Interview: 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.

Enjoy this interview.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?

Presently I reside to the west of Portland, OR with my beautiful wife, Megan, though I was born on the East Coast. For many years I was spellbound by the charms of the road which made me reliably nomadic for a while before finally settling down. I began writing when I was very young and truthfully, the memory is still rather vivid. I was in the third grade and we were all given a short writing prompt and told to finish the story. After stapling six pages together I realized that there was nothing in life I enjoyed doing more than writing and so I started doing it all the time. In fact, there was a point where anytime I had a blank piece of paper in front of me, which was typically when I was supposed to be taking notes, it was used for constructing poems and short stories. Needless to say, there were one or two instances where I had to learn entire curriculums a day or two before exams. Luckily in college I was able to major in Creative Writing so I could finally have an excuse to write all of the time. When I’m not writing, which is rarely, I can be found brewing beer, trekking trails, wrangling waves, hitchhiking the galaxy, and shaking my bones to live music.

Tell us about your latest book. What do you hope readers take away from it?

Me and Bobby McGee is an unabashed American satire that cynically celebrates the lunacy of modern civilization. It incorporates aspects of the thriller genre to take readers on a fast-paced journey through a horrifying but hilarious reality, complete with “more-than-classified” global secrets and compassionate crimes against humanity. By using the catalyst of an illicit and appalling cure for laziness, the novel playfully explores a host of humanistic issues such as: economic stability, human commoditization, apathy and indifference, greed, and how selfish desires tend to supersede what is best for collective society. The serious nature of the concept is balanced by an unmistakably, lighthearted tone as the book’s intention, beyond inspiring more laughter in the world, is to provoke thought, not to tell people what to think. At the helm of this absurd adventure is Keesey Cypher, a former CIA assassin turned professional drunk with a penchant for games of chance, a disposition of detachment, and a priceless collection of vices. After losing every cent he has to his name, including the money he borrows to win it back, Cypher is forced to run a cryptic cross-country errand in the company of his appointed chaperone, the gorgeously insane, Miss Bobby McGee.

My hope is that readers come away with a sore belly from laughing more than anything, but beyond the boundaries of pure entertainment, I am hoping folks will consider the frightening truths on the other side of the satire and be more conscience of such things as they encounter them in their daily lives. In essence, the book aims to inspire civil conversations about subjects of significance. We live in a time where it tends to be difficult to discuss any issues of importance without having someone hurl their opinion at you like a sharpened spear, naturally forcing defensive action. This gets us nowhere and often keeps people unnecessarily divided. From my own experiences, I have come to find that the most disarming and productive way to discuss complicated matters and universal controversy is with humor. Me and Bobby McGee is rooted in that philosophy.

Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?

I am currently working on my second novel which I hope to have completed by the end of the year. The new book examines more of humankind’s flaws and folly in the same comedic fashion, though the story and subject matter are vastly different from Me and Bobby McGee. And truth be told, I have a third book in mind as well that I have already begun structuring. My ultimate goal, personal nirvana, is to reach a point where I can support my family through my writing alone. In the interim, my aim is to find an agent to represent me but even more so, to stay true to my readers by continuing to entertain and challenge them by maintaining the caliber of writing they have come to expect.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

After much deliberation I would have to say that the most interesting book I have ever read is probably The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This may be a bit surprising since I am so wholly immersed in

fiction and satire, but one has to build a firm understanding of reality before exploiting the inane absurdity that festers graciously within it. In any case, I took away quite a bit from that piece of literature and fortunately I was fairly young when I first got a copy of it. I say this because it opened my eyes to a multitude of truths and concepts that spanned far beyond the pages of the book itself. Honest and captivating, the text ignited my passion for questioning history, or more so, the version of history kids are taught in American grade schools. Furthermore, it had a direct and lasting influence on my view of the social infrastructure in the US and internationally. The impact El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz’s life experiences, trials, and revelations had on me as an individual equates more to a feeling than a thought, making it hard to define with words.

Favorite authors?

I’m glad this question is being asked in the plural form as it is painfully difficult to pick just one. The top three would probably be Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, and Terry Southern. Ken Kesey, Douglas Adams, Jonathan Swift, and Tom Robbins are probably the middle section of the lead pack, with John Kennedy Toole and Henry Miller not far behind.

Book you’re currently reading?

I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. It is truly the most beautiful brand of American cynicism I have read in a long time, and it marvels me to see how prophetic Miller really was with his statements about America’s future despite them being written in 1939. What is even more uncanny to me is how similar Miller’s views are to my own, regardless of the immense generation gap. In fact, this book was recommended to me for that very reason and suffice to say, I will be reading it a second time, but with a highlighter in hand.

Any type of writing ritual you have?

Other than using the underappreciated benefits of sleep deprivation to come up with crazy ideas, I would say I really don’t have much of a writing ritual. Although, I do like to write by candlelight when it gets to be the witching hour.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?

I don’t believe in writer’s block in the conventional sense. Meaning, I don’t think it is possible to be completely blocked up to the point of being unable to write at all. I do however think that it is possible to get stuck within a particular idea, thus making one unable to move a specific story forward. When this happens to me, I typically stop working on the troublesome piece and start something new altogether, even if it is something I will ultimately discard. By focusing my mind on something fresh, it quells the frustration that is derived from being “blocked”, and reassures me that even though I am in literary limbo, I haven’t lost the ability to write altogether.

In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?

I’d have to say that unaffiliated readers are the best measure of a successful writer. By that I mean if strangers are consistently enjoying one’s work, recommending it to others, and wanting more, I would consider that success. Whether it is an immense fan-base or a modest following is irrelevant. If people are truly appreciating a writer’s work and understanding its purpose, the number of readers will inevitably increase over time.

Advice for other writers?

Never compromise your craft. Grow and evolve, but stay true to your vision and the things that inspired you to write in the first place. Also, the publishing world is challenging to navigate, especially when you are new to it. If you know someone, or if you can hire someone with expertise to help steer you through the muck and mire, it will make your life remarkably easier. If you haven’t yet experienced it, you’ll be amazed at how difficult it is to write a new book while publicizing another.

Where can we learn more about you?

If you have security clearance, you can learn plenty about me from the extensive and growing collection of FBI files. Aside from that, you can visit me on the web at www.chadcoenson.com or find me on Facebook.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Keep thinking, it’s good for your health.

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