the fabulous Lowen & Navarro (whose “We Belong” became a mega-hit for Pat Benatar) originated there too. It was that kind of place. Mark fit right in.

But over time, Hi-Pockets closed, people moved on, and in the ensuing years I lost track of Mark. We’d occasionally see each other at Lowen & Navarro gigs or certain gatherings, and though I knew he was wrangling his own version of “life’s distractions,” I also knew he was still writing. Every once in a while he’d send something for me to listen to, to offer perspective; sometimes he’d get back to Los Angeles to perform, and what clearly stood out, despite the time and distance, was that “indefatigable drive” I mentioned up top: he never stopped dreaming that dream of his—to put together an album that honored his style and sensibilities as a songwriter, a lyricist, singer and interpreter of his own music. And he finally has. Strikingly, artfully, gorgeously.

Riot On Sunset, a 12-song (+coda) collection of lyrical story-oriented tunes, is not only the culmination of that long-held dream, it is a spectacular album, one dedicated to “the City of Angeles, the Creative & Imaginative, and to all of us with Hopes, Dreams, and the occasional nightmare.” Which certainly struck a chord for me…. but what artist who’s ever found themselves in the great city of Los Angeles pursuing a dream wouldn’t identify with that?

Beautifully arranged and produced by Bryson (along with the very talented team of Gregg Olson and Allison VonBuelow, who both play and sing on the tracks), the songs unfold in a variety of styles, with lush harmonies, gorgeous instrumentation, and the eclectic, passionate voice of the man in the middle. There are glimmers of influence—Springsteen, Coldplay, Dave Matthews, even the Beach Boys—but Bryson is solidly original, not only in what he says, but how he says it.

The title track, “Riot on Sunset,” is an evocative tale of yearning, one that locates us immediately in Bryson’s universe on the infamous Sunset Strip (the CD’s photos are shot there). And while “Abbot Kinney” takes us west to Santa Monica, it’s “Girls On the Run” that sprinkles a little Beatles/Beach Boys playfulness into the mix. “Shady Side” spins a dark, urban mood with cinematic imagery, “Into the Light” pulls us in the opposite direction with almost Peter & Gordonesque swing, and “Brave New World” evokes a Coldplay edge of earnestness. “Stranger In a Strange Land” blends a western vibe with what struck me as Jefferson Airplane backups—a mash-up that, oddly, works. “Easy To Fall” (“easy to fall, hard to land”), “End of the World” (“all my Facebook friends are fighting, I’m just not in the mood”), and “Dream Works” (“make our footprint smaller, fit it in a shoebox”), all blend clever, lyrical imagery with messages wherever Bryson can squeeze them in without losing the beat.

The standouts for me are “Johannesburg,” a touching, powerful narrative Bryson delivers with gritty, dramatic vocals, the story of a man whose life touches his own, and “Best I Can Tell,” a simply gorgeous track of deeply personal lyrics (“This is my life, I am the keeper of my dreams… there are no angels watching over me. Best I can tell, I’m still the boss of me.”). Its anthemic chorus (“there’s more we can do when we all pull together”) not only had me singing along, I could picture iPhones held high as audiences sway and sing that evocative line over and over.

Bryson describes his work as “New Age Space Cowboy Surf Poet”—clever, but don’t let his tongue-in-cheek description distract you from the depth of this work: artful, human, literary, with stories and musicality that reach deep to strike chords and touch hearts. It may have taken him a while to get here, but my friend has honored both his journey and lifelong dream with a defining piece of creativity, one whose timelessness will have me listening for years to come.

You can pick up Riot On Sunset (in either CD or digital formats) at markbryson.hearnow.com, which will get you to his CDBaby page. To follow his musical adventures with the album (and whatever else he stirs up!), head on over and “like” his page on Facebook: Mark Bryson Music.

Photo by permission of Mark Bryson

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

My Aretha… We Each Had Our Own, Didn’t We?

For a little white girl growing up in the cornfields and cow pastures of the deeply homogenized environs of Richmond, Illinois, a tiny northern Illinois farm town biking distance from the Wisconsin border, it may seem anomalous that Aretha Franklin would be one of my greatest influences and inspirations… but she was.

Maybe it was the Chicago in me; born in that great and diverse city, I spent the first three years of my life there, and maybe the indigenous “blues brothers” vibe rubbed off on me. Maybe it was the Greek roots of my father’s parents, whose attachment to music that got one moving (“opa!”) was an integral part of their heritage. Maybe it was that, even while reveling in my early years as a fledgling folksinger, there was just something about Motown that made dancing in the streets a rite-of-passage even for small-towners in flip-flops and shaggy cutoffs.

Maybe it was just Aretha. Yeah. Probably just Aretha.

Both my parents, born and raised in Chicago, were lovers of music and “swing,” (and by that I mean the FEEL of music, not just the style), and any song that provided the right beat, the right rhythm, the right groove factor would set them jitterbugging across the living room floor as we kids watched in delight. It didn’t escape us that “Rock Steady” and “Chain of Fools” were as high on their playlist as any Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller song. My dad, in fact, was a particular fan of “Chain of Fools”; always told me that beat, that bass line, were impossible to resist. He was right. That song (amongst other Aretha favorites) has been on my permanent playlist since that time, transitioning from my stack of LPs, to my cassettes, to the inimitable Walkman, right up to top position on my iPhone playlist.

So when I started singing in bands in the 70s, it really wasn’t so anomalous that her soulful, heartfelt, skin-tingling delivery would be what inspired and influenced me. I wanted to emulate her, be her. Fear of “cultural appropriation” wasn’t a trending deterrent back then—my adoration was seen simply as homage—but despite my respect and desire, it quickly became clear that—given her mastery plus my own vocal limitations —I would have to settle for a version of vocal-heart-and-soul that worked for my voice, my style. And so I did. It wasn’t Aretha—damn, surely it wasn’t Aretha!—but it was mine and it not only informed every recording and performance I’ve done since, but I’ve almost never had a band set list that didn’t include at least one Aretha song:

“Oh Me Oh My,” “Rock Steady,” and “Respect” were fixtures in the early days; then followed “Day Dreaming,” “Natural Woman,” and “Chain of Fools” (and, oh, did we do some odd 80s versions of that one!). When the blues/rock band of the 00s came about, we added “Evil Gal Blues” and “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Every one was an honor for me to sing.

Or play… when my son was a baby, “Rock Steady” was the single most relied upon “lullaby” to rock his screaming little self to sleep!

