Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Bill Fitzhugh


Bill Fitzhugh Bill Fitzhugh, photo courtesy of the author

Major Works

  • Pest Control
  • Organ Grinders
  • Cross-dressing
  • Fender Benders
  • Heart Seizure : A Novel  (2003)
  • Radio Activity  2004
  • Highway 61 Resurfaced (2005)
  • The Adventures of Slim and Howdy (May, 2008)

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Biography of Bill Fitzhugh
By Charlie Murphey (SHS)

Bill Fitzhugh was born in 1957 to a stockbroker and a manager of a women's clothing  store under the sweltering sun that falls on Jackson, Mississippi, where he was raised and lived until the ripe young age of twenty-two. While in high school, Fitzhugh began his professional writing career under the Junior Achievement Program, through which he wrote and narrated some radio shows chronicling the history of various rock bands. These shows were aired by WZZQ-FM in Jackson, where he soon began to cover the overnight shift as a DJ. After graduating from high school, he took on the position of morning-drive DJ at WZZQ-FM. Some time later he became edgy and moved down to the US Virgin Islands,Bill Fitzhugh attempting to "model his life after Jimmy Buffet." (billfitzhugh.com biography). This did not happen exactly as he had hoped, and very little time passed before he was wishing again for the cushy position of  DJ.

Bill came back to Mississippi for a year to attend  Belhaven College, then a year and a half at University of Southern Mississippi. While at Belhaven,  he did some DJing and was Program/Music Director at WHYS-FM while USM. The soggy NorthWest next beckoned him, University of Washington specifically, where he met Matt Hansen. The two of them began to collaborate by writing/producing/performing for  their original radio program, "Radio Free Comedy."  Radio Free Comedy became the basis for the TV program "Stellavision," for which they eventually filmed one episode. This particular venture, however, went nowhere.

In 1988, Bill became a West Coaster, relocating in Los Angeles to obtain whatever TV writing jobs were to be had. Matt made the move to Los Angeles in 1989. Later that year, they sold NBC a script for a show named "Grand". In the summer of 1990, they were asked to work on a Fox Television show that never went much of anywhere, "Haywire". In 1991 Bill and Matt completed their screenplay for "Pest Control," but Hollywood in general, and studios specifically, seemed uninterested. Matt began to sell Volvos, giving a free copy of Pest Control to everyone who purchased a car..

Disappointed, but not defeated, Fitzhugh took the screenplay for Pest Control and converted it into a novel. Upon his completion of Pest Control  and his rejection by over 130 agents, an agent by the name of Jimmy Vines got a copy of Pest Control . It was sold to Warner Brothers and sold overseas in England, Italy, Germany and Japan. It made the Top 50 mysteries list at Amazon in 1997. Later, Organ Grinders, his second novel, was chosen as an Original Voices book for September in 1998 and published in England in 2000. The film rights for Cross Dressing were purchased by Universal  to be produced by Tom Shadyac, whose credits include Ace Ventura,  Liar Liar, Nutty Professor and Patch Adams (billfitzhugh.com). Fitzhugh now lives in L.A. and is married, with  "animal companions" instead of kids. He maintains a love for music, but his musical ability is limited to playing the radio. His newest book, Fender Benders, will be released in fall of 2001.

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A Review of The Organ Grinders
by Charlie Murphey (SHS)

When I was assigned to read Organ Grinders by Bill Fitzhugh, I was skeptical about whether or not it was really worth my while to actually read it, despite my teacher's reassurances of "Try it - you'll like it" ( the last time someone said "Try it, you'll like it," I developed an as-yet-unreconciled hatred for asparagus). I should be ashamed of my own shallowness.  Within the the first few chapters, I nearly soiled my trousers because I was laughing so hard. Bill Fitzhugh has successfully melded superior science fiction with an hilariously twisted brand of humor truly all his own.

