I won’t keep you waiting any longer for this interesting and informative interview. You can read my March 22 post for my review of Snow Day – but now I am pleased to introduce Billy Coffey, author of Snow Day.
Billy was born and raised in Virginia, USA, where he and his wife are now bringing up their family. Billy is a prolific writer and quite the philosopher. You may wish to check out his blog (link at end of interview) and be inspired by his insights.
Billy, welcome to my blog. Please start us off by telling us a little about yourself.
I am a proud country boy. Cities scare me, and I do my best to avoid them. I’ve learned more in the mountains than I ever have in school. I hate adverbs. The best storyteller I’ve ever known was a hillbilly named Cracker. I love my family, and I worry about the world we’re all growing up in. I can hit a knuckleball and throw a tomahawk. Clowns scare the heck outta me.
I agree about the clowns!
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Who or what inspired you? Or discouraged you?
I was your stereotypical jock in high school, which meant I tried much harder on a ball field than I did in a classroom. By my senior year, seven of my classes were study halls. My plan was to coast into either college or the minor leagues.
My English teacher had a different plan. She told me one day she wasn’t about to let me sit around doing nothing, so she assigned me a weekly column in the local newspaper. My baseball career ended a few months later with a shoulder injury, and I poured out my frustrations in a column a few weeks later. A week after that, I received an anonymous letter from someone who said what I’d written had convinced them not to commit suicide. I’ve been writing ever since.
Wow! That one person whose life you impacted certainly was great encouragement to continue.
As a writer, do you do much reading? Who/what were and are your favourite authors or books?
The general consensus is that a writer has to read, and I fully embrace that. I’ll read anything I can get my hands on, from Dr. Seuss to the Stoic philosophers. I love Flannery O’Connor and John Steinbeck. Tolstoy’s always been a favorite. And I think Stephen King is a genius.
Have you ever felt like giving up? When did you finally believe in yourself so you can say “I am a writer”?
I think every writer’s biggest enemy is his or herself. That little whisper deep in your secret places will always tell you to give up, that you’re just a pretender. And honestly, I think that’s a voice to prove wrong rather than silence. There were times when I actually did give up. I was tired of rejection slips and thought I’d be happier without them. But not writing offered much more misery than writing ever could. I think that’s the mark of a writer—you want to give up sometimes, but you know you never can.
As far as believing in myself so I can say “I am a writer,” that’s a tough one. There are still plenty of days when I don’t think I’m a writer at all.
Do you have a motto or Bible verse or quote that you try to live by and that helps to keep you going?
I’ve always liked Psalm 66:16: “Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul.”
Oh, nice one.
What have you had published thus far? Of those, what do you most enjoy writing?
So far, one book, more articles than I can remember, and a few years’ worth of blog posts. By and large, writing a book is the most enjoyable. There’s a freedom in building a full story that you can’t get anywhere else.
What process do you go through when writing and perfecting a book or article?
I’m big on planning, whether a book or an article. I like to think things through before I start writing, let things stew for a while. I’m a firm believer that most writing gets done well away from a computer or a sheet of paper.
I wish I were one of those people who can write a first draft straight through. I’m not. I revise as I go, writing today’s words only after picking through yesterday’s. That takes some extra time, but the upside is that by the time I finish a first draft, I actually have the second as well. I’ll let that sit for a while, then go through the whole thing one more time. Sometimes, three drafts is enough. Oftentimes, it isn’t.
What method do you use to keep track of your writing ideas?
Despite all attempts at change, I’m still the most disorganized person I know. I have notebooks everywhere, ideas written down on napkins and receipts. All of that resides on a corner of my desk I refer to as My Mess. It really is sad. The only comfort I have is that if an idea is written down, I’ll rediscover it eventually.
What inspired you to write Snow Day?
I went through a job scare during the winter of 2005. I was working in a factory that handled textiles, and the textile industry is usually ground zero for a recession. Horrible, horrible time. A man has to feel like he’s providing for his family, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. It hollowed me out inside.
Snow Day began as a series of journal entries. I couldn’t understand what was going on and why God would allow such a thing, but I had the idea the answers would come if I just paid attention to what was happening around me. The things Peter Boyd learns are the things I learned.
When did you realize it would be an adult Christian novel, or was that your plan from the start?
I was never sure it would be a CBA novel, though there was little doubt Christianity would be an integral part of the book. I prefer to think of myself as a Christian who writes rather than a Christian writer. Deep down, I feel like a career in Christian publishing would mean a career preaching to the choir. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.
How long did it take you to write Snow Day? Did you have to do any research? And how did you come up with that title?
From start to finish, a little over five months. I was lucky in that the only research I had to do was pay attention. The title pretty much suggested itself. The day I found out I would likely be laid off was the day a snowstorm hit our town.