I knew Aretha had been struggling with ill-health for some time now, so hearing that her death was upon us did not surprise me. Certainly it saddened me. It is the conclusion of a great, grand life filled with music and love and passion and creativity that inspired people of every race, creed and color to feel, to dance, to embrace love; to get sassy, or roil in the blues. She was a purveyor of so much SOUL I must capitalize, bold, and italicize the word. That she will not be making more music is surely an existential tragedy; that she’s left so much behind is an enduring gift.

I wanted to use the above photograph because that shot—the very young, just-finding-the-spotlight Aretha—is how she looked when I first became aware of her. When my sister Mary and I bopped around our basement bedroom grooving to her rhythms, certain we were as soulful and funky as the kids on Shindig or Hullabaloo (we weren’t), thrilled by her electric voice and thumping rhythms. It reminds me that we all get to be young and gifted, that we all get our own life story, our own chance to create, impact, influence, and inspire; leave a legacy. Aretha fulfilled that mandate so very, very well. We—I—will miss her greatly.

(Quiet now… “I Say a Little Prayer for You” is coming up… ).

Photo credits; Billboard

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

I Am White. I Am Not Superior

I look at my skin and it offers no opinion.

It has no wisdom or insight that allows me arrogance; it’s not notable in any exclusionary way; it’s not even remarkable in its whiteness: beige in warmer months, too pale to be interesting the rest of the time.

It’s just… skin. It makes me white. It does not make me superior.

I didn’t choose this skin. There was no either/or option, no “sorting hat,” no selection process by which I had a say, at least none I was consciously aware of. It was granted by virtue of my parents’ DNA and whatever spiritual, mystical, biological logistics go into the process of life-conjoining-body. It wasn’t an award, a “you are now deemed superior” assignation. It’s just flesh holding bones, blood, nerves and organs; it has that specific job, no other.

What is exceptional about me has nothing to do with my skin. Which is true of all people. Certainly all white people. No one is superior because they’re white. Whatever stellar qualities they embody emanate from those places within: innate talent, natural gifts; productive nurturing; hard work. And, of course, available opportunities…

Which is where whiteness does offer a superior hand-up. It’s called “privilege.” White privilege. More on that later.

Given the daily bombardment of images, videos, and news stories depicting white people “whyting,” as it’s described on social media, it seems clear that, despite any pretense of being post-racial, America remains populated by a good many convinced of their white superiority; entitlement to dehumanize, discriminate, and destroy with impunity:

White cops shoot black men in the back…in the front… in their cars… in their backyards. A white pool guard humiliates a black mother and child who just want a swim on a hot day. A seething white attorney excoriates strangers for daring to speak Spanish, screeching about how he “pays their welfare.” White teachers embarrass students for their “black hair.” A white nurse caustically abuses a black patient as he lies in an ER bed. A white supremacist murderously plows his car into a civil rights march. A white man knives two black sisters at the BART station, killing one. A white business owner in his “Uriah’s Heating and Refrigeration” truck chases down a black man yelling the “n-word” repeatedly, apparently miffed about traffic issues. A white man shoots a retreating black father outside a store, claiming “stand your ground”; he is not charged. White women call cops on Asian grandmas selling do-dads, black kids selling water, black families barbecuing in the park, black boys mowing lawns, black men moving into apartments; black people being…  black.

And a president pushes legislation build on his foundational belief that darker-skinned humans are most readily categorized as “terrorists,” “animals,” “rapists and murderers”; “bad hombres.” Even, apparently, the dark-skinned toddlers he’s ripped from their parents and locked in cages.

What he and the others have in common is their absolute conviction of superiority, presumed status they believe grants them power over people of color. Accords them immunity from acts of aggression and discrimination. Bestows permission to denigrate, hurt, humiliate; even kill.

The truth is less forgiving. They are not only not superior, in many cases they are profoundly inferior. In all cases they are misguided and misinformed.

Some would argue that religious dogma makes the case for white superiority, but they’d be negating the hand of biased men in writing said doctrine over the millennia. Some say history shows evolutionary preference for whites by illuminating their successes in forging countries and kingdoms via Viking plunders, Roman empires; British colonization, and Manifest Destiny. But that calculation ignores the concurrent history of the two largest continents—Asia and Africa—who, along with Central and South America, had their own successes in establishing countries, civilizations, and kingdoms… all without the help of white people.

What is undeniable is that history itself has been whitewashed by the very people claiming superiority, leading it to become its own false testimony.

Truth, however, cannot be so easily dismissed. Pulling away from religious dogma, historical spin, ancestral bias, and a current zeitgeist roiled in racial conflict, it becomes clear, in the light of unclouded examination, that white superiority is a lie, a perversion; a fantasy.

 White superiority is a myth.

And the problem with myth is its mythiness; its embrace of fiction, invention, and hyperbole intended to convince the more gullible of its validity. White superiority is, in fact, most astutely described by this specific definition of myth:

“An unproved or false collective belief used to justify a social institution.”

Exactly.

That white people (predominantly men) have coalesced wealth and power long enough, pervasively enough, and enduringly enough to perpetrate the illusion of superiority has been effective in preserving the myth. But it remains a myth, and for many reasons. Largely because the most prevalent attribute of that entitled demographic is the inherited, ordained, bequeathed factor of white privilege, anointed status afforded whites by other whites; sociopolitical assignation that pervades every aspect of white life to create ease, opportunity, and power so endemic that many who benefit from it (as all whites do in one way or another) would argue its existence.

It exists. But, like breathing, its presence and function is so unconscious and automatic we might pretend not to notice… but still we breathe. As, still, whites benefit from white privilege.

White privilege is the blood, the nerves, and—since we’re discussing the power of “skin”—the skin of white superiority; feeding it, animating it, holding it in place; protecting it from the “infection” and invasion of reality, the dispelling power of facts and biology with their unremitting sting of truth.

But despite its endurance, it’s a myth that is slowly but inevitably crumbling in the face of changing culture. Because, even in the face of ratcheting hysteria from myth-believing whites resistant to a changing world, diversity remains an unstoppable force; a churning, expanding, inexorable evolution. As more people of color fill the vibrant corners of our country, the illusion of white superiority will meet its reckoning. And whether wrapped in the American (or confederate) flag, driven by irrational race hate, or just “Barbecue Beckies” with phones, the confused amongst us will face those changing demographics with a choice: cling to the myth or join the coalition.

