Monday, March 10, 2014
Sittin on the Porch Talking with Billy Coffey!
Picture us just sitting on the front porch sipping some sweet tea as twilight settles over the town of Mattingly, Virginia the backdrop for his latest book When The Devil Walks in Mattingly. I am here tonight with Mr. Billy Coffey (sounds like the drink only spelled differently, a reference to The Green Mile) whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing through the blogging world just before any of his books were published, and I am so thrilled to watch the progress of where he is headed one book at a time.
In our last interview just after When Mockingbirds Sing, you had stated that The Devil Walks in Mattingly would be a much different, deeper and darker book. After reading it, I would have to agree with you. What would you say to people who have read your books like Snow Day and Paper Angels that wonder why your books have taken on a much darker and violent tone?
There’s no doubt that my last two novels are much different in tone and scope than my first two. I’d say Snow Day and Paper Angels were the best books I could write at the time. I’m proud of them, I think they’re good novels, but I was just starting out with fiction and kind of feeling my way. One of the many benefits of having Thomas Nelson as my publisher is that they’ve really let me be free to write the kinds of stories I want, and I’ve always been drawn to those deeper and darker books. Maybe it’s a Southern thing. I’m a product of my environment. I grew up on old mountain stories of the supernatural and tales of moonshine wars. As strange as it may sound, there’s something very honest about those old tales. They speak a great deal to the grace and violence that lies in the human heart.
In such great novels that are studied in school, there is always an underlying theme. What is the theme in The Devil Walks in Mattingly?
There’s an undercurrent of remorse and regret throughout the book, not just from Jake, Kate, and Taylor, but from nearly all of the characters. They all carry a burden, and that burden has grown so heavy over the years that they can barely continue on. I don’t set out to write about a theme, it usually just pops up on its own while I’m doing the writing. What popped up this time was that notion that we’re all carrying a burden, and it’s only grace that allows us the freedom to lay that burden down.
I found it unusual that you used two distinct symbols pertaining to animals, why the use of the mockingbird in When Mockingbird Sings and just what do the butterflies symbolize in When The Devil Walks in Mattingly? Will there be something in your next novel as well, if so what might that be?
The mockingbird from When Mockingbirds Sing was a memory. When I was growing up, a mockingbird would sing every night during the summer from the maple tree in my backyard. I couldn’t go to sleep until I heard it. It was my mom who told me that bird was singing for a mate—for a love it wanted but didn’t have. That just stuck with me.
The butterflies in Devil sort of came out of nowhere. I was stuck writing Jake’s first dream, and that image just popped in my head. Butterflies seem so angelic in a way, so innocent. They made a good image for something that bridged heaven and earth.
At the beginning of When the Devil Walks in Mattingly, the publisher posted a note that these novels can be read in any order, but doesn’t The Devil Walks in Mattingly come first? What can you tell us about the random order of the novels, meaning why can the reader choose to read them in any order?
All of my novels can be read alone in the sense that the stories are self-contained. For this book, though, I thought it helpful to note that the events happened four years before When Mockingbirds Sing took place. The Devil Walks in Mattingly actually runs parallel to my second novel, Paper Angels. It tells the second half of that story. The book after Devil will pick up where Mockingbirds left off.
What is the idea behind the setting of Happy Hollow? When I read it, it reminded me about the ancient circle in Stephen King’s novel Pet Semetary. It definitely sounds like a place where boys would receive a dare to trespass in an effort to show what they are made of?
There are 30,000 acres of wilderness outside my front door known to everyone around here as The Coal Road. It’s a beautiful place, pristine and largely untouched, but it will seriously creep you out if you get stuck in there at night. All sorts of stories are associated with that wood, everything from ghosts to witches to monsters. Mattingly is written as though it’s this small town sitting on a thin spot between worlds. I wanted one place where that spot is thinnest. Happy Hollow felt like the perfect place, and The Coal Road offered me the perfect description of it.
Can you give us a sneak peek into what lies ahead in the next novel for the town of Mattingly? I know you stated that it revolves around Jake the Sheriff as well as Allie and Zach in Heart of the Dark Wood.
In the Heart of the Dark Wood picks up about a year and a half after most of Mattingly was destroyed by the tornado. The town is trying to heal, as are the people. It’s a bad time for everyone, Allie especially. She’s still clinging to the hope that her mother is alive, and that hope takes her on the journey of her life.
Thanks again Billy for taking the time out of your busy day to once again enlighten us into the writer’s heart of yours! I wish you much success and God’s blessing as this book finds its way into the hands of readers everywhere.
The Devil Walks in Mattingly by Billy Coffey is available everywhere beginning tomorrow, but trust me, don't wait. Visit his website and order When Mockingbirds Sing and When The Devil Walks in Mattingly. Check back in tomorrow to get my thoughts on The Devil Walks in Mattingly!