Dispatches | November 15, 2013

Welcome to our many-part series where we chat with Working Writers who have not had success in the traditional sense. No major awards, no books in print, maybe only a few or no publications, but are still writing. Our goal is to give voice to a wide range of writers, to learn from their experiences, and to open a discussion about living the craft. If you fit the description and want to be involved, please send an email to us at TMRWorkingWritersSeries@gmail.com

Today’s Working Writer is Allen Taylor.

Allen Taylor

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

My first big ambition was to be a novelist. I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was 10 years old. In college, I discovered poetry and took a 20 year hiatus from fiction. I’ve recently started pushing the pen of prose again.

I’ve had little successes here and there, a publishing credit or two over the years. As I struggled to get paid for my writing I worked odd jobs. At one time I was making a living as a telemarketer, a skill I had to learn the hard way because I am not a natural salesman. I actually did quite well at it once I got the hang of it. Where I really shined was in business-to-business telesales.

At one point, I got fed up and put a resume in for a newspaper job. I used my cold calling skills to call around to a few newspapers to see if they were looking for writers. One editor asked me to send him a resume. He called me in for what I thought was going to be a staff reporter position. When the interview was over, he offered me a job editing a community weekly and I spent four years doing that, winning awards, having a hell of a good time. Then George W. Bush decided I should spend a year in Iraq with my National Guard unit.

While in Iraq I started writing poems that I planned to publish when I got home. I was going to be the first poet to emerge from the Iraq War. I figured if I’ve got to waste me time doing something stupid, then I might as well get something out of it. When I got home, I discovered Brian Turner beat me to it with “Here, Bullet.” I self-published a book of poems titled “Rumsfeld’s Sandbox,” which I think is quite good but hasn’t received any recognition. It was probably a huge mistake to do it that way. It’s available only on the Kindle at Amazon.

Since then I have published a few digital chapbooks of Twitter poems and a quirky fiction short story – all for the Kindle.

I also started a website in Iraq. World Class Poetry. When I got home, I put a lot of energy into it and built it up to over 200 pages. I put some AdSense ads on it and it started making me money. It wasn’t much. It was about $100/month at the most, but it was enough to make me profitable. Then I got the bright idea to move it to a new domain name and redesign it. Very bad idea. I hit a huge snag that caused me to lose interest and now it just sits there not making any money at all. Every now and then I think about reviving it. It’s just a thought.

I’ve always liked trying new things. A couple of years ago I discovered Bizarro fiction and started writing some of my own. I’ve had more success publishing Bizarro flash fiction than I’ve ever had publishing fiction or poetry before. I’m still working on a couple of novellas that I think have potential. I continue to write poetry.

What was the push that got you back into writing prose, and has your time writing verse influenced or change how you approach the form?

Good question. I’m not sure about what pushed me to start writing prose again. I think I just said all I had to say for the moment in poetry. Not for all time, but for the moment. I discovered the Bizarro genre and found that to be rather new and interesting, so I started kicking out a bunch of flash fiction pieces for the Bizarro genre and managed to get some of them published. It was a whole new creative outlet.

I’ve always been experimental. I try new things and take risks with my writing. “The Sandbox” was the pinnacle of that for me in poetry, but I discovered through that poem that poetry can be limiting. As rich and varied as it is in form, that poem (an epic burlesque, I call it) is still limited in its expressions. So there are times when prose is better suited. I wanted to explore those.

Has poetry changed the way I write prose? I’m not sure. I think it certainly has to a degree, but in what ways I can’t be sure. I’m more attentive to word choices, probably. And I still pay attention to cadences, to the rhythm of the language. But my poetry is more Beat than formalist. I do play with forms, but even then I tend to experiment with the form rather than stand straight up and follow all the rules. It my mind, it all runs together, as it should.

I really enjoyed that World Class Poetry is a resource for poets, especially one that lists poetic terminology. When you formed the site, did you hope for it to be a teaching tool for younger or beginning poets?

Yes, actually, that was the goal. I may get back to that at some point. Fiction has been occupying my time mostly of late, and my professional writing for businesses.

With WCP, I wanted it to be a resource for beginning poets to learn the craft. After I saturated it with content, I was going to start providing more resources for intermediate and professional poets, but I never got that far before I ran into technical difficulties that frustrated me. When the bug hits again, I’ll ride that horse hard.

 What do you find to be the appeal of Bizzaro fiction, and how would you define it?

Bizarro is fun to read, plain and simple. I would define it as absurdism on steroids. The main ingredient in most Bizarro books is weirdness. The plot lines, the characters, the dialogue, the situations, and often the settings are absurdly weird. Also, Bizarro fiction writers love to mix elements from a variety of genres. So you’ll see science fiction meshed with horror and western elements overshadowed by fantastic weirdness that makes you think Dr Seuss and Lewis Carroll invaded the mind of your favorite genre writer.

There are often grotesque or perverse aspects of Bizarro that would be a turn off for some readers, so it’s not for the easily offended. But if you like literature that stretches the boundaries of what is acceptable and forces you to open the window of your imagination, then Bizarro foots the bill.

