It’s been a while since it came out (2014…hard to believe!), and with people reading more these pandemic days, some even writing to ask me for titles to “try next,” it seemed a good time to throw a little light on my first novel, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH… s0 I’ve discounted its ebook price to $1.99 for the next few days.
After the Sucker Punch tells the story of Tessa Curzio, who, on the night of her father’s funeral, finds his journals and discovers he thought she was a failure, posthumous indictment that proves an existential knockout. She tries to transcend the blow but his damning words skew everything in her view, from her current relationship, to the truth of her family, to ever her overall sense of self. In the tumultuous year that follows, it’s her little-known aunt, a nun and counselor, who lovingly strong-arms Tessa onto a journey of discovery and reinvention in a trip that’s not always pretty – or particularly wise – but one that leads her to some sharp and unexpected truths.
If you haven’t yet read it, or know someone who might enjoy it, I hope you’ll take advantage of the sale… as I hope you enjoy the read!
“Wilke writes with razor-sharp wit and radiant flair, and the prose’s high quality is the novel’s principal strength. She also sensitively portrays how real love and affection can survive and even flourish in an otherwise dysfunctional family.” ~ Kirkus Reviews
“A realistic and profound journey of realization and forgiveness… a solid novel that admirably explores the fragile, fraught relationship between parent and child.” ~ Publishers Weekly
The book trailer follows, beautifully produced by my talented brother (who also edits my books), Tom Amandes.
Being an independent author is like being a single parent.
You’ve birthed this glorious entity, you love and cherish it with all your heart; you do everything in your power to escort it safely through the twists and turns of life, and it’s pretty much all on you to keep it breathing.
And like an exhausted parent, I spent 2016 not promoting either of my two novels for a number of reasons:
1.) (and I’m just being honest here): I was sick of doing it. Convinced I’d overstayed my welcome in chattering about them; certain that anyone I could actually reach had already been amply alerted, and twitchy at having to conjure up new and clever ways to talk about them without coming off like an overweening “helicopter parent,” I stepped back.
2.) I found most promotional options to be either surprisingly ineffective or beyond my budget; and
3.) My many and not-inexpensive efforts in previous years had netted less than the desired results.
So, I took a sabbatical from promoting and spent my time doing lots of other things: selling a house, corporate writing, attempting to get caught up on my photography site, joining the cast of a new musical, driving myself mad with this election (don’t get me started!), and primarily writing my third novel (more on that later!).
But THIS WEEK all that changes… I’m bringing out the big promotional guns!
The very coveted book site, BookBub, has selected my first novel, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH, to include in a feature this week. And since this will be my one and only book promotional effort of the year, I figured I’d fill the slots before and after with a few of the other higher profile book promotional sites as well.
The perk for you, dear reader? During this week of promotions, and in the spirit of getting AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCHproperly introduced to new readers and reintroduced to those of you who might appreciate a reminder (Christmas gifts, stocking stuffers, holiday vacation reading), you’ll be able to pick up a Kindle copy of the book during this week for only 99¢!
The promotional price at Amazon will be in effect from Monday, 11/13 (12 am) — Friday 11/18 (12 pm)
Here’s the blurb:
“With bare-bone honesty and fiery dialogue, Wilke explores the loaded relationship between parents and their adult-children, examining the brave and lonely journey of self-discovery, reinvention, and healing…raw and brave—a great read.”—Tracy Trivas, author of The Wish Stealers (Simon & Schuster)
They buried her father at noon, at five she found his journals, and in the time it took to read one-and-a-half pages her world turned upside down… he thought she was a failure.
Every child, no matter what age, wants to know their father loves them, and Tessa Curzio – thirty-six, emerging writer, ex-rocker, lapsed Catholic, defected Scientologist, and fourth in a family of eight complicated people – is no exception. But just when she thought her twitchy life was finally coming together – solid relationship, creative job; a view of the ocean – the one-two punch of her father’s death and posthumous indictment proves an existential knockout.
