Friday, March 13, 2015

From the Archives: The Secret of Picking Well - An Interview with NYC Author, Arthur Wooten

From the Archives: The Secret of Picking Well - An Interview with NYC Author, Arthur Wooten

The Secret of Picking Well: An Interview with Arthur Wooten, the Author of On Picking Fruit and Fruit Cocktail

[Article originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine]

Today’s gay fiction is almost overwhelmed by stories of the twenty year olds questioning their sexuality or the thirty-year-old successfully managing their careers, families, relationships and fun times. What we don’t usually hear is the voice of the middle age gay man who’s really trying to keep his career going and who, in Arthur Wooten’s books, also happens to be HIV positive, thus adding to the stigma. “It’s true and it’s sad. It’s really hard growing old and being gay. I wanted the middle age man to be heard,” the author explains the purpose of writing his books.

Author Arthur Wooten. Image courtesy of the author
Author Arthur Wooten. Image courtesy of the author

Wooten’s debut novel, On Picking Fruit and its sequel, Fruit Cocktail (both published by Alyson Books), tell the story of middle age Curtis Jenkins and his quest to find true love. Curtis’ story resonates with many of us. After all, like the protagonist, we’ve also experienced dates from hell or promising relationships that ended too soon and unexpectedly. And, just like Curtis, we’ve all dreamt to reach our ideals of love, career or life, in general. 

Birthday Pie, a novel by Arthur Wooten. Image courtesy of the author
Birthday Pie, a novel by Arthur Wooten. Image courtesy of the author
The story of Curtis Jenkins is “auto-biofictional,” as Wooten calls it. “Look, he’s a writer, he’s gay. And although I’m much different from Curtis, when you write, every character in the book is part of you because it’s coming from your soul, your brains [and] your heart.” Wooten is as much Curtis as he is the delightful Mrs. J[enkins], Curtis’ mother, or his best friend, Quinn, or his quirky therapist, Doctor Tunick.  

In On Picking Fruit the protagonist has an unrealistic, fairy-tale idea of the perfect date, which may actually stay in the way of his finding the ideal relationship. In Fruit Cocktail, Curtis grows a lot, gaining a clear sense of himself. He realizes that, while playing the dating game, the question is not if he is good enough for his date, but the other way around. While there is no real resolution to the story, Fruit Cocktail allows the possibility for Curtis Jenkins to continue evolving and entertaining. And it does it not only on the page but also on the screen.

Wooten’s novels are being developed into a TV series. “I think that allows a lot of growth and potential for the development of Quinn and Curtis,” the author comments, “and not only their relationship, but the kinetics that they’re getting into.”

The show is titled after Wooten’s second novel, Fruit Cocktail, and produced by Charlie Sheen. The production company is part of Estevez-Sheen Productions, created by Martin Sheen (The West Wing actor) and Ramon Estevez (Charlie Sheen’s brother). The show is set to debut on cable TV. Rumor has it that, while he won’t be playing the role of Curtis Jenkins, Charlie Sheen would like to play one of Curtis’ crazy dates, in one of the episodes.

Fruit Cocktail is already structured for television and as it always happens in such situations, a few things had to be changed. So, because writing in television is a passive thing to watch, the on-screen Curtis Jenkins is a sought-after photographer. He is on the cover of Vogue and his pictures are in Vanity Fair and all the gay magazines, from Out to Instinct. But his successful professional life surrounds him with all kinds of wild and crazy people. The only remaining pillars in his life remain his mother, Mrs. J., and his best friend, Quinn. Curtis, the photographer, also makes new friends and meets new people, even dates with the potential of becoming soul mates. Yet, he is not devastated anymore that he cannot find the right person. Also, while in the books the character is in his late forties (and approximately Wooten’s age), in the show the protagonist is just approaching forty, “which is, in gay years, like over the hill,” Wooten comments.

The author has always believed in the synchronicity and serendipity of his novels. That’s how he explains On Picking Fruit and Fruit Cocktail being developed for TV. “Everything is a thought first,” Wooten explains this transformation. Same as in the book, Dr. Tunick advises Curtis “if you want something bad enough you must visualize it first.”

And as for the rest of us, maybe the best advice comes from Arthur Wooten’s own words. “Pick Well!” he writes, as he autographs his books.  

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