What isn’t a myth is the science that says we’re all made from the same stuff. When we can truly and honestly embrace that fact, allow it to imbue our every step with equanimity and compassion, we will have reached a state of communal superiority. It may take us generations to get there—we may never get there—but if we do, it will be something to celebrate en masse.

No matter shade of skin we’re in.


“Faceless” photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash
“Fragile” photo by Morgan Basham on Unsplash

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

Empty Nest Pt. 6, the Final Chapter: With Keys In Hand, He Flies…

This series began eight years ago when, on June 26, 2010, I sat down and emptied my head of the many thoughts swirling on the topic of “empty nest,” which, in my case (at that moment), involved the strange polarity of being the terribly proud parent of a graduating senior, while being painfully aware that my child’s next move took him out the door. Unfathomable.

Empty Nest Syndrome was not  something I took all that seriously in the early years. People made jokes about it; some friends referenced their experiences with chagrin, others denied it was even a thing. When it came my turn, it struck like a tsunami.

No matter how rational thought defines this moment in a family’s life—”it’s perfectly natural,” “it’s the next logical step”; “a chance to see your kid fly”— irrational thought says sending your kid off on his own after eighteen years of deeply-felt all-hands-on-deck involvement was nuts. For me it was like losing a limb: I ultimately learned to function without it, but never stopped feeling it should still be there.

But rather than reiterate the roller-coaster unfolding of that momentous transition, I’ll refer you to Parts 1-5 of the series starting HERE, where the ups, downs, triumphs and heartaches of this maddening time were noted. As for now—this final chapter—I wanted to reflect a bit in conclusion, to bring this series to a proper close as I help the man my son has become choose area rugs and decide which couch best fits the parameters of his new apartment.

I’m a lucky parent: I have a strong, enduring marriage with a good man who’s a good father, and a child who’s been both a delight and the single most amazing aspect of my life. I have few parenting regrets (there was that outburst with the spilled apple cider, and the bowl cut was unfortunate), and if the testament of successful parenting is a successful child, my husband and I win first prize. So I approach this final letting-go with, yes, a lump in my throat but the humble satisfaction of feeling parentally accomplished.

But there’s still the matter of someone you love stepping further from your life… regardless of their assigned role, there’s sadness in that.

As adults, we gauge and shift within our peer relationships with a sense of continuity, a certain predictability. We, they, may grow and change in any variety of ways, but we’re fully-formed people by then, and those changes are usually subtle and nuanced. Friends have no reason to leave, to move out, to go off on their own simply because that’s an inevitable part of development. The good ones stay, the birthday celebrations pile up; you grow old together.

With our children, the exact opposite is true. Every day, week, month, year brings a new person into our midst—physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally—and, as parents, our job is to adjust and change as our child requires. What the five-year-old needs is a far cry from the fifteen-year-old, the twenty-five-year old, and we are obligated to sort out how to be the right parent for the right age. But five, fifteen, or twenty-five, and despite the profound changes that come with child-to-adult transitions, our love and attachment sustain. Which makes their departures, their distancing, their independence, heartrending.

In my case, it’s very simple: I enjoy my son’s company. Not just as a parent, but as a person, a friend. He’s smart and aware; he makes me laugh, introduces me to new music, discusses politics with verve. He’s as good a friend as any I’ve got; he tells me this is mutual, and the ease he clearly feels with me and his father makes sharing a space an easy, natural thing to do. So when some people seemed surprised that he was still at home at twenty-five, I felt I had to explain; to assure them he wasn’t some launch-challenged millennial in dirty pajamas playing video games in a crusty bedroom yelling, “Ma, I need a sandwich!” while expecting me to do his laundry.

In fact, the “cool roommate” he was in his younger years only expanded in the post-college era: he continued to be entertaining and companionable, and he paid his own way, did his own laundry, cleaned his own room; even kept our technology in top-running order. Who wouldn’t appreciate a roommate like that?

I saw these post-college years as a bonus, one we didn’t expect, as he, first, looked for a job; got one at an engineering firm nearby, then transitioned to a much better engineering firm downtown, and while he wasn’t around all that much—girlfriend, sports, game nights with buddies—the warm moments around the dinner table or those Q&A sessions after watching Westworld (I mean, wth?) were precious. I took not a one for granted, and chose not to think about when they, too, would end.

But they did. When he finally announced, after a year of commuting from the beach to downtown LA (dear Lord…), that he was ready to find his own place within walking distance of work, I knew we’d reached the last rite-of-passage: the final move-out. It inspired a tear, a lump, an acknowledgement that we were there, but it was so inevitable that it struck gently. Softly. Empty Nest Lite.

Maybe because I so well remember when I first set out on my own. My family life was very different from my son’s, my exit far more fraught, but that sense of independence, of staking a claim to adulthood—from picking the apartment, to finding furniture, towels; pots and pans, feeling fully responsible and free to create whatever life you chose—was equally as exhilarating. I could vicariously feel his excitement at the novelty of autonomy, of planting himself somewhere he’d never lived, opening himself to explore and experience new things. It’s heady; I remember.

So when the day came, we pulled his stuff from storage—the college items, the great pieces saved from our Humboldt house, the selections from his room—and headed to his beautiful, sparkling apartment in a downtown high-rise with windows facing west and a view of the vibrant city and ocean beyond, and helped him start his new life.

I was so focused on the tasks at hand, so impressed by his good taste in the place he chose, so anticipatory of having reason to spend more time in the city, so relieved the move went fairly smoothly, that nary a lump was had the whole day. I felt only that my husband and I had launched our beautiful boy with confidence, knowing he is solid in who he is; joyful in his career, clear about his priorities, and committed to an honorable life.

As my dear friend said, “You did good.” We did. We all did. He’s still deciding on a couch, I’m working on my next book; hubby is taking care of business. Life rolls forward, we breathe… growing up, letting go, and finding new ways to build history.

Of course, this wireless router will now have to be managed without his patient tutelage, but I guess we old folks have to learn and evolve just like everyone else! Dammit. ☺

The End

 

All photos by permission of LDW. Truck photo by Marilyn Perez.

