Age Is Not The Arbiter Of Relevance. See ‘Sneaky’ Dianne Feinstein

Whenever I see an article that pits one generation against another, that categorizes the value and merit of any person in terms of age; that wildly asserts that terming-out is how to handle old folks and only youngsters have the sense and savvy to proceed to the route, I find my teeth grinding.

This is not only because I now happen to be in an age demographic that’s considered “old,” but because being in that age demographic has awakened me to the reality that age is not, and cannot be, the arbiter of who has value, who merits allegiance; who gets to stay and who has to go. Because relevance is not based on how quickly one can text, program a tech device, name the highest rated video game, or garner social media virality. Relevance is based on how well one balances their weight of wisdom, their experience and know-how, with pertinent, evolving, contemporary skills, demands, trends and issues of the day. What young people have on one end of that scale, older people gain on the other. It’s about the right mix; it applies to every increment of the age spectrum, and when you find that mix and act on it, amazing things can happen.

Take Dianne Feinstein. Or, as the bloviator in the White House has deemed her, “Sneaky Dianne.”

Born in San Francisco in 1933, a public servant in one role or another since the 60s, she’s at an age that is inarguably considered “old” by every standard, and yet there she was yesterday, changing the political narrative with nary a twitch of hesitation. With her pale face and smartly brunette coif, matter-of-fact and undeterred, she shoved aside the flummoxed of her own party, as well as the obfuscating Anita-Hill-bashing alumnus, Chuck Grassley, and newly minted Trump fanboy, Lindsey Graham, to step out of the Bable of political confusion to do what needed to be done: release the transcripts of the Fusion GPS testimony:

 

“The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice,” Feinstein, a San Francisco Democrat, said in a statement. “The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.”

Grabbed in a hallway by news reporters after her stunning move, she’s looked at the reporter and flatly declared: “I just decided to do it,” immediately giving women another rallying cry (similar to “But she persisted”) and elevating her status as a very relevant player in the dark drama of the Trump & Russia Show. Perhaps, as history may reveal, one of the most relevant.

Whatever you’ve thought of her over the years, however you’ve agreed or disagreed with her; if you think she’s too hawkish, not progressive enough, behind the times; tired, whatever; you cannot deny the facts of yesterday. Of her bold, shocking, courageous decision to flout political pressure and the Trumpian machinery of threat and blowhardery to do the right thing; to share with the American people what is their right to know; to expose facts that parties on the other side preferred shrouded in lies. No one else did it. No one younger, hipper, more progressive, maler. Dianne Feinstein did it. An eighty-four-year-old grandma who’s been serving the American people longer than some congresspersons have been alive. Just the title of this Los Angeles Times piece says it all: Ignore the critics. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is outperforming many half her age, with old-fashioned civility.

There will be, as there is with anything related to politics these days, particularly Donald Trump, reams written about this event. It will be discussed, debated, denounced, celebrated, parsed, analyzed and argued for weeks, months, potentially centuries to come (will they still be talking about Trump in 3018??), but none of that’s the point of this piece. The point of this piece is simply this:

Age is not the arbiter of relevance. Don’t let anyone tell you it is. Don’t let culture, advertising, Madison Avenue, hipster trendsetters, narcissistic young people, apathetic old people, frothing pundits, clickbait seeking article writers; people so afraid of death they frame anyone past the age of 50 as teeterers at the abyss; any and all of them; don’t let them convince you otherwise. Age is not the arbiter of anything. What is?

Courage, wisdom, experience; a willingness to stay plugged in. A relentless curiosity about evolving life, evolving culture. An interest in every kind of person — young or old. A desire to keep learning, to keep listening; to push against dishonesty and corruption, to remain convinced of and committed to your purpose in life. And then doing it. Doing it all. Whatever that commitment may demand. In Dianne Feinstein’s case, that included releasing the papers because it was the right thing to do.

That is a defining moment. That is relevance.

Meme found on Twitter

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

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NEW Photography Reel Features Collector Favorites

When you lead an eclectic creative life, as I do, you sometimes find you’re giving short shrift to one arena while focused on another; for example:

Taking off for four months to be in a new musical (however exhilarating and joyful) does leave less time to promote your indie novels. Pounding pavements in search of publishing opportunities for a new book (less joyful 🙂 ) does demand enough energy that street shooting can get lost in the shuffle. Staying current with current culture will often distract from the craft of art. That sort of thing. And there really are only so many hours in a damn day, despite my arguments to the contrary!

I’ve been told throughout my career that I’d be wise to streamline my focus, choose a medium and stick with it; at least come up with a theme, a brand; a niche. But for whatever reason, and for better or worse, my artistic DNA will not seem to allow it. Never has. I remain convinced that ALL of art tells a story and that’s my gig: telling stories. However I choose to tell them. Hence, the eclectic nature of it all… including my photography.

And given the need to breathe some fresh life into that part of my creative arsenal, and because this medium has been tickling my brain more in recent weeks, I put together a reel of various images that have garnered the most attention from viewers and collectors over the years. Many are personal favorites, some are new, but all reflect my endless fascination with the world around me. Click the video below to enjoy the selection.

As for my gallery at-large: while I’ve been fortunate to have my work shown in the Los Angeles Center of Photography in Hollywood, CA; Chung King Road Studio in LA’s Chinatown; in You Daily Photograph features via the Duncan Miller Gallery; at the Griffin Museum of Photography outside Boston, as well as displayed in a variety of office buildings, private businesses, and on hearths and walls of many a private home, virtual viewers can click to my site at Fine Art America to enjoy the full panoply of where my eye has taken me…

Please enjoy!

Video soundtrack: “Angel Share” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com); Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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

HYSTERICAL LOVE Honored As Finalist in American Book Festival’s ‘BEST BOOK AWARDS’

From the official press release:

LOS ANGELES – American Book Fest has announced the winners and finalists of The 2017 Best Book Awards on November 9, 2017. Over 400 winners and finalists were announced in over 90 categories. Awards were presented for titles published in 2015-2017.

Jeffrey Keen, President and CEO of American Book Fest said this year’s contest yielded over 2,000 entries from mainstream and independent publishers, which were then narrowed down to over 400 winners and finalists.

Keen says of the awards, now in their fifteenth year, “The 2017 results represent a phenomenal mix of books from a wide array of publishers throughout the United States. With a full publicity and marketing campaign promoting the results of the Best Book Awards, this year’s winners and finalists will gain additional media coverage for the upcoming holiday retail season.”

Winners and finalists traversed the publishing landscape: Wiley, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, St. Martin’s Press, Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Rowman & Littlefield, New American Library, Forge/Tor Books, John Hopkins University Press, MIT Press and hundreds of independent houses contributed to this year’s outstanding competition!

Keen adds, “Our success begins with the enthusiastic participation of authors and publishers and continues with our distinguished panel of industry judges who bring to the table their extensive editorial, PR, marketing, and design expertise.”

American Book Fest is an online publication providing coverage for books from mainstream and independent publishers to the world online community.

American Book Fest has an active social media presence with over 96,000 current Facebook fans.

A complete list of the winners and finalists of The 2017 Best Book Awards are available online at American Book Fest.

General Fiction Honorees listed HERE.

Of course I am delighted. Hysterical Love is one of my favorite creations as an author and I hope you’ll enjoy a copy of your own… click HERE.

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

Whose Voice Gets To Represent Race In Our Literature?

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.

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…

View original post 905 more words

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.