Roland Allnach

multi-award winning author of the strange and surreal
www.rolandallnach.com
 

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Prism

PBA Award Seal

Silver Medal, Short Stories, 2015 Feathered Quill Book Awards
Winner, Short Stories, 2015 Pacific Book Review Book Awards

From the back cover:

  "Prism presents the best of Roland Allnach's newest stories together with his most acclaimed published short fiction.  These selected stories fracture the reader's perceptions among a dazzling array of genres and styles to illuminate the mysterious aspects of the human experience."

About Prism:

  Prism is my third published book, and one I've looked forward to for several reasons.  One, it collects almost all of my previously published short stories in one volume - something I've yearned to do as my credits grew, so that I could offer readers a one-stop reading experience of the stories that helped build my writing career.  Second, I wanted to follow the trail of diverse genres represented by my stories and add in several unpublished pieces that, for me, explore new narrative forms.  Third, while exploring those new realms, I wanted to express the inspiration and admiration I've discovered in classical literature.

  The new pieces consist of "Of Typhon and Aerina", a tribute to epic verse; "Titalis", a tribute to Shakespeare and Greek tragedy; "Tumbleweed", a raunchy bit of comedy to show I don't always have to be so serious; and, lastly, "Dissociated", a surreal short story that I believe puts the cherry on the cake for the whole collection embodied in Prism.

To order a copy of 'Prism' from All Things That Matter Press, click here.
To order 'Prism' in print or Kindle from Amazon, click here.
To order an autographed copy of 'Prism', visit the Bookstore right on this site. 

What do the critics say? Check out the reviews here.

Splitting the light:  inside Prism:

  As I said above in brief, I had a number of objectives with Prism.  Those who are familiar with some of my fiction will already know that my tastes and interests for story content can be quite eclectic.  Even so, I believe they are cohesive facets of my narrative voice, because all of my stories - no matter how strange they may be - are contemplations of the human condition.  I enjoy employing the surreal as a way to look upon our concepts and preconceptions of the world and our place within its fold.

  To follow a brief tangent, I just want to say something about narrative voice.  An author's 'voice' is the distinct way in which one presents the written word, a sound and flow to language that marks those words as creations of that author and none else.  Much the way musicians have a particular 'sound' that can be recognized as their characteristic form, authors have their narrative voice. 

  Why am I talking about this?  It may be an inside idea for writers but, like all the other subtle things over which authors drive themselves mad, voice is one more subtle but striking element to an author's works.  Voice is not only a way for authors to distinguish their works as their own, it enables authors to write in ways that are unique to them.  There's an old standard for authors, and it goes something like this:  there's hardly a story that hasn't been told, so tell it in a way that only you could tell it (well, I should say show it, for the picky people out there).

  After years of writing without publication, it still took some time for me to develop and identify my own narrative voice.  It's there in each of my stories, and I didn't realize it until I started to accumulate publication credits.  It was a bit of a eureka moment when I found the correlation between stories I had published to stories in which I expressed my voice - a perfect correlation, in fact. 

  At the same time that I was learning more editorial skills I also learned to pay more attention to the particular sound and tone of other authors' works to understand and develop my own characteristic narrative voice.  As my story credits grew, and I ventured into the first stages of seeing Remnant to publication, I really came to understand what elements make my stories work for me and gained confidence in my ability to stretch into different genres.

  The diversity of my stories is not only something I enjoy but something in which I take a great deal of pride.  I don't want to be tied to any one genre; likewise, good storytelling transcends the limitations of genre.  By the time I saw Oddities & Entities to publication I already had my mind set on my next project.  I wanted to take another pass at my published stories and roll them into one volume, so that they could easily be read together as a body of work.  I also wanted to extend their impact with several new pieces. 

  For me, this volume would represent the range of my narrative voice.  For readers, the volume would represent a compelling journey through many genres and narrative styles, bound by the underlying elements of my voice. 

  I toyed around with several titles.  They sounded pompous and ridiculous.  Even though some of them seemed to have a catchy ring to them, after running them by my wife and receiving the dreaded but expected frown, I decided to go with something more direct.  And so, the title came to 'Prism'.  It may be simple, but it does the job well.

