Lisa Winkler is the author of On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy's Ride Across America - Today she stops by to have a chat with us!
Thanks for joining us today Lisa! Tell us about about your novel "A Black Cowboy's Ride Across America"
It’s non-fiction, about a teacher I met who rode his horse from New York to California to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to US history. Growing up black in Brooklyn, Miles Dean wanted to be a cowboy. He galloped through the streets on his bicycle, ambushing outlaws on street corners, imitating the heroes he watched in television westerns. More than three decades later, Dean, a Newark, NJ schoolteacher, rode Sankofa, his 11-year-old Arabian stallion, from the African Burial Grounds in lower Manhattan, to the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. Dean used an unpaid leave of absence to follow his childhood dream: his 5,000 mile- journey through 12 states took six months.
Conceived to celebrate the contributions of African Americans in US history, this inspirational story brings the reader into large cities and small towns, connecting with the horseback ride and the many people Dean met. Through his daily regimen of riding his horse, the reader witnesses the physical and emotional discipline required to complete such a journey. It’s a story about an ordinary man who accomplishes something extraordinary.
Sounds like an exciting tale! What was it about Miles Dean's tale that made you want to write about it and share it with the world?
As a teacher, I’ve witnessed how young people know little of history. In urban areas, youth learn about slavery and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a few more facts during February, Black History Month. Yet they have little if any connection with these historical figures. When I began my own reading after meeting Miles, I became fascinated with these people whose contributions to the development of the US are largely unknown. Most adults haven’t heard of these people. American history needs to include all races and genders to truly demonstrate who built this nation, their struggles and sacrifices and stories. From my research, I couldn’t find any records of other African Americans who have ridden a horse across the country in modern day, with this purpose in mind. A cross country journey in itself is a story. I loved the idea of this young boy growing up watching western movies and television shows and dreaming that he too could become a cowboy.
Were there any road bumps in the story process?
Of course! I nearly quit a few times. I submitted to about 100 agents before deciding to self-publish. I switched from a first person narrative to third, which made the writing flow easier. And sometimes Miles wasn’t so easy to deal with- I felt I was more passionate about the story than he was—well, I’m the author, so I guess that’s how it is. But it was worth it, and I learned from every step of the process.
Is this story completely based on fact or have you mixed a bit of fiction into it?
It’s non-fiction. It tells a true story. I interviewed many of the people that Miles met or accompanied him in addition to interviewing him and doing my own research. Since I didn’t go on the journey, I created some scenes to bring the story to life. All the people and places are real.
How long did it take you to write?
I started interviewing Miles in 2009 and published the book in Februrary, 2012. So 3 years.
Wow! A long time! Any future books in the works?
Yes! But I don’t know what. I enrolled in a memoir class to keep the writing juices flowing, I might revisit some picture book drafts that have sunk to the bottom of the desk drawer, and I’m always looking for the next project to engage me like this one did! Open to suggestions!
I love yoga, road cycling, reading, cooking, knitting and theater. I have three grandchildren under 3 so that keeps me busy too.
Special Writing Habits?
I try to write first thing in the morning, from about 5:45 to 7. Then I have to eat breakfast and usually go to yoga, do errands, etc. I try to get back to writing in the afternoon or evening but that varies.
Favourite Book Of All Time?
So hard, because books influenced me at different ages. But I think Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is my stand-out above all else favorite.
On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy's Ride Across America
Check out the trailer here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SL7XlEaD6Q&feature=youtu.be