The Author: Cory Allen
The Book: Breaking Free: A Saga of Self-discovery by a Gay Secret Service agent (NFB Publishing, 2023)
The Elevator Pitch: Gay, former Obama Secret Service Agent writes tell-all memoir. A fascinating look behind the curtain
The Rumpus: Where did the idea of your book come from?
Cory Allen: During the last few years as an Agent with the Secret Service, I was fortunate enough to be assigned to protect Michelle Obama, including during her Becoming book tour. I witnessed firsthand how impactful and powerful her words were. When I left the Secret Service, I needed a way to process everything I had been through over the last decade of my life that had flown by. It was an unbelievable ride. The story began as a note on my iPhone, as a way for me to keep up with the insane travel tempo and, attached to those trips were lots of great memories.
As I began writing, I realized it was healing and cathartic, bringing me to tears multiple times, so I just kept writing in the same candid way that was helping me to process everything. I finished writing, and the story sat dormant until the pandemic hit. During the COVID lockdowns, I read The Editor by Steven Rowley, and for the first time, I saw a potential path to bringing my own story to life. The pandemic provided the time and focus to edit the manuscript and seek to publish it.
Rumpus: How long did it take to write the book?
Allen: I wrote the entire book in sixty hours. Writing came naturally to me, averaging one thousand words per hour. The editing process required additional time, as my editor forced me to dig deeper into things that I had unknowingly glossed over.
Rumpus: Is this the first book you’ve written? If not, what made it the first to be published?
Allen: Breaking Free is the first book that I’ve written. I have never viewed myself as a writer, certainly not by trade, but I could not be happier with how things have worked out.
Rumpus: In submitting the book, how many no’s did you get before your yes?
Allen: I submitted queries to fifty literary agents and publishers before a small publisher in New York gave me a yes. One yes is all it takes!
Rumpus: Which authors / writers buoyed you along the way? How?
Allen: Steven Rowley gave me the “lightbulb” moment to do something with my manuscript. The parallels in his book, The Editor, and my actual story were enough to get me motivated. Dan Savage was also an inspiration. After reading The Kid: (What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant) an Adoption Story, I loved how his voice was conveyed in the story. When I pitched my manuscript, I sold it as a cross between the candid and humorous style of Dan Savage and a story like Steven Rowley’s, except mine was true.
Rumpus: How did your book change over the course of working on it?
Allen: My book didn’t change that much during the writing process. My editor forced me to work on areas that would be important to readers but were painful for me to relive. I had no choice but to dig deeper and address the hurt to ensure my story was told as honestly as possible. It turned out to be a phenomenal form of therapy for me and those are the parts that most often resonate with readers.
Rumpus: Before your first book, where has your work been published?
Allen: Prior to my first book, I didn’t have any prior published work! I’m thankful for the opportunities I have been given since the book was published, writing articles for The Gay & Lesbian Review, Authority Magazine, and a few Medium publications thus far.
Rumpus: What is the best advice someone gave you about publishing?
Allen: Believe in your story. Be persistent. Be creative and find ways around the roadblocks.
Rumpus: Who’s the reader you’re writing to—or tell us about your target audience and how you cultivated or found it?
Allen: I was originally writing for the LGBTQ community, but I find there are a lot of women and other LGBTQ allies who take an interest in my work. I hit on many topics in my book and to see that people connect with it is more than I could ever ask for. I receive messages from readers who tell me how my story has helped them or others they know; that is truly amazing.
Rumpus: What is one completely unexpected thing that surprised you about the process of getting your book published?
Allen: I had no idea how much the big publishers controlled the industry, in most ways. Going with an indie publisher requires A LOT of hard work, dedication, time, and persistence. I underestimated how much work would be involved to get my story into the hands of those who need it without the backing and networks of a big publisher. But I believed in it and kept pushing it forward. The first six months the book was out, it was like a second full-time job. The reward? Seeing my book on national platforms and outlets or having the mom of a U.S. Navy officer tell me that her son can live his life out and free because I was courageous enough to tell my story. That is the ultimate reward.
Author photograph courtesy of Corey Allen