The Sunday Rumpus Interview: Preston L. Allen


The Rumpus asked me to interview Preston L. Allen, author of the newly released Every Boy Should Have a Man, while I was preparing to embark on a rock ‘n’ roll tour through Europe, so our interview covers a lot of ground—literally and figuratively.

Every Boy is Akashic’s third book with Preston, and each one describes wholly unique worlds. From various locations in the U.S. and Europe, I e-mailed Preston questions, and his answers from Florida investigate the limitation of genre, celebrate parables, reposition mankind in relationship to nature, value fairy tales and demystify the Holy Bible, contain discussions of oafs, Gilgamesh, Pantagruel, and gambling addiction, miraculously avoid cynicism, and provide an exhilarating insight into the feverish and addictive writing process of an author who only works in the darkness until his novels begin to write him, at which point he writes in—and of—a light as illuminating as the sun.

This interview was completed over e-mail from the backstage of a rock club in Amsterdam.


The Rumpus: One of the things I love about your work is that every new book is a “departure” from the last. Your brand-new novel, Every Boy Should Have a Man, is, I believe, the first with a strongly “otherworldly” component. While there are hints of the supernatural in your previous two novels—touches of what might be called magical realism in All or Nothing, and the vehement Christian evangelism in Jesus Boy—this new book takes us to what might be called “another dimension.” What led you to creating an alternate reality in which humans are divided into two species, Mans and Oafs?

Preston L. Allen: I always follow the old dictum “write what you know.” So what do I know? Gambling, Evangelical Christianity, and in this novel, a world in which humans are divided into two species. The big and the small, the powerful and the powerless, the great and the not so great, the haves and the have nots, those who oppress and those who are oppressed. How different is that from man and that on earth which man is not? Man and river. Man and forest. Man and that which is powerless to stop man from hurting or destroying it. Man and animal. Man and that with whom he shares the earth and has forgotten he can’t exist without. Man and even the pets they love sometimes.

Rumpus: Do you think humans have the capability of living in harmony with our environment? It sounds like a dicey prospect. On the other hand, I wouldn’t say that your new novel is at all cynical or nihilistic, or even pessimistic. What gives?

Allen: I was tempted many times while writing the book to go overboard, to exploit the metaphor ad absurdum, to paint the picture on the canvas with broad, didactic, cynical strokes, to frame this image in nihilism. But look at two of my primary literary models (who posed for the painting, so to speak—wink, wink). The fairy tale. The Holy Bible. Though many of us in the arts community of today find these two literary devices allegories in and of themselves, others regard them differently. The former usually ends with “and they lived happily ever after”; the latter, people often turn to for comfort and reassurance. One helps children to sleep at night; the other is a source of hope. So in writing this allegory of these allegories, I was mindful of the restraint needed to teach the lesson. The strident, lofty tone of the lecturer would drive away the very people who needed to be reached.

You ask whether I believe that humans have the capability to live in harmony with nature… For the most part, I believe that we are presently doing a poor job of it. However, there is the story of Noah’s Ark in the Bible that is the end of all things, but it is also the beginning of all things. In fairy tales, the evil witch is always followed by the happily ever. The dreadful or the joyous. Which to choose? Which, oh which, to choose? Well, why not put both ideas in there? After all, they are not mutually exclusive. They are part of the same tale.

Rumpus: Fascinating. If I may ask, what role did fairy tales and the Bible play in your own childhood?

Allen: Fairy tales and Bible stories taught life lessons, thus making me, as some parents used to say when I was very young, wise beyond my years. They taught parables that set the points on my moral compass. Even more important to my careers as teacher and writer, they taught me to reason with analogy and metaphor.

EveryBoyShouldHaveAManMy mother was the one who told us stories that kept her brood of five rambunctious boys fascinated until they themselves started telling tall tales, retelling with embellishments the ones that she had told, as well as a few magnificent inventions of their own. My father…let me just say that for a while there, we didn’t get along with him so well anymore. But as the eldest, I was able to broker a measure of rapprochement between my siblings and him by reminding them that it is from him we all developed this characteristic of explaining with example and analogy. After all, he was the one who held us prisoner in these marathon family worship sessions where we prayed, read the Bible, and discussed it as well as any other random topic that might evolve—some as random as, “Can lion beat tiger?” That one was our favorite. With derisive laughter, we would mock him behind his back. “And then Dad said, aa-ha-ha, ‘Can lion beat tiger?’ And Mom rolled her eyes. Tee-hee-hee. And she closed her Bible and left the room, sucking her teeth. ‘This ain’t even ’bout the Bible. Old fool. You makin’ these boys stupid.’ Ha-ha-ha. Tee-hee-hee. Snort-snort.” It didn’t always end like that, of course, but if I had a penny for every time it did, I’d have at least a dollar.

