Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Interesting Review Jesus Boy on Amazon

Here is an Amazon review of the novel that taps into an aspect of the book that often goes overlooked--that it might offend some because it is so very and truly "fundamentalist." Interesting . . .

Thanks,

Preston

__________________________________________



Sociology of human weakness, December 15, 2010

By Mej (Atlanta, GA United States)


Preston Allen's novel Jesus Boy seems like quite a departure from All or Nothing. One book is about a man's struggle with gambling, while the other is about a fundamentalist church in South Florida. What both share in common though is human weakness. One could say that Allen is a sociologist of human frailty. The common thread that ties much of his work together is how complicated our lives are, despite the obvious molds we fit into at a cursory glance.

In Jesus Boy, Elwyn is an ignorant 16 year old whose ability as a pianist and gifted apologist differentiates him from other young people in his community. Meanwhile, his sexuality begins to unfold as the leader of his church community dies, and the grieving widow catches Elwyn's eye.

Sister Morrisohn (the grieving widow) comes across as the older (42 yr old) church nugget, whom the community either envies or despises, given her marriage to the leading elder of church the community, who also happens to be her recently departed husband. What we come to find in Mrs. Morrisohn is a past riddled with pain, abuse and a history of emotional content being funneled through sexual expression.

What the two find in each other is a shared brokenness. As each character tries not to yield to temptation, their giving in points to the bigger issues that plague their lives.

The author's ability to weave sexual discourse into the narrative of human need is reminiscent of Toni Morrison's early work. Additionally, the content of this book will also be alienating to some readers, as we also find in Morrison's work as well. Jesus Boy is very Christian...very fundamentalist Christian at that...and some portions of the book can be a challenge to those who have an aversion to this sort of religiosity. Simultaneously, the respect that Allen shows toward these traditions could be read as his satirical take on them. My gut is that Preston Allen's intent is not pure satire. He seeks to unpack the problems and complications we find in any community that works so hard for righteous living. We learn a lot in this process. People are not as they seem. Communities and their leaders are not as perfect as we believe them to be. In the end, our need to believe (something), points more to our needs, than it does to the reality of our beliefs.

Overall, Jesus Boy is not the page turner that Allen's prior book was, but it does have the common characteristic of being movie material. If you've liked his work before, this is well worth the read. Hats off to Preston Allen.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Many Drafts Does It Take Before the Book Is Done?

Q: Preston, you are known for revising a lot. How do you know when you have revised enough?

A: After I revise many times, my mind begins to worry about typos and other errors I may have missed. So I revise some more.

After I revise many more times, my mind says this is great, this is publishable, excellent! But then after a few days I get anxious about how reviewers like the NY Times or Publishers Weekly or even Black Voices and the Feminist Review will feel about the book. I worry that they may not like it because they think that I am saying something or implying something that I am not. So I revise some more.

After I revise many more times, I read the manuscript and my mind says, the book is saying what it has to say. The book is saying what it needs to say. The book is saying what you want it to say, Preston. You've done it, kiddo!

At this point, I cease to be concerned about reviewers because I am no longer concerned about getting a bad review.

This is not to say that I want a bad review, but that a bad review does not matter because the book has been polished to the point where it is taking a stand. Its message is clear--if you dislike it, you are disliking it because you dislike the message not because I have written it so poorly that you miss the message or that you cannot understand the message. I do not write to be loved, necessarily. I write to be understood.


Good Question

Preston

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn Pass on the Tradition

Q: I am writing an essay for class and I would like your feedback on this passage.

"Although both Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn struggle with the evil of dark secrets withheld by the generations that preceded them, they ultimately continue this negative tradition when they fail to tell Harrison that he is in fact Sister Morrisohn's son as well as her brother."

Am I correct? I would appreciate your comments.

A: If there's one thing I hate to do it's got to be analyzing my own book. My job title is writer, not book critic. The danger here is that if I as the author set down some sort of analysis, then it becomes the "official" way to read a certain passage or section, which then tacitly precludes other valuable and often more insiteful readings on the part of a more learned and critical audience.

What I will do instead is talk about the good and evil ways to use secrets.

I know of a situation involving a woman who never knew her birth father. She always believed that her stepfather was her dad, never realizing that her mother, when she was 18 and recently married but lonely because her husband was overseas in the Navy, had had an affair with a married neighbor.

As things often go, the Navy husband found out about the affair, he and the young wife fought, separated, but months later decided that they did love each other and repaired their relationship. When the girl was born, the Navy husband knew the truth but presented himself as her father and that was that--except of course, there were quite a few people who knew the truth, the wife's parents, the wife's sister, a few close friends, and the married lover, who was the father of the girl.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Oprah?

Q: I enjoyed Jesus Boy, like I said in my earlier question. It is a really good book, and I can tell that you wrote it from the heart and not for money or to satisfy any other agenda except to tell a really good story. But my question is about something else and you don't have to put it on your blog if you don't want to. Now that your work has been listed in "O Magazine," what does that mean to you? How has it impacted your life? Would you like to be on the Oprah Winfrey Show? And if you could be on her show, is there one question that you would definitely ask her?

A: Lololololololol. Heck yes, I would love to be on Oprah! What an honor that would be for me, my publisher, and the book.

