Sole Focus

News, Views, Rantings & Ramblings by Carey Parrish

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Location: Georgia, United States

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spotlight Interview with Novelist Arthur Wooten

Without question, Arthur Wooten is one of the most talented people I know. His writing is a national treasure. The list of hit titles from this man is stellar and just keeps right on growing. On Picking Fruit, Fruit Cocktail, Birthday Pie, Wise Bear William, Arthur Wooten’s Shorts, and most recently Leftovers have all found their way onto bestseller lists with ease. Arthur writes with a flair that is truly original and he is an inspiration for anyone looking to spread creative wings.

Arthur is also a very good friend. We’ve known each other for years now and about a month ago I had the great pleasure of seeing him again in New York City. I feel that Arthur is one of those special people who are just meant to be a part of my life. He encourages me to keep reaching for my own dreams by making his come true, again and again. Our mutual friend Charles Casillo once remarked to me that “Arthur is an angel.” I have to agree.

Whenever Arthur releases a new book, I always beat an email path to his door and ask for an interview. He always obliges as well. This time was no different. With Leftovers an Amazon bestseller, I was intrigued about how Arthur came to this book and I must admit that the amount of research and time he put into it is amazing. Like the man himself, Leftovers is an original. And that doesn’t have to be preserved in Tupperware either!

CP: Arthur, welcome back! Nice to chat with you again.
AW: Carey, it’s always a pleasure to visit with you. And our recent literary dinner in NYC was too much fun. What a great group of people, including yourself.
CP: Arthur, you make me blush. (Private joke.) You’ve had a major success with your new novel Leftovers. How do you relate to its popularity?
AW: Well, I’m thrilled of course. Leftovers was a big risk for me in that it’s a totally different book from all my others. I hoped that my followers would enjoy it but I also worked hard to find the target audience. I met lots of new “chic lit” bloggers/readers and because Leftovers is also based around Tupperware, I received the blessing of the company itself and I reached out to the top dealers around the world. And I’m so happy that they’ve all loved the story and are spreading news of the book at their Tupperware parties. Everything about Tupperware, including the creator of the home party plan system, Brownie Wise, is historically correct in Leftovers.
CP: Tell us a bit about Vivian Lawson and how you created her.
AW:  Leftovers is a riches to rags to riches love story. Vivian Lawson was born with a silver spoon in her MOTHER’S mouth. The novel takes place between 1954 and 1956 in a fictitious New England town, just north of Boston. Vivian’s father made millions with his woolen factories but his wife, Vivian’s mother, made sure that her daughter barely saw a penny of it, particularly after her father died.
   Thinking he loved her and wanting to get away from her mother, Vivian marries the wrong man. And being born into such wealth, Vivian’s life was orchestrated by a series of maids, each called by their number. Ex: Maid 1, Maid 2, etc. Vivian was not only ignored as a child, she wasn’t allowed to learn how to do anything domestically.
   End result, once she was married, she hadn’t a clue as to what to do. And in the mid-50s, being the supreme housewife was a goal many women strived for. Nor did Vivian know how to dress or apply make-up. She was a mess…but with a heart of gold and much too forgiving.
   She struggles with her marriage and her dream to have children just isn’t working out. And when her degrading husband goes one step too far Vivian shockingly throws him out. She’s left to fend for herself in a man’s world with no money and no skills.
   After hitting rock bottom and with the help of two good friends, Vivian has nowhere to go but up. And it’s Tupperware that allows her to discover her self-esteem, create financial security and ultimately find true love.
CP: Why do you think this character so resonates with readers?
AW: I think people relate to her because her struggle is timeless. Most of us have been in ill-fated romances or marriages. And I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a dream and worked hard to achieve it. Some succeed, others don’t, but it’s a universal yearning for things to work out. To reach your goal – on all levels. Who doesn’t love a story where the underdog wins?
CP: Did you expect Leftovers to be such a hit?
AW: Carey, at this point in my writing career I try not to think of whether or not a project is going to be a hit. But when the reviews started coming in…and they are glowing…you do whisper to yourself…They like me. They really like me. (God bless Sally Field.)
CP: Are you planning another story with Vivian?
AW: Actually I haven’t thought about that. Hmmm…you have my gears spinning.
CP: Leftovers comes right on the heels of your successes with Birthday Pie, Wise Bear William, and Arthur Wooten’s Shorts. What do you have in store for your fans next?

