Friday, November 07, 2014

Writing: A Visit With Author Billy Coffey

Today author Billy Coffey shares some answers about writing. His fifth novel, In The Heart Of The Dark Wood, has just released. I've had the privilege of reading the book, and it lives up to the reputation Billy has created with his previous ones. Now, here's Billy:

1. In The Heart Of The Dark Wood is your fifth published novel. How many books did you write before your first contract?

Several. Three or four at least, all of which currently reside in an old steamer trunk in my office. I started off as a memoirist, writing personal essays. A lot of those old manuscripts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, but more than a few have been bent and twisted into fiction and have made their way into my published books.

2. There are lots of ways to learn writing. What do you think are the important ones?

My shelves are stocked with books about how to write and they’re all great, but I’ve always thought the best way to learn writing is to read great writing. That’s how I learned. I never made it further than a high school diploma, but the great books have given me a pretty good education as far as fiction goes.

3. Which comes first for you—characters, plot idea, incident to open or close, what?

With me, it always begins with a character. Usually the protagonist, but there have been times when the antagonist came to me first. Everything else follows from that. I’ve always thought if you get the players right, everything else falls into place. Plot is simply the characters bumping into each other.

 4. Authors are warned about the “sagging middle.” Do you consciously plan a mid-manuscript incident to avoid that?

I do. I really try to follow the basic rules of screenwriting when it comes to what goes where, having a turn at the middle and ends of the first two acts and then the climax at the end of the third, every turn moving the story in a different direction. Life is so busy for readers now. Rule number one has to be holding their attention.

5. Some publishers prefer books to be series, some want all the books by an author to be stand-alones. This one is a sequel of sorts. What are your thoughts about that?

The majority of my books take place in the same small town, which kind of gets me the best of both worlds. They’re stand-alones but also sequels that tell a larger story about the same group of people, and that’s how I like it. The hopes are a new reader will read one book and be led to read the others.

6. What’s the most important marketing tool you’ve discovered?

I enjoy social media a great deal, though I don’t really have the time necessary to use it as often as I should. I’ve found that conferences are a great way to market yourself, and I’ve had a lot of success there in the past few years. But by and large, I’ve always thought a writer’s best marketing tool is the last book he or she wrote.

7. What advice do you have for someone who’s frustrated because they haven’t been published yet?

It took me close to twenty years to be published. I’d never want to relive those years again—the mounds of rejection letters, the dark nights of the soul, the feeling that you’ll never get there. But I’m a firm believer in that the best writing will always find a spot in the marketplace, somehow and someway. If your end goal is to be published, you’re going to have a tough time. You have to write because it’s who you are and because if you don’t—if you never pick up a pen again—you understand that your life will somehow suffer for it. If you’re one of those people, chances are good you’ll find a measure of success. So put your head down, grit your teeth, and try again. Everything I’ve managed to accomplish is owed to God and the fact that I tried one more time.

Thanks, Billy, for dropping by and sharing your thoughts with us.If you'd like to learn more about Billy Coffey, check out his website. And if you're interested in reading In The Heart Of The Dark Wood, you can purchase it here or through your favorite bookseller, both brick-and-mortar and online. 

If you have any questions for Billy, please leave them in the comments. And if there are other aspects of writing you'd like covered here, please let me know.


Between the Pages with Katrina said...

I haven't read this author before, but after reading this interview I am definitely going to. Thank you for sharing.

Richard Mabry said...

Katrina, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that you'll find Billy's writing compelling and his characters easy to identify with. Hope you agree after trying it.
Thanks for your comment.

susanwalkergirl said...

Dr. Mabry,

I agree Billy Coffey that the best way learn to write is to read great writing.

Wow...20 years of writing without being published. The fact that Billy continued to persevere gives evidence that being a writer is part of who God created him to be.

Thanks for sharing this interview. It's insightful and a good peek into the heart and mind of a writer.

Lord bless...Susan Wachtel

Richard Mabry said...

Susan, My own story is a bit different, but the end result is the same. For me it was four books over four years garnering forty rejections until I got the first contract. And when I look at those early (unpublished) books I see why I needed to spend more time reading and writing before I "got it."
Thanks for your comment.