I finally pinned down one of my favorite people, Paul Goat Allen. This man is a myriad of talents;
writer, poet, dad, husband, reviewer, and esotericist. I really can't say enough interesting things about him, so hell let's just let him surprise us all..
Welcome Paul...lets just jump right in, maybe that way I can throw you off guard and get you too tell us the “good” stuff...heh heh.
S- Tell us a little bit about yourself...
P- I’ve published one novel – Burning Sticks (1991) – and self-published two collections of poetry. I sold almost 5,000 copies of the last collection, Old Winding Way (1992), by myself out of the back of my truck in large part by doing poetry readings anywhere and everywhere – and that included being the opening act to heavy metal and rock bands in bars all around Central New York. Opening up for a Metallica tribute band in a bar full of raucous drunks was arguably one of the craziest – and coolest – things I’ve ever done. And they loved me, especially the poem “Owls in the Night” – I always closed with that one, screaming it at the top of my lungs…
And, as you know, I’m a fulltime book reviewer now. specializing in genre fiction. I’ve written more than 6,000 book reviews, mostly for BarnesandNoble.com, PW, BookPage magazine and the Chicago Tribune. Most people, I guess, know me from BarnesandNoble.com.
S- Okay, how about something most people don’t know about you?
P – Where do I start? How about I just start reeling stuff off…
• While attending a conservative Christian college, New York State troopers stormed my dorm, arrested me (for possession of stolen property) and dragged me out in handcuffs. Waiting in the barracks to be booked, the troopers shared with me close-up pictures of bruised sheep and cow genitalia. Evidently, a local man had been recently arrested for fornicating with farm animals and they had to take pictures of the crime.
• I once pulled a foot-long tapeworm out of a cat’s asshole.
• I’ve cooked and eaten meat out of an old hubcap while in the middle of the woods.
• I’m obsessed with the number 13.
• I touched Ozzy Osbourne when he played Rochester, New York in the early ‘80s. It was general admission and me and two buddies pushed our way to the front. One friend, Bob, was a big muscled guy so no one messed with him but my other friend Dan, was short and not that intimidating – he ended up getting crushed against the wall and pulled out by security when he began to panic. It was priceless!
• I enjoy growing a Rasputinesque beard during the winter – and spring – and sometimes fall.!!
S-that explains everything...I am obsessed with Rasputin..seriously....
P-Me too. When my wife got pregnant a few years back, I wanted to name the kid Rasputin if it was a boy. But we had a girl and I couldn't get my wife on board with Rasputina …
Any way, education-wise, I think the most influential event in my prepubescent life was finding a box full of Playboys while walking to school in fifth grade (back in ’75 when women were women).
• My family members all seem to die in the month of February.
• Whenever my father injures himself – hammer to thumb, head on kitchen sink, etc. – his swear word of choice is “cock-locker.” After four decades of hearing this, I still don’t know what a cock-locker is…
• I used to drive around with a mannequin in the passenger seat of my truck. (I still have the mannequin – and we remain good friends.)>>
S-me to! So I could drive in car pool lanes..I also drove with my cat Yama, and told policemen he was a person..they wouldn't argue..Shades of Tounces maybe?
P- I’m a Leo.
• Growing up, my sports heroes were O.J. Simpson and Pete Rose. Go figure.
• I love BarnesandNoble.com.
• My favorite movie line: “Damn you all to Hell!”
S- mine is “yippie kay yay motherfucker.”. I blame Stacia Kane for that.
• After managing bookstores for eight years, I hate Christmas.
S-dude...any holiday! Except Halloween, that hasn't been killed.....yet
P-I have a twisted sense of humor and a twisted sense of honor.
S-like the fey maybe..are you a Sidhe Paul???
P- Not that I know of but I do enjoy sleeping under mounds….
• My poetry has been described as Robert Frost and Jim Morrison with a pinch of Aleister Crowley.
• I broke an indoor college sprinting record in large part because of an overabundance of Icy Hot in my jockstrap.
• I love genre fiction – it’s my life, or at least my career.
• Roxy Music’s debut album, a bottle of absinthe and a Snickers bar.>>
S- I better be there for that!! I will bring the real deal.. I know someone who brews it.. heh...you can provide the snickers bar...
P- I would like to publish another poetry collection in the future but every literary agent that I query writes back, “Poetry doesn’t sell.” You could’ve fooled me….
S-. Where did the '"Goat" in Paul Goat Allen come from?
P-Honestly, I can’t remember exactly where the nickname originated. I started going through puberty before my friends and I do recall them calling me Goatee in elementary school. It’s not like I had a caveman beard or anything – my chin resembled Charlie Brown’s three head hairs – and Goatee was eventually shortened to Goat. Before that I was Sticks because I was so tall and thin.
I was a pretty introverted kid – I read a lot – and there were a few years in my early teens, ninth grade to be exact, where my life just sucked. I had a plague of zits on my face, a trio of sadistic bullies made my life a living hell at school, my father lost his job, one of my sisters ran away... it was chaos. I felt so alone, so helpless, so persecuted from all sides… after a half-hearted suicide attempt, I started looking for existential and spiritual enlightenment in the pages of a wild diversity of books: The Bible, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, The Tao Te Ching, LaVey’s The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Witch, Castaneda’s The Power of Silence…. stuff like that. I read everything.
