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The Best of Billy Coffey: How to take a punch

It’s week four of The Best of Billy Coffey! If you’re new here, in Week 1, I shared a snippet of Billy’s second novel Paper Angels along with a few ways you can enter to win a copy of Paper Angels. As promised, I’m still choosing a winner each week. You may enter as often as you like, and there are several ways to enter:

  • Leave a comment here or on subsequent “Best of Billy Coffey” posts each Monday indicating you would like to be entered into the drawing.
  • Tweet or post to Facebook a link to this post and/or subsequent posts. (Please be sure to let me know you’re doing so by adding @katdish to the end of your tweet or sharing the Facebook link with me.)
  • Tweet or post to Facebook a link to the Paper Angels Amazon page letting people know it is available for pre-order.
  • Ditto Barnes & Noble
  • Ditto Books-a-Million
  • Ditto Indie-Bound

Each of the aforementioned actions will constitute one entry into the drawing. If you don’t win this week, each of your entries will go back into the drawing. Winners will be chosen at random and will be announced the following Monday. Enter early, enter often, and check back here each week for new opportunities to win.

Thanks in advance for helping get the word out about Paper Angels. If you’re not big into contests, I still encourage you to head over to Amazon or another online retailer and pre-order a copy. I know once you read it you will recommend it to a friends and family, and word of mouth advertising is the very best kind.

The winner of Week Three is Karolyne S. Congrats, Karolyne! I’ll post next week’s winner next Monday.

And now, another one of my favorites. Actually, If you held a gun to my head and made me pick my very favorite, this would be it:

How to Take a Punch:

Four years ago…

It started the way most good stories do, over lunch with a friend. This particular friend was named Charlie, an iron-fisted brawler disguised as a nerdy engineer who worked in the building next to mine.

“You should stop by tonight,” he said. “Great workout. It’ll make a man out of you.”

“I’m already a man,” I answered.

Charlie nodded and said, “Maybe. You ever been punched?”

“No.”

He put his fork down, looked me in the eye, and said, “A man never knows what he’s made of until he gets punched.”

I didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded philosophical enough to get my attention. “I’ll be there,” I told him.

All true boxing gyms are located in much the same place—the nearest poor neighborhood of the nearest city (you’ve seen Rocky III, right?). Which made getting there from the quiet confines of the country an adventure in itself. Charlie had warned me that the gym was much more old school than new, and he was right. There was no heat, no air, and no bathroom. There was merely a ring, several punching bags, dirty mirrors for shadowboxing, and a bucket to throw up in when the trainers pushed you that far. Written in bright red letters above the ring were the words JESUS SAVES.

It was, in a word, perfect.

I met with Charlie, the fighters who were warming up, and the trainers. “Gotta hand it to you,” the head trainer said. “Takes stones to show up the first time on sparring night.”

“Sparring night?” I asked. I looked at Charlie, who had looked away. I could see the smile on his face, though.

“You’re getting’ in the ring, right?” the trainer asked me.

Gettin’ in the ring? No, I was not gettin’ in the ring. I was not stupid.

“Yeah, I’m gettin’ in,” I said. Because macho manliness trumps stupidity every day of the week and twice on Thursday.

“Good,” the trainer said. “You can get in with me, then.”

Charlie looked at me with a look that was part humor and part Oh, boy.

“What?” I asked him.

“Nothing,” he said. “You’ll be fine.”

I stared at him.

“He won Tough Man last year,” he confessed. “But don’t worry.”

Don’t worry. Famous last words of rednecks everywhere. On par with Hey ya’ll, watch this!

So. Into the ring.

Charlie adjusted my headgear and said, “Move. Don’t forget that.”

I nodded.

“And keep your hands up. Block and punch. Make your defense offense.”

I nodded again.

He checked my gloves and wiped them against his T shirt. “And for the love of God Almighty, keep your chin down. You expose that chin, and you’re a goner.”

“I ain’t goin’ down,” I said, and smiled to prove it. “So what is this, sparring or more?”

Charlie looked across the ring, paused, and said, “He’ll let you know. And wipe that smirk off your face. This will not be fun for you.”

