As an English and Video Production teacher at Huron High School, R.J. Fox strives to spark his students’ creativity, noticing that most students will engage, provided they can find the right medium to express themselves.
“In one of my classes we read Maus, which is a graphic novel. I had the kids all make their own graphic novels,” said Fox. “And the results were really creative and beautiful. Even the stick figures were very expressive.”
Like his students, Fox has to change the way he expresses himself. An award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Fox published his first novel, Love & Vodka (Fish Out of Water Books) early in 2016, but only after watching his autobiographical story languish in Hollywood developmental hell for years as a script.
“When it was first a movie script there were some elements that were more fictionalized, but it was still pretty much a true story,” said Fox. “But then I had a producer that was interested in it and we went through extensive rewrites and it was getting more and more fictionalized. Which made it maybe a more marketable story, but it wasn’t my story. Our producer had investors in Asia, and he wanted me to change the setting to Asia!”
“So I got the rights back, and at first it was very choppy, because I hadn’t done much prose writing. But I went back and kept adding to it. Doing lots of rewrites and revisions. It was a tedious process at times.”
A multi-cultural memoir
The end result is a more personal and hilarious memoir. Beginning with a first meeting at Universal Studios in California, Fox covers his long-distance (and eventual up-close-and-personal) courtship of the Ukranian Katya. No spoilers, but the cultural misunderstandings that take place are in turn laugh-out-loud hilarious and deeply touching.
The reader gets the whole experience filtered through the thoughts of a 23-year-old Fox, who embarks on a leap-of-faith that still surprises him.
“I’m 38 now. I’ve matured. So then I was a little more wide-eyed and naive about things.” said Fox. “You have to be true to the experience and motivation, even if it’s myself. Looking back I think, how did I have the guts to do what I did?”
Kerrytown Book Festival and beyond
Now, after the frustration of seeing his very personal tale put on hold for years, things are happening very quickly. In addition to his partnership with Fish Out of Water Books, Fox will serve as Writer-in-Residence for the 2016 Kerrytown Book Festival, offering advice to others that submit work for his review.
Fox, pleasantly surprised by the offer, credits Ann Arbor’s supportive environment for independent publishers and authors here.
“That was a total shock and honor. Here I am, a published writer with my first book out, and I was just hoping I’d have a little booth at the festival. I think it helps I’m a teacher.”
Fox is also working on a second novel, Awaiting Identification, set in Detroit. He hasn’t given up his dream of seeing Love & Vodka on the big screen someday.
“We’re still trying to get a film made. We have some people in mind that we want to approach,” said Fox, having the movie already cast in his head.
“Given the comedy element, I think Aziz Ansari would be a perfect fit.”
Fox will serve as writer-in-residence at the 2016 Kerrytown Book Festival on September 11.
For more information, or to purchase a copy, visit fowbooks.com.