26 October 2018

Novel Conversations With Lorraine Devon Wilke and Dan McDowell

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
posted every Friday

To be a little different from the usual 'meet the author' 
let's meet a character...

Dan McDowell

Q: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Lorraine Devon Wilke’s novel HYSTERICAL LOVE. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?  
A: Hey, Helen, nice to meet you and thanks for taking the time to talk with me about my role in HYSTERICAL LOVE. My name is Dan McDowell. I am the “lead character,” as they say. I’m thirty-three, a photographer; I live in Los Angeles, have an older sister, Lucy, and two parents living nearby, and share a home with my—well, I was sharing a home with my fiancée, Jane. Until recently. When she—though a wonderful person with a big heart—greatly overreacted to a relational blip in my past and kicked me out. But more on that later…

Q: What genre is the novel and what is it about? (What's on the back cover blurb!) 
A. I’d put it into the upmarket literary fiction category, with a mix of humor and pathos, and a focus on “what’s true love and how do you know when you’ve found it?”  As for what it’s about: I’ll take your suggestion and go to the “back of the book”; it does a pretty good job of laying it out:

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.

Lorraine Devon Wilke, author of the acclaimed debut novel, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH, brings her deft mix of humor and drama to a whip-smart narrative told from the point of view of its male protagonist. HYSTERICAL LOVE explores themes of family, commitment, balancing creativity, facing adulthood, and digging deep to understand the beating heart of true love.

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
A: Good question… guess it depends on who you ask and when you ask them! I’m basically a good guy who’s just trying to figure things out, but there are people who might say I’m a tad self-focused, maybe a little obsessive; even narcissistic at times (though I’d take exception to that last one!). But in my defense, and for whatever reason, this age—thirty-three—is a real bear. It seems like you should have the basics figured out by thirty-three, but I feel like I still haven’t got a clue. I’m floundering. This applies to my career (working at a mall-based family portrait center is not exactly inspirational), my family (ho, my dad… there’s a piece of work!), and my currently blighted love life.

On top of that, I clash regularly with my overachieving sister, Lucy, who is as unvarnished and candid a person as could possibly exist (which can be skin-scraping for a laid back guy like me), and certainly my girlfriend, Jane, who hates me throughout the bulk of the story (but not really, you know?), would not likely have much good to say about me. My best friend, Bob, on the other hand, is not only a general hoot, but takes me as I am without a lot of judgment, which I appreciate. There’s another woman who comes into the picture, Fiona… ah, Fiona. She thinks everyone is good. And then there’s my parents. Wow. My mother’s convinced the sun shines down on me, while my father pretty much thinks I’m an ass.

But whatever I am or am not, this story puts me on a journey—both literally and figuratively—that lays out some truths I can neither deny nor dismiss, and somewhere in all that I honestly think I become a better person. Though you’d probably have to ask the others to get that verified.  

Q: Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: My sister Lucy is a bit of a challenge for me. Sometimes I feel like we’re really close, really in sync, other times we’re on different planets and she’s viewing me through a filter of her own making… and it ain’t rose-colored! She’s a couple of years older, currently single, and though her version of growing up was actually a lot more lackadaisical and chaotic than my own, she always manages to trip upon the golden tickets out there. For example, without even trying that hard, she magically attracted the funds to open her own restaurant and is now one of the most popular chefs in Los Angeles. Not sure how any of that happened. Especially since I put years, I mean years, into the study of my craft—photography—and the best I’ve been able to do (so far… I hope) is a gig at some family portrait store in a mall. But whatever it is, I also feel like Lucy’s my touchstone, the person I most rely on, the person I can always expect truth from; the person who’ll kick my ass (even when I don’t think I deserve it) and the person who’s walking this crazy maze with me regarding our parents. I’m in awe of her and she drives me nuts. And, frankly, she’s the catalyst at the heart of my romantic dilemma: after all, she’s the one who threw out the idea that Jane might not be my soul mate. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?    

Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: Nope, this is it. My big literary moment. No series, no sequels. I take you on a ride, I leave you with hope, and you get to take it from there. I trust your imagination will do me justice! 

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: I can’t really talk about any of my least favourite scenes, because they’d all be spoilers and I don’t want to do that to your readers. So let me go with my “most earth shaking revelation.”  