Grinders' likable protagonist, humorously labeled Paul Symon, is a hulking mass of a coward, much like most of the Organ Grinders by Bill Fitzhughcharacters Nicholas Cage has portrayed (The Rock and 8 mm come to mind). His slimy nemesis, also an amazingly charismatic individual, named Jerry Landis, is a corporate head suffering from a degenerative disorder that causes his cells to age at double the normal rate. Paul is a conscientious, work-the-system kind of guy whose founded concerns regarding the highly questionable practices of  Landis and his corporation, Landaq, Inc. are slowly driving him to insanity. Jerry Landis is the object of Paul's seemingly inexhaustible efforts to save the world through legislation, the cruel tyrant of Paul's universe, while Paul's relentlessness has made him the maddening thorn in Jerry's sallowing flesh.

Fitzhugh once again demonstrates the great lengths of his comedic repertoire, crafting an intriguing medical thriller woven into a world of capitalism, black market organ procurement and a whole bunch of Chacma baboons, all in sunny south California (plus some in muggy south Mississippi).

Although the book as a whole is commendable, a few aspects leave something to be desired. Perhaps the character development is not fully complete. At times, I was unsure whether to root for Jerry Landis or hope that he is pummeled to death by the giant mutated baboons he has plans to harvest like a Delta cotton bowl. He seems a little bit too likable for an evil capitalist trying to murder our genetically similar friends. Also, the final resolution was a little too predictable (granted, not Power Rangers predictable, but predictable nonetheless). Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Organ Grinders.

Fitzhugh's sophomore novel may be a slight recession from his first, Pest Control, in overall cohesion, but it is nevertheless a great read. Some readers may be offended by excessive use of language, graphic passages describing deranged terrorist acts and a strong sexual passage. However, I personally enjoyed the read greatly and would recommend it to more mature readers.

A Review of Pest Control
by Charlie Murphey (SHS)

I like to laugh. I mean, I really get into it.  Sometimes, I begin to laugh uncontrollably and become doubled over because my midsection so seldomly receives that kind of vigorous exercise, and it's all anyone can do to hope I'm not operating heavy machinery. Despite the daunting threat to my health and that of those around me, I was thrilled to experience this repeatedly while reading Pest Control, the debut novel by Bill Fitzhugh. Fitzhugh has proved quite adept to providing absurdist humor akin to that of Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series), while in the context of 99% believable mystery/science fiction reminiscent of Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain).

Pest Control by Bill FitzhughPest Control is mainly set in New York and chronicles the bumbling of an eco-conscious insect exterminator named Bob Dillon (whose lyrics are mercilessly punned upon throughout the book). Bob is attempting to develop an environmentally friendly method of insect extermination involving naturally predaceous insects which methodically hunt and kill their pesky relatives. In an effort to build interest in his method, and encouraged by a slightly sloshed colleague and some beer, Bob creates a flyer advertising his services as an exterminator with a "lethal new concept".

His flyer lands in the hands of some shady individuals who deal with contract killers, and they immediately interpret it as rather cheeky self advertising by a newcomer to the business of murder. As he unwittingly climbs the ranks of the top guns-for-hire in the world, he naively continues to stumble through life, his only intentions being to realize his dream of environmentally friendly insect extermination and reclaim the dearest things that dream has cost him: his wife and daughter. As the plot begins to thicken like old sourdough starter, Bob either takes care of or is credited for every assignment that he believes he is rejecting and Fitzhugh deftly weaves all of his dangerously loose ends together in a concentric, jumbled knot of  eccentric assassins, over-analytical CIA agents and entomology.

Mr. Fitzhugh's first foray into the role of the novelist is a refreshingly intelligent yet bitingly humorous (pardon the pun) success. Some readers may be offended by the language used, though it generally does not go beyond establishing verisimilitude, as well as some graphic passages describing death-by-insects. Despite these aspects, I would not hesitate to recommend Pest Control to anyone looking for a read that will leave them unable to operate heavy machinery (or anything else that requires dexterity).

