Tuesday, December 25, 2012

America the Everything In-Between

Recent events in the US have made me reflective. I'm sure many of you have also been searching your souls for answers. I'm fairly sure I'm not going to be giving any in this post. I'm not even sure what I want to say yet. Thing is, I know people who own guns. I know people who like their guns, and I know people who are vehemently opposed to anyone anywhere having anything that even looks like a gun. I wouldn't call any of these people good or bad; they're just people. And before we go any further here, I fall into the latter category of people. I am an idealist who'd like to disarm, demilitarize and, well, soothe this hateful, irritated world. While we're at it, I'd like all the "races"--though we actually all belong to one race--to intermarry so that we're all just, well, tan and not so tall. I'd also like teachers to make more money than professional athletes and popstars do, and vegetables to be less expensive than junk food. I'd love to see a world without cars and stray dogs and feral cats. I'd vote for a benevolent king--or queen--any day of the week. These are just a few of my idealist ideas for making the world a better, nicer place.

In the last couple of years I've traveled more in the US than usual. My parents wanted to show me the Pacific Northwest and most of the states from Washington to Michigan, so I jumped on that. I'd never seen this area of my country. How could I call myself a traveler if I hadn't seen my own country? One thing that impressed me on that trip was the variety of personalities we encountered. We are, as the Chinese call us, měi ɡuó or all nations. We are a country made up of every persuasion, every religion, every opinion about everything. We are a country of extremes, but we are also a country of everything in between. I've been away from this country for almost 18 years now, and this distance has helped me see the US in new lights. America is not always America the Beautiful. America is America the Everything.

"We are a country of extremes, but we are also a country of everything in between."

We are America the Angry. We are angry at our parents, at our children, at our teachers and our doctors. We are angry most of all at our politicians, but we're also angry at our insurance companies and ourselves. We're angry at the guy who pulled out in front of us this morning. We flipped him off and called him a mf-asshole--because we are America the Angry. But . . .

We are also America the Altruistic. We give a lot to charity. We feed and clothe the homeless through our churches and our charitable organizations. We roll down the window and give the guy with the sign on the corner a fiver because we can see how Vietnam screwed him up (too). We give even when no one sees it. But . . .

We are America the Superficial. We live vicariously through the latest TV shows. We dance with the stars and survive with Survivors. Who knows when we last read a book, but we can tell you all you want to know about the Thursday Night line-up or Twilight. But . . .

We are also a nation of artists, of writers and designers. We are a creative folk, if we can be called one folk. We respect creativity more than knowledge. We don't care whether you can spell as long as you write something profound. And this is a great thing. (I provide editing service by the way.) And we are a nation that enjoys a good joke. We have great comedic timing. We have The Big Bang Theory.We love this sitcom for good reason.

Yet despite the efforts of The Big Bang Theory writers, we don't know squat about science. We are America the Dumb. It might comfort you to know that the world in general, with the (fairly large) exception of Asia is also getting dumber. It's no excuse, though. I read an article last week that predicted China would take over world leadership by 2030. Our children will no longer be able to compete for the tech jobs. This is bleak and systemic and, well, just really really bleak. But . . .

We are still America the Proud. We still think America is "the best country in the world." I guess it's just natural to think this, but we really should start asking ourselves the question why. Why do we love America? For the same reason we love our great grandmothers? Because it's really wrong not to? Because it's treasonably unnostalgic? Because if you criticize America, you're suddenly a communist? Actually, you'd probably be a communist if you couldn't criticize your country. We have the right and the privilege to form our own opinions about our country.

We are America the Conservative and America the Liberal. We are America the Prude and America the Porn Star. But, come on, we are also America the EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. We are America the Rich and America the Poor, but we are also America the Just Getting By and America the Doing Very Well, Thank You Very Much.We are America the Dunce and America Genius, but we are also America the Complacent and America the Average.

We are America the Deeply Religious and America the Luke Warm Christian. We are America the Buddhist, the Muslim and the Jew. Too. And please don't forget that. We are America the Atheist. Most of all, we are America the Misunderstood and the Misrepresented.

At the moment we are a giant in many ways but a dwarf in lots of others. We are America the Beautiful, America the Ugly, America the Confused right now but America the Hopeful.

It's Christmas today in a year that has been difficult for so many people. My prayer for America is that we don't lose hope, that we continue to foster diversity BUT ALSO respect for the everything-in-betweenness of our country -- it's a common ground we need right now.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Year in Writing -- 2012

Christopher Allen, good in hoods
Twenty Twelve has been an odd year for writing. Let me just say this right up front: Odd. Year. My physical worries got in the way, the applecart of my daily routine was upset by changes in my day job, and at least 10 other lame excuses prevented me from writing. There were months when I just didn't have anything to say, let alone record it indelibly for the world to dissect. I think if someone had given me the opportunity to become a monk this year, I might have considered it. Wait. The year is not over. And I do look adorable in a cowl.