Why did you choose to go the self-publishing route with “Rumsfeld’s Sandbox”?

I wonder that every day. I was dealing with a lot of things at the time personally that were distracting and making my living by writing online content. I just wanted to get it behind me. Plus, it was an experiment in publishing for the emerging Kindle format.

The biggest challenge has been the marketing. I just haven’t been that aggressive. I had intended to use World Class Poetry as the primary vehicle to market the book. I was up to 25,000 unique visitors before I hit the previously mentioned snag and burst my bubble. It was a huge shock to know that what was going so well suddenly fell through the floor. By then it was too late.

What were your inspirations for Rumsfeld’s Sandbox? What about that experience in Iraq most effected you?

Well, the fact that I was against the war to start with. I was against it in 2002 when they first started talking about it.

In the summer of 2003, I listened with rapt attention to the news of the Valerie Plame name leak. The following year, as my National Guard unit was training for its mission in Iraq, George W. Bush admitted there were no WMD in Iraq. It pissed me off. I was already skeptical of the claim and was against the war for what I thought were traditionally conservative reasons. My National Guard unit was activated in August and we spent four months training for a mission we didn’t know the nature of yet. We got on the plane right after Christmas and I spent all of 2005 in Iraq. During that time, the insurgency picked up and Iraq became a hotbed of terrorist actions, which was the shining ball of evidence that the Bush Administration made a huge strategic error in not setting up security before executing the mission.

I was trained as an Armor Officer. My job was to command tanks. Before we were activated (Texas National Guard), they re-designated our entire state from 49th Armor Division to 36th Infantry Division. So we went over without our tanks, doing jobs that none of us were trained for. None of the training really prepared us for what we actually did. We didn’t even know what our mission was going to be until December 2004.

The fact that I was politically against it and was stuck in a unit with a terrible chain of command, I spent the entire time loathing the experience. When it was over, I was ready to leave the service. I tendered my resignation immediately.

Rumsfeld’s Sandbox grew out of that experience. I wouldn’t call them war poems. Not all of them are about the experience, per se. But all of the poems were written either in Iraq or the 3-5 years immediately following.

Can you tell us about your work with Garden Gnome Publications?

I wrote a flash fiction story titled “My Secret Life As A Garden Gnome.” I read it aloud once at an open mic night and people loved it.

Since I’m short, stubby, and bearded – like a garden gnome – I thought it would be fun to start a digital press called Garden Gnome Publications. So I did. The gnomes and I publish flash fiction on our Flim-Flam blog. All the stories are entered into the monthly Flim-Flam Games.

I’m also taking submissions right now for my first e-book anthology. It will be published only in e-book formats. The Biblical Legends Anthology Series features flash fiction, short stories, narrative poems, and essays on absurdist themes taken from the Bible. It falls into the category of speculative fiction. The first anthology, for instance, asks writers to send their stories on inhabitants of the Garden of Eden. The stipulation is that none of the characters can be Adam, Eve, or the serpent. It forces writers to think about the garden in unusual ways. The deadline is midnight EST November 23, 2013 and I’m getting some good speculative stories on that theme. The next three themes planned are:

  • Sodom and Gomorrah – I’m looking for antediluvian apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic writing set in these two ancient legendary cities.
  • Deluge – We know how Noah and his family survived the flood. How did everyone else cope with the sudden onslaught of rain. What were their attempts to survive?
  • Land of Nod – Cain killed his brother and was banished to this place east of Eden. I’m looking for stories set in this place before, during, or after Cain’s time but Cain can’t be a character.

Deadlines are on the website.

What do you do to financially support the time you spend writing?

Actually, I write.

Trick question.

I’ve been a full-time freelancer since December 2005, when I returned home from Iraq. I’ve spent most of the past seven years managing commercial blogs. I’m transitioning my business now to provide services for authors and publishers, primarily independents. Through Taylored Content, I provide blog enhancement services; edit, proofread, and ghostwrite e-books (and assist writers in converting their works into digital format); write e-mail content, sales letters, and press releases; and ghostwrite fiction. I also write for other types of businesses, as I always have, but the ease of self-publishing and digital publishing has given rise to a whole new market that wasn’t there before.

I can see where someone might be good at business – marketing and selling – but maybe not good at writing. They could hire someone like me to write and package their e-books, put their name on them as the author, and distribute them through the various online sales channels.

I’m also kicking around the idea of providing publicist and digital agency services for budding authors, but I haven’t solidified those in my mind yet. There is a need for someone with the right marketing skills to come alongside authors who are great writers and help them attract the right kind of readers. I could do that. It’s the same thing I’ve been doing for other types of businesses for seven years. I could do it for writers and publishers.

The most natural question to arise from that statement is, “Have you done that for yourself yet?” The answer is, I’m working on it. I’ve had several flash fiction pieces published in a genre. It’s only a matter of time before I get longer works accepted. I’ve already attracted the eyes of some high profile people in the bizarro community. After that, it’s handshaking and networking.

You can find Allen Taylor on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and at Garden Gnome Publication’s Facebook page.