She tries to “just let it go,” as her sister suggests, but life viewed through the filter of his damning words is suddenly skewed, shaking the foundation of everything from her solid relationship and winning job to the truth of her family, even her sense of self. From there, friendships strain, bad behavior ensues, new men entreat, and family drama spikes, all leading to her little-known aunt, a nun and counselor, who lovingly strong-arms Tessa onto a journey of discovery and reinvention. It’s a trip that’s not always pretty – or particularly wise – but somewhere in all the twists and turns, unexpected truths are found.
Author and longtime Huffington Post contributor, Lorraine Devon Wilke, takes an irreverent look at father/daughter relationships through the unique prism of Tessa’s saga and its exploration of family, faith, cults, creativity, new love and old, and the struggle to define oneself against the inexplicable perceptions of a deceased parent. Told with both sass and sensibility, it’s a story wrapped in contemporary culture but with a very classic heart.
“A keenly executed character study. The novel is tightly structured and holds its complex elements with a sure and skillful grip. The dialogue pops…a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable read.”—Junior Burke, author of Something Gorgeous (farfalla press/McMillan & Parrish)
Thank you for your time, please enjoy the read, and let’s keep sharing creativity in these strange and challenging times!
It’s been a while since a book blogger has taken the time to read this book of mine, my second novel and a book I loved writing, so it was a true pleasure to find this post today from Lisl Zlitni of before the second sleep book blog.
I always appreciate when someone not only enjoys my work, but discovers and appreciates the bigger themes and subtler tones, the nuances and humor, the characters and story twists, and puts her perspective into thoughtful words. I hope those of you who haven’t yet grab a copy, but mostly I want to thank writer, Lisl Zlitni, for giving my work her time and thoughtfulness. Following is her review:
When I first picked up Lorraine Devon Wilke’s Hysterical Love, it was with anticipation, a muted sort of joy, not unlike that of a child anticipating a delicious treat or new toy. I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed Devon Wilke’s debut novel After the Sucker Punch and was very ready to dive into this one.
Dan McDowell opens the novel, telling his readers he is “flummoxed” by relationships—not that this is so odd, but he was sure by now, at age 33, he’d be a bit past that phase. His bewildered recounting of what had just happened to him gave not only a promising opening to what looked to be a great yarn, but was also, well, so on target. It read, as I delivered the opening paragraphs aloud—reading aloud being a frequent habit—in a very male manner. It sounded like a man would say this, as opposed to the way a female author might write what she wants a male character to be expressing.
In this case, Dan is still a little confused as to how he ends up camped out in his neighbor’s spare bedroom, when just an hour or so before he and his longtime girlfriend had been setting a wedding date and Jane became Dan’s fiancée, at least for that hour. The long and the short is this: Jane muses aloud on the passage of time, she can’t believe it’s been three years of exclusivity, and…a split-second eye avert on Dan’s part and it’s all over. “I am the only person you’ve been with since we met, right?”
Something else about that male thing: Devon Wilke has got it down. Having read her before, I knew she was adept at writing a protagonist who is fast on her feet, articulate and can be sharp—the unifying trait being she wraps all points together and responds in full and succinctly. But that is a female character. How would the skills of her creator be utilized to mold a male type who didn’t merely change costumes for a different book?
The answers came as I continued to read—and laugh. As Dan relates his tale to us, his speech reveals who he is: “[S]omehow, despite amazingly good behavior on everyone’s parts, and often against the nature of all parties involved, someone in the room pulls the pin.” Like Tess’s, his remarks are witty, but closer to the nature of male metaphorical speech and the types of symbolism men tend to engage.
As Dan continues his narrative, his own commentary within the script, his hindsight enables him to recognize what he’s done wrong, and trigger phrases that just don’t go down well with the opposite sex: “Technically,” “What’s the big deal?” and a hilarious transition phrase that cues us into the impending shit storm: “The temperature drop is like the girl’s room in The Exorcist.”
