I’d like to welcome back two time B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Lorraine Devon Wilke to chat with me about, Hysterical Love. Lorraine is a writer, photographer; singer/songwriter, and cultural commentator and can be found sharing everything from rock & roll to her latest novel via her website .
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 and, more recently, A Minor Rebellion was a 2014 quarter-finalist in that same competition. She kept her hand in music throughout—songwriting, recording, performing—leading to the fruition of the longtime goal of recording an original album (Somewhere On the Way), which garnered stellar reviews and can be found at CDBaby and iTunes. A broader collection of her recorded material is available at SoundCloud.
Devon Wilke currently lives in Playa del Rey, CA, with her husband and son. 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 monthly column for the award-winning northern California newspaper, The Ferndale Enterprise. Both her debut novel (2014 indieBRAG Medallion Honoree), After The Sucker Punch, and short story, “She Tumbled Down,” were 2014 publishing successes, with 2015 seeing the launch of her latest novel (and recent indieBRAG Medallion Honoree), Hysterical Love. You can access her essays and journalistic pieces @ Contently.com, and follow her publishing journey at AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.
Lorraine, how did you discover indieBRAG?
I first learned about indieBRAG when my debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, came out. As a self-publisher, I was doing a lot of research on the most effective and affordable ways to market my book, and came upon the indieBRAG site. I submitted that book and was delighted when, months later, it was chosen for a Medallion. Of course, when my new book came out, I had to try again, and am now honored to have two indieBRAG-honored books in my catalogue!
Please tell me about your book, Hysterical Love.
Hysterical Love evolved from an anecdote shared with me, many years ago, by a man with whom I was discussing matters related to love and commitment. Over a cup of good Seattle coffee, he relayed the story of how he found out about an old girlfriend of his father’s, one met fifty years earlier during his Navy days, and how letters, or a story, or something his father had written intrigued him enough to read. These writings revealed details of this romantic interlude, inclusive of her name and even a old phone number, and my friend become obsessed with this historical event, convinced this woman was his father’s soul mate, the “one that got away.” He even went so far as to call the old number one night, but claims he hung up as soon as a woman answered, reluctant to actually play it out! That was where the story ended for him; he never pursued it any further and we never came back to that topic again.
But I keep thinking about what a strange thing that was to have done, and what might have happened had he pursued it further. What would have happened beforehand to get him to continue his investigation, and what would have to happen afterward to bring the story to a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion? It seemed like such an intriguing premise that I immediately started building a story around it. Initially I wrote this as a screenplay; it did well for me in that format: it was optioned by several different production companies but, unfortunately, as the movie business is wont to do, it never got made. After it sat on the shelf for years, someone familiar with the piece suggested I adapt it as a novel, citing the fact that it was too good a story to completely abandon. I agreed, and set about doing that in late summer of 2014. It took me a while to sort out the puzzle of how to adapt a screenplay into novel format (screenplays are visual/action blueprints with very low word count on about 120 pages; novels are… well, bigger, deeper, and more introspective!). But when I finally did, it basically flew from there, officially launching in April of 2015.
Has there ever been a minor character in your stories that you thought you would like to write a book about?
I’ve often grown very fond of secondary characters in stories I’ve written, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever considered writing a book about any of them. I tend to be a one-off writer rather than a serial writer, and so I usually imagine—and leave—my characters to live and exist within the framework of that one standalone story.
You have such a profound theme for your story. Love. Which is so complex and, I believe, ever growing. Sometimes, maybe more than not, people go to extraordinary lengths to hold onto it and maybe for not all the right reasons. Could you please share an example in your story where a person has a similar conflict?
I agree with you about the complexities of love. And given that love is so often a theme in literature, it certainly warrants analysis! I think within the arts as a whole—film, television, songs, books, plays, etc.—love is most often explored in its permutation as a heightened state of romance, lust, chemistry, passion, and sexuality. Bodice-ripper romances, erotic fiction, simplified “true love” tales, and tales that end with sun-drenched beginnings are most common. We occasionally get a story about “middle-aged love,” or “older person love,” but we less often examine love as it evolves and changes within a longer-term relationship; love that is less about sex and passion and more about finding emotional intimacy, figuring out how to share life and balance goals; how to transcend from “early passion” to “enduring connection.”
Hysterical Love begins with the protagonist’s three-year relationship shattering, builds with a subplot involving his parents’ seemingly antagonistic marriage and the introduction of a mystery woman from the father’s past, then takes us on the road and into sexual-fantasy-new-love-maybe-soul mate territory. Throughout that journey, we get to see and participate in the full, unvarnished spectrum of “love”: familial, friendship, new love, old love, imagined love, real love, and what’s-the-point-of-love. I believe it’s a story that winds and roller coasters just as life does, in ways that readers will find both recognizable and, perhaps, surprising.
