Billy Allen began the conversation in the most Billy Allen way possible, with deadpanned self-deprecation. When asked about his new book, Dark Blood, released on December 14, he said that, after a year and a half of outlining and writing and rewriting and editing and rewriting some more, “all 20 people are excited about it.”
This is Billy Allen, a man of many talents who will do his best to convince you that he is a man of maybe no talents, that he is, as old videos on the internet will suggest, just “kinda good” at a few things.
It’s fitting that he’s taken to fictional tales, for Allen is a maker of many myths, mostly about himself. He’ll tell you, for instance, that on a previous book he worked on, Coach Your Brains Out, an eponym of a podcast he produces with his good friend and coach, John Mayer, he made Mayer “do all the hard chapters.” He’ll tell you that, in six years of podcasting with Mayer, Allen hops on, asks some questions, while Mayer does all the real work.
Like any good fictional tale, these are likely rooted in a kernel of truth. Mayer is an exceptionally hard worker, who took over a moribund LMU program and turned it into a bona fide power in the NCAA beach volleyball hierarchy. But it’s also no coincidence that wherever Allen has gone, success has followed, no matter the partnership or the field in which that partnership is working.
His first main draw came as a scrappy, split-blocking duo with his roommate — and rival for setting duties — at Cal State Northridge, Ty Tramblie, a type of partnership he’s enjoyed in spots, mostly in random NORCECA qualifiers with Mayer, where they’ve only ever succeeded. He’s enjoyed success with a menagerie of personalities — a 24-year-old Trevor Crabb, who talked trash on the court and was content not talking off of it; a lively Stafford Slick; reserved Theo Brunner; fellow love of learning Ryan Doherty; back to Slick.
“Billy always downplays it,” Mayer once said of Allen, from a hotel in Hamburg, Germany. Then, the “it” in that conversation was in reference to a win at the World Championships over Brazilians Evandro and Bruno, two of the best players in the world. It pushed Allen and Slick into ninth.
It was the best finish of Allen’s international career – by points, anyway – and, given that it was only a year ago, he is far from retiring.
“I plan on playing at least another 20 years,” the 36-year-old said, signature deadpan. He is in a slightly different phase of his career, namely in that he’s been in a different location since September: the beach volleyball hotbed of Idaho.
He and his wife, Janelle Allen, were planning on buying a house out there, setting some roots, but apparently just because houses are expensive in California, they are not cheap everywhere else. When a schedule is released and it comes time to train again, he’ll be back, either relatively permanently, or just a quick summer stop in Southern California.
“I’m still planning on playing international,” he said. “No matter what, that’s the right goal for me to have right now just because you can train or prepare for that standard and if you end up not playing as many you’re just more ready for AVP. I feel like if I just told myself I was only going to play in local tournaments I would slack off too much. As long as we have points and I have a good partner and I’m able to compete and I can represent the U.S.A., that’s the plan.”
Until then — and who knows when there will be something set for the upcoming season — Allen has a few more projects he’s working on: another Coach Your Brains Out book with Mayer, and a cross between volleyball and his Good Blood series, something that will likely read as fascinating as it sounds.
It’s those two talents — writing and volleyball — that Allen has always pursued, ever since he was a kid who wanted to write comic books one day who also regularly went out to Oceanside to play volleyball with his family. After majoring in creative writing at Northridge, even producing a short movie in college in which he had to cut out Tramblie 10 minutes in for forgetting his lines, Allen seems to have found his stride, publishing books – plural – while also knocking off the best teams in the world.
“While I’m working on Dark Blood, I’m getting excited about 10 other stories I could write,” Allen said. “It’s a chore to, day in and day out, log in time working on the same story, especially on multiple drafts. I compile a bunch of stuff, ideas I have, and a lot of it is combining ideas – oh, these could actually work together. That’s how you find something unique, or original, combining multiple ideas. Now I have like five projects I’m excited to work one. While one pot is cooking, the other ones are simmering.”