  That said, I'm going to do something a little different for Prism than I did for Remnant and Oddities & Entities.  I'm not going to delve into each story in the volume, because the published stories included in the book all have their existing pages and companion creative essays right here on this site (see 'Behind the Stories' for more).  Instead, this page will contain essays on the new pieces within Prism, namely, "Titalis", "Of Typhon and Aerina", "Tumbleweed", and "Dissociated".  This page is a spoiler-free zone.

  As with all my other fiction, I'm always up to answer questions.  Feedback makes authors happy.  Just drop me an email at fiction@rolandallnach.com.

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  "Titalis:  the tragedy of Eurimedon"

  "Titalis" is my homage to Shakespeare, Greek tragedy, and tragic literature in general.  As with "Of Typhon and Aerina" (discussed below), I was hoping to transform the inspiration I've drawn from perhaps less accessible literary classics to write a piece that captures the feel of elegant language while remaining a pleasurable read to a contemporary audience.

  Like most people, my first forays into Shakespeare came about in junior high and high school, and none of it really had any impact on me.  I found the language cumbersome and it reminded me more of a musical than readable fiction.  By the way, I do not like musicals, so Shakespeare was a struggle.  In hindsight, I think a large part of that was the way Shakespeare was presented. 

  As with so many other things at that level of education, it was presented, it was read, we were told that it was great and what we were supposed to understand, and then most of that was to be repeated.  There were also the painful exercises of memorizing soliloquies and reciting them in front of a class - even more torturous for someone like me, who just wanted to vanish from public perception.  I don't understand the point of those memorizations, although Othello lingers in my head...."Out, out, bright candle..."

  Moving forward a number of years through college and afterward, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to be an author I had a responsibility to go back to Shakespeare, read everything, and make an effort to at least understand why his works hold such a monumental place in literature.  To my surprise, it was a revelation. 

   Perhaps it was the fact that I was older and more mature, perhaps it had to do with the fact that I was already deep into writing and wanted to improve any way I could, perhaps it was for no other reason than reading Shakespeare for pleasure rather than an assignment.  In the end, I think it was just one of those happy circumstances of time, place and perception.  Nevertheless, I learned valuable lessons on the musicality of language, subtexts of description, and different ways to stage scenes and characters.

  While I employed those lessons in various things I was writing at the time, I started to think it would be fun to take a shot at writing something different, something along the lines of what I had read.  I wasn't crazy enough to think I could imitate Shakespeare.  It was more a concept of a writing exercise rather than a pure attempt at a story, but I soon found that concept was a lame idea.  Without plot and character, there was nothing to drive any exercise in stretching to do something different.  So, I played with various ideas, and soon came up with the basic outline of what would be "Titalis".

  The original version of the story was in fact written as a play.  The challenge was a thrill, and the deeper I got into writing the play, the more interested I was in completing the task. At the time I was experimenting with poetry - again, more as an exercise to refine my prose - and those little things I had gathered from short works of verse grew as verse was woven into the context of plot and character expression.

  When it was done, I was very proud of myself.  As time went by, I realized it was a big mess, and so it collected dust.

  The plot and characters stuck with me though, and I wasn't ready to give up on their story.  Instead, I looked on "Titalis" as a project in need of skills I didn't yet possess, so it would wait until I was ready to meet it on its own terms and do it justice.  A few years later, after having my confidence bolstered with the critical success and awards of my first two books, I decided to tackle "Titalis" as a major piece of Prism.  My initial idea was to transform it from a play into a prose narrative. 

   After all, prose allows a great degree of descriptive room and language outside of dialog, whereas a play is, obviously, all dialog.  This got the creative fires burning, and I launched into a rewrite with a great deal of excitement.  The new version of "Titalis" took on a life of its own, and that's when I really felt I was on the right path, the path the story always needed to follow.

