Author, photographer, singer/songwriter, Lorraine Devon Wilke, started early as a creative hyphenate. First, there was music and theater, next came rock & roll, then a leap into film when a feature she co-wrote (To Cross the Rubicon) was produced by a Seattle film company, opening doors in a variety of creative directions.
In the years following, she wrote for and performed on theater stages, developed her photography skills, and accrued a library of well-received feature screenplays (The Theory of Almost Everything was a top finalist in the 2012 Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest; A Minor Rebellion a Quarter Finalist in that same event in 2014). She kept her hand in music throughout – songwriting, recording, performing – leading to the fruition of a longtime goal to record an original album (Somewhere On the Way). Accomplished in collaboration with songwriting/producing partner, Rick M. Hirsch, the album garnered stellar reviews and can be found at CDBaby and iTunes (one tune from the collection is even featured in the epilogue of AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH). She continues with music whenever she can (which, she maintains, is never, ever, enough!).
Devon Wilke’s current life is split between Playa del Rey and Ferndale, California, and is shared with her husband, Pete Wilke, an entertainment and securities attorney, her son, engineer and web designer, Dillon Wilke, and stepdaughter, educational administrator Jennie Wilke Willens and family. She curates and manages both her fine art photography site and personal blog (Rock+Paper+Music), is a regular contributor at The Huffington Post and writes a column for the award-winning newspaper, The Ferndale Enterprise.
Her acclaimed debut novel and B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH, as well as her dramatic short story, “She Tumbled Down,” can both be accessed at her author page @ Amazon; her second novel, Hysterical Love, is readying for an April 2015 launch. She invites you to enjoy her essays and journalistic pieces @ Contently, and follow her “Adventures in Independent Publishing” at her blog, AfterTheSuckerPunch.com, and visit her website, www.lorrainedevonwilke.com, for links, updates and information.
Hello, Lorraine! Thank you for chatting with me today and I would like to congratulate you on the B.R.A.G. Medallion and all your achievements.
Thanks so much, Stephanie. It was an honor to be selected. As every indie writer knows, getting your work out, seen, and read in the very crowded publishing marketplace is definitely part of the challenge, particularly for self-pubbed writers, so acknowledgement from an organization like indieBRAG is really special.
How did you discover indieBRAG and what has your experience been like with self-publishing thus far?
I came upon indieBRAG shortly after I first published my novel in May of 2014. I was doing a lot of research on the best sites and book-focused media open to and particularly supportive of self-published writers, and a fellow author suggested I check out indieBRAG’s site with their unique “medallion” protocol. I liked the mission statement and submitted my book… six months letter I got the wonderful letter from founder Geraldine Clouston telling me my book had been selected. An early Christmas present!
As for my experience as a self-pubbed writer: it’s been exhilarating, satisfying, and frustrating, often all at the same time! Let me explain:
Exhilarating: Having the opportunity, after years of building my skills as a writer of articles, essays, songs, and screenplays, to write and professionally produce a novel, then actually have the ability get it up on a site like Amazon and have it out in the marketplace for readers – with no barriers and delays – well, that was, and is, incredibly exhilarating!
To be honest, I did initially pursue the traditional publishing route, but discovered the paradigm to be so limited, so exclusive and exclusionary, it was impossible for me as an unknown writer, without connections or a specifically genre book (i.e., no vampires, zombies, super heroes, SMBD, romance or paranormal activity), to get a foot in. After that disappointing revelation, the discovery of an open door in the self-publishing arena is exhilarating! It’s like the angel choir sings as you’re welcomed into a club that had previously been off-limits, one that allows you access to the great big world of interested readers ready to read and enjoy your book. Pretty amazing.
Satisfying: This is a close second to “exhilarating.” First, there’s the pure satisfaction of producing your book exactly the way you want to produce it. For me that was HUGE. As an experienced writer with, not only, a clear sense of what I wanted to say as a writer, but how I wanted to say what I had to say, even presentation-wise, I wasn’t willing to accede my choice of title, cover and narrative edit.
Which sounds arrogant and I don’t mean it to be. But I learned in my earlier incarnations as a writer, particularly as a screenwriter, that people in power positions often feel it necessary to inject their editorial opinion. It doesn’t necessarily have to be better than yours, it often isn’t; it’s simply a way for those involved to feel invested… and sometimes there’s lots of creative ego in the mix! But while I’m someone who loves good critique, finds invaluable the people whom I trust to give me that critique, and always listens with honest consideration to the thoughts and opinions of those who may know more or have an angle on something I’ve missed, ultimately, my book has to be what I want it to be. And when you’ve spent a lifetime honing your skills and doing the work to get your abilities to the point that you deserve and can support that autonomy, you learn to trust your gut. Having the freedom in the self-publishing arena to exercise that creative autonomy is profoundly satisfying. For better or worse, After The Sucker Punch is exactly the book I wanted it to be. If there’s any trade-off for not having the support and prestige of traditional publishing, that has to be a big one!