As it turns out, Dan had been with his previous girlfriend after he’d met (and slept with) Jane, his defense being that he and Jane hadn’t verbally or officially committed to an exclusive relationship. From Jane’s point of view, just having slept together constitutes the commitment, and she isn’t having any of his excuses.
At this point I was no longer the least bit curious about a female author writing from a first-person male protagonist perspective. It was Dan speaking.
Not long after, Dan’s sister Lucy and he have a series of conversations pertaining to their father, who has recently fallen ill, and the concept of whether Jane truly is Dan’s “soul mate.” Lucy reveals the existence of a short story their father had written before their parents’ marriage, about a woman he’d had an impassioned affair with, a revelation startling Dan enough to spark questions such as, “Do you suppose there’s a genetic component to being crappy with relationships?”
The sarcastic question is two-pronged. The father he knows is impatient, unsentimental and underwhelmed with just about everything, “all of which combine to make his previous self impossible to reconcile with who he is now.”
But Dan also, following Lucy’s train of thought within her ongoing advice to him, begins to contemplate the idea that this woman, “Barbara from Oakland,” might really have been the one his father was meant for. Could that explain the deterioration of his father’s previous creativity and passion, and poor relationship with the family he does have? Moreover, what might this bode for Dan and Jane? Was their disastrous argument meant to steer Dan to his true soul mate? In order to seek answers, Dan concludes he must find Barbara. In so doing, he befriends Fiona, a waitress and herbal pharmacist who soon becomes partner in his “vision quest.”
Through this Dan continues to have contact with his daily life, such as phone conversations with his sister who is, unsurprisingly, angry with his disappearing act. The heated conversations are slightly reminiscent of those between After the Sucker Punch’s Tess and her own sister, and though Dan answers back in self-defense, he carries a greater restraint; he holds back more often, perhaps having quickly absorbed a lesson learned from his unthought out answers during the engagement-ending skirmish with Jane. In his subsequent reflections he assesses himself in a straight forward, honest manner. His commentary is pithy and on-target, and he doesn’t discount what others say to or about him. In Dan McDowell, Devon Wilke has created a character eager to grow and learn, but one nevertheless subject to the shifting of mood or whim. He is well balanced, but as in need of growth as any of the rest of us.
Devon Wilke is also an astute observer of human behavior, and there were frequent bouts of laughter on my part or murmured “Mmm hmm” upon recognition of the comically familiar….
After stepping away from book promotion for a while, I’d almost forgotten the process of getting reader feedback to my work: that anticipation of knowing a review has been written and wondering, “How did it hit them? Did they get my story? Did it move them, strike a chord?” So, to open my Facebook page this morning and find the link to this lyrical, poetic review of a book that meant so much to me to write is… well, it reminds me of WHY we write.
Thank you, Lisl Zlitni, for taking the time to read, to enjoy, and write your beautiful and deeply thoughtful review of my work. I cannot tell you how moved I am. I will float through the rest of my day!
Perceptions can be tricky animals, especially when filtered secondhand, even more so when they involve those closest to us. What happens when we find out that what we thought others thought—of us—is way off base? That actually the reflections they’d been silently entertaining along the way were rather negative? The kicker: what if that person was our parent?
Tessa Curzio’s situation goes one step further in that she discovers her father’s dismal judgments about her after he has already passed away and she can no longer ask him about it. In fact, After the Sucker Punch opens with Tessa reading his previously-journaled words reaching out to slap her with a hurt as fresh as the grave the family had lowered him into just hours before. It’s a sucker punch that she knows not only re-writes the past, but also…
An interviewer asked me recently about the themes I most often employ in my writing, mentioning that love and family were central pivots around which both my novels spun. She wondered why those two themes so resonated with me, and I told her it was simply because they’re the most universal themes in all of life. Regardless of circumstance, ethnicity, social status, or any of the other qualifying ways in which we define and divide life, we all have family and we all want love. Even Edward longed for his Bella and he was a vampire!