Did you find any part of the story difficult to pull together?
I think the most difficult part was deciding what to leave out. So much happened during that time. If I would have put everything in, the book would have easily been over 100,000 words. I pared it down to a little over half that, which I think is a manageable length for a first novel.
Did you write a little of yourself into any of the characters, perhaps the main character? Do you have a favourite?
I wrote a lot of myself into Peter Boyd, the main character. He’s a smarter version of myself. My favorite, though, is probably the character of Bobby Barnes. He seems so tragic to me, but at the same time ready for some kind of redemption. He makes another appearance in the manuscript I just finished, and he’ll be the main character in the one I’m getting ready to start.
Oh, that sounds very interesting.
How did you go about finding an editor? A publisher? An agent?
I’d been querying agents and publishers without success for what seemed like forever. An editor at a New York house finally expressed interest but said I needed work on my platform. She suggested I start a blog.
Building an online audience took so much time and effort that querying went by the wayside. I finally just surrendered my writing career to God. And as is usually the case, when I gave that to Him, He gave me something back. One of my readers was a client of Rachelle Gardner’s and offered to introduce us. Rachelle signed me a month later, and I had a book contract a month after that.
From what you’ve said so far regarding your writing career, it seems that from the very beginning it has been a step by step process in God’s plan for you.
Tell us about the exciting publicity Snow Day has received thus far.
I can’t say enough for the work FaithWords has put into Snow Day. They hired a PR firm to handle publicity, which opened up avenues I didn’t think were possible for a first-time author from the sticks. There have been ads in both Library Journal and Book Page, a mention in Writer’s Digest, a dozen or so radio interviews, and a television appearance in the Washington, D.C. area. It was all fun, though a bit nerve-wracking at times. I’m much more comfortable being the guy watching everyone else from the corner of the room. Being comfortable in the middle of that room has taken a lot of effort.
As a writer do you also have a job to go to every day? If so, how do you find time to write when you are busy with life?
I have a full-time job, Monday through Friday from 7:30-4:00. That makes it tough to write every day. I’ve learned to be flexible. I’ll write when and where I can and forgive myself for that being all I can do. I’ll admit it’s aggravating at times.
What other interests do you have that you turn to for a change from writing?
I love sports, always have. And there are about 30,000 acres of wilderness outside my front door, so I’ll often either hike or ride my bike through some trails. My kids are my main interest, though. It’s tough being a parent in a Lady Gaga world.
How do you consistently write? Do you have writing goals – daily? Weekly? Monthly? Long range?
When I’m writing books, it’s 1,000 words a day, every day, any way I can get them. That rule is unbendable. Over 1,000 is fine, but never less than that. If I’m not writing books, I’ll concentrate on my blog. I only post twice a week, but I try to write a post a day. That way when it’s time to start another book, I have the luxury of being able to concentrate on that with a healthy backlog of posts ready.
That is very smart thinking and a great tip for other writers.
Do you have another project in the works? If so, any hints you can share with our readers about that?
My second novel is Paper Angels and will be out in November. It centers on a man named Andy Sommerville, who loses his parents as a child and prays that God will send someone to help him. God answers, and Andy spends the rest of his life trying to figure out if that answer is a blessing or a curse. It’s much like Snow Day as far as the country flavor, but it’s completely different in many ways.
I look forward to reading it!
Finally, is being a writer/author all you had hoped or thought it would be? Any advice for hopefuls?
For years I suffered under the false assumption that landing a book contract with a major publisher would solve all my problems. It didn’t. Many went away, of course, but that just made room for a whole new set. That said, there’s nothing that can quite match the sight of your book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. It’s an exciting time, but it’s also a humbling time.
The best advice I can give? I’m a firm believer in the power of perseverance, so my advice is to always try once more. If you write a story you decide is awful, try once more. If you get a rejection, try once more. In the end, it doesn’t matter who gives up on you. All that matters is that you don’t.
What helpful advice. Thank you, Billy, for this enlightening interview. It has been interesting learning more about you and your journey. I wish you much continued success as you continue your writing.
Readers, I hope you enjoyed getting to know Billy Coffey better. You can read more of his insights (and his amazing testimony) here: http://www.billycoffey.com/
Also, FaithWords is generously donating a copy of Snow Day to one of you. Check them out here: http://www.faithwords.com
If you would like a chance at winning a copy of Billy’s book simply post a comment here on my blog, telling what you most enjoyed in the interview. Enter only once, please. I will put the entries into a basket and at 9:00 pm (8:00 EST) on April 8 my husband will draw out the winner’s name. I will contact that person for his/her mailing address. If I do not get a reply by 8:00 pm EST on April 14 we will select another name – so check back!
Thanks for reading this interview, and … Creative Musings! :)