(Reposted from THE COLLIDESCOPE with permission from George Salis)
George Salis: What was the impetus for your upcoming novel Cynicism Management?
Bori Praper: Actually, the novel is not new–it just took more than ten years for a serious publisher to even consider it. In fact, it’s been eleven years since the birth of Cynicism Management–I mean the novel as well as the band. I don’t have any fancy origin myths to tell, though. I remember sitting in my home studio tinkering away at some piece of music for no good reason until I happened to think: well, some bands live in cartoons, but ours will live in a book. That’s how this particular scheme was hatched.
You see, not long before that, our relocation to another city had forced me and my wife Monika (the voice of Cynicism Management) to disband our previous band. Neither of us wanted to form another one. However, I couldn’t–and wouldn’t–turn off the music, so it kept coming. Reluctant to chuck anything in the bin and regret it later, I kept recording the basic sketches as they’d pop into my head. Naturally, the unfinished drafts soon piled up. Then the pile started nagging at me until I finally figured: why not just make a fake band and have all the pleasure and fun with it and none of the obligatory pain. Everyone was doing it by then, thanks to all the handy new technologies, so that was far from original. What might have been a bit original, though, was that since neither Monika nor I happened to be conveniently proficient at shooting videos, making animations, drawing cartoons, or creating anything visual to represent our ‘band,’ I decided to write about it. Everything else–the plot, the characters, the novel’s genre or the relative lack of it, all the real music eventually created in this context, the live band members and the actual concerts, even the very decision that whatever I was writing might become a novel at all–all of that came later.
To sum up this drivel of mine: I’d say that at least initially, the driving force behind the novel was the urge to have lots of drunken fun and record devious rock ‘n’ roll ditties in odd time signatures. At least for a while, the novel served as a vessel to contain this urge, but then the literary aspect took precedence and became much more serious than initially envisioned. Gradually, the whole thing attained a life of its own, as such things will, until it became something I no longer fully understood, which is precisely what I love best: I can now look back on it and think, hell, I have absolutely no idea how we’ve managed to pull this one off.
GS: Considering you’re in a band called Cynicism Management and your book is of the same name featuring such a band, do you think the boundaries between fiction and reality are porous?
BP: I like to think that they are. That’s why I like to poke holes in them if I possible. But then again, don’t we all? I mean, every idea is fiction until it isn’t, and when all is said and done, what’s real about any life apart from its carbon footprint?
In case of Cynicism Management, the band started out with disembodied members, and Monika and I recorded the first outlines of ‘their’ songs ‘in their stead,’ so to speak. Real people joined the effort, and in time we even formed a live line-up, contrary to our original intentions and better judgement. We had quite a few gigs around Slovenia. Then Monika and I moved again. The live band dissolved and, as the focus finally shifted, its music ended up supporting the book rather than the other way around. Currently, we are once again a studio-based group with only two tangible members apart from me: Monika Fritz on vocals and my cousin Jure Praper, an accomplished Slovenian jazz/fusion guitarist. Long-distance work of this sort is no longer a problem nowadays.
By now, the band–I consider both of its manifestations, corporeal as well as incorporeal, as two sides of a very ‘real’ coin–has released several albums and continues to make music. Its fictional members have appeared in two novels, and I’m currently working on the third. The one we are presently discussing–my literary debut–contains references to the first album and a few other tunes, recorded specifically as a ‘soundtrack’ for the story. However, the music is in no way necessary for following the plot, so you will miss nothing if you cannot or will not listen to it.
After more than ten years of toying with this concept, I like how the characters from my novels can, especially through music, leave evidence of themselves online and so on. One of them–Ray Kosmick, the uncouth brute–is a particularly relentless example. He even has his own music albums by now. These things can then serve as ‘Easter eggs’ for the potential readers to find, should anyone bother to check. The internet can be about as much fun as it can be obnoxious. Too bad I have barely any time for the fascinating lives of my characters.
GS: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” In the context of the rock and roll that is written about in your novel, what do you make of this quote by Elvis Costello? Does actually being a musician help you write about music?
BP: Oh, I’ve seen people dance about things far worse than architecture. You see everything if you make music for contemporary dance theatre for a few years. But, to answer your question: maybe being a musician doesn’t help me write about music per se, but it definitely helps me write about musicians.
The novel does indeed touch upon the subject of music, I suppose: I’m pretty sure that there’s some whining and wringing of hands in it about how it has all gone down the drain. Which it has, in many ways…. But, of course, that’s especially been the case since–as Finnegan Frotz, the protagonist of the novel and bandleader of the incorporeal version of Cynicism Management would put it–“our hair’s started to recede down our spines.”
However, meditating on the myriad mysteries of music is by no means the focus of the novel. Instead, I am far more interested in musicians: the deranged, insufferable people that they–I mean we–are.
GS: What bands have influenced your music and have they also influenced your writing? Do you listen to music as you write?
BP: My musical influences are far too many and too diverse to list. I wouldn’t want to bore anyone to tears. Musicians and their works have influenced my writing in the sense that some of them are mentioned in the novel (in contexts that I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t mind). Music is also an integral part–albeit an optional one–of the story, so it has undoubtedly been an influence in that sense. Other than that–in some more philosophical or even “synesthetic” manner, if that’s what you mean–no.