When Akashic (my publisher) acquires a book, its primary mission is never to sell a million copies, but to give a platform to good books that are often overlooked by the bigger publishing houses. Akashic seeks in its catalogue excellence rather than mega-sales. Likewise, Akashic's writers seek to write the best books possible and therefore choose subject matter, content, and style that CONFIRM the integrity of the work of art rather than CONFORM to market tastes.

In other words, they are a lot like me. When I write, I never think about what you WANT to read; I think about what you NEED to read. I don't write for the pocketbook; I write for the soul. I grew up reading books like John Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH and Richard Wright's NATIVE SON, which sent me the message that art doesn't soothe so much as it disturbs.

People tell me they like my books because I am humorous but deep. What's more important to me is the deep part.

If you watch Oprah's dealings with books in her bookclub and on her show, you will notice that she seeks that kind of disturbing excellence too: it's Oprah who turned me on to Sheri Reynolds (Rapture of Caanan), Jane Hamilton (Book of Ruth), A. Manette Ansay (Vineger Hill), and Edwidge Danticat (Breath, Eyes, Memory).

Since the book was reviewed by the New York Times and appeared in O the Oprah Magazine two weeks ago, good things have been happening:important type people from the book world have been contacting me, the book has been selling a bit more on Amazon and in bookstores, and kind people such as yourself have been emailing (three times--lol) to say good things and ask questions.

In other words, the impact of Oprah has already been felt by yours truly, and I thank her for it. To be on her show . . . wow! What an incredible honor that would be.

I am on my knees praying. Prayer changes things, and I know the lord's gonna work this one out for me.

Lol.

I am, after all, the Jesus Boy.

And if I could ask Oprah one question it would be this: Which character in Jesus Boy would you like to play when it becomes a movie?

Thanks,

Preston

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who Begat Whom

Q: At the Pen Festival, you mentioned that all writers are also great readers. What books did you read to help you to write this book in particular?

A: Thanks, for the question. I hope I understand you correctly. You don't want me to list books that have inspired me as a writer and authors whose styles I have admired and emulated. You want me to narrow it down to just this book, JESUS BOY. Okay. I'll try, though there is not always a direct line from influence to inspiration to creativity to the completed work. In reality it is usually a lot fuzzier than that, but here goes.

John Cheever's short story, "The Country Husband"

Garrison Keillor's novel, LAKE WOBEGONE DAYS (his radio show "Prairie Home Companion" in general)

Flannery O'Connor's WISE BLOOD (her southern gothic work in general)

Gordon Parks's novel, THE LEARNING TREE

William Faulkner's LIGHT IN AUGUST

Philip Roth's Novella and collection, GOODBYE, COLUMBUS AND OTHER STORIES (Roth's early work in general)

James Baldwin's GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN

THE KING JAMES BIBLE

And there are many others, I'm sure, but these days listing is very difficult for me. I forget so many things--thank god for Google. Did I mention Langston Hughes? Did I mention THE LORD OF THE RINGS? Elwyn's name, which means ELF FRIEND, is taken straight from Tolkien's masterwork trilogy. Kind of ironic that a holy ghost Judeo Christian would have a name derived from Pagan Germanic myth.

Kind of ironic how Protestants would get their start in Catholicism.

Kind of ironic how Christianity would get its start in Judaism.

Kind of ironic that Jews and Arabs (according to their religions's histories) are first cousins descended from Jacob and Essau (or Isaac and Ishmael, I forget right now--I guess I could Google it--maybe I will later).

Everything is ironic when you look BACKWARDS, which we are forced to do because we are born as children not as adults. But when you finally read your history and you are able to start back there and then look FORWARD to where you are now, it's not ironic at all. It just becomes sad and very, very human, and the quote "Those who forget their history are dooomed to repeat it," begins to make a heck of a lot of sense. We forget that we are all one family.

I hate you because your religion is strange and conflicts with my beliefs. We forget that our religion came from yours. I hate you because your name is funny and your language is weird. We forget that our language came from yours, or one just like yours.

Elwyn hates the Holy Rollers, the rival religion of his group the Faithful, not realizing that a hundred years ago the Faithful and the Holy Rollers were the same faith, as evidenced by the inscriptions in the pews in the Big Church in Lakeland--both religions have the fame founding elders.

For more of the history of Elwyn's church, check out the short story "God Awaits the Church of Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked Upon the Waters" in the wonderful online magazine ASILI:

http://asilithejournal.com/ASILI/VOLUMES/Vol%20V-1/PrestonAllen.htm

And that whole idea of the importance of history is one of the important recurrent themes in the novel. In fact, the novel has a list of BEGATS . . . just like the Bible does.

The Bible tells us in several places to respect our elders. One of the Ten Commandments famously tells us to "Honor thy mother and thy father that thy days may be long." Indeed you should respect those those things that brought you into the world, those things from which you are descended, those things that made you, those things that shaped you, those things that protected and nourished you before you could do it for yourself. Shame on you if you do not honor that which made you.

By the same token, I kinda like being a Protestant Christian . . . why then, should I not honor Catholicism? Judaism? Hmmmmmmm?

It's getting kinda deep, and I am tempted to extend the analogy to race and ethnicity and nationality, but I will leave that up to you to do.

It all brings me back to my favorite bible hero Jesus Christ, whose whole message was about love.

"Love Your neighbor as yourself."

