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June 27, 2013

Book Notes - Preston L. Allen "Every Boy Should Have a Man"

Every Boy Should Have a Man

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Preston L. Allen's novel Every Boy Should Have a Man is an epic postmodern fable, imaginative speculative fiction that takes bold chances with language and narrative and explores themes of race, gender, and sexuality.

The Chicago Tribune wrote of the book:

"Every Boy Should Have a Man is James Baldwin meets Aldous Huxley, a twisted contortion of a weird fairy tale future gone wrong, all told from high atop the mountain in a sort of New Testament prose. As the mixologist of this mad and unpredictable genre tableau, Allen has navigated into wholly uncharted territory. He comments on everything from slave ownership to pet ownership to the way we treat our planet and ourselves. His novel is ambitious yet understated, cautionary while rarely politically preachy. Every Boy Should Have a Man is that rare novel that is derived from such a disparate scope of literary influences that it waxes entirely original."

"A nimble fable whose bold narrative experiment is elevated by its near-biblical language and affectionate embrace of our inherent flaws."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Preston L. Allen's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Every Boy Should Have a Man:

When inspiration comes, my art always awakens as a gift of the spirit, as the Holy Bible would say, 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 pail can catch.

The usual targets are things that bring despair--the dead end jobs, the destructive vices, the overarching social structures that poison the spirit . . . the tyranny of erotic, oppressive love--at least that is the way it was with my first two novels. All or Nothing, which led us to the train wreck that is a life of gambling addiction. And Jesus Boy, which explored the possibility of romantic love between a boy of 16 and a woman of 42. There is a musical thread winding through both. But what of this latest, Every Boy Should Have a Man, the fairy tale, the fable, the trans-human fantasy?

So I was on this total immersion learning experience with the Earth Ethics Institute at Miami Dade College . . . Imagine my surprise when the gift was revealed to me in a swamp, of all places. I was knee deep in the muck of the Florida Everglades when the river of thoughts and words began to flow. The 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 the human 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.  Well, now . . .

Brain, Play on! "For Unto Us a Child Is Given" from Handel's Messiah.

When I was 12, I became the pianist of my church, a Holiness church, which is like a Baptist church with a Pentecostal flavor. Thus, much of my inspiration comes from music, some of it religious, some of it not, some of it flowing into my head that day like the memory of the child I once was coming home from the pond with a gift in my pocket for my mom, which I presented to her dead in my hand. The tadpoles. They were dead. What happened? "Get those nasty things out of the house!"

There came also another memory of bringing home that stray dog, covered in fleas and filth, indeed, but beautiful in my eyes. And again. "Get that thing out of the house now!" This time I protested, as the mangy tail wagged excitedly, "But mom, every boy should have a dog."

Aha, a title, perhaps? But I needed to alter it a bit. "Every Boy Should Have a Man." Yes, that's it. We are pets. Some kid would put us in his pocket and bring us home to Mom. Some kid would drag us home in a leash made of rope! I knew it had to be a kid, but what kind of kid? Well, big enough for him to lift us. A kid big enough to lift us? A giant? Am I contemplating writing horror?

Not exactly . . . The real horror would be in the kid's having this kind of power over us by default by being a child, yes, but in that race of sometimes gentle, sometimes loving, sometimes kind, sometimes thoughtless, sometimes destructive, sometimes self destructive, but always similar to us giants. I.e., giant as a metaphor.

Well, now. I couldn't wait to get home. I couldn't wait to start typing.

Car CD, Play on! "The Tower of Song," by Leonard Cohen, followed by "Bird on a Wire," followed by "Democracy."

From my experience, when I have a completed idea like that--the honesty and the concrete metaphor (giants, giants, giants)--I knew it wouldn't take long to write. For example, Jesus Boy took 25 years. All or Nothing, on the other hand, took one week. One week, for the latter because I had the honesty and the metaphor (casino, casino, casino.)

But it's not about the speed. All or Nothing was written in a week, but took almost two years to revise. Step on the gas. Floor it.

Car CD, Play on! Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody.”

So now I'm home at the computer.

iPhone, Play on! "The Soundtrack from Ladykillers." Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, "Come, Let Us Go Back to God." The Venice Four, "Let Your Light Shine on Me," and other gospel numbers, some slow and dirge like, others more upbeat. And somewhere in the mix is Nappy Roots with his hip hop renderings: "Trouble of this World," "Another Day, Another Dollar," "Trouble in, Trouble Out."

This kinetic whorl of the sacred and the almost profane is exactly what I need to set the pace for my brain and fingers in their heady race to bring this bad boy home. After all, mine is a sacred writing about the profane things we do to our world. The writing may be fantastical, but the message speaks truth.

iPhone, Play on! "Let X=X" and "O Superman," by Laurie Anderson from her Big Science CD.

I am leaning into the keyboard, grinning and giggling like I do when I'm writing something so genuine, so true, so ridiculously honest and it's riding that metaphor like a speeding train.

iPhone, Play on! "One Drop" and "One Draw," by Bob Marley.

My fingers are typing like mad, but it's difficult to keep up with the story. It's flowing like a river, but the fingers are in a tempest rowing.

iPhone, Play on! The Rolling Stones, "Under My Thumb," "Get Off My Cloud," and "Let's Spend the Night Together."

At last, a few days later, all have reached their destination. The river has met the dam, the tempest ceases to blow. The first draft is done. Now I can remove my writer's cap. Now I can go lie down and get some sleep.

Tomorrow begins the real work. Tomorrow I don my revision cap and begin the final leg of the journey. Let me prepare my iPhone for those two to three grueling years. For this task I prefer songs that are trancelike, meditative: Mahalia Jackson: "Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming." Lady Blacksmith Mazambo: "Rain, Rain, Rain, Rain." Bob Dylan: "The Times They Are a-Changin,’" and many others. I really dig Bob. Tupac Shakur, any song, I really dig Tupac, but let's go with "California Love."

Preston L. Allen and Every Boy Should Have a Man links:

the author's blog
excerpt from the book

Chicago Tribune review
Colorado Springs Independent review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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