Having just won the solo medal in “general fiction” at New Apple Awards, Hysterical Love is being offered at the promotional price of 99¢ through Saturday, October 14, 2017. Just click HERE.
From Amazon’s “From the Author”:
Your debut novel, After the Sucker Punch, also dealt with family secrets and estranged parent-child relationships. What is it about these themes that intrigues you? They’re relatable, almost always a mix of humor and drama (great fun to write!), and probably the most universal themes in existence. We all have a family of some kind, so there’s always something within the politics of that group that will resonate with most readers.
How did growing up in a big family influence your work? It gave me an insider’s seat in the dramatic and evolving culture that is a big family, allowing me to observe and explore those dynamics in as natural and experiential a way as possible.
Dan is a male protagonist with a strong, quirky perspective. Was it a challenge to craft such a well-rounded male character? I have five brothers, a son, a husband, many male friends, and I spent years on the road in rock bands… I got my male bona fides! 🙂
What do you think is the most important part of Dan’s personal odyssey? Finding truth. Within his romantic relationships, his work, his family, and, most importantly, himself. Truth is always the grand prize.
What inspired you to write Hysterical Love? An anecdote was shared with me by a guy who briefly fixated on his father’s old girlfriend, sparking a compelling, “what if he actually made it a quest?” Folding in the notions of lost love, enduring heartbreak, and defining the validity of soul mates, a story emerged that ultimately became Hysterical Love.
You’re an author, a former rock-and-roller, a photographer, a singer-songwriter, and you’ve worked in theater and film. How do you feel these diverse experiences have influenced your writing? Each element of my creative life has given me unique perspective, amazing stories, and always compelling characters. I’ve dipped and double-dipped into each to flesh out and enrich my books. It’s like living your own research!
What (or who) were some of the biggest influences on your literary career? An early childhood without TV led to voracious reading, which inspired a passion for words, narrative, good stories, and great writers. So I guess you could say that not being able to watch Mickey Mouse inspired my writing! 🙂
Which types of characters do you enjoy writing the most? The more human, flawed, heartfelt, real, irreverent, funny, and seeking, the better!
What drives you to write? A desire to tell a story, express my thoughts, make a point.
Do you have an overall goal as an artist in general, or specifically? To create meaningful, authentic work that inspires, entertains, and provokes thought… and to reach the biggest audience I possibly can in accomplishing that.
What is the number one thing you hope readers take away from your book? Emotion. Feeling something. Being moved. I know… that’s three things! ☺
Thank you for choosing Hysterical Love. It’s a story I thoroughly enjoyed writing, exploring characters, ideas, and plot twists that dug deep yet still found the humor in it all. I hope you enjoy the read!
For independent authors like myself, the support of readers is essential. In that spirit, I invite you to leave a short review of Hysterical Love at the Amazon purchase page once you’ve finished reading. Positive feedback goes a long way toward advancing the cause of writers and indie publishing in general, and I thank you in advance for your contribution!
Book marketing is like dieting: occasionally necessary but tends to make one cranky.
At least that’s what book marketing has been to me, especially after so many years of doing it, so much desire to do it well, and so much sensitivity about not eliciting eye-rolls from those weary of hearing about my precious tomes. I’m probably overly-sensitive about such things; I’d guess that’s based on my own weariness with book marketers on social media (relentless… have you seen Twitter??). One does have to be judicious, doesn’t one?
Truth be told, I don’t know how successful I’ve been in my own marketing efforts. Sales have been sporadic and unpredictable, titles struggle to stay afloat in the sheer ocean of available books, and promised reviews from both readers and editorial writers have too often not materialized. But I do get an inkling, from time-to-time, of my marketing success. When new readers write to tell me my book reflected their life, made them laugh, brought them to tears, or, as one fellow wrote about my first novel, After The Sucker Punch, “it’s going to help me in my lifelong quest to understand women.” That’s when you know your efforts have struck the right chords.
And since it’s been a while since I’ve attempted any book-related chord-striking, I thought I’d take a moment away from slogging through Draft 1 of my latest effort (a third novel set to launch… well, not sure when it’s set to launch), to gussy up my second, HYSTERICAL LOVE, for a little “Kindle Countdown” love:
HYSTERICAL LOVE will be on sale for the price of $2.99 (for the e-book) from 6:00 am PST Friday, July 22nd, until 11:00 pm PST, Sunday, July 24th.
That’s three full days of sale… which is lovely, because the ebook typically sells for $6.99 (still a bargain when you consider the price of movie tickets or that non-fat latte!). So please stop by to take advantage of this brief but welcoming sale price to enjoy a book that’s received delightfully widespread kudos!
