Like a gestating, beloved baby, Hysterical Love has been nurtured, polished, fed well, spit-shined, and lovingly led to glorious life in the last many months, coming to full creative fruition, and finally, right on time, stepping onto the stage:
For those who’ve asked, it is, in some ways, a bookend to my debut novel, After The Sucker Punch. Though very different stories told from very different points of view, both books involve adult children reading the written words of a father and being propelled onto a journey of a personal and/or transformative nature as a result. In the case of Hysterical Love, the story is told from the first-person perspective of Dan McDowell, a man knee-deep in a burgeoning existential crises:
Dan McDowell, a thirty-three-year-old portrait photographer happily set to marry his beloved Jane, is stunned when a slip of the tongue about an “ex-girlfriend overlap” of years earlier throws their pending marriage into doubt and him onto the street. Or at least into the second bedroom of their next-door neighbor, Bob, where Dan is sure it won’t be long. It’s long.
His sister, Lucy, further confuses matters with her “soul mate theory” and its suggestion that Jane might not be his… soul mate, that is. But the tipping point comes when his father is struck ill, sparking a chain of events in which Dan discovers a story written by this man he doesn’t readily understand, but who, it seems, has long harbored an unrequited love from decades earlier.
Incapable of fixing his own romantic dilemma, Dan becomes fixated on finding this woman of his father’s dreams and sets off for Oakland, California, on a mission fraught with detours and semi-hilarious peril. Along the way he meets the beautiful Fiona, herbalist and flower child, who assists in his quest while quietly and erotically shaking up his world. When, against all odds, he finds the elusive woman from the past, the ultimate discovery of how she truly fit into his father’s life leaves him staggered, as does the reality of what’s been stirred up with Fiona. But it’s when he returns home to yet another set of unexpected truths that he’s shaken to the core, ultimately forced to face who he is and just whom he might be able to love.
Hysterical Love infuses a deft mix of humor and drama into a whip-smart narrative told from the point of view of its male protagonist, exploring themes of family, commitment, balancing creativity, facing adulthood, and digging deep to understand the beating heart of true love.
I realize these are wild times in the book industry, traditional, independent and everything in between. Hundreds of thousands of titles are published each year and it’s a challenge for readers to know what to buy, what books will engage them, and which authors they want to explore and follow. As a reader myself, I know it’s hard to ferret through the tsunami of supply to find the work that resonates with you. Given that, I hope you will take a look at this new book of mine. I guarantee you will find something within it to engage you, make you laugh, pique a thought or two, and, hey, there’s much mention of ice cream and pie… that can only be good! 🙂
Pick up a copy…and ENJOY! I’ll be most appreciative, I promise.
There is a wide spectrum of events and circumstances that can contribute mightily to the joy of a writer’s life, but one of the nicest has to be the opportunity to talk about the work with smart, insightful people who are genuinely interested. I had occasion today to enjoy that experience when I was interviewed byDr. Peter Saccoand ListenUp!TalkRadio President,Todd Miller, on their show, “Matters of the Mind.”
These are two really great guys who approached the conversation with a holistic slant, interested in reaching below the surface to discuss the deeper threads that run throughout an artist’s experience and inspiration. Given my eclectic background, as well as the personal mission to explore the more humanistic, emotional aspects of life through my art, I appreciated the approach!
The interview will run tonight (March 25, 2015, at 8:00 EST) and will be podcast, as well, for future listening. The link with all the information is below. Please enjoy the listen and be sure to check out any of the books we discuss by going HERE!
Being an author is a somewhat mysterious and solitary trade, regardless of how one ultimately publishes their books. When you’re self-published, however, there’s a whole other level of mystery that gets stirred into the mix, questions and opinions about why you published the way you did and what it all means in the big picture of how your value, your book’s value, is perceived.
Those outside the industry, however, the readers, generally keep their focus on the books: the stories, the covers, the draw of the narrative; the reviews, the word-of-mouth, etc. What they generally don’t think about? How or in what manner an author got their book published. Which is good. It shouldn’t matter. All anyone should give a hoot about is whether or not a book has been well-written, well-produced, grabs their interest, and, ultimately, delivers the goods.
Still, stigmas persist, so when you do find reviews on Amazon from total strangers expressing delight with your work, when a heretofore unknown blogger announces your book is one of the best he’s read in 2014; when a publicist plucks your work out of the ethers to declare it a “top read of the year,” you are all the more touched. Because you take none of it for granted.
And when a venerable book club that’s been around for over fifteen years chooses your book to be their March read, gathering to enthusiastically discuss that book with wit and intelligence… well, for this self-pubbed author who’s been through every kind of artistic gauntlet over a long and largely independent career, that’s GOLDEN. And not to be taken for granted.
Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect when my college pal, Eileen Butler (part of the group), sent a note informing me of the March selection of AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCHby the Valencia Hills Book Club, extending an invitation to attend the “discussion” gathering at her home mid-month. I wondered if a tight-knit group of women from Valencia, CA, might find my somewhat rough-edged tale a bit off-putting and unrelatable. I wondered if they’d find me a bit off-putting and unrelatable (I am not getting out that much! 🙂 ); I wondered if… hell, I had absolutely NO idea what to expect, but either way, I was honored and certainly up for it. I ordered some of my Chicago cousin’s famous book cookies, printed up some “coming soon” cards for my next book, Hysterical Love, and circled the date.
And when I met the Ladies of the Valencia Hills Book Club—Linda Skvarna, Sandra D’souza Benjamin, Shelly Paolucci Coleman, Kimberly Briggs Reed, Patti Paglia, Alice Sain and Suzanne Rioux —I was more than delighted to make the acquaintance of a group of smart, funny, progressive, really interesting, and really interested women. To hear them discuss the book’s characters by name, debate covered issues of cults and religion, talk about the epilogue song, look to me for answers about my thinking on certain plot elements and story twists was like being surrounded by people talking about and discussing the finer points of my child…what “parent” wouldn’t love that?
I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know a bit about each of them: their fascinating stories and backgrounds, the kinds of books they’ve read over the years, and certainly about their late founder, a woman whom they speak of with deep respect. We shared good food (thank you, Eileen!), great conversation, and tremendous mutual interest.
I walked away from the evening imbued with a sense of having been honored. To have such an eclectic group of remarkable women give their reading time and attention to me and my book is no small thing. Certainly not something I take for granted. And regardless of how or in what manner I might choose to publish any of my books in years to come, I hope I always feel that way.
Thank you, Ladies of the Valencia Hills Book Club; you truly made my day!
It doesn’t matter whether you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram; it makes no difference if you’re famous, not famous, flinging commentary, sharing jokes; promoting books, movies, restaurants, mascara lines, or family pictures, everyone’s in on it. The rushing, churning, never-ending flow of information being pushed, shoved, bandied, and sometimes battered online.
I regularly scroll through my Twitter feed and am amazed at the sheer volume of information rolling down the screen: this or that meant to snag my curiosity enough to make a click that leads to a link that, hopefully, compels a read, a retweet, or, most desirous, a purchase. It reminds me of those street bazaars where you wander through narrow aisles of merchandise as sellers wave items and hawk their wares in a rush of cacophony…or those scenes in movies where cars get stuck in traffic to be bombarded by rowdy street kids chattering over each other for a hand out. Frankly, it’s exhausting.
And I’m right in there with the best of ’em.
Yep, like every other self-whatever, I’m jostling along with the crowd, jumping up and down in earnest effort to grab attention for my work. Why? Well, first of all, because it’s worthy, and second of all…we have to. It’s what you gotta do to be viable in today’s world. It’s mandated by the “welcome to your self-career” handbook.
But, despite business need and protocol, what you discover when you become part of that hand-waving, ware-hawking, book-bandying horde, is that you sometimes feel akin to a polyester-sweating used car salesman dangling bizarre freebies in hopes of closing a sale (“Buy today and we’ll throw in a toaster!!”). I know it’s part of the gig—dear God, I know it’s part of the gig—which is why I’m delighted to be working with apublicist in launching my upcoming novel, Hysterical Love. But beyond that thrilling collaboration, to the more day-to-day, “takin’-it-to-the-streets” stuff, damn if I don’t covet my own full-time carnival barker!
Today was one of those days. So I posted this Tweet:
“Sincere question: what kind of tweets make you chk out a book? Cover? Blurb? Quote? I see so many & wonder what works. Feedback appreciated.”
And the first, almost immediate, response was:
“The WRITER! Share stories about YOU…”
Fascinating. I can’t say I’d have thought sharing stories about me was a particularly welcomed way to interest potential readers—what with our many unwelcomed narcissistic cultural trends—but I got the meaning. And it was appreciated.
Because, though I’m not shy, I do tend to steer away from anything that blares of self-trumpeting. I’d always rather talk about you than about me. And I’d certainly rather talk about the work than share personal anecdotes. When I spent my time years ago writing two-four articles a day for various publications, I figured people learned enough about me via my politics, my views, my philosophy; my take on things. Even now, I still write the selective essay that offers my perspective to anyone paying attention. But beyond what is gleaned from all that jabbering, I’m not much of a self-promoter. I’ve never taken or posted a “selfie” (and won’t); any travel pics I put up are usually bereft of images of me, and I’m not much compelled to participate in TBT. I will share special events or notable information related to my work, but, really… is there that much about ME that’s pertinent to selling my books?
