Story and photo by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
Huron High School English/video production teacher Robert Fox hopes that readers of his new memoir “Love & Vodka” will finish the book inspired to step out of their comfort zones.
After all, he had to do just that to live the story in the first place.
From the moment he stepped aboard a Dniproavia airline bound for Ukraine with the intention to propose to a woman he’d spent only 30 minutes with in person, Fox says he realized that no amount of planning or travel guides could have prepared him for the trip he was about to experience.
“It was definitely a risky maneuver,” says Fox, 38, speaking of his 25-year-old self. “Sometimes it’s hard to believe I did something like that.”
Fox will talk about his memoir at a book launch and author reading at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 11 at Literati Bookstore, 124 E. Washington, Ann Arbor.
The book is published by the parents of one of Fox’s former Huron students, Jon and Laurie Wilson, who recently started Fish out of Water Books, and asked Fox to be their first published author.
Jon Wilson says it all began because they were Facebook friends with Fox, and the Wilsons came upon one of the sample chapters that Fox had posted online from his draft manuscript of “Love & Vodka.”
“We were immediately hooked,” recalls Wilson, noting that he was happy to learn that Fox had actually written a complete draft at that point. “Love & Vodka” is a fascinating story and is written in such an engaging way that once you start reading, it’s almost impossible to put down. It is humorous, heartfelt, educational, and—given that it was originally a screenplay—incredibly visual. You can see the characters and settings come to life in your mind’s eye.”
In addition to moonlighting as a writer, independent filmmaker and saxophonist, Fox has written several short stories, plays, poems, and 15 feature length screenplays, two of which were optioned to Hollywood. He is also the writer/director/editor of several award-winning short films.
Fox and his wife, Huron Spanish teacher Ellen Schultz-Fox, have two children and live in Pittsfield Township.
Fox says that his wife is excited about the publishing of his first book, even if it’s a memoir (“with slight embellishment”) about the engagement period in Ukraine with his first wife, whom he calls “Katya” in the book.
The two had met briefly in Los Angeles in 2001 and corresponded for a year. They were married for eight years.
“It’s a time capsule of that time in my life,” he says. “It was bizarre.”
In the following excerpt from the book, Fox writes about his first flight to Ukraine, engagement ring in pocket:
Two hours later, the plane began its descent. I looked out of the window—half-expecting to see a Ukrainian gremlin on the wing—at the sparse countryside, finding it hard to believe that we were approaching a city of 1.5 million people.
A stewardess passed out what I gathered to be a customs form, but it was in Russian so I couldn’t be sure. I raised my hand and blurted out down the aisle: “Excuse me!” Based on the reaction of every passenger, I might as well have threatened to blow the whole plane to smithereens, so apparently startling was my foreign tongue to their ears.
The stewardess approached, all but asking me to quiet down. I showed her my customs form: “English?” I asked.
“Da, English. Minute.” She hastily took the form from me. Moments later, she returned with an English one. I couldn’t help but feel a slight tinge of shame for not learning at least a few basic Russian phrases in the months leading up to my trip.
Finally, the plane touched down in Dnipropetrovsk. Unscathed.
The passengers exploded into wild applause. I was taken aback. Aren’t we supposed to land safely? Was this a major feat for a Ukrainian flight?
I had a feeling we weren’t in Michigan anymore.
Fox loves to read whenever he can, which isn’t often, because if he has time to read, then he usually forces himself to write instead—sometimes til 1 a.m.
Lately, he’s found that listening to audio books in the car is the perfect solution.
“I tell my students that the best writers read a lot,” he says.
Fox is wrapping up his second book—a gritty novel set in Detroit, which he says is not as “fluffy and fun” as “Love & Vodka,” both of which he actually first wrote as a screenplay.
He’d love to eventually see “Love & Vodka” hit the big screen.
And whom would he cast as himself?
Paul Rudd or Michael Cera.
“Both are perfect in their awkwardness,” he quips, “which would fit the character—I mean myself—quite well.”