Secondly, after you’ve spent years chasing after agents or wrangling with small publishers or whatever avenues you’ve traveled in an attempt to get your book published, and you finally say “never mind” and self-publish, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as your first email or review from a new reader who tells you how much your book resonated with them, touched them, inspired or provoked them, and you suddenly realize the reason you wanted to write in the first place — to tell great stories and emotionally impact people — has suddenly and actually come to be. Nothing quite like it. Makes up for a lot of blasé rejections or unacknowledged query letters!
Frustration: There’s no getting around the fact that despite these fabulous aspects of self-pubbing, there are also the hard, cold challenge of marketing and promoting your book, usually, all by yourself. And getting your work pulled out of the hundreds of thousands of self-published books, enough to actually be noticed, read, and enjoyed, is an incredible challenge. Particularly if you’re writing in that most ungenre of genres — literary fiction! Readers who appreciate literary fiction are perhaps a less fan-oriented group, maybe smaller, less voracious, certainly less cultish (I don’t see costumes and “cons” for lit fiction!), so you’re attempting to breakout with something that’s less about sensationalism and more about solid stories thoughtfully and creatively told. Those are the kind I like to read and, consequently, the kind I choose to write, but I do understand that the literary fiction genre has its own, very unique, challenges outside of just being self-published.
There’s also frustration in the still-propagated industry perception of self-published books as ugly stepsisters of the more vaunted legacy published books. While it is undeniable that a great many self-pubbed titles are amateurish and less than professionally produced (I’ve come across far too many myself), there are, conversely, a great many that can easily sit on the shelf next to the very best of traditionally published authors. Read Mark Barry’s Carla or The Night Porter; Martin Crosbie, Laurie Boris or Kathy Shuker; these are all great authors who deserve the same respect and readership of any excellent author, regardless of how their books got published. But breaking those stereotypes and preconceptions can be tough… that’s where authors holding themselves to the highest bar comes into play… and where a mission statement like indieBRAG’s plays a big role.
Before we talk about your Medallion book, After the Sucker Punch, please tell me a little more about your career as a songwriter and do you still write songs?
I love that you asked about that! Music was an incredibly important part of my life and career for many, many years. I started singing very young, was a theater major in college, and started singing in bands at that time. In fact, I hit the road with a band while still in college and traveled so much I ultimately never made it back (yeah… folks not too happy about that!). I landed in Los Angeles and it was during the wild and wooly ‘80s, when the whole big hair, MTV, belts and bandannas era was in full bloom that my singing/songwriting career really took off. I had my own band, DEVON, and was the sole lyricist for the original material we wrote and recorded. Later I worked in a project with Rod Stewart bandmates, Kevin Savigar and Jim Cregan, with whom I started writing melodies as well as lyrics. In my most recent original project, I co-wrote (with Rick M. Hirsch) all the songs (melodies and lyrics), and those songs were recorded for my CD, Somewhere On the Way, which is still selling on iTunes and CDBaby.com. Lyrics were always essential to me as a music lover and listener, so being the one to write them for my own music was always a foregone conclusion! But sadly (I say “sadly” because I miss the hell out of being in a band!), I haven’t been able to wrangle a solid working situation of late. My latest songwriting session was last year, with Jason Brett, a writer in Chicago (“You’re Still the One”… found on SoundCloud!).
But, still… I tend to bring my rock and roll sensibilities even to my work as an author: a certain irreverence and edge, the taking of liberties with literary axioms and mandates – creative punctuation, invented words, etc. – throwing a certain sass into my sensibilities, that sort of thing! It makes the storytelling, the dialogue, and, hopefully, the reading, a little more fun! And, by the way, one of the songs from my CD, Somewhere On the Way, a song titled “My Search For You,” is included as a free download in the epilogue of After The Sucker Punch (and soundtracks the book trailer, as well) so that represents a kind of a meeting of both my creative worlds!
Okay, let’s get down to it. Tell me a little about your story, After the Sucker Punch.