Beyond my quick-commenting Tweeter, a business-savvy friend of mine says “yes.” She concurred that people want to get a sense not only of the book (movie, restaurant, mascara line) they might choose to enjoy, but of the person who created it. Which, okay, I’ll concede: considering how much I myself enjoy the interestinginterview with people I find interesting, point taken.
So in a nod to my responding Tweeter, I offer this little anecdote…yes, about me!
Though I was born in Chicago, I grew up in a tiny farm town in Illinois—Richmond (does every state have a town named Richmond?)—and when I was a little girl, my father threw out our TV and demanded we spend our free time reading books. He’d bring home boxes from the Chicago library and, despite my true annoyance at not being able to imbibe in Saturday morning cartoons and the like, getting those boxes was like a never-ending literary Christmas. It did, no doubt, have much to do with sparking my love affair with words and writing.
My favorite writer during that period?Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her books transported me to a time and place I could actually see, touch, and feel. As a young country girl surrounded by prairies myself, I became part of that big, frontier family she chronicled. It was a transformative experience. She later became an inspiration as both a tenacious female author, and one who didn’t have success until later in life, two things to which I can relate!
And, this last fact might intrigue you: the same father who encouraged my passion for reading was also the one whose enigmatic journals incited the story behind AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH…
There. How’s that? A little something about me. I hope my Tweeting friend enjoys it! And maybe I’ll try it again some time… you never know, this could be fun! 🙂
[Btw, the photo at the top is a favorite of mine from our days in Richmond; one day—either before or after that shot was taken—a cow rambled by that same swing set without much notice of me and my siblings playing in our scruffy back yard! Gotta love the country!]
Do we write for ourselves or for our readers? Do we write what we think will sell, what might get us the most attention, or what we’re compelled to write? All fair questions, particularly given the challenges of marketing a book, specifically an indie book, in an ever-changing industry.
A colleague of mine, quite the brilliant writer, spoke with me recently on the topic, specifically about “fan fiction,” that ubiquitous genre that has unleashed vampires, zombies, paranormal lovers, and whip-yielding CEOs on an eager reading public. In his weariness at the uphill climb of promoting literary fiction (my genre, as well), my friend asked if I thought I could ever write a “genre” book, for no other reason than to tap into the trend and hopefully hit the mother lode. I thought about it. I mean, if you used a pseudonym, if you created an alter ego, why not?
Because I couldn’t do it. Not because I’m above such things, but because the Muse that compels me to write, to sit down at the computer and tap into something ephemeral and demanding and propulsive, has to be sparked by the Idea That Must Be Written. For me, that happens rarely and only with stories I’m moved by, stories I’d want to read myself, stories I feel contribute something of depth and value to the world. They don’t have to be dirges, certainly humor is a big part of my style, but they’ve got to tap into something meaningful. For me. Nothing against vampires—if I had a vampire story that tickled my brain to the point that I had to write it, I would—but I cannot imagine finding the mental, emotional, and creative energy to write a “trend-tap” story in hopes of going viral.
Could you? How do writers find their stories? What does move most authors to do the work, take the steps, dedicate the time to complete a novel?
Fact is, I wasn’t sure I’d ever write a novel… of any kind! It seemed so large and looming, that process, particularly after years of writing screenplays with their 120-page formats and mandate to move the story along with just visuals and dialogue. That was certainly its own challenge and skill set, but it couldn’t approach the depth and breath of an 80K-100K+ word novel! And I never felt I had a story deep enough to compel the novel format… until After The Sucker Punch came to me.
Some of you are familiar with the story: a thirty-six-year-old woman—ex-rocker, lapsed Catholic, defected Scientologist, and fourth in a family of eight complicated people—finds her father’s journals on the night of his funeral and discovers he thought she was a failure. The journal she reads is ten-years-old, there are others that may offer more contemporary, less denigrating, opinions, but the impact of knowing he’d ever dismissed and mischaracterized her struggles, her successes, her relentless quest to achieve her goals, is shattering… a “sucker punch.” As the title suggests, the story follows her journey as she goes from reeling at the information to attempting to make sense of it, getting beyond it rebuild her sense of self, her view of her family and childhood, and certainly her understanding of her father.
It was a story sparked by a real incident: My own father wrote journals and, many years after his death, one was brought to my attention that was particularly focused on me in a somewhat, shall we say, critical way. I had my understandable reaction, but since I’d had a fairly distant relationship with my father throughout my adult life, his retrospective critique, while hurtful, was not, for me, particularly life shattering. It was only when I brought it up in a women’s group I was in at the time that I realized just how provocatively the incident translated to others: The women in the group were collectively horrified; the variety and intensity of their responses was fascinating, most exclaiming that such an indictment from their own fathers, particularly posthumously, would have left them devastated. Suddenly this seemed like a story worthy of novel treatment!
