Thursday, March 4, 2010

Interview With Author Jeffrey B. Allen

I'm so pleased to have with me today, Jeffrey B. Allen, Author of GONEAWAY INTO THE LAND.

Jeffrey, could you please tell us a little about your book?
Gone Away Into the Land has all of the action and suspense one would expect from a fiction thriller. However, Jeffrey B. Allen will lead you down a pathway unexpected as you travel through a unique fantasy-land that may only exist within the mind of the hero.
John doesn't know whether he is dead or alive.  
John is a twelve year old boy. He has a six-year-old sister, Marny, and a mother, Ellie. His father is portrayed, from the very first page, as an overgrown, nasty, angry-at-the-world, muscle man who hasn’t a hairless spot on his body. John describes the oppression he, Marny, and his mother live under. 
One day the father returns home early from work and explodes into a torrent of anger and violence. After the horrendous scene, you get the distinct impression something strange has happened to John. Although beaten into a state of delirium, John is able to watch, in horror, his monstrous father wield his dreaded power, smash a hardened fist into the side of his mother Ellie’s face before bounding from the house carrying Marny.  Afterward, John either falls into unconsciousness, lapses into coma, or bleeds to death. 
John is unsure of his state of being, so the reader is left to sort out the confusion with him. Eventually, the reader finds himself in a surrealistic land, a parallel world, where sweet things are invented. John gradually loses his connection with reality. He and his mother are lured by strange characters into the land on the assumption it is where his father fled, carrying his baby sister. John soon resolves to protect his mother, rescue his sister, and kill his father.  
Along the route of his journey, there are revelations about his life and the life of his mother that peel away and cause his hatred for his father, now referred to as the Beast, to grow more intense. As John’s disdain grows so does the physical size of the Beast until it comes to resemble a grotesque, slovenly giant, hunched over by the weight of its guilt. 
John's epic quest to find the answers as to why his father hated him so, leads to a climactic showdown with the abusive beast. The ultimate battle ensues as John fulfills his vow to forever protect his mother and his sister from the madness that had caused them to live in a constant state of fear.
The twists and turns, and the philosophical and symbolic underpinnings of the novel, culminate in a feel good dénouement with some unexpected surprises.

Did something specific happen to prompt you to write this book?

Not necessarily.  Gone Away is based on a children's story I told my children when they were young.  I was prodded, for years, by them to write the story as a children's book, but I could never put aside what I remember as my own personal reasons for making the story up in the first place.  The skeletal remains of the original story are scattered into the book, but the real meaning behind the Land is deeply personal.  There is so much symbolism in Gone Away that I have been tempted to write a dictionary of sorts with the correlative terms and names that refer back to the hero's life under the mark of a father bent on taking his selfish rage out on his family.

Furthermore, I have developed my niche by writing socially relevant fantasy.  That means I will never fly my message in the face of my reader, but there will be a message.  It is just that it will be subliminally buried within the pages and between the lines.  The story will carry itself on the action, suspense, and strength of the characters, as all good stories should. 

Who or What is the Inspiration Behind This Book?

I have no single individual who inspired me to write this particular story.  As all writers do or should do I drew from personal experiences, and as I embellished those experiences I exposed my demons and forced them onto the pages to give my villains ferocity. Likewise, I exposed my sensitivity, love, sorrow, self pity, and compassion to glean the strengths and weaknesses out of my hero and supporting cast. 

Who is your biggest supporter?

My biggest supported was and still is my wife and two children. 

Your biggest critic?

My biggest critics are the ones I love the most.  The others are all part of the business. 

What causes are you most passionate about and why?

If you mean a socially redeeming cause like global warming or world hunger, I am not there at all.  I believe in community.  I believe in the strength of the family.  I believe in writing and speaking well, and I believe in common courtesy.  I believe in respecting the elderly. I believe in dressing up on holidays. I believe in taking care of one’s property.  I believe in living within one’s means, and I think material things should be used only to further our efforts to better ourselves and take care of our family - not as symbols of monetary wealth. I believe in education, and I believe in the written word over visual stimulus. I believe in hard work, and I believe in helping others get ahead where they may not be as fortunate as me, or perhaps they suffered a loss or were born with a disability. However, I believe in disabilities that are real, and not excuses for failure. I do not believe in failure. I do not believe in writers block or any obstacle that smacks of ambiguity.  I believe in being on time. As I have told my children: a person may steal my money; I will work hard to earn the money back. They may steal my car; it will more than likely be found, but if they steal my time, it is gone forever. I do not believe in the power of positive thinking as a means to achieving short term goals.  I believe in balancing your pain with your joy, and I do not believe in telling much about it to anyone, spare my spouse.  I believe in standing up for myself and for my country when the cause is just, but I will back away from a fight when the cause is unjust or corrupt, and I believe in making that determination through the gathering of knowledge and understanding of the past, as much as the seeking out of truth and understanding of current events. I believe perception can out-weigh truth. I believe in fulfilling a promise. I believe true friendships are rare, but I believe meaningful acquaintances are to be treasured. I believe in love and music and art as the most powerful forms of human expression. I believe our birth is a miracle, yet I think the preparation for death should be a lifelong endeavor, so death will be as much a miracle.

I do not believe in praying to God for material things, to help make my day go well, or for the winning lottery number, but rather to help me stifle the darker side of my humanity.

In the last year have you learned or improved on any skills?

Yes, I am always working vary hard to improve my skills, and I always will.  This year my skills as a writer have improved steadily as I would hope, but my skills as a public speaker have improved dramatically to the point where I am being asked to speak in front of various groups on a fairly regular basis.

Do you have any rituals you follow when finishing a piece of work?

I immediately give it to my wife to read.  Then I put it aside for a day or so before I read it again.  Upon the second reading, I usually find it to be quite bad in spots, so I revise it and then give it to my wife to read.  Bless her heart for having to put up with a writer.

Who has influenced you throughout your career as a writer?

Although my father is deceased, his words echo in my mind constantly. I am sure he influences me more in my memory than he did when he was living.  There are reasons, I suppose, for that, and I may not be alone in my feelings in that regard. It took me quite a few years of my early adulthood to realize he struggled through his own world of personal triumphs and devastating tribulations. It is the recollection of his constant curiosity about all things as well as his eternal optimism that inspires me above all else.

On the other hand, my mother is my strength to gather, for I take after my father in my hard evaluation of myself that borders on obsession at times. She and my wife are the mooring to hold fast to when the wind blows and the ship is listing.

What is the most important thing in your life right now?

My family.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on my second novel, called Beneath the Quarry Waters.  I am putting together a book of poetry I feel is very unique in its format.  I am busy building my public speaking schedule, promoting Gone Away, and preparing to teach a writing course at Northampton Community College.  Meanwhile, I weather this recession while I wonder if our government will not drown us all before we recover.

Do you have any advice for writers or readers?

As I tell every writing class I teach, or group I speak before, read, read, and read some more.  Read what others have written successfully, and write every day. Think hard about every word and every sentence. Take nothing for granted, and do not write one lazy paragraph, even if it seems trivial at the time.  Edit your work like a robin builds its nest, or better, have someone you don’t know edit it for you. Last but not least accept criticism with open arms.

Is there an author that inspired you to write?

Not any one in particular.  I have always been blessed with an overactive imagination. In my younger days it got me in trouble, but today it serves me well.  I am never at a loss for words and I am always picturing vivid and detailed scenarios in my mind.  That's why I favor thinking. writing and/or reading over television.

Thank you for allowing me to expound on your thoughtful questions.  I hope some will find my answers interesting.


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