Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Interview with Author/Philosopher Billy Coffey II

Yesterday, we introduced Billy Coffey in part one of an interview that was too long for one post. If you didn't see it, scroll down--it's too good to miss.

AC: About your Snow Day hero, Peter Boyd: he sounds like he could be anyone–as you say, an ordinary man–which makes him immediately sympathetic and universal. But he sounds familiar too, in his observant ways. How much are you and Peter alike?

Billy: I don’t think it’s possible for any writer to produce a book without having a part of him or herself in it. That’s especially true for me. I wanted Peter Boyd to be anyone because I’m anyone. The circumstances he finds himself facing—the loss of his job at Christmastime—are the circumstances I faced myself a few years ago. Like him, I found my faith wavering and my future a cloudy mess. Also like him, I found myself taking a day to wander around and try to make sense of the insensible. Much of what Peter experiences is what I experienced. The only difference is that it took him a much shorter amount of time to understand the truths behind them.

AC: What would you like readers to take away from this book? What did you learn from it?

Billy: These are tough times for a lot of people. There seems to be a thick blanket over this world, and it’s suffocating us more than keeping us warm. People are hurting and confused and trying to make sense of what’s going on. It’s easy to forget that our lives are made beautiful not by our big moments, but our little ones. There’s a lot of everyone in Peter Boyd, and I think we all can find the same sense of fulfillment he does by the end. Sometimes the worst days of our lives can become our best, and sometimes you have to trust your heart when everything is falling apart around you.

AC: Every book proposal has a segment about marketing. What did you write for yours? What’s your plan? How do you reach new readers?

Billy: I mentioned in my proposal that I posted four times a week on my blog, which was steadily gaining readership, and also wrote a weekly guest post for Kathy Richards [author of blog, Hey Look, a Chicken!] and monthly columns for both a newspaper and a magazine. I’m active in social media—especially Twitter—and have since been named a Content Editor for highcallingblogs.com, where I write a bi-weekly post.

The marketing aspect of publishing is now a necessary evil for writers. You really have to put your time into getting exposure for your name and your work. And I’ll be honest—when I started, I absolutely hated it. There are untold millions of blogs out there and hundreds of thousands of unknown writers trying to break into publishing. I felt like a very small fish in a very big sea. Even though that’s still the case, I’m making some headway. The trick to reaching new readers is all about making yourself available to them and not considering them readers at all, just friends you haven’t gotten to know yet.

AC: In your agent, Rachelle Gardner’s blog (Rants and Ramblings), you wrote about a friend who loves to climb and his most important lesson, which he calls “The Middle Rule”:
“When you’re climbing something,” he says, “it’s the beginning and the end that are easiest. In the beginning you’re full of hope. You think it’ll be easy. And when you get to the end you have this rush, a sense of accomplishment. But the middle? That’s the toughest. That’s when you look down and realize you’ve come too far to stop, and you look up and think you’ll never make it. It’s easy to get stuck in the middle of a climb.”
Do you have any advice or encouragement for those of us who are in the middle?

Billy: You’re going to look down just as much as you’re going to look up, and neither is a bad thing. It’s important to pause every once in a while to see how far you’ve come. That knowing can be motivation enough to keep going. And it’s important to take a peek upwards every once in a while too, because you need to see what’s coming.

My advice: focus as much as you can on where you are. That way all the slips you’ve made along the way won’t matter as much and what’s ahead will be easier to face. And my encouragement is this: don’t hate your climb. It’s easy to get frustrated when it comes to writing. Everything comes so slowly and may not even come at all. But the mountain you’re on gives you two things a lot of people lack—it gives you a purpose, and it gives your life meaning.

AC: What are you currently reading? Your favorite book? Favorite author?

Billy: Right now I’m reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and a collection of letters written by C.S. Lewis titled Yours, Jack. Trying to pick a favorite book is like trying to pick a favorite child, but off the top of my head I’ll say Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways. The thing weighs about five pounds and is a seemingly random collection of quotes and stories and images, and I get swept away every time I open it.

As far as authors go, I think I’ve read just about everything C.S. Lewis ever wrote, I love John Irving, and I think Stephen King is a literary genius. That said, my favorite author is Robert Fulghum. We don’t always agree on everything, but I love his writing style and his sense of wonder.

