October 30, 2007

In My Own Words: Preston Allen

Preston AllenJust So Stories

One of my earliest reading influences was the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. I think this has something to do with my approach to storytelling--though the stories in that book are largely forgotten and from what parts I recall, they were not just so. But I liked the idea of a story that was just so. This is the way it is, and that's that. So I guess I like to write stories that tell the truth, or perhaps "expose" or "reveal" the truth.

By this, I do not mean that I want to shock people, though my stories are sometimes shocking in their frankness. I want the readers to come away from my stories with their heads nodding in recognition. I want them to say, "This is the way we are. This is what we do." But I don't preach in my works. I don't tell you what to do. To use a medical metaphor, I'm not the doctor who writes the prescription—I'm the one who sticks the needle in your finger and draws your blood, I'm the one who grabs your testicles and tells you to cough, the one who reads your x-ray, the one who tells you that you're pregnant.

Maybe there's another way to look at it. It's hard to do, but I try to study people without judging them too much. I want who they really are to shine through without too much interference from me. Case in point, in my collection, Churchboys and Other Sinners (Carolina Wren Press 2003). The recurring characters are Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn, two born-again fundamentalists who share a secret and forbidden love. The thing that pleases me most about their story is the reaction I get from my fundamentalist friends who say: "You told a good story, a funny story, but without demeaning their Christian belief. How did you do it?" I am not exactly sure how to answer that, but I do know that when I wrote those parts of the book I tried my hardest to write it from inside their world. I became who they are, I believed what they believe, I tried to think like they do—and with no cynicism. To my way of thinking, that is the only way to get to truth without being condescending and/or cynical; and you still get to be funny—funny in the sense of how honestly funny (peculiar) people are.

Similarly, in my new novel, All or Nothing (Akashic 2007), I do not judge the protagonist, the profligate, wastrel, degenerate gambler P—though he is all of those adjectival things. I simply tell his story the way he would tell it, which allows it to flow to its logical conclusion. People who have read this book are saying things like: "The book is about addiction—any addiction that you or I may have—gambling just so happens to be this poor protagonist's chosen vice." I'm getting some pretty good reviews of this book and they all seem to be saying much the same thing—that the book is honest though over the top (and that is only because gamblers live an over the top life). This is the way it is. There is no other way to say it. All or Nothing is a just so book on gamblers and gambling.


All or Nothing: Review

Category: FICTION

A gambler's hands and heart perpetually tremble in this raw story of addiction. "We gamble to gamble. We play to play. We don't play to win." Right there, P, desperado narrator of this crash-'n'-burn novella, sums up the madness. A black man in Miami, P has graduated from youthful nonchalance (a '79 Buick Electra 225) to married-with-a-kid pseudo-stability, driving a school bus in the shadow of the Biltmore. He lives large enough to afford two wide-screen TVs, but the wife wants more. Or so he rationalizes, as he hits the open-all-night Indian casinos, "controlling" his jones with a daily ATM maximum of $1,000. Low enough to rob the family piggy bank for slot-machine fodder, he sinks yet further, praying that his allergic 11-year-old eat forbidden strawberries—which will send him into a coma, from which he'll emerge with the winning formula for Cash 3 (the kid's supposedly psychic when he's sick). All street smarts and inside skinny, the book gives readers a contact high that zooms to full rush when P scores $160,000 on one lucky machine ("God is the God of Ping-ping," he exults, as the coins flood out). The loot's enough to make the small-timer turn pro, as he heads, flush, to Vegas to cash in. But in Sin City, karmic payback awaits. Swanky hookers, underworld "professors" deeply schooled in sure-fire systems to beat the house, manic trips to the CashMyCheck store for funds to fuel the ferocious need—Allen's brilliant at conveying the hothouse atmosphere of hell-bent gaming. Fun time in the Inferno.

Author: Allen, Preston L.

Date: SEPTEMBER 15, 2007

Publisher: Akashic Pages: 280

Price (paperback): $14.95

Publication Date: 11/29/2007 0:00:00

ISBN: 978-1-933354-41-5

ISBN (paperback): 978-1-933354-41-5



Preston Allen and Dedra Johnson will reading at Books and Books on Thursday, November 1, 2007.

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