In this episode of the Wait Wait… There are plenty of small-town guys who stick around, get a boring job and dream of writing a great novel. And nothing ticks off those guys like the ones who actually pull it off: Charles Frazier’s first novel, Cold Mountain, was an international best-seller, and he followed it up with Thirteen Moons and Nightwoods.
Here in Asheville, N.C., we’ve invited Frazier to play a game called “I’m listening, Seattle.” Three questions for Charles Frazier about Frasier Crane, fictional radio psychiatrist.
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PETER SAGAL, HOST: And now the game where we like to take people who have done great things and force them to do one silly thing. There are plenty of small-town guys who stick around, get a boring job but dream of writing the great American novel. And nothing ticks off those guys like the ones who actually pull it off.
SAGAL: Charles Frazier’s first novel, “Cold Mountain,” was a huge international bestseller, made into a big film. We’re delighted to have him here with us. Charles Frazier, welcome to WAIT WAIT…DON’T TELL ME!
CHARLES FRAZIER: Thank you, thank you.
SAGAL: Now is that story true, you were born and raised here in Asheville, and you stayed here, you didn’t go off after college?
FRAZIER: I went to Colorado for a while, but Asheville’s home.
SAGAL: Yeah, the mountains there are too high, too high. You want the medium-sized mountains.
FRAZIER: Yeah, I quit teaching at NC State to university, came to Asheville and worked on a book, a great place for it.
SAGAL: So tell me about your first published work.
FRAZIER: What would that have been? A book about hiking, trekking in Peru.
FRAZIER: Yeah, yeah.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Had you been there?
FRAZIER: I wrote this proposal that said I have never been to Peru, but I would like to write a book about going to Peru and hiking in the big mountains. And because I know nothing about it, I will be a perfect representative traveler.
GOLDTHWAIT: That’s how I got this job.
SAGAL: And you used this pitch for hiking in Peru?
FRAZIER: They bought the idea.
SAGAL: You could have done, like, dating supermodels.
SAGAL: So tell me about “Cold Mountain.” This is of course your first novel that came out, what, now, like 2004, around there?
FRAZIER: A little earlier than that.
SAGAL: A little earlier than that, a huge international bestseller, made into a big film. And this was like a story you’ve had with you for a long time, this Civil War saga?
FRAZIER: Yeah, and a family story and a story set close to here. You know, it was – had a lot of my family history in it.
SAGAL: Right. So it’s true that you had a great-great-uncle who left the battle lines on the Confederate side and came home to Nicole Kidman?
SAGAL: Every person, man or woman, who sits down to write a first novel, there are about 4,000 of them here in this theater…
SAGAL: Dreams of what happened to you, that the novel being published, it being acclaimed, getting amazing reviews, winning the National Book Award, snapped up by Hollywood. Was that your dream? Were you thinking there going yeah, I’m thinking Jude Law for the lead role, Chapter 2?
FRAZIER: This is actually true.
FRAZIER: What I was hoping was it would get published, and I would get a better teaching schedule than…
GOLDTHWAIT: Aim for the stars.
ROXANNE ROBERTS: You probably secretly dreamed that it would do well, but when did you actually realize that, hey, this is going to actually be more than a standard novel?
BRIAN BABYLON: Through that check.
FRAZIER: Well, yeah. Yeah.
GOLDTHWAIT: Did you give the earlier manuscript to anyone that actually gave you either bad notes or told you that it was just so-so?
FRAZIER: You know, I don’t like people to see what I’m working on until it’s really finished. So I went – would go for years, and my wife wouldn’t even see it. She just had to take my word that I was…
SAGAL: Really? You’d come down from your lonely cabin, working on your novel, and she’d go so, how’s the novel coming along that I am working to support your writing, and you’d be like fine, what’s for dinner?
FRAZIER: Yeah, pretty much, yeah.
SAGAL: You’ve got to be one of the most famous authors in America after the success of “Cold Mountain” especially – but do you ever get recognized by the author photo? Do you ever, like, see somebody reading your book and just stand there and see if they recognize you by your literary…
FRAZIER: I have a couple of times.
FRAZIER: Yeah, I have tapped people on the shoulder and said, would you like me to sign that for you.
GOLDTHWAIT: And how did that go down?
FRAZIER: Well, one was in Chicago, and I tapped this woman on the shoulder and said would you like me to sign that, and she looked at me like I was really crazy. And I said turn the book over. And she looked at the picture and then looked at me, and so…
GOLDTHWAIT: I don’t want to make it about me, but I’m about to…
GOLDTHWAIT: I was walking down a plane aisle, and I look, and there’s this young man, and he’s watching a movie I wrote and directed on the plane, on his laptop, and I thought I’m going to blow his mind.
GOLDTHWAIT: And I got hi, and he goes, yeah? I go, well, I wrote and directed that movie. He goes, I paid for it.
BABYLON: What did you say?
SAGAL: I’ve got to ask you. Did you get to – I mean because, you know, obviously a very successful, Oscar-winning movie was made from your book, coincidentally also called “Cold Mountain.” Did you get to hang out with the big movie stars and be there on the set?
FRAZIER: A little bit.
SAGAL: Yeah, did you enjoy that?
