In this installment of Page 69,
we put Tom Williams' Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales to the test.
OK, Tom, set up page 69 for us.
This worked out perfectly, as 69 (tee-hee) is the first page of the story “The Finest Writers in the World Today,” the fifth story in a collection of ten.
What is Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales about?
Any more, I feel I’m the last person to have the right answer to such a good question as this, because oftentimes when I’m asked such a question I have a really mundane answer, while the person asking has a far better response because they’ve brought to my words whatever they’ve experienced. Despite my poor track record, I’ll sally forth and say this: that ultimately the ten stories are all about the state of being in-between. In most cases it’s a character who is biracial—neither black, nor white but both—but it’s also characters who yearn to belong. To me this state has always been of such great potential and such great sorrow. I think it also speaks to a larger human condition: being a spiritual mulatto, in that one might have allegiances to different groups and yet never feels fully connected, never feels as though one really has found her proper “place”—whether that’s among peers, a certain region or locality, or mental space. We’re all, at least I believe, all sorts of in-between. Yeah, that’s what the book’s about.
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what Among the Wild Mulattos is about? Does it align itself the book’s overall theme?
This is one of the “workplace” stories in the collection, and while there isn’t a specifically racial concern on this page (and throughout the story), it does orbit around the idea of identity, celebrity, and art—three issues I seem to never be able to shed in my fiction. And while I hope it operates as a story that supplies some good laughs in a book that toggles between high and low comedy, high and low art, it also asks some pretty serious questions about the relationship between (there’s that word again) art and commerce, writers and their work, writers and their audience. Funny stuff, right? And it’s told in first person plural, which everybody loves.
AMONG THE WILD MULATTOS AND OTHER TALES
The Finest Writers in the World Today
To tell the truth, at first none of us believed there was money to be made from Tina Prescott’s idea. Cause Celebs had been around for two-and-a-half years and was doing well enough to have five agents and about a hundred lookalikes because we understood our audience. They were people who wanted to bring pizzazz to the events in their lives, but on the cheap. For a nine-year- old’s birthday, they couldn’t afford the real article, so what about someone who resembled Brad Pitt? That was a different story. And though Cause Celebs wasn’t the only agency in town, our lookalikes were dead ringers, as well as excellent vocalists and dancers. Or they wore great costumes and could lip synch.
Our performers broke down to two categories then. Dead celebrities was one: Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, old and young Elvises and Sinatras—the perfect addition for your grandparents’ anniversary! We also had contemporaries, which at the time meant Britney Spears, P-Diddy, Madonna, Bill and Hilary, both President Bushes. And they were all good, dead or contemporary. They made a nice flat fee, five hundred for three hours, out of which we took our thirty percent. No one was
Tom Williams is the author of the novella The Mimic’s Own Voice (Main Street Rag Publishing) and the novel Don’t Start Me Talkin’ (Curbside Splendor). His newest, a collection of stories called Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales, will appear in July of 2015 from Texas Review Press. The Chair of English at Morehead State University, he lives in Kentucky with his wife and children.