Mark Twain once said, “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter. ” If that’s the case, then Fay Jacobs must be a smart bomb. Jacobs is an award-winning author whose three novels, “As I Lay Frying: A Rehoboth Beach Memoir,” “Fried & True: Tales from Rehoboth Beach” and “For Frying Out Loud,” have delighted readers with tales about life, on and off the sandy beaches of Delaware.
PGN: Were you born a beach bum? FJ: No, I’m originally from Manhattan! I lived there through high school, then I moved to the D.C. area to attend school at American University. After college, I stayed in D.C. for the next 30 years doing journalism, newspaper work, theater and public relations before eventually moving to Rehoboth.
PGN: What did your folks do? FJ: My father was the art director at CBS and my mother worked for The Actors Fund of America.
PGN: So you come from a creative lineage. Did you get to go on set with your dad? FJ: I did. I’d get to go to rehearsals of productions like “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
PGN: Best celebrity encounter? FJ: I got to meet Rudolf Nureyev and watch him dance, and I got to meet Carol Burnett, who was one of my heroes.
PGN: And what was fun about your mother’s job? FJ: The biggest thing I remember was helping out with the Christmas fund. Every year around the holidays, they’d raise money for the Actor’s Home by passing a basket around the audience during all the Broadway shows. I got to be a basket passer, which allowed me to see all these wonderful Broadway shows for free. In 1966, I saw all 10 shows on Broadway including Angela Lansbury in “Mame,” which I saw 10 times! I got to meet her and hang out backstage. It was wonderful, and it came full circle when I got to sit and chat with her last December backstage at the Kennedy Center Honors.
PGN: Do you have any siblings? FJ: Yes, I have a sister who still lives in New York. She went to the High School of Music and Art and taught voice and piano for a while, but she’s really into cat rescue these days.
PGN: What were you like as a kid? FJ: Very theatrical. I acted when I was young and started writing funny stories when I was in high school. I followed that up with theater in college and then more writing. In the late ’70s, early ’80s, I started writing for the Washington Blade under an assumed name, which you had to do back then because I was doing PR and writing for straight publications as well. It was really hard, having to separate your life like that and try to write while you weren’t being honest about yourself. When I got the chance to move to Rehoboth in 1999 and be myself, it was really great, because I was able to integrate my life and my work for the first time.
PGN: What was your assumed name? FJ: Fran Kelsey: Kelsey was my mother’s maiden name and Fran was close to Fay.
PGN: When did you come out? FJ: Well, I’d been married and my husband and I split up. I was going to a therapist and she had another client who was gay. The woman offered to talk to me and take me around and show me the clubs, etc. It was very helpful. I came to the conclusion that, yes, I was gay, and almost immediately I met some wonderful friends.
PGN: Do you remember the feeling the first time you stepped into a lesbian bar? FJ: Oh my God, yes! It was Valentine’s Day 1980, a bar in D.C. called The Other Side. I walked in and thought, My God, how long has this been going on and I didn’t know about it? I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it. It was delightful.
PGN: How did the family respond to you coming out? FJ: I was about 30 when I came out and I had been miserable for so long, they were just happy I was happy.
PGN: And now you’ve written three books. FJ: Yes, the first was a collection of columns, “Letters from CAMP Rehoboth,” that I’d written from 1995-2003. The second book also featured my columns, but it was also about Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford, who started Naiad Press back in the ’70s [along with Barbara Grier and Donna McBride]. Fascinating women. They both lived in Rehoboth and at the time they were quite elderly and were looking for someone to take over their new company, A & M Books. Anyda had written 14 novels under the name Sarah Aldridge. I helped Anyda with her last books and, when they passed away, I inherited the business. [Laughs.] Basically, that meant that they left me boxes and boxes of books. Anyda’s books still sell on Amazon so I have to keep them organized. My latest book is called “For Frying Out Loud,” and I’ll be reading from it at Giovanni’s Room [March 12]. I love making people laugh, but I love to make them think too.
PGN: What was it like seeing your book in a bookstore for the first time? FJ: I have to admit, it was exciting. I took a picture of it on the shelf: It was right between Kate Clinton and Chelsea Handler. That was a good day for me.
PGN: How did you meet Anyda and Muriel? FJ: They were well known in Rehoboth for having Saturday-night salons on their front porch. They’d have all sorts of people there — gay, straight, young and old. My editor at Letters from CAMP took me to one of them. We became fast friends.
PGN: How long were they together? FJ: Fifty-seven years. I think the key to their longevity was friendship and good scotch!
PGN: And how long have you been with your partner? FJ: Bonnie and I have been together for 28 years, 29 end of this month. Opposites attract. She’s a retired dental lab owner, I’m a writer; she’s from Baltimore, I’m from New York. Two different worlds, but it works.
PGN: About your writing, is CAMP Rehoboth an actual place? FJ: Yes, it’s a community center in the center of downtown. It’s an acronym for Creating A More Positive environment. It’s a gay and lesbian center that was started in the ’90s to combat homophobia in Rehoboth. I’m now on the board of directors. It’s a wonderful organization.
