What name / gender pronoun do you use?
I'm nonbinary trans. I've been coming out publicly and professionally these last few years. Here are some essays about it. I go by "Sandy" and prefer "they/them" pronouns. Though TBH I think gendered pronouns are silly/oppressive.
Why "Hello Sandy Allen"?
Is your uncle Bob still alive?
When I was this question during interviews and events, as happened often, 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. FWIW, if you're curious to hear about his death, which the book covers, please first take some time to learn about his life. (That is the whole point, here.)
What do other people in your family think about the book?
I have been asked this question often as well. The answer is truthfully complicated. 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 understand ourselves as part of a greater community of people who are personally affected by the realities of the psychiatric system, for example. But really, matters like what mental health care should consist of, these (can) affect us all.
Why did your uncle Bob send you his manuscript?
As I write in AKOMP, I think 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".
Why is the book written in two fonts?
Hopefully the rationale will become clear to my reader fairly quickly. 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" means.
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 8 years. For the first several I didn't think it was a book, but rather just a piece of writing 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.
The first five years I worked on this project I was focused on my version of Bob's story. 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.) The facts are Bob's and the words are mine. To write it, I used what tools we nonfiction writers have — structure, style. 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, 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, for example. 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. 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. During this time, I interviewed and read a lot, attempting to understand the topic of schizophrenia. I also interviewed everyone from Bob's story who I could find (everyone who'd speak with me). 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? And what information is potentially extraneous?
Ultimately my goal was to create a story that was engaging and that even readers very unfamiliar with these topics may actually get to the end of. I also wanted to make sure I was writing for readers who are very familiar with these topics—and who may feel a variety of ways about them. The element written in my voice was traditionally fact checked by two freelance fact checkers I hired.
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). I quote Bob's original manuscript at length on the book's hardcover design and in the first section and elsewhere in AKOMP ("The Fifth Portrait").
My version is written in a limited omniscient third person. 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.
Why didn't you talk about [x topic] more in the book?
There were many things I'd have loved to discuss in the book at greater length. I am writing about many of them now.
Are you going to record an audiobook?
I already did! It's available from Simon & Schuster audio. I read one font and an actor named Pete Simonelli read the other. He was a great Bob.
How can I hear Bob's music?
The audiobook opens with one of Bob's tracks. The Organist's episode about AKOMP also featured a bunch of Bob's music. If you're a guitarist and want a glow-in-the-dark AKOMP guitar pick, send your mailing address to mirraculas at gmail dot com.
What other books should I read about schizophrenia?
Where are you traveling next?
Nowhere for a while. My 2020 speaking-related travel is all canceled because of the pandemic, but admittedly even before this era I was becoming more and more of a hermit, myself.
What are you working on now?
I'm writing a sequel to AKOMP, among many other projects. Also I spend a lot of time in my garden and baking bread.
Can I see the photo of you and Bob you describe at the end of the book?