In addition to his role as one of the editors of Metazen, Christopher Allen’s fiction has appeared all over the web. Having been edited by Christopher a few times now over on Metazen, his recently being named Best Ezine Editor over on the Preditors and Editors Readers Poll came as no surprise to me. I’m a big fan of his fiction writing and his travel(b)logue and it is with great pleasure that I present to you, Christopher Allen’s Life in Short Fiction:
1. The first short story you remember enjoying.
I don’t remember much of my early reading life, and conjuring up the little I can remember of it makes me feel exposed and vulnerable. My family was, and still is, very spiritual. By the time I was twelve I’d read most of the Bible. I suppose the parables, the story of Jonah and the Great Fish, of David and Jonathan and all the other stories of the Bible were my first “short stories”. I’m not sure whether I enjoyed these stories; they were simply part of my life.
By the age of ten, I’d discovered a passion for writing, but I think this need to write was influenced more by TV and songs on the radio. In the fifth grade I wrote a “novel” called Cobra Man, the story of a half-man-half-snake creature who takes over a distant world. It was a masterpiece of course.
It is not a short story, but Robinson Crusoe was the first story that fascinated me. I remember reading it in the back of my parents’ car. I have no idea how old I was.
In high school I read everything I could get my hands on, but I don’t remember much of it except Edgar Allan Poe, Emerson and Thoreau. By the time I was at university, I’d read enough to know that I wanted to write—so I majored in Music Business of course.
It wasn’t until much later when I was in graduate school getting a Master’s Degree in English that my reading memory is clearer. The first short story that deeply challenged me to consider the art of writing, as well as the relationship between female and male consciousness, was Henry James’s “In the Cage”. I ended up including it in my Master’s thesis.
2. The short story that turned you on to writing short fiction.
To answer these questions, I am constantly turning around to search through the history of my bookshelves. Seventeen years ago when I moved to Germany I sold 300 books, so much of that history has been spread over the southeast United States. I remember reading a collection of stories by Eudora Welty in 1987 or so and thinking I would love to write like that. Of course I read lots of Faulkner, but mostly novels. At that time I thought there’d be a distinctive Southern sound to my prose.
3. A story by the author whose body of work you feel has most influenced yours.
If I could answer this question precisely, the story I’d mention would be a collaboration among Virginia Woolf, Jincy Willett and Bill Bryson. Philip Roth would have been part of the collaboration at first, but he would have stomped out early on in the process. The likelihood of this collaboration is dire—I know. Below in question 5 I’ve included “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf, which could just as easily suffice here; but since the question is focused on short fiction, I’m going to say Jincy Willett. Virginia only speaks to me in my dreams, and Bill doesn’t even write fiction. Jincy Willett’s story “Melinda Falling” (in her cult classic collection Jenny & the Jaws of Life) is always a favorite. I love the voice and the character of Melinda. I’ve worked with Jincy on my own writing, so of course she has influenced me.
4. The story from your own body of work that most reveals something of who Christopher Allen is.
Yikes. I’m still trying to figure out who Christopher Allen is. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a fluid thing, becoming a different fluid thing all the time. My short fiction is usually about a character who is not me, but there is one story in which the narrator feels like me (although he speaks in a British accent). It’s about a man paid to sweep a sidewalk that will never be clean. “The Pain Taster” appeared at Kaffe in Katmandu in 2011. I often feel like this character: he’s the writer unable to comfort, console or counsel his character.
5. Your all time favourite short story.
I’ve chosen A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf, because she is the writer whose work has influenced me the most, because it’s flash fiction and because it demonstrates many qualities of Woolf’s fiction, such as triplet repetition (“safe, safe, safe”), elliptical dialogue interspersed with stream of consciousness narrative. When I reread this story, I hear Virginia’s influence on the way I hear and write dialogue—but not in a creepy way.
Christopher Allen published his first short story in 1993. His fiction, creative non-fiction and travel articles have appeared in numerous places both in print and online. In 2010 Allen’s story “Red Toy Soldier” won The Smoking Poet’s short story contest. In 2011 Allen was a finalist at Glimmer Train, a Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of the “Best Ezine Editor” title in the Preditors & Editors Readers Poll. He blogs about his obsession with exploring the Earth at www.imustbeoff.com.