My enthusiasm stirred, I then took the prompt – “how would you feel if you found your father’s journal and he said you were a failure?” – to a number of others, both men and women, and accrued a panoply of replies on all sides of the spectrum. From there, so excited about the depth and variety of what I was hearing, I began to piece my story together, dug deeper to go beyond the “inciting incident” to explore issues that resonated with many of the people I spoke to: love, relationships, religion, careers, how we frame success, how we define ourselves, etc.
At that point I had the arc, created a plot, fleshed out characters informed by my research, and became driven to write that narrative, with those characters, and the very specific ending they all led me to. It was an exciting, exhilarating, creative process…
… and the only way I can write a novel: relentlessly pushed by my Muse to tell that specific story. Literary fiction? Not genre? Won’t necessarily bring in the hordes, go viral, inspire a rabid fan base? So be it. But I guarantee, whoever lines up to purchase my book, whoever clicks a buy button, whoever goes to a bookstore to find it on a shelf, will find a narrative told with passion, imbued with heart, and reflective of people and experiences that have moved me. And will, I hope, move them as well!
When you ponder the task of writing a novel, the idea alone seems to come with certain cultural longing, the sense that everyone with a love of words has had the urge to do the same. Write a novel, that is. Some talk about it, some have tried and failed, some have worked hard and succeeded; even the phrase, “the great American novel,” is an embedded part of our national lexicon. Writing a novel seems to be an almost mystical journey, a creative vision quest filled with trials and terrors, but still, and always, a goal of profound eminence.
And it is. It really is. It’s a singularly stellar experience, a creative process I seriously love, and one I’ve had the good fortune to experience twice (so far), first with my debut novel, After the Sucker Punch, and, most recently, with the completion of my latest, soon to be released,Hysterical Love, publication date, April 7, 2015. I’m excited to introduce the book with the colorful prelude above, the cover designed by Grace Amandes, who also created the evocative cover of After The Sucker Punch.
I’m sharing this with you now, so many months ahead of the pub date, because this go-around I’m working with a top-notch publicity company, JKSCommunications, whose team, led by the indefatigable Julie Schoerke, is currently rolling out a robust pre-launch campaign to get this new book properly and prominently introduced, launched, and promoted. As in indie writer, it’s exciting (even comforting) to have a team of highly skilled, warmly accessible, and incredibly enthusiastic professionals getting in the trenches with me, a place that tends to be lonely for those of us publishing on the path considered “non-traditional.” I’m delighted to have their collaboration and guidance, and certainly the shared intent to make Hysterical Love a smashing success in all the ways it can be.
Towards that end, the book is currently available as a preorder at both Amazon and Smashwords; you’re all invited to jump to the front of the line to sign up for your copy! 🙂
(And for those interested, the paperback will be set up for preorders soon…stay tuned.)
Now that you’ve met the cover, the publicity team, and the preorder links, let me tell you a bit about the story. It is, in some ways, a bookend toAfter The Sucker Punch:though very different stories told from very different points of view, both involve adult children reading the written words of a father and being propelled on a journey of a personal and/or transformative nature as a result. Here’s HL‘s synopsis:
Dan McDowell, a thirty-three-year-old portrait photographer happily set to marry his beloved Jane, is stunned when a slip of the tongue about an “ex-girlfriend overlap” of years earlier throws their pending marriage into doubt and him onto the street. Or at least into the second bedroom of their next-door neighbor, Bob, where Dan is sure it won’t be long.
His sister, Lucy, further confuses matters with her “soul mate theory” and its suggestion that Jane might not be his… soul mate, that is. But the tipping point comes when his father is struck ill, sparking a chain of events in which Dan discovers a story written by this man he doesn’t readily understand, but who, it seems, has long harbored an unrequited love from decades earlier.
Incapable of fixing his own romantic dilemma, Dan becomes fixated on finding this woman of his father’s dreams and sets off for Oakland, California, on a mission fraught with detours and semi-hilarious peril. Along the way he meets the beautiful Fiona, herbalist and flower child, who assists in his quest, while quietly and erotically shaking up his world. When, against all odds, he finds the elusive woman from the past, the ultimate discovery of how she truly fit into his father’s life leaves him staggered, as does the reality of what’s been stirred up with Fiona.
But it’s when he returns home to yet another set of unexpected truths that he’s shaken to the core, ultimately forced to face who he is and just whom he might be able to love.
Hysterical Love offers a deft mix of humor and drama in a whip-smart narrative told from the point of view of its male protagonist, exploring themes of family, commitment, balancing creativity, facing adulthood, and digging deep to understand the beating heart of true love.
