Q & A with Lisa K. Winkler: Author of “A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America”
Lisa K. Winkler is the author of A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America. She’s also a journalist and an educator who has written numerous essays for book anthologies and magazine articles. Lisa contacted us to see if we would be interested in learning more about her book. After some quick research on our part, the decision was a “no-brainer,” as Lisa has written a great book.
Question: Why did you write “On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America?”
Lisa Winkler (LW): 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.
What is your background? What qualified you to write this book?
LW: I worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance journalist before becoming a teacher. While teaching, I earned my Masters degree and wrote for several professional journals. I interviewed authors of children’s and young adult literature, reviewed books, and had teaching units published. I’ve written study guides for three books published by Penguin Books. After I met Miles, I received an assignment to write about the history of the black jockeys for Smithsonian magazine’s website. This article was published in April, 2009. (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Kentucky-Derbys-Forgotten-Jockeys.html).
How did the ideas for the book originate? What happened in your life that specifically connects to the book?
LW: In addition to my teaching experience, I had the good fortune to travel across the country a few times as a child. My father, a poultry farmer from Connecticut, had a blood clot that forced him to take some time off from our farm. He bought a mobile home and took the family – I’m the oldest of four children- on trips every summer and school vacation. I grew up riding horses, riding until I reached high school, so understood what it’s like to be around horses, the passion of riding and the bonds that develop between horse and rider. Furthermore, I grew up in the 1960’s. My parents were always involved politically in local campaigns and Civil Rights. They participated in the March on Washington in 1963. I remember clearly their reaction when they heard that King had been assassinated. (They cried.)
When I met Miles, I was hooked. His passion for his subject and determination to accomplish something that few would undertake awed me.
What special research was involved in the writing of your book?
LW: I read a lot of books that I found in libraries or bought. These included biographies, geography and books about horses. I consulted maps and also interviewed some of scholars Miles met on his journey. I poured through the Internet. I read Miles’ website and transcribed his podcasts he arranged with the Star-Ledger and interviews he conducted with people he met.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
LW: There are many messages. Overall, I want readers to be educated and entertained. There’s the message of having a dream, and not giving up, even if it takes years or decades to fulfill. There’s the message that our history is a shared history- all ethnicities, men and women, contributed to the growth of this great nation.
Why should people buy your book?
LW: It’s a story about an ordinary man who accomplished something extraordinary. I think there’s a romantic aspect of the cross-country journey, no matter what form of transportation that many people don’t really grasp. Reading my book, readers learn some history they might not know, understand what it’s like to ride a horse every day for 6 months, about five to six hours a day, and what it’s like to be in a new place practically every night. The geography and people of the US are fascinating.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
LW: Never give up. It takes tons of patience, fortitude and sometimes luck to get published. With self-publishing there are many options to get your work out, but it’s a very tough (and can be expensive) road. Believing in your story is paramount. If you have passion for it, others will too. Also, there’s no “quick fix.” While an occasional book might sell hundreds of copies the first week, thousands the first month and so on, most don’t. I believe marketing really becomes a personal adventure: why would someone want to read my book? I view it as my journey: one sale, one reader, one book at a time.
What are you working on now?
LW: I try to keep up with my blog, accessed through my web site, www.lisakwinkler.com. I enrolled in a memoir writing class online to keep the “writing” juices flowing, and am completing the Educators Guide to accompany the book.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
LW: I love yoga, road cycling, reading, cooking, knitting and theater. I have three grandchildren under 3 years old so that keeps me busy too.
How can readers find you? Are you available to give talks?
LW: Yes! I’d love to talk about the book to any groups, bookstores and libraries that will have me. I’m available to present the book to all ages, and especially to educators who will use the book in their classrooms.
About the Author
Lisa K. Winkler’s other writing includes two essays published in book anthologies; one in “I’m Going to College – Not You! Surviving the College Search with Your Child.” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), and the other in Wisdom of our Mothers. (Familia Press, 2010). She also writes for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. Her interviewees include authors, college presidents, scientists, and artists, among others, including Miles Dean in February 2009. Lisa is an avid reader, knitter, yogi, cyclist, and grandmother. You can learn more about Lisa and contact her through her official web site at www.lisakwinkler.com.