Interview with 'Me and Bobby McGee' Chad Coenson

Chad Coenson was born in Orlando, FL, but he can barely remember that and pretty much spent most of the years following his birth in a nomadic state of perpetual motion until finally finding a home in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two dogs. He has a degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona and spends his time “trying” not to take life too seriously. Despite his generally adventurous nature and willingness to attempt almost anything, he has never had the opportunity to cast the first stone. Me and Bobby McGee is Coenson’s first novel. You can visit Chad on the web at www.chadcoenson.com.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Chad. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Me and Bobby McGee?

I have always been a writer, since the third grade to be exact, who focused primarily on satirical, short-story fiction and poetry/lyrics. As I grew up, experienced the world more, and naturally became more opinionated, I found my ideas were getting crazier and bigger, such that they could not be contained within these shorter formats. Me and Bobby McGee is the first offspring of that revelation. You see, for the bulk of my existence, writing has always been the easiest and clearest way for me to express myself when I want to get my point across. And conversely, it has acted as an elegantly cryptic mask when I've wanted to address a potentially disagreeable subject matter without the hindrance of a defined personal viewpoint. As a writer, lyricist, performing poet, musician, and dedicated seeker of wonder, I have come to know the human cartoon quite well and developed a unique perspective based on my experiences intrepidly wandering nationally and abroad. From Fiji to Amsterdam, New Zealand to Costa Rica, Tasmania to Mexico, and from Bora Bora to the dusty outlaw campsites found along America’s longest highways; by embracing the beauties of cultural diversity, I’ve come to learn that the most productive and intelligent way to discuss complicated matters and universal controversy is through humor. These notions are the core of what led me to write Me and Bobby McGee.

Q: I love your title…can you tell us why you chose it?

The title Me and Bobby McGee was inspired by the Kris Kristofferson song of the same name. The lyric, "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose," is a prevalent theme throughout the novel, as the various dimensions and meanings of the phrase are explored. In fact, the idea for the book came to me while I was listening to the song in my car during an excursion to Santa Barbara. This melodic moment of inspiration also led to the creation of one of the main characters, Miss Bobby McGee, a woman of absolute beauty, infinite malice, and guaranteed instability.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

The book is very relative to the current state of national and world affairs, but intentionally avoids being a preachy work that tells people what to think. Instead, it looks to make light of humanity's absurdity while drawing attention to some of the alarming realities found on the dark side of the satire. Comedy is disarming and thus, in a time where people cling to their beliefs (social, political, religious) like loaded shotguns ready to be fired at anyone with an opposing view point, I feel it is important to provoke the type of unified communication that only laughter can inspire, with the hopes that it paves the way for civilized conversations about societal folly as opposed to bias-blinded debates. And if nothing else, I wanted to bring a bit more merriment into the world.

Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

I was published by a small press, Inkwater, out of Portland, OR so their reach as far as publicity goes is a little limited. They did however do a great job getting me some early reviews and booking me to appear at a couple of events. They also did some book giveaways which was certainly helpful. Taking that part out of the equation, I have quarterbacked the rest of the publicity myself. By that I mean I researched and hired a professional publicist, Charlie Barrett. He has really gotten things going for me and has been essential in spreading the word about the book nationally, setting up radio and online interviews, and dramatically increasing the number of reviews Me and Bobby McGee has received. And though Charlie keeps me extremely busy just with his efforts, individually, I have gone to all of the independent bookstores in town and gotten my novel in their shop either by leveraging the number of positive reviews the book has garnered to convince shops to order directly from distribution (as was the case with Powell's Books) or by setting up consignment deals. I am also an alumni of the University of Arizona's creative writing program and so I utilized this connection with the school for additional publicity, which ultimately allotted me a spot presenting at the Tucson Festival of Books, an annual event that hosts 80,000+ people.

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

Comparatively, Me and Bobby McGee, is somewhat of a hybrid. If John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces and Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas cross-pollinated and the offspring was adopted and raised by Kurt Vonnegut, then you would pretty much have the DNA for Me and Bobby McGee. It shares the blatant humor of Toole's work, the pace and sharp cynicism abound in Fear and Loathing, and the satirical absurdity disguising frightening truths found in the vast pages of Vonnegut. And despite these connections, I believe the story and writing style remain wholly original. Furthermore, even though the fore mentioned writers have produced timeless works, Me and Bobby McGee is a satire that takes into account the modern social and political landscape as well, basing the core of its absurdity on current issues while still addressing the stagnant and enduring challenges of humanity.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

On page 102 the main character/narrator, Keesey Cypher, has just completed an enigmatic errand down in Mexico for a seemingly sinister group of individuals to which he owed money after being cleaned out in an Absinthe-aided poker game. Thinking he is finally free of his debts, Cypher has just returned to the north side of the border only to find a car, occupied by two gangster-like-henchmen, waiting for him. Wary of the situation Keesey gets into the black Cadillac and they take off for an undisclosed location. Exhausted with ambiguity and annoyed by the New Jersey attitude of the driver, the former assassin inside of Cypher is suddenly roused. In an instant he gains control of the situation by snapping the passenger's neck and punching the driver squarely in the nose, shattering its delicate frame. Of course, control never comes that easy. Cypher soon finds out that the man he has just killed was "the boss's" nephew, and that the vehicle's driver is a whiny hemophiliac on track to die from the relentless gushing of a recently incurred bloody nose.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

I do plan subsequent books and am currently working on one but it is not a sequel, and actually beyond the genre, it is completely different from Me and Bobby McGee. That being said, I have a feeling old Keesey Cypher will appear again sometime in the future as there are a few small loose ends to tie with regards to his past, and plenty of other types of trouble for him to stumble into. Admittedly, I had not considered bringing him back for another absurd go-round, but the response I have been getting from this novel, and the affinity people seem to have developed for Cypher and some of the other characters has got we wondering what other global mischief they can incite from the depths of the underground and the outskirts of exile.

Q: Thank you for your interview, chad. Do you have any final words?

Keep thinking, it's good for your health.

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