Devious Rock ‘n’ Roll Ditties: An Interview with Bori Praper

(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 DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThe Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus 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 FacebookGoodreads, and at

Tilting at Windmills?

A few days ago I pulled my books off Amazon in solidarity with my new publisher’s anti-Amazon campaign, which you can read about – and possibly contribute to – on GoFundMe. Tilting at windmills? Possibly, but I believe it is still a good cause, and all the reasons for it are explained in the River Boat Books Anti-Amazon Statement, so no need to repeat them here.

For me personally, the decision to join the boycott was not particularly difficult: after all, Amazon has single-handedly destroyed bookstores and publishers all over the world as well as literature in itself, or at least completely polluted its e-book segment: rabidly profit-driven, it has ensured the global domination of an endless deluge of cloned (pseudo-)fantasy, (quasi-)sci-fi and romance scribblings of the pulpiest kind, as everything that doesn’t get consumed instantly by vast numbers of readers – thanks to aggressive (and expensive) advertising, paid reviews, marketing tricks and schemes, etc. – is sentenced to instant oblivion, ensured by algorithms that keep pushing only what sells best and burying everything else under mile-deep piles of dregs. While that is perfectly understandable and completely unsurprising in the world ruled (and ruined) by rampant capitalism of the worst kind, it is also exactly what I so frequently rant against in my own novels. Therefore I had already felt like a hypocrite for selling (or, rather, attempting to sell) my books through such a malignant transnational corporation even before my publisher, River Boat Books, initiated their openly anti-Amazon campaign.

However, the last and most hilarious straw for me was that some time ago, Amazon arbitrarily and with no explanation or warning at all categorised my debut novel Cynicism Management as erotica – probably because some tender soul, possibly belonging to some terminally-embittered housewife, complained about the couple of rather explicit sex scenes that the novel indeed contains. Fine, so in Amazon’s opinion, any book containing a (semi)vivid description of anything carnal automatically means that the book is porn. Classifying my novel as “erotica” might not even have been so detrimental if it, in fact, was erotica… But, as it happens, it is actually a sci-fi satire with elements of cyberpunk, and the cover displays a cyborg cockroach. I doubt that anyone in their right mind would find that particularly sexy, and the actual sex scenes in the novel probably take up about five to maybe ten pages out of approximately 450. I dread the potential review by anyone who’d buy this thinking that it truly is erotica, but (fortunately?) the book had been concealed under a million of books about witches, fairies, werewolves, and sexy vampires already before this fiasco, so it hasn’t seen any sales whatsoever for ages, anyway.

So, yeah: obviously, my decision to pull my novels off Amazon would have certainly been harder had they actually been selling… But since they had already been largely ignored and increasingly “undiscoverable” with each passing day (as they sank deeper and deeper into the bottomless abyss littered with hundreds of thousands of long-forgotten e-books), this boycott is, I admit, no skin off my back. That much is true. Nevertheless, I’d hate to subscribe to my publisher’s “manifesto” and then do the exact opposite behind their back, so I hope this decision still counts as a valid expression of solidarity.

Fortunate Finds: Scrivener

Ode to my precious novel-scribbling tool

Originally I never planned on including a piece of software among my “Fortunate Finds” posts, as I only intended to babble about music I love and books I may want to mention, recommend or “review”. However, as I continue plodding along as an “indie” author, I keep discussing things with other authors – either those I happen to meet online or those I had already known before I’d actually started feeling like one as well. One of the issues that has already come up quite a few times during various discussions is the traditional, recurring leitmotif along the lines of “Woe is me, for M$ Word is driving me insane“.

