Challenges Writing Less Than Human by Allen Long — guest post and giveaway

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Cate will be awarding a $25 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Some of the challenges I faced while writing my memoir

Hello, Readers. My name is Allen Long, and I’m the author of the recently published book, Less than Human: A Memoir.

My single biggest challenge comes easily to mind. It was understanding my highly complex ex-wife to the fullest extent possible and making her a sympathetic, well-rounded character.

Our marriage had a strange shape. During our first three years as husband and wife, Linda cheated on me twice. I suspect a guy from a healthy home probably would have dumped her after her first infidelity and definitely after her second.

However, my brother David and I were physically abused by our parents from the time we were small children until we each turned twelve, so I had a very high tolerance for abuse and forgave her.

Surprisingly, we were then happily married for years, and we had three sons. Then, as our youngest son approached pre-school age, Linda became increasingly bossy and critical of me for no apparent reason and frequently screamed at me. On Thanksgiving 1991, Linda experienced a mental/emotional crisis that consisted of alternating fits of rage and suicidal depression.

She screamed at our sons and me every day for the next six months and proclaimed her love for a man she’d engaged to train her as a racing cyclist. I divorced her and gained full custody of the boys.

In the early drafts of my book, I depicted Linda as a one-dimensional harpy. Then I decided to remove as much anger and recrimination as possible from our story and try my best to explain why she behaved as she did.

One of the first things I did was to include a summary of the story of her life. The readers sees some of the hurts she experienced as a child, how she idolized her father and brother (making it nearly impossible for me or anyone else to live up to her high expectations for a husband), and early signs of mental/emotional instability.

The reader also learns that her initial career choice when she was in high school was to become a nurse, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother. But her mother knew Linda was strong-willed and advised her against a nursing career because she didn’t think Linda would like being bossed around by doctors. She suggested a career in horticulture instead, since Linda loved flowers and plants.

Linda then attended Virginia Tech as a horticulture major, planning to join the Peace Corps upon graduation. Then she met and married me halfway through college, and the Peace Corps rejected us because it had no interest in my journalism degree, a major disappointment to Linda.

Then during our fifteen-year marriage, Linda had only three satisfying years working in her field. Otherwise, she held two unremarkable horticulture-related positions and then became a stay-at-home mom and participating parent in our son’s alternative schools.

As soon as we divorced, Linda became a nurse, and I realized this career issue had been a time bomb ticking since her high school years.

Also, there were some facts I reported without explaining because I couldn’t, such as Linda’s need to leave the marriage for sexual adventures while still wanting to retain me as a safe anchor. I also didn’t try to explain her mental/emotional instability, which I still don’t understand, although her nurse mother and doctor brother have suggested she has a chemical imbalance in her brain.

In addition, I made a point of showing I wasn’t the perfect husband. When I was married to Linda, I had undiagnosed and untreated anxious depression, and I’m sure there were times when I was self-absorbed when Linda needed me to more present. Also, I have a clear memory of a time when I disappointed Linda and still feel at fault, and I included this scene in the book.

By the time I finished the sixth and final draft of the memoir, I was satisfied I’d eliminated or minimized bitter or recriminating remarks about Linda while showing her as a well-rounded person possessing a range of virtues and flaws similar to the rest of us.

After the book was released, my oldest son told me how much he’d enjoyed it, and he thanked me for the honest but sympathetic portrait I’d painted of his mother. This is the greatest compliment I’ve received regarding the memoir.

MediaKit_BookCover_LessThanHumanIn Less than Human, Allen Long tells the story of his often nightmarish childhood in the wealthy suburbs of D.C., the wonders and mysteries of teenage love, his ill-advised journeys into corporate America and a hellish marriage, and ultimate breakdown. And yet, his story is mostly one of triumph. He draws strength from the joys of fatherhood, he finds true love in his second marriage, and through working with psychotherapists and leading a life rich in self-examination, he overcomes both child abuse and the resulting PTSD, finally learning that instead of being less than, he is, indeed, human.

Less than Human follows an unconventional path, arranged as much by theme and association as by chronology. These stories take many forms, from driving narrative to lyrical reverie, at times evoking mythic overtones, and this variety, along with an unflinching confrontation with the conditions and consequences of childhood abuse, create its own form of suspense–in what direction will this book take us next?

Enjoy an excerpt:

“Swimming’s fine,” my mother said. “Hurry up and unpack your bathing suits, and don’t track any water or sand back into the house.”

“But what about the alligator?” I said.

“Stop whining and do as your mother says,” my father said.

“You can fish too if you like,” my grandfather said. “There’s some bamboo poles with lures in a bucket in the garage.”

Danny and I set up our fishing gear on an old warped pier and cast our spinners out into the murky water. After a couple of sweltering hours without any bites, I decided to swim. Danny refused to budge, his eyes scanning the russet surface for the alligator.

I stepped into the lake, thick mud oozing between my toes and spiky plants pin-pricking my soles. I waded into the pleasantly cool but swampy smelling water until it was up to my waist. Then I carefully surveyed the lake. The day was scorching and I wanted to plunge into the water and swim, but a deeper instinct reminded me that at any moment I could be prey. I froze. Part of me felt safe because our parents knew I was swimming, but I was also afraid I’d get snapped up into the jaws of the alligator.

Although I kept my eyes peeled for any creatures near me, a turtle suddenly popped its head out of the water a foot away, scaring the bejesus out of me.

