English teacher and author Robert Fox’s fourth book fueled during the pandemic

Fox, who has written three books, is currently working on his fourth one.

Courtesy of Fox

Fox, who has written three books, is currently working on his fourth one.

Greg Auchus, Staff Writer

“I see a lot of light, beauty and truth in it,” English teacher and author Robert Fox said.  “It’s all about [the main character] learning to start life over again ultimately,”

Robert Fox recounts the emotional direction behind his work in progress book.

“Writing has been my ultimate dream since highschool,” Mr. Fox said.

He had a 10th grade teacher who really inspired him. He still keeps in touch with her, despite her retirement several years ago.

“She still inspires me today.”

“She really pushed me to pursue my passions which, at the time, were specifically screenwriting. And movies are still my passion, but then I ended up trying my hand at book writing. I actually turned 2 movie scripts into books. Usually books are turned into movies, and I took a different approach. But now those two books are being produced as films, so it went from movie to book, back to movie again.”

And it paid off, Mr. Fox has published three books. One is a travel memoir called Love and Vodka, one is kind of a gritty novel set in Detroit called Awaiting Identification, and the third one is a collection of essays called Tales from the Dork Side about his misadventures getting bullied and teased as a little kid, how he mined it for humor.

He is now writing a fourth book, currently on an over 700 page draft.

“I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Fox says.

It’s a story about a woman whose husband dies on 9-11. But the story focuses less about 9-11, and more about overcoming grief and how the main character learns to continue on with her life. Before her husband died she found out he was having an affair.

“So she already has all these bitter angry feelings towards him, and then he dies. Now she’s grappling with the two layers of grief, and she feels guilt that she never forgave him when he was alive… So it’s a real comedy,”

He goes over what he wants to accomplish with this book.

“I feel like 9-11 was this moment in our country’s history where, we all re-evaluated who we were, we had to take a minute to look at ourselves in the mirror,” Fox explains. “And now with this pandemic, we’ve seen similar [things]. This tragic thing suddenly became this political thing. And I feel that both events are similar in some ways, but obviously vastly different.”

It’s about how we process through grief, especially when the grief is caused by a serious traumatic event, like a pandemic or a terrorist attack. And as Mr. Fox notes, we’ve now lived through both.

“It allowed me to channel all the emotions that we were experiencing, you know she does feel very isolated because at first she hides the fact that her son’s father is dead from him. I felt there were a lot of parallels that allowed me to channel what was happening in the early days of covid. The pandemic made this book feel more immediate,”

But what did Mr. Fox do to differentiate this book from his previous? What was his intent for creating this book specifically?

“Two of my books were more comical in tone (Tales from the Dork Side and Love and Vodka), and they’re both memoirs, so they’re about my own experience,” Mr. Fox describes. “The other book was this really dark, edgy drama about redemption, characters that were really struggling. So I guess I kind of come back to that theme of grief and also like how death isn’t always just an end.”

The book tries to uncover what happens when those who we love are no longer with us, and how do we move on, or try to move on. It’s a much more somber book than his previous works.

“Sometimes I think, ‘man this is a depressing book…’, But also I see a lot of light, and beauty, and truth in it. It’s all about her learning to start life over again ultimately,” Mr. Fox finds himself thinking. Sometimes it’s been very sad to be in the world of this character, because I have to put myself in her shoes. It’s like, what would I do if this were me, how would I tell the kids, and this and that. So it’s been different in some ways, but also similar, and oddly enough, there’s been so much of myself I’m pouring into this book.’

The main character is a female, a mother, but yet Mr. Fox finds himself constantly putting autobiographical elements throughout the novel.

“So in some ways, it’s my most personal story. Now I kind of know what that means, when they say it’s so-and-so’s most personal work,”

After writing two memoirs, Fox is no stranger to writing about his experiences. But this book brings it to a deeper level.

“There is so much of me in there even though it’s fiction, I could pinpoint on every page, ‘that’s from my life’, ‘my kid did this’, and ‘this happened to me.’”

He recounts one specific example.

“The book starts out with her meeting a guy who has a waiter bring a drink to her, and then he doesn’t end up talking to her after. And she’s like, ‘What the heck? This guy seemed interested in me and then he just totally didn’t talk to me any more,’” Mr. Fox lays it bare. “I actually did that once, a long time ago, I asked a waiter to bring a drink to a girl, and I just didn’t have the guts to actually talk to her after the fact. So she’s always wondering about this guy, he’s always in the back of her mind. It’s about how we repeat the same patterns in our lives.”

As for when, or if, it sees the light of day is uncertain. His goal is to have the first full draft done by the end of this year.

“As a writer I’m always setting goals, because there is no one saying ‘you must finish this by this date’, there is no teacher saying ‘turn it in by this date’, so I have to make my own deadlines,“ Mr. Fox says.

Mr. Fox’s influences do have a clear source, however. They are seen in a lot of short story writers that write domestic fiction. Writers like J. D. Salinger, John Irving, and Joyce Carol Oates. Domestic dramas, “what lies behind the white picket fence”.

Writing has brought Fox great joy, but his real goal lies further over the horizon.

“Movies will always be my main passion,” said Mr. Fox. “Two of my books have started being turned into movies right now. If I had to choose between writing novels or writing scripts, or writing for tv series, hands down I would choose writing movies or TV.”

But it’s not as if Mr. Fox dislikes books. He’s always loved writing books, as an English major who teaches English. But he feels it’s good for now, but it’s not where he eventually wants to be. He finds himself very fortunate that he has been published.

“One of my themes as a teacher is to just follow your dreams and passions, not as a cliche, but because I truly have done it. Sometimes you don’t always get paid for the things you love to do, but you can still do it, and still get enjoyment. And now with technology, there are so many ways to get an audience, that you can still find people to read or watch your stuff, in ways that never existed until the last several years.”

He continues.

“My goal is always gonna be to keep pushing harder, until I have an Oscar in my hand, I’ll always feel like I’m falling short of my goals,” Mr. Fox says. “But I think the whole lesson here I always like to convey is just, following your passions. In terms of my ambitions, I just feel like as long as I fuel that flame pushing me towards my writing dream, I’m always gonna work towards it. And I’ve never felt that flame start to extinguish at all.”