Monday, February 4, 2013

Finding the Cool Side of the Pillow: An Interview with Award-Winning Author Gregory G. Allen

Award-Winning Author Gregory G. Allen Helps Us Find the COOL SIDE OF THE PILLOW in a Candid Interview

Book Cover of Cool Side of the Pillow, a novel by Gregory G. Allen
Cool Side of the Pillow, a novel by Gregory G. Allen
He had me at Well With My Soul and, every since, I have been a fan of author Gregory G. Allen. What I found surprising about Allen's work is that it never stops surprising, in a very good way, that is. You never know what you're gonna get... into when starting reading one of Gregory G. Allen's books: an intriguing story of love and life, a story of survival, a seemingly everyday story that, as it turns out, it's not that everyday-life after all... One thing is for sure--you won't be able to put down the book, not until you finish reading it. And once you do, you start wondering when Allen's next book is gonna be out.

As it turns out, Allen has a new novel out and I couldn't wait to put my hands on it. And I have to say, the read kept me up at night. I couldn't put it down. I also had the pleasure to talk to Gregory G. Allen who helped me discover the Cool Side of the Pillow...

Alina Oswald: Hi Greg! Congratulations on your new novel, Cool Side of the Pillow! I'm always amazed by the variety of subjects you write about. How do you come up with ideas for your books? Is it a spur of the moment thing or do you plan in advance?

Gregory G. Allen: First off, I want to thank you for always being an early reader of my novels. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. I really attempt to share different stories and not stick to one genre; usually covering different types of adverse situations. Sometimes I pull from my own life (some of Well With My Soul definitely came from my early years in New York) and other times I'll get a small glimpse of a story in my brain and it grows from there. I usually take the initial story and plot out where I want to go. However, once I start to write - the outline goes out the window and the story goes where it wants to by that point. :-)  

Talking about the books you've written so far, do you have any favorites? Why? Please explain.

Favorites are so hard to name - since they are all my children. Each of them hold a different special place for me and while working on them, they all become my favorite. Right now, I'm trying to work on a sequel to Well With My Soul that follows the life of the son ten years later. A few chapters are written and it may end up being a YA book. So for now, that entire story has come back so strongly into my mind that it's jumped back to the top of the list for me.

Before we get more into your new novel, Cool Side of the Pillow, I have to confess... As with any of your books I've read so far, each night I found myself eager to get back to Cool Side of the Pillow, to see what was going to happen next. I was drawn to the story, rooting for one character or another. That's because the story mirrors a quite familiar real life story, one that readers can entirely relate to. What's the secret to writing these kinds of stories? What does it take--beyond lots of work, talent and dedication, that is--to write these stories?

Wow! I really appreciate you saying that. I realize that many people want books that will take them completely out of their lives and transport them to another place. I tend to read (and write) those that are more grounded in reality so that readers can see themselves in the book. I like to add enough quirky tidbits that create the environment my characters live in and usually throw in something that will be opposite where a reader may believe it's going. Many times my characters are going through such personal journeys that I really want to give them a "happily ever after" or "happy for now"… but there's usually a rough road as they strive for that.

What inspired Cool Side of the Pillow?

I spent many years in children's theatre and thought that would make for an interesting scenario to drop a 'stranger' into the middle of it. I was very drawn to the concept of how perfect my protagonist's life looks on the outside, though when we pull back the layers - people have their own issues to deal with the outside world may not know. Parenting, marital, and even one's own sense of 'self'. I also champion those that attempt to re-invent themselves later in life and wanted to tell that story. There was also an opportunity to explore male/female friendships…if Harry from "When Harry Met Sally" was right saying men and women can't be friends. I'm one to buck the convention of 'write what you know' and prefer to create characters that I don't always know, but can research. Married to a college sweetheart, a dad, Jewish, wealthy - these are not things I know much about. ;-) 

For those who may not be familiar with it... can you explain the title of your new book?

You know when you go to bed and you toss and turn trying to get calm and comfortable? You flip the pillow over to the cool side so that you get that rush of 'ahhhhhh' from the cool side. It's a ritual many people go through. Zach Kleinmann in my book is attempting to find that in his entire life. His four-year-old is starting preschool, his wife is married to her work, and he feels since leaving his job to be the stay-at-home dad--he has no way of defining who he is or what gives him that 'ahhhhhhh, this is nice' feeling.

Do you 'root' for any of the characters in Cool Side of the Pillow? Or maybe, because you create them all, there is no favorite?

