By Stefanie Sears–
Gregory G. Allen is best known locally as the manager of the Irvington Theater, but that’s just the top line of his resume. His credentials also include being an award-winning author, screenwriter, filmmaker and actor.
His newest work, The Monsters of Marymount Mansion, released last month, only adds to that resume. The book tells the story of Toby, an 8-year-old monster with skin like a fish, fur like a dog and scent like cotton candy, who questions why he must hide out in a basement just because he is different. It teaches children about self-acceptance, diversity, chosen family, and representation.
Allen is a storyteller who uses any medium to tell his stories, sometimes combining them. “Some of my books have been turned into film. Some of my films also have a play version floating around. I have a desire for the story to be heard so I’ll try different mediums in order to achieve that,” he explains. “Of course, the medium also dictates the length so if I’m working on a film script, certain book points will get cut. If I’m working on a play, there might be more monologues and more ‘telling’ happening whereas a film is about ‘showing’ what is occurring.”
“When I first wrote The Monsters of Marymount Mansion, I actually wrote it as a picture book, like my first three kids books,” Allen recalls. “However, it was obvious the story was too big for that. So I went down the road of creating my first chapter book. I relied on many teachers & educators during the process as I wanted to get it right for the age group.”
A group of “teachers, friends I trust to be very honest, some family members,” did indeed serve as “beta readers” to aid Allen in developing his story, but so did a class of first graders as part of a larger group of children between the ages of seven and 10 who had their own perspectives to share.
“Beta reader feedback was different in that kids zeroed in on the messaging and what they enjoyed, while adults would say things like ‘you need to change this word to an easier word for kids.’ In writing for children you want to make sure you choose words they understand, keep characters and stories to a minimum to not overwhelm children reading it, and make sure there is an easy message they can carry away from reading it. This can be a challenge at times as you don’t want to go too far over their heads, yet you also want to make sure you have conversation starters between adults and children as they read.”
Allen is pleased with the reviews that The Monsters… has been getting so far and appreciates his younger beta readers’ excellent feedback. “I was mostly surprised by the fact that kids really were empathetic toward Toby. I was taken by how tuned in they were to Toby’s plight. I was also pleasantly surprised that no one was ‘scared’ of the monsters but that instead my mission for them to learn acceptance of difference was getting through. They all understood what he was going through.”
Given that The Monsters of Marymount Mansion is a children’s chapter book, there is the question of whether or not it will spawn a sequel or develop into its own series. For Allen, only time will tell. “You never know when you write something if it’s a stand alone or a series. So many factors from how much an audience responds to it to what the characters say to me.”
Despite the attention the book is drawing, Allen appreciates the balance between his personal achievements and his role at Irvington Theater. “I am extremely lucky to have a job in the arts that allows me the amazing opportunity to keep up with creative endeavors,” Allen says. “Managing a theater isn’t a 9-5 job. It can be evenings or weekends as well. Writing is much the same. It can be at any time. Whenever I feel inspired I might stop and write a little and then come back to it another time.”
Allen will be at Hudson Valley Books for Humanity in Ossining from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. on November 12 for a Q&A, excerpt reading and book signing of The Monsters of Marymount Mansion.Read or leave a comment on this story...