I had a big book of Aesop’s Fables, the Uncle Remus fables, Brother Anansi stories, Native American mythology, Russian tales, and a book of Greek and Roman mythology. I can’t recall how many fairy tale books I had. Norse mythology, a little bit of Hindu (but it didn’t stick), Gilgamesh, Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais when I was in college, comic books galore, the works of Tolkien, a novel called Flatland when I was in junior high, and the Holy Bible. It occurred to me early on that what is myth to us is religion to someone else; therefore, what is religion to us is… This was a dangerous idea for a young thumper of bibles to have, especially with parents such as mine, but it taught me how to see things from various perspectives, a talent that is important when writing a book such as this.

Rumpus: Your brilliant second novel, Jesus Boy, has characters that you have also developed and explored in short stories that aren’t part of that book. How much do you know about the alternative reality portrayed in Every Boy Should Have a Man that is not included in the pages of the book? Are there aspects about the lives of Mans and Oafs that you left out? And if so, can you imagine writing short stories or even another novel that would include some of what we don’t see in Every Boy? It seems unlikely since fables and fairy tales don’t usually have sequels or spin-offs, but I can’t resist asking.

Allen: There are many issues in our world that can be investigated through stories in the fictive world above the firmament that I created, but the closed structure of Every Boy Should Have a Man does not lend itself easily to a sequel that furthers the storyline—at least if you want to retain some of the fun elements in the original. Oafs, female Mans, wars, Bible stories and fairy tales recast with giants as the main protagonists, and so on. True, I wrote more stories than could fit in the book without compromising its narrative integrity, so a second or third book is possible. The key problem I faced was continuity of characters. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter features a group of characters in a continuous narrative that we follow from book to book, while Alex Cross appears in several of Patterson’s novels, which are not sequels per se but have story-lines that exist in the same fictive world. Similar things can be said about the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books. If Every Boy were to become a series containing the same characters, an expansion would have to occur in the middle of its narrative, rather than at the beginning as a prequel or at the end as a sequel. I envision books featuring the Man-Oaf Mike (who wanted to be called Tlotl) before, during, and after the great flood when the world up above transitioned from a realm dominated by Oafs to one dominated by Mans that begins to look more and more like the place we down here call home. In other words, it lays the groundwork for a creation story, featuring a Man and a female Man that is their version of our Adam and Eve, but with a backdrop of giants. Imagine Adam and his female Man Eve battling Oafs in the Garden of Eden.

Rumpus: Switching direction a little, are you a morning writer or a nighttime writer, or neither?

Allen: I write in darkness on weekdays. I write when my day’s teaching and grading is done and everybody in the house is sleeping. In the old days that was from eleven p.m. to about two in the morning, depending on how much energy I had after gambling at the Indian casinos. When I quit gambling, my writing time took a radical shift and went to early in the morning, from five-thirty to six. That was only a half hour, but it was each and every day. I found that time slot to be more manageable, especially since after writing, I could return to bed for a brief snooze before beginning my workday. The other benefit was that I would be thinking about the story all day. A half hour of writing a day followed by ten or fifteen hours of reflection and planning is enough to write two novels a year. Now, on weekends and holidays, it was fire-at-will, lads! If my weekend or holiday were clear, I would release all of that pent-up writing energy and binge-write. If not, I would default to the half hour a day.

Rumpus: Do you need to write frequently to maintain your “sanity”?

Allen: I don’t know how to answer that, but put it like this: recently, as you know, I was hospitalized for several weeks and lost the use of the right side of my body. This meant that I could not use my right hand, and I’m absolutely not left handed, yet I left the hospital with ten or so sheets of scratched up, illegible scribbles—written with my left hand. I refused to use my left hand to write despite my physical therapist’s insistence, because it would be an admission of the depressing possibility that my right side might never work again. I refused to succumb to that dark notion, refused to use my left hand to write, but behind her back… I left that hospital with all of those unreadable notes for stories that I might write. Hmmmm. Had the therapist’s exercises included creative writing assignments, I would be ambidextrous today.

