Interview with Roland Allnach
Remnant: An Anthology
All Things That Matter Press (2010)
Reviewed by for Reader Views (6/11)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Roland Allnach, who is here to talk about his new book, “Remnant.”
Roland has been writing since his early teens, first as a hobby, but as the years passed, more as a serious creative pursuit. He is an avid reader, with his main interests residing in history, mythology, and literary classics, along with some fantasy and science fiction in his earlier years. Although his college years were focused on a technical education, he always fostered his interest in literature, and has sought to fill every gap on his bookshelves.
By nature a do-it-yourself type of personality, his creative inclinations started with art and evolved to the written word. The process of creativity is a source of fascination for him, and the notion of bringing something to being that would not exist without personal effort and commitment serves not only as inspiration but as fulfillment as well. So whether it is writing, woodwork, or landscaping, his hands and mind are not often at rest.
Over the years, Roland accumulated a dust laden catalog of his written works, with his reading audience limited to family and friends. It was only recently that he decided to become serious about publication and the pursuit of a writing career. After deciding to approach writing as a profession and not a hobby, the first glimmers of success came along. Since making the decision to move forward, he has secured publication for a number of short stories, has received a nomination for inclusion in the Pushcart Anthology, built his own website, and in November 2010 realized publication for an anthology of three novellas, titled “Remnant,” from All Things That Matter Press.
Tyler: Welcome, Roland. I’m interested to talk to you because we rarely get “anthologies” and especially ones with all the works by the same author. So first of all, will you tell us why you decided to publish an anthology, what kinds of stories are in it, and how many are included?
Roland: The anthology “Remnant” came to be through a mix of events. I was originally seeking to publish the three novellas of the anthology individually, but changes in the publishing market over the years left a fairly limited number of markets willing to look at novellas. Nevertheless, I really believed in the novellas, and after some more research, I found what would eventually be my publisher, All Things That Matter Press. When I looked at the types of fiction it favors, I started to consider compiling the anthology that would become “Remnant,” and when I looked at the novellas I had on hand, I realized that they followed a good thematic arc that would tie them together. Besides, I’ve always been a fan of anthologies, and back in the 1980’s when I was growing up, it seemed bookstore shelves were rich with various sci-fi anthologies. So publishing one of my own, with all my own stories, has been the fulfillment of a long held dream. As I said, there are three novellas that comprise “Remnant,” and they lurk on the borders of the sci-fi / speculative genres. The novellas, in order of appearance, are “All the Fallen Angels,” “Enemy, I Know You Not,” and last, “Remnant.”
Tyler: Why did you choose the title “Remnant?” Does it somehow tie together all three of the stories?
Roland: The title for the anthology stems from the last novella, “Remnant.” The general themes of the anthology follow an evolving sense of self-truth and redemption, mapping characters who seek to atone for their various deeds as they hope to salvage some semblance of a future. The “remnant” that binds the stories together is the lingering humanity within the characters, and their efforts not only to cling to that sense of humanity, but somehow to foster it to better their lives.
Tyler: As far as the stories being science-fiction, what is the setting? Does it differ from each story—I mean is it in outer space or in the future, for example?
Roland: Yes, the settings vary from story to story. In “All the Fallen Angels” part of the story takes place on a shipping platform in deep space, but the majority of the story takes place on the doomed paradise world of Hermium. In “Enemy, I Know You Not” the story is set onboard a troop transport departing a planetary revolt, but the plot revolves around a platoon performing a training mission in a virtual reality simulation. In “Remnant” the time is closer to the present rather than the future, and is set in a fictional locality of Connecticut after a global plague has decimated the world’s population. The settings of the three stories are not coincidental, and are juxtaposed on purpose to reinforce the nearing satisfaction of the thematic arc in contrast to the moral dilemmas faced by the characters.
Tyler: Will you give us a brief summary of what each story is about?
Roland: In “All the Fallen Angels” a convicted war criminal attempts to make peace with his past and the crimes he has committed; in “Enemy, I Know You Not” a military officer that was captured and tortured tries to rediscover his loyalty in an abyss of suspected betrayals during a training simulation; and in “Remnant” a survivor of a global pandemic is confronted with the prospect of making peace with his memories when other survivors attempt to bring him back from self-imposed isolation.
Tyler: Our reviewer, Richard Blake here at Reader Views, mentioned that you like to ask “What If?” questions in your work. Can you give us an example of a “What If?” question in one of your works?
