Ted III- Ted’s Revenge: Prokash Unchained
September 21, 2023
MM) A Club for Gentlemen strikes me as a deep pandemic novel, that is, it feels to have been written largely in the bleak, interminable isolation of lockdowns, like a glimmer of a ray of hope from the deep recesses of your imagination. It is capricious, digressive, and possibly your longest book? Tell the readers how it came about and what it’s about. In your words.
TP: It was written, for the most part, in 2020-2021, so I guess it was coincidentally a Covid novel. It wasn’t intended to be about anything that was going on with the pandemic, but it was probably influenced by the sudden strangeness of the times. Covid was the greatest time of my life. I had reduced hours at work (at full pay) and a built in excuse to avoid everyone. It was heaven. ACFG is the first book I wrote kind of in the proper way, hunkered down in the basement for hours at a time, how you picture a writer. As far as what it’s about…well you’ve succeeded in making the first question of the interview the one I hate more than anything on Earth! How about: man fails at love, fatherhood, is an alcoholic, recovers, relapses, has a sensual rebirth, yadda yadda, satirical western interlude, man ends up somehow winning!
MM) I’ve watched your band, Hue Blanc’s Joyless Ones, play almost as many times as I’ve watched you read, maybe more. This work is your Ulyssean foray, so to speak. It is possessed by a sustained lyricism, with subtle internal rhymes and lilting wordplay. Did it occur to you while writing that you were entering the arena of the polyvocal vernacular modernists? Why don’t you stay in your lane? Did the demarcation between your literary and musical brain dissolve?
TP: Songwriting and prose writing have always occupied the same place in my brain. There’s really no distinction for me, beyond which medium I’m working in. I don’t think I’ve written a song for 5 or 6 years though. HBJO is pretty much the greatest hits tour now–coming soon to a county fair or corn dog fest near you.
And very perceptive of you with the Ulysses comparison, calling me the modern-day Joyce and all. Spot on. I actually had just reread Ulysses as part of a failed group chat/book club thing started by SG Phillips, I think? And I liked the idea of each chapter of a novel being written in a different style. I didn’t stick to that exactly, but that original idea probably accounts for all the stylistic digressions.
As far as the “polyvocal vernacular modernists” go, I didn’t even know they had an arena. They should shop naming rights if they want to be taken seriously. They could still call it Polyvocal Vernacular Modernists Court at Aldi Foods Arena or whatever.
MM) One of our editors recently said something, and I’m paraphrasing, like sleaze is part of expat’s rubric. No one embodies this irreverence to good taste more than you. Going to go ahead and deem you the king of sleaze. I have to wonder if your veneer of the wholesome family man began to crumble during the writing of this book. To what degree, if any, do Freddo’s exploits mirror your own indulgence of vices as a self-insert apocryphal autofiction character?
TP: Wow, King of Sleaze is a noble title indeed. And I’ll take it. I’m just like that Sting song or that De Niro movie. But seriously, I don’t take the sexual content of this book lightly. It’s easy to write basic pornography, but hardly anybody can write the emotional side of sex or sexual desire in a way that isn’t cloying or embarrassing to read. I think it takes some level of honesty and craftsmanship. Like Henry Miller could write some King-Hell bitching pornography, but I’m not sure he ever approached emotional honesty in that realm. Or at least his honesty was one-dimensional. As for the last part of this question, I’ll take a pass. Goading the witness. Unprofessional line of questioning. Intentionally attempting to subvert the family ideal. Fascist tactic. Next.
MM) You are one of the most disciplined and active writers I know. By the time you finished and submitted this to me, I want to say it was about a year ago, you had already begun your next novel. Is there any end in sight, a respite from your fanciful extravagances and vulgar excesses that humanity should look forward to? All jokes aside, to what do you credit your indomitable creativity? What does it feel like to write like Ted Prokash? What thoughts occupy your subconscious as you drift into dreamland after a night of hard writing? People have openly wondered how your brain works.
TP: I write slowly. I form ideas slowly. Theoretically, if I finished one book and didn’t have an idea for another one I would stop. But so far there has always been some other idea percolating that’s ready to be explored by the time I finish the project at hand. I began reading at an early age and so I’ve been thinking in terms of narrative literally for as long as I can remember. I don’t think it’s something I could turn off. I think one key is not being too smart. Like I need to work my thoughts out over many pages and a long period of time. That’s why I struggle with the question “what is this book about?”. Like, it took me 80K words to figure that out for myself, I can’t put it into one sentence.
A lot of times when I’m going to sleep I think about baseball.
MM) This is your finest book. There’s a real poetry and abandon to it that your sense of control and precision feels like a gymnastic feat. One keeps waiting for you to drop the ball but you somehow pull the whole ridiculous thing off. It is quixotic, the commitment to bawdy tall tales and historical and mythic recasting of tropes. This is a profoundly unerotic age and most people don’t know the rock n’ roll you are referencing. And yet you throw your rube protagonist heedlessly into high romance and debauchery with a spirit from a more innocent time without losing any of your cranky cynical edge and sense of humor. Describe the fever that took hold of you while you put away some of your slimiest bars.
