Interview: Andrew Fox

I met Andrew Fox for the first time at CapClave 2010; his “elevator speech” about one of his books (Fat White Vampire Blues) hooked me immediately: “Anne Rice meets A Confederacy of Dunces.” I promptly bought the book, and enjoyed it enough to follow up by asking Andrew for an interview, which he was gracious enough to grant. I’ll get out of the way now and let you enjoy the interview!

How long did it take you to write Fat White Vampire Blues? Did you know at the time that you would be writing a sequel, and are there more books planned for this setting/these characters?

I started Fat White Vampire Blues in early 1998 and finished editing it in early 2001.  I had vague ideas for a second book, and those ideas firmed up really quickly once Del Rey bought the first book and said they wanted a second.  I planned out books 3-5 on paper, but the sales for Bride of the Fat White Vampire only hit about half the levels of those of the first book, so Del Rey opted not to continue the series.  If another publisher someday picks up the rights to the first two books and is interested in new material, I could certainly return to the New Orleans of Jules & co., even though my family and I left the real New Orleans for Northern Virginia in 2009. 

Cover of "Fat White Vampire Blues"

Cover image for Andrew Fox's "Fat White Vampire Blues"

How did you come up with such an unlikely mixture of styles as Toole and Rice? Was that a conscious choice going in, or did it evolve that way as you went?

Mixing two such classic New Orleans novels as Interview with the Vampire and A Confederacy of Dunces was like mixing chocolate and peanut butter – it seems perfectly logical and inevitable in retrospect.  I can thank an ex-girlfriend, at least indirectly, for the notion.  Her landlady patronized the same hair stylist as Anne Rice.  When Anne suddenly gained a significant amount of weight (due, as she later discovered, to the onset of diabetes), I quickly got the “news” third hand.  The image of a puffed-up Anne Rice stuck in my head like a sinus infection.  I got to thinking, “What if there really were vampires in New Orleans, and those vampires sucked the blood of people who eat the way New Orleanians eat?  Over a century or two, wouldn’t they suck down massive quantities of cholesterol and fatty lipids?  Wouldn’t a real New Orleans vampire look a lot more like John Goodman than Tom Cruise?”  At the time, I was working at the Louisiana Office of Public Health’s Nutrition Section, and one of my coworkers was the spitting image of how I pictured a New Orleans vampire would look.  The real Jules and I were good pals, and he and his wife loved what I came up with in the novel.

How long did it take you to find an agent/publisher? How long from the manuscript acceptance at Ballantine to the actual publication of the novel?

I met my first agent’s partners at a one-day commercial fiction writing workshop in New Orleans.  I bumped into them while browsing the books display and gave them an impromptu sixty second pitch for Fat White Vampire Blues.  They said it sounded like something their partner Dan would enjoy.  When I finished FWVB about nine months later, I sent the usual query materials to Dan, and he bit.  Del Rey/Ballantine bought the book, I believe, in the fall of 2001, and it came out in the spring of 2003.  This lucky experience spoiled me for the true realities of the publishing biz, however.  Since that first sale, I’ve found it takes, on average, twice as long for me to sell a book as it takes me to write it.  So I’ve been stockpiling manuscripts.  Whenever one of my future books hits big, watch for the resulting Andy Fox tsunami of product.  It’s gathering force on my hard drive.

How much control did you retain over items like cover art and the editing process?

As much control as I retain over the weather.

Why don’t you have your own web site? Does Ballantine allow their authors to run independant web sites, or are you required to stay only under their internet “banner”, so to speak?

I used to have my own web site.  I don’t any more because of Hurricane Katrina and because I’m generally lazy about such things.  My web master, a very talented graphic designer, got wiped out by Katrina – his house was inundated by eight feet of flood water – and he pretty much vanished after the storm.  I procrastinated doing anything about the web site or finding a replacement web master until I neglected to pay my annual fee for the domain name, at which point I lost it.  Andrewfoxbooks.com got taken over by an online porn business, which led to some amusing correspondence from readers looking for my latest news.  The last time I checked, the porn site was down and presumably out of business.  I tell myself I’ll restart the web site when I sell another book.  So we’ll see.  It’ll happen.  One of these days.

Who sets up your appearances, such as CapClave–you, or your publisher, or is it a collaborative effort? Were you already comfortable with public appearances, or have you had to learn along the way how to do readings and signings and such? Do you have any tips for new authors on this?

Back when I was with Del Rey, their publicists set up radio and podcast interviews for me, and they included me on a really swell Del Rey junket to Comic Con in San Diego, where I got to play a very small third banana to China Mieville (and enjoyed every minute of it).  I’ve set up all of my other convention appearances myself.  It’s an easy thing to do; I just visit the con’s website, get the contact info for the guests liaison, and send a friendly email asking if they would be interested in having me as a participant.  I’m fortunate in that I have a background in high school and college theater, as well as leading the New Year Coalition in New Orleans for a decade, an anti-gun violence public advocacy group, so speaking in front of an audience holds few terrors for me.  If the thought of participating in a panel gives a writer the cold sweats, I can suggest trying Toastmasters, which I’ve heard very good things about.  Some of my writing friends have also gotten good results from taking a class in stand-up comedy.

