This interview is with Lorraine Devon Wilke Author of The Alchemy of Noise
- What was your biggest inspiration while writing your book?
Contemporary culture. The news. The ubiquitous racial tension in our country and the countless conversations that ensue on how to bridge those gaps.
My latest novel, The Alchemy of Noise, is a deep dive into those issues, weaving the impact of race and privilege in and around a powerful and dramatic love story, which makes the current zeitgeist both an inspiration and a daily reminder of the urgency of its theme.
As for the initial inspiration that compelled my decision to write this particular book at this particular time:
Earlier in my young adult life I spent six years in an interracial relationship. As educated as I thought I was on the topic of race and bias, as open-minded and progressive as my upbringing had been, it turns out I had only a glimpse of the bigger picture and so very much to learn. Witnessing, tangentially experiencing, and responding to the countless “microaggressions,” recurring police harassment, and flat-out bigotry my partner dealt with on a day-to-day basis forever changed my worldview on the reality of privilege and prejudice in America.
Later in my writing career, it struck me that this experience offered not only the seeds of a topical and dramatic story, but brought to the conversation the specific, shared, and disparate perspectives of a mixed-race couple. That seemed a compelling point-of-view to explore, particularly because the lack of experiential or emotional empathy on both sides is what too often leaves participants in the discussion struggling for true understanding.
As a long-time contributor at HuffPost, I had referenced my personal experience in a couple of op-eds on the topic of race, which not only gave me access to a wider audience open to that conversation, but allowed me proximity to dialogue and feedback from both sides of the racial divide. As I began to formulate the narrative of this novel, that education helped bring the story into the current zeitgeist. I knew it was time to write it, something I began doing in 2016.
- Which part of your book was most challenging to write about?
The exploration of a culture outside my own. Particularly given current and meaningful sensitivities about white writers including characters of color in their books, it was essential to me to get it right—for readers, for members of that community, and for the sake of my story’s authenticity.
A current trend in the literary industry (and other artistic mediums) is to frame the lack of equal opportunity for diverse voices as a problem that can be solved by limiting the voices of others… as if shutting out one set of voices will magically level the playing field for others! In fact, any mandate that tells artists what they can and cannot say, who they can and cannot write about, which stories and characters they can explore and which they cannot, is literally antithetical to the philosophy of artistic freedom. The problem is solved by giving more bona fide opportunities to diverse voices without censoring or limiting the those of others.
It is also true that when one writes about anything outside their own reality and experience—whether race, gender, religion, orientation, ethnicity, country, planet, etc.—they are obligated to do the research, honor the nuances and sensibilities; take the time, and make the effort to fully flesh-out every aspect of those elements with which they are less familiar, injecting as much authenticity and realism as possible. I certainly felt that obligation, which made that aspect of my story the most challenging… and the most compelling.
- What message do you hope readers will take from reading your book?
Beyond the most basic enjoyment of reading a really good read that takes them on an emotional ride that stirs any number of thoughts and reactions:
- Greater understanding and deepened empathy in terms of our prevailing racial divides and prejudices.
- A more acute awareness of how those divides and prejudices play out—in ways large and small—in the everyday lives of everyday people, particularly people of color.
- A knowledge that love, honest connection, and open minds can transcend even the most caustic of circumstances.
- A message that we are all made of the same stuff and have the same human desires for love, family, safety, peace, and the right to live freely without limitation.
• And, particularly for white readers, I hope that they—as I did in my earlier experience—gain a more honest and realistic perspective of what white privilege affords them, even, perhaps, without their noticing, and what, conversely, people of color deal with every single day in terms of hard prejudice, casual racism, police profiling, and disproportionate justice.
When you focus on a theme as large and pervasive as racial conflict in America, telling your story through the lens of a specific group of people in a specific time, place, and set of circumstances—particularly as a white writer—you do so with the expressed understanding that you are on sacred ground. This is not a topic to be taken lightly, or given short shrift, certainly not at this moment in history, and in this particular country. I want my absolute respect for that reality to be a take-away as well.