When I started writing Hysterical Love, my second novel, the story evolved in a way that made it a companion piece to my first,After The Sucker Punch. While very different stories in terms of tone, plot, storyline, and protagonist, both involve thirty-something people reacting to the words of their fathers. But where Tessa, of my first novel, was most involved in rediscovering who she was—and who she was to her deceased father—after reading his scathing journals, Dan’s journey in Hysterical Love is all about love, sweet, elusive, maddening love.
And it’s an exploration of love on many levels: not just the heady lust and passion of new love that’s so often the driving force of drama, but the longer-term love of Dan’s three-year relationship with Jane (his very-soon-to-be-ex-fiancée); the lifetime love of his parents married for forty years; even the fleeting love of youth described in a fifty-year-old story written by his father. His roommate, Bob, revels in love’s abundance, his workmate, Zoey, can’t seem to find it, his sister, Lucy, is convinced it’s all about soul mates. But it’s when his father has a stroke and hovers near death, mumbling the name of the woman from the fifty-year-old story, that Dan is struck by the realization of another kind of love: love unrequited.
Given the strains and struggles of his parents’ cranky, utterly unromantic marriage, the story of his father’s aching first love of fifty years earlier overwhelms Dan’s imagination. And when he hears his comatose father mumble the name of the woman from the story, he’s struck by an unrestrainable urge to go find her, convinced she holds answers to his many questions about love.
So Dan sets off on an untimely and ill-conceived road trip to Oakland, CA, where the woman was last located, determined to change the course of his and his father’s lives. While on that tumultuous journey, he not only questions every aspect of his life, he’s faced with defining a whole new level of love when he meets the gorgeous, intriguing Fiona, a woman surely formed from someone’s fantasy. She appears as if sent from the gods to help in his quest and, in doing so, takes his breath away, forcing him to face his own definition of the elusive emotion.
But it’s the one-two punch of the plot’s unfolding—the reality of the woman he’s searching for, and Jane’s unexpected arrival to win his heart back, that forces love, an urgent pull both life-giving and soul shattering, to be most deeply examined.
For any adult who’s experienced the roller-coaster ride inherent in our human urge to connect and find affection, Dan’s story, and that of his parents, his fiancée, his workmates, his roommate, even Fiona, will surely resonate. He’s led to new thoughts, new realizations, and some painful, if undeniable, conclusions about the many faces love wears, and, in ways he couldn’t have imagined at the start of his story, he finds life altered accordingly.
Given the many challenges of marketing indie novels in a wild and crazy industry teeming with books of every kind, I’m always grateful for those who step up with true interest and awareness of what I’m doing as a writer. It’s gratifying to not only get noticed in the literary tsunami, but get pulled out for recognition and a little conversation.
My debut novel, After the Sucker Punch, was awarded an indieBRAG Medallion last year and that honor triggered a lot of media attention and a spate of new readers who might not have heard of the book otherwise. So when, this year, Hysterical Love was awarded that same honor, I felt doubly fortunate.
They’re agreat organization run by a strong leader, Geri Clouston, with an able and enthusiastic ambassador inStephanie Hopkins, who is indefatigable in her efforts to promote indieBRAG authors and their books.
Toward that end, she invited me to sit down with her to have a chat specifically about Hysterical Love, as well as my general writing process. Thank you, Stephanie; I enjoyed the conversation, always delighted when my books strike a chord!
OK, remember mylast post, about the “necessary evils of self-promotion”? Well, here we go, right here… sit back and enjoy a little “sonata for horn ensemble”…
When I was prepping for the launch of my latest book,Hysterical Love, I approached it with more forethought than was applied to my first book, After The Sucker Punch. Despite that book doing remarkably well (and still doing remarkably well) via my own little independent author efforts, this go-around I opted to work with a wonderful publicist, Julie Schoerke at JKSCommunications. She and her team were very helpful in sorting out and working on the most effective options available to me, given my indie status.