One of the most challenging aspects of being an indie author is the sheer volume of tasks related to marketing your own book. What traditionally published authors look to their publishers to offer, or at least implement, in terms of promotion and marketing, indie authors do all by their lonesome, unless they are fortunate enough to be able to work with a publicist (which I’ll be doing on my next book!). And given the staggering number of books flooding the self-publishing marketplace (reportedly 500,000 in just the US in 2013), finding ways to get your book pulled out of the rumbling pack is a tug-of-war like no other!
So when you get a boost from a group, an organization, that is not only well-regarded in the publishing industry, deeply involved in promoting self-published authors, and very selective about the books it chooses to award their prestigious B.R.A.G. Medallion, you feel a little bit like Christmas came early. Which is how I felt when I got the news this week that my debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, has been selected for a Medallion.
IndieBRAG was founded by Founder and President, Geraldine Clouston, with a mission statement to “to recognize quality on the part of authors who self-publish both print and digital books.” From author Alison Morton’s interview with Ms. Clouston at Roma Nova:
One fearsome, but in a way reassuring, statistic is that IndieBRAG rejects 90% of books that it considers. Not quite two years old, it already has an excellent reputation as a serious “Guardian at the Gate”. At the recent Self-Published Book Expo in New York, IndieBRAG presented an authoritative report on self-publishing and was the only panel out of 17 filmed by C-SPAN’s Book TV
What is the background to you starting IndieBRAG?
Several years ago my husband and I attended the Self-Publishing Book Expo in New York City for the first time. We were, of course, not surprised to find many self-published authors at the Expo who were looking for help. However, we were surprised to discover that after these authors had published their books very few of them knew what to do next. We quickly realized that with the explosion of self-publishing, it is very hard for an indie author to get any attention for their book. And more to the point, given that much of what is self-published is not worth a reader’s time or money, it is a major challenge for a good self-published book to rise above the rest.
Tell us about your process for evaluating self-published work.
After a book is nominated through our website it is subjected to a rigorous selection process. This entails an initial screening to ensure that the author’s work meets certain minimum standards of quality and content. If it passes this preliminary assessment it is then read by members drawn from our reader group. We have over 150 readers in 11 countries who regularly read self-published books for us. They judge the merits of the book based on a comprehensive list of criteria, the most important of which is whether or not they would recommend it to their best friend. If a book meets our high standards, we award it our B.R.A.G. Medallion and present it on our website.
There are two important things to note about our process- First, we are not agents, literary experts, or publishers. We are simply ordinary people who are passionate about reading books; the same people who buy books. And second, we do not permit any contact between our readers and authors, or other readers. This gives the reader an opportunity to make a decision without any undue influence from anyone.
I’m not only deeply honored to have my book in such good company, I’m delighted to be part of a “family” so passionately focused on independent authors putting out excellent work and raising the bar on what can be expected from artists working outside the traditional publishing paradigm. It’s encouraging to me as an individual author and it’s empowering to the entire indie movement. Suffice it to say, I’m thrilled!
I encourage you to go to the IndieBRAG site not only to check out my page, but to view and explore the work of the many other authors who’ve been selected for this distinguished honor. I know many of you are avid readers always looking for the best in books to add to your libraries; IndieBRAG is a great place to find titles that have been carefully vetted and selected with the highest standards in mind.
Thank you, IndieBRAG, for honoring my book. A very Merry Christmas to you too!
At the time he was in the midst of reading my short story, “She Tumbled Down,” and promised to get to my novel, After The Sucker Punch, as soon as he was able. Which was delightfully soon, considering how busy this guy is. I say “delightfully” because Mark did that thing every writer loves when someone’s reading their book: he sent emails during and throughout his read, exclaiming over bits he liked, sharing thoughts on various characters and plot twists, assuring me that, when he was done, he would write a proper review. He and I did share some thoughts about the review conundrum (bracingly discussed in OK, Let’s Discuss This Whole Book Review Thing… Please), and I made him swear on a stack of indie novels that whatever he wrote, it would be his authentic opinion, good, bad, or in-between (I made the pact in return, given his status as a fellow author whose books I’ll read).
Of course, this sort of promise is always a dicey thing, something every reader of indie novels (and even some traditional novels) knows. You pick up the book of someone you’ve met in a writer’s group, a book club, online, or at a convention, and you do so with a certain gnawing fear that you’ll discover, sentences into the thing, that writing a review is either going to be a painful process or something you’ll eschew all together for the sake of the friendship. So when you make that pact with someone directly, well… there’s no turning back, is there?
So when I got the news today that Mark’s review had posted, I approached it with bracing fortitude, hoping for the best but, mostly, wanting Mark to have felt comfortable enough to stay true to his word, no matter how the reading experience transpired. And I couldn’t have been more thrilled, pleased, delighted, honored, and really touched by what he had to say.
I’m leaving the whole review here, because I loved the depth with which he analyzed the narrative and shared his perspective. However, I have left the links to his sites above and below, so you can check them from time-to-time for his ongoing reviews and updates about his own work.