“What makes you think—”

And that’s all I managed to say. I was silenced by Charlie shoving my mouthpiece in and yelling “Time!”

We met in the center of the ring (“Hands up,” Charlie shouted. “Move…move!”), touched gloves, and nodded to one another.

I’d taken plenty of martial arts, and sparring in a dojo was very controlled and normally done at half-speed. But this wasn’t a dojo, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do.

“So,” I said to the trainer, circling him, “what am I—”

SMACK!!

He threw a jab that managed to sneak between my headgear and connect with my nose. And it was not at half-speed. It was so fast I didn’t see his hand until he was pulling it away from my face.

“Move!” Charlie shouted.

SMACK-SMACK-SMACK!

Jab-jab-cross.

“Don’t stand there, do something!”

Boxing is controlled violence. It is technique. It is the mastery of punches and angles that are honed to precision by countless hours of training. Anger won’t get you through ten rounds in the ring.

It will, however, get you through one. Because when that right cross snuck through my headgear and cut my eye, I got mad. Very.

He threw another jab, but I slipped it to the left and threw a hook into his side and another to the side of his head. His eyes widened a bit, and Charlie yelled, “Yes! Stick and move! Thirty seconds!”

I learned that night that thirty seconds in a boxing ring is a lot longer than thirty seconds outside of one. Because it felt like we stood in the middle of that ring pounding on each other for an eternity.

“Time!” Charlie shouted. Finally.

We stood there in the middle of the ring, smiling. “Awesome,” the trainer said.

Awesome indeed.

That gym was my home away from home for a while, but in the end family and a lack of time forced me to quit. But there’s still a heavy bag in our exercise room, and I still go a few rounds on it every night.

Because Charlie was right. You don’t know what you’re made of until you get punched. And whether that punch comes by standing in the middle of a boxing ring or the middle of a life, you survive the same way. You keep your chin down, you keep moving, and you never stop swinging.

We’re all going to get hit sooner or later. It’s a given in this world. But I know this. I can take a punch. I’ve taken many.

But I can give one, too.

The Best of Billy Coffey: Writing Naked

It’s week three of The Best of Billy Coffey! If you’re new here, in Week 1, I shared a snippet of Billy’s second novel Paper Angels along with a few ways you can enter to win a copy of Paper Angels, Week 2 was Billy’s Come to Jesus Moment. As promised, I’m still choosing a winner each week. You may enter as often as you like, and there are several ways to enter:

  • Leave a comment here or on subsequent “Best of Billy Coffey” posts each Monday indicating you would like to be entered into the drawing.
  • Tweet or post to Facebook a link to this post and/or subsequent posts. (Please be sure to let me know you’re doing so by adding @katdish to the end of your tweet or sharing the Facebook link with me.)
  • Tweet or post to Facebook a link to the Paper Angels Amazon page letting people know it is available for pre-order.
  • Ditto Barnes & Noble
  • Ditto Books-a-Million
  • Ditto Indie-Bound

Each of the aforementioned actions will constitute one entry into the drawing. If you don’t win this week, each of your entries will go back into the drawing. Winners will be chosen at random and will be announced the following Monday. Enter early, enter often, and check back here each week for new opportunities to win.

Thanks in advance for helping get the word out about Paper Angels. If you’re not big into contests, I still encourage you to head over to Amazon or another online retailer and pre-order a copy. I know once you read it you will recommend it to a friends and family, and word of mouth advertising is the very best kind.

The winner of Week Two is Annie McMahon. Congrats, Annie! I’ll post next week’s winner next Monday.

And now, another one of my favorites. Billy shares some great writing advice in his unique Coffey-esque style:

Writing Naked

image courtesy of photobucket.com

image courtesy of photobucket.com

I write in terror. I have to talk myself into bravery with every sentence, sometimes every syllable –Cynthia Ozick

I took exactly one class in writing. It was about fifteen years ago at the community college and was taught by a real published author whose name I cannot recall. But she was published, and as far as I was concerned that was all the credentials she needed.

The first class turned out to be the most useful. That’s not to say the instruction given in the proceeding eleven weeks of the course wasn’t useful. It was. But that first night alone was worth the money.