Roland: Well, I like to think that the “what if?” questions in the stories are more on the philosophical side rather than hard plot points, and to that end, I think are natural extensions of that maddening inclination to haunt ourselves with hindsight. All three stories in “Remnant” dwell on characters who have had their lives turned upside down—by their own hands as much as external forces—so they are drawn to a certain level of introspection as they try to make sense of their past to figure out some sort of future hope for themselves. I focused on that introspection in the hope of creating empathy within the reader, as some of the actions of the characters in “Remnant” could be considered rather distasteful, but that is meant to be part of the dilemmas they face in their efforts to find their redemption. They are not meant to be easy questions, but I think that’s what makes them interesting. Is it wrong to commit murder to preserve yourself in an inhospitable situation? What if physical survival is not enough, or more importantly, what is physical survival worth if the price is a blighted conscience?
Tyler: You seem to have a common theme of the military and war in the stories. Do you have a particular interest in the military?
Roland: I read a great deal of history, and as my interest in history developed, it has taken a definite lean toward military history. That said, I’m not interested in straight discussions and analysis of strategic or tactical concerns. I’m drawn much more to humanistic accounts of military history, that describe what certain situations were like for the people living through them. In relation to writing stories and plots that involve characters in the military or in militarized situations, I’ve found those humanistic accounts of great value in lending credibility to my characters. I’ve also read quite a bit of mythology and some of the epic classics, most notably for this discussion Homer, and the character portraits in those works are timeless, and a further source of inspiration to reveal the thoughts of those involved in military conflict.
Tyler: Can you give us an example from a classic like Homer and how your work is similar in terms of a character portrait?
Roland: If I had to pick one character in particular, I would choose the way in which Homer portrayed Achilles in the “Iliad.” One of the things I love about Homer is that all the heroes have flaws, but Achilles, being the greatest of the heroes fighting at Troy, also embodies the greatest human flaws. The passages of Homer that depict the way in which Achilles receives other heroes when they visit his boat, and in particular his conversation with Priam concerning the disposition of Hector’s body, display levels of nobility and honor that don’t appear in the other heroes. At the same time, Achilles can be petty and vain when he feels the least bit slighted. And in that gulf between such heroic attributes and some very human flaws are the roots of a gripping tragedy, in the dichotomy of such a complex psychological depiction is the foundation for what makes the character of Achilles endure over time. That said, when I read the “Iliad” early in my writing days, it struck me that such portraits were the way to make characters with not only impact but the complexities that endear characters as real people. I don’t like to create characters that are monochromatic in their emotional constitution. I try to create character portraits that have varying levels of dichotomy between their redeeming values and their lesser values, with the span of that gulf driving the necessity of some resolution. People are complex creatures, and solid character portraits should follow that example.
Tyler: There have been several stories of global pandemics, more in recent years, or general tales of an apocalypse. What about that situation fascinates you?
Roland: It’s not the notion of an apocalyptic situation that necessarily drew me to write the novella “Remnant,” but more the consideration of what it would be like to transition to the aftermath of the society we currently share. I think we’re at an interesting time in our own history right now, where there are so many benefits to our existence, but also some maddening frustrations to deal with. I also think there is a certain inherent “thrill” in the human mind at the idea of everything crashing down. There is a certain liberation coupled to the collapse of society, but it comes with a terrible price. It’s that conundrum that lies at the center of “Remnant” and drives the knots in its lead character, Peter.
Tyler: Of the three novellas, what made you decide that “Remnant,” the last story, would be the one the collection would be named after? I think most authors name their works after the first story in a collection. Do you think “Remnant” is the strongest novella?
Roland: In my very first vision of the three novellas appearing in one volume, I had a clear idea that the overall thematic arc of the anthology would entail an evolving sense of redemption through explorations of self-truth. Given the nature of the three stories and the characters involved, their individual senses of guilt for their various misdeeds served as the barrier to their redemption, which would be the remaining sense of humanity they wanted to reclaim. I felt that the novella ‘Remnant’ brought the arc to the conclusion I wanted to portray. In “All the Fallen Angels,” Stohko Jansing finds his redemption, but at a terrible cost. In “Enemy, I Know You Not,” Lieutenant Hovland believes he has found his truth, but only in the cloud of moral ambiguity. At last, in “Remnant,” Peter Lowry finds his redemption, a true understanding of his place in the world, and though he has paid his own heavy dues, the future is open and promising before him. So for that, in my head it won the spot of eponymous title, and not for any particular sense within me that it was by some measure stronger than the other stories. I think each of the stories serves a respective point and purpose in realizing the thematic arc that sits at the core of the anthology.