To read the entire series, click below:

• Empty Nest Pt 1: My Very Cool Roommate Is Moving Out…
• Empty Nest Pt 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home
• Empty Nest Pt. 3: See You In November!
Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye
Empty Nest Pt. 5: It’s a Wrap… Well, Almost

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

In the Image of a Father… Redux

Two years ago I wrote this piece about fathers and fatherhood, moved by the holiday to express some thoughts on the topic. As I sit here in 2018, thinking about my own father—gone now for almost 18 years—while blessedly, lovingly, still able to admire the parenting skills of the very alive man I married, I am once again moved by the role men play in the process of life’s continuation. The piece below makes reference to Mad Men, a series that, while not current, remains an interesting treatise on “fatherhood” from its anachronistic point of view… so it still holds; thought I’d “redux” it… Enjoy the read/re-read!   

  Noble fathers have noble children. ~ Euripides

I was not initially hitched to the Mad Men bandwagon as it hurled its way to phenomenon status; I missed the kick-off and never jumped on. But once the media analyses and water-cooler accolades became so hyperbolic as to raise the show to “Breathlessly Zeitgeisty Must-See TV,” I knew I had to get with the program; it’s bad enough I never watched an episode of Survivor!

So I’ve been Netflixing the series and, I have to say, it is a fascinating snapshot of a historical time teetering on the brink of explosion. It well depicts the era’s style and panache (now called “mid century”), and paints a clever and sometimes unsettling anthropological thumbnail of human nature at a point when society was remarkably different. While it focuses mainly on only one or two class sub-sets, it does a good job of breathing life into the anachronistic “swells” and “dolls” of the jargon, the girdles and slicked back hair, and the propensity for unrestrained smoking and drinking (after watching several episodes I felt both asthmatic and buzzed!). But what it illustrates most pointedly is the distance we’ve come in our gender politics.

my-boys

I was a child during those years and though aware of the more superficial elements, was clueless to the nuances and expectations of the roles of men and women in how they related to each other and certainly as parents. It’s one of the truer clichés of the time that “women’s work” was mostly defined as homemaker, house cleaner (unless affluent enough to afford “help”), and primary parent. Despite the Madison Avenue secretaries and the exceptional women who worked their way up toward the glass ceiling (ala Mad Men’s Peggy Olson), most women carried the weight of child raising, and Dads would show up after cocktails to give big hugs, have dinner, then go off to do “man” things while Mom put the kids to bed. Fathers were loving and involved in their way, but the extent to which they were hands-on was minimal. And while certainly there are still fathers operating from the antiquated paradigm of Don Draper, they’re a different breed these days, the product of an evolving and equalizing culture.

Our views of motherhood have remained fairly constant; it’s the role of “father” that has fluctuated and changed with the times. Men’s life expectancy is still up to six years shorter than women’s so, to put it bluntly, Daddies die sooner. While more women work outside the home than ever before, men still rely on them to take the larger role in parenting, meaning Dad’s intimacy and influence with his children is commensurately less. Some family compositions simply transcend without a traditional father: post-divorce custodial mothers, families with deceased fathers, single mothers who never married, same-sex mothers, etc. Statistics show that these families can thrive and be remarkably “whole” and functioning without a male figure, so the question remains: How essential is a father these days?

tom-benIn families that have them? Very essential. It’s not whether families can survive without a father – they can, that is well documented. It’s whether a family that has a father has one that is fully present, involved, and contributing in the most effective ways possible for a child’s best shot at success.

Scores of books and studies have dissected, analyzed, and deconstructed the role and there is likely no man on this earth who doesn’t have at least some notion of the task based on his own experience as a child. Typically a man either admires the parenting he received and mimics it, or abhors his own father’s choices and becomes determined to make better ones. Which gets right to the point.

Modeling. A father is the first male role model a child has. In most families the father is the BIGGEST, most influential authority figure to first set boundaries, examples, and expectations. Through him a boy conjures his first idea of a man, picking up the nuances, proclivities and emotional expressions he will emulate in his own version of the role. In a father, a girl sees All Men – at least in the early years. She learns what to expect from other men by virtue of how her father treats her (and her mother). Through him, she sets her bar for the level of respect she’ll require, the honor she’ll demand, the self-confidence she’ll exude, and the aspirations she’ll pursue.

It’s a big responsibility, no doubt about it. We have come a long way from the Mad Men who saw their children as so many props, but new eras bring new problems and in a world where too many young men advance into adulthood needing anger management skills, a better understanding of how to be strong without being a bully, and a clearer sense of the purpose of honor and integrity, a father’s work is cut out for him. When a daughter sublimates herself in her relationships with men, loses her sense of confidence in the face of career adversity, or can’t determine how strong a woman to be without losing appeal, she clearly needs wise fathering to help reconstruct her perspective.

There are as many ways to be a good father as there are fathers and this is not to say a mother is any less important to the outcome of a child. I used to find it difficult to find father-themed gift but thanks to the internet and sites like gearhungry.com, father’s day is no sweat! But a father’s role is unique, specific, and very powerful. As we celebrate Father’s Day, it merits mention, as Euripides stated, that “noble fathers have noble children.” So wear that well, Dad, celebrate your nobility. Embrace your role and never forget you hold center stage – and always will – in the eyes of the children celebrating this day with you.

A very Happy Father’s Day to all the “noble fathers” in my life.

fatherdaughter

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

Deconstructing the Myth: You Do NOT Have To Suffer To Be A ‘True Artist’

My son, four-years-old at the time and sitting next to me with a sticky juice box in hand, offhandedly asked, “Mom, are you an artist?” Surprised by the question from a boy whose typical discourse involved Duplos, Matchbox cars, and the Rugrats, I smiled and answered, ‘Yes, sweetheart, I am.” He looked over with shy admiration and declared, “You’re so bwave.”

Beyond the Elmer Fuddian dialect that never failed to slay me, his comment pricked tears because, regardless of what inspired either the question or the response (he had nothing more to add when prodded), he was right: it does take courage to be an artist. What it doesn’t take? Or, perhaps, more accurately, what is not required, is suffering.

It’s a hoary meme, suffering for one’s art, one that’s likely been bandied since the onset of man + art, conjuring images of sweat-drenched cave painters, bloodletting Roman sculptors; emaciated Frenchmen in grubby garrets fighting off scurvy to complete their latest masterpiece. There are slews of celebrated suicidal poets, iconic authors awash in clinical depression; famed dancers beset by eating disorders, drug-addled musicians, and brilliant comic minds battered by addiction and self-loathing. And from this wealth of damaged artistic souls, the myth emerged: that true art demands such torture, inspires such laments; that those talented enough to wear the mantle of true artist are inevitably destined to suffer, to angst, to be eternally roiled and ennuied.