As for a scene where someone goes to extraordinary lengths to hold onto love, I’d have to give that to Jane, the protagonist fiancée. Throughout the story, from the first chapter where she virulently reacts to three-year-old news of an “ex-girlfriend overlap” at the beginning of her relationship with Dan, to the moments of teetering in her conviction that they aren’t ready for marriage, to her panicked and desperate move to pre-empt their ultimate demise, she is most specifically driven by that element of “hanging on.” I think readers will have to ultimately decide what they think about her narrative; some didn’t like her and wanted her to fail, others had deep empathy for her confusion and overreaction. I personally think she’s a very real, very relatable character.
Please tell me about your protagonist, Dan McDowell.
Dan is a fully imagined fellow, based on no one in particular, but a character who embodies a great many traits of men I’ve known in my particular life. Having grown up with five brothers, spent years on the road with “boys in the bands”; worked with and developed tremendously close relationships with men throughout my life, and now married to, and the mother of, one of the gender, I felt well-equipped to create and imagine a male character!
Dan is thirty-three, in a three-year relationship with a wedding days set, slightly flatlined in his career as a photographer, a brother to a more successful older sister, son to nearby parents who are both likeable and exasperating, and locked in a routine built on daily, ingrained irritations. Dan struggles with each of these various circumstances, but it’s when his fiancée, Jane, kicks him out after learning of an “early relationship ex-girlfriend overlap,” that he finds himself confused and questioning every aspect of his life.
When he reads a memoir piece about his father’s “mystery lover” of fifty years past, he is stunned by this unknown, and uncharacteristic, chapter of his father, Jim’s life. But it’s when Jim is felled by a stroke that leaves him comatose, and Dan hears him call out the mystery woman’s name, that all of life gets thrown into a frenzy. Dan becomes obsessed about finding this woman, convinced his father’s very life depends on it, and with very few clues, and against the advice of his best friend and current roommate, Bob (a great character in the book!), Dan sets off to Oakland, CA, to see if he can find her. It’s a wild journey on which he meets, Fiona, a woman who may just be his soul mate, and tumbles through a series of events that rearrange his entire worldview. I’ll let your readers find out on their own what happens from there!
As a character, Dan is very human: flawed and complex. His confusions and disappointments have left him less than grounded, and he bounces amongst a spectrum of traits: selfishness, compassion, involvement, detachment, narcissism, empathy, righteousness, sorrow, hurt, and considerable confusion. Some readers have told me they didn’t like him, they thought he was maddening and inexplicable; annoying, immature, and shamefully selfish. Others have said he was instantly recognizable, completely relatable; funny, endearing, and someone they “wanted to take to lunch” (as one reader reported!). I suspect he’s all the above! I personally view him as a character who grows and changes; who learns a few things and becomes wiser as a result of that learning. I’ll let you and your readers decide, but I find Dan to be a wonderfully complicated protagonist, one who carries this story along in a way that, to me, expresses its most meaningful messages.
I believe another theme in your story is Family. What is the importance of this in your book?
I suppose, like love, family is one of those universal themes that every person has at least some relationship with!
In Hysterical Love, family is at the orbit around which the overriding narrative spins—the “family” that exists in a love relationship, in friendships, in work situations, and, of course, in one’s family of origin. Each of these plays a role in propelling the story forward and deepening the plot points. But certainly Dan’s family of origin has an essential impact on him, his actions and his decisions. It’s largely his challenged relationship with his gruff and seemingly detached father that confuses his own attitudes and thinking about love, which is one of the inciting incidents of the story. Not wanting to turn out like his father, not wanting to “choose wrong” in picking a mate, he’s pushed forward to explore the true meaning of love, and what kind of person he should or shouldn’t be with, by virtue of all that he encounters on his journey. What he discovers, about himself and the people in his family, is at the heart of the story’s statement.
What is your favorite scene? Has it made an impact on you in any way?
I don’t think I could say I have one favorite scene. When you write a book, you find there are so many scenes and moments that stand out to you, it’s impossible to pick. But there are two rather private, introspective scenes with Dan that always resonate with me: the moment when he’s walking around his neighborhood and gets the phone call about his father’s stroke, and the scene toward the end of the book when he’s in his car, weeping, and acknowledging to himself all the things he’s weeping about. Both are very vulnerable, emotional scenes, and I believe they’re such insight into Dan’s soul, and, in some ways, the emotional ways we readers might relate to his journey. That makes them very touching to me.
Who designed your book cover?