Rumpus: Speaking of advice from others, when you are writing a novel, how much do you lean on other people for feedback during the process? Or is it a completely solo mission? If there are others in the process, who are they? (No need to name names if you don’t want, but perhaps offer a sense of the relationship.)

Allen: Jesus Boy, a romance between a sixteen-year-old and a woman of forty-two, was started when I was eighteen-ish and completed when I was forty-four-ish. Looking back on it, I realize that I began the book when I was two years older than he was and finished it when I was two years older than she. I needed the insight from both ends of their particular age spectrum, I guess. Put another way, I began the book as a horny Jesus boy and finished it when I could better understand her motivation, her longing, her need… Some sections of it were published as short stories. Substantial sections became the bone structure of my MFA thesis and of my first collection, Churchboys and Other Sinners. Along the way, I received quite a bit of helpful input with that one.

All Or NothingAll or Nothing was written in a heady rush. About a week. In fact, it was a week exactly. The writing group I was in required one story per month from each member. My week was coming up and I had no story. What, oh what, to write? Why not write about gambling? Bad idea. Or maybe good. It began as a twenty-page short story that I e-mailed to the group. When I woke up the next day, I added a section I realized was missing, then e-mailed it with instructions to add it to what I had previously sent. As a writer, I grin and giggle when I am writing something like that. Something where the form and the substance fit perfectly. The writing does not block the honesty for the writer. And I can feel in my bones it’s not gonna block it for the reader because the honesty, the honesty, the honesty is just pouring out of me. Oh man, it is so good that I can’t wait until my readers get it. He-he-he. Ho-ho-ho. Rules of spelling, sentence structure, paragraph structure, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style be damned! I found my voice, y’all. Clickity-clack-clack-clack. Typing like a madman. My fingers are on fire.

This process, this grinning and giggling and madman-typing, was repeated every day until Thursday, when I sent them an e-mail imploring them to wait until I got there on Sunday and I would distribute the 130 pages the short story had grown into and give them a reading of it…and then we would discuss it. God bless them. The reading didn’t take very long. All or Nothing was a short novel at the time—and still is, though it was beefed up somewhat during the editorial process that my reading group gave me and then further pruned here at Akashic.

Being a gambler, I still feel I left out some parts, but I still grin and giggle each and every time I read it…that day in the Everglades when Every Boy Should Have a Man came to me, I began to grin and giggle, I felt fingers madman-typing against my legs. I could not wait to get home. I was in that zone again. I knew this one wouldn’t take very long to write and it didn’t. Clickity-clack-clack-clack. The longest part of the writing process for me comes after the novel is completed. The revision. I revise carefully. For me some novels take as long as two years to revise. Revision has the potential to disturb the flow of honesty with its corrections and improvements. Revision is such a long process for me because after I make changes, I go back and read the novel from the beginning until I get to the places that were revised to make sure that the flow was not interrupted. I revise with two hats: that of the writer/editor and that of the reader. That of which the writer/editor might approve, the reader might not, and vice versa. As a professor of English I might wince, but most of the time I will err on the side of the reader.

Sorry. What was your question again? Oh. When writing a novel, I don’t lean too much on other people. They might interrupt the flow. They might get burned by the heat of my typing. I don’t have time even to come up for air. They’ll see it when it gets to the workshop. And if they are my editors… You guys know what a pain in the butt I am when editing a book.

Rumpus: You are definitely not a pain when editing a book. But I give you credit: you are one of the only writers I’ve heard admit that you don’t lean on others when writing. Isn’t that a cardinal sin for Writing 101? I’m not trying to convince you to say another other than what you’ve just said, it just surprises me, because, well, most writers really need an outside perspective to make the work better. Your novels are among the very best Akashic has ever published, so I’m also not critiquing your process. When you teach aspiring writers, do you not advise them to get feedback from others on an ongoing basis?

Allen: Call me a hypocrite, but yes I do tell them that. (Two-finger slap on the wrist. Bad teacher. Bad teacher. Smack. Smack.) But to my credit, I also tell them to break any rule that will make their writing better. (I might add that I use workshops as a focus group, a tuning fork if you will, to gauge the kind of effect the work has on an audience.)

Rumpus: Oh, this is getting good. Can you tell me what other basic-rules-of-writing that you have a habit of breaking? Or is that top-secret info?