Because it does get confusing. For every blog, site, “expert” that tells you to do this or that, another slew will say something akin to the opposite. Additionally, (and I’ve written much on this) the unfathomable glut of indie books, along with the subsequent media nose-sniffing and stereotyping, have conspired to make it difficult for any indie author to leap through the burning hoops requisite for success. But still; we are writers writing books and once you’ve written a book you love, you’re obligated to get it out there and market it into vibrant life, come hell or high water.
But back to the publicist: amongst the many words of wisdom she imparted during our time together, and after I asked her specifically about industrial-strength review sites like Kirkus and Foreward, she expressed an opinion I was not expecting: go for it, she said. She felt those two, of all the like-options, were valid, bona fide; often very tough, but worth the pursuit in that they have great reach and tremendous influence on what books people pay attention to. So I pursued Kirkus, fingers crossed that I wouldn’t get eviscerated.
But I did wonder about that purported toughness, because I couldn’t help but notice there are few (if any) negative reviews posted, for example, at Kirkus. Then I discovered that every reviewed author has the option to not publish the review they receive if it’s a negative one… which explains the disproportionately jolly outcome of what’s up there! But what a charitable option, I thought. Who wants a gutting review from one of the biggest book/media resources in the world bouncing all over the internet for the rest of time if there’s an option to opt out? I felt at least assured of having some control over whatever Kirkus outcome came out.
And what came out was alovely, largely positive reviewthat I’d be happy to share with even my mother!I was delighted, because whatever one thinks of such “shallow pursuits” as reviews (something an acerbic blogger snarked to me once), having positive perspective of your book bandied about is much better than the opposite. Here’s the takeaway quote:
“Wilke is a skilled writer, able to plausibly inhabit Dan’s young male perspective… A well-written, engaging, sometimes-frustrating tale of reaching adulthood a little late.”
I don’t know about the “frustrating” part (they also took exception with my protagonist’s behavior with a bit more verve than I might’ve, but others have also found him such, so likely I’m biased!). And though I didn’t garner one of their “stars” or “prizes,” I was grateful to get what I got. Yippidy do dah day! May floods of Kirkusian readers come rollin’ my way!
The other “love” Hysterical Love garnered this week was the very lovelyB.R.A.G. MedallionfromindieBRAG.com. This acknowledgment is awarded by book clubs and readers affiliated with the site, and it really is quite an honor (my debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, is also a Medallion honoree). The site’s president. Geri Clouston, as well as its most public and passionate voice,Stephanie Moore Hopkins, are incredibly supportive and generous with their “honorees,” and the nod from them and their organization is always a welcomed gift… thank you!
To cap off this utterly self-serving but authentically felt trumpet solo, I’ll end with the other two accolades recently received: a wonderful review fromLiterary Fiction Book Reviews:
Hysterical Love is a deftly told tale about not only the search for love in the 21st century, but about seeking a greater understanding of the intricacies of the human heart, about love in all its various forms and disguises: puppy love, lost love, emerging love, enduring love, and of course, hysterical love.” (Read more…)
“Oh my, oh my! I just finished reading Hysterical Love, the newest novel by Lorraine Devon Wilke, and I must say, I simply adored it! …I loved this book! Loved, loved, loved it. Wilke’s writing style is witty, pointed and funny, even hilarious at times.” (Read more…)
So yes, a good run.
But here’s the thing: none of this matters if you, the readers, aren’t inspired to get out (or get to your computers) to buy and read said book(s)! What ultimately matters most to me is that reviews and awards spark a, “that sounds good… I have to get a copy” kind of response. Because (and I’m not just saying this!), getting my books into your hands to read and enjoy is the whole gig. THE WHOLE GIG. I’m just here doing my part to make sure you know how wise you’d be to pursue that goal. 🙂
And now I’m done. Thank you for listening and go have a great day. (Damn, my lips hurt!)
