FaithWriters' Best of the Best Author for 2006--Meet Kenn Allan
Over the past year or so, there has been some discussion on the FaithWriters' message boards that poetry isn't given the attention or the acclaim it deserves in the Writing Challenge. But from the time Kenn Allan submitted his first entry in October 2005, that argument was laid to rest--and the Challenge hasn't been the same since. His winning streak began almost from the start, but not only has Kenn been consistent in Editors' Choice wins, he--deservedly--took first place in this year's Best of the Best Contest. Interviewer, Lynda Schab, chats with Kenn about his writing, his life, and about the meaning of the word, "Shockogrataspective."
LYNDA: I am so honored to be conducting this interview. Let me begin by offering my hearty congratulations! First questions first--how does it feel to be crowned this year's Best of the Best winner for "The Heart of Lucinda Druell?"
KENN: Hello, Lynda. I'm glad to meet you.
How does it feel? At first I was stunned, which was closely followed by a sense of gratitude. Next came the jarring impact of receiving such a high honor by my peers. Lastly, I fell into a contemplative mood and began sorting out what I've gleaned from my FaithWriters' experience. So, in answer to your question, I'm not sure a word exists which describes my feelings perfectly. Shockogrataspective, maybe?
LYNDA: Now why am I not surprised to hear you come up with a word like, "Shockogrataspective"? But I like it--very creative, as always! From today on, I'm sure that word will frequently be used on the FaithWriters' message boards.
Kenn, you more than deserve this Best of the Best title, not only because "Lucinda Druell" was a brilliant entry, but because you had an astounding total of six entries in the running. SIX first-place wins--that has to be a record! Not to mention several others that placed in the top eight. Your talent couldn't be more evident. Because you placed so many times in the top eight of the Editors' Choice, be honest ... did you secretly suspect you'd see your name in the top slot on July 1st?
KENN: Thank you. Although the possibility obviously existed, I honestly didn't expect to place at all--let alone top the list. The "Best of the Best" is designed to highlight a single entry and there were SO many wonderful poems and stories this year!
The only person totally convinced one of my poems would place was my wife, Susie. She kept assuring me "The Heart of Lucinda Druell" would be the winner. I even spent the night before the winners were announced trying to prepare her for a disappointment, but she remained unshakable. Wives can be kinda spooky sometimes.
KENN: Every single one of your winning entries was a rhymed poetic story. Have you always written poetry, or is it something you discovered your talent (and love) for later in life?
KENN: Thank you for asking this question, Lynda. The answer centers around one of the most valuable lessons I've ever learned as a writer and a Christian.
I'm not sure exactly when I began writing poems; however, my wife recently discovered a poem of mine written during the Batman craze of the mid-'60s. Inspired by the popular TV series, it was an entire Batman vs. the Joker adventure written in limerick format. I would have been around twelve years old at that time.
A definite trail of ditties followed me throughout my life. Susie still has quite a few poems--some silly and some otherwise--penned by me during the early years of our marriage. I never considered them "serious" writing, but an entertaining "knack."
My poems were all but forgotten when I began earnestly pursuing a writing career in the early '80s. After all, I was destined to become a great novelist (or so I thought) and had no time for writing silly rhymes which served no purpose. I never took a single class or read one book on poetry composition. I simply wasn't interested.
My short and unrewarding career as a would-be novelist ended in bitter disappointment. Despite my best efforts, the secret of how to impress an acquisitions editor continued to elude me. I pushed my pen aside in frustration and swore never to write again--the costs in time and energy were too great. For the first time I could remember, my dream was extinguished.
But God had other plans ...
I managed to ditch my heart's desire for nearly a decade until the day I received an unexpected email from Sandy Brooks, the director of Christian Writers Fellowship International. Although active in CWFI during my novelist period, we had lost touch since my decision to quit writing. She had sad news--William Wilbourn, their former webmaster and a dear friend, had gone home to be with the Lord. Since the director knew of my background in web design, she asked if I would be interested in helping her run the CWFI website. I agreed.
Not realizing it at the time, this was God's clever way of putting me back on track. He knew a renewed exposure to the writing community would ignite the creative embers still smoldering in my heart. As always, He was right. Once again the desire to write consumed me, although I was reluctant to actively pursue the dream which had previously caused so much pain. Once burned, twice shy, you know. Other than submitting a few short stories to contests and some web publications, I did as little as possible to resurrect my dead career.