MediaKit_AuthorPhoto_LessThanHumanAllen Long was born in New York City and grew up in Arlington, Virginia. He holds a B.A. in journalism from Virginia Tech, an M.A. in fiction writing from Hollins University, and an M.F.A. in fiction writing from the University of Arizona. He has been an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine since 2007, and his fiction and memoirs have appeared in a wide variety of literary magazines. He lives with his wife near San Francisco.

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  1. Thank you for hosting

    • Thanks to Long and Short Reviews for hosting me. I am a hospital nurse on my way to work right now, but I’ll check in later and address all reader questions and comments.

  2. James Robert says:

    Good Morning and thank you for this opportunity you have given us to win

  3. What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?

    • The hardest thing for me is getting a new short story off the ground. You’re creating a whole world from scratch and you know that the first draft probably will be awful and you’ll probably have to write numerous drafts over a long period of time. I recently read an article about the seven drafts of a short story. The author basically said the first five drafts are awful, the sixth draft shows a glimmer of promise, and the story finally comes together in the seventh draft. I don’t necessarily think this is true for every writer and story; however, I agree that most writers will produce a number of flawed drafts before they get anywhere close to the final, successful version.

  4. If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be and why?

    • Since my book is a memoir, I guess you’re asking how I might wish to live my life differently if I had a chance to live it over, especially since I have 20:20 hindsight now. In some ways, I wish I’d earned a Ph. D. in English on top of my MFA in fiction writing so that I could have made my living as a college teacher. However, I’m happy with the way my life turned out. I’ve been happily married for the last 21 years, I have wonderful children, and I enjoy working as a hospital nurse.

      • By the way, I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, a college teacher (only for 3 years in the 1980s), a high-tech marketer, a swim team coach, a swimming instructor, a winery tasting room host, and a hospital nurse. The job I enjoyed most and felt was the best fit for my personality was college teaching.

  5. Lisa Brown says:

    Thank you for the chance to win 🙂

  6. Rita Wray says:

    Great excerpt, thank you.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the excerpt. This is the first time that excerpt has appeared anywhere outside of my book. And it’s the scene that inspired the alligator image on the book’s cover.

  7. Victoria says:

    Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed the excerpt 🙂

  8. You’re welcome. Glad you enjoyed it.

  9. Once again, I’d like to thank Long and Short Reviews for hosting me. I’m signing off now, but I’ll monitor this site for further questions and comments, which I’ll address. Also, I can be reached at

  10. Congrats on the new book and good luck on the book tour!

  11. Nikolina says:

    I really enjoyed reading the excerpt, thank you!

  12. Dave Long says:

    No way I was going in that water! Read Allen’s book guys, everyone will find several stories that they can relate to, I’m sure. You will truly enjoy this book. Allen has always been an amazing story teller, and has kept me entertained my entire life!

    Dave Long

  13. James Robert says:

    Good Morning! Raining here in Michigan but hope your day is a sunny one. Thanks for this giveaway

  14. kim hansen says:

    Sounds like a good read.

  15. Nikolina says:

    Dropping by to wish everyone a happy Friday! 😀 😀

  16. clojo9372 says:

    Thanking you for sharing your story. What is the best advice you would give someone who is considering writing a memoir?

    • First, you have to tell the absolute truth, especially about yourself. If readers think you’re making yourself look better than you really are, it will kill your book’s authenticity. If you lost your temper or made an error in judgment, admit it. The reader wants to read a true account of your life events and your interpretation of what you think they mean–and the reader can also form his/her own opinion about what they mean. Also, I just wrote about the most dramatic highs and lows in my life–I think this makes for an exciting book without boring parts that will drag.

  17. Tell me more about the turtle.

  18. I enjoyed reading the excerpt. This book sounds like such an interesting and intriguing read. Looking forward to checking out this book.

    • Thanks, Ally. I think you’ll enjoy it. The book contains all of the dramatic highs and lows of my life. Also, the book covers a wide range of territory–it doesn’t just focus on child abuse and recovery.

  19. Judy Thomas says:

    It sounds really good.

  20. I have added this book to my TBR list and look forward to reading this book!

  21. Most books seem to be better than the movie; is there a movie that you think was better than the book?

  22. Chris Martinez says:

    Which is more difficult for you–creating characters or plot?

    • Characters come much more easily to me than plot. Right now, I’m working on a short story where I have a really clear picture of the two main characters but only a rough notion of what the story may be about.

  23. Do you have a muse or get writers block? 🙂 Looking forward to reading it

    • Hi, Debbie. I have a brilliant editor with whom I work. He holds my work to the highest standards. When I’m writing, I imagine he’s looking over my shoulder, and I think about how he would react to what I’m writing, so I guess he’s my muse. I’m happy to say I’ve never had writer’s block, perhaps because I write both memoirs and short stories and read lots of literary short stories and the best novels and memoirs of the year. I also write book reviews for Amazon, and I’m an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine. All of these activities combined appear to keep me safe from writer’s block. Hope you greatly enjoy the book.

  24. Chris Martinez says:

    Do you have a specific time of day to write?

    • Hi, Chris. I like to write during daylight hours, but I don’t care if I write in the morning, the afternoon, or both. When I was finishing Less than Human, I performed editing and revising at night, but I don’t like to write at night. I feel as if my energy level is winding down in the evening, and I only want to write when I have high energy. I write on my days off. I’m a hospital nurse, so I get one weekday off per week, and I get every other weekend off. I write in whatever time slots I have open on these days. I like to write when I’m alone in the house or my wife is absorbed in a cooking project downstairs. I don’t think a writer needs to write every day, but I believe a serious writer should write on a regular basis during whatever time slots are available.

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