Balderdash.

I am not impugning the greatness of the many great artists who were/are inflicted by any of this litany of miseries. Nor am I suggesting that suffering prevents one from being a true artist (though with some it certainly can). What I’m saying is there is no linkage. No equation. No cause and effect. They are simply two different things: art and human affliction. There’s no + with a desired = to follow. They do not go together like a horse and carriage. They do not go together at all.

As for artists who are depressed, suicidal, addicted, troubled, and sick, the question must be asked: Would they suffer so even if they weren’t artistic; if they were doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists, or plumbers? I suspect so. Yet we don’t automatically assign “suffering” as a prerequisite to any of those other professions.

Frankly, subscribing to the “suffering theory” can be detrimental to one’s health: believing it is natural, expected, inevitable for an artist to endure the Sturm und Drang of creative malaise sets one up to wear suffering like a mantle, a red badge of courage. It suggests artistic agony is romantic. It might even give one franchise to “act out” in deference to the dictum, to allow oneself to crash-and-burn as a matter of presumed destiny. As a self-destructive painter once said to me after nearly drinking himself to death, “I’m an artist, it’s what we do.”

I’m attuned to this at the moment because just this week I was inundated by a series of articles pushing the myth, offering impassioned treatises, provocative quotes, sighs of resignation from various artists, old and new, living and dead, in support of the “suffer theory.” And, as is often the case, these quotes and essays were presented with breathless aggrandizement granted by virtue of the quotee’s celebrity, success, or agree-upon excellence. These folks know, therefore this theory must have merit.

What these folks know is their own singular experience. Their individual states of being and how it all goes—or went—with their unique participation in the arts, their chosen allegiance to the “suffer theory” as they found it applicable to them. Their mistake, I’d posit, is in assuming it applies to everyone and, with the power of their celebrityhood, turning it into belief.

For example:

“No artist is pleased… no satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” ~ Martha Graham, choreographer

What I’d suggest is that Martha felt that way, then made a declaration about it, which then became a mantra for those who celebrate her.

But, all due respect to the great Martha Graham, I beg to differ. Many artists, myself included, have found satisfaction in the creation and communication of their art, the outside enjoyment of what they created; the success—minimal or grand—that offered enough encouragement to carry on.

I would argue that it is not “blessed unrest” or “divine dissatisfaction” that enlivens an artist, keeps them creating, drives them to accomplish profound work. It’s not madness, despair, or angst that compels true artistry. It’s the relentless, compelling, burning desire to create; to get out on paper, on canvas; on stage, through instruments and voice; that idea, that image, that sound that demands conception, that tickles nerves and brain and synapses so thoroughly one can’t sleep for needing to express it.

That’s not suffering. That’s the exhilaration of artistic inspiration.

But even the great writer e.e. cummings, in critique of artistic academia, pushed the suffering conceit in the aptly titled article, The Agony of the Artist (with a capital A)

“… being temperamental, we scorn all forms of academic guidance and throw ourselves on the world, eager to suffer — eager to become, through agony, Artists with capital A.”

In e.e.’s estimation, it’s not just any artistic suffering, it’s the kind of agony that alchemizes a lower case artist into one “with a capital A.” What a siren song that must be for the tender, gullible spirit seeking artistic guidance!

Rinse and repeat my response to Martha.

But if you thought the notion belonged only to philosophers of yore, you’d be mistaken. Another article this past week referenced a young, contemporary writer who asserts in Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing the following:

“Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.”

Never? Ever?

Zadie had other, more useful, items within her “rules of writing” (though such lists are anathema to me, given my subversive view that there are NO rules to writing), but still I’d repeat my Martha response to her last “rule.” Instructing writers to resign themselves to “the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied” is, to me, a disservice. As with Martha, I’d guess that is Zadie’s view as it applies to her. For you? I’d encourage you to reject it wholesale; embrace the “heresy” that you can, should, ought to feel joy, find satisfaction, revel in accomplishment, even fall in love with your own work as you artistically evolve. That is your right as an artist; the other is an assigned burden of no particular value.

As a take-away to all this, let me reference back to my son’s statement: While agony and suffering are not prerequisites to artistry, courage is. Because art—expressing art, pursuing art, doing art—is as close to a person’s entity as skin and bones and heart and soul. It’s not a thing “out there” to be learned at the hands of professors, teachers, mentors, and skilled practitioners. Beyond technique (which can be learned), art—at its most creative, bold, individualistic, daring, experimental, and innovative— is innate, intrinsic, endemic to an artist’s being, the essence of who they are, not just what they do, and in that it becomes deeply, profoundly, elementally unique to that person. It becomes Personal, with a capital P (to borrow from e.e. cummings!).

To be vulnerable and intimate enough to make personal art, then make public that art, exposing it to the potential of rejection, misinterpretation, critique, insults, and painful, hurtful, soul-scraping judgment takes courage. To get up after each onslaught to continue tapping into one’s soul to access what bubbles within takes courage. Honoring your muse by not ignoring or discarding your talent takes courage.

Courage is not suffering. One is necessary, the other is not. As I’ve chosen to be courageous enough to be frequently satisfied, occasionally pleased; persistently enlivened, relentlessly creative, selectively frustrated, mildly self-effacing, but always, indefatigably artistic without suffering, I hope you will too. It’s far less exhausting on body and soul… which only leaves room for more creativity.

Photo by Lucas Lenzi on Unsplash
Dancer In a Red Dress & Joy of Song by LDW

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

Selective Outrage Is All the Rage. Just See ‘Michelle Wolf’

I wonder how many times a day I read an article, note a passing Tweet, hear some frothing nonsense on the news, and mutter to myself, head shaking and eyes rolling, “Oh, dear God, are you kidding me?!”

Often. A lot. More than I’d like.

In fact, the sheer density and degree of nonsense worth swearing about is shock-and-awe inspiring, and if I didn’t hold tight to my policy of “limited news intake,” I swear I’d be swearing like it was the very air I breathe.

Instead, I choose my outrages, the things get me motivated enough to Tweet, post, Instagram; sign petitions, write my congresswoman, or send notes of protest to women-beating pizza shop managers, or elite clothing stores selling “quaint” slave bracelets; Christian bakers unwilling to make cakes for gay couples, or the latest police department defending cops who kill black men for holding cell phones.

