Most writers hold book signings at book stores. Gregory G. Allen is not most writers.
Tomorrow you can find him at Krimson and Klover, an upscale fashion boutique in Uptown, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., dedicating copies of his new novel, Well With My Soul, a 2011 USA Book News fiction finalist and Lambda Literary nominee.
"I'm really not the type of person who can be placed into a box or labeled," he says, "This is a wonderful opportunity for me to interact again with the Dallas community in a different setting."
Born in Denison and raised in Garland, Allen left for New York after high school to pursue a career in acting and writing. Set in New York and Tennessee during the Reagan administration, his debut novel reflects the narrative of dueling Americas, dealing heavily with the crises of addiction and internalized homophobia. Following the Garrett brothers - siblings who seem so different in personality and conviction that it is difficult to imagine they share parents - Allen's novel tells the story of a young gay man who, after abandoning home life in the South for New York, becomes entangled in drug and alcohol abuse and who eventually turns from that lifestyle entirely, even leaving his boyfriend to settle down with a wife and start a family as a minister. In many ways, it is a story of contrasts and extremes, but ultimately, Allen says, "It is an examination of how our choices affect others through the lens of a period that means a lot, symbolically, in the history of the gay community."
Allen's subject matter is brave. While gay acceptance is, unquestionably, this generation's most prominent civil rights movement, Well With My Soul takes the struggle deeper than mere ideology and political rhetoric into an intensely personal realm - that of religious belief and perceived salvation. In doing so, Allen takes a huge risk, traversing with respectful care a theology that is, to his more progressive readers, beyond understanding.
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"When we write, we don't always have the same viewpoints as our characters," he says, "But, I enjoyed giving a voice to that way of thinking, even if I don't share it. I could see parts of myself in both of the book's main characters."
Allen feels the novel has been received well by both the gay community and his more conservative readers, though he has faced some controversy, particularly from readers who felt that his portrayal of gay life in New York in the 1970s and 1980s has not helped to improve stereotypes of gay men. But, Allen remains true to his vision. "There is good and bad in every community, and I wanted to get across a character without carrying the weight of a whole community on my shoulders. Even though Jacob can be nasty, I really think he's relatable. Ultimately, I wanted to use what was going on in the world at that time - and the historical themes that go along with it - to tell the story of two humans who make choices and face consequences."
Allen will be available tomorrow evening to chat and sign copies of Well With My Soul. He will read and speak about his prolific collection - which includes a children's book, a memoir and numerous musicals and plays - on Thursday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. at the Denison Public Library in Denison, Texas.