Conversations: Allen to Bower/Bower to Allen
Conversations: Allen to Bower/Bower to Allen
Christopher: How exactly did we meet? I’m not old-geezer fuzzy on this, but maybe you have a different version of it than I do?
Jennifer: In the ubiquitous ether of URBIS back in 2008? We blew up the place, literately! We were part of a U-Crew of wordsmiths that sliced pose like salami, minced each others’ meaty tomes and hung our dirty laundry out to dry in the Friday night forums. But once the U-Crew abandoned ship the entire venture sank. If you Google Urbis now days you just get a whole host of urban planning websites. Our witticisms have wafted into the bits and bytes netherworld. Somehow, about a dozen of us all reconnected on planet Facebook. Although, I did change my name to protect the innocent.
I see to recall, reading with GREAT GLEE, the working pages of a certain Gayru! Tell me. How did this project come about?
Christopher: Ah, those were the days. As a workshop, it really did work. I remember waking up at 5:00 a.m. to check my reviews. The anonymity of Urbis fostered honest, often very blunt critique. There were trolls and ass-kissers, but most of the feedback was helpful.
Conversations with S. Teri O’Type started on Urbis as Conversations with my Gayru. Teri was originally Davie. Episodes from the book held the top ten spots in the humor/satire category for, um, quite a while. The book received over 400 reviews. It was great to get positive feedback, but it was greater to get feedback from people who understood what I was trying to do and who really wanted to help me do it. And there were quite a few of those people, including yourself. I miss those days.
Jennifer: ‘Trolls and ass-kissers’ indeed, but they made great fodder for flash fiction and poetry. I’m pretty certain I represented a good one-third of those 400 reviews. Not the T&A kind, of course. Hoovering your postings, I sucked up every morsel of your well-wrought satire. I’d no doubt you were going to be the next, great, contemporary voice of our generation. So tell me, Christopher, what are you really trying to do with Conversations with S. Teri O’Type and can you clue in the newbies, a bit, to your characters?
Christopher: Thank you for “next, great, contemporary voice,” Jennifer. I’ll be happy just to have a voice right now!
I sometimes wonder if I came out and told people what I was really trying to do—like when you tell your child the broccoli is not really a choo-choo train but a low-calorie healthy food bursting with calcium—people wouldn’t eat it. I love broccoli. As you know, Conversations with S. Teri O’Type is satire, so there is a point here. Satire always has a point to make. I think I’d like readers to decide what that point is. The story is told by an average fellow named Curt who just can’t seem to get gay, so he enlists the help of his oldest—and gayest—friend S. Teri O’Type to drag him a few inches down The Road to Greater Gayness. There is so much potential for comedy in this relationship. But the moment when the laughter gives way to the cringe is grand. The cringe is such an underrated gesture.
And speaking of miens, talk to me about Cary Grant—Teri’s pet Jack Russell—and the cover of the book. The personality of the Conversations with S. Teri O’Type is right there in that little pup’s face. Was it difficult to achieve this expression?
Jennifer: I do recall blanching a bit when you emailed to me your singular criterion for the cover.
“I need cover art. My idea: a Jack Russell (Cary Grant in the story) wearing a pashmina, looking very smug and haughty . . . with fagitude (adult cartoonish like Family Guy).”
Luckily, I clearly understood the breed of dog, pashmina, smug, haughty and cartoonish. The word ‘fagitude’ terrified me a bit. I didn’t want to end up pulling off something trite. Animals express themselves through body language; eyes and ears, specifically, and more subtly through other parts of their anatomy. Cary’s cocked ear functions like a ‘Girl! Please!’ tipped hand…(speaking of ‘underrated gestures’). Add a smug curl of the lip, uppity schnoz, the hint of haughty eyes, the appropriate designer label attire, and voila, we have a four-legged protagonist with ‘fagitude.’
I pushed you to let me add the legs. They say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ but I do hope this cover beckons readers to venture further inside and sop up all 244 pages. So, what are your biggest hopes and darkest fears for this baby of yours?
Christopher: In the last couple of years I’ve seen you draw animals with such incredible attention to expression that I knew Cary would turn out exactly right. And thank you for those legs!
My darkest fear? Today I was rereading the Conversation where Curt and Ed meet in the park with the dawgs. I think my father will turn seven shades of red when he reads this one. The scene is gross and sexual (sort of) but important. It will shock some readers. Sorry! My biggest hope? This is an easy one. I hope someone smarter and more dramaturgically minded than I am takes this story to the stage or to the drawing boards. I see this as an adult cartoon. For the time being, I’m simply happy the story has a life, that it’s out there.