Do you read reviews or comments of your work? Do negative comments bother you? How do you suggest handling unfair public criticism?

Cover art for "Bride of the Fat White Vampire"

Cover art for Andrew Fox's "Bride of the Fat White Vampire"

In the months after one of my books comes out, I usually Google my name and book title at least once a week to see if any new reviews pop up.  It’s handy to have a “clippings file” of positive pull quotes.  I try to not let negative comments get under my skin, but I’m not always successful.  One of the early reviews of my most recently published book, The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501, included some unfair (and I thought underhanded) criticisms, essentially tarring me with the “R” word.  Responding to accusations of racism or prejudice is sort of like responding to the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?”  The more you protest, the deeper you end up rubbing the dirt into the carpet.  As a satirist, I realize I’m going to come in for some holier-than-thou criticisms from readers who (a) don’t get my sense of humor; (b) sense that I may lean in an opposite political direction from them; or (c) are looking for any excuse, no matter how small, to vent their righteous fury in print or pixels.  So, rather than engage with that critic, I let it go.  I reminded myself how ridiculous and petty Anne Rice had made herself look when she’d responded to a bunch of less-than-glowing Amazon ratings of one of her books with a long, impassioned screed on Amazon.  The resulting hullabaloo showed up on CNN.com.  Not that I’d pass up any kind of attention, good or bad, from CNN.com, but the likelihood of any of my internet spats showing up in the national media is vanishingly small.  Instead, I tell myself to take a deep breath and — Just.  Let.  It.  Go.  Having said that, I can’t promise that I’ll always follow my own sound advice.

Cover art for "The Good Humor Man"

Cover art for Andrew Fox's "The Good Humor Man"

How do you organize scenes? (Map them out on index cards, on a white board, in your head, on the computer, etc)

Until recently, I wrote all of my books on a circa 1990 PDA called the Poqet PC, a one-pound marvel that I could carry in a pouch on my belt and use to run my all-time favorite word processor, WordPerfect 5.1.  (Now I mainly write on the train that takes me into Washington, DC, so I replaced the Poqet with something a little bigger and heavier, a Mitsubishi Amity subnotebook computer that sits better on my laptop case on my lap and doesn’t slide around when the train sways.)  I outline my books in WordPerfect, starting by jotting down the scenes I know will make it into the novel, the scenes that made me want to write the story in the first place.  I usually begin with a solid notion of the first scene and of the last scene, but a very hazy idea of everything that will go into the middle.  I take a few weeks or months piddling with the outline, filling in scenes as they occur to me, rearranging them as more and more appear and I get a better sense of the “architecture” of the book, how to sustain a reader’s interest with a good balance between “action” scenes and quieter, more expository interludes.

Who is your favorite character in Fat White Vampire Blues, and why?

Rory “Doodlebug” Richelieu, Jules’s cross-dressing vampire friend and sidekick.  I’m partial to Doodlebug because he’s a combination of one of my best writing buddies and my ex-therapist.  Fat White Vampire Blues served as my “getting through the aftermath of a bad divorce” book.  When I started writing it, I was pretty much flat on my ass, emotionally, and I decided to chuck all of my prior notions of propriety and just “let it rip.”  That’s where a lot of the book’s edgier humor comes from.  My writing buddy was also going through a (temporary) breakup, so we spent a lot of time hanging out together in the French Quarter, where he could dress himself up to his heart’s content.  At the same time, I’d started sessions with my ex-wife’s lesbian therapist, weird as that sounds, and she was doing me some real good.  Doodlebug’s voice was my therapist’s voice.  He was one of the easiest characters to write that I’ve ever “doodled” with.

And finally, a personal question: do you, personally, dislike Lincolns, or was that just a prejudice of Jules’s?

I have absolutely nothing against Lincolns.  I made Jules a Cadillac fanboy because the coworker I based Jules on had owned nothing but Cadillacs since he’d been a teenager.  With Jules being such a Cadillac partisan, I thought it made perfect sense for him to have a good hate on for Cadillac’s primary rival during the brand’s glory years – Lincoln.  Personally, I’d love to own a nice Lincoln Mark VII, the one with the Thunderbird chassis, the Mustang GT motor, and the fake spare tire hump on the trunk.

And that wraps up the interview! Unfortunately, as noted above, there is no legitimate web site for current information on Andrew Fox’s writing; but hopefully that will change soon. In the meanwhile, a Wikipedia article is available with basic information on Fox and his books, and he is scheduled in as a writing guest at MarsCon 2011 in Williamsburg, Virginia.

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