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?”

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