Interview with Ted Prokash
May 31, 2018
You are a veteran writer returning to the namesake of your second novel’s setting for some unfinished narrative business. What is it about Napawaupee? What does it mean to you? Why this story now? Is there any place worse than jail/prison?
The town of Napawaupee is more or less incidental in the case of the new book. The real setting of import is the jail, the Huber cell. Though in the chapters set in the past, future or otherwise outside of the jail, I guess it’s important that we are in a small midwestern town – flyover country, as it were. (open finger quotes) Napawaupee (close finger quotes) is the only place I’ve ever lived for an extended period of time, so I guess it’s the only place I feel qualified to write as home. Though maybe at this point I’ve said all there is to say about a city of 3,000 people where my alderman is a dude who used to do whippets with my little sister in my parents’ basement.
Why this story now? I’ll tell you. I was writing something pretty involved, a period novel, and I was getting into that terrible no-man’s-land point in the manuscript where you start to fear you may have just wasted a year on some heinous bullshit that no one in their right mind would ever want to read. You know that place, Manny. At this same time, I also happened to be reading contemporary authors, literally for the first time in my life and I was inspired by the directness, the looseness and the comedic possibilities of some of this stuff. …I’m hesitant to drop his name, ’cause I feel like the guy’s been getting his dick sucked so hard lately that he’s got to be seven kinds of chaffed… but yes, I was inspired by reading Sam Pink. I thought to myself, why the fuck am I trying so hard?! Just write the funniest thing you know. So, naturally, I started retelling the stories of the subnormals I lived with in county jail back in the day. (Sam did the artwork for Napawaupee Blues, by the way. You know that, but the reader, perhaps, does not. And to be clear, I think he’s earned all the figurative hum jobs he can handle.)
As far as there being anywhere worse than jail/prison: I don’t know anything about prison. There are certainly worse places than the Napawaupee County slam. The thing I was struck most by in jail was how much it was like high school. Or maybe junior high. I don’t think Napawaupee County is much relatable to Miami-Dade, is what I’m trying to say.
You write about the underlying fraternity of men in bondage. In A Fool for Lesser Things, it was a mere short-term trip/circumstance. In The Brothers Connolly, it’s growing up in a small town. In Journey to the Center of the Dream, it’s a touring band. Now in Napawaupee County Blues, it’s Huber cell. Why do you think humans bound by a single-minded hapless endeavor, or jail sentence, or term of drudgery, band together? It seems to come natural to you with writing, where you are sort of a social nexus. Is loneliness so terrible? Is it more important when there is collective hardship?
I really don’t appreciate what you’re implying here with the whole “male bondage” question. I think I’ll go ahead and not take the bait on that one, thank you very much.
But, yes, I think anyone whose going to take the time to write a novel has to have a solitary streak in them and I’m certainly on that wave. I’ve always been most comfortable with the company of my own thoughts. I see social interaction as like coming in for food; it’s good and necessary, but there’s a limit to how much I can take. I guess my whole point in writing is to reconcile my place in this world full of others. So it follows that I would write about touring with the band and being in jail because those are situations where you are quite literally never left alone. I’ve never been to war or I surely would have written a book about that. There were times on tour when I would think, “we have two days left?” and I honestly couldn’t conceive of making it through two more days. It didn’t seem possible. Maybe that’s the bondage you speak of; being inextricably linked to your fellow man, like it or not. Pretty fruity fucking deal if you ask me. Which you did.
You’re a small town elder statesman, a community leader if you will, but you’ve traveled far and wide. I know you don’t own a cellular phone. How has the internet facilitated, informed, annoyed you on your travels? And how has it, in your view, affected the landscape of literature?
I see now that you’re trying to bait me with these questions, Manny. Elder statesman? Am I “old”? A hick? A small-town rube? Is it “funny” that I don’t own a cellular telephone? Do you see me as an object of pity and ridicule? Jesus, I am trying to maintain my professionalism here. With all the balls in my scrotum, I’m trying.
But yeah, the future present: what a trip. Like anything, I think it’s about being selective. I don’t want to be bothered all the time, so I don’t carry a phone. I find facebook annoying, so I rarely log on. But all the cool people I’ve connected with in literature I found via twitter. We navigated our Florida book tour with my friend Casey’s cell phone. Though I was prepared to do it with a State Farm road atlas. So I definitely reap the benefits of technology; I’m not a hardcore ascetic.
As far as how the internet has changed literature, I’m not sure yet. It’s a good question. I think it’s facilitated a scene that’s generally younger, more current; with an artistic style that’s more immediate. You’ll notice I used a lot of buzzwords there that may or may not be completely meaningless. That’s because I don’t know the answer to your question. I think it will take 10 or 20 years before we know what all the current internet-based writing and easy self and indie publishing amounts to. It might be seen as something that happened completely outside of/apart from traditional literature. Or it might end up killing literature in a popular sense. That’s a possibility.
Tell us about what you’re working on now.
I’m writing a novel set in pre-revolutionary Russia. It involves a love triangle and a lot of provincial political intrigue. It’s basically Dostoyevsky fan fiction. I figured since I’m always running my mouth about what a hard-on I have for Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and Pushkin, et al, that I should just get on with it and just write my damn paean. I’d liken it to the albums once popular rock bands make when they get old; the music they always really wanted to make and that nobody will ever listen to. It’s going to be great.
What kinds of literature, art, or lived experience informs your writing the most these days?
Let me tell you a story about that, Manuel. A couple weeks ago, my father-in-law, who is this kind of human santa claus figure, picked up a pool table that someone had left out on their curb and dropped it at our house. It just so happens that I’ve always wanted a pool table. It’s not a full-size rig; it’s a 6-footer, but it’s in great shape; level, the rails are true, etc. I keep it in the garage. As the rot and filth are steadily having our shitty ranch home, I’ve come to view the garage as my last bastion of decent living. I have a boom box out there with a tape deck and AM/FM radio. I only have so many good tapes, so most nights I find myself listening to the radio – 96.7 WBDK “relaxing music for Door and Napawaupee Counties”. They play a tolerable mix of 60s hits, mellow 70s, & 80s dance. But mostly they play local commercials. I am not lying, kidding or otherwise exaggerating when I say that more than anyone else’s crap art, my writing is informed by shooting pool late into the night, puffing ill-gotten cuban cigars and enjoying my umpteenth listening to a local resort owner slurring, almost incomprehensibly, “Thith iz Jimmy Watterth down at Shhhudawarzzth Dock. Cum on down. You’ll get hooked.” Really, the local flavor around here is pungent enough for a million mind trips.