* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com), including author spotlights, guest posts, book reviews, flash fiction or poetry - new items posted 6am UK time Monday to Saturday and writing exercises at 6pm very weekday.
Tuesday, 24 July 2012
Author interview no.182: Michael Allen (revisited)
Back in November 2011, I interviewed author Michael Allen for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the one hundred and eighty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with comedy (and dashes of other genres) and children’s author Michael Allen. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Michael. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Michael: To talk about myself, I love the fact that I’m the father of a wonderful daughter. She is what I’m all about even as my world becomes bigger and our family grows, she is the world to me. I served in the Marine Corps. I put myself through college and earned several degrees. I’ve written several books and I have a whole slew more to write. But after all that, my greatest accomplishment is being the father of a wonderful daughter. As far as writing is concerned, I started writing very young. Even though I know I was writing even before this, my first memory of writing was when I wrote a poem entitled Slick Move.
Morgen: I’m a big fan of titles, and I love that one. :)
Michael: It was about people slipping on banana peels and oil slicks. I was about six years old, so it was relevant subject matter for my age. I don’t know. I just have always loved writing. I wrote volumes throughout my early years as I meandered through middle school and high school, but I never had a story. I always wrote small things that I knew one day would become something. So, I tried to save those thoughts and ideas. A few of them have managed to endure to now, so I have no end to the things I have to write. I just wish I had more time.
Morgen: I bet most, if not, all of the people reading this would say the same, I certainly do. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Michael: I generally write comedy. But, it’s comedy mixed with drama or mixed with romance. I’ve even written a sci-fi horror that has appropriately-placed comedy and it doesn’t come across as a B-Rated movie.
Morgen: :) I love humour. Light and dark, that’s me. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Michael: I published A Danger to Society originally in 2003 and I remember first seeing it on the shelves at the local Downtown Book Center in a small town in Western Maryland where I used to live. The story about the book hit the local paper and as I read it to see what all it had to say, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the local bookstore was stocking it. So, I wandered down to the bookstore to take a look and I bumped into a patron who was previewing my book. She started talking to me out of the corner of her mouth. She hadn’t looked up to see who she was talking to about the book. I loved every minute of it as she told me that the author was local and the story was semi-autobiographical. Then, she told me that she knew the author as a kid and she always thought he would go places. She finally added that I should check it out, and that’s when she looked up from the book to finally realize who she had been talking to all along. Of course, I signed a copy of the book and sold a few more while I was there. It was an impromptu book signing and the owner loved every minute of it.
Morgen: I love that… just as well she said good things… and she recognised you all those years later. :)
Michael: A Danger to Society has been rewritten and published again in 2010. Since then I’ve published When You Miss Me, a children’s book for families actually. It talks to the children, but can benefit the entire family when they are going through separation, divorce or other types of loss when a child is feeling lonely missing a parent for one reason or another. I originally wrote it years ago for my daughter when her mother and I were going through our divorce. I drew the pictures and wrote the story. I made it into a little booklet and she has cherished it over the years. Recently, it popped up in one of her hideaways and she brought it to me excited that she found it. I read it to her again, just for fun. Then, I looked at her and saw how much she still enjoyed it. The book had helped her through those tough times before she could get a handle on the fact that her mother and I would never get back together. That’s when the thought occurred to me that other families could benefit from the message. So, I had it professionally illustrated and it is now out on the market along with A Danger to Society, which I’m sure confuses readers when they try to figure out what genre I am and what direction I’m taking with my writing.
Morgen: Which leads me very nicely on to my next question… do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Michael: I do write under a pseudonym. I simply chopped off my last name. My middle name is Allen and it works better for me. After publishing A Danger to Society, I found that a golfer and another writer share the name Michael Allen with me. But, I like it and I’m keeping it.
Morgen: :) You said that A Danger to Society has been republished, are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Michael: My books are available on Kindle as well as in print. I love that it’s so easy to offer that option. I was recently travelling and the person next to me on the plane was reading from her Kindle. She decided to look up at me and start telling me how great her Kindle was. I actually had never seen one until then, even though I have been offering my books in that format. So I took a look and was quite impressed. I am not at all stuck in the past about print books. I think ebooks add a dimension to reading that has been here for quite some time actually. It just took awhile to catch on that ebooks are green, instant and every bit as legitimate as a book that you can hold in your hand. Now that they’re trendy, they might actually have an impact and I will keep making my books available in that format for as long as I have readers.
Morgen: And I think they’ll always be them. Whilst a lot of people (especially on LinkedIn) are worried that print books are ‘dying’, I’m not (although my books are only eBooks) because they serve different purposes; paper books at home, eBooks for travelling… which is why my eReader gathers dust. :) What are you working on at the moment / next?