The twenty or so people in the class formed a semi-circle around the professor, who stood in behind a wooden podium that was much more intimidating than she. We sat at attention, notebooks ready, eager to have our heads filled with the hidden secrets of literary success.

“Tell me,” she said, “what does one need to write?”

The more outgoing among the class were quick with suggestions:

“Time.”

“Perseverance.”

“Skill.”

“Connections.” (That one was met with a nervous chuckle from the rest of the class.)

“Practice.”

Each was met with an approving nod and so was written down by everyone, myself included. But that really wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

“Those are good suggestions,” she said, “but you’re leaving the most important aspect out. Anyone?”

No one.

“Courage,” she said.

I didn’t really understand that and snickered under my breath. Courage? Soldiers needed courage. Cops needed courage. EMTs and stunt men and bullfighters. But writers? Sitting on your butt and typing on a keyboard did not take courage.

“There are some who might disagree with that,” she said—and to this day I swear she looked at me when she said it—“and I understand. You disagree because you’re writing with your clothes on. By the time you leave here, you’ll be writing naked.”

I’ll admit I almost walked out then. I’d heard about kooky writing classes given by kooky professors who did some pretty strange things in the name of “art.” I was afraid if I stuck around I’d end up dressed in a blue tracksuit with a cup of Kool-Aid in my hand because a comet was passing by to take me to heaven.

I stayed in my seat on the whim she was speaking metaphorically.

“There is no greater fear than to face a blank page,” she said. “It mocks and threatens. It challenges you. Give it power, and it will eat you alive. Face it clothed, and you will fail. The only way to beat the blank page is to attack it naked.”

Twelve of the twenty students raised their hands.

“Wait, wait,” she said, moving her hands in a downward motion. “No, I’m not speaking literally. But I’m not joking, either. Let me ask you something else. Why do people write?”

More hands in the air, which she chose to ignore.

“People write because they must. Because there is a story inside them that is meant to be shared with the world. But having that story inside you doesn’t make you a writer. How you tell that story does. And you tell it through honesty.”

She told us to put our pens down and just listen.

“Writers fail because they come to the page fully clothed. They adorn themselves with fanciful plots and layer themselves with complicated character development. They use flowery prose and words you have to look up in the dictionary. They do this not to impress their readers, but to keep their readers at arm’s length. They’re afraid. Afraid to bare their souls and inject themselves into their work. For that they are cowards.

“Don’t simply tell me that faith saves you, tell me how it almost failed you, too. Don’t tell me about love, speak of your passion. Don’t tell me you’re hurt, let me see your heart breaking. I don’t want to see your talent on the page, I want to see your blood. Dare to be naked before your readers. Because that is writing, and everything else is worthless crap.”

I’ll always remember that. In fact, written on an index card taped to my lamp are these two words—Be Naked. Because she was right, that’s what writing is all about. Fiction or non, poetry or devotional, funny or serious, it doesn’t matter. Our calling is still the same:

To bare ourselves so we may be the mirror the world holds to itself.

The best of Billy Coffey: My Come to Jesus Moment

Last Monday I introduced the Best of Billy Coffey series. In case you missed it, I shared a snippet of Billy’s second novel Paper Angels along with a few ways you can enter to win a copy of Paper Angels. I’ll choose one winner each week. The winner may choose either a hardcover copy or an ebook version (kindle or nook). You may enter as often as you like, and there are several ways to enter:

  • Leave a comment here or on subsequent “Best of Billy Coffey” posts each Monday indicating you would like to be entered into the drawing.
  • Tweet or post to Facebook a link to this post and/or subsequent posts. (Please be sure to let me know you’re doing so by adding @katdish to the end of your tweet or sharing the Facebook link with me.)
  • Tweet or post to Facebook a link to the Paper Angels Amazon page letting people know it is available for pre-order.
  • Ditto Barnes & Noble
  • Ditto Books-a-Million
  • Ditto Indie-Bound

Each of the aforementioned actions will constitute one entry into the drawing. If you don’t win this week, each of your entries will go back into the drawing. Winners will be chosen at random and will be announced the following Monday. Enter early, enter often, and check back here each week for new opportunities to win.