  Not too much remains of the original version.  Being that it was a play, the few bits that remain linger in the dialog and soliloquies.  The rest of the original dialog was replaced in whole, expanded in others, or a combination thereof.  Princess Totuk, who originally held little more place in the play than a few lines, grew to a full blooded character and gained a name, She of the Plains.  The original name of Eikoptas' character was a ridiculous overture I refuse to repeat, so I dropped it in favor of Eikoptas.  Titalis himself was refined, Capestes was given more depth, and the city in whole was given more descriptive context.

  The biggest change, and the change that I think in the end helped cement the entire piece, was the addition of Capestes' mistress, Lissandra.  She did not exist in the original writing of "Titalis"; when I sat down to do the first rewrite she was an unnamed character that appeared once, in the scene where Capestes is sitting in his bath.  After the rewrite, I decided to give the character of Deiphos more substance by contrasting her with someone, and there seemed no better person than Capestes' mistress. 

  At that point I knew she had to have a name, and the moment she was named her presence grew ever more substantive within the story.  She's not the main character, but her presence lurks in many places, in many forms, almost as the hidden conscience of the entire tragedy.  She's not the most noble character, but she is the most resourceful.  In that respect, she may even be the most compelling character in the piece.

  But that's just my opinion.

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 "Of Typhon and Aerina"

    In terms of a single written work, "Of Typhon and Aerina" may be the most ambitious piece I've seen to completion.  Written in the style of epic verse, it is the culmination of all my attempts to create poetry, but I think it also contains some of the best characterization I've done.  Part of that I believe is due to the descriptive language of the piece, part of it is due to the way the verse format both fosters and accentuates the musicality of descriptive passages.  Nevertheless, it's a piece of which I'm very proud, and I think it encapsulates a great deal of what I hope to achieve with any of my written work, regardless of its narrative form.

  When I first started writing way back in my teens, writing in verse was something I never considered.  Then again, I didn't read verse.  I had little interest in poetry and, as I said above, the Shakespearean works I had to read in school I found difficult pills to swallow.  However, the first exposure I had to epic verse was in junior high school, when we had to read some translations of Homer - all of them reduced to prose form.  In those days I couldn't understand why the Iliad was considered such a literary masterpiece, because the prose translation was flat and boring. 

  Fast forward to my time in college.  As a science major my schedule left little room for courses in humanities and literature, but I came across a class entitled 'Death in Literature' and figured I'd hit gold.  I was not to be disappointed.  One of the first pieces we had to read was Homer's Iliad, but the translation we were instructed to read was a verse translation by Richmond Lattimore (for those interested, it's available on Amazon).  His opening notes were fascinating, as he took the time to describe the mechanics of Homer's verse and the subtleties of translating the classical Greek into English. 

  When I started to read the translation, though, it knocked my socks off.  It was both beautiful and brutal, the characterizations and descriptive passages were mesmerizing, and the overall effect jarred me to the power that verse could summon from a literary voice.  I've read this translation several times, and it never gets old.  If you have any interest in classical literature, it's a must read.

  Homer's style whispered in the back of my mind through all my attempts at poetry.  When I started to take my writing seriously I ventured into poetry more as an exercise to refine my language rather than as a guided interest in being a 'poet'.  I still don't consider myself a 'poet', because that represents a very specialized writing expertise which I won't dare claim. 

  However, one of the things I love about Homer is that aside from the verse presentation, his verse tells a story.  Unlike regular poetry that often deals with abstract ideas or literary allusions, the Iliad has a concrete plot, distinct characters, and loads of dramatic moments driven by character flaws and virtues.

  The more I toyed with verse, the more I realized it was something along the lines of epic verse that I really wanted to write.  My first attempt was with a piece called "Glider".  It was the first time I tried a long form piece in verse.  Although I still like the story, the writing was simplistic and lacked the complexity of language which I wanted to use to constitute a more substantive piece.  For all its faults, "Glider" succeeded in two key areas: one, it gave me the confidence to realize long form verse was a possibility I could explore; two, the shortcomings of its story elements allowed me to consider the deeper tones I would have to include in a future attempt.