These things seem to be worth raging over. As do Trump’s relentless acts of idiocy and demagoguery; a Republican party whose ambitions trump true patriotism and rule of law; a cabinet enriching itself on taxpayer dollars; a partisan agenda wrapped in cruelty, xenophobia, greed, and discrimination across countless demographics. Go crazy on those, yes; there’s plenty to go around and surely (sadly) more where all that came from.

But what I find disingenuous and head scratching during these days of “all outrage all the time” is the selectiveness of what piques the ire of some. What gets them off the couch and over to their computers to defend egregious prevaricators, tweet indignant denunciations of this or that; demand apologies from those skewering politics, or announce ad hominem attacks to come.

Yes, all that happened this weekend. And you might think the brouhaha inspiring such response was Trump’s insane Michigan speech in which he actually said, “If we don’t get border security, we’re going to have no choice, we’ll close down the country.

Or the news that “ICE held an American man in custody for 1,273 days.”

Or the stunning fact that “Neo-Nazis Burned a Swastika After Their Rally in Georgia” a few days ago.

Nah. All the hissing fit to print—on Twitter and elsewhere—was over a very funny comedian, Michelle Wolf, who, hired to do the traditional roast at the end of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, fearlessly took on everyone from Trump, to Democrats, to Pence, to Kellyanne Conway, and, most spectacularly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the snarling curmudgeon who sprinkles lies like parade candy from her Press Secretary podium on a daily basis. Wolf’s routine set the media, social and otherwise, on fire. Did you hear anything about that ICE case or the Michigan speech? I didn’t either. There was too much noise coming from those who, instead, selected Wolf’s irreverence as the target of their indignation.

Surely, as satire is meant to do, Wolf’s routine was cringe-worthy at times, occasionally caustic, on-the-mark, over-the-line, very funny, and bracingly unvarnished. The transcript and video are everywhere; dive in when you can, but suffice it to say, she called out the chicanery and corruption of the White House and its two cheerleading ladies-in-waiting in ways that those of us who literally scream at the TV every time either opens her mouth have been waiting for someone to do for a very long time.

In a nutshell: she called the liars… liars. And what did the outrage machine do in response? Check the links above: lots of foot stomping, spittle-flying, head-shaking, “well, I never!” kind of “aren’t we above this sort of thing?” foolishness meant to illustrate how noble and hands-off they think a comic hired to do a roast should be when taking on the most corrupt, dishonest, likely treasonous; rude, bigoted, and unfathomably stupid administration… and the media that chronicles it.

Defending Sarah Sanders from a joke that was not only hilarious but bitingly spot-on became the ’cause celebre’ of everyone from Andrea Mitchell to Mika Brzezinski, to, of course, every sputtering journalist on the right, and even some on the left. Apparently they saw this as a red-line dig on her looks. Really?? Did they miss the subtext? Here’s  the joke; you decide.

“I think she’s very resourceful. But she burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smokey eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”

It seems to do exactly what satire is meant to do. It’s also funny.

Look, everyone is free to be as outraged as they want by whatever piques their pricklies, but when an entire weekend’s discourse is dominated by the sound and fury of journalists, pundits, and opinion makers who found the candid and irreverently honest routine of a smart female comedian to be worth more wrath than the ICE story or Trump’s mentally unhinged declaration to shut down the country, selective outrage has become its own form of madness.

Considering the cynical, sexist, bigoted, and mendacious remarks often made about Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, or any other women on the left (even the men on the left… thanks, Obama!), a little snark about an incessantly dishonest woman using the ash of her lies for eye makeup seems tame. And, again, funny.

But do let me know when the madding crowd starts demanding, en masse, the apologies of profiling police departments and overzealous ICE agents. Give a holler when justice for the assault victims of the man in the White House becomes a viral trend. Tweet out when journalists start refusing to eat up the Press Secretary’s spoon-fed dishonesty, or when provocateurs like Dennis Miller spend days thinking of ways to attack Nazis burning swastikas, or men drugging and raping women.

When that happens, we’ll all gather in the virtual town square to celebrate the power of our communal outrage… and Michelle Wolf will keep telling the truths that make people laugh.

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

White Fear Does Not Excuse Racism, But Empathy Might Dispel It

White people are afraid of black people.

Or maybe, more accurately, too many white people are afraid of black people.

They don’t “get them,” (as one fellow confessed to me); they find them mysterious, unknowable, different; less than, fear inducing. They blame their cultural ignorance on, “what I see in the news every day,” or “this black guy who was weird to me once,” or “they are known to be more violent” or “but they hate most white people too” (all things said to me out loud). And with that litany of presumption and stupidity, empathy is lost and the “privilege” of white fear is allowed to call the shoots, turning, say, Starbucks into a cultural flashpoint.

Why are we so afraid of each other?

For blacks, it’s not a difficult question to answer: deep historical precedent, and contemporary bias, prejudice, and lack of equal treatment. In the justice system. The economic system. The medical system. The education system. Probably every system existing in America today. Strides have been made since overtly racist pre-civil rights days, but when, on an almost daily basis, there continue to be indefensible police shootings of unarmed black men, overzealous prosecutions and disproportionate imprisonment; endless forms and manifestations of every kind of bigotry and intolerance, it’s not hard to fathom why a black person might fear a white person, particularly one with a gun, a badge, or a judge’s robe; particularly when white people still hold the keys to most (all?) centers of power in this country.

What’s the excuse for white people? What are they so afraid of? Beyond generalized prejudices like being anti-affirmative action, or holding erroneous presumptions that blacks are government-sucking “welfare queens” (when the greatest number of welfare recipients are white), what are they so fearful of? Why the lock-your-car-when-one-gets-too-close, cross-to-the-other-side-of-the-street-if-one-approaches, shoot-before-taking-other-tactical-deescalation-steps, call-the-cops-without-considering-ramifications kind of racial fear?

Given the ubiquity of facts and studies on race, given the statistics on both white and black perpetrators of crime and violence; given the benign interactions most whites have experienced with black people; given the incalculable contributions the black community has made to American life, it’s hard to put that fear down to anything other than “the fog of white privilege mixed with lack of empathy.”

White privilege – empathy = fear = racism.

That’s an unhappy equation. Particularly when science assures us that “race is not a thing,” [National Geographic, 10.14.17].

“What the study of complete genomes from different parts of the world has shown is that even between Africa and Europe, for example, there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one, even when recent migration is disregarded.” ~ Svante Pääbo, a biologist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany [emphasis added]

In other words: we’re all made of the same stuff; the color of our skin, location of our family’s ancestry; ethnicity of our DNA notwithstanding.