Sitting in our churches on Sunday, we seem, for whatever reason, to forget this commandment all the time. Organized religion these days is about many things--and many of them good--but rarely are they about love.

Love is too hard. It is human nature to make enemies. It is human nature to focus on the destruction of that enemy.

But love is hard. Love leads to death, sometimes.

Christ came with a message of love, and he was willing to die for it.

We need not be so dramatic as all that, however. Just strive everyday to remember how we are all connected as part of this big human family and that will be enough.

Strive to remember that who ever begat your enemy is related to who ever begat you.

We're all in this together.

Thanks,

Preston

Sunday, May 16, 2010



appears in conversation with Leonard Lopate (wnyc

Sunday, May 16, 2010, Was an Amazing Day

1) Got up early, left my hotel room, bought five copies of the New York Times from a street vendor.

2) Went to Battery Park, squatted on the grass among the pigeons and squirrels, read the book review on page 8--the book review of Jesus Boy--the New York Times review of Jesus Boy--the glowing review. Read the review 5 times. Maybe more. It was kinda hard to tell through the tears of joy.

3) Toured Ground Zero, took a few photos on my iPhone, got real somber, went back up to my hotel room, looked out the window at ground zero, took a few more photos. The hotel was the new Club Quarters World Trade Center. My wife's idea. We knew the NY Times review was coming. She didn't want it to swell my head. She wanted me to have some perspective. Ground Zero. Perspective. Okay. I got it. Had to hold back a different kinda tears trying to fall.

4) Packed my bag, got on the shuttle, arrived at Delta Airlines at Laguardia in plenty of time, bought 5 copies of "O the Oprah Magazine," flipped to page 114--to the section called "Ten More Titles to Read Now"--to title # 7, Jesus Boy and the words that follow: "Think African American Romeo and Juliet." Nice. Oprah. Oprah. My god, Oprah. Is there a sweeter sound to a starving artist's ear? I used to be a sick, degenerate gambler--actually, I'm still a sick degenerate gambler and will be for the rest of my life, it's just that I don't gamble anymore, taking it one day at a time(see my other book, ALL OR NOTHING)--so yeah, there was a time I used to gamble, but I would never have put good money on the odds of this happening to me all in one weekend--a NY Times book review and a kiss from my beloved Miss O.

5) Passed out copies of the Times review and "O the Oprah Magazine" to passengers waiting to board the plane, signed the copies with my stylishly looping P and my swollen pregnant A, told the woman with the Kindle I wish I could sign it for you, laughed at my own joke, laughed some more when she smiled and called me "what a character" and promised she'd buy my book and tell all her friends to buy it too, got on the plane, handed my last copy of the Times review to a passenger behind me, who read it and handed it back--good thing. It was my last copy.

6) The plane landed. I'm back in Miami. Thank you lord for your blessings great and small. Let the good times begin now.


Thanks,

Preston

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jesus Boy, Bounce, and All or Nothing

Q: I have read three of your novels now and I enjoyed them all, Bounce, All or Nothing, and now Jesus Boy. I cannot believe that the same person wrote all three books. In Bounce, you write from the point of view of a Dominican teenaged woman, in All or Nothing, you are an insane gambling addicted guy, and in Jesus Boy you are this little Christian piano player. What I enjoyed about them all is that each character tells their story honestly and passionately, but how do you write as a worldly very sexual woman in one book and then write as a young christian man in the next one and make them both believable? I think you would be a very interesting person to meet.

A: Good question. I think I can answer this one because I have been thinking a lot lately about how I do what I do.

I think that my strength as a writer is in my ability to depict or present character compellingly. At any rate, for the most part, my stories are character driven, rather than plot driven. This being said, I approach character in two ways--from the outside and from the inside.

Let's start with the outside, which I do less frequently. When I present character from the outside, I know how he/she looks, talks, feels, sounds. I know his/her thoughts. A character like this is one that I can easily deposit into a plot. So when I have a really dynamite plot, I generally put a character of this type into it. I have done this a few times with short stories, none of which I felt was strong enough to bother submitting for publication. Thus far, I have not done it with a novel.

When I present a character from the inside, I become the character. I am Elwyn in Jesus Boy. I am P in All or Nothing. I am Cindique in Bounce. I could write about them, or write AS them, even if I weren't telling a story.

It has happened several times after I have done a reading that someone has come up to me and asked, "Are you an actor?"

I'm not, but I am performing a script that is . . . me.

My characters, I think, tend to be passionate because I will not tell their story until I know what makes them tick, until I know what they are passionate about. In every story of that sort, I can point to the sections where the character just lets go and reveals who he/she is. For me, these are the easiest and most rewarding scenes to write. The character just lets her rip. I kinda like go into a zone at this point, typing like mad to get it all down on paper. I'm thinking of Cindique where she reveals that she still loves her husband despite the abuse. I'm thinking of P in All or Nothing when he goes to GA and the meeting goes crazy because he starts fantasizing loudly about gambling--actually, I'm thinking of P in too many places--P does it a lot. I'm thinking of Elwyn in Jesus Boy when he admits he has fallen in love with Rev. Jed's daughter but realizes that such a love is doomed because his true love is with Sister Morrisohn. Stuff like that.

What I think unites my characters in all of my books is that they are prisoners in their tragic little worlds and they are self aware enough and brave enough to admit it to the reader.