There is great honor, as an author, in seeing your work strike exactly the right chords, inspire exactly the desired response; even provoke exactly the intended conversations. We each understand that the experience of art and literature is a subjective exercise, but still… when it’s reflected back just as you imagined it in your head… well, that’s golden, isn’t it?
UK author and blogger, E.L. Lindley, provided one of those shiny, golden moments for me today. She just posted her review of After The Sucker Punch, and I was as touched by her beautiful and articulate analysis of the book as I was her consideration in posting it beyond her blog and all over the social media world. THAT is truly above and beyond, and in a world where indie authors sometimes hear the resounding echo of their solo journey, that kind of support is truly and deeply felt. Thank you, E.L., I’m delighted you enjoyed the book!
After The Sucker Punch is an aptly named novel because it packs a mighty punch and raises so many questions, I was left literally reeling by the end of it. Lorraine Devon Wilke commands our attention with a splendidly dramatic opening and never lets us off the hook until the very last page.
The novel is essentially the story of Tessa Curzio, who whilst attending her father’s funeral discovers that he kept diaries for fifty years and has used them to record less than complimentary observations about his family and friends. The trauma of the death of a parent combined with the diary findings serve to cast Tessa into a spiral of self-doubt and destruction. The diaries are described as a Pandora’s Box and indeed, once they’ve been opened, the lives of Tessa and her family will never be the same again. In addition to this, the effects of the Pandora’s Box seem to extend to the reader, leaving behind some very thorny philosophical questions.
LDW shrewdly uses the third person narrative to tell her story, which invites the reader to see the bigger picture. We don’t necessarily always agree with Tessa’s version of events, especially where her siblings are concerned. Tessa has a difficult relationship with her older sister Michaela but LDW offers us a glimpse of a woman trying to juggle her life as a wife, mother and teacher, whilst stepping up to her new role as the family designated carer for her newly widowed mother. Whilst Tessa may have little sympathy for Michaela, LDW ensures that the reader does.
Tessa’s relationship with her siblings is for me the heart and soul of the novel and anybody who has siblings will recognise the petty tensions and jealousies but deep visceral love that defines the bonds they share. Tessa to a large extent has removed herself from her family in order to survive and consequently much of the to-ing and fro-ing between them is via a hilarious series of telephone conversations.
LDW offers us the Curzio family and with it the question of whether parents are responsible for their adult children’s misery. Tessa grew up with an unstable mother who is prone to extreme mood swings and a distant, aloof father, who struggled with intimacy. Despite their chaotic childhood, Tessa and all five of her siblings have grown into accomplished, successful people. Ronnie, her younger brother has lost his way but still has the potential for a good life. However, they are mired in their childhood, looking for reasons as to why their parents are like they are. Tessa’s mother bemoans the fact that she feels like a “dartboard” as her children look to blame her for their difficult childhoods.
Tessa’s family dynamics reflect a period of time that will resonate with lots of us who grew up in the 60s the 70s. Children’s needs were not particularly taken into account and as Tessa points out there was “no concept of child abuse.” Her mother freely hits her children in anger and perhaps worse, they are subjected to the fear and anxiety of her constant mood swings. In some ways the fact that her mother has the capacity for great kindness, as when she reassures Tessa she isn’t sinful, makes her relationship with her children even more complex. In her role as a writer, Tessa covers a feature about fathers and daughters and finds herself comparing her own experiences with other more tangible forms of abuse. She comes to the conclusion that pain is subjective and so can’t be comparative – “it’s as deep as you feel it.”
There’s no denying that her father’s written words have a devastating effect on Tessa and cause her much soul searching. As she rails against his words, there is clearly the kernel of fear within her that they might be true. As she is forced to confront her fears, her life implodes around her. The only constant is her friendship with Kate and Ruby even though LDW allows just enough realism to creep into their relationships. Tessa can’t help but feel reassured by Ruby’s marital problems whilst suffused with jealousy at Kate’s seemingly perfect life.