I'm sure you've heard the expression, "Behind every successful man there stands a great woman." Apparently God agrees, which is why He gave me Susie. Even during my darkest times, she never lost faith in my ability to write. She stumbled upon the FaithWriters' Weekly Challenge one day while searching the internet for writing contests. She suggested ... no, she insisted I give it a try. I knew better than to argue; she's Irish.
But what to write? I spent a great deal of my youth in the company of Poe, Bradbury, Serling and Matheson and always admired their ability to pack a great story into a few well-chosen words; therefore, I decided to try my hand at writing short stories. My second FaithWriters entry was a nice little tale which managed to place fourth in Editors' Choice. This fanned the flames of my passion. For reasons unknown to me (but not to God), I was inspired with my next entry to blend storytelling with my childhood ability to write silly little poems. I was flabbergasted when my entry, "Pride Goeth Before a Fall" appeared at the top of the Editor's Choice list.
Although convinced my placing was a fluke, I decided to test the waters by alternating between poems and short stories in my challenge entries. It was impossible to ignore the results--my short stories kept losing, and my poems kept winning. After twenty-five years of trying I had apparently found my niche.
Oh? Had I really ... ?
No, it wasn't me. God knew where I belonged all along. He created me with the ability to work with rhyme and meter. He instilled the desire to write deep within my heart. When I needed to learn, He provided the best possible teachers. When I needed encouragement, He steered me to where it could be found. When I resisted, He gently replaced my own vain aspirations with His perfect will. Any success as a writer--past or future--belongs to Him, not me.
Psalms 37:4 tells us, "Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." We may not know how or when, but we can rest in His promise that it wilI happen.
For me, this is what it means to be a "FaithWriter."
LYNDA: Well, I personally know many people who have been blessed by your work on FaithWriters. I'm sure many readers will nod their heads in agreement that God truly did bring you here for a reason. You have such a unique and clever way of looking at things and I am awed by your creativity. Your poems are so fun to read and at the same time teach valuable life lessons that grab your heart and won't let go. Let me ask this: what inspires your writing ideas? And how long does it typically take you to come up with an idea for the Writing Challenge once you see the topic for the week?
KENN: Where, indeed? I usually get an initial idea for the challenge within the first day, although I'm not always sure where it comes from. For example, when "Love" was announced as a weekly topic, the verse, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" immediately came to mind. I fixated on the word "lay" and "Chicken Hearts" was born. On the other hand, I have absolutely no idea what made me think of pelicans when I wrote "The Sentinel." All I know is the Lord gifted me with a fertile imagination--it is a mystery to me how it works.
LYNDA: According to your FaithWriters profile, you became a member in January of 2004, yet you didn't submit your first piece until September, 2005. Why the wait, and what prompted you to finally take a more active role in FaithWriters.com?
KENN: In a word--Susie. I originally joined FaithWriters while still reluctant to resume my writing career. It wasn't until she discovered the Weekly Challenge that I began participating in the competition and the forums.
LYNDA: On another writing note, you are the author of three completed novels, none of which have yet been published. Are you currently seeking a publisher for any of those manuscripts, or were they considered "practice" for other projects you have in the works?
KENN: Yeah, okay ... "practice" sounds better than "mediocre." Actually, all three manuscripts disappeared at the end of my novelist period and I have no plans to resurrect them. Two of the three were dark, brooding tales which did little to follow Luke 11:35, "Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness." Today I don't write anything which I wouldn't be proud to hand over to Jesus personally. Only then is it possible for my readers to see His face reflected in the words, not mine.
However, the experience wasn't a total waste. While marketing these projects I learned a great deal about how the publishing world works--and doesn't work. Therefore, these books were used as three more pieces in God's mysterious puzzle.
LYNDA: You have received much feedback from your readers pleading with you to publish a book of poetry that includes all of your wonderful challenge pieces like, "Chicken Hearts," (one of my all-time favorites), "In the Scullery," and "The Merchant's Cat." Do you have any plans to give in to the demands of your fans?