Thanks in advance for helping get the word out about Paper Angels. If you’re not big into contests, I still encourage you to head over to Amazon or another online retailer and pre-order a copy. I know once you read it you will recommend it to a friends and family, and word of mouth advertising is the very best kind.

The winner of Week One is Leann aka @mabeswife. Congrats, Leann! I’ll post next week’s winner next Monday.

And now, as promised last week, one of my personal faves from Billy.

My Come to Jesus Moment:

billytestimonypic1bw

You do stupid things when you’re seventeen. Things that maybe don’t make much sense later, but certainly do at the moment. It’s a scary age. You stand right on the pivot point of your life, teetering and tottering between the child you were and the adult you want to become. You try to find your balance, but more often just stumble and fall.

At seventeen, I stumbled and fell.

I referenced Allison in one of my posts this week and the events surrounding her then-anonymous letter to me, and I alluded to what I considered at the time to be a one-way trip into the mountains above my town. At the time, I wrote only what I had to in order to put the rest of the story in perspective. But since so many of you wanted to know how I came to Christ, I’m going to do that right now.

Here’s the part I didn’t tell.

The sad thing about high school is that everyone from teachers to guidance counselors expects you to be able to plan the rest of your life. That’s just not possible. Being a senior in high school is all about living in the moment. The now. It’s enjoying what you have because you’ve realized you won’t have it much longer.

Me, I enjoyed my senior year for that very reason. I was leaving. Headed for either college or some major league farm system. So while my classmates crammed and studied and stressed over SATs, me and my motley crew of friends partied, fought, and chased girls. Looking back, I was being stupid. But at the time? Oh, it was magical.

But it’s usually when we manage to convince ourselves that we have the world on a string that the string breaks. Mine broke during the sixth inning of a baseball game. Not slowly, mind you. I didn’t hear it tighten, didn’t hear it strain. There was just one clean, violent snap.

My future was there, then it was not.

Then there was nothing.

Men define themselves by what they do. It’s one of the first questions we’ll ask when meeting another man for the first time. “What do you do for a living?” we’ll ask. Me, I was always going to answer “Ballplayer” to that question. That was all I had. All I was.

I was an awkward teenager. Never confident, never truly happy. But when I stepped between those lines I was both. It was the one thing in my life that brought me joy.

Also the one thing God took away.

In a matter of weeks I had spiraled downward into the blackest hole I had ever known. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat…couldn’t feel. I was dead inside. Seventeen and dead already.

Those classmates I had been secretly mocking all year I now secretly loathed. They had their entire lives in front of them. Years of happiness. All I had were years of regret and Coulda Been. And I just couldn’t live with that. I just couldn’t live at all.

What I needed, what I craved, was rest. I had shrunk myself down to a gaunt 120 pounds and developed a pack a day Marlboro habit. I couldn’t sleep because of recurring nightmares and couldn’t eat without getting sick. I was killing myself slowly. So why not just get the whole thing over with?

People decide to kill themselves for the simple reason that doing so no longer prolongs the inevitable. Suicide seems like the most rational thing in the world, which is why at that moment you are as insane as you will ever be. I was never going to find rest in this world. The last shred of hope I had said that maybe I would find it in the next.

One thing was for sure. I was going to do it right. My end had to come in the mountains, of course, which was where so much of my life had been lived. And it would come with the obligatory teenage angst, too. I had the music picked out (Cinderella) and the alcohol already stolen (a bottle of Night Train from the local 7-11, snatched after I had sweet-talked the cashier into going into the back to get me a cold Coke. I was always a charmer). I was going to smoke a few cigarettes, down the bottle of three-dollar wine, and jump. For rest. And there would be a smile on my face the whole way down.

There, on that ledge, was when God first spoke to me. “You’re not afraid of dying,” He said, “You’re afraid of living.”

That was true. It didn’t take God to make me realize that. But it didn’t matter. Like I said, my world was black. There were no shining parts, no points of light.

“What if there’s one?” He said. “One point of light. Would you leave?”

I took a long sip of wine and tossed a spent cigarette into the bushes. “How’m I supposed to see a light in all this darkness?” I mumbled.

I looked down over the valley below, quiet and peaceful. And in the middle of all that blackness, I saw one tiny speck of light.

