What a strangely beautiful story is Every Boy Should Have a Man. It’s so unlike anything you’ve ever done before. How did you come up with the idea?
When inspiration comes to me, my art always awakens as a gift of the spirit, as the Holy Bible says, a mirror reflecting the condition of my psyche, my personality, and perhaps even my soul–not soul in any religious sense, but in the funky/revolutionary/swing-your-hips-to-the-beat-of-the-music sense. Man, when it’s going real good, I can feel it flowing out of me in a stream of subconscious conscience no bucket can catch.
Preach it, brother!
Imagine my surprise when the gift of inspiration came to me knee deep in the muck of the Florida Everglades. The images began to flow–images of mammals and birds and reptiles and bugs and humans–all a part of that beautiful and wondrous subtropical Ecosystem. It was not an original idea, perhaps, that humankind was an animal and in that way a part of this world too, but this time I realized how small and insignificant a part, and at the same time how great and important a part. Yet it is we who make of these other animals pets and food and put them in our circuses to do neat tricks. Well, now . . . So bucket in hand, I dipped into the stream and scooped up a few of the phrasings flowing past, the first of which was “But, mom, every boy should have a man.” In time I would come to understand what it meant.
Are you saying you write from inspiration only?
Most of the time. If I’m inspired, it’s fun instead of work. It’s been my experience that if I’m enjoying it while I’m writing it, the reader will too. Novels are these enormous things, tedious to write. They take a long time to produce. I won’t even imagine sitting that long with something I don’t like. For example, I like gambling, okay? I can gamble for days on end. I can do it everyday. I can gamble between gambling sessions. I can take a break away from the gambling tournament I’m in and relax by gambling. I can gamble while gambling. . . Same thing with writing. If I’m inspired, I can write for days on end.
In some ways the book recalls The Lord of the Rings in that it is set in a fantastical place with unusual characters. Who is your favorite character from the book?
Red Locks/Red Man. She is the book’s main protagonist, so I put a lot of energy into developing her. She is feisty and sarcastic. Zloty, or the Boy as he is called through most of the novel, and Red Sleeves are tied for second. I am made sad by his innocence and sincerity. Red Sleeves–I am made sad by her tenacity, self sacrifice and suffering.
I heard somewhere that you will not write about sex, religion, and politics. Looking over your body of work, I must say I can’t understand how you can make a statement like that.
You heard it wrong. I actually said that I will not discuss sex, religion, and politics. And I pretty much don’t, though sometimes I forget my rule . . . Doing so always lands me in trouble. Again, I will not discuss sex, religion, and politics–but I write about them all the time.
Why do you think that is? Why do you think that talking about them gets you into trouble as opposed to writing about them?
When I talk, I can’t always hide my neutrality. I think this makes me come across as a cynical nonbeliever, a sarcastic heathen of ideas. I come across as taking the opposing position, and this turns people off. When I play devil’s advocate, they just see me as the devil. On the other hand, when I set the same things down in writing, I’m removed from the picture. Now they can focus on the ideas alone. When I write, my neutrality does not offend. It is to be expected. They don’t see me; they see only the truth as I see it. This is not to say they always agree with it, but they see the argument for what it is, merely an argument.
I’ve never seen you write about politics. Is Every Boy Should Have a Man your political book?
As you know, I wrote erotica at the beginning of my career. Then I wrote Jesus Boy, a book about religion–and sex. Every Boy Should Have a Man, you might say, is about social issues, animal rights, humanism, the environment and whatnot, which is the closest to politics I’ve gotten so far. I’m not really into politics that much, so I don’t think I’m ready yet to write a book about it.
Do you think you ever will be?
I don’t know. Overt politics is heavy. Politics divide. Fairytales are for everyone and though they might have a message, they are fun. Every Boy Should Have a Man is fun like a fairytale. The message of the book is for everyone in that circle around the campfire listening to the teller of the tale with rapt attention.
How are we supposed to read Every Boy Should Have a Man? What should we look for when we read?
Read it any way you want. Although I have some ideas about what you should get out of it, there is no right or wrong thing to take away with you. I am the writer. I have done my part. Once it gets into your hands, it’s yours to interpret as you will. It would not offend me if there are as many interpretations as there are hands it falls into.
In fact, I have a secret prize for the millionth pair of hands it falls into.
PRESTON L. ALLEN is author of the novel, Every Boy Should Have A Man (Akashic Books, May 7, 2013.) Allen is a recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship and a winner of the Sonja H. Stone Prize in Fiction for his collection of stories Churchboys and Other Sinners. His work has appeared in various literary anthologies and journals including Las Vegas Noir, Miami Noir, the Seattle Review, 1111, Drum Voices, and Black Renaissance Noire. His novels All or Nothing and Jesus Boy have received rave reviews from O, the Oprah Magazine, Library Journal, Feminist Review, and the New York Times. He teaches writing in South Florida.