That’s the moment when I read this story my father wrote decades earlier. Wait—let me lay some groundwork first: my dad is a true curmudgeon (and how many people can you honestly say that about?), a bigger-than-life “man’s man” (pretty much the exact opposite of me), and a guy who thinks good parenting involves soul-crushing your idiot son in hopes it’ll make him stronger. I’ve always felt he was disappointed in me—never said it, but sometimes you just feel these things. And certainly he can’t relate to much about my life or who I am; bit of a generational gap… he was an “older father.” Anyway, that’s the foundation. So he freaks us all out with this stroke, and while I’m rolling around in existential panic that my weird, enigmatic paternal role model is quite possibly going to die, I find this story he wrote when he was in his twenties. There I discover he’d been madly in love with this woman who wasn’t my mother, a woman who literally set his heart on fire, a woman who inspired him to write in a way that sounded nothing like the man I know, and a woman who unceremoniously and cruelly dumped him. I then realize that everything he is, every way he looks at love and relationships, his ideas about marriage and men and women are all products of this one singular, seminal event. It shakes me to my core. Makes me wonder who the guy really is, how my mom fits in; how much this event is still impacting his life today. So tell me: if you then heard him say her name in a drug-addled moment in the hospital, and later you discover she is still around and living in your state, wouldn’t you set off on a journey to find some answers to it all?   

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: Easy: When I get back home after this cathartic, life-changing trip and discover that Tomas’s beloved ice cream truck is finally back in the neighbourhood after an inexplicable and horrifying absence. Yeah… I got a thing for his toffee ice cream bars—though Bob tells me the depth of my joy might just be a bit of projection.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books?
A: She has. First off, she’s a long-time screenwriter, had one of her films produced as an indie feature back in the 90s (To Cross the Rubicon), she then added editorial writing to her resume, spending the last decade building her own “arts & politics” blog (Rock+Paper+Music) as well as maintaining a regular column at HuffPost. In terms of writing novels, she began that chapter in 2010. Her first book, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH, came out in early 2014, and my story, HYSTERICAL LOVE, was published a year later. Both have done well: awards, book clubs, well reviewed by readers and editorial writers, so be sure to check them out… I’m not even partial to which one you decide to try first, but definitely do check out my story before you’re done. I think you’ll find it pretty darn fascinating... at least I hope so!   

Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A: Yes. Her third novel, THE ALCHEMY OF NOISE, which is kind of a departure in that it’s a more dramatic, topical novel than either of the previous two, is set for publication on April 9, 2019. This go-around she’s actually working with a publisher, noted hybrid publisher, She Writes Press, who brings traditional distribution to the table, so that’s very exciting for her. Hopefully—and even if this makes her next book ineligible for a BRAG medallion—BRAG readers will still show a fellow “medallioner” some love and seek the book out when it launches. If anyone wants to know more about it, you can just check the “Coming Soon” page on her website.

Q: How do you think indie authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for her personally?
A: Any kind of networking, marketing collaboration, reviews, conversations, introductions, etc., adds to the critical mass of support for an author and their book(s). Some people really enjoy the camaraderie and interaction of writers’ groups on Facebook, some prefer to connect in person at book clubs, public readings, and writer’s co-opts; there are lots of ways to make it work. I’d say my author falls somewhere in the middle of all that. She has belonged (and still belongs) to several Facebook writers’ groups, but finds she keeps more to herself in regards to her progress, her process, her research, etc. Often, however, ideas come up that inspire an article and then she’s as forthcoming as can be (you can find her catalogue of publishing-related articles on her blog, Rock+Paper+Music)! I’d say her favorite outlets for networking connections are book readings and book clubs, where she can personally interact, discuss, answer questions, etc., with people specifically interested in her work.  

Q: Finally, before we must bid adieu, the novel you appear in has been awarded a prestigious IndieBRAG Medallion, does your author find this helpful, and is there anything else he/she would like IndieBRAG to do to help indie authors receive the recognition they deserve?

