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Michigan author tells tale of love and culture shock in new memoir

R.J. Fox reading from "Love and Vodka"

One of life’s greatest gifts is its ability to surprise us.

How could R.J. Fox know that going on the E.T. ride in Hollywood would lead him to the woman he’d want to marry? And from there, in the name of love, on to her home country Ukraine?

That’s where Fox was surprised by scowling old babushka-wearing ladies, a farmer who nearly beat him up for trying to photograph his goat, future in-laws he hoped to impress, and vodka. Lots and lots of vodka.

Fox tells the story in his new memoir Love and Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine.

Fox is from Dearborn, and in March of 2000 traveled to California to attend some screenwriting workshops. He decided to visit Universal Studios on a cold and rainy day in Hollywood, where he first saw Katya.

“I spotted this attractive girl, which, you know, typically for me I spot somebody that’s attractive and just keep on walking because I have no game,” he says. “So a little bit later I saw her again, and she was getting on to the E.T. ride. She was eating peanut M&M’s and I was eating peanut M&M’s, and it felt so fateful.”

"She was eating peanut M&M's and I was eating peanut M&M's, and it felt so fateful."

His interest piqued, he followed her on to the ride, “and I know that sounds kind of creepy because it kind of is, looking back,” Fox says. They were the only two people on the ride, so they sat together. After about 20 minutes of small talk, Fox walked her to the park gate.

A few months later she went back to Ukraine, Fox went back to Michigan, and the two became pen pals. Fox tells us it started as your run-of-the-mill pen pal-type relationship, but he soon felt that she “kind of gets me” in a way that few others had.

“And then a year later I decided to propose to her by taking a ring with me and heading over to Ukraine,” Fox says. “My parents and my closest friends thought I was a little crazy, and they were probably right, but at the time it was just, why not?”

Fox tells us that he originally wrote Love and Vodka as a screenplay, but decided to take a different path after wrestling with Hollywood producers for some time.

“We went through tons of development, and the script was becoming less and less true story and more Hollywood-ized,” he says. He understood why the changes were made and wasn’t totally upset with them, but the final straw came when the producers told him they wanted to set the story in Asia instead of Ukraine. “That’s when I’m like, wait, what?” he says.

The option expired, and he took the opportunity to turn the screenplay into a book. His goal now is “to bring it back full circle into the realm of film and bring it back to Hollywood, where the book literally starts out,” he says.

The book is Love and Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine. It’s a love story fueled by vodka toasts he couldn’t escape, babushkas who despised him and a young woman named Katya who made it all worthwhile.

R.J. Fox will be reading from his book and signing copies on Thursday, December 17, at 6 p.m. at Pages Bookshop on Grand River in Northwest Detroit. More information can be found here.

Fox reads from his book and tells us more about his trip to Ukraine, his experience trying to impress Katya’s family, and what he learned about the country in our conversation above.

- Ryan Grimes, Stateside

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