Breaking up is hard to do

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In Uncle Otto, the title character faces one breakup in particular that devastates him and skews his perspective on women and relationships. Author Winfred Cook has had his own experience with a difficult end to a relationship.

I must have heard this jingle in a million popular love songs.  Yet the catchiness of this lyric, I was to learn, did not prepare me for the enormity of the effort required to end a once-thriving relationship. There was nothing “catchy” about my breakup. In fact, coming to terms with my failed relationship was one of the biggest obstacles I had ever had to overcome, and I wasn’t singing.

Overcoming affection proved to be my most significant challenge.  Even when terms of endearment became indistinguishable from barbs of criticism, my need for affection bonded me to my mate.

It took some time before I realized that I had allowed him to stop me from thinking clearly. In the chess match that was our relationship, “I love you” had become “checkmate”.  However, the realization of being a “captured piece” changed the dynamics of our relationship; it compelled me not merely to feel but also to consider. As a result, when I felt the need for affection, I also thought about its costly consequences. It was not only costing me my peace of mind, but also my sanity.  I had allowed myself to be driven by feelings left unchecked by my surest tool for survival. I had banished my mind from my relationship for the sake of temporary pleasure.

Once I recognized what I had done, I knew my days of captivity were at an end.  And although the effort required to reclaim my free will was enormous, the payoff was equally so. I reclaimed my sanity.  No catchy tune accompanied my recovery, only the solace of a peace of mind.

The Origins of Uncle Otto

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Uncle Otto started as a short story. After having written several short stories at the beginning of my writing career, I decided to write about an incident that happened to me, and my uncle witnessed it. Since he was unable to articulate what had happened, due to his speech impediment from his stroke many years prior to the incident, he could not relay the story that he’d witnessed. He took the incident to his grave, and I never told a soul until I wrote the short story.

Uncle Otto by Winfred CookUncle Otto was the first short story, after many attempts, which garnered great reviews, and encouraged me to continue writing; I was on the right track. After several more short stories, and great reviews, I decided I wanted to write a novel; but what to write?

It took many months of indecision on what to write about. Uncle Otto was not my first choice. But as the old adage goes, write about something you know about, but not your bio, no one is interested in your life. When I decided to write about him, there was one big stumbling block; I knew nothing about him other than the  paralyzed man of my childhood. His siblings were gone, including my mother, so there was no one to ask about him in his youth.

I puzzled over it for another few months but couldn’t come up with any ideas. Then one day, after months of indecision, something popped into my head, “Just start.” The next question was where to start; the answer, “from the beginning.” So I sat down to the computer and began with his birth. Where the insight came from is anybody’s guess, but I didn’t stop until the birth was completed. I shared it with several people for a response and was taken aback by all the enthusiasm it garnered.

The old south was not hard to articulate. I’ve read many novels that covered the Jim Crow South. It wasn’t hard to put my characters in that period. In fact, the more I wrote the easier it was to speak for these people. Since I knew nothing about his life, I used my own life for references.

I’ve always maintained that fifteen is fifteen, be it in 1915 or 2012. Periods change, but people don’t. One of my fans was asking me about something that happened in the story. When I answered that it was all fiction, she couldn’t believe it. She thought she was reading a memoir. When I finished writing the first draft, I decided to incorporate the short story as a prologue; thus the incident between me and my uncle.