George Salis: What was the initial shiver of inspiration behind your upcoming novel Undertones?
L.S. Popovich: There’s a famous line in a Raymond Chandler novel: “The subject was as easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket.” That wasn’t the initial spark, but Chandler has a way of justifying hyperboles with fascinating imagery. The novel’s characters were developed first, and they never changed species from inception to completion. The city setting evolved around the characters, and the noir/ mystery plot around that. Elaborating on the noir tone with the unusual characters necessitated uncanny details inspired by Chandler’s eccentricity.
GS: What made you choose an anteater as your protagonist?
LSP: The main character had to be the frontman. The rest of the band would follow his lead – good times or bad. He also had to have a flaw. In an all-animal civilization, flaws would come in the form of giving in to baser instincts no longer accepted in a fully integrated society. An anteater addicted to ants fit the bill.
Plus, there’ve been too many movies with dog narrators/ main characters. Why don’t we give other animals a chance in the spotlight?
GS: What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages, the pros and cons of anthropomorphizing nonhuman animals?
LSP: A con is that some readers will inevitably pre-judge the book by comparing it to other novels with animal characters. If Raymond Chandler had written all of his novels using only anthropomorphic animal characters, they would still be high quality novels.
The pros involve plentiful opportunities for uncanny imagery. Unconventional forms of comedy arise when animals do strange things. We automatically picture humans interacting on a daily basis, but juxtaposing other creatures creates new opportunities for character growth and world building. By imposing new constraints on the novel, it’s possible to comment on our own society in a new way. Same goes for dystopias and other uncommon settings. Forcing the imagination off its normal track is a healthy exercise for readers and writers.
GS: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” In the context of the jazz that is written about in your novel, what do you make of this quote by Elvis Costello? Do you play any instruments?
LSP: Many great writers have written about music. My old professor, T. R. Hummer recounted his experiences performing poems on the subject, which were accompanied by music. James Baldwin wrote “Sonny’s Blues,” which proves it can be done. Even dancing about architecture has probably been done somewhere. Writers pose such challenges for themselves all the time. The truth of the matter is, you can write about any concept or experience – how convincing it is, on the other hand, is the important question.
Different forms of art can interact with each other. Steve Jobs’ interest in calligraphy informed the design of the iPhone and Gaudi’s unconventional architecture are a couple examples of how looking far afield can produce startling results.
For the second part of the question: I was the drummer in a rock band in College. We didn’t play any big shows, but interacting with other musicians and expressing ourselves created many great memories. We parted ways to pursue other careers, but I think performing as a team in any field forges the kind of bond you never forget.
GS: What are you working on now?
LSP: A new fantasy novel is in the works. I’m also rewriting several unpublished novels and short stories. They fall into the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism. However, I may revisit the noir genre in the future.
GS: What is a book or author you wish more people would read?
LSP: More people should read Nabokov. His obsessively refined sentences can teach anyone how to avoid sounding like everyone else. More people should read the stories of Pu Sungling. His imaginative folktales will appeal to children and adults alike, and he paints a wonderful picture of China at a frequently misunderstood juncture in time. The short stories of Chekhov contain all the tips and tricks a writer can use to tell their own stories effectively. It is hard to imagine an individual with a better understanding of the English language than Samuel Johnson, yet few read his work nowadays.
My Goodreads profile and reviews shed more light on the books that inspire me. Stop by anytime.
L.S. Popovich is the author of Undertones and Echoes From Dust. They have always been a cat person (a person who like cats, not a cat human hybrid). Every house needs at least one room completely crammed with books, so they believe. (Other rooms should contain scattered piles.) Their short stories and poems have appeared in Chrome Baby, Havok, Aphelion, Bull & Cross, Red Fez, Bewildering Stories, The Ansible, 365Tomorrows, Commuter Lit, Farther Stars than These and other secluded places on the Internet.
George Salis is the award-winning 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.