M3: Before we get down to questions, give the M3 Readers the book jacket version of Winfred Cook.
WC: Winfred Cook is a successful and influential African American hair stylist in San Francisco, working with a broad and diverse group of clients that has included Condoleezza Rice. Winfred started writing for his own pleasure four years ago, and has since written a number of short stories and three novels.
M3: Do you have anyone to thank?
WC: I’m not sure if one person was responsible, but I was encouraged by many friends as they read my samples. Eventually the polite “That’s nice,” gave way to “Wow, that’s good.” I would say that the encouragement from my friends kept me going.
WC: I jumped right in and started writing with virtually no experience. However, I hired a great editor and English major, and after a while, I learned the ropes.
M3: Not every author has respect for their editor. Tell me how big a role did your editor play in the story process.
WC: Big! He was great. It took me a while. Ask any writer how they feel about their words. You have to learn to trust the person editing your work. I was resistant at first. “How dare he attack my words?” That was short-lived.
When you write a novel, you put everything down, and the magic is when your editor paves the roads, put up stop signs and makes your confusion cohesive. When you find an editor who can edit your work and not change the content, you have a good editor.
M3: Those are words of wisdom. Do you have any advice for the newbie novel writer?
WC: Don’t procrastinate. If you wait until the right time to write something, you’ll wait forever. As I was advised, start with something you know, and write a short story. Try to find help with the grammatical part or an editor who can smooth the content out.
M3: There is a lot to be said for persistence and encouragement. Do you have any bones to pick with the industry itself?
WC: I don’t think there is enough room here. Challenge, that’s the first word that popped into my head. They will certainly weed out the timid and the thin-skinned. If you get your feelings hurt easily, you shouldn’t enter into the literary world. John Grisham received 35 rejections for “A Time To Kill,” which I feel was his best work, before he was picked up; what if he had stopped at the 34th try?
M3: That is a great example. Taste is a peculiar character in any book. Hunger helps. Has the economic state impacted your work?
WC: Not with writing, but I can’t say the same for my business. I’m a hairdresser, and although I have a great clientele, I do see a significant impact on my work load.
M3: Which brings us to wonder if your day job is something which really should interest us…
WC: I suppose if that tickles your fancy, but I don’t think that’s anybody business, as long as I produce the work that’s required of me.
M3: Good. I prefer books. Are you working on something now?
WC: I’ve just finished my third novel, Ruby. Ruby is a kleptomaniac. The story follows her from the tender age of six and underscores both the thrill of her conquest and the instant gratification that ultimately propels her into the underworld of debauchery and vice.
WC: I suppose it did. All the reference books said you should write about things you know. And don’t write a biography because nobody wants to know about your life, unless you are famous. My first writings were short stories.
One, I wrote about an incident that happened, and only my uncle and I knew of the incident. Since he was an invalid and could not articulate words, due to a stroke, he was unable to spill the beans on me, and no doubt he took it to his grave. The short story about that incident, in the book, was the inspiration for the book. Although it’s written in memoir style, it is a novel.
M3: Funny the things we are discouraged from writing. Have you had any triumphs over the industry?
WC: Have I made money? No. But I do get recognized from time to time from my appearances on local TV shows. I’m not looking to the industry; they’re in it for the money, and if you are not well known or haven’t had a break through book, then chances are they are not interested.
M3: Being a local celebrity is not a bad thing. How important is your own non-professional marketing to reaching your audience?
WC: It’s the key! Since I didn’t have the finances to do a blockbuster book signing, I had to do it on another level. Great turn out on a local level. I’ve done book signings, I’ve been on TV, but I haven’t had the level of exposure that an Oprah Winfrey endorsement would generate; just saying.
M3: Couldn’t hurt to send her a copy of Uncle Otto, now would it? You have gotten some great support. How do you feel about your colleagues?
WC: As of yet, I know very few writers. I’m just starting to use the internet, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn to help me promote my work. It’s fun corresponding with writers. We speak the same language.
M3: I think we can introduce you to a few today, Winfred. Now, with a full time job, how do you manage to find the time to write novels and short stories?
WC: I realized that I was best first thing in the morning. I tried one evening, early on, and it was hard to construct a sentence. Evenings are okay for small editing or rewriting a particular line or two.
WC: I believe I’m experiencing one as I write. I’m working on another novel, a murder mystery and I can’t come up with a plausible murder. I have the characters in place, well most of them, but I keep coming up with a blank; thus, hiatus.
M3: (Grins) I think we all have been there a few times. What makes Uncle Otto close to your heart?
WC: I’ve never had a child, but this comes close. Your words and the world you create are very dear to you. I have these people at my beck and call, anytime day or night. They never go any further then the prose on the page but it’s sheer magic to venture into the world of your making.
M3: Other novelists call it playing God. What makes it different from the others in the genre?
WC: I’m not sure you can say that it’s that different but you can say with assurance that it’s good.
M3: If you can stand out, that is good. What method do you use to write your novels?
WC: I didn’t know there were different methods to writing a book. I simply started writing. And with the help of the person I hired to tutor me and eventually edit, I was writing. As the red ink that nearly covered the page in the beginning became fewer and farther between, I eventually got the hang of it.
M3: Insiders call that the blue pencil method. Your editor did not massacre your story line, which is not always true of traditional publishers. Do you think the publishing industry looks down on self-published work as inferior?
WC: Who cares? I don’t know if they view work that is self-published as inferior, but I know the industry is trying to keep up with the new phenomenon of self-publishing. It has taken off over the last five or so years. The only problem is the promotion, and the ability to reach thousands of people at once; i.e. best sellers. Enter the internet. I believe that the internet is the future in the literary world.
M3: I like that answer. Do you have a secret you would like to share, which you may or may not want me to share with the M3 Readers?
WC: As long as it’s not a lie, I’ll stand by it. I have to quote my mother here; she was a very proud woman. She often said, “Mine is an open book.”
M3: Truth is far stranger than fiction. In fifteen words or less, why should we buy Uncle Otto?
WC: It happens to be a great read. Finalist, The Indie Excellence Book Award.
M3: Thank you for joining us for M3’s 50th Writer’s Spotlight.
Darling M3 Readers,
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