Saturday, January 14, 2023

Q&A with Jeff Billington




Jeff Billington is the author of the new young adult novel Summer's Second


Q: What inspired you to write Summer’s Second, and how did you create your character Asher?

A: Most coming-of-age books set in rural areas, at least most I’ve read, seem to linger in the past, often with a rose-tinted nostalgia. Think Where the Red Fern Grows, which even taking place during the Great Depression still has a wholesomeness to it.


I felt a need to tell a story that is more contemporary and honest with what life is like for teenagers in areas like where I grew up, the Ozark Mountains of southwest Missouri. There is a lot of poverty there, a lot of substance abuse, and it’s not uncommon to hear of child abuse.


For Asher, I did borrow from my own personality, especially my drive to be more than what others might expect from me, as I often felt like people underestimated me when I was growing up. I also gave him one of my biggest challenges as a teen, growing up gay in a conservative area.


That said, I didn’t drop him in the mid-1990s, when I was his age and felt I could not safely be out, because that’s not the story I wanted to tell with Asher. Instead, I landed him about 15 years later, a time when while acceptance still wasn’t going to be easy, that aspect wouldn’t overpower the other complex issues he is facing.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: The story was roughed out in my mind, though I never put together a formal outline, instead just writing it based on what was in my head. That did create challenges, like getting names of secondary characters confused at times, but I think I benefited from this method as it felt more authentic to me, because life is rarely planned out for us, it just kind of happens as our own story unfolds.


For the ending, it did end up in the same general direction of what I initially imagined, tying up loose ends and providing a largely positive resolution.


There were a couple of major shifts that happened during the process; a friend asked me to create more sympathy for one of the characters, as my original direction was much more severe. This shift actually led to the creation of one of the more startling subplots in the story.

My development editor with NineStar Press also helped nudge me to make a significant change to the story, the addition of an entirely new character. This was a great recommendation, as that character is key to helping alleviate some of the hardship Asher faces and provides a needed friend.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: One of the challenges that Asher faces in the book is that he is illegitimate, and that even though his biological father lives in the same small town, he is completely uninvolved in his life. That father, whose surname is Summer, instead has another son, who is only few days older than Asher, and that’s the son he raised.


The title touches on Asher’s insecurity of where he came from as well as the stigma and gossip that follows him around as he gets older.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?

A: All of us face adversity, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming, especially when we’re young and are lacking some of the understanding and experience to work past it. I’d like those who read it to be reminded that as bad as things might seem there’s always a glimmer of hope, something to work toward.


It tells the story of someone who really got all the rotten cards handed to him, but he learns to find the beauty in what he has and to appreciate himself for who he is. I wish that was something more people were able to do.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have another novel publishing in June called Chicken Dinner News. Ironically, I wrote it before Summer’s Second, but it’s with another publisher so their timeline is different. It takes place in the same fictional town as Summer’s Second, but is an adult contemporary novel, as opposed to young adult.


I’ve also started work on a third book, which is based around the closure of a small country church and the impact on its members and the loss of community it represents.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My personal website,, serves as a bit of a sketchbook for me, home to several short stories I’ve written over the years, though none are professionally edited, so I apologize for all the mistakes in advance.


They all take place in the same fictional town as Summer’s Second, though at different times over the last 130 years or so. There is some crossover as well. For example, one story is about Asher’s grandfather, who’s mentioned in my book, but had died prior to its events taking place.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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