Allen: That’s a secret, my friend. There is, however, one rule I never break. Write what you know. This way I can write straight to the end a mile a minute…so that the novel has sort of the same feel of consistency as my short stories, a form that comes naturally to me because of my background as an oral storyteller, developed in those fairy-tale sessions with my mother and marathon prayer circles with my father and standing up and testifying in church. Those people didn’t have too much book smarts, but they were master spinners of tales.

Churchboys and Other SinnersYou might say that All or Nothing and Jesus Boy (obviously) are like testifying in church (or at an A.A. meeting). Every Boy Should Have a Man is like my mom sitting with us and telling a fairy tale or spinning a yarn. You must be able to tell the story from beginning to end with a consistent voice. Jesus Boy, All or Nothing, and EBSHAM are more layered than a simple fairy tale or someone’s testimony in church, of course, because of the many other writing techniques that I used, but if you compare them to a short story of mine like “Prince William Blows Good” in Churchboys, you would find many similarities. In fact, that particular story is substance awaiting a voice, a form, a vehicle to extend the narrative and make it flow with honesty into a novel. Likewise, the final section of Jesus Boy, the car salesman section, is a voice awaiting substance to extend its honest substance into a novel.

One of my erotic self-published novels, Bounce, is like that. It started as (erotic) substance that found a form, and it grew from short story into novel in a week after sitting on my computer desktop for like two, maybe three years. Speaking of erotica. I published six, maybe seven erotic short stories, four of which are related, and I’ve been waiting ten (!) years for the right form to extend them and link them into a novel. They can sit on the desktop for another decade. I will not destroy their honesty, their beauty, by forcing them into the wrong form. I may just publish them as a collection of stories.

Rumpus: Speaking of erotic fiction, have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? If so, what was your “take-away”?

Allen: Interestingly enough, a student left a copy on her desk last Thursday. I had heard of it, so I picked it up planning to return it to her when class meets for finals tomorrow. I’ll give it a flip through. I’m a fan of Anaïs Nin. I hope it is half as good.

Rumpus: I always feel a strong musicality in your novels. It’s more obvious in the case of Jesus Boy since the protagonist is a pianist. Is music an inspiration for you in the writing of your books?

Allen: My inspiration. Yes. A few questions ago I spoke about “Prince William Blows Good,” a short story I wrote for the Churchboys collection. I got that one from a song I overheard while bathing my four-month-old daughter. It was playing on NPR—a jazz song—and baby-bathing time was quickly ended. I ran to my typewriter and began pounding the keys. Out flowed a story about a saxophone player whose infant daughter is kidnapped. That story has the feel of jazz—the hip, cool (yes, daddy-o) baritone of an NPR jazz DJ flowing from your radio in the wee hours of the morning.

For the story “Crop” in Las Vegas Noir, a trombone solo inspired the voice in my head of how the story should be read. I don’t know exactly how it works, but music is not only my inspiration at times but it seems to uncover and extract buried truths from my life experiences. Sometimes the music is tied to a memory—I understand how that works. But other times there is no memory associated with the music. Why do I play this or that song over and over? Why do I put in these two CDs? Maybe I simply like them. Maybe hearing songs I like puts me in a writing mood. Sometimes I’ll shut the music off. The music is already in me, daddy-o.

Rumpus: And you play piano, don’t you? I’m a bass player myself, though one of my life’s great regrets is not studying piano at a young age.

Allen: Yes. I know my way around the eighty-eight keys. I was called “professor” long before I ever became one. That was my nickname at church. Like Elwyn in Jesus Boy, I was the regular church pianist from age twelve. They all thought I was going to make music my career. I did, too. Then I grew up. Got married. Got married twice. Too little time. Gotta choose. I chose writing. It had been so long since I had played seriously. Then, about 1998, I played at my cousin’s wedding. I hadn’t lost my chops at all. I made a promise to get back into it. The next time I touched the piano was in 2008 at the same cousin’s funeral. I made the promise again…

Rumpus: And how about film? I’m assuming you aren’t a filmmaker, too! But has film been an inspiration for you?

Allen: No. Not a filmmaker. But I’m a big fan of film. Love going to the movies. When I see a movie done right, I sometimes feel the artistic juices flowing—but I’m careful. Everybody watches movies. I don’t want something I write to be too much like something already filmed. I don’t want to be called an imitator. But sometimes it can’t be helped. When I write something and it looks too much like something that’s already out there—by sheer coincidence, mind you—I get sad. Damn, I say to myself, they’re going to think I stole this idea.