KENN: This is a tricky question. Although readers apparently enjoy my writings, poetry is a hard sell with both Christian and secular acquisitions editors. I am currently putting together a proposal for a devotional-type poetry book, but its chances for commercial publication are slim and I refuse to self-publish since this takes the decision out of His hands and places it in my own.
LYNDA: Is writing your full-time career or do you have a "real" job, as they say? What exactly does a day in the life of Kenn Allan consist of?
KENN: Susie and I closed our last business in 2003 after nearly thirty years in retail shop management/ownership in order to care for my parents. We are an enigma among our friends--no other married couple has worked side-by-side, day and night, for over thirty years and survived. Truly, we are soul mates.
A typical day in our household is best described as atypical--they follow no set pattern. We have always been a close family, so even though our daughters left the nest long ago, we can usually expect a visit from one or the other (or both) on a daily basis. If our youngest arrives, she will most likely be accompanied by our two grandchildren. Add my Alzheimer's-stricken mother to the mix and the day is guaranteed to be wild and unpredictable.
Whenever possible, most of my writing is done sometime between my first cup of coffee and noon. Besides my participation in the FaithWriters' Challenge, I also maintain a monthly fiction column for Cross-Times and a poetry column on EZRAWeb.com. I also continue to serve as webmaster for the CWFI website.
LYNDA: I have to say I was touched when I learned you and your wife are caring full-time for your elderly parents who live with you. Would you care to share that part of your life?
KENN: My father is no longer with us--he died of complications due to Parkinson's disease last March. In fact, "The Heart of Lucinda Druell" was written during his final days in our home. He was experiencing total dementia at the time, so perhaps writing about Lucinda helped me cope with a stressful situation.
On the other hand, Mom is still with us. She is experiencing the late stages of Alzheimer's disease and continues to slip away, one memory at a time. It's amazing how much of "who we are" is determined by our memories. For example, the only reason you are able to comprehend my words is because you remember how to read. You arrive at work every day because you remember you have a job. While at work, the only reason you know there is a family waiting for you at home is because you remember them. Imagine how confusing it would be to live only in the "here and now." Simple conversations become jumbled strings of unrelated words and even the most basic task becomes an insurmountable challenge. It is heartbreaking to watch parents and children become virtual strangers for the first time in their collective lives.
I know there are other FaithWriters dealing with Alzheimer's disease--I have read several challenge entries which required firsthand experience. God bless you and may He grant you the strength and patience needed to cope with this terrible disease.
LYNDA: I'm sorry to hear about your father. Your selfless decision to take him in during those final years must have meant the world to him. As a father yourself, take a moment to brag a little about your kids and grandchildren. And tell us a little more about Susie, your lovely wife of thirty years. Is she your biggest supporter?
KENN: Oh, heavens yes ... but she is also my harshest critic. Nothing I write goes public without being scrutinized by her. I have learned over the years to trust her uncanny ability to spot any clumps or glitches in my work. She cured me of the "had" and "that" habit common among new writers and keeps a firm check on my natural tendency to overwrite.
I remember the time I presented her with a dreadfully overwritten story. After a few minutes, she returned it to my desk and said, "Okay, I'll tell you what I think, but first let me spit some of these words out."
Another time after reading a piece, she asked me, "Are you going to submit this?" I nodded. "Well ... I wouldn't," she sighed.
Frankly, I'm not sure I could write a thing without her.
Our daughters, Jeannette and Christine, are delightful young women. Both are creative and talented individuals who enjoy brainstorming when "Dad is stuck again." Each is unique in style and personality, frequently offering fresh perspectives on my current work-in-progress. More than once they have suggested ideas much better than my own!
Although not quite three years old, our granddaughter, Angel, has already developed a love for storybooks. Jesse, her one-year-old brother, also enjoys a good book from time to time--but only to eat the pages.
LYNDA: Your family sounds lovely. They must be very proud!
In conclusion, there has already been some silly banter on the message boards of "dethroning" you of your title next year-- talk about a challenge! Where do you see yourself a year from now? And are you going to strive to maintain your title of Best of the Best?
KENN: A year from now? Oh, my ... I'm not even sure where I will be a month from now. The Lord has taken me for a very unexpected ride over the past two years, revealing things I never dreamed possible. Things can change so quickly with Him in control!
My only plan is to keep doing what I do. Only God knows what will come next and I remain open to His leading. I can hardly wait!
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