Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A NEW YEAR OF MADNESS WITH BRADY ALLEN


PATIENT: BRADY ALLEN
ILLNESS: WRITER

When did you start writing?

I reckon I didn't really start writing, other than a little scribbling here and there, until the mid-to-late 90's. Short stories mostly, by far.  Though I did write some books back in elementary school: The Elf and the Dinosaur was one; another was The Bloodcurdling Bony Fingers (I had issues with adjectives), about this hand that apparently had no arm, no body, no head/eyes, and it went around killing people. Our school library would shelve our books. The kids wrote and illustrated them, and the mothers- my mama was one of 'em- would stitch them together with covers made out of wallpaper or something like that. But it's really in the last 2 years that I've decided that I want to do more than publish short stories here and there in journals, magazines, and anthologies, and all. Pulling together my collection, Back Roads and Frontal Lobes, was kind of a way of telling myself that I was serious.

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?

I get them from everywhere. I know that's vague, but I do. I am an obsessive people watcher. And I love observing the smaller details of settings. I'll look at just about anything and ask myself, "What's the story behind that?" The fun is, I never know what it is when I start. I just like to compile images and see where they take me, whether the images are weird people, peculiar settings, odd objects, or all in one.

I do journal. Primarily, I have a journal full of first lines and first paragraphs. I have over 1,000 first lines in it now. But I'll paste things in there, too.  Things written on receipts and napkins and all from when I'm driving. Weird sidebar news stories. But the first lines are the main thing. I'll see something and write a first line based on it, and then I can come back to it later. My latest is, "Ursula ate dry spaghetti from her purse while waiting for the bartender's attention." Where do I go now?

What's a normal (writing) day like for you?

I've never had one! I try to write at least a little bit 4-6 days a week. Generally, writing includes things like a cat puking, a dog chasing cats, my four-year-old daughter climbing on me, me cooking meals and taking out the trash, me spilling coffee or bourbon, me teaching or grading papers, me answering questions for my teen about her homework, something being broken in my house, me hanging out with my daughters, me messing around on Facebook, more being climbed on by my four-year-old, me getting a few words of writing in, me fighting crime as a superhero...

Favorite author of book? What are you currently reading?

This changes monthly.

Favorite novelist is Robert McCammon. Favorite book may be The Keeper by Sarah Langan. Favorite short story author? Probably Charles L. Grant and Kelly Link.

I'm reading Bad Apple by Kristi Peterson Schoonover right now- excellent book, so far.

Do you prefer writing poetry, short stories, or novel length pieces? Why one over the other?

Short stories. I just love the condensed form compared to novels. Really good short stories can develop a character in such a short space just as well as meandering novels do.  Good novels give me a big swelling-belly feeling, and I love that- but only short stories deliver the sudden punch.

Do you write in silence or with noise (TV, movies, music)?

I write with noise. Outlaw country like Waylon, country ballads, rock and AC/DC, bluegrass, classical with a dark feel. But I have to rewrite and edit with either silence (yeah, right) or common background noise.

Do you have any weird habits when it comes to writing? Do you type or write longhand?

I have to be dressed. By that, I mean that I'm not a pajama writer like some (not that I own pajamas, except a pair of Bud Light pants that were a gift). I have to approach it as "going to work." This may be because of all the normal dad/household/work distractions. It would be too easy to say that I'm too tired and just fall asleep reading in a chair if I didn't. So, yeah, I have to have on jeans and a shirt. And, of course, I'm never without a hat, unless I'm sleeping or showering. And I do those things rarely. Ha!

Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pancer?

It is all about discovery with me- that's why I write. Even with longer forms. I know it works with short stories. I'm finding out how it works or doesn't with novels now- we'll see. But the first draft has to be a mystery to me. Second drafts and beyond are about cleaning up messes and creating meaning.

What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?

Self-doubt. I've taught college creative writing for 14 years and can see a great writer right away. I can see one with potential right away. I can see one, harsh as it sounds, that just doesn't have it. But it is hard trying to view your own stuff objectively.  But as far as a specific element of craft, like you asked, well, I still have trouble with overwriting- I have to cut a lot in late drafts, things that I think are poetic and unique but they're often the types of things that Elmore Leonard says to cut- the things readers skim.

Current projects?

A bunch of short stories, as always- I have a ton of first drafts that I'm rewriting and editing. I can't stop starting new ones, either.

Beyond that, two things: (1) a massive rewrite, which I'm falling in love with, of a novel called The Disharmony of Frogs and Toads. And (2), a novella project with three other writers (D.A. Adams, James R. Tuck, and Steven Shrewsbury)- we're doing a book with four Weird Western novellas, one by each of us. The book is called Lowdown, Desperate and Damned, and my novella is tentatively called "Cathouse for the Dogs of War."  I'm also going to pitch a horror anthology idea called Chow to publishers this year, and work on another novella project with Thomas Erb and another author to be named.


How do you balance being a father and a teacher with being a write?

I don't. Father comes first, always. I try to balance teaching and writing, but the mountain of teaching work always wins. I am a terrible insomniac, so rather than fight it, I reckon I've just decided that the Good Lord meant for me to be doing something else- writing is the logical choice.

What do you think people expect from you with your writing? EX: Can they always count on a good gross out?

Haha! There are some gross-outs. But I hope there is nothing that can always be expected. I don't want this to sound arrogant, but I truly strive to surprise and to be unique. I aim for variety with style, voice, POV, genre, even subject matter.

That said. Expect things to be weird and/or brutal or have a lonely, sad, or nostalgic flavor. Or so I'm told.

Advice for aspiring writers?

Nothing new. It's simple: read and write as often as you can. All kinds of stuff. But...I would add the suggestion of finding ways to be in touch with other writers and readers, whether it be conventions, via the Internet, or whatever. There is comfort in similarly weird people.

BIO: Brady Allen is the author of Back Roads and Frontal Lobes, a collection of 23 tales in the genres of horror, crime, the road story, soft sci-fi, dark fantasy, surrealism, existentialism, the weird tale, and even some plan ol' realism.  He has published numerous short stories in magazines, journals, and anthologies in the U.S., England, and Ireland and has received honorable mentions for a couple of them in the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror volumes from St. Martin's Press, as well as an Individual Artist Fellowship in fiction from the Ohio Arts Council for three others. Allen writes in Dayton, Ohio, where he lives with his two daughters and teaches writing at Wright State University. He loves Reds baseball on a transistor radio, and the sound of a train in the still of the night calls to him.