At the crux of the novel is the idea of whether we should be judged by what we write. Leo Curzio’s diary habit is made more toxic by the fact that he wanted his family to read them. The diaries serve as a metaphorical hand grenade tossed into the bosom of his family with the potential to rip lives apart. Tessa’s aunt, who acts as the conscience of the novel, asserts that maybe we should be judged on our actions rather than by what we may write. To all intents and purposes Leo Curzio was a good man, who did his best to give his children the best start in life but, for some bizarre reason felt the need to vent his bitterness and resentment on paper. Which is the more valid Leo is the puzzle that Tessa is left to figure out.
In the end there are no startling revelations or absolute answers, just a sense of peace and the idea of trying to accept people as they are, warts and all. LDW has captured the spirit of family perfectly in that there is no perfect family. Her novel is funny, warm, tense, angry and ultimately shows us that life is to be lived and there’s no point in dwelling on the past.
To visit and stay updated with E.L.’s blog, click HERE. To visit her author page on Amazon, click HERE.
It’s not every day you have a deliciously brilliant author/indie publisher from the UK spend a little word count on your behalf, so when it happens, how remiss would you be if you didn’t share those precious words with your always interested audience?
Please take a moment to enjoy the very funny, astute, and really touching write-up Mr. Mark Barry wrote up about the state of fiction in general, and my fiction specifically.
And when you click over to read the full post, I urge you to take some time to click on Barry’s books posted on his site. The three I’ve read—Carla, The Night Porter, and Once Upon A Time In the City of Criminals—were each incredibly original stories, with fierce wit, enough edge to slice a finger, and utterly intriguing characters and plot lines. Which makes his kudos for my work all the more meaningful.
Thank you, sir; you are a reminder of what a wonderful circle of wagons the indie community can be!
• • • • • • • •
Lorraine Devon Wilke Reviewed!
by Mark Barry
Contemporary Fiction is the unwanted, bastard stepchild of Independent fiction.
Harsh? No. True. Don’t believe me? Come and join me at the shelter where, just outside the soup kitchen, you can find ten, fifteen, twenty Contemporary Fiction writers huddled around the brazier, polystyrene mug of powdered Minestrone warming fingerless mitts and coating trembling, arid lips.
Contemps just can’t catch a break.We starve for our art.
I’ll go further.
To sell in Indie, you need to be writing genre fiction.
Famous Nottingham author Nicola Valentine held court on this in a debate at the Nottingham Writer’s Studio a short while ago and many, many blogs and analysts on the scene allude to the eminence, the supremacy of genre. Here’s the top four (outside non-fiction and self help).
Vampire – preferably the stuff that sparkles. Erotica – atm, LGBT erotica in particular. Young Adult – pick something unreal and it’s likely to be written about: Wizards, Zombies and Gargoyles have been popular recently and of course, Romance/chicklit – say no more.
(The really clever authors who are sitting on biblical piles of paper moolah the size of the Tower of Babel are those who write dirty vampire romances for teenagers. They’re rolling cigars made of crisp twenties and laughing all the way to the bank).
Unreal. Invented. Other. Escapist.
In fact, genre fiction= escapist. The more fantastic, the more unreal and out there, the more it is likely to sell.
Contemporary fiction writers can usually be found hunting for food in skips outside conferences full of genre authors, which is a shame as generally contemporary fiction authors, as writers, knock genre writers into a cocked hat. These boys and girls can write.
And Lorraine Devon Wilke, who lives just up the road from Brenda Perlin, the “Faction” writer I featured last week, is a damned fine contemporary writer indeed.
Someone asked me the other day what was the singlemost reason I chose to self-publish my books. Actually, I have two reasons, which, I suppose, makes this a “doublemost” situation.