AW: Next up, once again, is a totally different novel with a working title of Dizzy. Based upon a true story, it’s about a beloved Broadway diva who is struck down by a mysterious disease at the height of her career and is forced to reexamine her life and the people in it as she fights to survive. A story very close to my heart…literally.
CP: Let’s skip back to On Picking Fruit. There was talk of Curtis coming to life on the screen. What’s going on there?
AW: Sadly, nothing. I was in talks with Warner Bros. but ultimately they thought it was too edgy. Then Showtime came knocking but felt it wasn’t edgy enough. I’m hoping one day soon, whether it be On Picking Fruit or someone else’s project, that a show with a lead gay character appears on television again but right now we’re still just seeing them as supporting characters. You have to admit, we are in a very tentative and heated situation across the country when it comes to gay rights and I think Hollywood is nervous right now.
CP: And Birthday Pie? It was also talked of in film circles.
AW: Birthday Pie was in preproduction with Phylicia Rashad to star and her sister Debbie Allen to direct. Then the recession hit and the production company folded. Both Phylicia and Debbie are excited to stay with the project but as of yet, we haven’t found a new home for it.
CP: How about Leftovers? It would make a great film.
AW: Funny you say that, Leftovers was originally a screenplay and optioned by the same company that was producing Birthday Pie. Producers told me Nicole Kidman was interested in the property for several months but that seemed to fizzle out about the same time the company folded.
CP: What’s next for you, Arthur?
AW: Taking my time writing Dizzy. It’s also going to be written in an entirely new and different format for me. I’m breaking away from my traditional linear timeline of writing and exploring new concepts. As you know, I tend to write very quickly but I need to nurture this project very gently.

CP: What have you been doing in your free time lately?
AW: Living in NYC – museums, restaurants, theatre, travel. I just had three books come out in three months and I’m exhausted. This is a well-deserved and necessary break.
CP: Reading anything good?
AW: I’m enthralled by Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck. You may recall he wrote The Invention Of Hugo Cabret that was then adapted to film and won several Oscars last year. I went to see One Man, Two Guvnors on Broadway recently and he sat next to me. We had met years ago when he was a puppeteer with Basil Twist and seeing him and catching up with everything reminded me that I wanted to get his latest book. It’s simply magical.
CP: What music are you listening to these days?
AW: Adele. Who isn’t? I love her, her music, her lyrics, her voice, her look. And I love her just as much in interviews. She’s so real, down to earth and relatable.
CP: How’s the shiatsu practice?
AW: Still going strong. This is my 28th year as a practitioner. I should give myself a gold watch. Or at the very least, a pair of gold knuckles – to give my hands a rest!
CP: Next time I’m in New York, I definitely want to have dinner with you again.
AW: Oh for sure, Carey. It was glorious to see you again.
CP: Arthur, thanks so much for this time.
AW: As always, the pleasure’s all mine.

Carey Parrish

Spotlight Interview with Novelist Gregory G. Allen

Gregory G. Allen has been making quite a name for himself in recent years. His debut novel Well With My Soul garnered him much acclaim and admiration, not to mention an enviable fan base, and he quickly rose to prominence in the GLBT community. Now he’s returned with a new book, this one from a different angle and an entirely different protagonist, that is thrilling his fans and increasing his recognition in literary circles.
Patchwork of Me is Greg’s latest novel and it was an instantaneous success. One of the more satisfying books I’ve read in the last year, it gives us the story of a young woman with a fractured past who must come to terms with herself, and the traumas that have shaped her life, before she can move forward. He also recently released a children’s book focusing on a young boy with autism who is a superhero. An unqualified success, Chicken Boy has increased Greg’s readership in grand style.
I asked Greg for an interview to get a look inside what inspired him to write these stories. He’s a good friend and just last month I got to meet and have dinner with him in New York City. So I was more than pleased when he agreed to be my guest again.

