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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Understanding the Homeless Crisis: Author Interview with Allen Madding

You were in IT management, when a news story about a homeless man caught your attention. That caused you to write your first book. Had you written any fiction prior to that?  
The only fiction I had prior to writing Shaken Awake was a fictional story in high school (1982) and a few short stories for a composition class in college.

How long did it take you to write your first book?
When I started writing Shaken Awake, it went very fast. The ideas were coming hard and fast, and I struggled to keep up with getting it written down. I was scribbling notes on my phone during breaks and then fleshing them out at night. I think the first manuscript was done in less than 3 months. The second and third books in the trilogy- Awakened and Woke took much longer - like a year each.

What sort of research did you do for it? What were some of the most surprising details you discovered?  
I conducted a great deal of research on the homeless statistics across the U.S. and in Atlanta, shelter capacities vs. homeless numbers, housing costs vs. minimum wage, and root causes of homelessness. I traveled to Austin, Texas and spent a week at Community First! Village volunteering and listening to the stories from the formerly homeless.

I read several books written by the formerly homeless as well as those serving the homeless community. I was staggered by the level of homelessness in the veteran population as well as the overall amount of homelessness in the U.S.

Your first book morphed into a trilogy about the homeless. How did writing these books change your thoughts on the homeless? 
The research for these books drove me to having conversations with homeless and formerly homeless that really changed my understanding of what events can lead to a person being homeless. They aren't lazy, drug and alcohol addicts. They are people who have experienced a traumatic loss of family and a sense of belonging. Many are anxious to help others who they see struggling as well.

What do you want people to take away from reading your books?
I would love for the reader to have a renewed understanding of the root cause of homelessness and the understanding that these are real people with names and value.

Since these were the first books you wrote, what has surprised or frustrated you about the writing and publishing process?
I originally approached writing with the wide-eyed, sophomoric dreams that if you wrote a good enough book, it would sell itself. The reality is there is a great deal of marketing and promotion required to sell books.
I also didn't fully understand or appreciate the editing process. While writing a book takes a great deal of time, the editing process also a very involved and lengthy process. The editing process requires some thick skin to brush off any unintended offenses along the way.

As writers, we tend to hold our work pretty close to our hearts and sometimes criticisms can be taken personally. It's very important to shrug off the bruised ego and hurt feelings to improve the product before publication.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
I did not fully comprehend the whole publishing process and timeline. I am still adjusting my expectations on the length of time from completing a manuscript until it is available to the public.

You ran a nonprofit food rescue organization in Georgia called Feed the Hungry Forsyth, Inc. How did that come about?
We no longer run Feed the Hungry Forsyth. When our jobs moved us from the Atlanta area to Saint Petersburg, Feed the Hungry Forsyth was absorbed by another nonprofit. It started because I read a newspaper article detailing the struggles of nonprofits in the county to provide food to the hungry.

I began researching solutions and discovered food rescue efforts in other parts of the country that were collecting unsold food from local restaurants. Feed Forsyth was launched to collect unsold food and deliver it to the organizations in the county that distributed food to struggling families.

What suggestions do you have for other people who might want to start a non-profit to help others?
My suggestion for anyone wanting to start a nonprofit is conduct a lot of research. Don't blindly launch something that duplicates another organization's efforts. Instead try to find a way to support what the other organizations are doing.

At launch, concentrate on what you can do yourself without spending thousands of dollars. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to file for a 501(c)3 or to incorporate. Study up on how to do it yourself and save the organization's money for its mission.
Is there another book in the works? Can you give me a short synopsis?
Actually, there are two books in the works. The first work in progress (WIP) is a coming of age story in the 1980s set in the rural south. It is a story of the impact of decisions can affect us for the rest of our lives.

The second book is a murder mystery that I am co-writing with my wife.

Any other points you would like to add?
I would love to encourage aspiring authors. The best way to become a better writer is to write, read, and write some more. The more you write, the better your work will become. Likewise, the more you read, the better your writing will become. Lastly, don't ever throw away any of your writing, because you think it is weak. Set it aside and return to revise it later - even years later. Just don't throw it away!

Thank you for your time and insights. If you’d like to learn more about Allen’s writings, here are some links to get you started.

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