But some refuse that information, that reality. They’d rather conjure a world categorized by castes, orders of ethnic importance; pyramids of racial superiority, chains of command built on the possession of wealth… fomenting a human history rife with wars, genocide, conflict, fear, and ignorance, basedirrationally, on race, that thing that doesn’t actually exist. Illogical, but persistent.

Here in contemporary America, for example, the last person to “win” (yes, in quotes) the title of POTUS did so by appealing to the fears of white Americans who reject shifting demographics; resent the impending loss of majority status, the influx of diversity, and the widening influence of people of color and diverse religions and ethnicities. “Make America Great Again” was the rallying dog whistle for a message of, “let’s keep things nice and white,” and that message resonated with a dispiriting number of fearful white folks.

And fear is the foundation of modern racism. I say “modern” because back when plantation owners tormented slaves, post-Civil War America treated freed blacks like sub-humans, or Jim Crow laws saw sociopathic bigots inflict white-sheeted terror with impunity, it wasn’t fear driving the train; it was power. White patriarchy. Ignorance, ingrained hate, embrace of false narratives, and the pervasive certainty of superiority. The only fear that existed was that of blacks whose very lives could be snuffed out with the flick of a rope-wielding wrist, the trembling accusations of a mendacious white woman, or the bilious hate of white men immune to basic decency.

Still, in these modern times, when we now have laws protecting blacks from such abuses, racism remains, still ingrained, still wreaking havoc, but driven and perpetuated by—yes, all the above—but also, most overarchingly, by fear.

Fear of other. Fear of who or what isn’t known. Fear of presumed danger. Fear of what one has heard or read about the feared group. Fear of losing perceived power or status. Fear of change, of diversity, evolution and progress. Fear, unexplained. Fear that leads to race-based overreaction.

Like when a white Starbucks manager gets so rattled by two black men waiting for a friend before ordering that she’d call the police and get them arrested rather than behave like a savvy service professional who knows how to treat customers of every race, creed, color, or orientation.

Like Jeffrey Zeigler, a white man who—when young, black Brennan Walker knocks on his door after getting lost—picks up his shotgun and, rather than helping the child find his way, attempts to kill him.

Like the two white Sacramento cops who, rather than using their training to accurately assess a situation and manage their fear before responding with deadly force, follow Stephon Clark, a black man, into his grandmother’s backyard and shoot him 20 times before ascertaining it’s a cellphone in his hand.

The list goes on. We know it well. It’s daily news fodder. Why?

Remember the equation above? Fear metastasizes with the lack of empathy. We can’t care about what we don’t know or refuse to learn. We can’t comprehend what we haven’t taken time to understand. We can’t respect what we’ve deemed less than. We can’t treat with care and concern what we’ve chosen to believe is dangerous. We can’t empathize when we don’t have the first clue of what life is like for a person of color. And so white people continue to believe black people are a threat, a danger to them, and from there, fear reigns and racist acts persist.

Of course I am speaking in generalities. Not all white people. Not all cops, not all people answering doors; not all coffee baristas.

But when there is enough evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, to educate and convince us of our commonalities as members of the human race, any white person continuing to blame “fear” for their reactive behavior is abdicating responsibility for their part in perpetuating racism. Fear offered as an excuse is exactly that: an excuse. It is not a solution. Empathy is. Empathy is the solution to fear.

It’s likely every person has had the experience of having their perceptions, opinions, and feelings about something or someone change after they’ve had more interaction or spent more time with that person or thing. Empathy is engendered when we make those connections, get past ingrained beliefs and knee-jerk responses, to learn something new and create points of commonality and kinship with those we’ve feared.

If you asked any white person who (consciously or unconsciously) fears blacks how much time—with depth, regularity, and emotional intimacy—they’ve spent with black people, odds are good you’d find a deficit. In communities with little diversity, which is much of rural and suburban America, those deficits run deep. So how do you induce greater empathy when the opportunity to connect isn’t easily there? Or in more diverse communities where it’s too easily avoided?

It has to become a priority. Schools, churches, town and city leaders have to make it so. There has to be intention and respondent actions that welcome black families into schools. Hire black teachers and bank tellers. Attract and encourage black-run businesses. Organize diversity seminars, bring in sensitivity trainers, engage speakers and mentors who work in the field, people of the very races and ethnicities most feared. Where it isn’t endemic or immediate, circumstances have to be created in which racial empathy can be explored and engaged, where hate and fear can be disassembled, and new ideas formed.

With connection, empathy grows. We learn more about the lives and rich cultural heritage of people we feared. We listen and gain greater understanding of how life hits them, what they have to deal with; what particular obstacles are in their paths that are not in ours. We expand our thinking to realize the world seen through our prism of white privilege is vastly different and less fraught than the world seen through theirs, and with that greater understanding, we are more capable of putting ourselves in their shoes, that most basic definition of empathy.

Once in their shoes, we should be better able to respond and react with consideration, respect, and basic human decency. Which makes sense, since science tells us—and I believe in science—that we’re all made of the same stuff.

Top photo by Carolina Heza on Unsplash
Middle photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash
Third photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

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

Decide WHY You Write … THEN Decide How and How Much

If you think it unlikely that an op-ed on the topic of literature could raise the hackles (i.e., pitchforks) of those reading said article, you might be surprised.

As a writer who’s contributed, and had shared worldwide, reams of political, social, and artistic commentary over the last decade, appearing prodigiously on sites like The Huffington PostAOL NewsAddicting InfoShelf PleasureIndies UnlimitedWomen Writers Women[s] BooksindieBRAG, and others, I felt I had a good sense of which topics predictably stirred the ire of the masses: anything on gun reform, religious debate, LGBT issues, partisan politics, even home schooling, seemed ripe for rage. When I bit into any one of those, I did so fully girded for the onslaught to follow, poised for frothing emails, seething comments, and social media shares that inspired further froth and seethe. It came with the territory.

What I didn’t expect was to have my all-time most incendiary piece—the one that triggered the greatest volume of hate mail and trolling comments, countless responding articles ripping me a new one; ad hominem attacks about everything from my hair to my name to my bio to where I live, and, to this day, occasional snipes at my character—to be an article suggesting to self-published authors that quality ought to trump quantity in deciding how much to write.