  Once I had my ideas on plot and character established, the writing began.  In "Glider" I employed a simple line to line rhyming scheme.  I decided from the outset of "Typhon" to use an A-B-A-B rhyming scheme, where the story is told in four line stanzas with the end rhymes enmeshed.  For more pointed scenes (that is, battles) the scheme switches from the four line stanza to a direct line to line scheme with shorter lines to emphasize the change in pace.  Other than this basic outline I let the individual lines flow as they needed in a blank verse format, where the lines are not held to a strict internal rhythm or beat.

  And so, I let it flow.  The deeper I got into the piece, the more it grew on its own, and the more I pushed the language.  At some points I wasn't sure if I was creating a great success or a spectacular failure, but the simple fact that my overall plan for the piece was working encouraged me to continue.  At completion I felt it told a solid story and lived up to the portents of its opening passage. 

  It was a demanding piece to write and, as a single work, it took me longer than anything else I've done.  I can write an entire book in four months; I spent three years on and off working to finish "Typhon".  The proofing process alone presented me with a unique challenge.  Unlike prose, the verse format doesn't allow simple changes.  At times I had to rework all four lines of a stanza, or multiple stanzas, to fix minor omissions or plot/character issues.

  Ultimately, the opinion on "Of Typhon and Aerina" rests with the reader.  Regardless of opinions, I know one thing.  I took a shot at something not many people attempt, and that alone makes me happy to present the piece.  And if it inspires anyone to pick up Homer or Shakespeare, than I would be most satisfied, with all due humility to those masters who inspired me to write this piece.

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  "Tumbleweed"

  In several places on this site I've said how I often ping-pong between subject matter while moving from one story to another.  "Tumbleweed" is quite the example of that process, and so earned its particular place within Prism.

  "Tumbleweed" is another long form piece of verse.  In contrast to "Of Typhon and Aerina", it is much shorter, it follows a simple line to line rhyming scheme, the language is much simpler, and the subject matter is, shall we say, devolved.  Whereas "Typhon" and "Titalis" are serious dramatic pieces, "Tumbleweed" is a dirty little ditty.

  I wanted to include "Tumbleweed" not only for the humor of the tale, but to show that not everything I write is so dark.  Outside of writing, I think I have a good sense of humor, and I enjoy sharing laughs with friends and family.  For whatever reason, that never quite makes its way into my writing.  (Ah, insert psychoanalysis here, I guess.) 

  Nevertheless, "Tumbleweed" came to me after writing several serious pieces, specifically, it followed the aforementioned and ill-fated long verse piece, "Glider".  I was experiencing a certain amount of mental strain playing around with so many verse exercises at that point, and what I really wanted to do was get back to my familiar territory of prose. 

  Making the transition wasn't as easy as I thought, and every attempt I was making at putting together some narratives for various story ideas were finding themselves morphed into verse pieces.  The hint that at some level I wasn't quite done with verse became clear enough, so I toyed around with a few different ideas.

  Inspiration struck while doing a gardening project.  In fact, a truckload of manure-enriched top soil had been dumped in my driveway so that I could raise all the garden beds in the front yard.  It was a big project, and I had to get it done before the delivery was running down my driveway in the rainy days that followed the delivery.  Mother Nature, it seemed, was having a laugh of her own. 

  So, there I was, shoveling into a small mountain of odorous top soil beneath a miserable, drizzly sky.  For some reason I started making light of the situation by talking to myself in a comical wild-west slang. 

  Before I knew it I was putting together lines of verse, and shortly thereafter the idea for the story of "Tumbleweed" bloomed in my head.  I had to finish my shoveling, but over the next few days I dashed out a rough version of what was to become the finished piece.  It sat for some time, but I picked it up again to work on tightening it up during off periods of writing "Typhon", so, in some ways, as different as these two tales manifest themselves they are bound together.  I guess that's a reflection of my personality.  (Hmmm, insert psychoanalysis, Part 2, here?) 

  "Tumbleweed" is fun.  For all it's raunchy humor, though, it is still an exercise in language, and so I felt justified in incorporating it with the whole that is Prism.  It also adds a lighter note to segue into the final story of the book, "Dissociated".

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  "Dissociated"

  "Dissociated" is an odd little story, and it's hard to describe it without giving it away.  In some ways it has nothing to do with me personally, while at the same time it's about as close to me as any other thing I've written. 

