Thursday, August 19, 2004

Interview: Andrew Fox

Andrew Fox's novels have been described by reviewers as a cross between Anne Rice and John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces." It's an odd mix, but it suits Fox just fine.

"I've always been a big fan of vampires in pop culture - vampire comic books, vampire movies," said Fox, who works with the Louisiana Commodity Supplement Food Program. "I also really, really love `A Confederacy of Dunces' by John Kennedy Toole. I think it's probably one of the funniest books ever written in English and does comic dialogue better than just about any book I've ever come across."

Readers of Fox's debut novel "Fat White Vampire Blues" ($13.95, Ballantine) will see a lot of nods to Toole's famous novel. The book follows the story of New Orleans vampire Jules Duchon, who after feeding on the people who enjoy the New Orleans cuisine for 80 years, has ballooned up to 450 pounds and faces some serious problems in trapping his prey.

The premise was inspired by a series of articles Fox read that said New Orleans was America's fattest city.

"I started thinking, vampires live an awfully long time," he said. "What would happen to a vampire that spent 100-150 years drinking the blood of people who eat the typical New Orleans diet - all of that fried, sugar-coated, cream-covered high cholesterol food? After a few decades, they wouldn't look much like Tom Cruise."

But his weight isn't the only challenge Jules is up against. In the first novel, he runs into a younger, stronger black vampire who forbids him to feed on the black citizens of the city. In Fox's latest, "Bride of the Fat White Vampire" ($14.95, Ballantine), Jules is recruited by an aristocratic group of vampires to find out who has been kidnapping and mutilating the group's members. In these ways, he uses the books to make some social commentary, without beating readers over the head with it.

"I definitely wanted to do it in a very light, humorous kind of way," he said. "The same way John Kennedy Toole did in `A Confederacy of Dunces.' He had plenty of social commentary in there, but you hardly notice it because you're laughing so hard."

One of the biggest characters in Fox's novels is not a vampire at all. It's the city itself.

"I think one of the main characters is the city of New Orleans itself," he said. "I have a lot of fun gently satirizing the classs and race relations in the city, and I have a lot of fun with local icons and local institutions."

If you see someone you think you recognize in Fox's books, you may. He said one of the characters in "Bride of Fat White Vampire" is based heavily on Popeye's Fried Chicken founder Al Copeland. He also has characters based on Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and the city's most famous vampire writer, Rice.

"Certainly you couldn't write a book about vampires in New Orleans without having some kind of Anne Rice figure," he said.

Fox has another Jules Duchon book in the works, called "Ghost of the Fat White Vampire," should his publisher want it. In the meantime, he's currently shopping a book that pays tribute to another literary icon, Ray Bradbury.

It's called "Calorie 3501," and begins with a play on "Fahrenheit 451." Instead of firemen who burn books, Fox's novel features Good Humor men driving around in ice cream trucks and confiscating banned high calorie foods.

"From there, the book spins off in all kinds of wild directions, never foreseen by Ray Bradbury," he said. "I'm a big, big admirer of Ray Bradbury, so I start the book off with a strong nod in his direction."

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