Jennifer: Ah! Every creative’s worst nightmare—parental (dis)approval or face reddening! Maybe you should have your father read Fifty Shades of Grey prior to turning him seven shades of red? It might soften his hue. Speaking of the E.L. James monster trilogy of 2012. Before Vintage Books scooped it up, her books were ‘self-published’, having made the rounds on a fan-fiction site, her own website, FiftyShades.com, and then re-tooled and released in e-book and POD paperback by The Writers’ Coffee Shop. What made you decide to go the independent, self-publishing route versus shopping this masterpiece of satire around the ‘traditional’ publishing circuits; and what advice might you give others considering the same path to publication?
Christopher: I wish I could bottle your encouragement and take a swig every time I feel wobbly. Wow, I didn’t know that Fifty Shades of Grey. I live under a rock. It’s very interesting—and encouraging—to hear how the life of a book evolves.
It’s actually quite strange to think I’m sitting here with Conversations with S. Teri O’Type on my desk, that it’s real. The idea to self-publish had been nagging me for quite a long time. I didn’t offer the book to very many publishers at all before I made my decision, and I completely understand a publisher’s reluctance to take a chance on risky fiction—and I certainly have no problem with getting out there and building my audience before a publisher (hopefully) takes a chance on my next project, which is in the final editing stages.
I’m so glad you asked what advice I would give. I think the most important advice I would give is to make sure you’re finished with the book. Take your time. If I had jumped the gun and self-published this book a year ago, it would have been a different book. Second, invest in your baby. Have the book proofread by a professional and have the cover designed by a professional who understands your vision. Third, beg people for blurbs. Look at all the books on your shelves and make your book look like the ones you love.
Jennifer: Now, I am familiar with your unique stylistic voice, but if we are casting a wider net here, could you explain, in layman’s terms, ‘risky fiction’ (i.e. – Metafiction)? What one or more expected conventions of fiction writing do you feel you break with this book? Because Conversations with S. Teri O’Type ain’t no Tristram Shandy, in a good way, although the Cock and Bull Story (2005) film adaptation was quite farcical and fun.
Christopher: The conventions I play with. Well, there are definitely elements of metafiction in the book. Teri can hear Curt’s narration, and he makes jokes about Curt’s inability to tell his own story gayly. I also rely almost exclusively—and purposefully—on dialogue with minimal description. Most of the Conversations take place in Teri’s living room with the couch as a focal point—like a situation comedy. And then I break some rules. In recent years, it’s become a no-no to mention celebrities in fiction, but I think it would be difficult to represent the superficiality of our televised society without them. And then humor is always a risk. Not everyone laughs at the same thing, so I know I’m stepping out on a ledge here. These are the big chances I take with the book, and I’m fairly calm about them now. I never thought I’d be this calm. So I showed mine, now you. What risks do you think you take in your illustrations?
Jennifer: I think kids today are more savvy, sophisticated and snarky than the industry is currently willing to admit. I risk not dumbing down the emotional tone of my pieces and catering to ‘cutesy’. I had a friend tell me her three-year-old son saw the book cover for Conversations with S. Teri O’Type on Facebook and he immediately ran to get his markers, sketchbook and tried to draw Cary Grant. That brought me the biggest smile and greatest sense of satisfaction. It shows me that my work is relevant and appealing to the 3-30 set. I don’t oversimplify my work and I invest a lot of emotional nuances into them: good, bad, ugly, indifferent, humorous, etc. etc. I also risk doing projects, like this one, which are outside of the Picture Book market, but are ones that I believe in so wildly.
So, when and where will Conversations with S. Teri O’Type be released and what is the one thing/theme/message you hope people will take away after reading?
Christopher: It is available on Amazon right now. I hope that every reader will find something individual in the pages of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type. Some will laugh, and that will be enough for them. Some will find the book troubling, and that’s great. I think it is troubling. If readers find themselves encouraged to think about how their own personality is created, the satire has worked its wicked madness.
Jennifer: Well, isn’t navigating the wicked madness of our flawed personalities, through trouble and laughter, really the summation of our satirical lives? Sounds like Conversations with S. Teri O’Type cannot fail on that front. I wish you all the luck in the world and I’ve no doubt that you’re about to best David Sedaris on the bestsellers list!
Christopher: That would be incredible. Thank you. I’ll be tickled fifty shades of pink if it sells. Period. Thank you so much, Jennifer. It was great working with you!
Conversations with S. Teri O’Type is available from Amazon
-refers from/to Christopher Allen’s contributor page