A Man of Wealth and Taste

Patrick Wensink has lived in Louisville for several years. During that time, his career as a savvy detailer of our absurd world has only grown, including an episode where he publicly tangoed with the Jack Daniel’s corporation. He told me about his latest novel and what’s ahead.

Let’s pretend I haven’t read your new novel, because most people reading this interview probably haven’t yet. What’s it about?
It’s pretty much a direct rip-off of Hemingway. “Fake Fruit Factory” is about the fourth-youngest mayor in America, Bo Rutili, and the small town in Ohio he is in charge of, Dyson. Dyson is bankrupt and needs money quickly. Just about this time, NASA informs Bo that a satellite is going to crash right on top of his sleepy little village. Suddenly, Dyson has more national attention than it knows what to do with, but it might not matter if the town gets wiped off the map. Oh, also, there is a lotto millionaire, an ex-opera star turned sheriff, a Civil War reenactment buff and a mysteriously generous mummy all making trouble for Bo as he tries to save his town … same premise as “Old Man and the Sea,” really.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Gee, that sounds fantastic! How did you get the idea?
My books usually come from blending together several ideas, not just a single one. I started writing “Fake Fruit Factory” over five years ago. At the time, I was freelancing for a very shady hotel-booking site run out of England. My job was to write profiles on over 400 towns in California and about 300 in New York for British visitors, so they’d know what to do if they were stuck in Cupertino, California or something. I saw a lot of small towns with a lot of history and independent spirit sort of desperately scratching for tourist dollars, trying to stay afloat. I wrote about the Gilroy Garlic Festival and a parade in upstate New York where they throw toys at people, and weird attempts to stay alive.

It reminded me of my own hometown, Deshler, Ohio, which has a population of about 2,000 and has fallen on fairly hard times since I was a kid. Deshler doesn’t have anything that could bring in tourists, though. So I wondered, what would they do if they tried to stimulate the economy since a lot of the industry has dried up and people are moving to bigger cities? Finally, I read about a satellite that crashed in the Australian Outback and it grabbed my attention. Standing alone, those three things weren’t much of a story, but when I thought of combining them, it gave me the fuel to start the book.

I was walking down the street the other day and heard some ladies talking about how you recently signed a deal to write a pair of books for children. Is that true?
What part of town do you walk in where women discuss these sorts of things and when should I be there? Yes, I am insanely proud that HarperCollins, who published kid-lit geniuses like Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendek and Margaret Wise Brown, made some sort of clerical error and offered me a two-book deal for picture books. The first one is called “Go Go Gorillas.” It’s about trouble-making apes who would rather dance than go to bed. It’ll be out in the summer of 2017.

At one point on your own Wikipedia page, you are called “Peter Wensink.” What’s the best part about being a successful writer?
Being a hugely successful writer like me is pretty great. I mean, my private jet is a gas hog and it’s getting really hard to find a decent set of monogrammed silk pajamas, but I struggle onward somehow. Honestly, I am insanely fortunate for whatever modest success I have had so far. I have now had five books published – one of them became a bestseller – and The New Yorker once wrote one whole entire sentence about me! Plus, I haven’t had a regular office job in about eight years. I am a lucky person. VT

Patrick Wensink will read at the September installment of the InKY series at The Bard’s Town on Friday, September 11.