Monday, 8 June 2015

Lorraine Devon Wilke Reviewed!

Contemporary Fiction is the unwanted, bastard stepchild of Independent fiction. 

Harsh? No. True. Don't believe me? Come and join me at the shelter where, just outside the soup kitchen, you can find ten, fifteen, twenty Contemporary Fiction writers huddled around the brazier, polystyrene mug of powdered Minestrone warming fingerless mitts and coating trembling, arid lips.

Contemps just can't catch a break.We starve for our art.

I'll go further. 

To sell in Indie, you need to be writing genre fiction. 

Famous Nottingham author Nicola Valentine held court on this in a debate at the Nottingham Writer's Studio a short while ago and many, many blogs and analysts on the scene allude to the eminence, the supremacy of genre. Here's the top four (outside non-fiction and self help).

Vampire - preferably the stuff that sparkles. 
Erotica - atm, LGBT erotica in particular. 
Young Adult - pick something unreal and it's likely to be written about: Wizards, Zombies and Gargoyles have been popular recently and of course, 
Romance/chicklit - say no more.

(The really clever authors who are sitting on biblical piles of paper moolah the size of the Tower of Babel are those who write dirty vampire romances for teenagers. They're rolling cigars made of crisp twenties and laughing all the way to the bank).

That's genre. 

Unreal. Invented. Other. Escapist. 

In fact, genre fiction= escapist. The more fantastic, the more unreal and out there, the more it is likely to sell.

Contemporary fiction writers can usually be found hunting for food in skips outside conferences full of genre authors, which is a shame as generally contemporary fiction authors, as writers, knock genre writers into a cocked hat. These boys and girls can write.

And Lorraine Devon Wilke, who lives just up the road from Brenda Perlin, the "Faction" writer I featured last week, is a damned fine contemporary writer indeed.

She's written two books. The first, After The Sucker Punch, I reviewed here. 

Review of After The Sucker Punch

I loved it. It was in the top three books I read last year and in the top thirty of my lifetime. It is that good. 

It is a superb Contemporary Fiction novel featuring real people, in real situations, in places you can follow on a satnav. I was utterly engrossed and felt hollow when it ended. 

Long term friends of the Wizard will know I started reading this on e-Book and then swiftly binned that for a game of soldiers in favour of a beautiful paperback. 


Lorraine writes beautifully, flawlessly, with dialogue you can hear rather than read, that snaps and crackles and sometimes, when she pitches it perfectly, is like the resonant ping of a silver spoon tapping on Waterford Crystal. 

She writes well drawn characters you either love or hate (just like your real life) and every now and again, she will write a paragraph that will take your breath away for the sheer bloody hell of it. 

Though there are many similarities, that's the fundamental difference between a Contemporary Fiction writer and a Genre writer. 

The latter may have the raw ability to write stunning, artistic paragraphs but - either because of an editor, because of an ersatz, functioning model (like that operated by trad e-book romance publishers), or because the paragraph, in homage to Mark Twain's edict, doesn't exactly push the story on - they simply don't include paragraphs like that.  

In Genre, the story is paramount and you get the sense that in Lorraine's  work, the story itself is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a memorable reading experience. 

This abnegation of the eminence of the story is, of course, a heresy for genre fiction writers but for contemporary fiction writers, it's the 95 Theses stuck to the door of some literary Wittenberg Cathedral.  

We can all starve on the pavements outside the genre fiction conferences, but we can do so with a contented smile, guv.

Her second novel Hysterical Love (out now on Amazon, see below) carries on stylistically from where Sucker Punch lets off.  

It features Dan, a photographer, who, in the novel's exceptional first chapter, finds himself kicked out of his house by his fiancee shortly before their impending marriage. Numb and confused, he then gets another sucker punch when his dad suffers a heart attack. 

Going through his dad's things, he discovers a story written by his father about a lost love from his teen years and, for reasons which become clear throughout the book, Dan sets off on a quest to find his father's ex girlfriend.

It's a fine book. I've read it twice. It's more story-led and tighter than the first, with fewer characters and more introspective feel. 

Lorraine also takes risks few authors I am currently reading would take and - for the most part - it comes off. I don't always agree with where Lorraine takes us and I have very strong feelings about Dan himself (which I have shared with Lorraine) but she risks and that is enough. 

The sense of place is notable:You can smell the burning rubber on the highway, wince as the sun reflects off tumbling Pacific waves, feel the burning, endless sun on your face, experience the stinking motels (one is terrific) and - in one of the novel's funniest moments - you can even assimilate the urge to punch a rude and ignorant (but wholly Oakland) garage mechanic in the gob. 

In a sense, you become Dan without ever knowing why he is doing what he is doing but you want to do it with him - OR, you want him to STOP doing what he is doing. Again, just like real life friendships. 

Dan is clearly in the grip of a Ahabian obsession and anyone who has ever been obsessed knows how vice-like those compulsions are. And how they can turn out.

I have issues with the book but that's it's beauty. Lorraine doesn't care. This is what contemporary writers do. The reader can, to be frank, go whistle. It's a writer's journey and you can either board the train or stay on the platform. 

Recommend it? I'd buy them both and if you are struggling for cash, save up and buy them both at Christmas. Buy them twice. If you are married, buy your partner a copy. They are lovely looking paperback books I am proud to have on my Indie shelf.

Her native countrymen, perhaps because of her prolific work on the Huffington Post, her music career (she is a very talented singer) and her second career as a photographer, are beginning to get her and she deserves it because of her skill, her way with words.  

I'd like to see her reputation grow over here in the home of Contemporary Fiction. And soup kitchens.

UK: Buy Lorraine's Books HERE

Other: Buy Lorraine's Books HERE

Lorraine's Wizard's Cauldron Interview


  1. Wow!!! You had me at one of the top 30 books of your life time and then your review clinched it. Lorraine sounds amazing and I'm definitley going to give her books a try :D

  2. To say I'm honored would be an understatement. Coming from a writer I consider a master of plot, wit, and language, I am all the more touched. Thank you, Mark Barry, for such a lovely, meaningful write-up on me and my work. May the Gods of Contemporary Fiction smile down upon you on my behalf!

  3. What a wonderful write up - I have After The Sucker Punch coming soon on my kindle and need to move it nearer the top of my list!! I love your observations on Contemporary Fiction Marky - had me chuckling and are as brilliant as always :-)

    1. I agree about the chuckles Mark provides, and hope you enjoy the books when you get to them, Georgia Rose!

  4. Yes, I love what you said Mark. It's honest, compelling and makes me want to read these books for a third time. They are that good. I think I loved them even more the second time around where I could really pay attention to the little things and not get caught up with all the guessing as to what comes next. As do you, Lorraine has something special. I knew it from reading her blog posts well before her books came out. Even without seeing her sharp photographs and hearing her soulful singing I knew I was in the company of a true star. Indie or traditional this woman has something to say and she tells it the way she see's fit. Doesn't always have to be what is expected or politically correct though she is plenty political. This girl is a thinker and as a reader, I get the pleasure of all those deep thoughts.

    1. Brenda, you always touch my heart, from the first moment I started this journey. Thank you, always, for your kindness and support. I know I say it a lot, but it really does mean so much.

  5. This is a terrific post, Mark. And contemporary fiction - it's a devil! The best of it will never sell as well as the most mediocre vampire erotica for teens - alas for us!