That said, I did occasionally crawl out of my burrow to write. I even wrote a couple of pieces about writer's burnout, but mostly I chose to concentrate on interviews and reviews with other writers because this felt right. These writers continue to inspire me, so let's start with them.

art by Karrah Kobus
Starting with the most recent interview, in September I was asked to guest edit/read for SmokeLong Quarterly. There were some excellent stories in the group that I read. I even asked the editors of SmokeLong if I could approach three of the writers whose work I loved about publishing their stories at Metazen. In the end, I chose the story "The Abridged Autobiography of an American Sniper," which turned out to be written by an exceptionally talented writing compadre, Linda Simoni-Wastila (the selection process was blind). Here is my interview with Linda: Smoking with Linda Simoni-Wastila.  

Gill Hoffs was living in Scotland at the time I interviewed her here at I Must Be Off! She's since moved back to England, but I assume there's still wildness coursing through her veins and into her pen. Her short fiction/non-fiction book Wild (Pure Slush) takes the reader to craggy cliffs and tumultuous seas. I talk to her about it HERE. You can buy it HERE.

In January for Metazen, I reviewed Susan Tepper's flash novel From the Umberplatzen. In June, I reviewed Julie Innis's short story collection Three Squares a Day with Occasional Torture and in November Berit Ellingsen's Beneath the Liquid Skin. It goes without saying all three of these books are fantastic, magical and damn good.

In June I was asked to review fiction for Fictionaut, a community of writers founded by writer Jürgen Fauth, whom I also interviewed about his stint in the American South as part of my Expat Author Interview Series. The first collection of short stories I reviewed for Fictionaut was Sheldon Lee Compton's haunting The Same Terrible Storm, the second Fauth's Kino. In November, Fictionaut reran my Metazen review of Innis's Three Squares a Day with Occasional Torture. It's a tricky business reviewing books from a community. It's highly unlikely that I'd write a negative review of another Fictionaut's book, but it's also beyond unlikely that I'd lie about how I felt about a book. I think the policy here is the classic "If you don't have something good to say . . ." In January 2013 my review of Kathy Fish's Together We Can Bury It will go live. I'm on my second reading of this must-read flash collection and LOVING EVERY MOMENT OF IT. It will be very easy to have something good to say about this one.

This year I talked to so many expat authors, including Matthew Hamilton, Robin Graham, Tania Hershman, Michelle Elvy and Marcus Speh (the last also in German). These interviews continue to get lots of hits long after they went live. Thank you to all these beautiful people for joining the Expat Author Interview Series this year. If you, sweet reader, are an expat writer and would like to join this series, let me know.   

And then . . . there were the beautiful people who interviewed me. Goodness, there were so many of them this year. Maybe I crawled out of my burrow more frequently than I thought after all. I'm going to break them down into three categories, mainly for my tired brain. In fact, this entire post is mainly for my tired brain.

The Craft of Writing

art by Claire Callister
Interviewed: Christopher Allen: The Absurd and Surreal
Gay Degani of Flash Fiction Chronicles is one of the kindest people I have met in the world of online fiction. I won't bore you with the entire story, but the circumstances that led to this killer interview humble me and fill me with gratitude. Gay, you are one of the good ones.

My Life in Short Fiction
Dan Powell, a British writer living in Germany whom I've also interviewed in my Expat Author Interview Series, asks me a few questions about my life in short fiction that compelled me to dig into my past in a way I've never done before: through the stories that influenced me.

Smoking with Christopher Allen
Nancy Stebbins of SmokeLong Quarterly talks to me about the creation process and my story "When Chase Prays Chocolate."

Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire)

Oh, yes! I forgot to mention that I published a book this year (cover art by Jennifer Noel Bower). We'll get to the book itself later, but right now I'd like to focus on the lovely people who interviewed me about the book. Each one of these fellow writers and reviewers asked me such relevant, challenging questions. If you are one of those readers out there who's wondering whether you want to read my book, start with a few of these interviews. Start with Michelle Elvy's take on the book and then browse your way through this list. After reading all of these interviews, if you still have questions about the book, well, you can call me.

Christopher Allen's Big Beautiful Blog Tour - at Michelle Elvy's Glow Worm (also reposted at Gay Degani's Words in Place.

Conversations with S. Teri O'Type by Christopher Allen - at Martha Williams' writing on a wet rock

'Conversations with S. Teri O'Type': an interview with author Christopher Allen - at Kate Brown's Postcards from a Flat Land

Thursday Thirteen: 13 Questions for Christopher Allen - at Kimberly Menozzi's Fourth Person. Obscured. 