  This story came about at a time very similar to the opening of the story.  The kitchen setting described in the story is in fact my kitchen, and when I finish a new short story I do leave it on the counter.  Those were convenient narrative devices, because after those basic points the story launches into something far different.  When I conceived the idea for "Dissociated" I wanted to write something about the creative process. 

  Depicting someone writing a story or book is about as tired an idea as there is in literature, so I wanted to follow a different course.  Instead of writing a story about someone writing a story, I decided to write a story within the creative process, so that the plot is both completed and developing as the story is read.  It's an implosive plot concept, a paradoxical plot concept, and I wasn't sure if it would even work.

  "Dissociated" followed a rather tortured course to its present form in Prism.  The verb tense of the story was altered from present to past and then back and forth in successive revisions; likewise, the narrative went back and forth between first person and third person.  In revision after revision it was a struggle to find which combination of narrative and tense served the story best. 

  After some adjustments to the dialog and some of the philosophical ponderings of the protagonist, I decided it worked best in its current form - third person, present tense.  Past tense did not effectively serve the evolving, implosive nature of the story, and first person voice put the narrative too far into the story to provide any outside focus.

  I made several attempts to have this story published on its own.  All submissions were rejected.  It wasn't too much of a surprise, because I realized that without some kind of exterior context the story was too obscure to stand on its own.  Although it's an independent story, it's much easier to decipher if grounded among other stories that help contribute to its meaning.  After all, it does reflect my own creative process.  In its own way it's part of every other thing I've written.

  For those reasons it was a natural decision to place it as the closing piece of Prism.  After all the various twists and turns of the book's content, I think "Dissociated" embodies the initial idea of the volume, and its title, in one tidy little package.

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  Looking at Prism as a whole work

  As I said in the 'Splitting the Light' section earlier on this page, my intention with Prism is to show not only my narrative range but explore different narrative forms.  It's an exercise of narrative voice as much as it is meant to entertain, because one common element of all my stories is that they wrestle with notions of the human condition.  I know those are ambitious concepts, but they form an exciting challenge.

  Although the first half of Prism consists of my published fiction, it would be a mistake to think this book was a convenient way to cobble together enough pages to form a full book-length publication.  This misses the point of the book.  Short stories are not only a great way for an author to build publication credits, they are a fantastic opportunity for a writer to learn the craft of writing. 

  Many rejection letters are form letters, but there are the few lucky occasions where editors offer advice.  Some acceptance letters offer advice as well.  These are all lessons I took to heart as I moved along.  The editorial process for my books were invaluable lessons as well.  The editorial process should not be mistaken as criticism, it is in fact an indispensable service to allow an author to become more aware of his or her written word in an objective fashion.

  While all that might sound boring, the lessons I've learned going through that process are things I wanted to employ in assembling Prism.  When I looked back at the versions of my stories that were published, I found myself more and more critical of my writing.  I was eager to go back and take another crack at those stories with the things I've learned. 

  As such, the book became something both old and new, tracing through those stories while affording the opportunity to give them a fresh revision.  I also knew from the beginning that I wanted to put them in the order in which they were published.  As I moved on with my efforts as an author I've tried different things, and I feel that's represented in the evolving content of my published stories. 

  With that in mind, it seemed natural to flow into the second half of the book containing the previously unpublished pieces.  The new stories employ narrative styles that both pay homage to the classics that have inspired me while allowing me to show the extents I like to follow.  While this may sound somewhat selfish, or vain, it's meant in humble terms. 

   I believe that, as an author, one of the best services you can afford a reader who is investing the time and interest in reading a book is to take the reader by the hand and lead him or her to unexpected places.  It may sound obvious, but readers and authors are inseparable, joined through the page, whether it be paper or digital.  Reading should be an adventure; as such, the written words followed must by default evolve and grow.

  And that is one of the facets of Prism I find most satisfying.  It's not just a collection of random stories, it's a journey about both reading and writing, and a journey about the most fundamental of things we know, the human condition, viewed in disparate and surreal facets.

 

 

 
     
All original content copyright by Roland Allnach.  Content may be linked and/or quoted, but not reproduced without permission.
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