Let me share a bit about it:
HYSTERICAL LOVE tells the story of Dan McDowell, a thirty-three-year-old portrait photographer happily set to marry his beloved Jane, who finds his pending marriage tossed after a slip of the tongue about an “ex-girlfriend overlap” of years earlier. Out of the house for longer than expected, and unable to breach the gap with Jane, life is further upended when he reads a story written by his ailing father about a lost love of fifty years ago that appears to haunt him still.
Incapable of fixing his own romantic dilemma, Dan sets off on a wild ride beset with detours, twists, and semi-hilarious peril in search of this woman from his father’s past, convinced she holds the key to happiness for them all. Along the way he collides with an eclectic array of characters — particularly the preternaturally stunning Fiona — leading to unexpected truths and, ultimately, the story’s startling conclusion.
Hysterical Love explores themes of family, commitment, balancing creativity, facing adulthood, and digging deep to understand the beating heart of true love.
“I never found a writer who was as good as DH Lawrence, but who could also get into a man’s head and tell that story. Until now…Wilke combines humor, terrific writing, and some none-too-gently acquired truths into a different kind of relationship story.” (Read more…)
“This is one of those books which exceeded all my expectations. I was expecting a romance with a couple of twists to the tale but what I got was something far deeper and more satisfying…If you want a book with many layers and to be thoroughly entertained by a cracking story then this one is for you.” (Read more…)
“Wilke is passionate about the development of her characters as they come to life with each word. The reader cannot help but connect to her characters. The plot is strong, fresh, balanced and delivered skillfully. It is a moving story and is a must read for anyone who has been, is, or thinks they may fall in love someday.
Don’t miss this book. It is a wonderful read. Wilke is a truly gifted writer and one to watch grow; she will continue to provide thought-provoking stories based on real issues. WordsAPlenty gives this book a highly deserved 5 star rating.” (Read more…)
“The narrative is effectively told through first person, with Daniel candidly confiding his fears and confusion to the reader. Devon Wilke manages to convey the male psyche with a good-natured humor that seems eminently believable. 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! Lorraine Devon Wilke’s writing style is witty, pointed and funny, even hilarious at times.” (Read more…)
At the end of 2015, after four-plus years of relentless and seriously focused book marketing and promotion, I took a step back to assess. I looked at the results of those many efforts — the sales stats, reviews, editorial coverage, contests, book shelves, etc. — to determine if they’d netted the desired results.
In some cases, they had; in others, not so much.
Now, I’m proud of my books, thrilled with the responses they’ve received, and, at least up to that moment of revelation, had been willing to do whatever it took to properly feed and nurture them into being. But I couldn’t deny it: something had changed. I wasn’t enjoying the process; the unceasing demand for self-promotion had become off-putting, making the books I created, the books I loved, feel like demanding children around which I ran ragged in the effort to keep happy.
Well, not them, but the great big world of book marketing, that swirling cauldron where hundreds of thousands of beloved creations go to get lost in the morass of self-published product. I’d lost my jones for that thing. Not the writing thing, the self-promotion thing.
While traditionally published writers have a team, a village, a circle-of-wagons —of agents, publicists, publishers, managers, etc.—the indie writer has… well, only themself. And “themself” has to do it all: the endless tweeting and Facebook posting, the free/bargain giveaways now demanded by readers; the listing on every indie book site one can find, the entering of countless (and not necessarily cheap) contests, the chasing after book stores, editorial reviewers, any reviewers; the exploring every which way to gain new and loyal readership, the—oh my God, it exhausted me just writing that!
It can be fun, yes; to some extent, and certainly in the beginning when you’re all positive and gleeful with certainty that you’re cracking the code and people are gonna LOVE what you’ve created. And surely it’s an education in the world of building a business, learning how and what works or what doesn’t. It’s a good practice to experience, to work, to absorb. But over time, at least for me, it can also become a slog.
And, I hate to say it, it’s become a slog.
I’ve also noticed this: people get tired of book promotions. They get desensitized to them. They don’t care after a while. Sometimes, they even find them annoying (as a few have mentioned while asking to be removed from my emailing list!). Because, unless you can can corral an endless supply of new readers via book tours, regular in-house readings at bookstores, book Meet-Ups, festivals, social media, etc. — the rest of ’em, the ones in your Facebook or Twitter circles, the ones who’ve already read your books or aren’t going to read your books, well, they’ve already heard about them. They’ve seen your posts, they’ve read about your promotional campaigns, they appreciate your efforts but they’ve grown tired of hearing about them. And not just mine…everyone’s. Because book promotions on social media have become RELENTLESS. And people have largely stopped paying attention.
