Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Writing the Truth: An Interview with Arthur Wooten, the Author of Birthday Pie

Arthur Wooten

Some may be familiar with Arthur Wooten’s novels, On Picking Fruit and Fruit Cocktail; others, with his insightful short stories. I met the New York City author in 2007, by pure chance, at the Book Expo of America. He autographed a copy of On Picking Fruit for me. The read introduced me to what I now call Arthur Wooten’s writing universe. In short, I became a fan the moment I picked up that book, because once I started reading it, I simply couldn’t put it down. Once I finished the read, I was already wondering about the sequel. And I guess that, again, the universe was listening, offering me the opportunity not only to read the sequel, Fruit Cocktail, but also to interview the author.

The third chance came in the form of Arthur Wooten’s most recently released book, Birthday Pie. While the storyline takes a completely different turn from the ones I’ve gotten used to in the previous novels, Birthday Pie is yet another reminder (not that anybody needed one) of the author’s ability to take the art of storytelling to a level of fine art. The result is what I call Wooten’s fine art of storytelling. It is the reason why many readers, like myself, have become Arthur Wooten fans in the first place.

Also, Birthday Pie offered yet another chance to interview the author, and, in turn, to glimpse inside his universe. Through the process I not only learned more about the story behind the book, but also about Arthur Wooten—the author and the person.

Arthur Wooten, the person, is a “foodie,” he loves to cook. Arthur Wooten, the author, writes “frighteningly fast,” an ability he calls “a blessing and a curse.”

The author also writes the truth. “Write honestly, from the heart,” is his advice to emerging writers. “For every writer, for every character they write, the reality of the truth will be different,” he adds.

Reality, as it comes through in Birthday Pie story and its characters, touches readers on several levels. Told with wit and humor, the book reaches home, because it reflects facets of our own family stories. For this reason, the story of Birthday Pie becomes a vehicle through which readers can reach out and connect (or reconnect) with their own families.

The story of Birthday Pie begins long before On Picking Fruit and Fruit Cocktail. “I first wrote it as a play back in 1991,” Wooten explains. It was optioned as a play, a TV series and a feature film. The play won a top spot at the Key West Theatre Festival and premiered at the Waterfront Playhouse. “There was a backers audition in New York City, and then it was optioned again as a film,” Wooten recalls. “During the ‘waiting’ period I penned the novel version. […] I wanted to keep the time back in 1990. It was a very frightening time in many people’s lives, including my own. ”

In many ways Arthur Wooten considers Birthday Pie a love-letter to his family. “My dad passed away in 1990 due to cancer,” the author explains. “Although I grew up in Andover, MA, [my dad] was from the Deep South, so I grew up with many of those flavors and sensibilities. In a way, [writing] Birthday Pie was therapy for me, an extremely cathartic experience, a very healing project to write. And it still is.”

Birthday Pie also deals with timeless, also timely matters. This brings up the topic of love (timeless) and equal marriage rights (timely). “It’s thrilling to see how far we’ve come,” Wooten comments, “frightening to see the fear, ignorance and cruelty that this [equal marriage rights] issue brings up for others.” He adds that it’s well-known that individuals with such strong, sometimes even violent reactions to gay/same-sex love may be repressing some feelings within themselves.  Wooten touches in upon repressed feelings in Birthday Pie, and does it with humor and finesse.

What attracts readers to Arthur Wooten’s novels is their power of capturing a slice of reality, a reality through which readers recognize pieces of their lives—maybe themselves or people they know. Reality expresses something tangible, something readers can relate to. “I don’t write happy, perfect endings,” Wooten comments. “Life isn’t like that. So many stories lend themselves to… what happens next? I have an outline for the sequel to Birthday Pie. But there’s now talk, again, about a movie and a TV series.”

What’s next for Arthur Wooten? He has three more screenplays that “are completed and need to be thrown out into the universe,” he says. “Anyone want to play with me?”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Like Death & Taxes: My Bucket List--The Hang Loose State

Helicopter Ride over the Hawaiian Islands. Copyright 2010 by Alina Oswald.
It's April 15th. Tax Day (even though this year's Tax Day is April 18th). As we know, there are only two certain things in life--Death and Taxes. I don't know much about taxes, only that we have to pay them and that, each year, we have to work on our tax returns.

"Whale Watching in Aloha State" Copyright 2010, Alina Oswald
Death, on the other hand, now, that's something I can talk about forever. Death is a certainty. Not one that we like to think about, yet a certainty nonetheless. After all, one way or another, we do have to accept our mortality. Some of us are reminded about our mortality throughout our life--just ask the cancer survivors, or the long-term AIDS survivors, or those who survived any kind of tragedy... All these individuals have faced Death, their Mortality, and yet are here to tell us about it.

Coconut Island, Big Island of Hawaii, Copyright 2010 by Alina Oswald
Rainbow Falls, Big Island, Hawaii. Copyright 2010, by Alina Oswald
Death is something we drag, we fear (at least most of the people). Yet, it is something we have to accept it. We have to accept that we won't be here forever, as physical entities, that our physical existence, the physical layer of our existence is not infinite. That is why I think it's even more important to start working on our Bucket List--a list of things we'd like to do and places we'd like to see before we die. Although I've thought about Death, Mortality and all the related topics for most of my life, only recently I've started to consider putting together my Bucket List. As a result, my List is pretty short, but hopefully it will continue to grow, it will be a... work in progress.
Lava Watch, Copyright 2010 by Alina Oswald

What's on my Bucket List? For starters, a few places dear to my heart, places I've visited and places I would love to visit. One of these places is Hawaii, Aloha State, President Obama homestate, Hang Loose State, or, as others call it, the Land of Rainbows.