CP: Welcome back, Greg. It’s good to chat with you.
GGA: It is always wonderful to meet up with you…here or in NY when you visit!
CP: Thanks, man. You’ve got a couple of really popular titles out right now. Let’s begin with Patchwork of Me. Tell me how this book came about.
GGA: A few years ago I decided to try the “NaNoWriMo” where you write a novel in a month during November. Just to challenge myself. That was the first draft of Patchwork. I started with the character’s past in Maine (what she discovers as she patches her life together) and created this woman around that actual moment. How she was put into foster care and ended up in Arizona now as a woman in her 30s.
CP: Did you expect it to become such a favorite with readers?
GGA: I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not a specific genre writer, so I walk into the waters with trepidation that people will say ‘this is not like what we’ve read of his before’ and throw the book across the room. (Laughs.) Would people take to a man writing a female protagonist in first person? But I’m thrilled with the comments that I have received (especially from women) and was absolutely overjoyed when it won the 2012 International Book Award for Women’s Lit.
CP: Why do you think it appeals to such a wide audience?
GGA: I think people can relate to Sara. A woman who doesn’t feel she quite fits in, trying to hold it all together. Making wrong choices. Fighting with herself in her own head. Plus hanging out with two fun gay guys and one chick that has no problem ‘speaking the truth’ – their ‘family’ definitely has an appeal to audiences who long for or relate to that kind of camaraderie in their own lives.
CP: Any talk of a film adaptation of Patchwork?
GGA: The only talks are the ones in my head…much as Sara speaks to herself.
J (But if someone else wants to talk, I’m all ears!)

CP: And Chicken Boy? Where did this one come from?
GGA:  I honestly never intended to write a children’s book. I spend every Wednesday night with my godson (who has autism) and his sister and mom, eating at his favorite place. Many children with autism need that routine and he always orders the same meal which consists of chicken fingers, French fries and ketchup. So his sister and I started making up a story one night about him being a superhero. He sometimes just screams out the word “BAHCAAAAAAH” for no reason, so we decided that was his battle cry. Thus our superhero was born and I wrote this story about autism awareness told through the eyes of the child that lives with it every day. I entered it into a contest with four hundred other stories and it won the People’s Choice Grand Prize award and was published by MeeGenius in March on their digital platform.
CP: Chicken Boy has caught the attention of many readers, including celebrities who’ve helped you promote it. Why do you think its message is so well received?
GGA: I think so many people know someone with autism in the day and age that we live in now that it is on many people’s minds. The story is told simply so that a child can understand it: don’t fear someone who is different. People love the simplicity and want to help spread the word…and I’m eternally grateful for it! We have to love social media & those celebrities who re-tweet!
CP: What did you hope this book would accomplish? And in your view, has it succeeded in its mission?
GGA: The book became something so much larger than “Greg wrote a children’s book” during the two rounds of voting. I truly felt I was on a mission to be a voice - one SMALL voice - in making people aware that kids with autism are not so different (inside their own heads). So don’t be afraid just because someone makes a sound or you see them fidgeting. They can’t help what they are doing. Once the book was out (and then also in print,) I’ve been
traveling to local schools and reading it, discussing it with ages from PreK to sixth grade. It has been an amazing experience for me and one I really treasure. And when I see a kid ‘get it’ (especially if there is also a child with autism in the room making a noise or something) and can say “oh, it’s like what Chicken Boy did in the book” … yes, I completely feel the mission was a success. 