Thank you, Mark Barry, for being such an unabashed supporter of the literary arts… and those of us who love painting our creative pictures with them!
After The Sucker Punch: A Review
After The Sucker Punch (ATSP) is a fantastic novel.
I’m writing this because I know most of my readers are always on the lookout for a good book – and ATSP is a very, very good book.
I met the novel’s author, Lorraine Devon Wilke, two weeks ago through a lovely friend of mine, Orange County’s Brenda Perlin. A resident of LA, Lorraine came around the interview Cauldron to widen her exposure to a UK audience.
Out of respect, Lorraine made a gift to me of both her novel and short story “She Tumbled Down” and while I loved the short story, the novel is something else entirely.
An Indie novel, it is definitely in the top ten of the books (Trad or Indie), I have read (which is a fair number) since I started Green Wizard.
After reading twelve chapters on Kindle, I immediately logged on to Amazon and like some literary Victor Kiam, I bought the paperback.
I am glad I did. It is a magnificent paperback indeed.
I teach the odd hour of Creative Writing and Self Publishing, and last night, I took the paperback of ATSP to our latest group to demonstrate how to structure dialogue.
The group I teach are professionals, experienced diarists, bloggers, report writers who wish to learn about e-publishing and between them, they read 100-200 books a year.
Not one of them could tell that this was a self-published book.
Printed by Createspace and professionally edited, it is a beautiful piece of work to hold in your hand. ATSP would not be out of place in Waterstones (and, without getting political, it makes a total nonsense of the idea that self-published work is somehow inferior. Saying so would be an insult to this novel and its creative team).
ATSP is a family saga. Tessa, a dreamy, thirty-something, sometime artist/writer/drifter with aspirations to something better than her current humdrum life, attends the funeral of her father, Leo.
After the Wake, and while staying at her mother’s house, she reads one of his many journals.
What Leo wrote is so shocking, it changes Tessa’s life and the lives of everyone in her extended family.
Four factors mark Lorraine’s brilliant debut as something special.
Firstly, her characters. Each so individual, so distinctive and so well defined, you can tell who is talking without the character being named. That’s no mean feat. Secondly, the dialogue is crisp, sassy and real, patter so realistic, you can hear it taking place. Thirdly, the way Lorraine links and merges the historical comments Tessa reads in the journal into the real time narrative is shrewd and repays rereading.
Then, finally, there is Tessa herself, the novel’s protagonist. You may not like her – two days after completing the novel, I am completely ambivalent about her * – but she is real and you can follow her train of reasoning at all times.
None of her behaviour is extranormal and you can imagine doing the same things she does (and that’s not a necessarily recommendation).
You watch her progress and change. You understand her one minute, then you can’t comprehend what she’s up to the next. Then immediately after, you want to reach into the pages of the book and wag your finger at her. You live her deliberations and you can feel her confusion on your fingertips as you turn the page.
At no time does Tessa lapse into stereotype. She constantly surprises you and – whether you like her or not, you cannot stop following her trials and tribulations for a second.
The supporting cast is excellent. Her family, particularly the harassed Micheala, and the alcoholic brother, Ronnie, are similarly absorbing. Tessa’s long suffering boyfriend, the corporate sportswear schill David, struggles manfully to accommodate Tessa’s whys and wherefores before being completely overwhelmed by them in some of the novel’s saddest scenes.
Her relationship with best friends Katie and Ruby would satisfy any fan of chicklit, (and I quite fancied the hapless, heartbroken Ruby, in a Sir Lancelot kind of way), but it is Aunt Joanne who steals the show.
The Catholic Nun-cum-Therapist helps Tessa deal with the aftermath of the revelations unleashed by Leo’s journal and becomes by far the strongest foil for her increasingly self-destructive angst.
You long for her to reappear in the narrative – perhaps because she is the only person strong enough – and brave enough – to confront Tessa, whose self-absorption is relentless.
Like the best contemporary fiction, nothing extraordinary happens.
People talk on the telephone (which happens a lot in this novel). Conversations take place in cars, in coffee bars, around the water cooler, on sofas, in the still life of the marital bed, the post-coital cigarette smoke still swirling between the blades of the fan rotating overhead.
There is virtually no action – just like real life.
The sheer joy of the ATSP is its very ordinariness. These are ordinary people going about their business, all of them affected to one degree or another by the portentous, unhinged rantings of Leo Curzio.
The richness of the everyday needs no explosions, because the revelations are the explosions.
A Christmas Conclusion
If you like contemporary work, I strongly recommend After The Sucker Punch.
Forget the e-book for once: Treat yourself to an early Christmas present and buy the paperback for seven quid or so. It is lustrous, with its cream pages, one and a half line spacing and comforting, airport-shelf heft.
