Featured Fiction Author
|Humor that's Southern Fried
an interview with William Price Fox
by Pam Kingsbury
William Price Fox dislikes being compared to anyone else or pigeon-holed. He tries to make every book different from the one before. In the last thirty plus years, he 's written for Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest, Harper's, and Esquire. His fiction includes: Wild Blue Yonder, Dixiana Moon, Southern Fried, and Ruby Red. Fox teaches creative writing at the University of South Carolina in his native Columbia. He is married to another humorist Sarah Gilbert.
WILD BLUE YONDER is being promoted as an "autobiographical" book. How much of the novel is truth?
Most of it is true. I've changed a lot. I did go into the service at seventeen. I did quit high school. I was in trouble. I wanted to fly and I did not want to be sent home. I was a Lieutenant. I have three brothers – I took them out of the book. The ending was certainly based on the truth.
Your father looms large in your work, particularly WILD BLUE YONDER and DIXIANA MOON. Was he larger than life?
Fathers loom large for men. My father did go to jail. He was a moonshiner and a musician. While my dad was in the navy, he met my mom. She was a nightclub hostess in Chicago. They worked in restaurants down south. My dad played the trumpet, the guitar, and the piano. He sang. He was a member of a half-white, half-black band. They called themselves "The Hawaiians" and sang in Spanish.
Talk about your experience as a cadet during World War II.
The cadets were very hard, very strict. I decided to be relaxed. I volunteered for what no one else would do because I did not want to wash out or be sent home. I watched and saw men try to hard and screw up. I took that as a lesson. We lost a lot of people in training. There were hatch marks on the door reading "cut here to open." We thought it was funny. We lost almost all of our squad. Bill Clinton was right when he said, "When these people were kids, they saved the world."
When did you come to writing?
I started writing in my thirties. I was in sales in New York for eight years. I liked my income and was afraid to quit. I used to drink in the White Horse Tavern. I met Delmore Schwartz, Dylan Thomas, Norman Mailer .... I was part of the "Saloon Society" in the Village. One night one of my friends was too drunk to write his column for THE VILLAGE VOICE. I wrote a column describing a Southerner who came to New York, stayed in the Heart of Dixie Hotel, spent all of his time on one block, and who went home repeating the cliche' "I wouldn't want to live there." I was suspicious about writing because it was easy to write.
You've spent some time in Hollywood ....
I went to Hollywood to write for "The Beverly Hillbillies" which embarrasses me now. Paul Henning had the rights to everything all tied up. He also controlled "Petticoat Junction." People were very greedy about credits.
I worked, with Walter Tevis, on the screenplay of "The Man Who Fell To Earth." I took my name off of the script when the check bounced.
I worked with Norman Lear on the script for "Cold Turkey."
I am still a member of the Writer's Guild.
I like Hollywood but I couldn't write fiction there because it took too much time to collaborate on writing.
I left Hollywood to go back to New York eventually replacing Kurt Vonnegut at Iowa. I knew Walter Tevis from Iowa and spent six years (1967-1973) there.
You have a kind of cult following in the south.
(Laughing) That's better than NO following. Everything I do is different. I also have a big following in golf writing. I write for myself.
What would you still like to do?
(Laughter) I'm doing it.
I want to write funny. I don't want to underline what I'm doing. I dislike pushing humor. I want the undercut to be sharp.
I'm working on a novel tentatively titled SMOKE which is based on my experience in sales.
I spent time with Satchel Paige and am working on a stage show about the experience.
I teach two days a week. I do only what I want to do. Financially, I squeak by.
What's teaching like for you?
If a student has no sense of humor, I'm suspicious. They all use computers now. It ruins their prose style because they stop and correct. They lose their rhythm and flow. I tell them to type for ten minutes with a blackened screen with no sound. Then try to write once they get a good sound going.
What advice do you offer novice writers?
Forget punctuation nd spelling.
Look for the phrasing.
Read Jane Austen and Flannery O'Connor.
Establish character in a hurry.
Show rather than tell.
Books by William Price Fox
© 2002 Pam Kingsbury, All Rights Reserved