It’s the week of Thanksgiving, a time when most folks are counting their blessings, and I count my friendship with Billy Coffey as a big one. He’s one of the first real writers I met when I began my own novel writing journey, and in addition to being an incredibly gifted writer, he is an honest gentleman, and as real as they come.
So today it’s my sincere pleasure to share this interview with you, as well as some insight into his FIFTH novel, which one lucky person who leaves a comment will win (and I hope the rest of you will buy)!
Without further ado, here’s more about Billy:
Raised in small-town Virginia, Billy Coffey is the author of five novels, including Snow Day (2010) Paper Angels (2011), When Mockingbirds Sing (2013) and The Devil Walks in Mattingly (2014). He he’s a husband and father, and in his own words, he believes the best life is one lived in the country enjoying the pleasures it provides—summer nights beneath the stars, rocking chairs on the front porch, deer grazing in the fields … and that no matter how iffy life can get sometimes, there are some things that are eternal and unchanging. Above all else, he believes that in everything there is story waiting to be told.
A motherless girl hungry for hope . . . and the dream that could be leading her astray.
Almost two years have passed since twelve year-old Allie Granderson’s beloved mother Mary disappeared into the wild tornado winds. Her body has never been found. God may have spilled out his vengeance on all of Mattingly that day—but it was Allie’s momma who got swept away.
Allie clings to memories of her mother, just as she clings to the broken compass she left behind, the makeshift Nativity scene assembled in Allie’s front yard, and to her best friend, Zach. But even with Zach at her side, the compass tied to her wrist, and the Nativity characters just a glimpse out the window, Allie cannot help but feel lost in all the growing up that must get done.
When the Holy Mother disappears from the yard one morning, Allie’s bewilderment is checked only by the sudden movement of her mother’s compass. Yet the compass isn’t pointing north but east . . . into the inky forest on the outskirts of Mattingly.
Following the needle, Allie and Zach leave the city pavement behind and push into the line of trees edging on the Virginia hill country. For Allie, the journey is more than a ghost hunt: she is rejoining the mother she lost—and finding herself with each step deeper into the heart of the darkest woods she’s ever seen.
Brimming with lyrical prose and unexpected discoveries, In the Heart of the Dark Wood illustrates the steep transition we all must undergo—the moment we shed our child-like selves and step into the strange territory of adulthood.
Sounds amazing! Tell us more, please!
Q: HOTDW is one of the most unique books I’ve read in a long time, reminding me at once of Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. Did either of those works inspire this story?
BILLY: I grew up living in both Narnia and Rivendell, at least in my mind. I’ll still go through The Lord of the Rings every few years, and it’s always like I’m reading those books for the first time. There’s just a magic to it all. Not just the stories and the characters, but the language itself. Tolkien was a genius.
Q: I write my first drafts in longhand, which some folks think is pretty weird. Do you have any strange or unique writing habits?
BILLY: I’ve written all my books with an old Waterman fountain pen and stack of blank Rhodia paper. I don’t think I could function without either one.
Q: What book do you wish you could have written?
BILLY: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. I read it for the first time a while back, then turned right around and read it again. It’s still on my nightstand. It might just be the best novel I’ve ever read.
Q: Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?
BILLY: I grew up with Lewis and Tolkien. They inspired me, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they inspired me to write. Hemmingway did that. My high school English teacher gave me a copy of The Old Man and the Sea one day. I read it in a night and have been hooked on writing since. Flannery O’Connor is my favorite author. Stephen King is a close second.
Q: What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?
BILLY: I’d have to say the marketing. It’s travel and interviews on the radio and (twice) television. I wouldn’t say I hate it because I don’t (at least, when it’s over with I don’t), but I’m an extreme introvert. I like solitude, and I like quiet. For a few months out of the year, I don’t get to enjoy much of that. That said, I’m thankful for every bit of marketing I can do, even if I’m still trying to figure out why anyone would want to interview me.
Q: Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
BILLY: It’s hard for me to write about family scars. My own are fair game. But the ones I love? I just can’t do that, even with fiction.
Q: Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
BILLY: Racy, by far. Which I guess is why I write so few of them. You have to wield a delicate hand when you’re doing that sort of thing, especially for the Christian market.
Q: Have you ever gotten into a bar fight?
BILLY: My last fight came when I was around nine years old. It wasn’t in a bar.
Q: Allie and Zach often find themselves in situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
BILLY: Before my kids were born, I was up in the mountains one December day and got completely turned around. I’d blazed my trail well enough (or thought I had, anyway) but couldn’t find a single mark leading back. So there I was, stuck in some dark holler about eight miles on the backside of nowhere, and the sun was already going down. And you know what? I was scared to death. Truly. I had a knife and could get along okay if things got down to it, but you don’t want to play Grizzly Adams in those situations, you just want to make it back to your truck. I ended up doing exactly what Allie and Zach do—I followed the water.
Q: You sure don’t shy away from death and the afterlife in our writing. What do you want your tombstone to say?
BILLY: Something upbeat and completely redneck, like Whoah, that was awesome!
Q: What literary character is most like you?
BILLY: I’m a little bit of Raylan Givens, a dash of Boyd Crowder, and a lump of Samwise Gamgee.
Q: If you were an animal in a zoo, what would you be?
BILLY: I had an old Apache Indian tell me once that my spirit guide was a wolf. I still have no idea what he meant, but I really like wolves.
Q: Do you have any scars? What are they from?
BILLY: I am riddled with scars, mostly from boyhood (dog scratches and hard falls) and baseball (I’ve broken eight out of ten fingers).
Q: What’s the one question you never get asked in interviews that you really wish someone would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
BILLY: What are you scared of? The answer is mostly everything, but clowns especially.
Q: What are you working on now? Will we see more of Mattingly?
BILLY: My next book will be out this summer. It’s the first one that takes place outside Mattingly, in one of the little hamlets that dot the mountains. It’s called The Curse of Crow Hollow. After that, though, it’s back to Mattingly.