By Alise Secor, 2019 Red Sofa Intern
Chan Poling is a first-time author but no stranger to pen and paper. As the frontman and one of the original members of the internationally revered Minneapolis band The Suburbs, and an important contributor to the theater music scene, Chan has been writing and composing for many years before delving into the literary world. His debut book with Lucy Michell, Jack and the Ghost, is a beautiful and melancholy story about life, grief, and death. Lucy’s marvelously beautiful illustrations of Jack and the Ghost are both whimsical and emotionally complex. Chan’s influences include a wide variety of poetry, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
How did the idea for Jack and the Ghost come to you?
It was early winter, I was returning from way up north, Grand Marais and Lutsen, driving south along the shore highway. You pass through all sorts of little towns, some no bigger than a few buildings, some built tumble-down on the bluffs and ravines above the water. It’s very grey and bleak and yet quite beautiful that time of year. I was listening to “Snow” by Claudine Longet when I saw a little house with a small forlorn cemetery in its backyard, just like in the song, and immediately started to spin this melancholy little story in my head. I like doing this when I drive long distances, I’ve written lots of things that way. Another very important piece of the process was that I pictured Lucy Michell’s illustration style immediately as the story was unfolding. I think I may have called her from my car before I even got home. I may be exaggerating that…
Did you have any unforeseen hang ups while writing Jack and the Ghost?
Did you do any researching while writing Jack and the Ghost or did most of the story come naturally?
I think Lucy did more research than I, to get the look of the place right. But the book came from actually visiting the North Shore for many years and intimately knowing the feel of that world.
What has been the most surprising part of embarking on your author’s journey thus far?
The very fact that the ship left port.
What do you hope to accomplish most with your writing?
Midwestern Self-deprecation aside, I’ve been writing (songs) for a long time, and my goal has always been to surprise and delight, to evoke an experience of positive whimsy.
What advice do you have for artists or writers who feel like they haven’t found their “niche” yet?
Keep trying. It doesn’t do you or anyone any good if you’re not writing about things that you honestly feel and know about and are compelled to share.
As a musician, you flex your creativity muscles on a regular basis. Did you find that you used music/lyric writing skills while writing Jack and the Ghost, or did you feel as though you were delving into something brand new?
The truth is, I’ve written many poems, short stories, lyrics of all sorts (rock and musical-theatre, etc), as well as several unproduced screenplays. I’ve pitched other stories to movie studios and Broadway producers, to limited success. For some reason, this was my first concerted effort to find a literary agent and publisher beyond my usual music and theater/film production outlets. So, it was brand new, and I had no idea what would happen. We were very pleasantly surprised!
Who are some of your favorite poets?
Nice of you to ask. Theodore Roethke, Auden, Dylan Thomas, John Berryman, Rilke, Delmore Schwartz, James Merrill, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare…
Did you base Jack (or the ghost) off anyone you personally know?
If you could you go back in time and tell Past You any piece of advice before you wrote Jack and the Ghost, what would it be?
Can’t think of anything. Honestly, this was a very fluid, natural experience!
Where is your favorite place to read?
Bed. My bed is awesome, a world unto itself. Porch. Ditto my porch, though any good porch will do. I also like to read on vacation in various foreign hotel rooms.
Favorite ice cream flavor?
Do you have any grandiose writing dreams?
Not grandiose, I don’t think. Suitable to my skills. I’d love to publish some more books like Jack, smallish books for young and poetically inclined older readers. I have a few more ideas.
Thanks so much Chan! We can’t wait for the world to see this special book that Lucy and you created! For anyone wanting this book, you can pre-order it now! contact your local bookstore and reserve a copy today. It’s available starting October 15th.