Rumpus: More than a few people who have read Every Boy Should Have a Man have asked me if you are a Ray Bradbury fan. Well…?

Allen: There are two science fiction writers from the golden age of the genre that were giants as far as I am concerned: Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, both born in 1920 by the way. Both were very popular, but they were not the same type of writer. Asimov was a brilliant scientist as well as prolific writer of almost every kind of book. I don’t know if the record still stands, but at one time, he was the only writer to have a published book in every section but one of the Dewey decimal library filing system. Amazing. .000 to .999, you could go to every library section but one and find a book that he had written. He was that brilliant. His books were scientifically sound, too. He knew his science. I think he was a professor of something like biochemistry at Harvard or Boston University. I guess I could look it up, but I’m trying to show you how impressed I was with him to try to get you to understand how amazing Bradbury had to be for me to find him a way better writer.

I read them both. I read Asimov for the science, for a window into the possibilities of what mankind and science could and would accomplish—and have accomplished in my lifetime. He was amazingly prescient. And don’t think that he was dry and laborious in his writing. The science always advanced the narrative flow. Did not slow it down at all. And his plots were outstanding. Man, he was good.

Ray Bradbury, on the other hand, seemed to know diddly-squat about science. I read him for the story. It was like sitting on your grandfather’s lap as he told you about long ago and far-away places. His science was talking balloons and wooden rockets, but when he told his stories, you listened. You believed. You were transported. R Is for Rocket. S Is for Space. The Martian Chronicles. These were short story collections for the ages. Fantastical. Impossible. And yet I read them over and over again to understand his technique. Simple. Straightforward. Chatty. Possible, believable, while you are on Grandpa’s lap. I wanted to write like that. The greatest compliment you can give me is to tell me my writing reminds you of Ray Bradbury. It should. He was my literary grandpa.

Rumpus: Wow… And where does Philip K. Dick fall on the P.A.S. (Preston Allen Spectrum)?

Allen: A little below Bradbury and Asimov and a little above Heinlein. He’s in a tie with Harlan Ellison. I didn’t read as many of his novels as maybe as I should’ve—mostly his short stories. I read a lot of everybody’s short stories or had them read to me by my cousin and one of my best friends. We couldn’t get enough of sci-fi short stories back then, so what we would do is read a bunch of stories from these pulp paper sci-fi journals, and then phone each other and have what you might call a read-around. I would read my stories to them and they would read theirs to me, and back and forth and around and around. Asimov, Bradbury, and Ellison were my favorites to contribute. One of them loaned me Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the one that Blade Runner is based on, and a few others by him. His stories always gave me something to think about afterwards. Pretty good writer. But I’m mostly familiar with his short stories. Back then, I read short stories in any genre, not just sci-fi. I cut my writing teeth on short stories.

Rumpus: And how about contemporary sci-fi writers, or “literary” authors who lean in that direction. Any favorites?

Allen: Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Alan Moore, Orson Scott Card. The usual suspects. These guys are not necessarily sci-fi writers, but they do have that leaning that you mentioned. Can I add Ursula K. Le Guin to that list? She belongs somewhere on one of those lists. The Left Hand of Darkness remained in my mind long after reading it. Kazuo Ishiguro, though I only read him after seeing the film Never Let Me Go. John Ajvide Lindqvist. Oh, and Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, and Tananarive Due—I just went to my bookshelf to see who I had read recently.

Rumpus: Backing up a little…as someone whose writing obviously crosses categories, what do think of the whole concept of “genre”? Do you think discussing genre is productive, or is it really just a marketing concept? As a publisher, it helps us organize our endeavors to put slot books into different genres, but at the same time, so many of the writers we publish can’t easily be categorized. So even though we discuss genre all the time, I always have a lurking suspicion that the book industry is selling writers a little short by, well, trying to place them in boxes.

Jesus Boy

Allen: Well said. As an African American, I am a “genre” of sorts. But is what I write…African American? Is my writing of ethnic interest? Are my books—no pun intended—”black” books? But race is only a particular subcategory of the issue, a special problem, so to speak. In fact, having my books shelved in two sections—the one based on my ethnicity and the one based on the actual genre of the book—might just work to my advantage. These days, with books being delivered electronically, I can go to Amazon and see how many virtual shelves my book is on. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. By the same token, what genre is Every Boy Should Have a Man? Well…it could be shelved with fantasy, literary, or sci-fi, because it sorta kinda is all of that. If you want to shelve it with black books, that’s a bonus. Once upon a time in the near future, it might be shelved with the “Preston L. Allen” books, who knows?