FRAZIER: Yeah, I would have enjoyed it more if it had been here in Western North Carolina.
FRAZIER: It happened to be in Romania…
BABYLON: Oh, that is, that is – I can’t even believe that, wow.
FRAZIER: But it was still fun.
SAGAL: Romania is, of course, the Western North Carolina of Central Europe.
SAGAL: So you were in Romania having an Englishman play your great-great-uncle, in love with an Australian, pretending to be in Western North Carolina, and you’re like this is just what I imagined.
SAGAL: Well, so let’s talk about Asheville. As you said, “Cold Mountain” was set near here, in the western mountains of North Carolina, and you grew up here. And what is it that – I mean, it’s a very hard-to-describe place, Asheville, for people who don’t know it. How would you describe it?
FRAZIER: Well, it’s the coolest town in the South.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
SAGAL: Also I can’t help but notice, also the most modest. It’s very humble, humble people here.
GOLDTHWAIT: Really, really it’s cool because I’ve only been here during the humidity festival.
SAGAL: I mean, is it Southern? Because it seems, I mean, contradictory in some ways.
FRAZIER: Well, it’s not a – it’s not a hillbilly mountain town, never has been. There’s always been a real literary heritage here, a real arts heritage here, wonderful art deco architecture all around town.
SAGAL: Well, it is a very literary town. We’re in an auditorium named for Thomas Wolfe, the great native son of Asheville, and…
SAGAL: And who said you can’t go home again and didn’t.
SAGAL: And there seem to be writers everywhere around here. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a writer. I mean, that must be a little irritating at times. Wouldn’t it be nice to hang out with dumb people for a change? That’s all I’m saying.
FRAZIER: There’s never a shortage of that anywhere.
SAGAL: Well, Charles Frazier, delighted to have you with us, and we have invited you here today to play a game we’re calling..
CARL KASELL: I’m listening, Seattle.
SAGAL: OK, you’re a Frazier, you’re not the Frasier. That would be Frasier Crane, fictional radio psychiatrist from the TV show “Frasier” and “Cheers.” Get two out of three right of these three questions we will ask you about “Frasier,” and you’ll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl’s voice on their voicemail. Carl, who is author Charles Frazier playing for?
KASELL: He is playing for Ellen Knight of Asheville, North Carolina.
SAGAL: All right, ready to do this? The man who played – first question, the man who played Frasier Crane is more than just an actor. He’s also an entrepreneur. Which of these was an actual business that Kelsey Grammer, the actor, started in 2010: A, an animal therapy clinic staffed entirely by cranes; B, the Channel Channel, an interactive TV network that helped kids learn to use Tarot cards; or C, Kelsey Grammer’s Backwoods Biscuits and Gravy, a roadside diner chain meant to be a direct competitor to Cracker Barrel?
FRAZIER: I mean B does sound more like reality in some warped way. So I’m going to go with B.
SAGAL: You’re going to go with B, the Channel Channel?
SAGAL: You’re correct, correct, very good.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Grammer started the network in association with Kelsey Live, a self-described mini-Facebook made up entirely of Kelsey Grammer fans. Neither lasted longer than a year.
SAGAL: OK, your next question. Kelsey Grammer starred in the Broadway revival of the musical “La Cage aux Folles.” What did his male co-star say about Kelsey Grammer’s kissing technique: A, I couldn’t say, Kelsey always puts his hand between my mouth and his; B, he tastes like a musty humidor; or C, he’s one of the best I’ve ever had, it’s like kissing John Wayne?
FRAZIER: I don’t know. I’m going to go with B again.
SAGAL: You’re going to go with B again, he tastes like a musty humidor.
SAGAL: I’m afraid it was actually C, he liked it, the best I’ve ever had. I don’t know why kissing John Wayne would be like a superlative, but apparently it was. All right, this is exciting. You have one more chance. If you get this right, you win. Here we go.
Of course the character Frasier Crane was a psychiatrist. Now, that had consequences such as which of these: A, more than 60 percent of fake narcotic prescriptions in the ’90s were signed with the name Dr. Frasier Crane; B, the psychiatric referral group Counseling Seattle had to remind patients that Frasier Crane is not a real therapist; or C, medical schools report Frasier-it is, the tendency of psych residents to involuntarily talk like Frasier?
SAGAL: Your final choice is B.
SAGAL: And that would be correct, very good.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Counseling Seattle is the name of the group, and they’re very – they’re unhappy with people constantly asking to speak to either Frasier or Niles Crane.
SAGAL: They put out a statement that says: The Crane brothers are not positive role models for the profession. They are monumental egos. Carl, how did Charles Frazier do in our quiz?
KASELL: He had two correct answers, Peter, so he wins for Ellen Knight.
SAGAL: Well done.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
SAGAL: Charles Frazier, ladies and gentlemen, good round.
SAGAL: Charles Frazier is the keynote speaker at this year’s fundraiser for the Literacy Council of Bunkum County on August 23rd here in Asheville, North Carolina. Come on down. More information is at litcouncil.com. Charles Frazier, what a pleasure to talk to you and meet you.
FRAZIER: Thank you.
SAGAL: Thank you for being on our show. Charles Frazier, ladies and gentlemen.
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