I still remember finding the goat symbolism in The Bible fitting somehow. I felt like the world’s scapegoat. One verse in particular stuck with me – Leviticus 16:22: “The goat will take all their sins away…”
I contemplated becoming a priest back then – even filled out the seminary application to Wadhams Hall in Ogdensburg – but by then my life had begun to change once again. I grew taller and gained 30 or 40 pounds of muscle, the bullies faded away, my father got a job… I started to begin to understand who I really was, who I would some day be. When I started dating the girl’s track captain (I was the boy’s track captain) and finally lost my virginity at 17, the idea of becoming a priest was out of the question. Dare I say laughable…
Any way, to make a long story short, I ended up going to a strict Wesleyan college on a partial track scholarship – the only Catholic on a campus filled with disciple-obsessed Protestants – and I literally became my nickname. I was the proverbial outsider, the loner, the pariah, but I embraced it – I grew my hair long, let my beard grow out, experienced with hallucinogenic drugs, questioned everything and everyone, got arrested, got inked, etc.
After graduating with a double major in Creative Writing and English Lit, I shopped around a novella that I had written in college called Burning Sticks, about a kid who loses his mind after his friend dies and ends up living in the woods behind a mall eating out of dumpsters. A small publishing company in Seneca Falls wanted to publish it and when asked what name I wanted to use, I decided to go with Paul Goat Allen. There were thousands of Paul Allens in the world – there was even another Paul Allen in my high school – and I figured using my nickname would make the name a little more memorable.
I had self-published two collections of poetry under the name Paul Goat Allen by that point, so it was irreversible.
S- How did you get started writing book reviews?
P-After failing to make a living selling my poetry, I landed a job managing bookstores (Waldenbooks), which I loved and ended up doing that for eight years. When Waldenbooks was sold to Borders, the culture changed overnight and suddenly “book people” weren’t as important as retail lackies who could sell the damned Preferred Reader card. I quit and, a few months later, a friend of mine who had worked for the Waldenbooks main office in Stamford, Connecticut, and who had gotten a job working at the B&N headquarters in Manhattan, called me and told me that B&N was looking for an editor for their new Explorations science fiction/fantasy newsletter. Although I had read a ton of SF and fantasy, I had never written genre fiction reviews before and I didn’t seriously think that I would ever get the job but I went down to NYC and interviewed, and I got the job. Miracles never cease.
I knew right away that this was my “dream job” and I was single at the time so I just immersed myself in books. I averaged almost a book review a day for the first four or five years. I was a book reviewing machine. After I got married and my wife had our two kids, my productivity went down a little but it’s been almost two decades and I’m still reading and writing reviews for BarnesandNoble.com like a madman.
S- Do you write?
P-I try to write creatively. It’s hard with my schedule. I play Mr. Mom during the day when my wife works and read/work at night so there is not a lot of free time to write creatively. That said, I have an unfinished novel, a few potentially great short fantasy stories and a bunch of finished poems in the bag.
S-What books influenced you as a child?
Moorcock’s Elric saga, Tolkien’s LOTR, Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, and most definitely Harlan Ellison’s landmark anthologies Dangerous, Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions.
S-wow! Elric and Earthsea certainly had a influence on me...Ellison too, although I declined sleeping with him...so yeah .
P-I shut him down too….….
S- What are you listening to right now?
P-“Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star.
S- Fav music genre?
P-I listen to everything – heavy metal, blues, disco, adult contemporary, reggae, country, classic... the only category I can’t stomach is anything religious. Yech. I’d rather get a colonoscopy than listen to that crap.
S-If you could sit down to dinner with five people living or dead who would they be?
P-First and foremost, would be my mother. She was easily the most influential person in my life and she died way too early. She always supported me in whatever I wanted to do – especially writing. She was so proud of me when I published Burning Sticks at the age of 26 … She was the one who found me in my bedroom and unhooked the belt from around my neck when I tried to kill myself. She was my rock – and she never got to see my kids. I’d like to sit down with her, show her pictures of her granddaughters and tell her, again, how much I love her and miss her.
Other than her, I’d love to sit down and chat with you, Synde. From what I know of you, it seems like we have similar stories, literary tastes, senses of humor, etc. although I never got to meet Jim Morrison…. damn you to Hell. ;)
S-Aw man Paul...I know we never are in the same city at the same time...Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me.. Come back any time...
As a special treat Paul has allowed me to post his most amazing “Owls in the Night” poem..
OWLS IN THE NIGHT (1991)
By Paul Goat Allen
sometimes being human drives me insane
I wish I could live without this fucking brain
smoking the smoke and being one with the night
earth is the Great Mother and I am her sight
into the woods where the lotus-eaters hide
stoking the fires with thoughts of mass homicide
long-haired Brothers the only people left alive
just them and their Sisters trying to survive
loving each other as they love the land
severed fingers now a strong tribal hand
writers of the magical books already wrote
dreamers in the coven of the two-footed Goat
on the trees the mark of the laughing sun
in the cabins worshiping lovers become one
let me live in the paradise that is my dreams
loving my woman and weaving my schemes
fuck the world of double talk and two-faced liars
just give me cold moonbeams and dancing fires
and a few friends that care enough to create
a world out of Time without fear or hate
but in this backwards Hell where wrong is right
there are still the owls dreaming of the night