We all travel roads through life that are often shaped by the unforgiving hand of tragedy and self-doubt. Yet, sometimes on our journey towards an unknown destination, our lives intersect with others who teach us about ourselves and the world around us. JB Coffman gives readers an honest and intimate look at life in her well-written and poignant book, “Roote 66.” Read what she had to say below.
When did you first decide that you wanted to be a writer?
I think a lot of writers would tell you that they feel they’ve always been writers and I wouldn’t be different. My mom always read to me and encouraged me to love books and for many people wanting to make up your own stories is a natural progression. But in high school back in the seventies if you were in a lower economic class, artsy careers like writing weren’t heavily encouraged.
So I went to work in the tech side of TV and gave up the idea of writing. But after I’d lived in Ireland for six years in the nineties I came home and wrote a sort of fictional account of that because I was missing my friends so much. I tried the traditional publishing route for a while, got an agent and went through the process of submission and rejection which is not good for the soul I can tell you. But after a few months of that I finally realized that I could write just because I loved it and it didn’t have to necessarily be a career. By then there were ways to share your writing with other people that didn’t require being traditionally published.
Congrats on publishing Roote 66. You have written a poignant story of self discovery and resiliency. How did you conceive of this book?
I’d been thinking about a Route 66 story for a while, kicking around ideas. The Route has a fascination for a lot of people and having grown up out West I’d taken a few road trips with my folks down short sections of the road. One day when I was out having lunch, I overheard a conversation between two guys at the next table. I think a lot of writers, if they’re honest, would admit to constant and shameless eavesdropping. One guy was telling the other guy that after suffering a loss he’d felt left out of the grieving process because he was a man. He felt almost invisible. The character of Ev started whispering in my ear then, telling me his story. Then Rainey popped in with a lot of the same feelings I was having (coincidentally—ha!) about aging and what’s expected of women in general, and in particular as they age. In addition, I’ve always been a ‘love is love’ kind of person and it really bugs me how people still act about older women and younger men. The word ‘cougar’ makes my teeth hurt. I wanted to write a story where two people’s brains connected despite their difference in age.
Ev and Rainey are the main protagonists of your book. How would you describe them for readers?
When we meet Ev he’s in a great deal of pain and is doing anything necessary to get through each day. At the same time he’s wearing a mental hair shirt, punishing himself for what he sees as the worst possible failure for a man. But Ev at his core is a survivor. He’s much stronger than he thinks he is and he hasn’t given up on life as much as he thinks he has. He’s very intelligent, has a quirky sense of humor, and he has a huge capacity to love. What he’s been through has made him compassionate and able to see what’s important in life with all the superficial BS stripped away.
Rainey is also a survivor. She has a huge heart but doesn’t always show her feelings easily. She’s got a bit of armor around that heart especially where men are concerned, and I think this probably comes from giving her heart too easily and to the wrong guys in the past. She’s sometimes crabby and a little judgy, doesn’t suffer fools well, and she’d say she doesn’t care what people think, but she kind of does. That doesn’t mean she’ll change what people might not like about her, but it will bother her. Rainey likes geeky TV shows, writing fan fiction, Doc Martens and Chuck Taylors, nerdy tee shirts, and she almost has a fetish for the color pink when it comes to decorating. She feels like there isn’t another human being on the planet who really gets her.
What would you say are some of the themes of Roote 66?
I would say the main theme is acceptance. Not only accepting other people but also accepting yourself. Accepting that despite your faults and your shortcomings you’re still okay. That you have a right to happiness and love. Small towns often get a bad rep for being insular and judgmental but I think that some of them can also be refuges where people are just accepted for who they are, warts and all. Also I have to go back to the love is love thing. I think if people could look past superficial concerns like age and appearance and culture and economic status, they’d be luckier in love so to speak. Fall in love with someone’s inside instead of their outside and that will last a while.
Why should people read Roote 66?
I think for people who like a quiet, character-driven story it would be a nice, fun read. I like to think the characters are relatable and that readers might even learn something from them. At the very least they’ll learn a little bit about the Route and maybe want to see some of it themselves.
Roote 66 is a marvelous title. Were there any other titles that you considered for your book?
That’s actually the only title I ever had, even the spelling. I knew right away that Brittany was making a scrapbook and she had spelled the word wrong on the cover. It’s funny because usually I go through a dozen different titles before I settle on one. Titles aren’t usually my finest hour, so to speak. I think I’m not alone with that problem though.
Roote 66 is full of rich, well-written characters. The book, I feel, revolves around the parallel journeys of Ev and Rainey. Have you considered writing a sequel to Roote 66?
I thought their story was over but I miss them so much, now I’m not sure. I had thought about writing a Route 66 trilogy with different characters and different stories and they might wander in to Maxie’s for a burger. We might get a peek at how Rainey and Ev and the gang are doing there, or if something interesting happens in the Bend they might get a whole new book. I’m not sure at this point. But I miss the Bend a lot. This probably sounds strange but I hope they’re all doing well there.
Are there any other projects that you are currently working on that you are able to share with us?
When Roote 66 started burning a hole in my brain I was in the middle of editing a YA paranormal story I’d been working on for a while and I’m finishing that up now. It’s about a group of kids who see ghosts and a pediatric psychiatrist who helps them deal with that. They get together to solve a mystery when one of them is plagued with a particularly nasty ghost in his house. Dr. Callahan, by the way, will be physically familiar to anyone who reads Roote 66. I have a type, what can I say. I like tall guys.
In addition to getting that ready to put up, I have a couple of things swirling around in my head including the Route 66 books I mentioned. I’ve also thought about reworking the novel I wrote about my time in Ireland and self-publishing that again. Back in the infancy of self-publishing I used a print-on-demand publishing company for that but they’re no longer in business so I might do that one again. I found that I really enjoy the self-publishing process. Roote 66 was such a personal story, it would have been hard to change things to please someone else. Luckily with self-publishing you’re completely in control.