Novelist Arthur Wooten may very well be living the dream of writing "The Great American Novel."
Novelist Arthur Wooten may very well be living the dream of writing "The Great American Novel." And why is that, you ask? Wooten self published his first book, On Picking Fruit, which was picked up by Alyson Books, a heavy hitter in publishing GLBT literature. Some would say Wooten hit the literary equivalent of a jackpot, especially when a multi-book option sweetened the deal.
"It was the last thing on my mind, I wasn't going for a traditional publisher," Wooten said. "Having self published through the Internet, it was a brilliant experience. I knew when I finished On Picking Fruit it was an incredible blueprint, and this was not my intent, for a television series. So, as soon as On Picking Fruit came out, self-published, I put all of my attention into, 'How do I get this to the right people to see if it would be a good show?'"
As fate would have it, his self-published tome had caught the eye of Alyson Book's executive editor, Joseph Pittman, who contacted Wooten about publishing his labor of love. Wooten was just about to appear on "Brunch," a live talk show on the now defunct Q Network, when the call from Pittman came in.
"He said, 'So, what's going on with your book?' And I said, 'Well, I'm promoting it.' And he said, "No, I mean who's doing it?' And I said, 'I'm doing it.' He said, 'Well, I'm the editor at Alyson Books, and we want to buy it, and we want to buy a sequel and offer you this three-book deal.' It was awesome."
For the time being, Wooten put plans for figuring out how to turn his novel into a television series on hold, to concentrate on his newfound literary status.
On Picking Fruit chronicled the dating foibles of Curtis Jenkins, a middle-aged HIV-positive man looking for love, a demographic of the gay fiction population that is not often heard from.
The novel garnered tremendous response and was well received by both critics and readers.
"It was incredibly cathartic for me," Wooten said. "It's fiction, but I'm middle-aged, and I was tired of reading books about people discovering, 'Oh my God, I'm gay, whether they were 18 or 47!' I was born gay, just like Curtis."
"It was liberating to write for, I was hoping, and it turned out to be, [for] an audience that would say, 'Nobody is really writing about us, and where we're at in our lives.' And especially with HIV; there are some real long-term survivors, who take great responsibility for their status, but they are not defined by it," he said. "So, it was a joy and total different experience to be able to write for this audience with this voice."
Wooten has found his writing has crossover appeal as well. He receives e-mails from many different people, from a straight woman who was reading the book in a bar and got asked out by two men, to a grandmother from New England who enjoyed his book tremendously.
"It doesn't matter if the coupling is male-male, female-female or male-female, dates from hell are universal," Wooten said of his book's broad draw.
Since Wooten describes his writing style as "autobiofictional," and the scenarios of the dates from Hades that Curtis endures in On Picking Fruit are based in part on situations from Wooten's own trials and errors in meeting Mr. Right, the Gay & Lesbian Times asked him about the worst date he's been on.
"It wasn't too recently, maybe a year and a half ago," he said. "I had a fantastic date, and we were set up by friends. We met at a restaurant bar; we had a drink, and it was that tentative thing, like, 'If things go well, then maybe we'll eat something.'
"And we did, we ate something, and it was terrific. And we're halfway through dinner and it's romantic and sexy, and he takes hold of my hand with this really loving face he says, 'You don't know who I am, do you? Arthur, we dated for six months!'"
Despite being mortified by the situation, Wooten chalks it up to his date having undergone a major makeover and denies it was a case of early Alzheimer's.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be for fans of his first book, it did give him fodder for his next project. Wooten has continued Curtis' dating adventures with his latest novel, recently nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. The sequel is titled Fruit Cocktail.
"With Fruit Cocktail, my editor wanted an outline, and I've never worked from an outline before. And the outline was very, very extensive, and when it came time to write the novel, I wrote it so quickly," Wooten explained, before shifting gears and getting into the ways his main character has changed from the first novel.
"Curtis changes a lot," he said. "I hesitate to use the word 'matures,' but along this quirky odyssey he truly evolves and becomes more conscious. But so does Quinn (Curtis' best friend in the books). I think they become more affected by the events in their lives, and it appears that they're more aware of the people around them as people, and not just extensions of their own lives."
"I adore Curtis, and to write him in a way where he is not operating from a knee-jerk dating reaction, he actually pulls back and says, 'Hey! Wait a minute! Is this good for me or not?' What was really fun for me in Fruit Cocktail is I really created the opportunity to show that Quinn and Curtis are like Lucy and Ethel, and if Curtis is in a bind, of course he'll put his good heart into it; but Quinn definitely makes things worse than better. It was delicious to write for them."
As for the further exploits of the character who is so close to his heart, Wooten is unsure if that will come to materialize, but does already have a title in mind.
"I've always said to myself, if I did write a third one, that the third book would be titled Fruit on the Bottom," he said slyly.
There just may be a different serving of Fruit in the works bringing back into the imaginative fold his idea for the first novel.
"I don't want to jinx it, and I also don't want to sound like one of those people that says, 'Ya know this is out in Hollywood,'" he said. "We are very close to a deal with a television series. That's just a dream come true ."
Whatever the future holds for Wooten, he has already left an indelible mark on struggling writers everywhere with aspirations of becoming published one day.
"I honestly feel that everything that has been happening for me now, and the success at this point in my life, has been above and beyond the joy that I get from the writing and the feedback from the readers," he said. "It's a forum, it's a platform, and I just hope I can encourage and inspire with the wonderful things that have happened to me. And, if you can dream it, it can happen - you just have to really work hard and stay focused."