Paul A. Toth has been a staple of the online lit community for years. His writing is witty but relevant, whimsical but with a fierce, firey current gnashing through underneath.
Says Felicia Sullivan, editor-in-chief of small.spiral.notebook, “Paul A. Toth is a unique, startling new voice in American literature. Part Bukowski, part Hemingway, part Freud.”
Toth’s new novel Fizz tells the story of Ray Pulaski, a.k.a. Ray Style. A man with no real personality of his own, Style reinvents himself as a rock star and neighborhood gigolo… only the neighborhood isn’t buying his story. Soon Ray sets off across the country in search of the reasons for his derangement, but neither Ray Style nor another new personality, consumate gentleman Ray Proper, are about to give up the fight for Ray’s soul. Can Ray put his jigsaw puzzle of a life together?
RRM: What Ray do you most resemble? Are you crazy? If so, what percentage?
PT: Ray Proper on the outside and Ray Style on the inside. Like most people. Fizz is a book for everyone. It will cure their need for therapy.
Crazy? No. Maladapted? One hundred percent. I’m just another monkey scratching his head, picking up bones and getting bad ideas.
RRM: How’d you get involved with Bleak House Books? What can you tell us about them?
PT: I found Bleak House looking for an independent publisher after the ones dependent on making large profits passed. BH handles a variety of mystery and offbeat literary fiction. They’ve just begun a relationship with a new distributor. It’s a good company, working hard.
RRM: Describe the Michigan literary scene – are there good venues for reading, etc.?
PT: Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor is the best for readings. They take good care of you. Otherwise, I’m not really part of the scene, if there is one. I’ve done most of my readings out of state. I have a few writer pals I will not embarrass/implicate by mentioning, but otherwise we all know writers just want to talk about themselves. I hate that. As you can see.
RRM: In your estimation, what are the pros and cons of being a Midwest writer as opposed, say, to being a New York writer?
PT: Those who thrive on overstimulation do better in NY, while those who thrive on stultifying boredom do better in the Midwest. Also, NY doesn’t like me. Not to be paranoid, but last time I was there, they had a blackout. Now, I’m not claiming this was specifically intended to inconvenience me, but I’m looking into it.
RRM: Been to Flint, MI much? Is it portrayed fairly in Roger and Me? Have you ever actually seen a woman kill rabbits in her backyard for sustenance?
PT: I almost live in Flint, right on the outskirts. I avoid saying so to escape questions about Michael Moore and Roger & Me. The portrayal is probably too flattering. But I’ve never seen anyone kill a rabbit. However, I am vaguely acquainted with that person’s son.
RRM: So what are your professional aspirations for being a writer- where would you like to be in the literary landscape to feel satisfied?
PT: I used to say a cult audience was my goal. On the other hand, I went to see an Adrian Belew show once, and my wife claimed every guy in the audience looked like me. So scratch that. Nor would I want people showing up at readings dressed like my characters. I would shoot them. A small but loyal audience that grows in a cancerous way would be perfect.
RRM: How do you typically spend your evenings? How would you like to spend them?
PT: Usually, my brain is shot from reading, writing, typing, editing, etc., so I watch the worst junk, like Cops. Actually, I take that back; Cops isn’t junk but a sociological revelation of America’s underpotbelly. They should show Cops to immigrants: “Sure you want to move here? Because that’s probably going to be your neighborhood.” I’m also a political junky, especially during crises and scandals. Finally, I enjoy Curb Your Enthusiasm and Frontline. I like to laugh, cry, then go to bed utterly confused.
How would I like to spend my evenings? Scientists should begin working on a harmless, non-addictive narcotic. We should start a Manhattan Project to reach that goal within ten years.
RRM: With Fizz did you experience any post-publication remorse such as: shit, I wish I could go back and change this and this and this? If so, what would you change?
PT: At the time, an editor insisted I standardize my purposefully nonstandard punctuation, and I knew doing so would alter the narration by breaking its manic flow. Lacking all but a shred of integrity, I eventually succumbed to this request. Subsequently, her replacement decided the original version was better, but I had accidentally deleted it. This tragic mishap will haunt the world worse than Hemingway’s lost suitcase.
RRM: Done much traveling? Where are the prettiest women?
PT: Canada. However, I do notice in Montreal a certain prevalence of people who literally do not have asses. Is that a French thing?
RRM: Are you comfortable showing your work to family members and other people who actually know you but are not quite friends?
PT: Only when I’m finished, but it’s a waste of time. They either immediately say they like it or pause and say they like it. The pause means they didn’t like it. That pause is the equivalent of the one which occurs when you ask someone who doesn’t love you anymore whether they still love you. They just want to be friends…ones who don’t have to read your work.
RRM: So what’s the deal with the movie based on the first chapter of Fizz? How’d this come to pass and how can we see it?
PT: You can’t see it because it’s not showing anywhere, but I’ll post any showings on my site www.netpt.tv. However, right now you can see a new short film based on a story and script I wrote by going to www.triggerstreet.com, registering (free), then searching for “Knotted” using the “Short Films” button. Please do not leave hurtful reviews. We are here on this earth to love each other.
Fizz was the result of posting a script (based on the first chapter) at Zoetrope.com. It was a chance occurrence that John Tissavary, a technical effects specialist who works on mainstream films, was looking to direct something and found the script. We tried to get it into the first Flint Film Festival — yes, even the idea is funny — but they passed. I can hear the committee: “This guy thinks he’s a gonna come in here with some bigshot director from Hollyweird and bowl us over? To hell with that.” They also passed on inviting Michael Moore…because he “seeks publicity.” Shouldn’t an inaugural film festival committee WANT publicity? But that’s Flint for you, a town full of envy, spite and wishful thinking. A few years ago, people here actually went to a football stadium and prayed for the future of the city. I wonder if any of them have become atheists?
RRM: What kind of footwear do you tend to wear and why?
PT: Sandals in the summer because I have pretty feet. Hiking shoes in the winter because I have to hike all of fifteen yards to the mailbox and otherwise never leave the house. Wingtips for special occasions.
RRM: You’re a death row inmate (and guilty as all hell) – after decades of legal proceedings you are going to be put down. What’s your last meal? What do you say to the chaplain?
PT: Last meal: Sushi, steak, Ben & Jerry’s…if I was hungry. Is one really hungry before an execution? Wouldn’t a final conjugal visit be more humanitarian? To the chaplain: “Nice try, pitching that wafer in the corner, but I’m not falling for that one again.”
About the author:
Ryan Robert Mullen is the author of Naughty, Sweet Boy (Word Riot Press) and a columnist at Get Underground. He maintains a website at ryanrobertmullen.net. His previous interview subjects include Steve Almond, Neal Pollack and Zoe Trope.