So once I have a character like that, a character that is so interesting or compelling that you would be willing to spend several hundred pages with him/her, all I have to do is ask the character, "What is your story? Tell me your story."

A character like that provides each story with its own particular style and voice. You pick up the book and it just oozes with the essence of Elwyn or Cindique or P. There is no generic kind of narrative going on. The book reads unique. The book feels unique. P has to tell the story the way he tells it because he is P. Elwyn is Elwyn. I like the way he talks. I like what he is talking about. The story tells itself in its own effective way. That's why I like books like A Clockwork Orange, Charlie (Flowers for Algernon), The Color Purple, and Push (by Sapphire). I like the way they talk, I like what they are talking about. And I mean, you don't have to be extreme like some of the examples I am giving. My characters are not illiterate, nor do they live in a distopian future and speak Russo-English. But the way they speak, once I have discovered it, is crucial to the story they are telling and how it will sound in the reader's ear. Like I said, the story tells itself. It's so beautiful. It's magical. Plot is the real work in a case like this. Plot comes later. Once the magic is in place, it's time to get to work. Plot takes work.

Thanks,

Preston

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New York

I had a blast this weekend in New York, but had an odd encounter with a homeless person.

As many of you know, I am an avid walker--so instead of cabbing it to my gig at NYU, I walked. It was 2.2 miles away from my hotel, which for a brisk walker like yours truly worked out to be about 35 minutes.

Anyhow, as I was trodding down Avenue of the Americas (6th) I bought a Triple Seven scratch off ticket from a newspaper vendor. But I had no coin to scratch off with.

What to do? What to do?

Around 34th Street, I passed a homeless woman seated on the ground beside her cup of change that she had collected from the charitable of heart in the Big Apple.

I said to her, "Ma'am, do you have change for a dollar?" and I pulled out a greenback.

She grunted something that sounded like, "I don't give change."

I said, "I need a penny."

She grunted, "You're asking me for money?"

I waved the dollar at her. "If you give me a penny, I'll give you this dollar."

She grunted incredulously, "You're giving me ninety-nine cents?"

I showed her the scratch off ticket. "I need the penny."

She fired back angrily, "I'm not giving you any money!"

"To scratch off the ticket. That's all."

I waved the ticket.

"Oh." She dug into her cup and pulled out a quarter.

"No. I just need the penny."

"Oh." This time she dug in and found a penny.

She gave me the penny. I gave her the dollar. I scratched the ticket. It was close, but not a winner. I gave her back the penny, recycled the ticket, and plodded on.

New York. New York. A beggar won't give you a penny. I thought Miami was tough.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Funny and Touching

A: Professor Allen, I understand why Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island) said on the cover of JESUS BOY that it was hilarious and tender. You touch on all the serious issues, abuse, death, incest, race, faith, betrayal, true love, and even musical passion, in ways that make them resonate with seriousness and importance but without sacrificing your wit. It is amazing that you are able to pull this off. You write so well that you have me laughing at almost the same time you have me crying. I went back and read ALL OR NOTHING and found that you actually did the same thing there, but with an even darker subject, compulsive gambling. Do you do that trick in all of your novels? If so, you are now my favorite writer. And if you do the same thing in your class as a teacher, I am signing up for your ENC 1102 next semester. Thanks for coming to our class. I have to go buy your other books now.

B: Thanks for the comments. Like I said in response to a similar question earlier, I am a student of Ken Macrorie who wrote TELLING WRITING. Being humorous and serious at the same time is not so hard when you look for "fabulous realities," and then let normal human nature do the rest. Go get his book if you can find a copy of it. I think it is out of print, but you can get a copy on AMAZON probably.

Thanks,

Preston

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Old Time Gospel Music

Q: I really enjoyed the book and your class presentation. Come back again. I have a few musical questions for you concerning some things from the book. First, is Chester Harbaugh based on a real musician and is the Chester Harbaugh with Mamie Girl the same Chester Harbaugh that Sister Morrisohn listens to? Second, Elwyn later on in the book complains about modern Christian music and hymns, he thinks modern hymns are too worldly. Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart said the same thing a few years ago, I think he said it about Christian Rock music. How would Elwyn feel about Christian Hip-Hop music?

A: Chester Harbaugh is based on several real country musicians of the forties and fifties who used to sing both secular and religious music. Yes, he is the same person.

Elwyn would not like Christian hip-hop, no, probably not. Changes in music are a minor problem for people who stay in church all of their lives--they of course prefer the older songs that they sang in their youth, not this worldly sounding stuff that the young people are singing. But such changes are a MAJOR problem for Elwyn, who like many people, gets his religion young, abandons it, and then comes back to it over the course of his life whenever he needs to feel centered. Part of the centering comes from returning to our childhood, a time when for many of us things felt solid, certain, and real--things are the way they are, and this is the way they are forever. A return to church is often a nostalgic journey for many of us, and our enjoyment is disrupted by those things in our journey that have changed. Music, like dress (which Elwyn also complains about), is by its very nature subject to change over time. When Elwyn goes to church and hears modern music, church is no longer the church of his childhood and therefore no longer satisfies his nostalgic needs.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Honesty Is Funny

Q: I enjoyed the book but I don't really have a question. I just want to say thank you for coming to our class and the two funniest parts of the book for me are when Elwyn and Benny go to Sister Morrisohn's house after the tent revival meeting and the scene with Elwyn and his principal. The slap scene. The book is deep but very hilarious. Did you mean for it to be so funny and how do you write funny?

