Thursday, January 12, 2012

Putting Hard Truth in Fiction by Jeff Bibbey, Guest Blogger

I'm pleased to introduce author Jeff Bibbey to my blog today. I just finished reading his novel, Off the Mat, and can report that it does indeed tell the hard truth. It's powerful, it's inspirational, and it's gut-wrenching. I suspect no one could tell this story quite like a teacher and coach.

Jeff Bibbey has been a teacher, coach, and mentor for over twenty years. He resides with his family in Northern Colorado.

Welcome to my blog, Jeff.

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Hard Truth in Fiction by Jeff Bibbey, Guest Blogger


As a grizzled twenty-two year veteran of teaching and coaching, my time in the trenches brought me experiences that claw at my soul. I’ve buried students to overdose, suicide, and accidents, visited and written them as prisoners, and against all advice, brought some into my home. I watched methamphetamine destroy families, and good kids go all the way to murder. My sport, wrestling, attracts a high percentage of risk-takers. The nature of this sport allows teammates and coaches to see aspects of personality often hidden. With a burdened heart, I found myself unable to articulate what I learned to others.

A letter from a former athlete set into action my growth from a dabbler to a writer, resulting in my novel Off the Mat. He was with us a short time, fresh on the death of his father. Finances made his family transient, and he was gone before our relationship could develop. His surprise correspondence years later cited how a few weeks in middle school with an intense coach and an intense sport became something to cling to through long difficult roads.

I am committed to not exploiting real-life stories. I hold confidences of others and remember things they may have erased from their own memories. In addition, I believed I could tell more truth by writing fiction than by citing confusing details that come with complicated lives. At the time Off the Mat came to life, I was frustrated by much of my recent reading. “Epic” novels of 450 to 700 pages provided little payoff for the investment. However, shorter novels such as Falling Boy by Alison McGhee and Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz told deep stories over long periods of time in concise and inspiring fashion. I wanted to create a book that might hook someone into reading it in a weekend flurry, or by staying up too late. I also found spiritual and natural inspiration in David Guterson’s Our Lady of the Forest.

The setting became northern Oregon. Portland and the coastal towns are often thought of in terms of their progress and beauty. But having lived there, I was aware of the underbelly that would support the story. In fact, the northwest has been an epicenter of meth’s destruction. The water –waves, rain, and glaciers, helped set moods. Removing the scenes in the book from my home in Northern Colorado, allowed me to push farther into fiction and further away from my secret experiences.

When the villain of the story is addiction, the protagonists strive. They strive for sobriety, lost love, missed opportunity, the image of intact family. As Off the Mat’s characters strive to touch the hand of God, be warned. Off the Mat is no fairy tale, it pulls no punches. You may not like where it takes you, it can get rough, but I go to sleep at night knowing that through fiction and tall tales, I told the truth.

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Thank you so much for sharing your story, Jeff. This is an excellent post.

Off the Mat was released in the fall of 2011 by booklocker.com. Local release was supported by the Colorado Meth Project. The book is available at Reader’s Cove in Fort Collins, Tattered Cover stores in Denver, and online with Booklocker, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

You can find Jeff on Facebook and his book page is on Facebook too.

10 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Jeff.

Jeff - What a powerful story you have to tell. I'm an educator, too, and have seen my share of heartbreaking things. What an inspried way of sharing those stories. Off The Mat sounds like a truly powerful novel and I wish you much success with it.

Jeff Bibbey said...

Thanks, Margot. Off to work to collect more stories, right? Jeff B.

Kenneth W Harmon said...

Having read Off the Mat, I can attest to the powerful message conveyed by the story. Congratulations Jeff on your fine novel, which I'm sure is just the first of many.

Patricia Stoltey said...

It really is a strong novel, Margot. Jeff has done an outstanding job with his characters.

Jeff, thanks for stopping by so early -- I didn't expect to see you until after school.

Hi Ken, and thank you for telling me about Jeff's book in the first place.

Jenny said...

Hi Jeff and Pat!

Jeff, I'm so glad to see you on Pat's blog. This is a great post. Ditto the comments above. You and your book are an inspiration. As always, my family and I wish you all the best.

Jenny Sundstedt

Jeff Bibbey said...

Ken,
Thanks for your kind support!
Patricia,
I appreciate the effort to read Off the Mat and your supportive words.
Jenny,
Great surprise to hear from you, glad you are a fan of this blog. Folks, Jenny runs a sweet photo and prose based blog called choicecitynative (I think) check it out! Jeff B

Dean K Miller said...

Grew up in Portland. I'll be interested to read his setting/scene as the backdrop for the tale.

Quite often, fiction is the best venue for telling the truth.

Bottom line: if the message is received, does it matter if it's true?

Thanks again, Pat. Off the Mat goes On my List.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I really love the cover! Your name font really fits in well with the image.

Jeff Bibbey said...

Dean,
I made up a suburb, Braxton, which I picture to be extreme NE, by 205, like Troutdale. Lewiston is an altered Seaside. Union Station is in it, and 82nd, the bridges, Clackamas area, and others. I lived there when a tavern was on every corner in SE,and 82nd and downtown a lot grittier.
Nicole, Thank you for the cover comment: a local artist RYAN GUILLAUME did the painting, and booklocker's artist did a nice job of coordinating it. Ryan is a former wrestler. He created a piece for me that combines the long history of wrestling, the striving of those who take the challenge, and the entanglements of the issues that hold us back. The full painting is occasionally on display at Opiate Gallery in Fort Collins.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Jeff, thanks again for being here today. I look forward to hearing more about your writing projects.