An Interview with Gill Hoffs - at gillhoffs: the works of Gill Hoffs 

Conversations with S. Teri O'Type: an Interview with Author Christopher Allen - at Dan Powell Fiction 

Conversations: Allen to Bower/Bower to Allen - at Referential Magazine. A conversation with the illustrator of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type, Jennifer Noel Bower.


Red Alert #5: I Must be Off! in the Red Zone - at Amazing Australian Adventures

Featured Traveler: Christopher of I Must be Off! - at Tanama Tales

From Tennessee to Germany: I Must be Off! - at BlogExpat.com


Wow. No wonder I didn't get much fiction written this year. I was too busy talking about it, and when I wasn't talking about it, I was traveling or talking about traveling. Actually, I did the FFC interview while traveling in Brazil. So at least I multi-tasked. Still, I did write. And here they are -- my babies of 2012:

Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire) - published August 28, a rather large baby. A gay baby. He's doing well. Check out what people are sayingRead excerpts from the book HERE at Hart Johnson's Confessions of a Watery Tart and HERE at Dorothee Lang's life as a journey

"When Chase Prays Chocolate" - Issue 36 of SmokeLong Quarterly. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and chosen for inclusion in The Best of the First 10 Years Anthology (early 2013). Thank you to editors Tara Laskowski and Nancy Stebbins! And any of the other editors who voted for my story. And those who didn't. Bases covered.

"Triangulation" - A-Minor Magazine. Nominated by editor Nicolette Wong for Best of the Net. Thank you, Nicolette!

"Flight" - at Flash Frontier rubbing its tiny flash elbows with those of many talented writing compadres including Tania Hershman, Marcus Speh, James Claffey, Matt Potter, Len Kuntz and Michelle Elvy

"Furniture" - in the blue collection 2: music, summer 2012 - alongside writers including Sheldon Lee Compton, Marcus Speh, James Claffey and many talented others

"A Bridge Between" - at Blue Five Notebook Series

"The Shop Between the Prophets and the Sea" - in the beautifully produced magazine Lost in Thought (Issue 3)Also in this issue: Meg Tuite, Alex Pruteanu, Agnes Marton, Sheldon Lee Compton, Len Kuntz, Bill Yarrow, Helen Vitoria, Nathaniel Tower, Eryk Wenziak, Laurel Landis, Sam Virzi, Justin F. Ridgeway, Gessy Alvarez and Sara Patterson

"How to Do Fine" - in Chicken Soup for the Soul: the Power of Positive in bookstores.
"The Whiter Places" - First Place at Cazart Stories in April 2012 

"If Flash Were a Gun" - for National Flash Fiction Day in New Zealand (a particular favorite of mine)


Looking back at 2012, I see it was a year to reflect. I get that. But it was also the year I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and published my first book. I even started a new blog--Oh Mighty Gayru!--to celebrate its birth and development. I hope you'll stop by and check it out. As all blogs do, it will find its own way and character as it grows.

As we leave 2012 behind us, we look forward to the adventures 2013 will bring. I wish you success in your career, your relationships and your health. Thank you for reading I Must Be Off! And thank you for taking the time to read anything I've written this year. As usual, doing so makes you 84% more adorable.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type.      



Saturday, December 22, 2012

100,000 Hits and Counting! Thank you!


A few years ago I started this blog for two reasons: 1) Mel Bosworth told me I had to and 2) my mother told me I had to. You might say I'm the kind of guy who does what he's told.

I was in a writers' group with Mel when we all decided to start blogs to promote our published work. OK, Mel decided we should do this, but it was a step in a writer's career that was expected. The only problem with this is that I wasn't comfortable with the concept of a blog promoting me. I wanted something else in terms of content.

Then along comes Mom: "So, Chris, tell me about your travels."

Me: blank stare (adorable of course)

Mom: You do remember them, right?

Me. Hmmm (If you asked me to list my trips this year and expected an immediate answer, I'd probably implode. I'm that forgetful.)

Mom: You do really go to these places, don't you?

Me: Hmmm (It's possible of course that I dreamed it all.)

Mom: You should be writing about them. When you get old--demented and diapered--you'll be glad you did.

Me: Did you say demented and diapered?

Mom: No, you added that part.

So I took my mother's advice and Mel's urgings and created a blog. At first, I set up one called The Garden of Chuck or something similarly stupid and embarrassing. Then I think there was The Adventures of Sam the Savvy Tourist, which I still love but it wasn't even close to being about my real travels. Sam was a tourist who thought he was savvy but wasn't. It was Fun Knee. Then there was Chuck Around the World. I've saved some of those posts actually, but Chuck Around the World sounds like a blog written by a person who gets drunk and vomits a lot on his travels. Hmmmm. This might have been true once.