A: You actually did ask a question. I guess I did mean for it to be funny. Years ago when I was a freshman in college I learned from my comp teacher a technique called writing fabulous realities*--which taught me that the trick to being funny is to be honest. Humans by their very nature are "funny." If you tell the truth about people without too much interference on your part as the author, it comes off as being funny. I get my "funny" from honesty. Elwyn and the people in his church family take themselves too seriously and when I tell that truth it comes across as funny to the reader.

Thanks,

Preston

*Our textbook was by Ken Macrorie. I think it was called TELLING WRITING, or something like that. I used to know, but now I'm getting forgetful.

Is Love Possible Between Older Women and Younger Men?

Q: Congratulations on your beautiful novel. It is beautiful on the inside but also on the outside. What a gorgeous cover. Where did you come up with that idea? As I read JESUS BOY I could not decide whether the book was opposed to love between older women and younger men or if it was supporting it. On the one hand, there are several couples in which the older woman and the younger man succeed--Sister Morrisohn's parents, Sister Cooper and Private Cooper, Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn. But there are also examples that show problems between the traditional older man and younger woman scenario, Barry and Peachie, even though Brother Morrisohn was older than Sister Morrisohn and their love succeeded. Are you opposed to relationships between older women and younger men? Enjoyed the book. Do you think that kind of relationship can work?

A: Are you asking me whether I think a relationship between a boy of sixteen and a woman of 42 can work? Okay, first of all, that is called statutory rape in fifty of the fifty states in the Union, and the woman would have to register by law as a sex offender. The law aside, can it work? Did you read THE READER? Did you read THE GRADUATE? Did you see either of those movies? Sorry, bad examples. LOL. Actually, I think such relationships could work given the right set of circumstances, and I think such relationships do work--right here in America today. Think Demi Moore and pretty boy Ashton. Think Cher and any young man lucky enough to win her fancy.

The real problem is not the age difference (older men marry much younger women all the time, often successfully)--the real problem is how they as a couple in public are perceived by society. In the case of Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn, the problem is with how they are perceived by their church community--the same church community, as you pointed out, that fully accepted Sister Morrisohn and Brother Morrisohn, though he was nearly 30 years her senior.

One angle this book takes is that it explores the difficult trust issues involved in loving someone whose age makes her so much more knowledgeable than you. This is true innocence versus experience. Because of her age, she knows all of your secrets, including how and why you were born, but you know none of hers. In fact, each time you learn one, it shocks your system. Furthermore, each time something happens to make you realize how much more knowledge she has than you it poses a threat to the realtionship.

But you know, this is a very good question. Thanks for asking. I have some more thoughts on this subject that just popped into my head and I am going to talk about them in a future blog on this site--thoughts about older men and younger women, younger women and older men, and older gay men and younger gay men, and older lesbians and younger lesbians. I have seen many a career of a lesbian high school volleyball coach ruined because she had relations by consent with one of her lesbian players, even though she and the player eventually became life partners--things like that. Just thinking. Just thinking.

Thanks,

Preston

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is the Book Autobiographical?

Q: I thoroughly enjoyed JESUS BOY, for I too am a church pianist and have been for nearly fifty years, starting at the age of 10--so I have you beat by two years, since you (or should I say your character Elwyn) started at 12. Your great talent as a writer is a blessing from the Lord, Brother Allen, if you don't mind me telling you so. And though the book made me laugh out loud too many times to count and brought me to the point of sadness and tears almost as often, I hope one day for you to get serious and write entirely for the glory of God. That is what I see for you. God gave you this gift for a reason and I think that reason is to bring glory to His name. I have read many novels in my life but never one like this. For someone who has spent her entire life in the church, the book is so real to me and so true. Every page I kept nodding my head and saying to myself, I know someone like Brother Morrisohn, I know someone like Brother Parker, I know someone like Sister Miron, I know someone like Brother Barry McGowan. You brought the church experience to life for me, but you did it without preaching down the place or being cynical and tearing down our faith. You did not mock us for our beliefs as Christians, which some writers do, you simply told our story, and what a twisted and devious story it is at times. Sometimes I wanted to put the book down because I thought you were going to get too dirty, but you never did. You never got to the point of offending. But you also never shied away from telling the story, even the bad parts and real life issues that many believers want to pretend don't exist in the church: hypocrisy, infidelity, lust, jealousy, and as they say today, alternative lifestyles. This is a very powerful book. I am glad you came to our class to speak, and I am glad I bought and read JESUS BOY. But I think that the only way for you to be able to tell a story like this is for you to have lived it. Am I right? Is this story autobiographical? Are you Elwyn, Brother Allen? Are you the Jesus Boy?

A: Thanks for your kind words and thanks for your question.

My mother, who passed away two years ago, asked the same question after she had read a draft of the book. "Is this book about you? Are you Elwyn?"

My answer is no. I am not Elwyn. The book is not autobiographical. However, I know THAT world. Yes, I grew up in the church. Yes, I was a 12-year old church pianist. Yes, I fell in love with a girl my age who was also a church pianist and who seemed like my perfect mate. Yes, because of a pregnancy she and I never got together. Yes, I discovered that loving an older woman, who has serious issues in her past, is difficult if not impossible. But I'm not Elwyn, seriously. I'm just a writer who is good at squeezing lies in such a way that the truth drips out of them. If the book were autobiographical, my mother would have given me a good whuppin.

