Another Year, Another Interview with Ted Prokash
December 11, 2020
MM) So you wrote a provincial period novel set in Tsarist Russia. You are something of a history buff, a Dostoevksky scholar/enthusiast. Still, you’ve lived in Wisconsin your whole life. And still, you’ve traveled more than me thanks to your various musical pursuits. Why and/or how did you start writing in Tsarist Russia?
TP) Ha ha ha. First question and already I laugh deeply from my belly.
First off, I ain’t no scholar of nothin. I’m not even college educated. The Russians just do it for me, I guess. I never got heavily into reading fantasy or science fiction. History was the “other world” I was able to immerse myself in. My parents were old, so I was fed a lot of Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Gone With the Wind, Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate, shit like that. So I’ve always felt a bit out of step with the times. It’s part of my charm.
MM) You’re kind of our dark horse if you will, grandfathered in from last season. Our press is riding a crest of momentum right now. Aren’t you worried something niche and unapproachable like this might derail our success?
TP) Wouldn’t that be a shame? Just when things start getting fun, here comes Expat’s square Uncle Ted with his pocket protector and his fussy historical fiction to knock the ever-so hip edge off of this queer art gang or whatever it is you’re running. Well consider this: maybe things like a discernible plot and proper grammar are just the sort of things these kids you run with should be approaching. Not just paraphilic sex all the time.
MM) Some might say the book is filled with tortured, turgid descriptions of squalor and debauchery. Will a reader know how depraved you are reading this?
TP) Turgid is a sweet word. A word you’d say in a Boris Karloff voice. Tur-gid.
MM) You’ve described this as Dostoevsky fan fiction. It’s very self-deprecating of you, this clearly a Ted Prokash novel. Recognizable as you. You’re in there. What’s your take on autofiction?
TP) autofiction < autoerotic asphyxiation
MM) Do you see any parallels between the time of the czars and now? Would you say there is a whiff of uprising in the air? Would Wisconsin be able to overthrow the Tsars?
TP) I think there are parallels. The political class in America essentially subsists on the patronage of a small, dynastic cabal of the super-rich, which would loosely equate to the nobility of 19th-century Russia’s reliance on the Romanovs. You have a general cynicism about the efficacy of governance. The country is wildy stratified. I don’t know just how rife America is for revolt, but then the action in Nikolai Andreyevich takes place some 45 years before they killed the tsar, so…
As far as Wisconsin’s role in the revolution, hell yes. Mostly German, Belgian, Polish, Czech descent here, so we’ll be first in line to get behind some fucking madman once the writing is on the wall.
MM) The Russian character and philosophy of Russian literature is very distinct. Perhaps a combination of the cold weather and remoteness, and the political upheaval/anomie. What are some of your favorite Russian works you sublimated?
TP) Demons (or The Possessed) by Dostoyevsky was probably the main influence for this book, but I’ve plowed through most major works of the 19th century Russian canon. The funny thing is, more than anything by Fyodor, NA resembles Dead Souls, stylistically. And I didn’t read Dead Souls until AFTER writing this book. Ha ha, isn’t that funny? This is an awesome interview.
MM) Some of this feels gleefully a little throwback, like you’re paying ode to the good old days, if you know what I mean. Are you saying we were once better off ruled by a monarchy than unraveling in revolution? Are you reactionary or communist? Some of this is chauvinistic. Is that just the way the times were, or….what are you trying to say? That females should be dowry to be courted by suitors and such? What social norms and mores should we bring back?
TP) I will try to answer this multifaceted question as completely as I can. First off, I don’t know what you are talking about. I’m not engaging in any wink & nod misogyny here. And I’m not SAYING anything. I’m creating a world, man. You judge for yourself if you’d rather live in provincial Russia circa 1872 (or thereabouts) in this city that’s never named (Napawaupski?) rather than in red Moscow or our own fucking ruined orgasm of an era. Lick the tsar’s boots for a taste of the good life or throw in with a bunch of murderous thugs with the fire of glory in their eyes? You decide. All I’m saying is fucking Bernie, dude. Fucking Bernie. Fuck Sleepy-ass Joe, Joe the main Hoe, fuck Trump, fuck Kamalamma, fucking Bernie, dude. That’s all I’m saying. Bernie, Brezhnev or bust.
MM) For much of the novel, other than the names of people and places, it’s not really any different from any novel of yours except it’s in antiquity. Does escapism figure into it at all? I just wanna know why it’s in Russia but written in English by an American. And I wanna know, what is your signature? You write really well, I’ll give you that. So, are you like Tarantino now? Writing historical novels?
TP) (Deep sigh) All art is escapism. It’s in Russian by an idiot buying American, cuz if it was just set in Napawaupee again it would be boring for me. My signature is completely illegible yet instantly recognizable. I am like Tarantino, now & forever. And don’t worry, my next novel is completely POMO. Total Pynchon trip. (seriously)
MM) Is there love in misogyny?
TP) I don’t know, but Misogynists in Love would be a good name for a band. Or a movie.
MM) How has playing punk music influenced your writing? How’s Casey? How is Hue Blanc’s Joyless Ones active during the pandemic? What do you get out of your irregular, always main event-like Joyless House, with its smorgasboard of interviews and some of the most enjoyable review websites (I literally send you other people’s books to review)? What’s your bottom line?
TP) I honestly don’t think it has. Casey is recovering nicely from his near-death bee sting experience in which he broke his leg thrashing about, gasping for air. He is a slapstick comedian. HBJO has been dormant in respect to the virus and our own advanced age. Joyless House keeps me connected, man. It keeps me ultra-relevant, baby. It is on the tip. It is another bill that donkey punches my checking account at random intervals and makes me feel stupid. I am fucking hot on this trip. I am living my best life. And that’s the bottom line, because what’s his name in the bikini briefs and leather vest says so.
MM) You’re one of the most productive writers and avid readers I know. Your discipline never skips a beat. You are always reading and writing. So, what are you working on next?
TP) My mom always told me, if you get a compliment just take it, smile and say ‘thank you.’ Actually, my mom never said that, she was too busy pushing Nero Wolfe novels on me, but I picked it up somewhere. What am I working on next? I already touched on that. I’m working feverishly on the next post-POMO po person’s classic: Boingers! A Club for Gentlemen. If Nikolai Andreyevich is ‘unapproachable,’ as you so ruthlessly dubbed it, then Boingers! is unavoidable. It will molest you in a dark corner of the bar you still secretly go to during Covid.