Monday, March 15, 2010

Interview with Author/Philosopher Billy Coffey

Under Billy Coffey’s black hat is a head that got screwed on straight the hard way, and I’m sure he’ll tell you it still needs tweaking now and then. But under that ol’ hat, I found a man who has his priorities right: God, family, community, work. His wife is his photographer, his children are his inspiration, his friends are loyal--and his work? Well, it just got awarded a two-book publishing deal with Faith Words. Snow Day will be published in November 2010, and there is no book I am more anxious to read.

This country philosopher is no stranger to pen and paper. He wrote his first story at age seven: a five sentence tale about a boy who prayed that God would rid the world of asparagus. Gotta love it.

In researching him for this interview, I discovered a few “Billyisms” that speak volumes about him and his writing abilities as an adult:
“Life with a writer isn’t all bubble gum and cotton candy.”
“Wisdom doesn’t lurk, it dances.”
“Macho manliness trumps stupidity every day of the week and twice on Thursday.”
If you’re on Twitter, chances are you’ve seen him around. Here’s an opportunity to get to know him better:

AC: When you were seventeen, you had an accident in the sixth inning of a game, ending your baseball career dreams. How did you get hurt?

Billy: It was a tear in my rotator cuff the doctor said had actually begun years before. My throwing strength had deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t pitch anymore, so I was switched to shortstop for a while and then to second base.

I was in the field that inning when the batter hit a ground ball past the pitcher. I caught the ball behind second base, which meant I had to make the throw sidearm to my left while all of my momentum was still going to the right. The pressure was just too much for my shoulder to take. It felt like someone had stabbed me in the arm with an ice pick.

AC: For awhile afterward, your Amish grandmother and Mennonite mom must’ve bruised their knees praying for you as they watched you deteriorate emotionally from the loss of your dream. But your “Come to Jesus” moment came not long after your injury in an incident that was too miraculous to be coincidental. [For the full testimony, click here.] Does that time in your life influence your writing today?

Billy: Oh, yes. I think it influences everything today, but my writing especially. It helps give me a perspective of hope I might otherwise not have, and I try to weave that into every story and post I write. If that time on the mountain taught me anything, it’s that every moment is not only a teachable one, but a holy one as well. I realized I had tossed away years of my life focusing on the things that didn’t matter. Since then, I’ve tried to live each day by focusing on the things that do.

AC: You credit your kids with the title of your blog, “What I Learned Today,” when they turned your question around on you: “What did you learn today, Daddy?” You wrote:
What to say? That I didn’t learn anything? That at a certain age a person tends to feel they know too much and have neither the time nor the inclination to know more? That despite what I’ve told them, ignorance most definitely is bliss?
From what I’ve read in your blog, your attitude has shifted a bit. Are you better able to answer the kids’ question now?

Billy: I make it a point to learn something every day now, even if that something I learn today just reinforces what I learned yesterday. I don’t think ignorance is bliss anymore; it can save you from a lot of worry and fear, but it also leaves you blind to the beautiful things in life. I still get that question tossed to me on a regular basis, and I am better able to answer it. Not necessarily because I know more, but because I watch and listen more. If I want to teach my children anything, it’s that curiosity is an amazing gift that should be used often.

AC: I read your post, “Getting the Pain Out,” and wondered at one point just how tall I was going to get from your leg-pulling. Imagine a full grown man “setting his head on fire” to get rid of an ear ache. Then, I read the sucker-punch ending (as Kathy “Katdish” Richards called it), and realized that the story wasn't fiction. Many of your posts are in first person, as if you’ve experienced them just as you’ve recounted for your readers. Do you ever embellish your stories?

Billy: I always change names and occasionally I’ll change circumstances, and for two reasons. One is that I live in the sort of rural town where everyone knows everyone. While we’re more than willing to offer advice and a little gossip to anyone who asks, few people would want me to broadcast their goings-on to the world. So while I actually did find myself talking with a friend who was trying to use an ear candle, I did change his name. This keeps my fellow townspeople from coming up my driveway with pitchforks and torches.

The second reason is a bit simpler. I’m not a journalist, so I don’t really abide by the rule that a story has to be centered around who, what, when, and where. I’m much more interested in the why. Who my friend was, what he was doing, and when and where he was doing it didn’t matter for my purposes. Why he was doing it did. He was trying to get the pain out. That is something we all do, because I think we all carry a certain amount of pain that we want to somehow get out. And sometimes we all do some pretty strange things to do it. So for my purposes, the facts don’t have to have to take center stage. There is truth, and there is Truth. I like to focus on the latter.

*AC Note: This post was too long for one day and too wonderful to cut down. For the rest of Billy's wit and wisdom, tune in tomorrow, same time, same place.
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  1. Thank you for this interview with Billy.

    I've gotten to know Billy's work a bit through Hey Look, A Chicken, and after reading just once, I knew I'd want to continue reading him. He does what the best writers all do: writes what he knows and what's true.

  2. He's a great storyteller, but not "just" a great storyteller. He had a unique way and style that pulls you into the story and keeps you there, long after you've finished reading it.

  3. Maureen and Glynn: you both are so very right. I found him through Hey Look, a Chicken, too and read many of his posts that first day. Some of the thoughts he expressed stay with me.

    Thanks for your comments!

  4. Thanks again, Linda. You asked some really great questions and Billy had some great answers. Can't wait for Part Two!

  5. I've been waiting for this post since you started teasing. Can't wait for tomorrow.

    "We all carry a certain amount of pain that we want to somehow get out." Deep.

    "There is truth, and there is Truth. I like to focus on the latter." Filing that one away. No--holding it front and center.

    Thanks, Billy. "See" you tomorrow!

  6. Billy, We are honored to have you visit us here at AuthorCulture! Looking forward to the rest of the post tomorrow. And congrats on Snow Day and the one to follow.

  7. Billy can pluck from the same basket of words we all have on hand, toss them together and grill them to perfection, offering his readers a rich feast that they can savor all afternoon.

    If I were handed the same basket of words, I'd toss them together and end up with a bowl of unsweetened applesauce. My stories are simple and edible, but Billy's? Billy's stories are always flavorful, nourishing, and full of fun.

  8. @Ann: How funny--but it's true, Billy can serve up a gourmet feast!

  9. Thanks for stopping by today, Billy! I share your decision to learn something new every day. Learning is living. One without the other isn't worth too much.

  10. Great post! I can't wait to read Snow Day.