A man who once terrorized the administration of Florida State University is returning to his old stomping grounds. Novelist Paul McHugh will speak before an English class at his alma mater on Friday (10/27) and give a dramatic reading of his latest work the following day at Midtown Reader.
Back in the late 60s and early 70s, Paul McHugh was among the radical fringe of students at F.S.U. He edited the student magazine, until then-University President Stanley Marshall shut it down to divert its funding to repainting Doak Campbell Stadium. And McHugh was also affiliated with the infamous Florida Flambeau when it pulled the legendary prank on the Independent Florida Alligator. It was the eve of the FSU/Florida game. The Flambeau staff produced a bogus look-alike edition of the Alligator that savaged U of F and its football team, then made a midnight newspaper run to Gainesville.
“And they followed the distributor around to the paper drop-off points, grabbed all of the ‘Gators, replaced it with their phony ‘Gator, so in the morning of the big game, the students were picking up the ‘Gator and then reading all of this mockery. It was a tremendous coup!” McHugh recalled with obvious glee.
This was what became known as the “Woodstock Era” and McHugh remembered there was:
“A certain amount of consumption of illicit substances. And some of that was ‘Tallahassee Two-Toke’, which was our pretty famous vegetative product that was pretty readily available. But the other thing that we figured out was that there were psilocybin mushrooms popping up all over the cow pastures around down. And we’d also dig up sassafras roots and we’d make a root/fungus tea sweetened with wild honey.”
It was under the influence of such a concoction McHugh said that he took on the dare of taking the plunge into Big Dismal Sink south of town. The dive took place from a rope strung high above the sink. It was whilst swinging from said rope that McHugh, despite his altered state, realized that his moment of release had to be perfectly timed to avoid injury or possible death.
“So I did that from the extreme height, the highest you can be and make it into Big Dismal Sink and luckily I didn’t hit any of the logs in the water. I can tell you I went very, very, very deep and then swam back up to the surface and climbed out and called it a day,” he laughed. After college, McHugh moved on to a professional writing career. And it seemed his innate sense of derring-do also lent a real authenticity to his craft.
“Because I was an outdoors writer and because I was an adventurer, I have had many high-risk episodes where there was physical danger and I had to use my adrenalized body and mind to figure it out quick and get out of a jam. And that becomes quite a useful background to have when you’re writing a thriller and you have scenes of combat and danger.”
Of which there are an abundance in McHugh’s latest work, “The Blind Pool.” There are the good guys, two men with links to U.S. intelligence along with their lady friends who are every bit as resourceful and combative in their own right. And then there’s the baddest guy in the book; a Russian oligarch with a mind of his own.
“One of the things that has interested me about the way the Soviet Union fell apart and the way it’s regrouped as Putin’s oligarchic mob is there’s been this growth in what you might call ‘rogue oligarchs’ not only from Russia but from other areas (like) China that have tremendous wealth but try to operate beyond any national constraint.”
Now McHugh is returning to the scene of his college day misbehaviors.
“I’m feeling a lot of glee and happiness about coming back to Tallahassee because I had such remarkable experiences there. I intend to walk around campus; I know some parts of the buildings will be the same. I’m going to do a presentation to a non-fiction English writing class. That’ll be a hoot!”
On Saturday, McHugh will present excerpts from “The Blind Pool” at Midtown Reader.
“I try to make the reading very dynamic and I like to do the voices of my characters. ‘The Blind Pool’ is a thriller; it’s got some grim parts but it’s got some humorous parts, so I want to bring that into it as well.”
Saturday’s reading gets underway at 5:30 p.m.