However, if my last book ALL OR NOTHING is any indication of how this thing works, I had better expect to hear that autobiographical question asked many, many times before it's all over.

I can't wait to finally publish one of my novels that has a female protagonist. I can just hear the audience now:

"Is the book autobiographical, Mr. Allen?"

"Yes, I am a tall sexy black woman."

Thanks,

Preston

My First Question!! Church of God. Holiness. Pointer Sisters.

Q: I just finished the book and I loved it, though the end made me very sad, especially the scene where Sister Morrisohn confesses everything to Elwyn. A few of the students in the class had some questions that maybe you can answer. Is the major theme of the book hypocrisy, and what is your religious background? By the way, I personally loved your reading. I love the way you become each character when you read. As I read the book, I kept hearing your voice in my head.

A: First of all, congratulations on being the first question on this blog--the first two questions actually. And I am sorry about my voice in your head. You ought to have a doctor check on that.

Okay, hypocrisy, let's start there. Yes, hypocrisy is one of the themes in the book because, as you know, a number of holy people in the novel upon closer inspection seem quite flawed. But hypocrisy is too easy. It would be too easy to write a book that points a finger at hypocrites in the church--anyone could do that. In fact, anyone outside the world of the church could do that. But because of my experiences in life, I write as a church insider, and my goal therefore has to be more ambitious than the simple and expected and been-there-done-that pointing out of hypocrites.

Now, I don't want to give away too much and ruin the plot for the fans who haven't purchased the boook yet, which is always a danger when a writer talks about his/her work, and I also don't want to establish some sort of authoritarian guideline for reading the book that invalidates all other interpretations, so I will be careful in how I explain what I think is a major theme of this work, from an insider's point of view.

Love. The book is about love, the kind that Christ talks about, unconditional love. In the novel the hypocrites, as you call them, all tend to be from the older generation. And they are good people. In particular, they are people who are good, for the most part, to Elwyn. They are people who seem godlike to Elwyn now because of their age and all that they have achieved in life, but they are people who were young once too. And when they were young, they were a lot like Elwyn and the other youthful protagonists in the book, driven by their emotions to act in ways that they would later regret. The challenge of the book is not to expose their hypocrisies, but after the said exposure for Elwyn to recognize that his elders were young once too and to forgive them for being human. If Elwyn can forgive, then he is a true Christian.

Keep in mind that Sister Morrisohn is his elder too. Though they are lovers, she certainly must have things to expose, and Elwyn must be able to forgive these things committed before he was even born--these things committed when she was his age and driven by passion and guided by inexperience. If Elwyn can forgive, then their love is true.

My religious experience/background is Holiness (a sort of pentecostal church, but not really). Holiness? What the heck is that? Not too many people are aware that the Pointer Sisters were Holiness when they were growing up--their branch was the Church of God--headquartered in Anderson, Ind. So was Bill Gaither (of the Bill Gaither Trio), who gave us the famous hymns "The King Is Coming," "Something Beautiful," and "Jesus, We just Want to Thank You"--his branch was Church of God, too.

No, I'm not going to tell you what branch of holiness I belonged to because I do not discuss my own personal religious life and/or views and/or faith.

I have a policy of not discussing sex, religion, or politics.

Of course, ironically, I tend to WRITE about sex, religion, and politics all the time.

LOL

But I will not discuss them.

Thanks,

Preston

By the way, I am looking for a copy of The Bill Gaither Trio's song "Rejoice, Rejoice, My Son Is Coming Home Again." It's the song they used to sing about the prodigal son. I would love to put it on my iPod, but it does not seem to be on any of their albums or CDs. When I was a mere lad growing up in Miami (around 1975-79) the song used to air all them time on WMCU radio. Help.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Readings this Week

I'm quite excited about this upcoming week (February 15-20), which launches my readings featuring JESUS BOY.

I will be at--

February

Wednesday (17): African American History Month Luncheon at Carlton Fields Law Firm

Friday (19): Asili Night at MDC

Wednesday (24): African American History Month Luncheon at MDC

Friday (26): MDC Male Summit

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Welcome One and All to my Jesus Boy Blog!

The book is due to be released on April 1, 2010, but you can go to Amazon.com right now and pre-order your copy today!

I'm very excited about JESUS BOY. I've already gotten a pretty good review from Donna Seaman and the kind people at Booklist.

"Elwyn is a godly child, but not above fabricating a holy vision to convince his hardworking parents to pay for piano lessons so he can impress Peachie, the love of his young life, by performing in their Church of Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked upon the Waters. Loyal and pure, Elwyn believes he and Peachie are destined for each other, but by the time they’re in high school, Peachie is bound by necessity to another. Hurt and angry, Brother Elwyn redoubles his “evangelical efforts” at school, nearly getting expelled for his zealous proselytizing and plummeting grades. Then he falls hard for Sister Morrisohn, a sexy widow 26 years his senior. As time goes on, they become a covert, insatiable, scandalous, and contentious pair given to epic battles and reconciliations. Allen has created a consummate tragicomedy of African American family secrets and sorrows, and of faith under duress and wide open to interpretation. Perfect timing and crackling dialogue, as well as heartrending pain balanced by uproarious predicaments, make for a shout-hallelujah tale of transgression and grace, a gospel of lusty and everlasting love."