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Interview with Bill Fitzhugh
by Charlie Murphey (SHS)

Bill Fitzhugh was gracious enough to grant me not one, but two interviews. The first is an e-mail interview word-for-word as he responded (except for some personal questions of my own that I did not see a need to include). The second is a phone interview that was recorded only as general responses to which I later went back and added what I could recall of the conversation (all with his expressed permission). 


Charlie Murphey (SHS)

E-mail interview  with Bill Fitzhugh by Charlie Murphey  (April 30, 2001)

When were you born?

The same year Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas was first published. (1957)

How did you first get involved with the Junior Achievement Program and why did you choose radio?

They came to my high school (St. Joe) and made their pitch.  Of all the businesses which were sponsoring J.A. companies, the radio station (WZZQ-FM, album-oriented rock format) appealed to me because my friends and I listened to it.

Which bands did you chronicle in  these programs?

The ones I remember are Buffalo Springfield (which has connections to the Byrds, Poco, Crosby, Still, Gnash, and Young etc.); The Marshall Tucker Band; Dave Mason; a local band called "Let's Eat" -- I don't recall the others.  We did about 13 shows.

Which high school?

St. Joe's H.S. in Jackson.Bill Fitzhugh

How would you describe yourself as a student?

Bored.  Grades were average and below in HS.  But I was a good college student, dean's list at the University of Washington.

Since you're obviously such a fan of music, do you or did you ever play a musical instrument?

No.  The only thing I play is the stereo.  We had a piano in the house growing up and one of my sisters took lessons.  And my younger brother tried the tenor sax later in life to limited success.

How did growing up in the buckle of the Bible belt affect your views of religion and faith?

Impossible to say.  I might have ended up with the same views I have now even if I'd grown up in New England or California.

What other careers did you consider/attempt?

I considered radio as a career but when I realized I wasn't going to be a hugely successful 'personality' (like Rick Dees or H. Stern) and that I didn't want to manage stations or be in sales, I moved on.  I almost went to law school.  And I considered becoming a psychologist while earning a BA in psych.

You apparently go for "thinking man's" humor. Do you ever succumb to a beer and a Dave Barry column?

I have succumbed to both a beer and to a DB column, but never at the same time.  DB is a terrifically talented humorist.  His novel, Big Trouble, was a lot of fun too.

What prompted your above-average awareness of the sad state of Earth in general?

I have no idea why these things strike me the way they do.  I have no idea why I don't just run out and commit some more of those freeway shootings which were big in the eighties. You better not give me a gun. I can see why that shit happens. I just wrote a short piece for a little thing that Avon's publishing for the new imprint, which is going to be called Spike, and it was dealing with road rage. "A lot of you have read articles about the road rage that's going on out there and you're asking yourself, How can I get involved?" It's a little primer on what to do.

What were your parents' occupations?

Dad was a stock broker; mom owned and ran a women's clothing store.

Do you have siblings?

I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters.

You said you envisioned Billy Crystal and Arnold in a screen adaptation of Pest Control.

Well, that was in the mid 1980's when I wrote the original screenplay and when Billy and Arnold were 15 years younger than now.  They wouldn't work now.  Actually, Arnold might be okay, but BC is too old for Bob.

 How would you cast Cross Dressing and Organ Grinders?

I'm terrible at this.  I've thought of a lot of actors to play the roles, but no one comes to mind at the moment.  That's why they have casting directors.

(Personal question: Klaus is portrayed as an older kind of guy. Wouldn't it make more sense to have someone of Anthony Hopkins' vintage play Klaus?)

I agree.  Hopkins would be a terrific Klaus.

The main characters of Pest Control and Organ Grinders seem strikingly similar in their general character (kind of a Nicholas Cage thing -- think The Rock and 8mm). Are they your more autobiographical characters?