I know the sentiment. I’ve worked in Word for decades, first as a student; for a while, eons ago, even as a part-time typesetter (even back then, as a teenager, I was aware that Word wasn’t really a proper text formatting or desktop publishing tool, but I did not have any other means of doing it; besides, the texts I worked on were relatively simple and scarcely contained any graphics); and then for almost twenty years as a professional translator, with and without computer-assisted translation tools. So, knowing almost everything there is to know about Word (except for advanced macro programming and various bloatware options I’ve never used), I also wrote my first two novels in Word. Due to my diligence or even obsession with keeping (several redundant) backups I’ve never had any serious problems with it (though I’ve heard many horror stories). However, as most people trying to work on anything serious and complex in Word will surely know, Word can drive you insane. I will not go into details here, they are very well-known, even infamous, and this is not a Word-bashing blog post: it’s a “Lookie here, a great tool for writers!” post.

When I started working on my third novel it soon became apparent that Word would make the project very difficult. First of all, the novel will be quite long, full of strange names and foreign words, so the spell checker would sooner or later come up with the completely nonsensical message I’ve grown to absolutely detest over the years: “Too many spelling and grammar errors”, after which the spell checker would take the liberty of turning itself off and not displaying any typos anymore. I mean, pardon my French, but what the fuck? Word 2016 doesn’t seem to be able to digest any more spelling “errors” as the one back in the 1990s? I mean, really?! What, am I still working on an Intel 286 computer with 1024 KB of RAM and storing my book on a 5,25″ floppy disk?

Furthermore, the structure of the novel I’m currently working on will definitely keep changing as I type away – and it’ll change A LOT, at that: the envisioned ‘masterpiece’ will consist of an intertwining puzzle of two main story lines taking place at two separate locations roughly half a year apart, digressions into a teenage “novel” attempt written 30 years before and rediscovered at the time of the narration in one of the story lines, as well as some folk tales, rumours, hearsay and perhaps even excerpts from a long-lost journal as well… So making all of this click together into a fluent narrative of interchanging scenes in Word would have been an utter and insurmountable nightmare.

win-showcase-scrivener_headerCue in Scrivener. This baby was brought to my attention by other writers on various forums, so I decided to give it a whirl before I started pulling my hair out due to all the horrors involved in continuously editing and restructuring a 120.000-word (or possibly more, who knows where I end up?) chunk of text in Word. To make a long story short, I downloaded the trial version, got acquainted with it through the simple and clear tutorial that comes with it, and was typing away merrily the very next day. Just one day after that I “shelled out” the radically sensible amount of $ 40 for a licensed copy, and I’ll never write a piece of literature in Word ever again, period.

A few highlights – the main reasons why I love working in Scrivener:

  1. You can hide everything with a press of a button and just be left alone with your text, and you can set up gentle colours that don’t seem bent on poking your eyes out;
  2. While you’re in this “writing view”, the text can optionally scroll typewriter-style, so that you don’t have to keep staring at the bottom of your screen;
  3. You keep separate parts of your book in separate “sub-documents” that can be thrown around however you see fit without any danger of losing or screwing up anything;
  4. The folders/sub-documents make the whole structure of your masterpiece extremely visual and obvious: no more rummaging through hundreds of pages to figure it out, and no more manual outlining (you can use virtual index cards and corkboard if you’re so inclined, or a very clear “outliner”);
  5. You can “virtually stitch together” various sub-documents and see how they fit together, without jumping around the text or cut-and-pasting anything;
  6. The application is very secure; it keeps backups and “snapshots” that you can make before engaging in any in-depth editing, so you can store an endless number of “work-in-progress” versions (snapshots) of chapters/documents at various stages of development;
  7. You can store your research, notes, documents, files, even audio, in Scrivener without ever having to rummage around your hard drive to locate it;
  8. The spell checker doesn’t simply die on you because it’s “spent”;
  9. Project targets – yay! – so you always know (in real time, as you type) how far away from your daily “quota” and overall target you are (there is something extremely satisfying about that “progress bar” creeping along towards the “green”, which might motivate you to keep writing even when everything else might fail);
  10. The exported completed texts are tidy and clean, making further formatting a breeze;
  11. Last but certainly not least, it’s extremely sensibly priced, AND they offer a trial version, to boot.

