Author Interview – B. Morris Allen

1) What is your book about?

Chambers of the Heart is a collection of short stories published in various venues over the last several years. For this collection, I chose mostly stories that tended toward the poignant Sometimes happy, sometimes sad, the stories here are often about love and difficult choices. For example, the woman who reluctantly kills dragons, and lets their tears map misery across her skin; the man on the edge of the solar system with only a simulated dog for company; the couple who tried to escape their pasts in the hinterlands, until a stranger comes to threaten them both with truth; the man who’s cared for someone else’s child who now needs him more than his own family does. These are stories primarily about people and their hearts, not so much the mechanics of technology or magic.

2) What got you interested in the topic?

I’ve found over time that my writing is most effective when it’s about people. I write other things – more action/adventure-oriented, more humor, harder SF – but the stories I think are best are the ones that are quieter and more contemplative. I’ve enjoyed this in other writers – Patricia McKillip, some of Orson Scott Card – but I think it first struck me clearly after reading Clifford D. Simak’s All Flesh is Grass, when I recognized that one of the things I liked about his writing was its quiet, small moments that were nonetheless moving.

3) Why did you choose the sci-fi/fantasy genre?

As a child, I read widely and voraciously; my parents had a lot of books, and I read everything from Dostoevsky to George MacDonald Fraser to Penelope Farmer to Enid Blyton. But one Christmas I got the full set of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books, and it was 90% SFF from then on. I read other things, but SFF just has more scope to explore interesting ideas and let your mind range freely. It can deal with social issues, forms of government, alienation, minority rights, etc. – all in unexpected and intriguing ways. And there are as many great writers in SFF as there are elsewhere. So, great writing, great ideas, new angles – that’s why I read (and write) SFF.

4) What’s something interesting you discovering the process of writing this book?

I think the process of selecting the stories helped me to realize not only that I like reading contemplative stories, but they’re what I’m best at writing. As noted, I write a broad range of things, but these are some of the stories I’m most proud of.

5) Do you plan to write anything else or have you wrote anything else? If so, what are they or what will they be?

I’ve done relatively little writing over the past 5-6 years. Just as I was starting to write quite a bit, I decided to start a magazine (Metaphorosis) and rather to my surprise also went back to a full-time day job. The combination has left little time for writing, so I squeeze it in where I can. The ideas, however, continue to come – I’ve got hundreds of story ideas waiting to take shape, a dozen or more partially done, and a half-dozen novel ideas. I’m hoping to be more productive when I step back from full-time work again this spring, perhaps starting completing a quartet of books I started with my novella The Speed of Winter many years ago, and now have fully sketched out.

6) What is your writing process like?

As noted, I have a file full of story ideas, but often enough, I’m just seized with an idea and feel I need to get it down. I’m very much a discovery writer rather than an outliner, so after the idea has percolated for a little while, I just sit down and write until I’m done – ideally finishing a story in one sitting. I generally have a fairly clear sense of the mood I’m aiming at in the story, and particularly in the ending, but not always a sense of precisely how I’ll get there. Sometimes I have particular phrases in mind. For “Dragons I Have Slain”, I developed the piece during a short car ride, coming up with the opening lines, the mood, and a general sense of the story’s trajectory while I drove, and then trying desperately to retain them until I could get them down on paper. I say paper, but I write entirely on a laptop; my handwriting is both too slow and illegible to work for serious writing. Once I’m done, I set stories aside for a little while, then go back and polish them up.

7) Where do you normally write?

I write on my laptop, either on a couch or a chair, inside or on the deck. Usually there’s a dog beside me, a cat on my lap or chest if I’m inside. I’ve learned to type effectively with the keyboard at odd and uncomfortable angles, and with occasional pauses to throw a ball or take a walk. Preferably the former, because long breaks risk killing the feeling I’ve built up about the story’s direction, and it can be hard to reconstruct.

8) What is your writing Kryptonite?

Outlining. I enjoy learning about the stories I write as much as the ones I read. Occasionally, and especially for longer work, I do set out a sequence of events. But genuinely outlining what will happen, and then just filling it in? That’s too much like work. On the other hand, it took me decades to learn one simple lesson – writing won’t happen by itself or only when you’re enthused, inspired, and ready. I my case, I have to treat it seriously – set aside time to sit down and get through an hour of dithering before I finally start doing something productive. Once that’s past, it goes fairly smoothly. And practice improves matters. These days, the dithering is down to a few minutes.

9) What was the best writing advice you were given by another author or editor?

Sit down and write. Lots of people say this, but it took a while to sink in for me. The best way to write is to write – not think about writing, not plan to write, not jot down story ideas, not explore character histories. Just sit down and write something. Eventually, your writing will be good, and eventually it will make stories.

10) What is advice you would like to give, writing and/or non-writing?

Beyond the above, it would be, “Read.” Reading is the easiest and most fun way to improve as a writer, and it’s also a great way to learn. Especially in SFF, there are ideas all over the place, and often from left field. I can’t count the ideas I’ve encountered through reading, and thought, “That’s crazy.” only to find out they’re real. They’re not always good ideas, but every idea you think about helps form your thinking and increase your knowledge. Reading is a great way to do that.

B. Morris Allen is a biochemist turned activist turned lawyer turned foreign aid consultant, and frequently wonders whether it’s time for a new career. He’s been traveling since birth, and has lived on five of seven continents, but the best place he’s found is the Oregon coast. When he can, he makes his home there. In between journeys, he works on his own speculative stories of love and disaster. His story collection Chambers of the Heart comes out in April 2022.