I think Paul Symon more so than Bob Dillon. Dillon is far more optimistic than I am.  Symon wants to make the world a better place but has no idea how to accomplish the goal.  That's closer to me but not entirely autobiographical.

Do you base characters on people you know?

Never in entirety.  I take traits from different people and mix them up and end up with my characters.

What, if anything, do you hate the most about being a professional writer?

I can't think of anything I hate about it.

What do you love the most about being a writer?

I get to spend my life reading about whatever interests me, and I get to express my opinions in any way I wish.  I can attack things I think need attacking, and I can defend whatever I believe needs defending.  I don't have to commute.  I do not have an idiot boss looming over my shoulder telling me to do idiotic things.  (My favorite idiot boss character is played by Matthew Broderick in the film 'You Can Count on Me').  It's a good job for my personality.

Do you have anything in the works?

Bill Fitzhugh with the Sweet Potato QueensI'm about 135 pages into my next novel (currently untitled).  I am also in the process of working with Jill Conner Browne in adapting her two books (The Sweet Potato Queen's Book of Love and God Save the Sweet Potato Queens) into a screenplay.

What can you tell me about the screen adaptation of Cross Dressing?

All I know is that a writer named Gary Tische has done a screenplay adaptation for the book for Tom Shadyac's company.  Beyond that, with the WGA strike set for today and the SAG strike in the next month or two, development is slowing down on everything.

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Phone interview with Bill Fitzhugh by Charlie Murphey (SHS)
(April  30, 2001)

Thanks for bearing with me while I get everything together here...

No problem.

Okay, hmm... in the email interview you said you were bored in high school but kind of got it together in college. Who or what first motivated you to do something, anything?

Probably my parents. They kind of instilled some degree of ambition in us... achievement was made desirable by them. Coaches, too. Growing up in Mississippi, I played a lot of sports, especially football. The coaches were the kind of guys that were always on you, pushing you and stepping all over you and making you hate them and at the same time love them because they were the ones that inspired you. So definitely parents and coaches.

What positions did you play?

In high school? Well I guess, since it was the culmination of my football career... I played tight end and defensive end. I was better at defensive end, but I didn't jeopardize anybody's college scholarship. (laughs)

You played for St. Joseph's, a Catholic high school. Were you raised Catholic or simply attend high school there?

I was raised Catholic. To quote a Catholic author, I am Catholic to the extent that it is the church I currently do not attend. (laughs)

While reading Organ Grinders, I observed a lot of parallels between your work and Michael Crichton's [work]. Is that a comparison you receive often?

Well, more with Organ Grinders than Pest Control or Cross Dressing. With Grinders, that was what I had been going for, kind of the whole medical thriller thing with a lot humor woven in there. Specifically, I think the comparison comes from the great amount of attention paid to details and scientific tid-bits thrown in there. We both do that, but Crichton is better at it than I am, which is why he's on the bestseller lists, not me.

What other comparisons do you receive?

Hmm... occasionally Carl Hiaasen. He's a writer for the Miami Herald, where Dave Barry is also, and is generally considered to be the premier humor novelist in North America. He wrote Striptease, which was a great book, but a terrible movie. I think he's had another book made into a movie, but the title is escaping me at the moment.

Do you ever get compared to Dave Barry?

Occasionally, but only by fans who associate humor writer to humor writer. I'm much more of a novelist than Dave, but he's a more accomplished columnist than I am.

In your novel Cross Dressing, is your eco-awareness as obvious as in the other books of yours?

No, not really. Cross Dressing is a theological novel. I may throw in some references to the soaring gas prices or something like that... I take a couple of shots at SUVs, too. I mean, maybe I'm wrong, but I see all these rich people driving down the road in an SUV, and they're taking up way more than their share of road space, burning away gas like there's no end to it, like it's not a non-renewable natural resource, and then have the gall to complain about high gas prices, like Americans have an inherent right to cheap gas. Why? Because we use way more than anyone else? And then they're talking away on their cell phones which makes them even more dangerous than they are already in a huge mass of vehicle like that, and it just irks me. I live in suburbia, and most of the people I see messing up traffic are these idiots in SUVs. Do you know what percentage of people that are involved with accidents that kill people, or cause them, are actually under the influence of alcohol or drugs or something? Take a guess.