The story begins at the very moment the protagonist, Tessa Curzio, a thirty-six-year-old emerging writer and one of a large and very challenging family, finds her father’s journals on the night of his funeral and discovers he thought she was a failure. This posthumous sucker punch proves a life-altering one, and the narrative that follows chronicles her journey throughout the ensuing year as she struggles to reconcile the impact of those words. At question is her sense of self, her concept of her childhood, particularly her relationship with her father; even the way she perceives her creativity, her work, and her closest relationships. What becomes an existential crisis compels her to seek answers in a variety of useful – and not so useful – ways, a rocky road that has friends and family wondering just how far the crash and burn will go before she finds her footing. When she decides to read all the many journals her father wrote to, both, learn more about him and, hopefully, find more redemptive entries about her in more recent years, her attempts to get those books shipped from Chicago to LA become fraught with family resistance, tensions with her boyfriend, distractions at work, and a variety of other tumultuous events, the sum total of which land her on the therapy couch of her aunt… her father’s sister, who also happens to be a nun.
It is within this unusual and unexpected relationship, along with her relationships with various friends, family and co-workers, that Tessa begins to find herself again. And with that transformation comes an ability to reclaim both truth and memories; enough to gain a more authentic view of herself and the flawed, but ultimately loving, man who was her father…opening the door for forgiveness, hope and, just maybe, another crack at love.
What a powerful premise! This story sounds like it will impact people on so many different levels. What was the driving force behind writing it?
Wanting to explore the issue of identity and how the words of people to whom we’re attached can so impact our sense of it.
The inciting incident came from truth: many years ago I found journals of my father’s, long after his death, in which he had some things to say about me that weren’t particularly complimentary. I was struck by how powerful the words of a deceased parent can be in terms of impacting a child, even an adult child, and decided to explore that point further. While I loved my father dearly, I’d been independent of him for enough years — and already knew he didn’t approve of a variety of my life choices! — That his words, while hurtful, didn’t devastate me like they did my character. That decision for her journey evolved when I talked about my father’s journals in a woman’s group I was in at the time, and was stunned to see how devastated those women became in thinking how they’d feel if their fathers had written such words about them. It seemed such a powerful topic, I ended up posing the question to a number of both men and women — “how would you feel if you read a journal of your father’s and he said you were a failure?” — and the ensuing answers, which cover the gamut of responses, made their way into the various characters of the book. From there I created a fictional family and set of circumstances, of course borrowing from my own life and experience where it seemed interesting or useful, and let those characters and plot points lead me on the journey that ultimately became After The Sucker Punch.
I think the impact of the story is universal, because we all have parents and regardless of what any one particular person’s relationship with theirs may be, there is no one for whom that relationship doesn’t resonate in one way or another. I also think the many elements explored in the book beyond the parent/child relationship — faith, religion, sexuality, love, friendship, creativity, relationships — are all so intertwined in our identities and play such a part in how we view our lives, that, again, I believe there is a deeply resonant foundation to this story.
What are your main protagonist – Tessa Curzio’s – strengths?
Many readers of the book have told me that one of the things they liked best about Tessa is that she’s profoundly human; meaning, she’s not always likable, not always wise, but she’s so utterly relatable in how she makes her decisions and conducts herself in life. And that humanity is a large part of what makes her endearing, if incredibly maddening at times. Because, despite her flaws, she’s a good and caring person who desperately wants to find meaning in what she does and the choices she makes in her life, her work, her art, and her relationships. She’s innately creative and driven to create — something I personally love about her — and she’s loyal, honest, and loving to the people who mean something to her. She’s funny, smart, and open, and ultimately willing to bare her heart and soul to get down to nit and grit of her truth.
How does she come across her Father’s journals? Is that the moment when her life changes, or were there struggles in her relationship with her father beforehand?
An older sister, Suzanna, who’s had a very tense relationship with their father, suggests to Tessa the night before the funeral that she find the journals to gain a more honest perspective of this man who has just died. With those instructions, Tessa looks the next night and finds a box of journals and reads the one Suzanna said had particular entries about her… its then that she discovers her father’s fateful words. As the story unfolds, we discover that Tessa’s father, Leo, was always a complex and somewhat inscrutable figure in her life; hard to read, not particularly warm or open, and someone for whom Tessa felt she had to struggle for attention and, even, love. Yet while she knew there were distances and differences, she always felt assured of his love, so when she reads the words “failure” and “disappointment,” and the many other caustic and dismissive words she finds in the journal, she is stunned to realize that at times in her life when she thought she was doing well, building her foundation and being a good, honest person, her father was judging her harshly and without the compassion and understanding she presumed were always there, triggering a tremendous rethinking of her life. So while those struggles were there prior to finding the journals, the tipping point comes when those very tangible, written words spell out his disapproval and disdain.
Why did you choose Chicago as your opening setting?