Michael: I have several works that I am going back and forth between. That’s mainly because I can’t seem to figure out the best schedule for publication. I have a story about a father and a daughter that I think will be great. But, I have a true crime story that needs to be told and I’m thinking it would be best to publish it first. Then of course, there is a comedy that is dying to be written. So, I’ve been practicing patience and trying to decide.
Morgen: Maybe you write the one that appeals to you the most or is at the front of your brain hammering to get out. If there’s something a writer loves writing it usually shows in their writing, and if doesn’t enjoy writing then shows for all the wrong reasons and you wouldn’t want that.
Michael: In the meantime, I’m writing all three as I bounce from one to another with each “next” thought I have. It’s a crazy way to write. I have to admit. But, there are no rules. And if there were, I would have broken them a long time ago.
Morgen: I think it's a great way to write – it’ll keep it all fresh. If you get stuck you can just move to another one and come back when (if) you get stuck with that one. Speaking of getting stuck, what is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Michael: My opinion of writer’s block? I love it! No, I know what you mean. I think writer’s block is the result of quite a few things. Sometimes, you get writer’s block when you have a topic and you are ready to write. But, you have nowhere to begin. Other times, you get writer’s block when you have time to write. But, it’s like being put on the spot. Now is your time in your structured timeframe. Now is your time in the middle of your busy life. You want to write, but you can’t because your brain just isn’t structured that way. It’s not a faucet you can turn on and let run. I have several “cures” for writer’s block. Sometimes, I read. Other times, I just take my mind off of writing and watch a movie, or get into something else entirely. Having a drink can loosen up the mind. Taking a swim, window shopping at the beach or hitting a few balls at the batting cage can take my mind off of my writing just long enough to jog some interesting thoughts. Then, the juice is flowing again.
Morgen: Oh my, “window shopping at the beach” sounds like heaven. I’m not a fan of actual shopping (I’m a know-what-I-want-go-and-get-it-come-straight-out shopper) but like to have a look and am a BIG fan of the beach (as my nearest is 3 hours away). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Michael: I have stories that I’ve plotted. But, I can take a story and run with it. I think though, in the long run, I’m eventually plotting the story to the end. Even though I like the sense of self-discovery and letting a story run away with itself is a great way of doing that, I think it’s hard to write a good story unless you know where it’s going. Some stories tell themselves, but others need plotting.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Michael: Throughout my life, I have met so many different people. Great, interesting, not-so-great, not-so-interesting all serve a purpose when I’m writing. I can choose a realistic character and go with what I’ve experienced to bring that character to life. I can also choose stock characters that fill gaps where a persona is needed, but not critical to the overall story. It’s all in experience. I think I make a character real because I’ve actually met them. Even though they are a character in my book, they are based on someone who actually exists. I hate to say it, because I love the idea of everyone being unique and wonderful, but there are stock characters in real life. For some reason, they fit a mold and do very little to go outside of it. I don’t judge. I don’t think it’s right to judge. But, I love the characters who break the mold.
Morgen: Me too… the quirkier the better. :) What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Michael: A spark of an idea hits me. I go on with my life and what I’m doing, but I take a note of that idea or concept. It works its way into my subconscious and I tweak it, develop it, take it different ways to see which way it works best. By the time I’m ready to write it, it has pretty much become a part of my life. I know it like my dog. And in many ways, it’s just like my dog. It won’t sit, kneel or fetch and it still doesn’t know its own name.
Morgen: I like that image… my dog technically knows his name although he also answers to ‘breakfast’, ‘lunch’, ‘supper’, ‘food’, ‘park’, ‘shall’ (… we go in the car) and ‘are’ (…you hungry). :) What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Michael: I would say to an aspiring writer, just write. Stop talking about it. Stop dreaming about it. Get to doing it! It’s the life of a writer to be busy writing. Don’t get confused dreaming about book signings, posters and book shelves lined with your book. Get busy writing. Those things are attention getters that we all need to make books sell. Great authors do the interviews on television and radio. Great authors get invited to events because their presence accredits the validity of the event. It is a great dream and it’s great to want it all. But, you can’t get there if you don’t start writing. How many times have you said, “I am writing a novel?” What kind of response did you get? Most of the time, the response is positive and people get very interested. But, it becomes cliché if you say it more than once and haven’t done any writing in the meantime. Don’t become one of those dreamers. Become a writer and get to writing.
Morgen: Absolutely and in between, read. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
Michael: I like working on wood, primarily burning it. I like working on the car until my knuckles bleed and there’s a new dent.
Michael: I love football with Buffalo Wings and beer. A special talent of mine is going into the kitchen and creating something totally out of this world. Lately, my recipes have included Blue Cheese and Guacamole. Not Blue Cheese Dressing mind you. The dry stuff you get at the market and sprinkle over your food. Makes for great Cheeseburgers, especially when added with bacon.