“Dear Self-Published Writer: Do NOT Write Four Books a Year” (yes, there was some intended click-bait in the title) was a piece I wrote several years back in response to an instructive tutorial I’d found astonishing, one in which a “publishing expert” provided a list of “the ten best ways to be a successful writer” and her very first, her #1 suggestion, was: “write at least four books a year.” This was not qualified or offered with any caveat about making sure those books were expertly crafted, vigilantly edited and formatted, or beautifully designed and produced; no, just, “write four books a year.”

Corresponding comments under her piece, as well as comments shared in writers’ groups discussing these output suggestions, came with mountains of anxiety from writers struggling to get even one book done a year, much less four. But beyond the myriad emotional responses, I felt a certain misguidance was being promoted, one that adversely skewed what a writer’s priorities should be.

As a self-published author myself, and, perhaps more importantly, a reader of many self-published books, I had already been disappointed by the quality of far too many books crossing my path—poorly written, sloppily edited, amateurishly designed—and wanted my fellow self-pubbers to raise the bar, to take this new freedom-to-publish as impetus to demand the absolute best of ourselves, creating work that would position us favorably against any traditionally published author, burnishing opinions and easing stigmas ascribed to self-published work as a whole. So the idea, then, that an “expert” would blithely push self-pubbed writers to focus more on output than input felt anathema to me.

My article conversely (and, apparently, perversely) suggested that quality should always trump quantity in the debate about volume, and given the time and focus standardly required to produce qualitybooks, I posited that cranking out 4+ “quality” books a year would be a challenge for most writers, and, therefore, should not be prescribed as the “#1 way to be successful.”

“Off with her head!” they shouted.

The excoriation sparked by my thesis came largely from self-pubbed writers who clearly did write 4+ books a year, clearly did feel confident they’d met any quality demands, and clearly did take umbrage at my implications. OR it came from those writing 4+ books who’d prioritized sales over criticism of their books’ lack of quality. Or it came from self-pubbed writers who were just annoyed that someone (me) would suggest the self-pub market needed a standards upgrade.

But it was also because I hadn’t considered an essential precedent question: why are you doing this in the first place?

In my insular, perhaps myopic, worldview on the topic, I’d based my thesis on two things: 1.) The many comments shared by a large contingent of authors who didn’t appreciate or agree with the pressure to write 4+ books a years, and 2.) My own sense of why anyone writes and best practices in how that should be implemented. That second part is where I went wrong.

Because I’d made the (incorrect) presumption that all writers are driven to write and publish because they must write, and they want to write high quality books that can sit on a bookshelf next to any Pulitzer Prize winning, New York Times bestselling, positive review inspiring book without standing out as “less than.” That, even if one self-publishes, the goal—the non-negotiable criteria—is to produce and publish a book that, regardless of subjective likes or dislikes, is unassailable in terms of quality.

Turns out my presumption was just that: a presumption. And one I was quickly disabused of in the torrent of response that followed. Below is just a snapshot of some of the nicer comments flung my way (you’d think I was lobbying for child labor or the repeal of Christmas):

1. “I guess you’re rich, but most writers need to make a living and going for Pulitzer Prizes is a luxury we can’t afford.” (I’m not rich.)

2. “I write up to seven books a year and, sure, they may not be masterpieces, but my readers love them and have been more than happy to pay for them. Hah, it looks like you’ve only got two.” (Yep, just two so far.)

3. “Not everything needs to be a masterpiece. Maybe you’re picky.” (Sorta?)

4. “I don’t have time for that kind of quality. I’d rather deal with self-publishing stigmas than never make a penny.” (Hmmm…)

5. “No one in self-publishing is going to listen to her anyway. Elitist bitch.” (Ouch.)

Clearly what I’d left out was the (obvious) reality that not all writers operate with the same set of rules, have the same goals; are working with the same agenda, hold to the same standards, or prioritize their output the same way.

So, OK… what do we do with all that? Where do we go from there? How does any of that apply in terms of the persistent questions, “How much should I write?” and “How many books are expected of me in a year?” It’s said that things don’t really kick in until after your third book (I’m counting on that… my third is out next year!), and building your library really does give you a more powerful marketing position, so those remain good, valid questions to consider. Answering them requires that you sort out these two tasks first:

Figure out why you write.

It sounds so simple but it really is the crux of the matter. If your reason for putting words into form is that you have stories that demand to be told; memories that must be memorialized; imagined scenarios that clamor to escape from your brain into colorful, cohesive narrative, that’s why you write.

If your desire to write is based on the conviction that you can make money putting out easy-to-digest books that fall into popular genres that appeal to wide swaths of readers; if you want to create simple tomes so family and friends can access books you’ve written; if you want to write solid books that don’t have to be prize-winners but will tap into active and commercial book selling markets, that’s why you write.

There are likely other reasons; those seem the main ones.

Then figure out how you want to write.

If your “why” is the former, it may follow that putting out the most beautiful, creative, editorially polished, breathtakingly moving book is your goal. If so, that’s going to take time. You might not need Donna Tartt’s eleven years, but odds are good it’ll take many fastidious, thoughtful, detail-oriented months/years to fine-tune your book to the level you desire. However it gets published, you may not ever see profit from it. Or you may. It may win the Pulitzer… or only get fifteen reviews at Amazon. It may garner stellar editorial response, passionate readership, and accolades from respected literary contests. Or not. But if it is the book you want it to be, it will be your creative legacy, and that, itself, is of value. But that kind of book will likely allow you to only produce one book a year, perhaps one every two years. Or so. And that’s OK.

If you’re the latter in the “why” camp, odds are good your “how” goals will be less lofty. You’ll choose to put out work that meets at least a modicum of quality criteria, but, like someone said, not everything has to be a masterpiece. And if your priority is making some bank, you can push yourself to get it written fast, accelerate the production timing, and get more than one book out a year. Maybe more. Maybe even the four that “publishing expert” advised. You might make money, even get some good reviews, but either way, if your goal is quantity and you’re meeting that goal, more power to you. Hopefully you’ll score in the dollars department as well.

 

The moral of the story is: if I had to write my original article over, I’d have written this one, because it’s more to the heart of the matter. Yes, I’d still insist to anxious authors that the demand to write four books a year is NOT the only way to be successful… not by a long shot. But I’d also make this most salient point: you do you. Define why you write and design the work model that best implements that reason. Once you’ve got all that figured out, the timing of production and the schedule of how many books to produce is easy to plot out, and all in your hands.

And though it may be trite, it’s stunningly true: Just enjoy the journey.

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