D.G. Allen has just published his debut novel The Black Ledger (see our review here) and it is receiving rave reviews across the board. Mr. Allen, who is a personal trainer in the western suburbs of Chicago, took his real on-the-job experiences and turned them into an interesting and exciting novel. Allen was raised in Chicago’s south suburbs and as a life-long resident of the Chicago area brings very real detail to his story.
Mr. Allen, who is funny and personable, was kind enough to sit down with me to discuss his writing in greater detail. Read about him below and then read our review of his book, The Black Ledger.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I understand that the idea for The Black Ledger came from your own experience working in the insurance industry on Chicago’s south side. When did you decide that the setting would make for a good story? Writers are often advised to “write what they know,” and in this case that advice has worked well for you!
“It’s a great question and the answer may surprise some people, but the truth is that I actually felt like I was having an ‘out of body’ experience for the two years I worked for the insurance company. Day to day was a new episode or adventure of some kind and only a few of the stories actually made their way into the book. I knew I was living a story that had to be told, and my earliest notes date back to 1982–just about the time when I left the company.
It’s funny how there can be things that we experience that we know will more impact on our lives than others. In the story, Ron Pickles seems to have almost consistently good encounters with the people in his ledger. Even though the projects no longer stand along the lake, what kind of reception do you think Pickles would receive today? Would he find it harder to get people to trust their ‘shurance man’?
It’s hard to project 37 years after the fact, and I’m not sure what the reception to a door-to-door salesman would be today in any community. [Laughs.] What people have to remember is that the black community in Chicago circa 1980 was an evolving by-product of an ugly past, an uncertain future, and a stagnant present. I guess slavery is said to have officially ended with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation or the end of the Civil War, but the absolute truth is that indebted slavery of African Americans to a white culture lasted well into the 20th century. So the folks I met on The Black Ledger were, in some cases, first generation, direct decedents of slaves.
Hard as it may be to believe, many people I met had only seen a white man in person on a handful of occasions because their lives were so horribly segregated. What never failed to amaze me was the genuine respect and affection the community showed me at large. I couldn’t tell you the amount of times people with little–almost no–food for themselves would invite me to dinner or offer me something to drink on a hot day. I realized that I was a bit of a novelty, but I also saw first hand what an amazingly resilient and loving community was buried beneath the hideous stereotypes and racist attitudes painted by white America–which unfortunately continue today.
The welcome you received while working your ledger is a testament to the strength of people who have survived some of the harshest treatment only to come through it all with the ability to still see past color or station and offer a hand to anyone who needs it at the time. There is a profound lesson in that experience.
The fraud that was being perpetrated by the “stoner” team wasn’t (for the most part) a well-kept secret. Why do you think the other agents habitually turned a blind eye to their various schemes? Job security? I imagine that other companies were operating in Chicago using a similar model; would it have been difficult for those unhappy with the practices of Unified to make the move to another company?
Defrauding and stealing from black people was easy, and it was justified because of the dangers involved with working in the ghetto. It wasn’t just fraud. One of the agents ran a brothel, another had a thriving cocaine enterprise, and the kickbacks from funeral homes were almost seen as obligatory. There were some agents who tried really hard to steer clear of the schemes but everyone ends up participating, even if it was just an excuse to sell more insurance as Ron does with old Willie.
How truly sad and unfortunate; history can be such a bitter pill to swallow. Were the fraudulent practices widespread across the industry?
Yes, and always targeting poor black communities. It’s my understanding that law enforcement went after the insurance companies pretty hard in Atlanta, Georgia, and jailed quite a few for fraud as well as putting some companies out of business. I do know that many insurance laws were changed and regulatory systems were put in place in response to the fraud committed.
Ron’s life outside of work was hardly ideal and seemed to lack role models of responsibility, so where did Ron find the fortitude to stand up for his ledger with his company?
Ron’s role model was his sister Judy. Unfortunately, edits cut some of the interaction between the two, which does make the reader ponder where he gained this strength to keep fighting. It wasn’t so much fortitude that kept Ron going as much as horrible sense of guilt that he just couldn’t shake. He truly fell in love and felt betrayed by everyone. He wasn’t terribly bright; he didn’t know what to do, and close to the end we see that he has second thoughts about doing anything. He was just a young man trying to make sense of a senseless situation.
Yet Ron seems to make sense of things in the end, at least within himself, and seems to have walked away with a better idea of what he stood for and to be held accountable for in the end.
Are you planning to write more stories? Will any of them feature Ron Pickles or has that story found its ending?
Well, obviously, a lot will depend on how well this book is received and we have a long way to go as far as promotion and marketing. That’s why I’m so grateful to you and Talk Nerdy for the kind words and support of the book. Actually, I left the story open because I have a possible trilogy series that could follow. In addition, I have signed an option and collaboration agreement to write and develop a screenplay/pilot for The Black Ledger, so right now the possibilities are endless, and yes, I would love to see Ron Pickles develop into something special.
We will all be rooting for you! I think a film based on this story would be fantastic – in the right hands it could become a classic… Do you hear a mockingbird?
One last question we call our magazine Talk Nerdy With Us and everyone who writes for the space has something(s) that they ‘nerd out’ over… What brings your inner nerd out to play?
Ah, the best question ever. I suppose my obsession with nerdiness goes back to my childhood. I was totally immersed in monsters. I loved Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Wolfman. I always fancied myself as Dracula and once got in big trouble for biting some kid on the neck. (Left perfect vampire teeth marks.) I thought the punishment was well worth the crime. A few years later I found Star Trek reruns and lost my mind. I watched every episode over and over till I knew the dialog by heart. I still know the Enterprise as NCC -1701 and every so often try to do a Vulcan mind meld on an unsuspecting victim. I was 16 or 17 when Star Wars came out and got into huge fights about which was better or more realistic, but eventually found myself loving both equally. My first and greatest love has always been the Beatles, (obviously included in my book) and the nerdiness of Beatle fans is legendary.
What I love about all fandoms is that they share a love of an idea created by some human being somewhere. Whether it be: Gene Roddenberry from Star Trek, George Lucas from Star Wars, or Eric Kripke from Supernatural, it’s these ideas that drive the human race. It’s so exhilarating to share the thrill of a story or the love of a character with others who have been inspired by the same spark of magic that fires our passion for the shows. I truly believe that you can’t be an artist unless you love art, or a musician unless you love music, a writer unless you love to write, or any of the above if you can’t fall in love with the idea of another.
Great answer – you are truly our kind of nerd! Thank you so much for your time and insight. Talk Nerdy With Us will be on the lookout for your next novel!