Tyler: Roland, do you see yourself as solely a science-fiction writer? It seems like you have psychological thriller type elements in your stories, among other things.
Roland: I would say that as a broad generalization my stories depict strange people in perhaps stranger situations. That’s not to say everything I write is removed from the mainstream, and if I might be so bold as to reference my previously published short stories, they cover a fairly broad range from science fiction, speculative fiction, mainstream fiction, and horror. I’ve recently compiled another anthology of novellas (tentatively titled “Oddities and Entities”), all of which straddle the supernatural/paranormal genres and are thematically linked by characters trying to find their way between realities that don’t necessarily tolerate the everyday world. I’m hoping to see that through to publication in the not too distant future.
Tyler: The way you describe your work reminds me perhaps of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, or the strange situations from “The Twilight Zone.” Are those fair comparisons? Why or why not?
Roland: Well, certainly those are flattering comparisons, and I’d be happy to be considered in such company. I think though that if I were to expand on the general notion of my fiction that I mentioned above, it would be to say that we as people often have to live our lives and make decisions based on information that is sometimes woefully incomplete, hence the old saying that hindsight is twenty-twenty. I happen to find a compelling interest in exploring the ramifications of individual decisions when the available information base overlooks considerations that are beyond anything a person might consider under “normal” conditions. In that, I think there is an endless pool of possibilities to explore, as well as endless adaptations of the human psyche in dealing with “abnormal” situations. So in that regard, yes, I would say that it’s fair to compare my fiction to works by Alfred Hitchcock or episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” as they follow the same kind of course.
Tyler: Roland, could you give us a quote from one of your novels that describes a character or a key moment—just a paragraph or two that you think is a good example of your work in terms of style or theme?
Roland: That’s a tough one, because I try to cover a lot of different ideological domains with my writing, but I think I have one passage that can give a good depiction of not only things I’ve done, but the kind of directions I like to explore. This passage is from the opening of the novella “Elmer Phelps,” which is part of the anthology I mentioned earlier, tentatively titled “Oddities and Entities.” It goes like this:
“Common wisdom states the obvious truth that there is only one first impression, yet there is a subliminal truth of subtle wisdom that first impressions tinge all things that follow. An early memory, a dramatic moment, an indelible impression, such a thing can imprint itself on the subconscious lens of perception within one’s mind, haunting every whispered thought and inclination, lurking in every shadowy corner of dreams and nightmares, hovering over the daytime world as an unseen, and barely perceived, shadow. And even though that memory may have conscious form, the roots of its complexity can delve the deepest parts of awareness to the subconscious core of the mind, mingling with the firmament of self-perception until the two are inseparable, linked in an inescapable cycle of cause and effect.”
Tyler: In your biography above, I mentioned that you’ve been writing since your youth but only recently decided to be published. What made you decide to make that leap?
Roland: Publication has been a dream since I wrote my first story when I was sixteen, and even though I never stopped writing since then, it was always something I did on the side. Writing is a passion for me, almost a compulsion, but in the past, I was not necessarily disciplined or persistent enough to follow the arduous road of publication. I would send out to agents when I had the urge, and even though I had a few near misses with that effort, nothing materialized. As time passed, though, I became more and more confident in my writing, and after a long wait realized that if I didn’t pursue publication with the discipline of a second job, my frustration over not being published was just pointless misery. I figured if I at least gave it an honest, concerted effort, I could always look myself in the mirror and know I didn’t let a dream slip away on a stream of excuses.
Tyler: Roland, from the works we’ve talked about and your bio, it appears you prefer to write short stories or novellas. What about shorter prose forms do you prefer over novels?
Roland: I’d have to refer back to the last question to answer this one. My strategy when I decided to take the leap for publication was to pursue short stories, then novellas, and build up to novels, so that’s why up to now it’s my shorter works that I’ve seen to market. That said, when I sit to write a story, I typically don’t have a set word count or story length in mind. My best estimate as to how long a particular story might be is the depth of the characters and the complexity of the plot I have in mind. I don’t like to constrain my stories with over attention to length during the writing process. Besides, I try to consider everything I write in terms of its necessity in propelling a story, so if it doesn’t seem critical to the momentum of the piece, I simply don’t write it. Of course, there have been characters that I’ve enjoyed so much I think I could just sit and write endless scenes for them, but that probably wouldn’t be too interesting for a reader, and at least a little self-indulgent. On the other hand, there is an immediacy to short stories you just don’t get with novellas and novels, which is what makes writing short stories a satisfying challenge in their own right. So in that regard I prefer not to compare short fiction and novels, because from a writing stand point, it’s such a different approach, most notably in plot tempo and the space available for depths of character development or back-story.