TP: Yeah, it’s all there like you laid it out. It’s rock n’ roll. It’s a jack off fever dream. Energy never just disappears…so like, when the cliché teenage rockstar fantasy collides with the working class american reality, that energy is shunted off somewhere. In some sense this book is an exploration of that dynamic–where that energy goes. And honestly, I’m aware of the time I live in, but not necessarily of it. I read about the Great Modern Malaise on the internet but I don’t get too intimate with it. Like, Dawson Wohler is into Warren Zevon. Gwen wrote a story about Aftermath. So there’s hope.
MM) What books were you reading and sublimating while writing this? I think there’s a definite spirit of recombination with respect to familiar literary DNA. Like, if you like this you’ll like this, sort of thing. There are comical and unironic digressions into sea shanties, frontier violence and, of course, Russia.
TP: Like we covered earlier, a rereading of Ulysses was an influence. Lonesome Dove, Blood Meridian, Moby Dick and Magic Mountain are all satirized or referenced pretty heavily in ACFG. I think I reread all of those while writing it. War & Peace. I tend to go back to things I really like. I’ve seen the Exorcist about 167 times, etc.
MM) I would like to know what you think of love. Dig it, hate it? It’s a perennial beating heart in literature, the theme, yet the world reflected in your books is accurate; materialistic, brutish, preoccupied with mainly survival and transient exhilaration and fleeting concupiscence. As society becomes less human, more eschatologically oriented, do you expect limerence and romantic themes to retain the same resonance? Or can we look forward to a grim future of dissociated wan little husks? These are tough questions, I know.
TP: These are hard questions–BIG questions. The biggest. By dumb luck or the grace of God I have love in my personal life and so it’s one thematic room I tread pretty lightly in. Some things are still sacred, maybe. Like if you look at it too much, one time it just won’t be there. I don’t know if the outlook for modern love is so grim, or if maybe it’s a stylistic phase. There have been some really good stories on the Expat site lately that paint a less than rosy picture, that’s for sure. I tend to doubt that any time period in human history is substantially unique. I honestly don’t know. Like I say, people that have found love tend to guard it jealously. I think love will always be a theme in literature, but then we don’t know what the literature of a period is until decades after the fact, anyway.
MM) I would say many of your books are for the white working class, or Trump country. Would you agree? (C’mon let’s sell some books here.) If not, who is this for? God? The word “cuck” appears five times.
TP: I maintain that every literate person of every race, creed, color and gender would enjoy this book. Trump himself would like it. God likes it or he wouldn’t have let me write it. Why do bad things happen to responsible, tax-paying citizens? Let’s not forget that cuckoldry was a main theme of Ulysses. And that James Joyce was a half-blind potato eater who sucked his old lady’s farts.
MM) Tell us about the novel you’re working on now.
TP: Gladly. It’s my Growth of the Soil. I’ve established a rhythm now of going from writing something free-flowing, playful in its language and imagery, to writing something with a very defined prose structure, something exacting in the fidelity of its narrative. It’s akin to the Motörhead fast song, slow song method. This next book is the story of Bohemian stock, flung far across the Atlantic and settled in the fertile land along the Mishigami. A simple people’s stoic march into the modern age. The maintenance of faith in a world that disdains it. Real fun stuff.
MM) Interestingly, you really lean full frontal into the self-mythologization autofiction thing here. It is a kind of world weary call to arms to assume the mantle of something greater, a war, or something, and references to real life political movements and subcultures makes it feel of the zeitgeist. It’s a novel that synthesizes the antiquated and the modern from a singularly Midwestern outsider perspective. You even reckon with New York. It is now, despite it being timeless and out-of-time and deeply Midwestern. Did the trendiness of autofiction subconsciously influence this more overt exercise? And more importantly, where does history end and now begin? Much of the book is very traditional, but aware that it’s being traditional, if that makes sense.
TP: It’s not all that much of a departure for me. Most of what I’ve written has been fictionalized versions of my own experiences, Nikolai Andreyevich being kind of the outlier. I do think in ACFG I let myself write in the modern milieu without trying to eschew modern signposts that I find distasteful. That’s an evolution maybe. I don’t know that I was influenced by modern autofiction, though. I feel like Hunger was autofiction, Down and Out in Paris and London, Henry Miller was autofiction, Hunter Thompson, etc. so I don’t see it as a new trend. And history doesn’t end–you carry it with you–in the now. To the extent that you acknowledge it.
MM) Please provide a comprehensive list of all the slant and direct allusions to music, movies, and other pop culture within the novel for SEO.
TP: Ha ha, very good! But let’s not take all the fun out it for the reader. If they’ve never seen The Dirty Dozen they’re beyond help anyway.
MM) Last but not least, here’s your chance to tell the world what you really think. You’ve been all around the country and scoured the biggest and littlest leagues for their cream of crop. I say this ultra-sincerely, I consider it an honor to publish a third book by you. You’re not the most reviled guy, most people like you, I think, but some certainly do not. What would you like to see more of in today’s indie lit?
TP: Most of all I’d just like to see Mather Schneider fucking relax, take a joke, maybe consider the possibility that no one is trying to fuck with him! Consider the possibility that I might be so disinterested in the “indie lit scene” that I forget who people are, how they fit in…that I’m confused…someone submitted a piece to Joyless House that was a handful of bible pages with words blacked out to form a dirty limerick. And I ran it. Proudly.
Most of all I just want us all to get along…Mather, Derrick, Zack Smith, Elizabeth Ellen…we’re all in this together. We’re all Wildcats. Together.