"The aromas of New Orleans come back to me."
"Oh, yes, jasmine. And oleander. And cooking. In the French Quarter especially. There's a bar that's still there and flooded the entrance hall to a place that I first lived in New Orleans. The bar was called Pat O'Brien's. The plumbing was not right so the water would overflow, come into the foyer of what had been a mansion but was a kind of rat's nest of rooms. That's where I lived in the beginning. I remember that very vividly and I heard a reporter mention Pat O'Brien's bar. But the odor of New Orleans, yes, it's a funny, dusky, dreamy smell and yet dank, rank.
"The husband -- Pat -- of the couple I stayed with worked in a plant in Biloxi. Robert Sherwood visited and Pat was picked to show him through. And so he showed him through, and he talked about everything, Pat did. Robert Sherwood said at the end of the tour, 'You ought to write.' So, Pat who was 40 at the time, moved into the French Quarter and began to write his first novel, which won a Houghton Mifflin Fellowship. It's called Green Margin.
"It was about the south of New Orleans, on that long piece of land that used to stretch out where the Mississippi empties into the sea. And I wrote a novel about New Orleans called The God of Nightmares. It was reissued by Norton. Norton reissued all my novels. I fear that three of them were remaindered almost within days. But God of Nightmares pleased quite a few people.
"Anyway, Pat wrote Green Margins and then he wrote a second novel, The Great Big Doorstep, which was made into a play, which, alas, had a very short run. He had been very cruelly treated by Cajuns because in Green Margins he wrote about them and they didn't want to be written about. They had a sort of primitive response. They did a terrible thing to him, and he ended up with a bad heart and then he died. You can look him up."
"Isn't it fun, how you can look up everything now?"
"I know. You can look yourself up even."
"Do you use a computer?"
"I use it in a very primitive way. I don't understand anything except e-mail. And it's not a pose, but I'm 82, and it's too late for me to learn. Children are born knowing about computers now. I think it's genetic. It's culturally genetic."
We talked again about Ms. Fox's new book. "I realized that I'd lived a long time, relatively speaking -- that is relative to the briefness of life and the brevity of it. I sat down and put it together. Some of the things have appeared elsewhere."
"It doesn't feel that way."
"No, it doesn't because it all had a kind of wholeness, the whole experience for me. I didn't realize until I re-read it in the bound galleys that I was in places where enormous things happened. I'm very aware of that now. I remembered when, at one party, which I wrote about in After the Snow, going to the windows and standing there, looking down at the trees and the place where deer used to wander. And behind me was a long table with food and wine and what not, and I was absolutely stunned by my remembrance of this. It was a second only, but I felt the power of memory and imagination and thought and people. It was all there in that second, the window looking through the palace. I couldn't for a moment believe that I was there. I was conscious of the flow of history and the event in this world. I was transparent to myself suddenly."
"Although you were in your 80s when you wrote this book, the narrating voice is that of a young woman. Were you conscious of this voicing as you worked on the book?"
"No, it wasn't conscious. I don't think any of that kind of attitude about one's self is conscious ever with a writer. One just does it in a certain way. Some of those stories go back a ways, 15 years, 10 years. After the Snow, oh, it's about 10 or 15 years old.
"I think probably, when I work, not when I lie down in the afternoon, but when I work in the mornings upstairs in my study, I have a timeless sense about myself and life; something speaks through me. I'm a vessel for certain things, as all writers are, poets especially. Poets are certainly that.
"I suddenly thought of the last few pages of The Great Gatsby when I watched a program on Fitzgerald the other night. I was reminded so powerfully of that wonderful last few pages that he wrote. I don't feel that he had control over that. It was very controlled. It was perfect control. The way a river flows between its banks. But something through him, rather, carried him on in that marvelous way.
"However, one has to work very hard to make one's self available. To make one's self a vessel for that. That's where the hard work comes in. Which is what people don't understand.
"Writing is an affliction, and one gets through one's day somehow, but there is a kind of pure time, purity of hours, where you work and whatever you work at, you know -- you lose all self-consciousness -- if you're a veterinarian or a plumber or a violinist, or whatever it is you are.
"I've said it before so many times to my husband, who is a writer of nonfiction. I said 'There is no time when you don't work.' You're not conscious of it. And it's strange because otherwise the decades pass, and the days pass and the hours, and so forth, and you think, 'My God, did that happen 20 years ago? I thought it just happened yesterday.' And what happened yesterday was 20 years ago. But when you work, all that is obviated in some enormous way. It's like Frank Conroy's title, Stop-Time: A Memoir."