A dog barked down the street. The tree in front of my window was flooded with early-morning sunlight. The flow of life on our beautiful planet continued.
What is your earliest memory?
I was trying to climb up on the back of our car and it was slick with rain and I slipped and gashed my knee on the bumper. Bled like a son of a bitch. Still got the scar. Want to see it?
If you weren’t a novelist or screenwriter, what other profession would you choose?
Describe a typical work day.
Get up early, drink coffee, read the paper, take care of the pets. Write till midday. Exercise and take the dog for a walk. Spend the rest of the day reading, often for research on whatever I happen to be writing. Relax in the evening. Sleep at night. Get up early…
Is there a time you wish you’d lied?
These are cool questions. They make you think. Hmm. Yes, there are definitely times I wish I’d lied. Because the truth hurts, as they say. No point in hurting people unnecessarily.
What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at the age of thirteen?
You won’t always be fat. Someday a girl will like you back. You’re not as different from other people as you think you are. In fact, you’re exactly like them. You will find a place. You will be happy. Not all the time, but often.
If you could have only one album to get you through a breakup, what would it be?
Desperado by the Eagles, along with red-eye whiskey for the pain.
What are three websites–other than your email–that you check on a daily basis?
From what or whom do you derive your greatest inspiration?
I have a small blue transparent stone my niece Anna gave me years ago when she was a little girl. Every morning before I start working I pick up the stone and say: “Give me wisdom, courage, compassion, and serenity.” I’m not saying that to the stone, obviously. It’s just a way to focus my thoughts. I guess I’m talking to God, the Great Spirit, whatever you want to call Him/Her/It.
Name three books that have impacted your life.
I could name a lot, but here are three that I read in my late teens/early twenties when I was just beginning to figure out how to be a writer: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Masks of God by Joseph Campbell.
If you could live one moment over and over again, what would it be?
According to Nietzsche’s doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence, we relive every moment over and over again for all eternity, so there’s no point in choosing just one.
How are you six degrees from Kevin Bacon?
Hey, this is an easy one. I can knock this out of the park. Kevin Bacon is one of the stars of the movie I wrote with Billy Bob Thornton, Jayne Mansfield’s Car, which will be released in theaters one week from today.
What makes you feel most guilty?
I feel that I live in most respects a blessed life, but I look around me and see great suffering in the world. I do a little to alleviate it, but I ought to do a lot.
How do you incorporate the work of other artists into your own?
Your work comes out of everything you’ve experienced, all the books you’ve read, the movies you’ve seen, the songs you’ve heard.
Please explain the motivation/inspiration behind Jayne Mansfield’s Car.
First and foremost, Billy and I are storytellers, so we’re always trying to entertain the audience, to screw around with their emotions, to catch them off-guard, to make them cry and laugh and think and worry and wonder. As far as Jayne Mansfield’s Car in particular is concerned, we wanted to make a movie about the negative effects of war on two families, one from Alabama and one from England. As I write these words, our country is preparing to go to war yet again, in Syria this time. Our very calm, intelligent president is on TV explaining all the good and sensible and humane reasons why we should do so. Presidents always have their reasons. When will we wake up and realize that our country has become the most warlike nation on earth? When will we collectively say: “It has to stop”?
What is the best advice you’ve ever given to someone else?
Always question authority.
List your favorite in the following categories: Comedian, Musician, Author, Actor.
Comedians — The Three Stooges
Musicians — The Eagles
Author — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Actor — Jimmy Stewart
If you had complete creative license and an unlimited budget, what would your next project be?
The world is facing a crisis in perception. We’re mistaken about who we are and what our place on the planet is. We don’t understand that we’re just one species among many and we need to control ourselves or we’ll destroy ourselves and the earth will get along just fine without us. It would be great to write and produce a miniseries on cable TV that would somehow, in some all-encompassing way, deal with the planetary emergency we find ourselves in and would open our eyes to what needs to be done. A Manhattan Project to save the world! What fun! What drama!
What do you want to know?
There’s a very old prayer: “God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul.” I think there’s a God. I think I have a soul. I’d just like to know for sure.
What would you like your last words to be?
I like the last words of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. It was revealed that a few minutes before his recent death, he wrote to his wife in Latin: “Noli timere.” Don’t be afraid. And I hope my wife will be with me when my time comes, and that I’ll be able to tell her that I love her.
Please explain what will happen.
The dog will bark again. The tree in front of my window will shine in the sun. The flow of life on our beautiful planet will continue.
TOM EPPERSON is a native of Malvern, Arkansas. He received a B.A. in English from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and an M.A. in English from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, then headed west with his boyhood friend Billy Bob Thornton to pursue a career in show business. Epperson has co-written the scripts for One False Move, A Family Thing, The Gift, A Gun, a Car, a Blonde, and Jayne Mansfield’s Car. His book The Kind One was nominated for a 2009 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. He’s presently living in the Los Angeles area with his wife, Stefani, three pampered cats, and a frisky dog.
Jayne Mansfield’s Car features an ensemble cast that includes Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Billy Bob Thornton, Kevin Bacon, Robert Patrick, Ray Stevenson, Katherine LaNasa, Frances O’Connor, Shawnee Smith, Ron White, John Patrick Amedori, Marshall Allman, and Irma P. Hall. This story of fathers and sons, war and peace, and the turbulent time that changed America forever is set in a small Alabama town in 1969 as the death of a quirky clan’s long-estranged wife and mother brings together two very different families for the funeral. Filled with humor and drama, Jayne Mansfield’s Car offers a look at human foibles, searing memories and unshakeable family bonds.
* photo of Tom Epperson by Jilly Wendell
** film photos by Van Reddin