Hello and welcome back to my blog! Introducing The Branch Office, which was released in January, as well as an interview with Rook Winters! If you’d like a story set in the corporate world (or if you like doughnuts), there are purchase links at the bottom of the post, as well as the author’s links! Do check it out and have an awesome day!
A humorous, heartwarming, and occasionally satirical story of camaraderie, family, and integrity in cubicle land.
The Branch Office
There’s a story in every cubicle.
A novel that is part tribute and part lampoon of office life. You’ll nosedive into absurd behavior, quirky personalities, Silicon Valley excess, 80s nostalgia, personal loss, frustration, unrequited infatuation, company softball, and, of course, doughnuts.
Luke is young and stuck at the bottom of the career ladder but he doesn’t intend to stay there. The grizzled programmer in the next cubicle has been working on the same software for decades and just wants to stay off the radar of the executives.
Unfortunately, the corporate agenda is at odds with their hopes and dreams.
About the Author
Rook Winters is a Canadian fiction author and tech industry veteran. In 2017, he left his corporate job and focused on writing full-time. His debut novel, The Branch Office, was released in January 2018. He lives in New Brunswick, Canada.
(Less formal bio)
Rook Winters is a tea drinker with a writing habit. In 2017, he left his corporate job and focused on writing full-time. His debut novel, The Branch Office, was released in January 2018. He lives in New Brunswick, Canada with his wife, children, and Australian Shepherd. He’s a stickler for Oxford commas and a sucker for dad jokes. He’s @rookwinters on Twitter and Instagram.
1. Firstly, congratulations on your debut novel! Tell us a little more about The Branch Office.
Ultimately, it’s a story about deciding between doing what’s best for yourself and doing right by the people around you, which sounds quite serious, but it’s really a humorous look at the lives of some quirky characters brought together by working in the same office. Antics and absurdity ensue from there. And there’s some 80s nostalgia mixed in for good measure (since I grew up in the 80s).
2. Having previously worked at a software company yourself, you’ve mentioned that this novel is a part tribute and part lampooning of corporate life. How much did being in a similar corporate environment influence you in your writing of The Branch Office? Do you relate to any particular characters or the struggles they face?
My own experiences working in offices very much influenced the setting, some of the scenes, and the tone of the office. It’s pretty common for work to be a mixture of joy and despair. You get the last glazed doughnut or manage to say more than three words to an attractive colleague then you sit through a two-hour status meeting trying not to stab your ears with a pen. Or you move to a cubicle with some natural sunlight then a guy with terrible hygiene is assigned to the next cube.
As for the characters, I definitely relate to a bunch of them. The story is not at all autobiographical but I did sort of splinter my personality, habits, and experiences and sprinkle pieces into many characters. Luke wants to move up the corporate ladder by doing good work and being a decent person. He isn’t political, manipulative, or scheming. He brings in doughnuts just to be nice. Connie is a bit of a loner with a lingering reverence for the 80s. Lauren is a little unconventional but not a rebel. Polly strives to be a good manager and coworker without compromising her home life. There’s a piece of me in each of those characters.
3. What do you hope will be your readers’ largest takeaway from reading The Branch Office?
That doughnuts make things better.
4. Who are some authors who inspire you?
A lot of authors inspire me for different reasons. When it came to writing humorous contemporary fiction story, Douglas Coupland and Terry Fallis were most inspirational. Coupland’s Microserfs is a masterpiece. Fallis has produced a string of wonderful novels that are funny and heartfelt while celebrating quirky, and sometimes clueless, white-collar workers.
5. You’ve written articles and nonfiction works in the past. What inspired you to begin writing this first novel? Did any particular incident in the corporate world influence your decision to create The Branch Office?
I like to create, which is why I like writing nonfiction and working on software. When I left my last software job, I was looking for a break from the industry but I still wanted to create. Writing a novel was on my bucket list already so I signed up for a novel writing workshop and followed the cliched advice of “write what you know.” So much of the tech industry is centered around Silicon Valley and I was intrigued by the idea of telling a story that is connected to that world but isn’t fully in it. I drew on my experiences but there weren’t specific events or circumstances that inspired the story in The Branch Office.
6. What do you think are some common misconceptions people have about the corporate world?
People wildly overestimate the amount of cunning and competence driving the decisions in large corporations. Yes, of course, big companies are filled with brilliant leaders and visionaries with well-crafted strategies but groupthink and myopic attitudes spread like kudzu.
People also underestimate how much pettiness and jealousy can fester in a group of seemingly friendly and well-behaved coworkers. It’s like iocane powder—odorless, tasteless, and one of the deadliest poisons known to man.
On the other hand, so much joy, humor, empathy, and compassion exists in healthy teams. The image of a dreary office full of bedraggled workers is hardly universal.
7. What did you enjoy most about writing The Branch Office?
The sense of satisfaction after a really productive writing session was my favorite part. I also really enjoyed getting notes from my writing critique group. Writing has a reputation for being a very solitary activity but collaborating with other people made my work so much better. Coming from the software world, which is highly collaborative and has a lot of review processes, I embraced opportunities to hear feedback on my early drafts.
8. Did you face any particular challenges while writing this?
The first challenge was not wanting to put my characters through hardships. Because I saw pieces of myself in so many of them, it was harder than I expected to make things hard for them. The second challenge was not lifting too much directly from real life. There are some wonderfully colorful characters and some entertaining anecdotes that would have been great to include but it would have meant violating my decision to not base the book on real life. A few tidbits are lifted from real life, though, like a developer asking HR about certified masseuses and a hairdresser being told by a kid that she wasn’t holding the hair straightener right.
9. Do you have a favourite quote or line from The Branch Office that you would like to share?
Some of my favorite parts are not because of the language but my mental image of the scene. One of my favorites is simply:
Fish slams his “Kittens Don’t Judge” mug on the counter and storms out of the lunchroom.
Fish is a secondary character who is having a bit of a tantrum because there’s no coffee left. I love the image of this middle-aged guy slamming his kitten-themed mug on the counter in outrage. It’s not a great literary line but I love the image it conjures. A lot of readers have commented on that scene, too.
Another favorite is:
“Ridge incorporated the cowbell into his routine and now the Monday morning meeting is called to order with a zeal that perfectly contrasts the apathy with which the Middlesworth staff respond.”
Ridge is this somewhat smarmy director who oversees the branch office in the fictitious town of Middlesworth. He’s the type of guy who looks the part more than he deserves the job. He starts his weekly staff meeting by ringing a cowbell. I love the contradiction of a horde of dour-looking employees dragging their feet into the meeting while Ridge is standing on a table ringing a cowbell.
10. What are your top five favourite books?
Five! A top fifty would be manageable but a top five is impossible so I’m going to cheat. Considering fiction only and in no particular order:
Space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) by C.S. Lewis
1984 by George Orwell
Fudge series by Judy Blume
Yalta Boulevard series by Olen Steinhauer
Buy Links: Amazon