Pleasanton author Allen Long, 59, decided a few years ago that his natural writing form is the memoir. And, boy, does he have a lot of subject matter.
His newly published book, "Less than Human," recounts being reared in Arlington, Va., by a father and mother who were educated and successful to the outside world while at home his father regularly beat Allen and his younger brother, cheered on by their mother.
"The first half of my life, my brother and I were physically abused as children, then I had a 15-year marriage some of it was good, but my first wife became very verbally abusive and cheated on me several times," Long said in an interview earlier this month. "I felt like my parents and my first wife treated me as less than human."
But who was really less than human, the author or his tormentors? Animals are portrayed positively in the book, too, so the title is a triple play on words, Long noted.
The title is one of many thought-provoking things about the memoir, which was published by Black Rose Writing. The book does not move linearly, but progresses more by theme and association through his first anguished marriage, childhood beatings, teen romances, ordeals in the business world and a chapter that begins, "My first night in a psych ward ..."
"I'm hoping it gives double pleasure for the reader," Long said, "like a jigsaw puzzle that gets better and better as the pieces fall into place."
It all comes together in the last chapter with the love story that has been a happy marriage for 20 years. And after decades in the corporate world, Long now works as a certified nursing assistant in a hospital, finally in a "helping" profession, which he said he should have been doing all along.
Many of the chapters have appeared in print before, in literary magazines.
"I realized after I published a number of my memoirs that if I write X number more of these, I will have documented all the important moments of my life," Long said. "I started writing about the most dramatic moments of my life, the highs and the lows."
Long earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Virginia Tech, a master's in fiction writing from Hollins University, and an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Arizona. He continued to write throughout his life.
"I was writing short stories that were being published a lot, around the year 2000," he said. "Then I thought, 'I want to write something really different.'"
"I'd always been so outraged by how sleazy the business world is that I wrote a piece called 'Soul Breach,' which is a chapter in the book," he continued. "A friend of mine said, 'This is one of the best things you've ever written. I think memoir might be your natural form.'"
Long explains in "Soul Breach": "From 2001 to 2008, my income plummeted from $200,000+ to $20,000. I went from serving as founder and president of a small but successful San Francisco Bay Area marketing and competitive strategy consulting firm to teaching swim lessons and coaching for a swim team. This is the story of how my second wife Elizabeth and I lost most of our money in the recession and how, surprisingly, I found my soul."
"I like to expose corruption and unethical behavior," Long said, citing his article published by Emory University, "The Branding Crisis at Walmart," which can be read online. More recent personal stories online are "Freakout," published by Verdad; and "Sleepover," by Ray's Road Review.
Long suffers from anxious depression, a condition he was born with, and in 2008 he ended up in a psychiatric ward, detailed in the chapter "Freefloating."
"I had basically hit rock bottom," he recalled. "Then I started getting the meds I needed, then did an outpatient program and totally put my life on track. Plus I absolutely adore my wife, who has been by my side. I've been totally normal since 2008."
In the book, he also describes his addiction to swimming, which brought him pleasure for hours each day through his childhood and beyond. He coached Pleasanton's Seahawks competitive swim team for 4 1/2 seasons, beginning in 2008.
But the childhood cruelty by his parents haunts every part of the memoir.
"I will never know why they abused us from the time we were small children, until each of us turned 12," Long said. "My psychologist said that when they were dating they recognized they each had the same kind of rage, and it was safe to let out this rage in sight of the other person."
Long has contacted two groups that focus on prevention of child abuse hoping to benefit them with proceeds from any books they sell. He thinks "Less than Human" will give hope to victims.
"I think people who were abused as children would like the book because I end up with a happy adult life," he said.