Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Author of the Week: Allen Smith

Author Photo & Book Cover

A&RBC:    How did you become a writer?
Allen: My first major work was my master's thesis – a 320 page gargantuan that nobody has read since the day it was published. It took me over a year and a half to write it and taught me some of the most valuable skills you need to learn as a writer, like writing discipline, getting comfortable with loneliness, no income, managing hysteria and sitting in the dark for extended periods of time. 

A&RBC:  Where does your inspiration for your characters come from?
Allen: The characters that I write about are all around us – real people just trying to muddle their way through an ever-changing world. I've found that writing about what real people do in stressful situations is much more entertaining than anything you could make up on your own – like the 13-year-old chess player who got busted for taking steroids just to be able to compete on a professional level ("Steroids Invade the World of Professional Chess"). Granted, I didn't write it about a specific 13-year-old, but there's probably a young boy somewhere in the world who has followed the problems of his favorite, juiced-up baseball hero and wondered if steroids might help his chess game. If the characters lack depth, I'll look for one characteristic they possess and run with it. Our faults and shortcomings make the most entertaining reading.

A&RBC: What are you hoping readers take from your book?
Allen: For the most part, my book is made up of genuine struggles that people face, but twisted slightly out of proportion: getting old, being out of shape, dating, struggling to learn a foreign language and other things they perceive as being important at the time. After reading my book, I hope readers will understand that what may seem like the most important problem in the world to one person is just so much fluff to someone else. A teen-ager getting her tongue pierced is important to her, catastrophic to her parents, but entertaining to the rest of us.

A&RBC: If you were to write a book about a controversial topic, what would it be?
Allen: Since almost everything I write about is controversial to someone, there are a long list subjects to choose from. I'm currently working on the humorous benefits of being homeless. Many people have discovered that their "American Dream" has changed. It's no longer about buying a house with a white picket fence (which gets foreclosed on after they lose their job) or getting married and raising a family (after their third divorce and all their kids get sent into drug rehabilitation). I know those sound like horribly depressing topics, but believe it or not there are humorous ways to write about them. In my book, I found a way to make a story about airline bombing funny (see "Sticky Bomb Threat Foiled").

A&RBC: Most writers have a process or method for writing their books, what is yours?
Allen: I have none. I don't use outlines and I write whenever the urge hits me. I do, however, write everyday and spend a lot of time researching a subject before I start writing. Often times, the research will help me develop characters and generate new ideas. For instance, in the piece I wrote called, "The Great Sperm Audition," I learned a tremendous amount about a multi-million dollar industry that flies below most people's radar. While most would never dream of masturbating for a living, it makes for interesting reading.

A&RBC: What is your favorite genre of books?
Allen: I read all types of books but am especially drawn toward well written fiction, humor and autobiographies. Last year, I went on a rampage and read about all of my musician heroes from the 1960s like Grace Slick, Jimmi Hendrix, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton. The interesting thing about all of them is that none wanted to be famous – they just wanted to be good at what they do. I think writers can learn a lot about their craft by looking at what others have gone through to become successful, but not necessarily famous.

A&RBC:  Are you an avid or occasional reader?
Allen: I am constantly reading several books at a time. I'll usually read one book about my craft, another about the business end of writing or technology (like using social media) and another one that's lighter – usually a good fiction or humor book. Since getting my first Kindle and iPhone, I've found that I can carry my entire library with me wherever I go. I can read for 5 minutes or an hour, wherever I am. Good writers need to use their time wisely.

A&RBC: What are two things you want your readers to know about you?
Allen:  am a self-taught writer. While I do have a college degree, it has nothing to do with literature or journalism. I was aptitude tested in 1989 and found to have natural writing abilities – which is why I was able to enjoy writing a master's thesis based on biochemistry. It wasn't until sometime later that I discovered how much I enjoyed writing about the humorous side of life. It's not easy and few people do it well. Through my own circuitous career, I've discovered that there's nothing you can't do if you put your mind to it. The proof: I'm making money writing while living in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. What could be better?

A&RBC: If you could interview one of your favorite authors, who would it be? Why?
Allen: I'm a big fan of David Sedaris. He's a great example of someone who couldn't hold down a job doing anything. Then, his work appeared on NPR and his career took off. David has a unique way of taking a mundane subject like stripping paint off of a wall or working as an elf in Macy's Santaland and making it funny. He proves that there is humor in just about everything in life if we know where to look for it.

A&RBC: What is or was your dream job?
Allen: I've been fortunate enough to follow my dreams, most of my life. Unhindered by a wife or family (and I mean that in a nice way), I've gone wherever the wind took me. After high school I volunteered for the U.S. Navy during the height of the Vietnam War. After leaving the Navy, I went back to school for a couple of years, then snow skied professionally for the first of several times in my life. That was followed by 10 years as a hairdresser (see "A Hairdresser's Lament" in my book), earning a masters degree in Exercise Physiology and working with heart disease patients, 20 years in the computer industry, then back to the ski industry. Through all of those pursuits, I continued to write – my real dream job. I'm currently living in Vail, Colorado, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, following various writing pursuits. Through the wonder of the Internet, I've written for clients all over the world from the comfort of my office or living room. Isn't life grand?

A&RBC: What new projects are you working on?
Allen: With a new book out, a lot of my time is currently spent marketing it. But, I'm continuing to write about the complexities of life and how we manage to get ourselves into so many pickles. Who knows? There could be another book out sometime next year!

A&RBC: Where can readers find you?
Allen: My website, www.snowwriter.com is the best place to begin. The site contains a brief author bio, a portfolio of some of my work (the more serious stuff) and two full pages devoted to my books, "Ski Instructors Confidential – the stories ski instructors swap back at the lodge," that was published in 2005 and "Watching Grandma Circle the Drain." You can also follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/snowwriter and Twitter at @Snowwriter.   

Authors & Readers Book Corner appreciates your time!

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