I usually listen to instrumental music while I work–usually jazz or fusion–because lyrics tend to distract me. When I write in one of my usual hangouts on or near the beach, though, I don’t have much say in the music, of course. So nowadays it’s mostly either reggae, which is fine, or reggaeton, which isn’t fine by a long shot, but fortunately I’ve learned how to tune it out. As sound engineers will know, it’s just a matter of phase cancellation.
GS: What are you cynical about and how do you manage it?
BP: Almost everything and I don’t, at least not successfully. That’s why I’m still in Cynicism Management.
GS: What are you positive about and how do you nurture it?
BP: Many things. I nurture those by getting enthusiastic about them, and I can be rather tenacious once I warm up to something. Even obsessive, which can be dangerous. Getting obsessive about beer will result in a beer belly, you see. Recently, for example, I got sort of enthusiastic about chilli peppers, and soon I ended up taking care of twenty-five of those on what was suddenly an ever-shrinking terrace. Consequently, I also grew to hate the plants a little–all the more so once they started to mess with our usual barbecue operations. Monika helped solve the conundrum by getting excited about them, too. We ended up renting a wee little field for them, so next year we’ll grow 250 instead of 25, and we’ll make hot sauces. I suppose it’s just about finding something that we can get a little crazy about, and we’ll be fine.
GS: When did you begin mastering the English language? You seem to prefer English as the language of your creative output. Why?
BP: I remember being interested in English very early on. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve listening to LPs, staring at the album covers and reading the lyrics, trying to figure them out for hours on end with the help of a small pocket dictionary. My old man had quite a record collection–mostly jazz, lots and lots of rock, some classical, some pop too–to which I added a selection of somewhat more satanic genres of my own during my gentle formative years. Then I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, and picked up even more English before I started learning it halfway through primary school, anyway. I got sort of enthusiastic about it all, fast forward a few decades, and here we are.
The second part of your question is a tough one.
Sure, there’s the cynical view: in comparison with approximately two million people who can speak Slovenian, English is a vast market. Granted, I’ve never realistically expected to earn any taxable amounts with my fabulous artistic endeavours (I won’t say wished, because we all wish we got money for nothing and chicks for free, don’t we). However, to say I have never considered this angle would be dishonest: of course the promise of an audience larger than two or three complete weirdoes with a suspicious taste in literature and music does sound rather fetching.
There’s also the utilitarian aspect. As my profession–the trade I ply, my labour that’s being appropriated–is a freelance translator, almost exclusively from Slovenian to English, I have no choice but to think in English all day long, so it was easier to write in English as well. And, above all: writing in English makes for excellent practice if you want to keep maintaining and improving your knowledge of the language. In this sense, my hobbies have been very beneficial for my ‘real’ job–as in, the kind that pays.
However, after much reflection on this topic over the years, I’d say that, ultimately, English feels safer. Writing in my mother’s tongue feels much more personal somehow, especially when it comes to lyrics. I truly abhor writing those in Slovenian. I was forced to do it on occasion, but it was profoundly uncomfortable and I didn’t like any of the results. Frankly, I suck at writing in Slovenian. When I write in English, though, I feel as if there was this sort of a buffer between me as a real person and this idiot who scribbles in a foreign language. I can keep my distance, have a laugh, and avoid being overly concerned or even preoccupied with the unavoidable criticism. Perhaps I can also more easily play around with English because it’s not my first language.
That’s what I love about living in foreign countries, too, incidentally. I now live in my second one, trying to pick up as much Royal Spanish as I can after the relatively futile attempt to learn Hoch Deutsch in Berlin for a few years, and what I love about it most is that they are not my countries. You can surely imagine why: because when Spaniards or Germans vote for complete and utter mental bankruptees, I don’t feel that it’s my country and that those are my compatriots who did it. When you’re an immigrant, the locals don’t expect you to even have an opinion about anything they might be preoccupied with, so you can get away with feeling exempt from the collective insanity. I could never achieve the same level of Zen “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” attitude back home: there I took the rampant idiocy as a personal affront. It was driving me nuts.
GS: What is your favorite Slovene novel and if it’s not translated into English can you tell us a bit about what English-speaking readers are missing out on?
BP: Butalci by Fran Milčinski. It’s an old Slovenian bestseller, a classic written in the interwar period. It belongs to the Slovenian canon but is still as topical as it is funny. Only now that you’ve sprung this unexpected question on me has it crossed my mind that it could count as a ‘spiritual predecessor’ to at least one part of my own novel, though I’ve never thought of this before. Slovenians will immediately know what to expect from Cynicism Management if I tell them it’s a sequel to Butalci. I’m afraid Milčinski’s stories haven’t been translated, though, so English-speaking readers are missing out on a venerable yet still poignant satire, not only aimed at Slovenians and the Slovenian society but rather society in general–especially the rampant idiocy mentioned above.
However, I must also admit to the awful, shameful, inexcusable fact that I haven’t kept in touch with contemporary Slovenian literature other than the scientific texts I translate, which are mostly in the field of historiography. Otherwise, I’m predominantly a sci-fi nut. As, unfortunately, barely any of that gets translated into Slovenian and hardly any original Slovenian sci-fi works exist, I’ve done all my reading almost exclusively in English ever since the beginning of the secondary school–so, for nearly thirty years now. No wonder I don’t feel comfortable writing in Slovenian: I don’t have nearly enough practice.
George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books). His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.