By Hilary Coles
Since 1982, the world has come to know Damon Wayans as a comedian, actor, television/film writer, producer, and … novelist?
That’s right. Wayans’ first novel, “Red Hats,” hit bookstores on May 4, 2010.
It is no surprise that Damon Wayans can write. Besides writing screenplays and television shows, Wayans’ compilation of comedic essays entitled “Bootleg” is a New York Times best-seller. What is surprising is the dramatic story in “Red Hats,” which is less comedic and more uplifting.
The story focuses on Alma, a woman about to turn 65. After decades of being married to her husband Harold, she is bitter with regret. She has alienated many of the people who were close to her and is unable to show affection, even to herself. Her life is changed forever when she meets a group of women belonging to the Red Hat Society.
The Red Hat Society is a global organization with over 30,000 chapters. It is a social network that brings together women over the age of 50. Wayans encountered the real life red hatters during a trip to Paris.
On his return home, he found that his mother had joined the ranks. Feeling inspired, Wayans decided to write a story about this group.
Wayans’ spoke in the Cole Auditorium at Georgia Perimeter College’s Clarkston Campus on May 8, 2010. After discussing elements of his novel, he answered questions for curious fans, readers, and students. He also signed copies of his book, which were on sale in front of the auditorium. The event was sponsored by GPC’s Writer’s Institute and Eagle Eye Books.
In an interview with the Collegian, Wayans provides more insight into this inspirational story about Alma and the Red Hat Society.
This doesn’t sound like a book that we would have thought you would write so it’s kind of out of left field. Can you tell us how it came about that you would write about a 64-year-old woman?
A lot of it has to do with me going through a mid-life crisis. I think most men are out of touch with what happens in a mid-life crisis. Basically you get very emotional. You’re young, you’re in the what I could do mode and you get to my age and it’s what I should do. Then, when you’re about to die it’s what you wish you would have done. I think that in this book it’s about a woman, who in order to have peace and allow love to come back into her life, she has to confront all her deeds and it starts with the fact that she’s a very angry woman. She’s bitter.
What made you decide to make it a woman as opposed to a man?
Guys don’t really regret anything until it’s almost too late. I think women are naturally more in touch with their emotions. I think that if we could learn how to be more in touch with our emotions as men, those relationships would be a lot easier.
Was it difficult to put yourself in the mindset of an older woman?
It was difficult but it’s almost like doing any character that I do. At a certain point you just have that voice in your head and you just kind of go with it. I never knew where I was going to go with the story. I just wrote and then edited.
This being your first novel, were there any challenges in the writing process?
It was really frightening for me at times because I didn’t know where the character was going. I didn’t know where to end it and then having the peripheral characters and trying to resolve those relationships too.
Am I really doing it justice? It’s like that insecurity of, am I really thinking and feeling like a woman? I didn’t let anyone read it because my family is a bunch of comedians. The only person I let read it was my sister Kim because she is the heart of the family. She’s the one that wants to weep on Oprah. I didn’t let my mom read it because I didn’t want her to go you shouldn’t do this because then I wouldn’t put the book out. I was basically an island by myself, wondering. It was a very insecure time for me.
Was this easier or harder to write than “Bootleg?”
It was much harder because I had to fight telling jokes. Sometimes you write a joke and it’s really funny but you ruin the credibility of your characters
Do you plan on writing a sequel?
Oh definitely. I actually see this as either a series or a film.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
My advice is, don’t be afraid. If you can get past that fear, that’s all it is. You’re about to hit some truth or something really wonderful and you’re going to surprise yourself. Don’t be afraid.