CP: How do you feel when you see Patchwork of Me win an award or Chicken Boy take flight with so many people?
GGA: You feel a sense of accomplishment and validation. Look, we all want to be loved in this world, but I’m aware not everyone is going to love everything I do. And I’m okay with that. (He says after years of therapy.)
J Those one star reviews are washed out of my mind when something I’ve written is acknowledged by a panel or group for what it brings to the literary world. It makes you feel you haven’t been writing in vain. Do I still wish I could sell those thousands of copies of books that I read about others doing? Absolutely! But I’m truly honored every time someone buys a copy and tells me what they thought. It’s a wonderful feeling. 
CP: Your writing really resonates with your readers. People respond to your work. How do you make your brand of magic?
GGA: Wow, Carey. That’s a really sweet thing for you to say. And I’m not certain how to answer you. I don’t think in terms of ‘trying to write a certain way’ or ‘if I do this, then people will think that.’ I just try to stay as true and honest to myself and my characters as I possibly can.
CP: How do you handle or respond to criticisms of your work?
GGA: I turn to my modern day Algonquin Round Table friends and ask them to join me for a virtual drink! (Laughs.) As I mentioned before, we all strive for acceptance, but sometimes we’re just not going to get it. And that’s because not everyone likes all of the same things. I’ve had people tell me I write such realistic dialogue and others say my dialogue is flat and untrue. It’s hardest when it is something to do with editing or a misspelled word makes it through (and my books have gone through editors and proofers and STILL some errors made it into print). Those are rough because the person is right and it can’t be disputed. But if that word took them so far out of my storytelling then obviously I wasn’t really the storyteller for them, was I? But I don’t respond to the criticisms. It’s just not worth it.
CP: Are you working on any new projects right now? If so, what can you share about them?
GGA: I seem to have too many projects going on in my head! I actually have sequels to both of my first books that are brewing and a few chapters/outlines have been written. But first I’d like to get out a novelized version of a musical I wrote several years ago called Invisible Fences about a biracial woman living in Dalton, GA in 1964. If I can get that book out sometime in 2013, it will show the arc of my writing as someone who simply loves to write about diversity and how different my first three novels are in genre and tone. Then I’ll really mess with people’s minds about who I am as an author!

CP: What have you been doing in your “Greg” time lately?
GGA: Living right outside of NYC, I spent May attending several Broadway shows (and blogging about them) before the Tony awards. And then the first week in June was relaxing with the family in Punta Cana to share my sister’s small beach wedding. 
CP: What are you reading?
GGA: I just finished Benjamin Wretlind’s Sketches from the Spanish Mustang to give him a quote for his July release. Completely different type of reading for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it! 
CP: Seen any good movies?
GGA: I don’t actually get to the movies much. I wait for them to come on cable. Not sure if that’s being lazy or just thrifty. I think the last movie I had going in the background while I was busy doing my social media stuff was the alien flick Paul.
CP: You recently went to Sedona for a birthday break. How was that?
GGA: Amazing. Everything they say about it and more. Spiritual. Relaxing. Slower. We drove to the Grand Canyon, took a train through the Verde Canyon…and ate LOTS of good food!
CP: What’s next for you?
GGA: Heading to Maine in late June for an “author road trip” just like my characters in Patchwork of Me. Can’t wait to share both of these books with the people in that state at a few book signings. I worked up there in 1989 doing summer stock theater and I just love it! (So it’s work AND fun.)
CP: And what are you most proud of these days?
GGA: My mother. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in early May and had the strength of an army as she faced it. Never once having a pity party…only figuring out what comes next. That’s another reason I loved the Punta Cana trip to be able to spend a week with her before she goes home to Texas for her surgery and starts her treatments this summer. But she is awesome and as we say in Texas: “She’s gonna whip its ass!”
CP: Gregory G. Allen, thanks for this wonderful chat.
GGA: Thank you, Carey! I always love chatting with you. Either here on your blog, email, or online. See you out on twitter!

Carey Parrish