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.
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.
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.