Um... I'd guess about 65% to 75%, probably. Maybe a little more.

You know, I went down to the local patrol station to get some figures about that and I found out it's actually less than 50%! So you have the occasional wheel that flies off and kills a guy, sometimes an animal runs out in the road, the driver swerves and hits something, you know, but that only accounts for about 1% of fatal accidents. So I was trying to get this guy  down at the station to tell me what they attribute the other 50% to, and he was like, "We have a term for those people." I was standing there trying to get what this guy was getting at, so I finally said, "So, the only category that all these other people fit into is screw-ups?" I just think it's far too easy for people to get a driver's license these days. Pretty much, they make sure your vehicle passes inspection and that your check clears and they hand you a license to be a deadly weapon. People have come to think of driving as a right, not a privilege. I think that it should be much more difficult to obtain a license to drive. It would eliminate a lot of the danger on the roads, cut down on the gas we use, lower gas prices, slow down pollution some. It just seems obvious to me that fossil fuel aren't going to last forever, that clean water is better than dirty water and that rain forests are better growing like they have been for thousands of years than cut down. But maybe I'm wrong.

Interesting. So, what do you drive?

A Volkswagen Passat. It's all-around a good car, but I don't like the mileage.

What's the best car that you've ever had?

Any car that didn't blow up to me with me in it was a good car. I had a great little silver ragtop MGB that was a lot of fun, but it was always in the shop, always something wrong. I had an orange Toyota fastback something or other, an old Chevy, an old Ford, anything that got me there. I was never the guy that talked all the time about my car. I've got a writing partner that covers all that --

Would that be Matt Hansen?

 Yeah, Matt was always the one to be going on about his ZX300 or Z28 or Camaro, not me.

So what were you into, since you weren't into cars?

 I  was always more interested in music than anything else, really, more than cars or hunting or guns or reading. I'd rather be listening to some Jethro Tull than reading F. Scott Fitzgerald. That probably shows more in my writing than I wished! ( laughs)

How did you meet your wife?

Nothing spectacular. I was watching a basketball game, and she'd just finished a tennis lesson and came  into where I was. We started talking. Speaking of which, she's going to be home soon, so I've  got to start at making dinner. Anything else?

Yeah... What's for dinner?

I'm making Orange Roughey. Actually, It's a  recipe from an old Jackson Junior League cookbook called "Come On In". Well, it's a variation on that recipe, but I think the variation works better.

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Related Websites

Home page of Bill Fitzhugh.

In-depth, off-beat interview with Bill that can be read here includes photos of  Fitzhugh pointing vaguely into the bushes at what one can only assume is wildlife.

Absolutewrite discusses novel writing with Bill Fitzhugh in this interview by Jenna Glatzer.

Biography on Fitzhugh's home page.

Interview with Bill Fitzhugh on Mystery One.

Highway 61 Resurfaced review by MARILYN STASIO in 2005 in New York Times.

Info about his 2008 book THE ADVENTURES OF SLIM AND HOWDY
By Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn with Bill Fitzhugh

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Bibliography

Fitzhugh, Bill. E-mail interview. 30 Apr. 2001.

Fitzhugh, Bill. Phone interview. 30 Apr. 2001.

http://www.billfitzhugh.com. 9 Apr. 2001.

The Blue Moon. 1 May. 2001.http://www.thebluemoon.com/4/sum99interview.html.

Mystery Guide. com.1 May. 2001.http://www.mysteryguide.com/bkFitzhughControl.html

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May, 2001
Updated January 2008
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