Between this world and the next
Author Steve Toltz. Photo: David Morrison
Photo: Nigel Bluck
Here Goes Nothing

Between this world and the next

Novelist Steve Toltz is back with his third novel, Here Goes Nothing. The AJN spoke to the LA-based author about his journey to becoming a writer, his writing process and what inspires him.

Main image by Photo: Nigel Bluck

Steve Toltz’s first book, A Fraction of the Whole, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It’s a pretty incredible feat for a debut novel. It was described as “blisteringly funny” and was the start of his ‘trilogy of fear’.

With his most recent work, Here Goes Nothing, Toltz comments on the fear of the opinions of others. The story follows Angus Mooney who has never believed in the supernatural, until he is murdered, finding himself in the afterlife.

Here Goes Nothing is a love triangle that takes place between this world and the next. It’s a slap in the face to the atheist who thinks that death will be sweet relief of nothing, and to the religious type who thinks that death will be a very specific reward to them and their particular group,” Toltz told The AJN.

“It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what inspires any novel, but I knew I wanted it to be a third book in a very loose ‘fear’ trilogy.

“My first novel was ‘fear of death’, my second was ‘fear of suffering’ and when I began to write my third novel, a story that addresses the ‘fear of the opinions of other people’, it occurred to me while dreaming up the story, how it would be interesting to explore how durable these specific fears are – it wasn’t hard to imagine them extending beyond the grave.”

The story is narrated with ironic hindsight and is hilariously entertaining, as Angus discovers his murderer is seducing his wife, and a worldwide pandemic has reached the shores of Australia, which means the afterlife is about to become much more crowded.

For Toltz, even as a child, writing was always a form of creative expression, telling The Sydney Morning Herald that writing is the only anti-anxiety medication he has ever needed.

But that doesn’t make it easy for him to find time to write.

“Writing was always my default hobby as a child, and throughout my whole life I’ve taken a lot of pleasure in it. Writing little stories was my method of creative expression, and then in my twenties, finding myself with zero marketable skills, what else could I do but double down on the only one I had an aptitude for?” he said, explaining that novels take him quite a while to write, meaning he has to find other work to make ends meet.

Toltz has, in fact, had quite a few different jobs over the years, including cameraman, telemarketer, security guard, private investigator and English teacher before moving to Los Angeles to work as a screenwriter, with writing credits on major Hollywood productions such as No Activity and Guilty Party.

“The main obstacle to writing novels haven’t changed: they take me so long to write, I need to work in other fields to make ends meet, and that takes time away from the writing, which means the book takes longer to complete and therefore I need more work in other fields to support the writing I don’t have time to do,” he explained.

“Also, parenting is not exactly an obstacle, but puts time constraints on when I can get writing done.”

In a lovely nostalgic nod to times gone by, Toltz admits that he writes by hand in notebooks in two-hour blocks in various locations including the bed, couch, kitchen table and park, saying he tries to fit in as many blocks in one day as possible.

“Until recently, I then had to transcribe those notes in a long painstaking process of typing and trying to read my own handwriting,” he laughed. Now, AI does the job through dictation software.

So, what makes Here Goes Nothing unique? According to Toltz, every book is different from the book before.

“I suppose what makes Here Goes Nothing different is I’ve taken a swing at depicting the afterlife, whereas the other two books took place firmly in this world, albeit one that I created,” he said.

“I write in service of the specific story and also, I feel like stories are unconsciously shaped by the specific years and life circumstance that takes place when writing each book. What is similar is that I can’t avoid my own voice or style that is an expression of my own mind. The mind only goes through minor changes from year to year, no matter how much you play around with it.”

Toltz acknowledges that everyone takes something different from a book and has no idea how readers will react to Here Goes Nothing.

“Everything in life is better if you go in with low expectations. Such wise readers might be pleasantly surprised,” he said, before jokingly continuing, “Either way, thanks in advance for buying copies for everyone you know.”

Here Goes Nothing is published by Penguin Random House, $32.99 (rrp)


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