Frequently Asked Questions​

Will you speak at my conference/event/for my class?

Thanks for your interest. Please contact my speaking agent Leslie Shipman regarding conferences and other events; here's my page on her agency's site.

 

For class visits — especially if it'd be remote — you can feel free to write me directly; depending on my availability, I may be able to.

Will you write for my [film / tv project]? Can I option your work? 

For stuff like this, please contact my agent
How can I support your work? Do you have a Patreon? 

I don't have a Patreon or anything like that. (I encourage you to subscribe to my newsletter, as who knows, maybe I'll start one someday.) If you want to support my work, buy my book. If you already bought my book, awesome! In that case, I dunno! Buy another one and give it to somebody? Post about your love it somewhere? A few other ideas here. In general, thank you!!! Always feel free to send me a note; I do love hearing from readers about what the book has meant to them. 

Will you cover [xyz topic I care about]? Will you review [my thing]? Will you interview [my client] on your podcast? 

Being totally truthful: probably not, but you can always try writing me nonetheless. I tend to work on projects for many years. I am generally very backed up and overflowing with ideas I'll never get to. But who knows, one time my Uncle Bob did more or less assign me a book and here we are. 

PR people: I am almost definitely not interested. At the very least, please try to read my work before approaching. This especially pertains to "mental health"-related pitches; please familiarize yourself with what I'm all about. Note: I am freelance and unaffiliated with any of the outlets I've previously written for. My podcast is on an indefinite hiatus. 

Which name and pronouns do you use? Why are your name and pronouns different on your hardcover / audiobook?

My name is Sandy Ernest Allen. You can call me Sandy or Sandy Ernest. I use either "they/them" or "he/him" pronouns. Since early 2018, I've been coming out publicly as nonbinary and transgender. You can learn more about this many places, including the column "Between the Binary" I wrote for them. or this This American Life story

Are you on social media?


Not anymore. I find all the rampant transphobia on Twitter for example too taxing and I find Facebook unconscionable, in general. Big picture: I am unsure such platforms are compatible with so-called "mental health" — at least for a very anxious trans guy such as myself. So! I am personally abstaining. I wrote about all this a bit more in this newsletter. You can still follow Mad Chat on Twitter, which will be a good way to know if the show ever comes back. Or subscribe to my extremely occasional newsletter, What's Helping Today

What are you working on now? 

This spring (2022), I'm still focused on writing the next book, a sequel of sorts to AKOMP,​ which explores the future of mental health care. I also am up to my usual — playing piano and singing, baking breb, growing plants. I'm also working on several top secret writing projects. 

What are the top secret writing projects??

If you want to keep up with my work, subscribe to my newsletter, What's Helping Today. I'll talk about stuff when I can. 

[Help! Someone I know is struggling!] Where can I learn more about schizophrenia [or another mental health-related topic]? What do you really think of [a particular psychiatric diagnosis/treatment, etc.]?

I've compiled a list of recommended media and organizations to do with all things mental health/psychiatry/so forth on this page. If you want to learn more about these issues, a good place to start might be my piece about psychiatric patient civil rights for The Cut. And again, check out this resources page.

If you're looking for a full-on no-bullshit crash course regarding the entire (spoiler alert: pretty fucked) discourse/situation regarding status quo so-called "mental health care" and what's actually going on with all this, I do suggest reading my book and/or this piece. The latter is especially geared towards fellow writers and editors. 

 

My podcast is a more lighthearted introduction to all these issues, if you like. Even if you feel like you already know a lot about mental illness, maybe because of your life experience and/or professional history, you may nonetheless find these resources illuminating.

Why didn't you mention [xyz topic I care about] in your story? 

In general, as a reporter/writer I only have so much say so, when it comes to what's in a final cut. I'm paraphrasing somebody I'm sure when I say: Nonfiction is the art of cutting things out. All to say, all stories tend to have lots that I could have said that I didn't ultimately have space for. Anyway, if you still want to discuss, feel free to write me. 

Why "What's Helping Today"?
This was a phrase I used a lot on my podcast Mad ChatIt's about focusing us on the positive and present, when it comes to our psycho-spiritual wellbeing, so to speak. 

I've never listened to Mad Chat before! Which episode should I check out first?

I love all them all, honestly, but especially the Halloween Special with Tracy Clayton and the Killing Eve one with Sarah Kay. You could also start at episode 1, Bojack Horseman, and listen through.

What are your favorite interviews etc. about AKOMP

Everything linked here is pretty good, IMO. I especially liked the Organist piece, as well as the TAL one. (Huge thanks to Andrew Leland and Bim Adewunmi, respectively.) I also liked this brief one with Maris Kreizman for the LA Times. But the best, in my opinion, remains this in-depth conversation with Nicolás Medina Mora

Can I hear Uncle Bob's music somehow?  

The audiobook opens with one of Bob's tracks. The Organist episode also featured some of Bob's music. There's a ton more but I've not figured out what to do with it. 

