Christopher Allen’s short fiction has appeared all over the internet. In 2010 his story “Red Toy Soldier” won The Smoking Poet’s short story contest. In 2011 he was a finalist at Glimmer Train, a Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of the “Best Ezine Editor” title in the Preditors & Editors Readers Poll for his role as editor to two litanies.
This month, today in fact, his ‘plovel’ Conversations with S. Teri O’Type is published. Curt Child is a man who just can’t seem to get gay, so he’s enlisted the help of his oldest–and gayest–friend S. Teri O’Type to drag him a few inches down The Road to Greater Gayness. What’s a plovel you ask? Well it is with great pleasure that I welcome Christopher onto this blog to answer that question and many more as part of his blog tour. Cue interview:
When you first told me about the book, you described Conversations with S. Teri O’Type as a plovel and a flash novel. Could you explain what makes ‘Conversations…’ a plovel/flash novel and why you felt the story of Curt’s journey down The Road to Greater Gayness was best told in this form?
Well, I was not the first person to refer to it as a plovel. Lori Fischer, a playwright and screenwriter, suggested “plovel” as a hybrid between a play and a novel. Because the Conversations are by nature dialogic, the book reads more like a play than a novel. In fact, I have never considered it a novel. I toyed with “novella” and “episodic novella” and finally decided to call it a satire. The story takes shape as a series of lessons, each fairly independent of the others although Curt certainly is on a journey–an episodic journey. Like he’s caught up in a sitcom.
It’s interesting to me that you describe Curt as caught in a sitcom. The punchy dialogue certainly shows that. While reading the book I couldn’t help seeing and hearing it as a dramatic monologue. The whole thing could easily be performed by one actor playing Curt, with him imitating Teri’s voice and gestures. Both voices come alive one the page. How did you go about creating these voices? And did you write with performance of the piece in mind at all?
I’m so glad you see it this way. I read the first Conversation, “In the Beginning was the Icon,” at the KGB Bar in NYC in June. I was very nervous before the reading. There’s no way to read Conversations with S. Teri O’Type without performing the voices. It just wouldn’t work. I’ve always spoken the voices from the very beginning, so they are all–even Cary Grant’s voice–well anchored in my head (and none of them is my voice). The evening of the reading, my nerves calmed when Teri began gushing and gushing. And gushing.
And you’re right: It makes sense for one person to perform it so that he is doing both voices. For so many reasons, the main one being that this satire transpires inside Curt’s head. That may be a spoiler, but I think it’s clear early on in the story that Teri isn’t “real”.
I don’t think that’s a spoiler. The reader should realise or at least suspect Teri isn’t quite real very early in the book. Having said that, you manage despite, or perhaps because of the extreme nature of Teri’s character, to make him seem ‘real’ to the reader. In fact I would go so far as to say Teri’s character takes on a kind of hyper-reality. Was this something you worked toward or a happy accident of writing him as such an extreme stereotype?
Yes! In fact, I think this aspect of hyperreality is at the core of the story. Curt, even in the end, believes Teri is real–now that might be a spoiler. His mind is so corrupted by the superficiality of our sitcom society that he can’t distinguish real from unreal, and he never gets it. While this wasn’t an accident, the idea developed over time. In the early stages of writing the Conversations I simply let the voices take the reins, but as I studied other absurdist texts, I realized Curt would never ever understand anything Teri said–not completely. I did quite a bit of rewriting.
You say the voices of Curt and Teri took the reins. Did the story end up different than you planned because of this? And what other issues did you need to address in the rewriting?
From the beginning, I meant for the story to happen in ever-weirder lessons. This never changed throughout the writing. The voices of Teri and Curt, however, developed into polar opposites. Teri’s over-the-topness blossomed–I’m sure this is the right word–as Curt’s bland cluelessness simply sat there and said “Huh?” Occasionally, though, Curt will make a keen observation to let the reader know he’s not quite as dumb as he sounds.
Apart from honing the dialogue in terms of timing and rhythm, I went back and infused the story with all sorts of allusions. This is one level of the Conversations that will be lost on some readers, but I think literary allusion always runs that risk.
Another issue when rewriting specifically a satire is consistency of theme. I really had to question the purpose of the Conversations. Satire pisses people off: some who understand it completely, some who misread it completely, and then lots of readers somewhere between. I wanted to make sure I was irritating readers for the right reason.
Was this writing process for Conversations….. very different from how you approach your short fiction? Or did the episodic nature of the piece allow you to approach it in similar way to your short fiction?
This question made me reflect on my “process” quite a lot. Thank you for that. Many of my stories are about people on a journey. Maybe this is because I myself am on the road so much. Very few of these stories and characters, however, have accompanied me for years. Teri and Curt–and Cary Grant of course–followed me around for a very long time, whispering lines of dialogue to me and putting themselves in humorous situations. I didn’t force this book out; I let it happen whenever it needed to.
I found myself scribbling dialogue on buses and trains and planes. Having an OMG/Curt conversation while hiking up a mountain and hoping it would be the same conversation when I got back to the valley (and my pen) was no seldom occurrence.
I’d say the Conversations nagged at me much like the characters and situations of my other novels, so in this way I never treated it like a work of short fiction. That said, each lesson is only about 1000 words long, so it feels like short fiction.
It certainly does bridge a gap between a fair few genres. We’ve already discussed the books hybrid nature as sitting somewhere between a play and a novel. Are there any plans to have ‘Conversations…’ performed?
There are no plans, but there is hope. The Germans say ‘die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt’ (hope dies last). When reading the Conversations in public, I perform them. I do Teri, Curt and Cary Grant–and all the other characters on the periphery. When it comes to the Conversations being adapted into other forms (stage, cartoon, even podcast) I get very nervous that someone will take it and make something completely contrary to the original vision. I suppose this is a natural fear.
Finally, while I realise you are busy promoting ‘Conversations…’ I’m sure you have other writing projects on your desk, or at least on the horizon. What’s next for Christopher Allen, author?
I’m a bit overwhelmed by writing projects right now. I’ve just finished a week of guest reading at SmokeLong Quarterly. The next things you’ll see from me: I have a few stories coming out soon–a surreal fairy tale called “The Shop Between the Prophets and the Sea” in the beautifully designed magazine Lost in Thought, a flash called “Furniture” in Blue Five Notebook Series and a piece of creative non-fiction called “How to Do Fine” appearing in the US print series Chicken Soup for the Soul: the Power of Positive in October. And then I found out a couple of days ago that my story “When Chase Prays Chocolate” has been chosen for inclusion in SmokeLong Quarterly’s tenth anniversary anthology: The Best of SmokeLong Quarterly (Feb. 2013). I can’t tell you how honored and thrilled and stunned I am by this. I’ve always felt humbled by the stories at SmokeLong, so to be asked to guest edit and also to be honored in this way is, well, incredible.
My next big writing project is to finish the third draft of my novel The Family of Rod (formerly The Lambent Light), the story of a young teenager who’s convinced he’s the Second Coming of Christ but who is also emotionally immature and vulnerable to sexual predators. After having read Conversations with S. Teri O’Type you might think I’m changing gears, but The Family of Rod is a barrel of laughs. Most of the time. It’s dark comedy.
I have several other irons in the fire. My desk is a playground of paper, piles of notes for this project, piles for that project. I’m happy to say that my pile of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type has been retired to the Finished Project drawer.
Sounds like a very productive time for you. Congratulations on the inclusion in the Smokelong anthology and I wish you all the best with the launch Chris. Thanks for stopping by as part of your blog tour.