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: Thank you for this interview, Chad. Can you tell us what your latest book, Me and Bobby McGee, is all about?
Me & Bobby McGee is a sociopolitical satire of modern times that leverages aspects of the thriller genre to create a thoughtful, fast paced ride into a frighteningly funny reality. It uses the catalyst of an underground, white-baby-slave-trade in order to make commentary on several humanistic issues including: economic stability, corporate America, indifference and apathy, greed, the general commoditization of people, and the shallow ways by which we often define ourselves in the contemporary world. The cynical nature of the concept is balanced by a light-hearted, overtly humorous tone as we follow through the booze blurred eyes of Keesey Cypher, a former government assassin turned professional drunk and part-time gambler. After losing his entire bankroll, as well as the money he borrows trying to win it back, to a group of sinister southerners in a New Orleans dive bar, he finds himself broke and deep in their debt. Cypher is then presented with the option to pay with his life or to run a mystery cross country errand for his creditors. Being that the only thing he truly values in life is his own, Cypher settles for the second option at which point he is introduced to his chaperone, the lovely but loony, Miss Bobby McGee. With nothing left to lose, Cypher embarks on a journey fraught with a host of disturbingly hilarious twists and pleasantly demented characters. A journey that allows him to examine the various dimensions of the concept of freedom, as well as the marvelous mosaic of human indecency, from his detached and nearly compassionless perspective.
The story’s main character and narrator is Keesey Cypher, a former CIA assassin who was exiled from the organization for classified reasons. Now in his late thirties, Cypher has since resigned himself to a life of casino-style-dreams and unabashed alcoholism, a detached yet contented sort of wandering decadence. He is plagued by his past as a government sponsored serial killer, but not due to feelings of remorse, it is because he genuinely misses the work. His glaring distaste for people and utter lack of empathy is evident, yet he still manages to come off charming and unsettlingly likeable. A loaner, a lady’s man, a rebel with the wrong cause, Keesey Cypher is an American made antihero.
Cypher’s chaperone on his journey out of debt is the beautiful but malevolent Bobby McGee. A woman of strength, wonder, intelligence, and infinite instability; she is both Cypher’s beacon of inspiration and hope, as well as the consistently crippling, razor-lined thorn in his pride. Bobby was once a devout Christian void of sin, but a mishap involving a paraplegic gambler and her police officer father left her barren of faith and filled with malice. This disposition eventually led her to Dan Bristol, the mastermind and boss of the shifty organization by which she is employed.
Dan Bristol is the 92 year old founder and CEO of an underground syndicate that specializes in purposeful crimes against humanity and international cures for laziness. Originally a southerner from the hills of Kentucky, Bristol was compelled to assemble his organization as a result of his love for fine Tequilas, and because of the unbearable distaste and shame he personally feels for America’s past. His business endeavors have made him very rich and he now runs things from the penthouse of his Las Vegas casino. His intentions are good but his sanity is certainly questionable, although his affinity for PCP may have some bearing on that.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
I can truthfully say that my characters tend to range between two. There are some that I develop purely from the depraved depths of my imagination that are usually personified exaggerations of specific aspects of human society that I am looking to ponder (aka exploit) in a humorous fashion. These ideas usually come about as I am developing the underlying themes that I am looking to explore and satirize, and thus, they may manifest as a person or some other form of being that doesn’t physically exist, though the connections to reality and/or humanity are usually apparent. Then of course there are the people that I have actually encountered in some way or another that end up either appearing as characters in my stories, or becoming the strikingly similar basis for a particular character. In all honesty, these are usually people that I am not particularly fond of or that have wronged me in some way. As I am not a direct perpetuator of violence and commonly find political debates to be vitriol-garnished, exercises in futility, I often find myself using the page for any sort of revenge, backlash, or minority opinion I wish to convey. I also find that creating fictitious characters that closely resemble political figures and pop-culture demigods, as opposed to naming specific individuals, makes slandering them morally simpler and seemingly less malicious.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
When one writes sociopolitical satire or speculative fiction as I do, the plot is often incidental to the underlying themes and the true purpose of the piece. That being said, almost everything I write is meant to be comedic, and therefore it is important to create a visibly humorous plotline so that I can aptly burry all of the deeper meaning behind it, making it such that readers who aren’t concerned with literary analysis can still enjoy the story, the jokes, and the absurdity. Once I establish the primary point of lunacy, the exoskeleton of the satire, and how it will all become relevant and dare I say, meaningful in the end, the rest of the plot is usually discovered along the way. It is safe to say, I take a lot of notes.