AC: Just for fun: Tell us about your writing habits–where you write, what you have within reach as you write, what you see when you glance up from the page.

Billy: I’m writing this in the same place and at the same time that I write most everything—at a big table in my upstairs office around 1:00 a.m. Everything I need is in arm’s reach. I have my coffee (Starbucks), a stack of books (everything from Stephen King to Seneca), pens (I’m a fountain pen guy), notepads, and my laptop. And my baseball bat. That last is a special necessity. When I’m stuck, I’ll pace with my bat. I’d like to say waving it around brings me a little clarity of mind, but actually all usually I do is threaten my computer with it.

I love writing at night. I usually start around 10:00 and finish up around this time the next morning. It’s great because the house is both peaceful and dark. It’s not great because I have to get up at 5:30 to go to work.

When I glance up, it’s usually to the television. I understand having the television on while one is writing is considered a no-no, but I like the background noise. And it’s usually The Andy Griffith Show that’s on. You can’t say no to Andy.

AC: What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of, writing-related or not?

Billy: I have two great kids. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment given the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing as a father. They were both baptized last Sunday [February 28], and nothing makes a parent more proud than that. When it comes to myself, I try to stay as far away from pride as I can. But I will say that I have a good deal of satisfaction from being able to convince Rachelle Gardner to become my agent and the people at FaithWords to publish my book. I couldn’t have done better.

AC: Finally, I loved the post “How to Take a Punch.” In it, Charlie says: “A man never knows what he’s made of until he gets punched.” I wasn’t surprised by the fact you found the statement philosophical, but now that you’ve been punched, can you tell us what you’re made of?

Billy: I don’t mind saying I got the snot beat out of me that night, though I did manage to get a few shots in myself. All those things you hear in the Rocky movies about boxing making a man out of you are true. It really is a metaphor for life. I didn’t mind the fact I was bloodied and swollen by the time I was finished because of this one simple fact—he never knocked me down. He was too experienced for me to possibly hope to beat, and I was mature enough to know that. Not kissing the canvas became my goal. So yes, I can tell you what I’m made of.

I can take a beating and still smile at the end.

Keep an eye out for Billy's book, Snow Day, which debuts in November.
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  1. Wow! What an incredible interview! I will be back to reread many times. And how can someone not love someone who loves Andy?

    So, Billy, if you were to describe yourself as one of the characters on Andy Griffith, who would it be?

    Linda? Katie? Lynnette? Anybody?

  2. Sandra - I'd love to say Andy, but if I'm honest I have to say I lean more towards Ernest T. Bass.

    Linda - Thanks for such a great interview! I enjoyed answering all of these questions and the memories they allowed me to dwell on.

  3. Sandy: What a fun question! I'd have to say I'm Opie--sweet, innocent, always unwittingly getting into trouble.

    Billy: My pleasure. So glad you participated. I can't wait until your book comes out. I'll be among the first to buy it.

  4. Sounds like an awesome book. I'll add it to my "To Buy" list.

  5. I'm not sure who I would be. Probably a cross between Barnie and Aunt Bea. This was a really great interview, Linda. Thanks again. You too, Billy.

  6. These were great questions and answers! I'm a huge fan of Billy's and can't wait for his book to be released.

    Thanks, Linda and Billy.

    Congrats on your kids being baptized, Billy... awesome!

  7. Oh, I loved Ernest T! I'd like to think I was Helen Crump. She wrote a book. In reality, I'm probably Gomer Pyle--naive, and I sing purty good in the shower.

  8. I was worried about that baseball bat there for a bit. I was thinking it was to ward off intruders into the writer's sacred space!. ;)

    As for Andy Griffith characters... well, Briscoe Darling and I both play a mean jug. (Okay... his is probably meaner!)

  9. No, Billy-boy, you're an Andy, through and through! I can't see you throwing rocks through winders! LOL!

    Thanks so much, Linda, for your great questions. I always love reading about Billy. I'm a huge fan!

  10. Okay, I have to admit that I don't know enough about the Andy Griffith show to know the characters, much-less know which one I'm like. But if there is one with 4 kids that keep her running all the time, that'd be me. :)

  11. Great interview and congrats on your book, Billy! You are a "down home" writer, so comfortable to read. Thanks for sharing!