PGN: Do you read new manuscripts? FJ: Well, I’m not what you call a big-time publisher; I think we publish one book a year. My warehouse is my garage, my spouse is my manager and the dog is security. I did find a novel that I thought fit the mold and principles of the company, which is and was to give women a voice: It’s called “The Carousel” by a writer named Stefani Deoul and I’m happy to say that it’s doing very well.
PGN: Why is Rehoboth better than the Jersey Shore? FJ: Oh, you’re gonna get me in trouble! When I moved to Rehoboth, it took me a while to recognize that I lived in Delaware. It’s unusual here: It’s so open and gay-friendly. There are all sorts of great shops and restaurants that are all gay-owned or gay-friendly. We’re totally integrated into the society, which is how it should be.
PGN: Random question: What was your craziest moment on stage? FJ: Well, I was a horrible actress, I really was. I did a Chekhov play once and a reviewer said, “She plays Chekhov like Zasu Pitts.” I don’t know if you know who that is, but she was known for flighty, wacky characters.
PGN: What’s a farm chore you would not want to do? FJ: I’m from Manhattan. I would not want to do anything that involved mucking anything.
PGN: Were you more likely to own a lava lamp or make fun of someone who did? FJ: This is embarrassing, I owned a lava lamp.
PGN: How many hours would you spend staring at it? FJ: That depends on the controlled substances involved. Just kidding!
PGN: Your idea of misery? FJ: Not being able to come up with an idea for a column! Or not being able to be with my friends, that’s probably first.
PGN: I hear you’re hooked on your big-screen TV ... FJ: Yeah. We bought a TV that was too big to get in the car in the box — which should have been the first sign of trouble — but we forged ahead. It takes up half the room and I swear it didn’t look nearly as big in the warehouse-sized store. I love TV, but I think high definition is the cause of too much cosmetic surgery in Hollywood.
PGN: You’re in Rehoboth, what’s the worst sunburn or the tightest Speedo you’ve witnessed? FJ: I’ve seen both at Poodle Beach! Of course, the tightest Speedos are on the people who shouldn’t be wearing them in the first place. The worst sunburn was a woman who took off her top and fell asleep. It wasn’t me, by the way.
PGN: What’s a great summer day in Rehoboth? FJ: There’s a girls’ beach at State Park, mostly women but men are welcome as well, and they even have a part where you can take your dogs. Then there’s Poodle Beach, which is mostly men and where they have the drag volleyball competition each year. The teams are incredibly good at both drag and volleyball. That’s a lot of fun.
PGN: One of your favorite trips? FJ: We’re really into RV camping now. The dogs love it too. We went to Maine and Nova Scotia last year and we’re about to go to Ashville, N.C., for a book signing. In June, there’s a group called RVing Women that’s having an RV rally in Lancaster that we’re going to. That should be a good column!
PGN: What modern-day “convenience” do you consider a pain in the neck? FJ: I love my smart phone and my computer, but I hate all the attachments and adapters that come along with using them. Any time you go to do anything, you have to go through wires and connectors that look like spaghetti. When I walk around with all that stuff attached, I look like a suicide bomber.
PGN: What’s the biggest conversation piece in your house? FJ: I have the actual street sign from West 54th Street where I grew up in Manhattan. My mother got it for me when they took them down and replaced them with those god-awful green and yellow signs.
PGN: Any hobbies? FJ: I like to take photographs. If you see someone who looks like me and they don’t have a camera in their hands, it’s not me. I carry it everywhere I go. One of the best photos I got was driving in a cab in New York. We went past the library with those majestic lions in front and the sun was perfectly aligned behind them. I yelled for the driver to stop and I jumped out and snapped a picture. Photographers wait hours on their bellies to get such perfect lighting and I just happened upon it. It was serendipitous.
PGN: And I understand you had a boat. FJ: Oh yeah, no more, but we used to take it out a lot. We had a 27-foot motorboat that we’d take from Rehoboth to Cape May, turn left and motor up to Manhattan and then on to Fire Island.
PGN: What was the biggest scare on the water? FJ: It was just the two of us and we were completely surrounded by fog — couldn’t see a thing. And in the darkness, we heard the horn of a big boat. We couldn’t see where they were, but fortunately they had radar and they could tell where we were so they didn’t run us over. It was scary — though not as scary as the time we forgot the key to the liquor cabinet!
PGN: Tell me something special about Bonnie. FJ: She’s the dog whisperer. She’s really great with them. I’m more like a pack member and she’s the alpha.
PGN: Have you ever committed a crime? FJ: I’m currently an outlaw. In the State of Delaware, it’s illegal to conduct and/or recognize same-sex marriage. But not only that, anybody who resides in the state and goes someplace else — we went to Canada — to tie the same-sex knot may be subject to jail when they get home. It’s on the books: You can be subject to a $100 fine or 30 days in the slammer if you don’t pay. I wish they’d try it: I’d do the time before I paid up.
PGN: What’s a favorite reaction to your book? FJ: One woman told me it was banished from her bedroom because her laughter kept waking up her girlfriend.
You can catch Jacobs at 5:30-7 p.m. March 12 at Giovanni’s Room, 345 S. 12th St.