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  • Meet the IAF: Mike Allen
    by Erin | July 6th, 2010 |
    Mike Allen

    (Ed.: Continuing our series of profiles of IAF people, Mike Allen is a member of the IAF Working Group. Previous profiles in this series have included Christopher Barzak, Larissa N. Niec, Stephen H. Segal, Felice Kuan, Wendy Ellertson, Deborah Atherton, Erin Underwood, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman and Geoffrey Long.)

    Who are you, and what do you do?

    I lead a somewhat surreal double life, though it’s all kind of interconnected. By day (though the hours vary) I’m the arts and culture columnist for The Roanoke (Va.) Times. I’ve been in that job for exactly a year – before then I was covering court cases (murder trials, lawsuits, etc.) for the same paper. I enjoy my new job more, though the old one generated more interesting war stories.

    In my spare time I wear a number of different hats, some of which are reversible. As an editor, I put together the Clockwork Phoenix anthology series, subtitled “Tales of Beauty and Strangeness,” for Norilana Books. Stories from those books have been nominated for the Nebula and Shirley Jackson Awards and reprinted in several “Best of the Year” anthologies. I also edit and publish the poetry journal Mythic Delirium, and have had pleasure of seeing three poems from those pages win the Rhysling Award and reappear in the Nebula Awards Showcases.

    I’m a writer, too. My dark-as-crude-oil horror story “The Button Bin” was a Nebula Award nominee in 2009, and I’ve had other stories appear in Interzone, Weird Tales, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Cabinet des Fées and the anthology Cthulhu’s Reign. My poetry has appeared in all sorts of places over the last twenty years, including Asimov’s, Pedestal Magazine and Strange Horizons, and I’m a three-time Rhysling Award winner, meaning I’m tied with my own ‘zine. The Philadelphia Inquirer called what I do “poetry for goths of all ages” – make of that what you will.

    Curiously, I may be even better known as a speculative poetry advocate than as a poet – I’ve talked about that topic everywhere from local universities to the Library of Congress. Public speaking somewhat suits me, though, because I also perform semi-regularly in local improv theater.

    What first attracted you to the interstitial arts?

    At first glance I’m sure that I and the concept of “interstitial” seem to exist at right angles. A review of my first poetry collection started out, “Mike Allen may be the embodiment of genre.” And what the reviewer meant was that if you were at all puzzled by what a “science fiction poem” was, you could read one I’d written and it would be clear as a bell.

    My mix of tastes has always been curious. I grew up reading fantasy and science fiction, but in other areas, such as visual art or film, my interests are much broader, and I gravitate to the exceedingly strange. As I matured I began to appreciate writing that really pushed the envelope in the same way, that blurred boundaries not just of genre but within storytelling itself: the surreal fusions produced by Harlan Ellison at his best, the works of Borges, Calvino’s On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

    I didn’t encounter the term “interstitial fiction” until my first ReaderCon, in 2005. I recall Theodora Goss saying those words and me asking her what on Earth that meant.

    But actually, I was heading in that direction as an editor and as a poet at that time without being aware there was a word for what I was starting to investigate. I experimented with an anthology series that blended poetry and fiction, called MYTHIC, and when I selected work for it I deliberately walked away from the sharply drawn definitions of genre content that I’d used for past projects. I’ve never gone back to retrieve them.

    How do you consider your work interstitial?

    Is it possible to have an interstitial life? Setting out with plans to crank out science fiction novels, I became a poet. I studied art and film in college, so I became a journalist. But I imagine those sorts of motions against expectation are true of most any creative type.

    As a fiction writer, though I’ve certainly produced some strange beasts, I hesitate to call what I’ve done interstitial. My poetry, yes – a number of the poems I’ve written over the past few years do all sorts of funky things with genre boundaries. And as an editor I’d also stake that claim.

    I came up with the idea for Clockwork Phoenix around the same period that a number of wonderfully offbeat “manifesto” anthologies appeared such as The New Weird, Interfictions and Paper Cities. It’s hard to articulate what I had in mind: maybe the best way I can put it is that I wanted to create an anthology that made use of the approaches advocated in those predecessors without offering any specific assertions or definitions, a book that would “be” without an overt agenda to teach.

    The individual stories in the Clockwork Phoenix books aren’t necessarily interstitial – Rich Horton’s review of Clockwork Phoenix 3 in Locus quite accurately describes the contents as a mix of wild science fiction, difficult to classify “slipstream” stories and out-and-out fantasy. But the organizing principles are interstitial, for certain: the only requirement for inclusion, really, is strangeness; genre blending is encouraged; and, with much help from my wife Anita, who has a talent for arranging, the stories are intentionally placed in an order that implies a meta-narrative in which related concepts evolve or contrast. The surreal introductions I write, sometimes described as prose-poems by nonplused reviewers, are meant to aim readers at that narrative rather than establish a traditional theme or thesis.

    We also do this with Mythic Delirium. Our 21st issue, the “Trickster Issue,” not only involved myself and Anita ordering poems as we do with the Clockwork Phoenix stories, but poets like Catherynne Valente, Theodora Goss, Jeannine Hall Gailey and JoSelle Vanderhooft were invited to read and react to each other’s work, so themes and images spread like memes among the verses even before we placed them in order. And we’ve evangelized this approach to some degree: in our 22nd issue – the “Goblin Delirium” issue, guest edited by Amal El-Mohtar and Jessica P. Wick of Goblin Fruit – the young editrices tried their own hands at our method of editing, with what I think were spectacular results.

    As I write this, the 2010 ReaderCon is just days away, and both Clockwork Phoenix 3 and the “Goblin Delirium” issue of Mythic Delirium have official debuts on the program schedule, so as you can imagine that’s keeping me pretty busy. I can’t tell you much yet about what I might be doing beyond that, but I certainly hope it will continue to involve these delightful dissolvings of boundaries.

    finish line

    2 Responses to “Meet the IAF: Mike Allen”

    1. SF Signal: SF Tidbits for 7/7/10 Says:

      [...] « EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Alexei Panshin SF Tidbits for 7/7/10 [ InterviewsBlogging the Muse interviews Lisa Goldstein.Slush Pile Hero interviews Jeremy C. Shipp.Interstitial Arts Foundation interviews Mike Allen.Shawn Speakman interviews Todd Lockwood.John Scalzi’s The Big Idea: Carrie Vaughn.NewsThe Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror – Call For Submissions.Two Authors Criticize Night Shade Books.Kaleidotrope #9 has been released.Fiction Collective Two Contests.NEW From BVC: French Fried.ArticlesBoing Boing on Earliest utopian novel by an American woman: 300 Years Hence, 1836.Carrie Vaughn on Timeline of a Trend.Deborah J. Ross on When Writing Friends Aren’t: Sabotage and Self-Image.Rachelle Gardner on How to Become a Better Writer: 11 Completely Non-Writing-Related Ideas.The Book Publicity Blog on How do you track online “buzz”?K.A. Stewart on the Birth of a Character.Mark Chadbourn on Keeping It Real.Jason Sanford on How literary journals can scream “Hey, we’re irrelevant!” [...]

    2. Deborah Atherton Says:

      Welcome to the IAF! It’s great to hear about your work, Mike, and your interstitial life. We look forward to hearing about the successes of the new issue of Mythic Delirium and Clockwork Phoenix 3 at Readercon – so sorry not to be there this year!

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