Saturday, April 30, 2011

Interview with Arthur Wooten, author of Birthday Pie, On Picking Fruit, and Fruit Cocktail

I recently reconnected on Facebook with my high school friend, Arthur Wooten, only to discover that he is a published author and playwright, whose works have been optioned for TV and movies. Arthur's new book, Birthday Pie, has just come out and is selling like hot cakes. Make sure you read what he has to say about traditional and self-publishing - he's one of the few writers who has experience with both!

Arthur Wooten, Author, Playwright and Humorist

MG: Arthur, in high school I knew you as Bobby. Can I still call you Bobby?

AW: Of course. My family still does. When I first moved to NYC I was an actor and joined the union, Actors Equity Association, in 1977. I chose to use my legal name, Arthur, and from then on, everyone knew me by that name. It’s funny now, when I’m with an old friend or a relative, and I see them pausing, trying to remember if the people with us know me as Bob or Arthur. It’s a bit schizophrenic.

MG: Have you noticed that "Arthur" sounds a lot like "Author"? Do you think that's a sign?
AW: That’s funny. And yes, it’s very close. One sad sign was that the “traditional” publishers, Alyson Books, of the hardcover edition of my first novel, On Picking Fruit, found the two words a bit too similar. It’s a collector’s item now and I laugh about it but when I initially received my copy, my heart sank. On the cover of the book, they spelled my name…Authur Wooten. So much for proofreading.

MG: Tell us about Birthday Pie
AW: Birthday Pie is about a family called the Martindales.

When Lex, the middle son, a writer from New York City, goes home to celebrate his birthday and say goodbye to his dying father, he struggles with whether or not to share with his eccentric Southern clan, news of his own life-threatening situation.

As we travel through seventy years of their lives, we are reminded that every family is unique and yet still recognizable to all of us.

What appears is a patchwork of their rich and colorful history for this reunion is a volatile turning point in all of the Martindales’ lives. Forbidden loves, shattered hopes and tenacious dreams are revealed but as anger, resentments and jealousies erupt to the surface, it’s their laughter and irreverent sense of humor that prevails allowing for a quiet healing in this bittersweet, moving portrait, of the all-American family.

MG: This is your 3rd book, how was the experience of writing this book different from the first two?
AW: The experience was quite similar. All three were written very quickly. But that’s just me. I might think about a project for months, organizing it in my head. Then I put it into outline form but that’s flexible. I think it’s important to be open as to how a story unfolds. Let it breathe and have its own life.

Birthday Pie is different in that its first incarnation was as a play. It won the Key West Theatre Festival competition and had its world premiere at the Waterfront Playhouse. So, the blueprint was already in place for the novel. And I know these characters so well that I can set them loose in any situation and they write the material for me. It’s like I’m a camera up in the corner of the room typing as fast as I can. And it was thrilling to discover the back history of these delicious characters.

MG: I loved On Picking Fruit and one of the things I realized while reading it is how universal the human experience is when it comes to finding love - whether you are straight or gay. Do you worry about appealing to a broader audience, or do you just write what you write?
AW: Thank you for your kind words. In fact, I write for the broader audience. Or should I say, I was hoping a broader audience would like the “Fruit” series. And they do! And yes…whether the coupling is male/female, male/male or female/female, the dating experience is universal. Dates from hell are still dates from hell. I just hope I presented them with a lot of heart and humor.

MG: You've had some of your books optioned for TV and movies - anything happening with that?
AW: Where do I begin? Charlie Sheen and Warner Brothers had me out to Hollyweird discussing the TV version of On Picking Fruit. Actually, the project was headed by Charlie’s brother, Ramon Estevez. But ultimately, and I think the Gods were on my side considering how Charlie has “melted down”, it’s a good thing that Warner Bros. found the material to be a bit too “edgy”.

Enter Showtime. Randy Runkle, head of new programming, then had me out there again to discuss On Picking Fruit but ultimately decided it wasn’t “edgy” enough!

What’s a boy to do? There is a newly formed production company that is now courting me, but this maid is getting old. Lucky for me, the material is not dated. I have everything crossed…my fingers, legs and eyes.

Birthday Pie was optioned for the past year as a feature film. Now the interesting angle to this is that it was slated to be done as an African-American family. I had already written a screenplay version that never indicated whether this was a black or white family. Just all-American. And the producers, director and star had me change very little. A nod to the material being quite universal. I’m proud to say that Phylicia Rashad was signed to star as the mother, Trudy Lee, and her sister, Debbie Allen, was on board to direct.

But the production company went bankrupt and the project is free again. However, Phylicia and Debbie are dear friends. Whether it’s with Birthday Pie or any of my other writing projects, I do hope I have a chance to work with both of these beautiful and talented ladies.

