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.



*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.



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."



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.


But I will not discuss them.



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.

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, 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.




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."