I was born in Chicago and have always had a great love for that city. While I didn’t grow up there, I know many people who did, and I spent a lot of time there as a young adult. The urban sensibilities and Midwestern ambiance of that city are very unique and particular and I wanted to imbue those into the story, at least in terms of the foundational years of Tessa’s life, and the continuing life of her family. There is also such a stark difference between Chicago and Los Angeles that I felt making the family’s home be so very different from where Tessa is now living contributed further to the divides between them all, making the locations part of the underlying tension of the story.
I am sure there are many messages in your story you want your readers to grasp. What is one that has really opened your eyes – if you will?
I think the most salient and powerful message of the book is our responsibility to ourselves to fully understand, know, and claim who we are as individuals — our identity, our sense of self, and our belief in our own inherent goodness — separate from the thoughts, words, or perceptions of anyone else, even a parent.
I believe the all-too-common struggle against self-doubt, self-criticism; the negation of our dreams and ideas, the rejection of our creativity and personal joy, is a very universal struggle, and in researching this book, writing this book – certainly being the recipient of words that sparked the idea for this book – my eyes were opened to my own struggle to fully claim and become my truest self, a transformation that, for me, was a long time coming and profoundly important when finally accomplished.
If anyone reading this book finds some measure of inspiration toward that same goal of self-discovery and self-acceptance, nothing would make me happier. But, even in saying that, I want to be sure readers know this isn’t a sermon, isn’t a dirge or a manual… it’s actually a very funny, irreverent, and slightly crazy story that will hopefully be a wild and very entertaining ride! If someone has their eyes opened along the way, well, that’s just a wonderful bonus!
Who designed your book cover?
A very talented graphic artist and designer out of Chicago named Grace Amandes… who also happens to be my sister! I highly recommend her and if anyone wants to seek her out, she can be found at www.graceamandes.com.
Grace is, as I write this, designing the cover for my upcoming second novel, Hysterical Love, which will be published in spring of 2015. Both book covers, by the way, utilize my own photographs, which makes the entire production of the book all the more a multi-media endeavor!
As a side-note, I also brought in family to produce the book trailer for After The Sucker Punch, which is posted on my indieBrag.com page. That was produced and edited by my extraordinarily talented brother, actor/director, Tom Amandes, www.tomamandes.com, so you can see I come from a very creative family (should I also mention my website was designed by my son, Dillon Wilke, www.birdyindustries.com? J )
How long did you work on your story and where in your home do you like to write?
I started working on the book in late 2009; I had a solid, workable manuscript a year later, but then I decided, as mentioned earlier, to pursue traditional publishing and so spent the next few years knee-deep that process, with lots and lots and LOTS of waiting in between sending things out and hearing back; often not hearing back. In those years, while all this sending and waiting was going on, I continued to work on the book, with readers and editors giving me notes, as well as inputting my own tweaks and changes, which continued up till the point I decided the traditional route was not going to work for me and opted to self-publish. I say all this because, despite the fact that I started it five or so years ago, I can’t honestly say it took that long to write; had I opted sooner to go the way I ultimately did, I probably would have self-published two years into the process. But everything happens for a reason, right? And I assume the additional time I had, and took, to fine-tune After The Sucker Punch played a role in it being a book indieBRAG would award a B.R.A.G. Medallion!
As for where in my home I like to write: I’m a laptop person, which means I carry that thing around with me wherever I go and I write wherever I am and under whatever conditions I find myself! At home that usually means sitting on my bed or on the couch of my living room (happily, looking out over the ocean below!). But, frankly, I can write anywhere, in any setting, with any amount of noise and distraction. I grew up in a big family and learned how to create that “bubble” one climbs into to find solitude and tap into inspiration, the Muse. I’ve never been one to have a writing routine, or any rituals or superstitions; I don’t wear certain clothes, need particular music, and don’t hold to the notion that one must write every day to be a writer. In fact, I find that sort of tenet ridiculous. I can go days without writing, then write all night. It’s all about the work, the actual doing of the work, not how, when, or on what schedule! Give me my laptop and I’m good to go!
Thank you, Lorraine!
Thank you, Stephanie. It’s always fun to talk about these things that inspire us, so I appreciate your interest and the particular questions asked. I hope you and your readers enjoy After The Sucker Punch and will keep an eye out for Hysterical Love in the spring!
Book website: (this is titled “My Adventures in Independent Publishing”; a space to discuss all my books.
Other Items referenced in bio: To Cross the Rubicon
Somewhere on the Way (CD):
AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH B.R.A.G Medallion Page: http://www.bragmedallion.com/medallion-honorees/2014-brag-medallion-books/after-the-sucker-punch
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Lorraine Deven Wilke, who is the author of, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.