Where can I learn more about schizophrenia (or another mental health-related topic)?
I've compiled a mental health and gender-focused resources page on this site, which includes links to many potentially helpful organizations — especially if you are or know someone in crisis.
What name and pronouns do you use?
My name is Sandy Allen (Sandy Ernest Allen, legally) and "they/them" or "he/him."
Why are your name and pronouns different on your hardcover?
When is Mad Chat coming back?
Hopefully someday! I self-funded our ten-episode first season in 2019 but that was all I could commit to, for a variety of reasons, now including the reality of being a freelancer during a pandemic. The show is on indefinite hiatus until we find a funding source for future seasons. If YOU are that funding source, please get in touch! Much more about Mad Chat at its website.
I've never listened to Mad Chat before! Which episode should I check out first?
When is Breb Class coming back?
Breb Class will return if someday Rob and I both have time and are feeling it. I am vaguely hoping to someday make some more episodes on stuff like pizzas, bagels, and pie. I realize pie isn't bread per se but I am also very passionate about pie.
Where are you traveling next? Will you come speak at my conference/event/etc.?
I am going nowhere for the time being. My 2020 speaking-related travel was all canceled back in March. If you want to learn more about my speaking work, here's my page on my speaking agent's site.
What are you working on now?
This winter I'm focused on writing the next book, which is an intellectual sequel to AKOMP (exploring the future of mental health care). I also spend a lot of time in my garden and baking breb.
Why "Hello Sandy Allen"?
"Hello Sandy Allen" is a song by band called Split Enz, written in 1982, about the former tallest woman on earth, with whom I share a name. I wrote a big story about it a while back.
Are you going to record an audiobook?
I did! It's available from Simon & Schuster audio. I read one font and an actor named Pete Simonelli read the other font. 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.
Why did 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".
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 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 is AKOMP 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 eight years. For the first several 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 — Jimi'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.
The portion of the book in the non-typewriter-y font was traditionally fact checked by two freelance fact checkers I hired. One, who had a psychology PhD, checked the especially mental health-y focused chapters and the other was a more general purpose fact checker who checked the remainder of my chapters.
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.
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 office wall.)