From Book Trib — Truth Finds Its Story: The Illuminating Power of Fiction

BookTrib

Originally published 2.8.19 by Book Trib:

We live in a time when history is made by Tweets, when what happens there can instantly be known here. A time when anyone with a digital device can express views, publish opinions, or comment on news within moments of it unfolding, making the (somewhat dated) concept of “information superhighway” never more accurate…or glutted.

We want to be informed, we want to keep our awareness sharp, or maybe we just want some good old chatty entertainment, but given the sheer volume of what comes at us daily, it seems truth—and its ripple effects of impact, inspiration and illumination—often gets lost in the shuffle.

Yet truth is conveyed in many more ways than just news and social media, in just non-fiction tomes and memoirs of note. In fact, some of our most poignant cultural truths have been discovered and disseminated through stories, through imagination…through fiction.

(Click to read full article)


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

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‘before the second sleep’ Reviews HYSTERICAL LOVE

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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:

Hysterical Love by Lorraine Devon Wilke
A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

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….

[Click HERE to read full review.]

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

The Fact of Fiction: AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH Keeps Readers Guessing

Ever since James Frey was publicly flayed for his bestselling “semi-fictional novel,” A Million Little Pieces, the issue of just how little fiction is allowed in memoir and how much fact peppers the typical novel has inspired endless conversations in the literary world. Frey was excoriated like no author before or since (on-air shaming by Oprah has to be the apex!) after originally releasing his book as a “memoir,” an admitted miscalculation by his publisher, Nan Talese, who readjusted after many “facts” of the book were debunked.

More recently, author Dani Shapiro took to Salon in a piece titled, “Open letter from Dani Shapiro: ‘Dear Disillusioned Reader Who Contacted Me on Facebook’” to wrist-slap an apparently irate reader who took umbrage with the degree of the “truth” in her book, Slow Motion: A True Story. In a somewhat condescending, if educational, tone, Shapiro makes her case for the differences between memoir and autobiography, in defense, one presumes, of some fudging on the veracity of her “true story.” (Of course, calling a book “a true story” does set one up for the challenge!)

Wherever you fall on this particular debate (I have to say, I – like Shapiro’s “disillusioned reader” – always presumed memoir and autobiography were interchangeable!), there’s a bit of a parlor game to sorting out just what is or isn’t true in what any writer presents to their public, even when it comes to fiction, where rules dictate that truth is not actually required.

But what if readers presume a fictional tale is true? That characters are based on real people, that plot lines follow the trajectory of a real life; that resolutions, transformations, and denouements mirror the realities of the writer? That makes for fascinating, if occasionally misguided, discussion, one I found myself party to when readers of my debut novel, After the Sucker Punch, started writing with queries like, “Is her best friend ‘Kate’ based on (fill in the blank)?” or “How come you never told me you had an alcoholic brother?” or “Aren’t you lucky to have an Aunt Joanne?” (answers to which were, respectively, “No,” “I don’t” and “I don’t actually have an aunt who’s a nun”).

I’ve discovered, as a first-time novelist who’s written a story that utilizes some elements of my own life, that readers, even those who don’t know me, are eager to ascribe truth to what I’ve consciously and creatively imagined. And that can get tricky at times, particularly when you do have brothers and none of them are alcoholics! While a mentor suggested that, “It’s a testament to the depth and detail of your novel that people assume these things are true,” sensitivity dictates that one’s real family or friends are not associatively tarnished by fictional comparisons. So when yet another reader gleefully wrote, “I bet I can guess who all these people are!” it seemed time to set at least a bit of the record straight!

For those who haven’t yet had the chance to read After the Sucker Punch, here’s a short synopsis to set the stage:

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.        

So, with those narrative bones, let me clarify certain “facts” of this fiction: My real father did write 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 father, particularly posthumously, would have left them devastated. My curiosity piqued, 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, most of which made their way into the lives of the various characters in the book.

That was the inciting incident. What, from there, was true? Really, consciously, thoughtfully, actively… none of it. I didn’t want to memorialize my life, my family; my friends. I didn’t want the obligation of truth and sensitivity; I wanted to fully create a protagonist, a family, friends, lovers; a series of events, plot, and a conclusion that evolved organically from the journey taken by these characters I’d created, truth be damned. And that’s what I did.

Yes, for a person who’s led a fairly interesting and unconventional life, it made artistic sense to imbue my protagonist with some of my characteristics, as well as challenge her with some of the events with which I was challenged throughout my life. But – and it’s a big but – giving “Tessa” and other characters some of the elements of my life and the lives of people within my circle did not make the imagined characters and their plots any less imagined. Any resemblance to truth was, in fact, wildly fictionalized.

A friend, however, challenged me on this assertion. She had graciously sent out an email promoting my book to her circle of friends and, in it, had made the statement, “Lorraine says this is fiction, but it’s really more of a memoir,” something with which I took immediate exception for all the aforementioned reasons. But she persisted, countering, “Well, you did have a father who wrote critical journals, you were a Catholic, you did sing rock & roll, and you were in Scientology, so… come on!” But here’s what I told her:

Imagine a writing exercise in which you give ten writers the following prompt: “Write a story about a young inventor –with Buddhist parents, a sister with a debilitating stutter, and friends who regularly vandalize the small town in which they live – who leaves on a journey to transcend his myopic existence.” Despite the very specific points assigned, you would get ten wildly divergent narratives from your ten different writers. It’s simply the nature of writing; characteristics and events only serve the plot, they do not necessarily define or design it.

And the only way to tell the story I wanted to tell was to create fictional characters with fictional plot lines. And I thoroughly enjoyed doing exactly that!

So to summarize: the protagonist of After the Sucker Punch is not me (in fact, my husband, after reading the book, remarked, “I can’t believe how different she is than you!). Nor are the parents, the siblings, the friends, boyfriends, employers, aunts, neighbors, or small animals the ones in my life. They are, however, very rich and hopefully endearing, maddening, compelling, and intriguing characters who will engage your interest as you make your way through their story and the very human and complex issues within.

And that’s the truth!

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