—Donna Seaman

Ariel Gonzalez Interviews Preston L. Allen on WLRN radio

Religion has often played a role in Preston L. Allen's fiction, but perhaps never more so than in his new novel, "Jesus Boy." Set in Florida, it follows a group of black fundamentalists who have trouble distinguishing the sacred from the profane. Allen has won praise for his accessible style, raunchy wit, and compassion for human foibles.

Literary contributor Ariel Gonzalez spoke with Allen. He began by asking him why there was so much sex in his work. The interview begins with Allen's reply.

Reading at the Pen Festival 2010

May-June 2010, New York, NY

Preston L. Allen reading at the Pen with Javier Cercas, Siri Hustvedt, Karl O. Knausgaard, Anne Landsman, Thomas Pletzinger, Monique Proulx, Lee Stringer, Christos Tsiolkas, and Tommy Wieringa

Book Review: Chicago Center for Literature and Photography



Regular readers know that I believe the key to a successful novel to be the combination of an exciting plot and deep characterization; but if I'm forced to choose only one or the other in any particular book, I think it's clear by now that I generally prefer the former over the latter, in that stories featuring barely-defined characters doing interesting things tend to be inherently more entertaining in my head than ones where interesting people sit around doing nothing. So I'm always excited, then, when I come across the rare character-heavy novel that I end up liking quite a bit; take for example the recently released Jesus Boy by Florida professor Preston L. Allen, author of the previous gambling novel All Or Nothing which also garnered quite a bit of praise, both of which were put out by our pals at Akashic Books, who in the last few years has seemed almost incapable of making a wrong move. I thought today, then, I would take the opportunity to do an actual analytical examination of what makes this such a great character-driven novel when so many others fail so spectacularly at it, as a way of hopefully passing along a few tips to fellow writers out there who are struggling over the same issues; because believe me, Jesus Boy is an almost textbook example of how to put together an intriguing and page-flipping yet plot-light story, and it's no wonder that Akashic signed this despite it having little to do with the subversive culture and hipster characters that define most of the other titles in their catalog.

As you can imagine, step one with books like these is to create a fascinating milieu for your characters to inhabit, which Allen does: he in fact sets this book within the world of radical Protestant churches in rural south Florida with mostly black congregations, the kinds of groups with names like "The Holy Rollers" who consider even Southern Baptists to be timid wannabes, and who create elaborate conservative moral codes for their members which often contradict themselves in their specific rules. And indeed, that's what makes this milieu so fascinating, is that as human beings, the desires of these groups' members often come into direct conflict with the restrictive code of behavior they are trying to maintain; and this is in fact what Allen mostly examines in Jesus Boy, the various ways that the private lives of his expansive cast betray their public lives as the religiously pious, and the ways these schisms affect the long-term lives of these characters over the course of approximately half a century and several generations, from roughly the Jim Crow 1940s to the hiphop 1990s.

Now of course, this particular milieu is also ripe for easy, lazy stereotyping -- after all, it's these organizations that spawn most of our nation's televangelists -- which leads to my second tip concerning such novels, that they require not only fascinating environments but unique and compelling looks at these environments; and this Allen also does, centering the tale around the complex "Jesus Boy" of the book's title, a naturally gifted piano player who was hailed by his church at a young age as a zealous musical warrior for God, and who then struggles for the rest of his life over the balance between his spirituality and his heathen side, complicated even further by his decades-long secret relationship with a MILF-like older church member (during their first tryst, he's 16 and she's 42), as well as his manytimes humorous multicultural adventures at the secular state university he ends up attending. This then leads us to a closer examination of his lover as well, who turns out to have had a very similar experience in her past but that time playing the younger role, which as the novel progresses we learn is tied in complicated ways to the muddled lives of all the other characters, which then drops us down the rabbithole of how crazy and screwed-up all these relationships within the church are, filtered by such factors as pre-civil-rights

segregation, the expectations of "manliness" within African-American society, the disconnect between what we want and what we can have, and of course the all-important public face of respectability that members of the church are expected to wear at all times.

This then nicely leads us to my third tip concerning character-heavy novels, that if you're to attempt a story light on action scenes, it's important to make those scenes count for as much as possible; and it's here that Allen really shines, in that like Michael Chabon, all of his well-placed plot-oriented moments serve as true catalysts for twisting the entire story in a new direction, delivering by the end what's still a deep character study but that is quickly-paced and always inspires you to excitedly wonder what's next, whether that's the occasional fistfight or discovery of infidelity, a flight from the law or the disgrace of a popular preacher. And that of course leads to my fourth tip concerning such books, the one probably best known already, that when you choose to write a story based mostly on character, it helps to give that story a strong sense of personal style as well; and here too Allen is just great, penning the entire manuscript in a way that's both poetic and easy to read, and with a sly humor that complements very well the unhurried Southern story he's telling.

Add all these things up, like I said, and you have that special rare character-oriented novel that reads like an airport thriller, not just lively and entertaining but that gets you thinking about all kinds of subjects for the first time, or at least thinking about them in new ways. As with many recent Akashic books, I suspect that Jesus Boy will be popping up again in one of my best-of lists at the end of the year, and it comes highly recommended today whether or not you're a natural fan of character-heavy stories or fundamentalist Christians.

