SLR: Hi, Tom. Good to see you again. Glad we were able to get together while I’m in Oxford.
TF: Good to see you, too.
SLR: So, let’s get right to the novel. Smonk is getting a lot of good reviews. I first want to ask you a question I think a lot of people who have already read the book would like to know, and that is, where in the world did you get the idea for this novel?
TF: I got the idea for the character Smonk from my daughter. On the way home one night we smelled a skunk, and she asked me what that was. I told her it was a skunk, but the next day she was talking about it and calling it a smonk. It stuck with me. I thought it was a great name for a character. Then a friend of mine gave me this beer mug with the ugliest face on it and the word, or name, smonk, just seemed to fit it. So the character in the book started to evolve from all of that.
SLR: The story falls on the tradition of Southern grotesque humor, and at times it can be just plain gross. Did you ever think to yourself, “I’ve gone too far, this is too much, too over the top,” or did it seem easy, as if it had to be written exactly the way it is?
TF: I knew it was over the top. No doubt about it. But Smonk, I can honestly say, is the novel that I most wanted to read. I loved writing it. Sometimes I just sat in here writing and laughing out loud. It was so much fun. It unfolded just the way it was supposed to. So natural.
SLR: You used to write short stories, and if I recall correctly, you were nervous about the novel. Has that changed? Now that you have two under your belt, do you prefer the novel? Is it easy to go back and forth between the two formats?
TF: I write short stories all the time. It’s how I come up with novel ideas. Smonk was a short story and my friend, William Gay, told me that it was a novel. Others said so too.
SLR: USA Today called Smonk “ingenious.” Publishers Weekly called it “a gloriously debauched second novel” and warns that it “isn’t for everyone.” When you wrote this, who was your audience? Who did you write this for?
TF: I was worried about the audience. I was pretty much writing for me, and my editor even flew in from New York to try and talk me out of making this novel my second novel. He was concerned about the audience, but I knew I was writing the novel that I most wanted to read, and I laughed out loud when writing. I never had that experience before. It was great.
SLR: What research did you do for this novel, if any? Any surprises in your research?
TF: That was the beauty of Smonk: I didn’t have to do any research. I could do whatever I wanted.
SLR: So, what’s next for you?
TF: Well, I have four ideas right now, but I’ve learned not to talk about them with people so much. Something’s lost when I start talking about them, so I’ll just have to see what pans out.
SLR: Well, we look forward to it, whatever it ends up being. Thanks for talking with me, Tom. It was good seeing you again.
TF: Thank you.