It is a book which is written for paperback and meant to be read in bed; absorbed, over time, savoured by lamplight.
In the always adventurous world of indie publishing, the assignment to unearth and implement as many new and innovative ways to market and promote your books is ever at the forefront of your thoughts:
You maintain a small library in the backseat of your car in case you run into someone to whom you’d like to gift a copy; you seek out indie bookstores and eclectic gift shops that might prop up one or two at the cash register or on a “local authors” bookshelf; you even chat up friends in certain writing circles hoping for fair ways to exchange creative services. It’s a tap-dance like no other and you soon discover you must not only believe in your book, but must equally enjoy the art (challenge?) of marketing and promotion if you want to keep your literary baby’s head above water until it goes viral… or at least gets in a good swim!
Then, every once in a while, a serendipitous connection leads to an unexpected opportunity. Sometimes someone introduces you to someone else who happens to be a person with their own foothold in the indie book world, and who also happens to be an enthusiastic and prolific book blogger excited to write about and promote the work of authors he likes. In my version of that scenario, the introducer would be the unflagging and always generous Brenda Perlin, e-troducing me to the very creative UK author/blogger, Mark Barry, who goes by the name Wiz Green and has a blog, The Wizard’s Cauldron, focused on books, writers, and all things literary.
The Wizard’s Cauldron is described in its headline as a Dedicated Author Interview Blog from Green Wizard Publishing of Southwell, Nottinghamshire. Publishers of the fiction of Mark Barry.
In it, you’ll find concise, witty, well-written reviews, features on books and authors, promos on Mark Barry’s prodigious library of books, and, as mentioned, interviews with authors. After meeting Wiz via Brenda, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in one of those interview. Given that I am always happy to chatter about my books, and the fact that Wiz asked a lot of great questions, it was fun to converse across the pond about my creative journey, indie publishing in general, my books in particular; even who I’d invite to my favorite dinner and what would be on the menu (no hints… go read!).
As an author, it’s incredibly gratifying when someone discovers your work and gets excited about it. When that someone is an author himself, knows well the journey we all take, and makes it his business to shout-out about writers and books he likes, that gratitude is multiplied.
California’s Lorraine Devon Wilke has packed an awful lot into her life and she shows no signs of stopping
The third-eldest sibling of eleven, she packed her bags and hit the road as a travelling rock singer in the big-haired eighties, carrying her camera with her, before settling down to marriage, motherhood and a life of popular bloggery, including her current stint working for the Huffington Post.
Her list of past achievements and current work is quite staggering – and she’s a delightful person too!
Lorraine is now a novelist writing (in Indie terms), that quiet, shy and vulnerable industry step-child Literary Fiction.
The genre the 101 blogs tell you to avoid like the plague and yet, it’s the one area where a reader can find really, really decent writing if you look for it. And Lorraine is a really, really decent writer.
I was introduced to her by Brenda Perlin and received both her short story and novel. The former is a cracking read, but the latter – I am twelve chapters in and I am engrossed is possibly a great book. I had to buy it in paperback.
It’s a sweeping, sassy, cynical, redeeming, tricky “Terms of Endearment” type family saga – remember those? – with dialogue so acute you can experience it, a real sense of place, and characters you can see and hear as if they were next to you, the novel deserves a wider audience.
I picked up the Wizphone and interrupted Lorraine while she tapped out her latest blog on a sunkissed veranda overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Here’s what she had to say:
I spent some time chatting with a group of writers today, discussing a topic that seems to not only be tripping up indie authors in a variety of ways, but contributing to the persistence of stigmas and attitudes about the self-publishing “brand” in general:
It was a spirited debate — though, in truth, everyone was in agreement — focused squarely on the corrosive effect of what some in the discussion called the “5-Star Circle” and the “Review Swap Gang.”
For those unaware, the 5-Star Circle is that loose contingent of indie author who will automatically award 5-star reviews to colleagues regardless of the quantifiable merits of their books. This is done, purportedly, to show support for fellow self-pubbers, but there’s also an unspoken quid quo pro element at work, assuring that the 5-star-wielding reviewer will be gifted in kind. The Review Swap Gang is essentially an off-shoot, a more organized venture whereby authors agree to write reviews for each other and I don’t think anyone need guess how rife with corruptible possibilities that deal might be!
I expect a holler at this point, an insistence by some in the self-publishing world that they will and do and always give honest, authentic reviews regardless of how swappers review their own books, and, hey, it’s possible. But what’s also possible (and likely probable) is an inherent awkwardness to the set-up, the politics involved if, say, they give you a good review and you don’t return the favor. In fact, I spoke to one author who confessed that he often gives weak, inept books much higher than deserved ratings for the sake of group politics. Another spoke of feeling pressured within professional friendships to do the same; someone else mentioned not wanting to spark trollish behavior from disgruntled authors unhappy with their “swap.”