My sister, Grace Amandes. She is a very successful artist and graphic designer in Chicago, Ill., and when I began the process of putting together my first book, After The Sucker Punch, I knew she was the one to create the cover. Since I’m a professional photographer, I had the photos I wanted to use, so I got a few images to her to work with, and she came up with the ultimate designs. It stood to reason she would also design the cover for Hysterical Love, which she did and which I absolutely adore.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
The title, Hysterical Love, came to me very late in the process. As I mentioned, this started as a screenplay with the original title of The Last Woman on Earth. When I discovered there was a cult-favorite Roger Corman film of the same name, I think changed the screenplay to The Theory of Almost Everything. Of course, just as I was adapting this into novel format, the movie about Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, came out and I knew my title had been trumped! So as I started thinking about what else fit the story and would additionally pop off the page, I tapped into a part of the book in which the next-door neighbor, Bob, who’s always giving things titles, blurts out that it’s “hysterical love” that Dan’s been experiencing. I loved the idea; thought those two words together were very attention getting and funny, so I went with it. I’ve gotten a universally positive response to it, with some readers telling me it’s the initial reason they picked up the book, no better testament to the power of a good title!
When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?
That’s usually when I get up and go take a long, hard walk. I find the problems that tangle me up are always somehow easier to sort through and pull apart when I’m making my way up a hill or across the beach with headphones on and music pounding in my ears! There’s something meditative, however loud the music or rough the terrain, in that particular exercise.
What are you working on next?
As an essayist and journalist, I’m always writing and providing content for the newspapers and various media sites I work for, particularly The Huffington Post, where I’ve had a column for five years. I’ve also been writing short stories and creative essays for journals and contest submissions, intent on building my readership by connecting to a hopefully broader audience.
As for my next novel, I’m going a bit more topical and dramatic with this one. The title is A Nice White Girl Like You, and it follows the story of an interracial couple—the woman is white, the man, black—who are faced with the unexpected and life-altering impact of police profiling that culminates in criminal charges, causing both to question what they know of each other and just who to trust. Obviously it’s a very contemporary story, one that will pull from some real-life narratives, as well as explore issues related to our current racial dynamics in America. A bit of a departure for me, novel-wise, I do cover these more socio-political topics frequently in my journalistic work.
Do you stick with just genre?
As a reader I’m drawn to contemporary, realistic fiction, and so it stands that my proclivity as a writer would also fall into that category. I find I am most connected to the current zeitgeist, our contemporary sensibilities, and enjoy involving myself in stories that reflect and dig deep into narratives that mirror real life in modern times. Maybe when all the stories I have rumbling around my head are written, I’ll start exploring other genres! For now, the biggest change I’ll be making with my new book is that it will definitely lean more heavily on drama than comedy, which, certainly in my last, Hysterical Love, was generously employed!
Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?
I work on a laptop, so I can – and do – write anywhere, but I tend to set up camp on my living room couch, which faces a window overlooking the ocean. Nice inspiration! My process is all about tapping into that place I call my “creative bubble,” where words, ideas, imagery, and dialogue flow, making their way onto the page through my nimble fingers. It’s all about “channel and flow” for me, opening up to it and letting it guide my writing.
But I’m not a believer in the “blank page” theory; if I don’t feel inspired at a given moment, I close the computer and take a walk, go to a movie, watch a great TV show (no matter what Stephen King says!); visit with friends, get involved in a book, or go take pictures. Forcing words onto a page for the sake of mandated “writers rules” seems a foolish method to me. I’ve got to feel compelled to write and, luckily for me, I almost always do!
I also don’t believe in the adage: “a real writer writes every single day; come hell or high water.” To my way of thinking, good writing is about inspiration, the urge to write. I can go days without that urge, then write for the next forty-eight hours straight. There are no set rules, to my way of thinking, no “one way” that makes a person a bona fide writer. A bona fide writer is anyone who is so compelled to put their thoughts, words, ideas, and stories into writing they simply have to do it. How they do it is their process…and everyone’s process, presuming it leads to actual writing, is valid.
Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?
I always have a huge glass of water on my table and I love to munch on nuts. Give me an almond and I’m a happy girl!
Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?
I’m a big power walker, as I mentioned, a hiker when I can get farther out from the city. I love the art and craft of taking and processing photography. I can get immersed in a good movie or a well-written and produced TV series (dramas like Bloodline and Breaking Bad are true examples of “filmed literature” in my book). And I love traveling. If I could, I’d spend half my time traveling with my son and husband, a camera strapped around my neck and good walking shoes on. For now, I do it as often as I can… which is never often enough!
Thanks, Stephanie, for the conversation. I always enjoy talking with you and appreciate your interest in my work! I hope your readers will be intrigued enough to pick up copies of both my indieBRAG books, Hysterical Love and After the Sucker Punch, and let me know what they think. I always love hearing from readers.
A Message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Lorraine Devon Wilke who is the author of, Hysterical Love, our medallion honoree 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, Hysterical Love, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.