While the book is told through the first POV of Zach, I always fall in love with my secondary characters in my books. (Hahn from Patchwork Of Me actually SPOKE to me once and said I had to write her story in the sequel to that book: that's just how crazy I am.) In this case, it's Ginger. I think she is Santa Claus and Mother Theresa all rolled into one! She is a very giving and caring person that teaches everyone to stay young at heart, but has much baggage of her own she's been carrying through life.

As your fans have learned to expect from your books, there's also a subtle element of unknown, intrigue, mystery, maybe even potential danger... Why do you choose to include it in your stories?

I think we're drawn in life to those odd stories on the news. The ones that make us go "what is going on there?" Look at the story of Manti Te'o and how we're all interested in that. Things happen in people's hidden lives that we don't always know about just by looking at them. So I love to add those qualities to my books…not making them farfetched, but something that still intrigues the reader. As Zach becomes friends with Ginger and is pulled into her world of theater friends and such, he also begins to find out more and more about her past and secrets. I think it adds another layer to the story as well as adds depth to their friendship.

The subtle element I mention above becomes even more... intriguing when part of a story like the Cool Side of the Pillow. Maybe because readers don't really expect it. Don't you think? [I ask this because I think most people can relate to the story. After all, Cool Side of the Pillow is a... family story, mainstream, in a way, or at first sight. Yet, for me, the element of suspense, of intrigue, is Ginger's house itself, and also Ginger's story]

So glad you pull that part out. If readers could dictate where each page was going, it wouldn't be as fun for me as the writer. And come on…who would expect a book with a soundtrack of Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits? :-)

I think your stories do have one thing in common. Well, more than one thing. They are extraordinary reads. Also, they are about the journeys characters have to take in their lives. These fictional journeys mirror our everyday life journeys. Not only that, but have a pay-it-forward effect on readers, I think. That's because the stories stick around in readers' minds long after "The End" flashes on the e-book reading devices or on the last paper page. The journeys characters take in your books can very well serve as... role models in everyday life. Don't you think?

You are making me feel all sorts of good with this interview and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. It's funny you say "pay-it-forward" as that is one of my hashtags on twitter and something I attempt to do in my life. Perhaps I didn't even know I was putting that into my books. I do write about personal journeys: I can't help it. And I attempt to cover diverse topics to hit different communities in our world. They also all have family in common: those we are born into and those we create. I look back and notice that in each of my books, how we create community/family no matter who we are. We're all searching for that group to lift us up or in the case of Zach who grew up without a father…someone to approve the choices he has made in life.

This is especially true for Cool Side of the Pillow. Maybe because of the story it tells.

Parts of me can relate to Zach. I mean, he starts out so resigned to his life as husband/dad that he has completely let himself go at the start of the book. Weight gain. Doesn't shave. Doesn't seem to care. Perhaps just complacent in life. I honestly think he's a 'good guy'. Better than most of the protagonist I've written. Just a normal guy attempting to keep everyone happy while he deals with it all. He has his wife's favorite drink waiting for her and prepared to massage her feet for god's sake! (Yet she tells him to go out with his friends instead.) But it's those jolts in life that change things and pull the rug out from under our feet that causes us to make choices to take the reins and do something with our lives. And hopefully readers will not only pull for him, but relate to that as well: no matter the gender reading the book.

Where can readers find your book?

As publishing continues to change, ASD Publishing has decided to put this book out just as an e-book in February. Who knows, if it sells well and we see a desire for a print copy, it may go to print next. But as the company compared what happened with different titles of theirs in 2012, they've decided to go e-book with this one. Also - it will be an Amazon exclusive (at first) so readers can find it on the Kindle in February.

Do you have any book events/signings lined up?

Being an eBook, I won't be doing the book tour like I did with the first two. (I traveled to Maine with Patchwork of Me to follow the plight of our heroine in that one.) So hopefully I'll be doing much more virtual tours and signings with this one!

Any ideas for upcoming books or sequels of books you've already written you'd like to share with us?

As mentioned, a YA sequel to Well With My Soul. A sequel to Patchwork that will probably be told in two voices: Sara's and Hahn's to follow both of their stories. But next year I hope to have a novel out based on a stage musical I wrote years ago. The story is about a biracial teacher living in Georgia in 1963 who wants to cross the color barrier and teach in an integrated school. A very historical summer with the civil rights march on Washington that year. I have my first draft finished and hope to get it out next year! Just a mere 51 years after that summer occurred. But what a great time to share it when we have a biracial president leading our country now.

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