And the result of all this? Far too many poorly executed and amateurishly written books sporting a raft of undeserved 5-star reviews from gushing (or, perhaps, intimidated) “friends” who apparently don’t see the value of creative accountability; a fact that has the long-term effect of misguiding readers and perpetuating negative attitudes about all self-published writers, even those whose work is worthy of the accolades.
There’s a book blogger I happen to like, Tara Sparling, who regularly offers sharp (and very funny) analysis of the self-publishing world on her blog, Tara Sparling Writes (check out her posts about book covers, fonts, and what compels readers to choose — or not choose — self-published novels). She recently wrote a piece on the topic of reviews, Why 5-Star Book Reviews Are Utter Rubbish, that triggered a strong reaction from readers on the title alone (my response is in the comment section). Tara offered seven reasons in support of her thesis, some of which echoed my own points; for example:
“One 5-star review is ok. But, if there are only 7 reviews in total and all of them are all 5 stars, I don’t believe a single one of them.”
OK, I’m not sure I wouldn’t believe a one… maybe, but she lost me a bit on the next sentence:
“So I disregard the lot and vow never to read the book instead. Which rather defeats the purpose.”
I got her point, but took umbrage with the resolution. Since I am not a swapper, nor a review solicitor, I can’t control what reviewers end up saying about my work and certainly don’t want to be discounted out-of-hand — by Tara or anyone else — if the lot of them happen to honestly like my book! I made this rebuttal in my comment; she graciously took the point, as well as similar points made, allowing that, yes, if a book truly deserves 5-stars, wonderful. But the more salient issue is that, like me, like others, she finds solid reason to raise a ruckus on the topic, a shared impulse that indicates just how transparently corrupt this reviewing thing has become.
Look, the value of reviews to anyone selling anything — whether a toaster, movie, restaurant, or book — is indisputable. But the politics of reviews has turned the process into a sort of creepy, virtual-payola scenario that’s about as manipulative as A&R thugs dropping cash-packs and trip tickets into the laps of slick fingered radio programmers. And when we’ve got countless threads on Goodreads hawking “swap requests,” Yelp choked with either phony take-downs or BFF gush-fests, and Amazon battling some version of the same on all kinds of products (including books), we’ve lost the point of the endeavor… for honest people to leave honest responses to just how much they did or didn’t like something. Period.
Here’s my personal stance: I do not want ONE, not one, review on my author page that is not authentic or honestly felt. Whatever “star” rating or review comments you think my work warrants based on your truthful, visceral response to my book, that’s what I want you to leave. Don’t troll, don’t be irrational or other-agenda’d; but don’t feel obligated, under any circumstances, to leave a puffed-up, bullshit review. If you’re uncomfortable about what you might honestly have to say, I’d rather you not leave anything than an unauthentically positive review. And I mean that. An unearned “star” should mean nothing to any of us.
To my indie author colleagues: Please understand that I will not leave a 4- or 5-star review on work that does not warrant it based on my experience and perceptions as a writer and my response as a reader. It doesn’t matter how famous you are, how much I support your efforts, how well I like you, or how much you’ve done for me. But, taking into account the shared obstacles and challenges of being in this self-publishing game together, the best I can agree to is that I won’t leave a decidedly negative review on your page (which, in this world, appears to be anything below 4- or 5-stars!). If you know I’ve read your book and want my response privately, I will be happy to share it with you.
And one more thing: PLEASE, please, indie authors, do not rant on social media about your negative reviews and do not ask fellow writers to go to your Amazon page to make any response to them. Both the rant and the request are not only distasteful, but utterly unprofessional. As is presuming a negative review is automatically undeserved, unauthentic, or written by a troll. Let’s please, for God’s sake, have some grace and dignity and take our hits where they come. Every reader has the right to their honest response no matter how many reviews they’ve written. And if you truly believe a troll is having his/her way with you, handle it privately. Don’t play creative-victim in an effort to engage fellow writers to circle the wagons; we all have to stand by our work, good, bad or in-between.
The impact of all these shenanigans is that readers — the very people we’re hoping to engage — can no longer count on reviews to guide them to what they might enjoy or find excellent. Personally, I’ve now downloaded far too many books by self-published authors — abundant in stellar reviews — that were, ultimately, poorly written. I’ve spent my money and my time only to either not finish a book, or to put it aside with a shake of my head and a growing uneasiness about what all of this is doing to the self-publishing world at large.
For now, though I’m being much more selective about the books I buy, I still believe in the movement and will continue to support my indie colleagues, particularly those who’ve earned my reader loyalty, as I hope they will support me. But I will continue to candidly address the issues we face, holding out hope that we as a group learn from our mistakes and honestly strive to be better. More professional. More demanding. Of ourselves… and our fellow authors.