Payback Time 

R.A. Allen makes it to the printed page.

Man (41; married; liquor salesman) walks into a bar. Drinks a few. Flirts with the waitress (with whom he enjoys a "sexual friendship"). Watches an angry customer erupt into a fistfight with the two bartenders (nicknamed "The Power" and "The Glory"). Does a line of coke with the waitress in the bar's storeroom. Orders another scotch. Then turns from the bar to see that the fat guy who'd been drinking by himself at a corner table has, from the looks of it, spontaneously combusted. Firemen and policemen are called to the scene. That 41-year-old liquor salesman's wife back home: She calls him an "asshole bastard." And this short story is called "Monday Burning."

It appeared in The Barcelona Review in 2008, and it reappears in the summer 2010 issue of The Literary Review. The story's author is Memphian R.A. Allen, and he calls that married liquor salesman his "cheerfully dissolute protagonist."

A whole other story:

A guy named Waitron waits tables at Joe's Crab Trap on the Florida Gulf Coast, and he spots a woman at the restaurant's bar. Does she have the "correct" hair? The "right" body? (She does.) Meanwhile, two ex-cons — friends since childhood, one named Oakley, the other named Sparrow — are working construction on the Florida Gulf Coast. Oakley needs to find a guy who owes him some money. It's payback time. Meanwhile, Waitron and that woman from the restaurant's bar are going at it on the beach. More than "at it": Waitron is close to murdering her. But Oakley and Sparrow stumble onto the scene. The conclusion to "The Emerald Coast," by R.A. Allen? Read for yourself. The story appeared in the summer 2009 issue of The Literary Review. It's set to reappear in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010 (from Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin), after being selected by guest editor and best-selling author Lee Child.

And another story, this one a piece of "flash fiction":

Alfred McSqueen is a pig farmer — mid-middle-aged; alcoholic — who also keeps chickens on his mud-soaked farm. His wife: She hanged herself years ago. His two daughters, ages 13 and 14: They've run away, because "rumor had it." McSqueen, fresh off another bender, goes searching for something to eat, so he takes a couple eggs out from underneath his 12-pound Blue Cochin named Fat Ass. But McSqueen slips on the slime on the floor of the henhouse, and next thing you know McSqueen's busybody neighbor, Carlotta White, is on the phone to Sheriff Osby to report something not right at the McSqueen place. And there is — something not right.

"He dead?" asks Deputy Donaldson after viewing the body. "Murder most foul," replies Sheriff Osby. And it's because Fat Ass ended up roosting on (and suffocating the life out of?) poor Alfred McSqueen. End of story, which is called "Poultry Procedural," by R.A. Allen, and it's in the summer 2010 issue of JMWW.

For more published work by R.A. Allen, see, coming this fall, "Keepers" in Verdad and "Cancellation" in The Los Angeles Review. But what about Allen himself?

He is, as he said in a recent e-mail, "a product of Memphis," and he's worked a number of jobs: construction worker, land surveyor, aluminum-siding salesman, jeweler, bartender, restaurant manager, and, most recently, systems analyst. That's how Allen described his work history. But as a writer now meeting with some success, he added: "I'm not sure how I would describe my work." (Think, for starters, offbeat, site-specific, and unpredictable.)

"Long ago, I started writing for the most banal and common of reasons: I love to read," Allen said by e-mail. "So I dreamed of having my writing published as a sort of payback — to bring others the happiness I had experienced via the same route. It was also a challenge. Because parsing sentences in high school English was a bore, I did not know the difference between the function of a semicolon and a dash until I was in my 30s. [Note to author: You're not alone.]

"I wrote two novels, both failures, and experimented with poetry. Then I started writing stories and finally began to be published in 2007. Word Riot took some of my poetry that same year. Nothing like acceptance to bolster one's confidence."

And nothing like a certain well-known literary agent expressing admiration for "The Emerald Coast" and offering to represent your work. Which is what has happened to R.A. Allen. That and learning on the day Allen wrote that another of his poems had been accepted for publication, this time in Barrier Islands Review.

A good day, then, in what's shaping up to be a good summer for R.A. (not to be confused with basketballer Ray) Allen. And a good fall: Publication date for The Best American Mystery Stories 2010 is September 28th.

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