First: while I would’ve loved (I mean, seriously loved) the help of an enthusiastic literary agent and the support and heft of a publisher with name value and cultural prestige, procuring those collaborators in our ever-changing industry has become an increasingly elusive event; it certainly was for me. I gave it my all over several years then decided I had no more all to give; since I truly believed what I was doing merited further advancement, and I’d gotten to the point where I just wanted to move forward, I leapt off the indie cliff.
Think I’m still in mid-fall!
Second: I wanted control over the work I put out. Frankly, if you’re not getting the perks of industry collaboration, there has to be some kind of trade-off; one of the most phenomenal trade-offs of “doing it yourself” is controlling exactly how your work comes to fruition. For the uninitiated, this is a big thing because, with traditional publishers, items like final edit, title, and book cover are typically taken out of the hands of the author. Certainly an unknown author. Which would be me. And since I wasone of the brave souls striking out independently—for better or for worse—one of the “betterest” reasons was the ability to create and produce EXACTLY the books I wanted.
Now, if you’re like me, a creative perfectionist who’s driven many a musician, producer, co-writer, actor, director, sound mixer, editor, or wildly opinionated drummer crazy with detailed, nuanced, and very specific standards and opinions, you’ll understand that the perk of creative control for someone like me is a boon. I’ve always believed that, if you’ve put in the time to truly learn your craft, gain your experience, hone your expertise, and bring to life a beautifully imagined story and set of characters, you deserve the power to render the final edit, pick the title, and decide on your cover art. Certainly working with professionals in the arena of editing is essential, input on titles is always illuminating, and a cover designer is a must-have, but ultimately it all comes down to YOU.
Which is lovely.
And a book cover, to my mind, is one of the most important elements of the final product. Why wouldn’t it be? Books truly are judged by their covers and too often the covers of self-published books are artistically lacking, poorly designed, and amateurishly rendered. Those covers then become litmus tests to the perusing and reading public, signaling to many that this writer may not have a firm grasp on professional market standards and, therefore, likely hasn’t delivered a professionally excellent book. I’m sure that’s not true in every case, but from all reports: most.
So given my bona fides as a photographer with a deep catalogue of images from which to choose—convenient, considering my preference for photographic cover art—my design process was both financially beneficial and extremely simple. Add in the fact that my cover designer is a brilliant graphic artist from Chicago,Grace Amandes, who just happens to be my sister, and it was a foregone conclusion that I’d get exactly the covers I wanted. And I did.
AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH, with its story of a woman who discovers on the night of her father’s funeral that he thought she was a failure, needed a female face in the background, one that reflected the mood and emotional tone of the piece. After pulling an image from my gallery—as well as finding a back cover image that illustrated another story point that takes place in Cambria, CA— I handed the images to Grace, who ultimately came back with a cover I loved:
With HYSTERICAL LOVE, a more whimsical story about a thirty-something guy struggling to find the meaning of true love and his father’s long-lost soul mate, a through-line involving an ice cream truck became the inspiration. There was no doubt I’d be using a favorite photograph taken in my neighborhood and processed with a “selective color” concept (see original above). Grace found the exact right font and color for the title, and it has become a cover that people literally smile over. I do too!
For “She Tumbled Down,” a short story about a tragic hit-and-run, published only in e-book, I decided to design the cover myself, trusting that, since ebooks don’t require quite the specifications of a print cover, I could pull it off. Inspired by Grace’s work, I came up with another “selective color” version of an image also taken in my neighborhood (see original above). It makes the very poignant point.
Working in both literary and photographic mediums, I’ve discovered my general thrust as an artist is, quite simply, storytelling. Whether visual, literal, or musical, the narrative I see and feel impels the work forward, and so it has been a natural marriage between words and images in bringing my books to happily imagined life…a result that makes all the challenges and occasional indignities of self-publishing all the more easy to forgive!
To view my photography galleries at Fine Art America click HERE.