I am told that Harlan Ellison was known for going into bookstores and knocking his books from the science fiction shelves, and shouting at the managers that he was not just a science fiction writer and to check his books before shelving them. He felt that they were selling him short by putting him in a box. As a fan of his, I was well aware that he was great in everything he wrote. Check out two of his famous stories: “Soft Monkey” and “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” But Ellison notwithstanding, publishers are facing Scylla and Charybdis. A veritable rock and a hard place. What are they to do? If people can’t find my book, they can’t buy it. If the publishers give it a genre, then they’re putting me in a box. But I sort of see where you guys are coming from because if you don’t put me in a box, my books will end up in a box marked “remaindered.” And neither of us has any great desire to see that box.

Rumpus: Since my last question, I have been transported from Brooklyn, New York to Kermes, Austria, where my rock band Girls Against Boys is playing tonight. So “location” is very much on my mind. Setting in general, and Florida in particular, have played a somewhat significant role in both All or Nothing and Jesus Boy. Were there any particular challenges involved in a novel that is set in an entirely fictional location?

Allen: Even when I wrote Jesus Boy and All or Nothing I was conscious that the Miami of the novels was the Miami of my mind only. Most of my stories have been set in places where I have lived or visited. If I’ve lived there, I know the lay of the land because I’m curious by nature and a walker by nurture. When I was at UF [University of Florida], I mapped out Gainesville on foot. Same thing with Boston. Roxbury, actually. Same thing with the land above the firmament in Every Boy Should Have a Man.

Rumpus: Novelists often base characters in their books wholly or in part on real people. Are any of the “Mans” in Every Boy Should Have a Man inspired by real people?

Allen: Yes. Oh, wait. I just re-read your question. No. Not a single Man. Now the Oafs, that’s quite a different question. Yes. Several Oafs are inspired by real people, as are many issues and events. Without getting too deep and making it a book for English majors exclusively, and doing my best not to give anything away, the book is satire with allegories included in it. Some parts of the satire are about how we handle or mishandle our societies parables, sermons, and allegorical stories.

Rumpus: Please say more about how parables, sermons, and allegories are mishandled. If you can do so without giving anything away about the novel, can you give some examples of the mishandling you refer to?

Allen: The Bible is full of parables, so let’s start there. Hopefully I won’t offend. The story of the Tower of Babel means that we should not interracially marry? That’s what Bob Jones University says, or at least used to say, in support of their policy which barred, among other things, interracial dating among students on campus. Oh, and the cross was a symbol used by the Nazis, the crusaders, the Inquisition, the KKK, the Conquistadors. In fact, some Conquistadors, the history books tell us, used to torture the indigenous tribal leaders of Mexico into converting before they executed them.

Speaking of converting, here is one from American history that I find very interesting: some protestant religious communities in the New England colonies supported slavery, but not the enslavement of any Christian of their faith. Ha. I imagine there were many black converts in that region of colonial America. Christian equals freedom? Hallelujah! Sign me up. From Islam, we have…too dangerous. Not going to touch that one. In fact, I’m getting too serious here. So let’s go back to the book.

From Every Boy Should Have a Man, we have…gosh, I don’t want to ruin your reading of the book, so let me give you an innocuous one. In the battle scenes, both sides are dressed in tunics of red and black, indicating a similar, if not the same, symbolic referents, the same beliefs derived from the same parables, stories, legends. In fact, before they go to battle, they invoke the same deity, shout virtually the same words, make the same jangling noise.

Johnny Temple is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books, an award-winning Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction. He won the 2013 Ellery Queen Award, the American Association of Publishers’ 2005 Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing; and the 2010 Jay and Deen Kogan Award for Excellence in Noir Literature. Temple teaches courses on the publishing business at Wilkes University and Wesleyan University; and is the Chair of the Brooklyn Literary Council, which works with Brooklyn’s borough president to plan the annual Brooklyn Book Festival. He also plays bass guitar in the band Girls Against Boys, which has toured extensively across the globe and released numerous albums on independent and major record companies. He has contributed articles and political essays to various publications, including The Nation, Publishers Weekly, AlterNet, Poets & Writers, and BookForum. More from this author →