So, what’s not to like? To find out more, head over to the Scrivener homepage.

Fortunate Finds: Guido Henkel

Guido Henkel’s Zen of eBook Marketing still free today!

A few months ago, after I finished the first draft of my second novel, I started considering the possibility of joining the ranks of self-published, indie authors. I was thoroughly dissatisfied with the (non)strategy and unresponsiveness of the small U.K. e-book publisher who had released my first novel, Cynicism Management, as well as frustrated because of my lack of control over that release. Therefore I decided to educate myself in the matter of indie publishing, which I had previously consciously avoided, primarily due to two concerns: problems involved in e-book formatting; and my inability to promote my own work in any effective way (I have a long but infamously anonymous career as a composer, musician and producer behind me, spanning back more than 20 years with extraordinarily limited success, to prove that).

I decided to approach both issues the way I usually do: by reading about them. My ultimate decision to go ahead and self-publish was based on the most helpful works of two authors: David Gaughran and Guido Henkel. From Gaughran’s books (I intend to make a separate “Fortunate Finds” post about him and his work in the near future) I have gleaned a wealth of invaluable information about contemporary self-publishing in general, more than enough for me to decide this was indeed what I wanted; but they only touch upon the subject of e-book formatting briefly. However, as far as that pressing issue was concerned, Gaughran pointed me in the direction of Henkel.

Now, I know enough about IT and coding to have been seriously worried about how to even approach e-book formatting properly. I knew enough not to trust any ZenFautomatic conversion processes, and it turned out I was right. However, due to financial constraints (i.e., zero budget) I wanted to tackle this issue myself. The feat would have been impossible without Guido Henkel’s Zen of eBook Formatting, which has been, for me, the definite go-to e-book formatting compendium, and it hasn’t let me down once. To boot, Mr. Henkel is a very generous and plain old “nice” guy, who will not shy away from any questions one might have. With the aid of his thorough instructions I was able to overcome my fear of formatting my e-books myself… And I can now do so with conviction that they’ll display well on all sorts of e-readers, phones and tablets.

For this reason I was very happy when I recently found out that Henkel was about to publish a new Zen book – Zen of eBook Marketing – this time focusing on e-book promotion, which remains a seemingly insurmountable problem for me. First of all, I dread most kinds of self-promotion and abhor marketing. I find most of it nauseating and utterly incompatible with my personal philosophy, especially as I tend to be an annoyingly compulsive cynic, even with regard to my own work. Thus I’ve always found any self-help books on marketing shady, suspecting them of mainly promoting themselves – you know, in the vein of get-rich-quick books: why would one write such a book if one knew how to get rich quickly? Unless writing a get-rich-quick book is a way of getting rich quickly?

ZenMHowever, by that time I had already been very grateful to Mr. Henkel for his book on formatting, so in spite of my inherent skepticism I will quite shamelessly say this: it is my opinion that Guido Henkel does it primarily because he likes to help people (no matter how cheesy that statement sounds); and if he makes a thoroughly honest living while doing it, that’s fine with me. If you disagree, check his instructions on eBook formatting: he could have taken this freely accessible information down when he wrote a book about it, right?

If you’re looking for get-rich-quick schemes, you won’t find any in Henkel’s book. Instead he approaches the subject of e-book marketing realistically and wittily, providing a treasure cove of information on everything every indie author should know: from editing, proofreading, beta readers, formatting, importance of cover design, keywords and metadata… all the way to reviews, online presence, social media and promo ideas. You’re free to pursue whatever you like, and ignore whatever it might be you don’t. Henkel will not tell you to do this or do that in order to achieve overnight success: he provides a comprehensive overview of everything you can do, topping it all off with an exhaustive and invaluable collection of links and resources, and then it’s up to you. It’s a book every indie author should grab – and you can do so without any risk whatsoever, because Henkel is still offering it for free until the end of today.