MG: You are fairly unique in that you have experience with both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Can you talk about some of the pluses and minuses you experienced with each? And which do you like overall?
AW: First of all, the face of publishing is changing drastically day-by-day. And that’s a good thing for authors.

I self-published On Picking Fruit because I just knew the story would have appeal but I couldn’t find a publisher. And when I did publish it…bam…it took off. A couple of months later, Alyson Books, a traditional press, contacted me and offered me a book deal that would republish On Picking Fruit as is and then follow it up with a sequel, Fruit Cocktail.

Self-publishing I love. You’re in complete control. You’re in control of the material and the design of the book. People say, “Doing it yourself is not for those who don’t want to deal with marketing.” But when I was with Alyson, I had to do all of the marketing. Granted they are a small boutique press but with most traditional publishers today, the author has to foot the bill for publicity, if you’re not a celebrity. And if you pay for it, services start at about $6,000.00. That’s a lot of books you have to sell to break even.

I did it all myself. I like the challenge and embraced self-marketing. I treat it like a game. Like, today I am going to reach out to 10 more editors of magazines and see if they’d like to read a copy of my work and possibly offer a review. You have to be disciplined. Or obsessive. Lucky for me, I’m both.

I also make more money self-publishing. With Alyson, I averaged about 70 cents a book. God that sounds so sad. And it was! Self-publishing I receive approximately $5 per hardcover, $5 per ebook and $3 per paperback. Do the math!

MG: I think you had said that you had shied away from Twitter but now you tweet all the time. How important do you think social media is to promoting your book?
AW: It’s not so much that I shied away from Twitter, I just didn’t know much about it. Or how to do it.

When Fruit Cocktail came out in 2007, Myspace was the social network. And I met great professional and personal connections, all over the world. Now, with the release of Birthday Pie, we have Facebook and Twitter (and probably others that I don’t even know about).

Twitter is tricky. There’s an etiquette I feel one must follow. You have to tweet but not too much. And although I think it’s totally cool to self-promote, it can’t come off as hard-sell. Balance your tweets with other interesting things and promote other people. In the long run, you will benefit from it too.

And for writers, you must embrace the “book bloggers”. They are your lifeline for your books. Each and every one of them, whether they have 30 followers or 30,000, I love them all. And they all tweet.

A side effect of tweeting? Since joining Twitter, On Picking Fruit and Fruit Cocktail have found a new life. Especially in the UK. People checking out info about Birthday Pie, discover the other books and they’re all selling like hotcakes!

And I’m so happy that On Picking Fruit sold out it’s printing with Alyson Books. Its rights reverted back to me and the Author’s Guild has republished it, free of charge! And Fruit Cocktail has just sold out its printing and will go the same route. The exciting thing is, in a few weeks my self-published ebook versions of both novels will be released and I’m pricing them at the very attractive price-point of $2.99. And the more exciting thing is that I get 70% royalty.

MG: That sounds awfully good! Okay, now tell people how they can buy your book.
AW: You can purchase all of my books everywhere online – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ebay, etc – and in your favorite bookstores. There’s plenty of more info on my website.

MG: Thanks Bobby, you are totally my idol, a great writer who also knows how to market. I know this book will be a huge success and I can’t wait to be a witness to that.
AW: Thanks Melissa – and so great to reconnect with you after all these years!
~ Bobby, uh, um, Arthur


  1. Bobby, high school friends Debra Randall, Kevin Homewood, Rich Robertson and Robin Jacobson have all stopped by to read your interview and say HI!

  2. Anonymous5/01/2011

    Thanks for introducing me to Arthur, Melissa. I just downloaded a sample of his book onto my Nook. It sounds like one I'll like. I'm also interested in finding out more about Arthur.

    I've tried screenwriting, and a few years ago got a great critique from a screenwriter in L.A. I'd like to get back to the story. I love writing screenplays because dialogue is my strong point. I'm thinking about all this because I've just met Arthur Wooten through blogging. Amazing. I'm looking forward to reading him
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  3. Ann, I absolutely LOVED ARthur's book On Picking Fruit. Although his protagonist is a gay male, his experience of looking for love was so universal! And his humor is terrific. I am really looking forward to reading Birthday Pie now that life has (hopefully) settled down...

  4. What a nice interview. It was a fun read. May I tell you that Arthur is a cutie! Did I just say that? Hmm. Oh, yes indeed, yes I did!

    The Madlab Post

  5. Yes, Nicole, Arthur is a hottie! And he'd be pleased to hear we think so!

  6. What an interesting interview and how delightful for it to be conducted with an old friend. I've just downloaded 'Birthday Pie' to my Kindle:-)

  7. Arthur Wooten5/02/2011

    Melissa - Thanks for keeping the interview/Q & A up on your site. Great comments! xx


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