INTERVIEW: Patrick Wensink, Author of Fake Fruit Factory

Fake Fruit Factory

Note from Jay Slayton-Joslin: A little while ago, Morghen did a fabulous job of reviewing Wensink’s latest novel. Here she is doing another fantastic job at interviewing Patrick Wensink, who kindly stopped by to answer some questions about Fake Fruit Factory, as well as many other interesting things.

After watching your trailer for Fake Fruit Factory I have to ask, how did it feel to destroy a copy of the book with an explosive? I can imagine it bordering between therapeutic and gut-wrenching.
I loved it! I was a fireworks junkie as a child. I dreamed of being a pyrotechnician until my mother informed me that I’d need to understand chemistry to pursue that job. My dream stopped there.

Here is a “director’s commentary” moment on the book trailer. The fireworks were fun, but it was also really hard to light them and run away in time. I had just had a vasectomy about three days before and was hobbling around and quite tender. I had been planning to shoot the trailer at some point, but I had this surge of inspiration and ideas for it while I was laid up with a bag of frozen peas on my man parts. I couldn’t pass that excitement up. I slipped on my baby blue suit, bought a gallon of unleaded gas, a bag of fireworks and went to town.

I think all the chaos was actually most therapeutic to my physical condition. I had so much fun I didn’t feel any of the pain.

How has the tour for Fake Fruit Factory been going? Any crazy tour stories?
It’s been a lot of fun. I will be doing about 16 cities this fall. I have seen a lot of friends and met a lot of strangers, who managed to stay awake while I read to them and in some cases even bought a book.

I am actually writing an article about right now about this moment. My wife and I were in Portland, OR about six days after the state legally started selling weed. So, we decided we should be good tourists and investigate. The catch is that my wife and I have never purchased marijuana in our lives. So, the kind bearded gentleman who worked at the medical marijuana dispensary had to basically dumb down smoking pot so that we could understand. We tested the patience of the world’s mellowest profession that night. Finally, he wrote us a “prescription” and said, “now just roll this up like a cigarette and you’re in business!” We looked at him funny and were like, “Actually, we don’t smoke cigarettes.” A vein started bulging in his forehead right before he said, “Just look it up on YouTube!”

One of my favorite aspects of Fake Fruit Factory is that it’s told through a rotating cast of colorful characters who all have differing ideas on what’s best for their little town of Dyson, Ohio. Did you have a preferred character to write? And if so, why?
I think the 28-year-old Mayor, Bo Rutilli, is the defacto protagonist. But, you’re right, the story has about 15 main characters, each trying to save the town and each trying to defuse everyone else’s attempts to save the town.

I like them all, because at the core of each character is a little of myself. A different aspect of my own personality and beliefs. But my favorite to write was the washed-up DJ, Cody “Razzle-Dazzle” Kellogg. I saw him as this aging, growling hipster, kind of like Tom Waits in “Down By Law”. Whenever you can pretend to be Tom Waits, life is pretty good.

What inspired you to want to tell the story of a small town trying to survive?
Quite simply: guilt.

I grew up in a small town called Deshler, OH (Pop. 2000). Dyson is absolutely a quirkier, more interesting version of my own home. I started off simply wanting to tell the story of a small town like my own that had fallen on hard times. But the catalyst that kept me going through about 20 drafts and five years of rewrites was guilt. I came to realize the reason small towns like my own were dying, aside from the obvious like factory work being shipped overseas and how stores like Wal-Mart erase the need for small independent businesses, was that college educated people, such as myself, were moving to cities instead of returning home with this knowledge and ambition.

So, with all that Catholic guilt bubbling inside of me I began to really explore why small towns exist, how they work and how they go wrong. All the while, I blamed myself and other people like me. While this all sounds like it could be someone’s polysci thesis, I tried to attack the problem with comedy and a rotating cast of weirdoes like an ex-opera star turned mayor, a lottery millionaire, a reality TV show called “America’s Boringest City” and more.

Throughout the story, there is a mummy wandering around, helping some characters while frustrating others, but his mystery is never revealed. How did the mummy come to be?
I am trying very hard to remember where the mummy came from, you’re not the first person to ask, but I don’t know. It has been so long ago and the mummy has been a part of the story since the first draft that it’s always just been there.

I will frequently throw a wrench in the works like that when I am writing. Sometimes, like with this mummy, it makes the story better. Sometimes not and it gets cut out later.

I am a great admirer of strange, symbolic moments in books like that. I think of people like The Texas Highway Killer or Weird Beard in Don Delillo’s “Underworld”. You can take those characters out and the plot still functions, just like the mummy in FFF. But those characters all add richness and flavor and hint at deeper meanings.

For me, a benevolent mummy giving gifts to people and pissing others off sort of encapsulates the way cities encroach into small towns. These soulless entities that help and hurt without really knowing they are doing it.

With a sort of open ending, I have to wonder if there is more in store for Dyson? Have you entertained ideas for a sequel?
Nope. I have never written a series and do not intend to make a sequel. I am just a fan of open ended stories. I felt like a lot of loose ends were tied up, but I like the interactive element of an open ending. I like the idea that the reader has to use their imagination to determine how certain relationships will solve themselves.

I have had several in-laws tell me they hate this element of my books, which makes it even better!

If Fake Fruit Factory was made into a movie who would you cast as Bo? Donna? The mummy?
Neat question! Aside from the Tom Waits “Down by Law” part, I honestly have never thought of that. I do know for a fact I’d want the Coen Brothers to direct. The pacing, the humor and the humanity of their comedies like “Raising Arizona” and “O Brother Where Art Thou?” have been a huge influence on my storytelling.

If they are busy, I’d love for Wes Anderson to step in. He’s also a storytelling hero of mine.

Tell me a little bit about the children’s book that you have been working on! I would think that writing a children’s book is a whole different process than a novel geared towards adults. Did you find that was the case? Do you prefer writing one genre over the other?
I am very excited about the kid’s book. It’s coming out summer of 2017 through HarperCollins and it’s tentatively titled “Go! Go! Gorillas!”. It answers the age-old question: Why are gorillas the most boring part of the zoo? Turns out it’s because the apes are throwing wild, all-night dance parties. So, they are completely pooped when the zoo opens each morning.

It’s a much different experience. The book is about 400 words long and spread out through 32 pages (with illustrations by a talented artist named Nate Wragg). So I need to simplify the language and storytelling for sure.

I have a four-year-old son, so I’ve read thousands of picture books, which was good practice.

I don’t prefer one to the other, since they require completely different parts of my brain. I like that and I am a versatile enough writer to juggle them. I tend to work on one when I get burned out on the other. It’s a nice balance. Seems healthy like drinking tea after you’ve had too much coffee.

I read where you mentioned Don DeLillo as one of your main inspirations. What is your favorite DeLillo quote?
Couldn’t tell you. I am the worst at retaining quotes. Whether they are from movies or books or writers being interviewed. It all gets soaked into my consciousness, but I am not one of those wonderfully sharp people who can spit back quotes, I’m kind of amazed I remembered those two characters from “Underworld”.

What I will say about Delillo is that he is my favorite writer and the reason for that is because he makes me feel horrible. By that I mean his books are so beautiful and powerful and perfect that I feel like I am wasting my time as a writer because I’ll never do anything that wonderful. Luckily, my brain takes this depression as a challenge and after I stop crying I tend to work harder.

What would your six-word novel be?
Patrick died with work to do.

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