Scores of terrific Ann Arbor writers have long offered exciting reading options for those inspired by the “Read Local” movement. Now, two new publishers, Ann Arbor District Library’s Fifth Avenue Press and Fish Out of Water Books, are making it even easier to find great work written by dynamic local authors.
R.J. Fox is one such author, and he’s published with both presses. While writing screenplays, novels and essays, he’s been a pillar of the Huron High School Community, enlightening the youth as a film history and TV production teacher for 13 years. In Tales from the Dork Side, (Fifth Avenue Press, 2017) Fox tells his story of surviving childhood bullying. His travel memoir, Love and Vodka (Fish Out of Water Books, 2015), follows Fox as he chases the woman of his dreams from the comforts of suburban Detroit to a one-time cold war industrial city in the Ukraine.
Reincarnating Lost Souls
A third book, a novel, Awaiting Identification, was just released by Fish Out of Water.
Awaiting Identification has been a twenty-year labor of love. In 1999, the Dearborn-raised Fox read a Detroit Free Press article, headlined, “Mystery Bodies Awaiting Identification.” At that time, 400 unidentified bodies showed up each year at the Wayne County Morgue. Fox became obsessed with figuring out who the unidentified were and the circumstances that led to their ending up unclaimed. He says, “These were human beings born into this world with feelings, desires, and dreams. I realized in my own small way, through the lens of fiction, I could attempt to bring some of these lost souls back to life.”
Fox’s Fictional Fab Five
That year, Fox set out to write his first draft of a screenplay, based on the imagined lives of five unidentified Detroiters. Twenty years later, the story has taken the form of a novel. He begins the book on Halloween, 1999, with autopsy descriptions of a quintet of bodies, then shifts back in time 24 hours to Devil’s Night. Fox uses that night of arson and mayhem to tell the stories of five lives in search of redemption. A petty criminal, a techno DJ, a religious zealot, a homeless man, a young woman returning home in shame after a failed attempt at a show-biz career in New York City—for one long night, they travel a Detroit that Fox clearly knows and dearly loves, a Detroit fighting for its own redemption, and its own story. The five characters’ lives come to abrupt ends, but Detroit, and Detroiters, will live on. At the start and conclusion of the book, Fox quotes the city motto, created after a fire ravaged most of Detroit in 1805: “We hope for better days: It shall rise from the ashes.”
You can get to know R.J. Fox by reading any of his books, or better, see him in person on May 12th at the Awaiting Identification book launch at Pages Bookshop (19560 Grand River Ave, Detroit, 6pm). The author is throwing an after-launch bonus bash, complete with visual artists creating new Awaiting Identification-inspired work on-site, and legendary Detroit house and techno DJs mixing and spinning from 9 pm to 2 am at Northern Lights Lounge (660 W Baltimore, Detroit). Fox will also be reading at Nicola’s in Westgate on Saturday May 26th, along with Detroit sportswriter and debut novelist Michael Ferro.
Free, 4pm, Saturday, May 26
2513 Jackson Ave., Ann Arbor
734-662-0600 | nicolasbooks.com