I’ve not only heard this from quite a few writers who’ve experienced the same, but have noticed it as a tweeting, Facebooking, Pinteresting, Google+’ing person myself. It seems we indie writers come in such prodigious numbers that our bombardment of readers, other writers, and social media followers has ended up inuring them to the message. They see a book promotion — a “read my book,” a new book review, an interview with so-and-so — and other than the most loyal of fans, or the most commiserating of fellow-writers still paying attention, interest is less than one would hope. It’s gotten to the point that even some who’ve championed, say, Twitter as a go-to place to promote indie books have come to notice the downward trend. Derek Haines of Just Publishing Advice writes:
“My Twitter accounts that are directed more at readers have plummeted from around 120 new followers per day a year ago, to struggling to attract 20 to 40 now.
“What this means is that new self-published authors are still clearly flocking to Twitter to talk to each other, but general interest users and potential readers are not. While this can be blamed directly on Twitter failing to attract new active users, it could also be a signal that the supply side of the ebook market is now outweighing demand.” [Emphasis added.]
That’s kind of how I see it myself. Because, the truth is, as much as I read, I rarely find my books via Twitter or Facebook. I find them perusing Amazon, reading an article in Entertainment Weekly, or getting recommendations from friends. In fact, I tend to ignore most book promotions on Twitter or Facebook, weary, like everyone else, of bad cover art, unappealing quotes, and reviews that sound like Mom wrote them. Mostly, it’s just too much, the onslaught of book promotions… it makes one shut down rather than get inspired.
But I get it! We indies have no choice but to do it for ourselves. Unless we don’t. Unless we just decide to take a marketing and promotional sabbatical to reassess the marketplace, to carve out a little breathing room, maybe create a vacuum so interest can be re-stirred later. Maybe write another book. Maybe spend some time finishing that photography project or doing a play. Maybe just replenishing by reading some ozark trail cooler reviews to take with me while walking on the beach.
That’s what I’m doing right now, for those who’ve written wondering where I am and why I’m not posting much. I’m taking a sabbatical. Doing a few other things. Dealing with some life events, immersing myself in other projects, gently stirring my third novel, and generally NOT marketing and promoting my two already-published books.
Has it had an adverse impact? I don’t know… I’m not paying much attention at the moment; I’m hoping interest in the work will sustain while I’m living my life along other avenues for a bit. If not, they’ll have to wait until I’m ready to rumble again. In the meantime, oh, do I enjoy the feeling of not obeying the obligation! 🙂
And a last, related thought: I realized I had too many blogs. I’ve got one up at The Huffington Post, my AfterTheSuckerPunch.com blog related to publishing, and this one here. That’s at least one too many. So I’ve decided to close AfterTheSuckerPunch.com and merge it with Rock+Paper+Music, which has always had a fair amount of focus on the arts and other human interest and cultural focal points; publishing stories and book pieces will fit in there quite nicely.
So here we are now, fully merged. Having downsized my blogging world, I hope to be more active here. I hope you’ll join me when you can!
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!
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.
This came up in conversations with two different writers today: the growing frustration that what “conventional wisdom” tells us—that authors are either to give their books away or sell them dirt cheap—is essentially throwing the incomes (and perceived value and professionalism) of writers under the bus. I concur.
Why are published authors not seen as professionals whose work deserves remuneration on a par with other professionals? Why are writers admonished for daring to price their book any higher than a few dollars? Why is appealing to those who only want “free stuff” considered a marketing strategy? We very decently pay our plumbers, our doctors, our gardeners; hell, even our fifteen-year-old babysitter gets more financial consideration than an indie author! So why are even the most skilled and talented of our storytellers persistently relegated to the bargain heap?
That would take a thesis to analyze; something about how the internet has created a culture that thinks everything online should be free, that “anyone can do anything” (fuck expertise or true talent); that artists are of less value simply because “anyone can do anything,” and so on…(perhaps we’ll discuss all that further at another time).
But I’m having none of it. I pay for my downloaded music, I make sure artists I admire get my dollars along with my admiration, and believe me…I am not interested in free books. I’m not interested in cheap books. The ONLY books I’m interested in are books with a premise that intrigues me, a cover that suggests a necessary level of professionalism, and solid reviews that authentically offer insight. If that kind of book is free—or being sold for $3—I may buy it, but with the thought that the author might be selling themselves short (particularly if they’re an indie struggling to build a name). If a book like that is $10, I’ll buy it knowing that the writer values their work, and I’ll be happy to contribute something to their coffers, usually a pittance of what their time and talent deserves.
But don’t holler at me about “FREE BOOKS.” Holler at me about truly gifted writers selling their work with pride, a sense of professionalism, and at a damn logical price. When most people will easily spend $6 for a latte, $15 for a movie ticket, $18 for a glass of wine, or $30+ for a video game, you will never convince me that a book someone spent years writing, and countless dollars producing and promoting, doesn’t deserve a fee commensurate to that effort.
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.
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.