That’s when I left.

I drove home with no music and no alcohol. The cigarettes, of course, were still with me. I decided to take a dirt road home to avoid the police, not considering the potholes that would accompany it. I managed to dodge most of them, but the one I did hit sent my Marlboro light flying out of my mouth and onto the floorboard.

I pulled over at a small church so I could find the cigarette before I managed to either ruin the floor mat or explode my truck. I parked under the light post so I could find it. I did. As I tossed it to the side of the road, my eyes wandered to what had been put on the sign in front of the church:

OUR REST IS IN CHRIST ALONE.

I stared at that sign for a long while. Coincidence? Maybe, I thought. There were a lot of churches around with a lot of things on their front signs. But then I realized this was the only sign I would be able to see this time of night because this was the only church with a light post.

I looked back up the mountain to where I had been, and shuddered as I realized two things. One was that it was not a coincidence at all. The other was that the light post I was under was the speck of light I had seen that convinced me to live.

The best of Billy Coffey: Paper Angels

If you’ve been reading this blog or following me on Twitter for awhile, you already know I’m a big fan and supporter of author/blogger Billy Coffey. Many of you read his blog and read his first novel, Snow Day.

Billy’s second novel Paper Angels will be released November 9. Here’s a sneak peek from the back cover:

Not all angels look like cherubs. Andy Sommerville’s personal angel looks like an old man, and “Old Man” is just what Andy calls him. Ever since Andy was ten years old, the Old Man has been appearing to him–cautioning him, advising him, always trying to set him on the right path. And, over the years, the Old Man has encouraged Andy to collect mementoes of the people who have been important to him and to keep them hidden inside an old wooden box.

Now, things have suddenly gone very wrong for Andy: The victim of a shocking and senseless crime committed at his gas station, he awakes in the hospital to find that he’s been badly burned. Even worse, the Old Man–his lifelong friend–visits one last time to let Andy know that he won’t be seeing him again. But Andy isn’t alone. Beside him in the hospital room sits a woman, Elizabeth, whom Andy takes to be a counselor. With Elizabeth’s gentle guidance, he goes through all the objects in his box, explaining–and reliving–the critical moments of his life. In the process, he discovers the wondrous meaning for which his seemingly ordinary existence has been preparing him.

In order to help spread the word about his new book and introduce some of my new readers to Billy’s writing, for the next several weeks I will be reposting some of my favorite stories from him each Monday. You may recall that Mr. Coffey used to have a regular gig here each Monday, but between a full time job, full time family life and writing books, blogging three times a weeks just got to be too much. He still posts twice a week over at What I Learned Today, but I let him off the hook from writing for me because, as I’ve told Billy many times, he’s no good to me dead.

Beginning today, not only will you be able to read (or re-read) some of my favorites from Billy each Monday, you will also have an opportunity to win a copy of Paper Angels. I’ll choose one winner each week. The winner may choose either a hardcover copy or an ebook version (kindle or nook). You may enter as often as you like, and there are several ways to enter:

  • Leave a comment here or on subsequent “Best of Billy Coffey” posts each Monday indicating you would like to be entered into the drawing.
  • Tweet or post to Facebook a link to this post and/or subsequent posts. (Please be sure to let me know you’re doing so by adding @katdish to the end of your tweet or sharing the Facebook link with me.)
  • Tweet or post to Facebook a link to the Paper Angels Amazon page letting people know it is available for pre-order.
  • Ditto Barnes & Noble
  • Ditto Books-a-Million
  • Ditto Indie-Bound

Each of the aforementioned actions will constitute one entry into the drawing. If you don’t win this week, each of your entries will go back into the drawing. Winners will be chosen at random and will be announced the following Monday. Enter early, enter often, and check back here each week for new opportunities to win.

Thanks in advance for helping get the word out about Paper Angels. If you’re not big into contests, I still encourage you to head over to Amazon or another online retailer and pre-order a copy. I know once you read it you will recommend it to a friends and family, and word of mouth advertising is the very best kind.

Since I’ve already taken up a few minutes of your time with the contest rules and whatnot, I’ll save my “Best of Billy Coffey” post for next Monday.

Thanks again friends,

Kat

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