Tyler: I find that really interesting, Roland, because I’m a novelist. People used to tell me to write short stories, as if it would be easier, but I think they are equally difficult and such a vastly different form than the novel. But do you foresee writing any novels in the future?
Roland: At this point in time I’m actually sitting on a collection of novels, but they are in various stages of proofing and rewrite. Over the years when I was writing and not actively pursuing publication I wrote in excess of a million words of various novels. Presently I’ve been working on a mainstream fiction novel, and hope to have it completed within the next year. So my plans for the future as far as novels are concerned is to hope that at some point we expand to a thirty hour day and I don’t need any sleep at all so I can focus on finishing what I have, cleaning up what’s done, and putting any new ideas to page.
Tyler: I hear you there. I often bemoan that I have to sleep because I don’t have enough time to write the books I want to. Do you have any secrets or advice for finding time to write or developing a schedule, or do you just write when the mood hits you?
Roland: The creative process is a very individual thing, so I’d like to couch my remarks here in terms of what works for me may not necessarily work for someone else. In terms of dealing with the time crunch of everyday life, I don’t necessarily worry about the physical writing process on a day to day basis. As a general rule, in particular for when I’m preparing to write a novel, I prefer to consider my main characters in my background thoughts and let them incubate for a few months. Undertaking a novel is no light thing to do, and there is a serious emotional investment in the process of bringing a novel to fruition, so I figure that I need to be not only comfortable with my characters, but I need to be certain of their individual dispositions. That allows me to write with greater efficiency and consistency, eliminating significant time investments in re-writes or correcting problematic plot snares. Once I start a book, though, I try to arrange my schedule so that I can invest some sort of regular time periods for writing so that the tone and voice I’m using are consistent. No matter what, though, it is a juggling act. Time with my family and time at work are non-negotiable for me, so that leaves me a very narrow band of time to work with. I budget myself 5-6 hours of sleep a day and that opens up a steady stream of time for some combination of proofreading, writing, web management, research, and market submissions.
Tyler: Roland, who would you say are your main literary influences?
Roland: It may seem a little odd, but almost all of my literary influences come from classical literature of the late nineteenth century. I think this was a golden era of incredible writers, mostly due to the rich characterizations within the novels coming from this period. Tolstoy is fascinating; I think I could read thirty pages of someone tying their shoes just for the way he portrays a character. Other authors I’ve taken a good schooling from are Gustave Flaubert, Kate Chopin, and if you extend the period a little more, Kafka as a later influence. But for concerns of language use and the musicality of the written word, I’d have to give a nod to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, Homer (verse translations only, not prose), and Tennyson. On a more contemporary basis, I’d have to give a nod to Michael Moorcock, Joe Haldeman, and William Gibson.
Tyler: Not odd at all, Roland. I think the nineteenth century novelists were brilliant and Tennyson may be my favorite poet. Thank you for joining me today, Roland. Before we go, would you tell us what your website is and what additional information our readers can find there about “Remnant”?
Roland: My website is at www.rolandallnach.com and I’ve been building it up since putting it together for launch in June 2010. I have all my published short fiction there, either directly on the site or with links for the more recent works. I also have a collection of essays discussing the creative process that went into each published story—that’s a part of the site I really enjoy, because it’s like opening the hood to see how things tick. In parallel to that, I have a page for “Remnant” discussing the three novellas and how the anthology as a whole came together. Since publication, I’ve added some essays to that page to discuss the stories a little further for those who have read “Remnant” or for those who aren’t concerned with potential spoiler alerts and want to delve a little deeper. And being that I’m an author entering the market, I have a page of tips and advice for writers who are maybe newer to the business of publication than I am, so that I can pass on some of what I’ve learned along the way. There’s also an email address and links to other places to find me, along with a bio page.
Tyler: Thank you again, Roland, for the interview. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. I hope you’ll return to talk to me when you get some of those novels published.