Out of 10: 9.3

by Jason Pettus

Review of Jesus Boy by Geoffrey Philp, Author of Who's Your Daddy and Other Stories

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to church, Preston Allen writes Jesus Boy, a story about a young Christian, Elwyn Parker, who falls in love with an older woman, Elaine Morrisohn, a matriarch in the Church of Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked Upon the Waters. In many ways this was a difficult book to review, not only because Preston Allen is my friend and colleague at Miami Dade College, but also because of my own history with fundamentalist Christianity and Preston’s ability to depict the tortured consciousness of a teenage true believer at war with his faith and his flesh:

"At sixteen, I met my first great temptation, and I yielded with surprisingly little resistance, I who had proclaimed myself strong in the Lord. There had been, it seems, a chink in my armor, through which Satan had thrust his wicked sword" (34).

And as if dealing with his hyperactive conscience wasn’t enough, Elwyn’s plight is exacerbated by Elaine Morrisohn’s deliberate pursuit of him, even during church services:

"As she sat down with a satisfied smile on her face, she knew she was being naughty. She shouldn’t have shouted like that, but she was trying to send him a message by shouting like she did during orgasm…She just wanted to rip off her clothes and fly to him. He was so tight and so fresh and so full of juice…he was a lean, strong fresh-tasting black boy—he looked good enough to eat" (77).

But Elwyn wants to be saved. Desperately. Yet the God that Elwyn serves is a God of wrath who is eager to punish sinners, especially women who wear pants or jewelry and who listen to “worldly” music. Growing up in this kind of environment Elwyn becomes a holier-than-thou preacher—an attitude that he exhibits long after he has left the fold:

"God’s people have to be apart. They have to be different. Christians these days—I don’t understand them at all. They go to parties, they drink, they have premarital sex, they wear the fashions of the world. Even the music. These days you can’t tell the difference between a church song and hip hop" (361).

What is remarkable about Jesus Boy is Allen’s use of point of view. He writes as an insider, someone who knows the secrets within the black community and reports the intimacies of people who want to live, love, and praise God. And he does this without resorting to stereotypes or clichés. Allen explores the black family and black religion without the filters of white validation, effectively banishing the "double consciousness" theory of W. E. B. Du Bois. The characters in Jesus Boy exist in a milieu in which whites exist peripherally. Jesus Boy asserts without rancor: This is our story.

And this perhaps is one of the major accomplishments of the novel. Allen uncovers the hypocrisies within the black church in the way that James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain exposed the vision of its adherents—a world divided not along racial lines, but between the “saved” and the unsaved. And because being “saved” requires denial of the most basic human impulses, the “saved” are always in state of guilt over the state of their soul:

"Demons, I was certain, frolicked in my room after the lights were turned off. At night, I watched stricken with fear, as the headlights of passing automobiles cast animated shadows on the walls of my room. Only God, who I believed loved my singing voice, could protect me from the wickedness lurking in the dark. Thus, I sang all of God’s favorite tunes—hummed when I didn’t know the words—in order to earn his protection" (13).

There is much to admire about Jesus Boy. From the cover designed like an old family Bible to the genealogy list of the begetting that took place in Elwyn’s family, the novel has hints of Faulkner with an oversexed patriarch and a family history of incest, abuse, and illicit romance. Preston Allen has truly written what Dennis Lehane has deemed a “tender masterpiece.”

***

Preston L. Allen, a recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship, is the author of the critically acclaimed novel All or Nothing (Akashic) and the award-winning collection Churchboys and Other Sinners (Carolina Wren Press). His stories have appeared in numerous magazines and journals and have been anthologized in Brown Sugar (Penguin), Miami Noir (Akashic), and Las Vegas Noir (Akashic). He lives in South Florida.

The Spectator: Review of Jesus Boy

BOOK: ‘Jesus Boy’ by Preston L. Allen

If the church’s name isn’t intense enough, Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked Upon The Waters has an intense set of rules and lifestyle regulations to match in Preston Allen’s latest novel.

The novel follows one Elwyn Parker, a member of the Our Blessed Redeemer congregation who firmly abides by its teachings: no drinking, no smoking, no coffee, no secular music and no pants for women. But of course the story doesn’t just explicate the strictness of the church; it explores the turmoil running beneath its surface, and the primal urges common to all of its members. These primal urges compel Parker to explore the taboo topics that exist outside of his church’s borders—which means just about everything non-religious that life has to offer.

The book is equal parts an exploration of church-sexy and sex-sexy, and it provides an intriguing, sometimes gripping glance into the psychology of a person wrestling with the nature of religiously-imposed restriction.

Mission Statement

Here's how it works. You email me at PrestonTheWriterAllen@gmail.com, and I will answer all of your questions about the book or the writing process in general. So hurry up and read the book and start sending me questions.

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About Me

Miami, Florida, United States
According to Author's Den: "He cut his teeth on the classics of the golden age of science fiction, the lurid bestselling thrillers of the sixties and seventies, and the Holy Bible (King James Version). He grows up to pen fiction that rages with truth and insight--a master of erotica, thrillers, romance, noir, Preston L. Allen is America's writer. So let it be written, so let it be read."