A: I think it’s always helpful for a book to be acknowledged and honoured by a prestigious organization. The promotional support (president Geri Dunlap Clouston does a fabulous job of supporting her writers), the sharing of information about the book and the author, are extremely helpful, as are their newsletters, which are full of referrals, networking possibilities, reviewers open to IndieBRAG honorees, that sort of thing. It’s hard for any book to stand out in the ever-increasing supply of titles out there in the marketplace, particularly the indie market, so every step that shines a little specific light on a book is valuable. As for what, additionally, they might offer: the best thing IndieBRAG can do for its authors is to raise its own profile, its own brand, because any advancement of the organization is advancement for their authors. Win/win!  

Helen: Thank you, Dan, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt? While our visitors are reading it, though, would you like a refill of that drink…?
Dan: Thanks right back to you, Helen; I appreciate your interest in my story and look forward to your readers getting to know me a bit. I hope they’ll be kind. And sure… I’ll have another refill!

Salute! Here’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honouree!


I AM FLUMMOXED by relationships.
That is not a glib statement; it’s the frank admission of a man who can’t seem to get it right, even under what would seem to be the very best of circumstances. Relationships bewilder me. They knock me to my knees, and leave me baffled as to why something as essential as love is so damn fraught with confusion. At least for me. Which is disappointing. I don’t think I’m an anomaly, but I did think I’d have it figured out by now. 
It’s not that I don’t fully appreciate the value of a good relationship. I do. I’m the guy who wasn’t a player in school, high school or college. I always had a girlfriend and was always loyal and faithful to that girlfriend. Not because I’m so good, but because I’m not good at chaos. I hate the complication of it, the balancing of opposing forces (i.e., more than one girlfriend), and I’m a horrible liar, all requisites of a successful player.
And, truth be told, I like being in a relationship: the comfort, the dependability, the shared meals and regular sex. These are all good things for a man who wants to avoid complication. So why, you may ask, am I flummoxed?

Because, despite my affinity for the state of being, relationships tend to explode on my watch. I’m not sure how or why, but it’s typically things like her deciding I’m not motivated enough, or me deciding she’s not fun enough (I had one who “hated the outdoors”…what do you do with that?), or both of us deciding the other is unexciting enough that moving on would be more exciting than staying put. But it’s always messy, it’s always painful, and it usually involves weeping, tossed closets, and new sets of keys. So as I’ve attempted to evolve in life, I’ve tried my best to choose better and do it right. More right. At least as right as I can.

Which I thought I’d done over these last three years. Thought I’d gotten it really right on both the choosing and the doing. But as I sit on the edge of a strange bed in a strange bedroom and reflect on the very strange night that has just ensued, it’s clear I miscalculated. Misjudged. Regardless of good intentions, I once again set the whole damn thing on fire. Or she did. I’m still not sure.

Even more disheartening, this relationship had gone much further than any previous. It lasted longer, had less drama, and we’d actually embarked upon those iconic discussions of the future, that gaping, wide-open, impossible to imagine place I’d been assured was both warm and welcoming. I thought, I think we both thought, we were out of the danger corridor, that weird zone after the early hot years where relationships wander to get battered by irritation and boredom. We were past that, we’d transcended, we were golden.

We were f***ed. By love-smugness. It gets you every time.

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  1. "Relationships bewilder me. They knock me to my knees, and leave me baffled as to why something as essential as love is so damn fraught with confusion." Love it! Great interview and interesting author.

    1. It's one of those 'wish I'd thought that up' type phrases isn't it! Thanks for dropping by Florence - and for sharing!

  2. The idea that someone we think we know is really very different is a great framework. Dan sounds very confused...I hope he finds some answers! Thanks for a fascinating interview.

  3. You almost feel sorry for "poor Dan." Then again, you want to shake him, slap his un-ironed shirt around his ears a bit to "wake up to reality." But mostly, you want to know how he fares. Enticing. Enjoyed it.

    1. That's what makes characters real though isn't it - they aren't perfect!

  4. Great interview! A nice highlight of a book I might not otherwise run across. Thanks again, Helen!

    1. Thanks Stephanie - yes that's why I wanted to do this series of Novel Conversations, to highlight some different authors and their characters.

  5. Ah, poor Dan- I feel for him. This is another brilliant interview. A nice change of pace for me but a must read-

  6. Lorraine did reply to everyone but Blogger has managed to mislay her responses... so on her behalf I'm posting for her: "thank you to all the wonderful comments, support and enthusiasm. Sorry I couldn't reply personally."


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