Watch the Sunset with a Loved One. "Sunset on Waikiki" Copyright 2010, by Alina Oswald

Ride Over the Rainbow. Copyright 2010 by Alina Oswald

I had the chance to visit four of the Hawaiian Islands last year and hope to do it again, soon--goal is to visit all eight of the Aloha State islands.

I'd like to share, here, a few images I took while in Hawaii with captions that, well, capture, some of the items on my Bucket List.

Hopefully I'll get to share more with you in the upcoming posts. Meanwhile, what are some of your items on your bucket list?

Thanks for sharing and thanks for visiting!
Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Floaters: Visual Disturbances

Floaters: Visual Disturbances

As some may already know by now, I've been covering HIV/AIDS for almost as long as I've been writing. HIV/AIDS is something I deeply care about, maybe because I've been introduced to the disease, maybe because of the wonderful people I've met on the way, or maybe both. During this past decade I've tried to document the reality of AIDS through those affected and infected by the pandemic. The truth is that we are ALL affected, one way or another, by HIV/AIDS. We don't have to have the virus to be affected. The virus touches us all, in different ways, I suppose. For me, I think it has been an uplifting experience, a reality check and a reminder that we, as humans, are, after all, mortal, but also that we can be spiritual, "more good" as mentions one of the characters of the fantastic Angels in America.

I've written and photographed the pandemic at a very small scale, compared with others. But the experience, again, has had a significant effect on me. I've written for publications. I also wrote a book on a long-term AIDS survivor and warrior. My wonderful friend, award-winning visual artist Kurt Weston. The book, a biography, is called Journeys Through Darkness and I'd like to share with you excerpts from Journeys (which, by the way, became my own journey, in some strange way), through this blog, especially when this year, 2011, we commemorate (I don't think we can really say... celebrate?) 30 years of AIDS. (but more on that later or in time).

For now, here is a short excerpt from Journeys Through Darkness. Hope you enjoy the read.

As always, thanks for visiting!
Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness

One of Weston’s winning entries welcomed us—Kurt, Terry and myself—as we first entered the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where the event took place. The featured photograph, Losing the Light, is part of Weston’s Blind Vision series of self-portraits capturing the artist’s vision of his blindness, showing people the physical and emotional impact that visual loss can have on an individual.
AIDS-related retinitis has left the photographer totally blind in his left eye and only with some limited peripheral vision in his right eye. Therefore, he cannot focus or see things clearly anymore. He can only make out tones of colors. He also experiences floaters, or what he describes as “pieces of cotton that are stuck in my eye and keep floating and flashing every time I move my eye.”
While searching for a way to represent this visual disturbance, Kurt Weston decided to use something obstructive in the photograph to block the viewers from seeing his face in the image. The result was a series of self-portraits known today as the Blind Vision series. He ended up taking each photograph in this series sitting behind a glass sprayed with foaming glass cleaner. He started by spraying the foam all over the glass, and then he wiped the foam away with his hand or sometimes just let it drip. He then pressed his face and hands against the glass, while taking the photographs through the glass, using a camera with a self-timer. “You see my hand pushing away the foam, which is what I would love to do,” he says explaining the technique. “I would like to be able to wipe away all that cotton that keeps floating in front of my eye and get a clear view of what I want to see out in the world.”          
On that early summer evening, the sunset light poured through the tall windows of the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts building, glowing onto Kurt Weston’s "Losing the Light" and bringing me even closer to the photograph. I could see the artist’s face and fingertips pressing against glass trying to push away the foam, but I couldn’t recognize him. I reached out and aligned my fingertips with the foamy imprints. And they almost overlapped, briefly pulling me inside the photograph, allowing me to see the world through the artist’s eyes, from within its blackness.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang around for too long because there were too many people around me, pulling me out of my reverie. Besides, we had to move farther to other images, sculptures and paintings in the gallery.   

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tear Reflections: Bayonne, NJ Home of the 9/11 Memorial

Tear Reflections
Tear Reflections,
originally uploaded by ANO07.
Tear Reflections

The Tear Tower, Bayonne, NJ. This 9/11 memorial is majestic, a huge tear hanging above city, surrounding nature and people, a reminder of the 9/11/2001 events. The Tear Tower, the 9/11 monument made by Russian artists and donated to Jersey City (which doesn't have a monument even now, only the two twisted beams on the promenade across from the Ground Zero sight, a place of gathering for 9/11 commemorations, each year; I know, I've been covering them all). Not accepted by Jersey City because it was "too big" and there wasn't enough space/room for it, the Tear Tower was accepted by Bayonne, NJ. It now stands high and majestic at the Bayonne ship terminal. The sun peeks from behind it as if during/after a solar eclipse. One has to stand so that the Tear is right above the head to actually see its entire reflection in the Tear itself (like in this picture), and also the surrounding 'park' (I should call it, I guess), a small serene space surrounding the Tear with the names of Bayonne residents who lost their lives in the attacks. In the distance (and also in the Tear reflection) one can see the Manhattan, shaped in its thinnest silhouette, and also the Statue of Liberty. And one cannot stop the tears that try to blur the vision. The Tear Tower is impressive in beauty and symbolism. It captures feelings that can only be expressed in Tears.
The Tear Tower, definitely a must see sight. Thanks, Bayonne, for giving The Tear a home.

As always, thanks for visiting!
Alina Oswald

For more image samples, check out my book, VAMPIRE FANTASIES,  a collection of vampire-inspired photography, and INFINITE LIGHTS, a collection of 9/11-related photography.