Morgen: Sorry, not with on the Blue Cheese, I’m a Cheddar fan through and through. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Michael: I find Facebook very valuable these days. I have a personal page at michaelallenonline and then I have a fanpage for each one of my books. I love that capability. I’ve been doing social marketing since 2003 when Tribe.net was huge. Myspace came along and I developed a page. But, Facebook really works well because I can create a page about anything I want. That serves as a valuable resource that some people don’t appreciate. But, those pages are connected to me and they are a great tool to use to inform your friends and readers about your books. Each page can be devoted and very informative to one book. I love it! I also have a Twitter account at celebadvo2day. I find the RSS capability of Twitter very useful and the update aspect that caught on fire with just about every other social networking site on the face of the internet is the unique micro-informational asset that is invaluable at times when 140 characters are all I need. Linkedin is another great resource I use (michaelallenonline). But, I think some people use it wrong. They come into a writer’s thread trying to sell their book.
Morgen: They just don’t get it do they. It’s like they ignore the thread’s title and think it reads “come tout yourself here”. :) It’s the same on Twitter and Facebook – now I have something to tout I’d love to shout it from the rooftops but it puts me off seeing that it’s all someone has to talk about. I’d rather tout my blog and let people find them naturally (OK, with the occasional mention of a review or suchlike but tucked rather than wedged in).
Michael: If they thought about it for a second, every writer on that thread seems to be trying to sell a book. It serves no purpose. But using Linkedin right, you can get some really great information from some really experienced professionals.
Morgen: Isn’t it great. I’ve learned some great eBook info on there and I now consider some of the genuine writers as friends (and them me hopefully :)) and the fact that they’re in America and Australia makes no difference, in fact it’s a bonus as they call me ‘from across the pond’… and we’ve been involved in each others’ blogs so we all get exposure we wouldn’t have otherwise had… it’s a win-win… I love technology. :)
Michael: Sometimes, I have nothing to say I’m too busy reading.
Morgen: I read the comments as they come in via email and reply when I can contribute but most of the time I let them get on with it (sometimes grinning at the cat fights that go on, it seems so easy for someone to misinterpret someone else and all hell lets loose). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Michael: Well, http://michaelallenonline.com is a site I just switched over so that it can highlight all of my work and even offer some pieces people can read to see if they like my style of writing. To view my books, A Danger to Society can be found at http://adangertosociety.com/book and When You Miss Me can be found at http://michaelallenonline.com/whenyoumissme.
Morgen: Brilliant, thank you Michael and I wish you all the best with these two books and the three fighting to get out. :)
I then invited Michael to include an extract of his writing and this is from an article he recently published entitled “Losing the Custody Battle”. You can read it in its entirety at http://michaelallenonline.com. You can also read Michael's follow-up comments to this interview here.
...So, I have talked to fathers who say they have lost their custody battles and I just smile. Yes, it’s a hard battle to go through. But, mine is over and it has been for years.
...The times I spend with my daughter are priceless. The times we spend apart sometimes seem like cruel and unusual punishment. So, we made the best of it. We made our times together so special that those memories were strong enough to carry us through. Years later, my daughter is just fine.
My ex and I get along just fine. We talk. We actually ate dinner the other night, her husband and I had a drink together. You might be thinking to yourself that you will never have a drink with your ex’s husband. There was a time when I thought that myself. But, I have taken the higher road in all of this. I took that road for my daughter who if you remember, is all that has ever mattered.
Because of that, I am rewarded. My daughter comes to visit in the summer, sometimes all summer long. My daughter sometimes asks for additional weekends throughout the year. She has made it a rule that she spends father’s day and my birthday with me every year.
I didn’t lose my daughter. I won!
Update July 2012: Since this interview in November, I have written two screenplays and published a book of poetry. The screenplays were actually commissioned by producers who contacted me so I have no idea what stage of development they are in right now. I just can’t wait to see them on the big screen and I’ll be sure to keep you posted!
My book of poetry, Thoughts and Reconsideration is in kindle version only now. But, so many people are asking me about the print version and I am doing that very soon. I was listening to a song one day, can’t remember which one, but it suddenly struck me that my poetry is busting at the seams and should be set free. So, I organized my poems in categories of Love, Hate, Philosophy and Spirituality. Then, I unleashed them on the world.
I was on the Vertikal Café promoting my poetry and they asked me to read. I chose “In Memory of an Angel” and it was such a huge hit, they asked me to read it again. In fact, they asked me to return the following week for a follow up to the original show and asked me yet again to read that poem. So, I decided to put that reading out in video. I hope you enjoy it!
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know. :)
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