writer Lee Bob Black’s extensive interview with Ed at www.bookslut.com
(Beatrice's brisk conversations with book people)
his early forties, Edwin John Wintle has already lived a lot of
lives. He was an acclaimed Off-Broadway actor before becoming known
as a lawyer and film agent for authors. With the June publication
of Breakfast With Tiffany, he's a newly minted memoirist, too. When
he, an urbane gay man with self-professed obsessive-compulsive tendencies,
proposed to have his 13 year-old-niece Tiffany come live in his
West Village apartment with him, he had no idea how his life would
be affected. The story of how their lives came together is beautiful,
moving and accessible to anyone who has ever had to deal with family
in trouble (or who has ever misbehaved). For readers not far past
their own teenage rebellion, seeing the drinking, drugs and cursing
and its aftermath on the page can prove more than a little sobering.
Edwin John Wintle took some time out of preparing for the cross-country
publicity tour he and Tiffany will undertake soon to answer some
questions with special Beatrice correspondent Martha Burzynski.
There are some gut-wrenching moments in the book, especially
the first time you really show anger toward Tiffany, that are hard
to read, let alone imagine getting out of your head. How hard was
it, as a self-professed control freak or Drama Queen (capital Q)
to show yourself in every possible light?
Interesting. I never thought of my control issues in relation to
my writing. Now that you mention it, I did feel like master of my
own little universe while writing Breakfast, so maybe writing is
indeed a control freak's nirvana. But in relation to how I depicted
myself, I think I just tried to be as honest as possible. I may
try to control other people's behavior at times, but I've never
been obsessed with controlling what other people think of me.
As far as my being a Drama Queen, I think that pushed me toward
wanting to depict honestly a time in my life (as well as certain
memories that informed that time) that my instincts told me were
rich in drama and meaning. Whenever I felt embarrassed at the thought
of people reading the private, and perhaps unflattering, details
I was writing about myself, I remembered that I had something to
say that I believed was real and human. And my humanity is something
I try to never be embarrassed about, warts and all.
How hard was it to show Tiffany with the same honesty? How
easily did she agree to have possibly the most brutally awkward
years of her life (ages thirteen and fourteen) covered? How much
input did she have in the finished book?
The obvious (and perhaps expected) answer would be "harder,"
but that wouldn't be true. You know, I think I'm so in love with
my niece that I just figured every reader would be smitten too.
So much of her behavior is kind of typical of today's teenagers,
I think, and the rest seems completely explainable by looking at
her background and what she'd been through before coming to live
with me. It's easier for me to not blame her for her problems than
it is for me to not blame myself for the mistakes and wrong turns
I've taken in my own life.
My niece encouraged me to write the book; she was a big fan of Dave
Pelzer's A Child Called It (which she'd read in eighth grade!) and
said repeatedly that our story "is the kind of thing people
want to read." When she read the manuscript, though, I think
it was much harder for her than she expected, probably because of
a number of things: the level of detail, seeing it from my point
of view, and, possibly, her disagreeing with some of my takes on
things. Maybe there's a little bit of embarrassment over how I depict
her behavior (or by the behavior itself), but I'm not sure. We'll
see what she says when she promotes the book with me! As far as
her input goes, she gave me very few suggestions for changes, most
of which I made.
Tiffany's writing to you--notes, little cards, poems, and
the occasional tell-off--evolved over the course of the book and
I hope she's still writing. Do you think communication is the one
thing you've stressed most in your guardianship of Tiffany? How
comfortable are you about the book being called a parenting memoir?
I look forward to people like you encouraging my niece to keep writing
and truly hope that's one of the byproducts of my having included
her own work in the book. I think she'll study several creative
disciplines in college and that writing will be one of them. Communication
is the most important and the most difficult aspect of any relationship
between an adult and a teenager. I hope my book depicts that struggle
adequately, and that my stumbling through it with my niece can shed
some light on that subject for others going through it.
Naturally I think my book is about a whole host of things, but parenting
is definitely one of them. So I'm okay with that label (especially
since you didn't say "a gay parenting memoir," which it's
not). In becoming an instant "parent" to my niece, I had
to reexamine aspects of my own youth and the parenting I'd received.
Taking in my niece--and all I've learned and felt because of it--has
changed dramatically the way I see myself in the world. I've rediscovered
aspects of myself--perhaps even parts of the child that I was--and
can now guide and nurture those things like I couldn't before.
The New York Times Styles section caught you mid-afternoon
at a café near your home. You said you wrote your first book
there: Are you working on another book?
Yes, two actually. I'd been plotting out a novel, which I will write
in the near future. But I'm now planning on my next book being a
collection of short "creative nonfiction" pieces drawn
from my life, which I've begun work on. I enjoyed writing BWT in
my own voice so much that I'd like to continue in that vein for
one more book before trying my hand at "traditional fiction."
Hart Sharp Entertainment, who produced the moving family
piece You Can Count On Me, has optioned the book. In a perfect world,
who would you want to play you? Who does Tiffany want?
I'm thrilled about the team at Hart Sharp making the movie version
of Breakfast. There couldn't be a better fit! Having represented
authors for years in having their books turned into movies, I know
there are no guarantees that the film will turn out well. But having
John Hart, Jeff Sharp, Robert Kessel, and Nina Wolarsky in the collective
driver's seat increases the odds exponentially. Casting is a long
way off, but all of our wish lists would probably include actors
like John Cusack, Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Depp, and Kevin Bacon.
Each one of them could knock the role out of the park, as could
a number of other actors. As for the actress playing my niece, the
age will probably necessitate that it's not someone who's yet known,
though Dakota Fanning might be approaching the right age! Also,
I'm hoping that the "real Tiffany" will play a part in
the movie; she's a very gifted actress.