Can I read Uncle Bob's original manuscript?

No. My book is the version of the story that's for public consumption. The reasons for this are explained by the book itself. 

Why is AKOMP written in two fonts?

Hopefully any reader of the book will understand the rationale fairly quickly. In short: In one typewriter-like font I've written my version of Bob's story. The other element is everything else I'd like my reader to know — context about the family, about society, about medicine — as they read about Bob's life. I added this element because readers of Bob's story often had questions for example about what the diagnosis "schizophrenia" even means.

What do you mean, "what the diagnosis 'schizophrenia' even means"?

Well, I definitely suggest you read the book. 

Why did Uncle Bob send you his manuscript?

This is the sort of question I tend to get from people who haven't yet read the book. As I describe through the top, my guess is he sent it to me because he wanted help with his writing, and I was the only writer he knew. We spoke on the phone soon after he mailed me the sixty-page typewritten original. He explained he wanted to get his story "out there" because it was "true."

Is Uncle Bob still alive?

I was asked this question often during interviews and book events; I tended to answer honestly and succinctly that he is not. Sometimes people then ask how he died. My answer would be: these queries are much better answered by the book. In general, if you're curious to know about his death — which the book covers — I hope you'll first take some time to learn about his life. That is the whole point.

What do other people in your family think about AKOMP?

I have been asked this question often as well. The answer is truthfully complicated.  The book itself hopefully captures the sheer challenge that comes with discussing such matters, given the wide range of ways people can feel. There are certainly some relatives who are huge fans of the project. Some are thrilled that this book may serve as a way for the world to better understand Bob. Some in my family — myself very much included — now understood ourselves as part of a greater community of people who were personally affected by the realities of the psychiatric system, for example. But really, matters like what mental health care should consist of, these affect us all.

What more can you say about how you wrote the book? How did you write your version of Bob's story? 

I worked on the project for about eight years, starting in roughly 2009. For the first several years, I didn't think it was a "book," but rather just a weird writing project I worked on sometimes. A cousin once asked me why I decided to write a book about Bob and I very much don't view it that way; I think Bob assigned me to write his book and over time I agreed. Now I very much agree with him that people should read the story of his life and in fact I basically devote my life to telling people so. 

The first five years I worked on this project I was focused on my rendition of Bob's story, the one written in the typewriter-y font. In terms of the relationship between my text and Bob's, a metaphor I use in the book is that of the "cover," as in music. (I also like this metaphor because Bob was a rock musician.) I think of how far a cover can drift from an original but still be the same song — Hendrix's anthem at Woodstock, to use an example I've used a lot. The facts are Bob's and the words are mine. To write it, I used what tools we nonfiction writers have — structure and style especially. I decided over time to adapt his text in this manner in order to make his story one more people might be willing to listen to. 

Occasionally in my version of his story, I quote Bob (in all-capital letters). I do this both because some phrases, as I describe in the book, I felt needed to appear in the original form. They were too beautiful or too funny or too offensive. I also quote him to interrupt my reader, to remind them that this is a presentation of someone else's story. 

Periodically I would go through and check my version of Bob's story against his original. I'd be honest with myself about whether I was being faithful. If details had crept in I couldn't substantiate in his original, I'd cut them. 

During the project's final years, I focused more on its other element, which opens the book. After I got the contract with Scribner, in June 2015, I worked on the project full time for about two full years with two editors before it was done. My editors were focused on figuring out: what information has to be here? During this phase, I focused hard on figuring out the truth about schizophrenia, so I read a lot of books and I interviewed a lot of people who may know (I write about all this in the book itself). I also spoke with everyone from Bob's own life I could find who was willing and I asked them how they remembered everything he'd claimed, as is also discussed in the latter parts of the book itself. 

Was the book fact checked?

The portion of the book in the non-typewriter-y font was traditionally fact checked by two freelance fact checkers I hired on my own. One, who had a psychology PhD, checked the especially mental health-y focused chapters ("You Can Call It Anything" and "The Right Treatment") and the other was a more general-purpose fact checker who went through the remainder of my chapters. The chapters based on Bob's story, I checked against his original manuscript in the manner described above. 

Was Bob's original story written in the first person or the third?

He wrote his text in the first person (except its cover page). Bob's original manuscript is quoted at length on the cover of the book's hardcover, in the first section, and elsewhere in AKOMP (particularly the late chapter called "The Fifth Portrait"). You can study these if you want to get a sense of how different his original sounded. 

My rendition of his story is written in a limited omniscient third person. As I describe in the text, I arrived at this choice via trial and error. I didn't feel it was my place to speak as him in the first person. I also didn't want to write a version in the traditional third person, looking at him. I wanted to create a reality that was tethered to his point of view entirely. I hence employed a limited omniscient third aka indirect discourse, a technique more commonly used in fiction writing.  

Can I see the photo of you and Bob you describe at the end of AKOMP

Sure.​ The poster-sized version he mailed me hangs on my wall.