SANDY ERNEST ALLEN
Frequently Asked Questions
I heard the This American Life story about your voice! Where can I stream to your music?
Nowhere yet because I haven't released any music... but that could change. Sign up for my newsletter if you want to hear if I ever do.
Will you speak for my conference/organization/etc.?
Thanks for your interest. Professional speaking inquiries, please contact my speaking agent Leslie Shipman; here's my page on her agency's site.
How can I support your work? Do you have a Patreon?
If you want to support my work, buy my book. It's also available as an ebook and as an audiobook, which I read in part. I don't have a Patreon or anything like that. I'm super grateful to those who read the book or otherwise engage with my work. If you already love the book, consider telling your friends/followers or asking your favorite local bookseller or library whether they carry it. Always feel free to send me a note; I do love hearing from readers about what my work has meant to them. Here's an AKOMP-inspired playlist, if you want.
Why is your name different on your hardcover/audiobook?
I am trans and began coming out just after the hardcover did in 2018. I have written and spoken about this many places over the last few years, like here and here and in my column for Them.
What name and pronouns do you use?
My legal name is Sandy Ernest Allen. You can call me Sandy or Sandy Ernest. I use both they/them and he/him pronouns.
Are you on social media?
Not anymore. 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 edition of my newsletter.
What are you working on now?
I'm writing my next book, which is focused on the future of mental health care. I also am up to my usual — playing piano and singing, baking bread, growing plants. I'm also working on several other projects that will remain mysterious for now. Again sign up for my newsletter if you want to hear whenever I release new work.
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, big picture, a good place to start might be my piece for The Cut. And again, check out this resources page. The latter is especially geared towards fellow writers and editors. Even if you feel like you already know a lot about mental illness (maybe because of your life experience and/or professional history or both), you may nonetheless find these illuminating.
If you want to avoid any AKOMP spoilers don't read further:
What are your favorite interviews about AKOMP?
Everything linked here is pretty good. 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 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.
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 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. How I think of it, perhaps, is: Bob assigned me to write his biography and over time I agreed. Now I very much agree with him that people should read the story of his life and learn its lessons. 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. I'm sure there are things if I were doing it today I'd do differently; so it goes.
During the project's final years, I focused more on the part written in the other font, my story in the book if you will. 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 and I 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-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?
Sure. The poster-sized version he mailed me hangs on my wall.