As my Travel Blog Buds will tell you, a blog really does have to offer the reader something. I'm not the most informed or informative traveler. That's just not my style. If you've read posts on How I travel, you'll see that I'm particularly proud of my ignorance and equally fond of surprises. When I see a place for the first time, I want it to be a real "first time" experience. I don't do extensive research on the places I visit until after I've been there, until after I've allowed my eyes to make up their own minds (and yes they do have separate minds of their own). I hope, when it comes to the travel aspect of this blog, I can give the reader that feeling of being in a place for the first time.  

The name for I Must Be Off! is influenced by Hape Kerkeling's travel book called Ich bin dann mal weg (I'll be off now). The book is about Kerkeling's journey along the Jakobsweg. It's meant to be poignant and witty, but it turns out to be yet another tribute to how many languages he speaks. If you're listening, Hape, the polyglot gags were funny at first. At first. Wir lieben dich trotzdem.

So I Must Be Off! grew. It's around three years old now, just now learning how to read. It likes a lot of pretty pictures. It's light, mostly, but sometimes it gets serious. The About page tells you it's "the gluten-free, expat photo-literary travel(b)logue of writer Christopher Allen...so you'll know where my hands have been."--and that about sums it all up.

Over the last couple of years, I've really enjoyed inviting other expat writers to talk about their experiences abroad and of course their writing as a part of my Expat Author Interview Series, and I look forward to continuing this series. I already have a few writers lined up for January and February.

And my travels continue as well. Next week I'm off to Singapore, Thailand and Bali if all goes as planned. Some of my favorite photos are from these places, so I'm really looking forward to going back.

Thank you so much for following me around the world, for clicking on these pages, and for commenting. I would also like to send out a special thank you to the Russian, Chinese and Indian spambots and scams with whom I've become wildly popular in the last few months.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type, available from Amazon dot anything.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Will Always Love Dolly Parton

I have always loved Dolly Parton. I grew up with her voice and her songs, but also her wigs and her body. While I'm not the sort of person who becomes a fan, I do feel drawn to certain types of voices--and Parton's is one of those unique voices that crushes me with its authenticity. There's nothing fake about Dolly Parton, and I guess that's why it doesn't matter how she changes her exterior.

If you've seen interviews with her, you'll know what I mean. I remember an interview after the Kennedy Center Honors when she defended Jessica Simpson, who botched her performance of Parton's "9 to 5". Parton talked about nerves and how difficult the wordy song is to sing, which most people would say doesn't let Simpson off the hook; but until you've been a singer on stage, you don't know the horror of forgetting the words. Parton has proven again and again what a gracious, humble person she is. I have always loved Dolly Parton.

Recently I was in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with my parents. The last time I was there was 40 years ago, long before Dollywood. We didn't go to Dollywood this time, but we did go to The Dixie Stampede. Now--as you well know--I've lived in Germany for almost 18 years and have spent the last 15 years traveling the globe, so to say The Dixie Stampede shocked me with my own culture is to put it lightly. I think my roots might be a bit loose in their Southern soil. The Stampede is a dinner show. Dinner was more food than three people could eat, mostly meat and potatoes that you're expected to eat with your hands. I think the concept was farm-style cowhand grub, which is fine. They even had a gluten-free plate for me. And I've just noticed on another web site that there was apparently a vegetarian option.

I don't mean to write a review of The Dixie Stampede here, but the evening was delightful, with lots of horse tricks and pig races and humor. Lots of humor. It was a down-home celebration of country life and country food. I wish there had been more vegetables on the menu, but which vegetables can you eat with your fingers? The vegetarian option looks like it requires a fork. A difficult call. But, again, I'm not really here to review the evening. I'm more interested in telling you what I learned that night.

At the end of the show, The Dixie Stampede donated over $200,000 to the Dollywood Foundation--the first time I'd heard of this. My parents, though, knew all about it.

"She gives every child in Sevier County under the age of 5 a book every month." My mother, when she's bursting with pride, gets tearful.

"That's . . . wow," I said. I have always loved Dolly Parton.

And then I started reading up on Parton's Imagination Library. It's not just Sevier County now; it's spreading abroad to the UK and Canada, not to mention hundreds and hundreds of other US counties. If the information I've read is correct, the Dollywood Foundation has given away 40,000,000 books so far.

Parton herself says the purpose of the Imagination Library is "to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could insure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income." (from the Imagination Library web site)

Did you know that Dolly Parton has written over 3000 songs? She writes every day, something I wish I could say. And she cares about the education of children, and she has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. I'm so glad my parents took me to the Smoky Mountains over Thanksgiving to give me a little taste of home. My Southern roots have been a bit loose lately; but after learning more about an artist from my home state whom I respect, they've dug in a little deeper.

I have always loved Dolly Parton. I'm off right now to make a donation to the Imagination Library. I hope you will too. Here's the DONATION link.

I must be off,