Q: Your book is set in several locations. Can you tell us why you chose these places in particular?
There were actually a few factors that influenced the various settings that are used in the book. The first was Kris Kristofferson’s song, Me and Bobby McGee. I wanted to create some subtle connections to the lyrics that inspired the book’s title and with this goal in mind, the story begins in New Orleans and all but completely ends in Salinas. The other settings were chosen because of their relevance to many of the book’s fore mentioned themes, such as greed, indifference, and human commoditization. These locations include Las Vegas, NV, Tucson, AZ, and Nogales, Mexico. I’ll note that in my own travels I have spent extensive amounts of time in each of the destinations that Cypher’s travels lead him too.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
Being that quite a bit of the novel takes place in transit, each city that the characters stop in, plays a fairly important role in the story’s development as each location tends to be reflexive of where Cypher is mentally within the context of the novel. For example, the story begins with Cypher waking in New Orleans from a post Mardi Gras blackout. The festive spirit of the Crescent City exemplifies who he is when the story begins. A mysterious but ignored face in the crowd, only concerned with his next drink, and looking to score in every possible way. He is living only for the moment and doing his best to get by. As high-end risk, personal desire, strategic planning, and greed become more prevalent motifs in his life he takes residence in Las Vegas. Admittedly, it is not essential for the reader to recognize the connections between character and setting to enjoy and/or understand Me and Bobby McGee, but it does add another layer to the depth of the story.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
Page 69 is a part of the chapter that spirals into the first major turning point in Me and Bobby McGee. The details of Cypher’s mystery errand have now been revealed: he is to drive a shady looking, industrial van across the Mexican border to deliver some undisclosed, but presumably illicit, goods to a man named Koetay. Essentially, Cypher is to pay off the debt he incurred in New Orleans by assuming all the risk associated with transporting said goods into Mexico, not to mention returning across the border with a large sum of cash in a suspicious looking vehicle. Cypher is to meet Koetay by an oddly placed statue of the virgin Mary on the desolate outskirts of Nogales, Mexico. On page 69, the two have just become acquainted and Koetay has asked Cypher to drive him and the mysterious cargo back to his residence, a task which Cypher accepts without hesitation. Upon doing so, he comes to find that Koetay’s home is a glorious hacienda, architecturally reminiscent of colonial southern plantations, including acres of green grass that proudly defy the rest of the surrounding desert landscape. There is an air of oddity for certain, but Cypher refrains from being inquisitive… until page 70 that is.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
“Thinking of a way to escape?” the frail but still seemingly fierce voice asked. He still had his hand on my shoulder but now he began to change his position. As he rotated around he placed his other hand on my opposite shoulder and looked me squarely in the eye. The pressure being applied by his hands indicated that he still had plenty of strength hidden behind the withered looks and nursing-home-smell that disguised him on the surface. Aside from early-bird dinner specials and discount matinees, it was clear that the bastard had no use for his age. His jaw drooped slightly to the left, as if one side had been used more than the other, and his rebellion against dentures was evident by the scattered remains of rotting teeth that protruded like melting glaciers through the tundra of his gums. His face was wrapped in the comfort of a full beard in which, it appeared, he kept a collection of leftovers from all of his previous meals. He was bald, but his bushy eyebrows gave the illusion of a forward-parted comb-over as they rested very high upon his head. I gathered that they were as afraid of his eyes as I was. His cold and menacing gaze revealed only one thing: the cruel possibility of anything.
“Are we in Europe?” was the first response I could muster.
“Why?” he asked, “Is that where you were headed?”
“I was just wondering why you are talking so close to my face,” I replied. He stood back, a little abashed by my impoliteness by still tickled by my obvious disdain for European culture. A man does not get to have a long career in government related affairs without first knowing that true patriotism is only achieved by the rejection of everything even seemingly un-American; chances were that this guy had probably invented that requirement.
(From Me and Bobby McGee by Chad Coenson, pg. 243-44)
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Chad. We wish you much success!
Thank you very much for featuring me, I truly appreciate it.