With each novel Billly Coffey has released, his writing and story-telling skills have taken a quantum leap upwards. When Mockingbirds Sing, his brand-new book, is the kind of fiction I wish all Christian novelists were producing.
Billy is one of my favorite people: geeky-cool and polite and incredibly well-read. That’s not why I promote his work, though. I have too much respect for literature to fudge about quality. Billy just also happens to be one of my favorite writers, period, and is getting better all the time.
When Mockingbirds Sing is one of a planned series of stories set in the fictional small town of Mattingly. The book centers around Leah, a wise child with a bad stutter who creates marvelous, disturbing paintings. Her best friend and fierce defender is Allie, one of the most delightful characters I’ve ever run across. There is a storm coming to Mattingly. Nerves are on edge and relationships are in jeopardy. Just who is the Rainbow Man? Will anyone heed Leah’s message?
Oh, and there is a goosebump-y description of the music in Heaven that is so perfect, upon reading it I immediately demanded to know whether Billy (a non-musician) had come up with it himself. (He had.)
Books have to be really good to hold my attention these days. This one is, and did. And you’ll want to get in on this cast of characters now, because I have it on impeccable authority that Billy’s next novel, The Devil Walks in Mattingly (already written, and due out next spring), is knock-your-socks-off sensational.
Billy Coffey is the real deal. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a Q&A for you.
Billy, which character in When Mockingbirds Sing is most like you? Which is least?
I wish I could say Allie or Leah or even Barney, but if honesty is what’s called for here, I’ll say I’m most like Reverend Goggins. I think a lot of us are. Because really, who hasn’t leafed through one of those shiny magazines at the grocery checkout and thought, Why does that idiot get all the good stuff in life and not me?
As far as which character is least like me, that would have to be Tom. He has no spiritual inclinations whatsoever. I get whimsical at the sight of a rainstorm.
You write children’s dialogue as well as anyone I’ve read. Do you find that kid’s dialogue flows better than adult’s, because kids are so unguarded?
This is the first novel I’ve written that focuses on children. I was a little worried about that, mostly because it’s been so long since I was a kid. But it was extremely freeing in a way, and I had my own kids to serve as guides. There’s no filter when it comes to what kids say. And oftentimes what they want to say is so big that it gets mangled in the limits of their vocabulary. The result is part innocent humor and part lyrical philosophy.
Unlike many Christian authors, you are unafraid to let really bad things happen to your characters. If one of them were to lose faith altogether, would you let it happen?
Absolutely I would, because that stuff happens all the time. People lose their faith. People die. People are mean and nasty. Things don’t always work out the way we want them to. My novels tend to have supernatural elements, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want them to mirror real life. And real life is tough because the world is tough. If you want to read a story where the characters are black and white and everything gets wrapped up in a nice pretty bow at the end, you should probably go read someone else. I’m not interested in any of that.
Are we going to hear from Allie again in the future? (Correct answer is “yes.”)
Leah might be the main character in Mockingbirds, but I’ve always seen Allie as the story’s soul. Everyone but her seems to get some closure by the end. That was intentional, because her story isn’t done. Of all the characters I’ve created, she’s my favorite. Which means yes, you’ll be hearing from her again. And yes, it won’t necessarily be pretty.
I’m forcing you to pick one of each. Who is your favorite living author, and who is your favorite living physicist?
Stephen King, hands down. The man is not only a genius, but he seems like a really cool guy. Lee Smith would be a close second.
Favorite living physicist is a tougher one. Hawking is maybe the smartest guy in the world. But Neil deGrasse Tyson is just as smart, and he seems pretty down to earth. Plus, he was on The Big Bang Theory. I’ll go with him.
Hawking was on TBBT, too. Just sayin’. Okay, you get to spend an afternoon with the living writer of your choice. Who do you choose?
You know what? JJ Abrams. I think he’s brilliant. Watch his TED talk. The man is doing Star Wars and Star Trek. He was behind both Lost and Fringe (two of the best shows EVER), and he knows what makes a great story. Plus, his glasses are cool.
That Ted talk was crazy good. J.J.’s mind moves at a million miles an hour. Speaking of really fast things, would you rather go on a private tour of Cern, or of the Hubble Telescope?
The Hubble. Tiny things like particles leave me intrigued. Big things like galaxies leave me in awe. I like being awed.
Besides reading or writing, what activity makes you completely lose track of time?
Give me a mountain to walk in or a fishing pole, and I can check out of the world for hours. I love getting immersed in a good movie. Something old, involving a murder and guys in fedoras. And chess. I can get lost in a chess board.
For 48 hours, you can be any character from British literature. Who and why?
I know this sounds like a canned answer, but who wouldn’t want to be Holmes for two days? Especially if I could have hair like Benedict Cumberbatch.
YOU HAD ME AT BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH. Okay, now for the lightning round. Top three books you’ve read in the last year?
Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories, John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Walker Percy’s Signposts in a Strange Land. I’ve just started reading that last one, but I can already tell it’s gonna be one of the top 3.
Three favorite “rabbit hole” websites?
i09.com. I visit it every day, and it’s utterly amazing. Arts and Letters Daily is a really good one, too. And I’ve recently discovered Atlas Obscura. That one’s a little hard to explain. You just have to go there.
Generally speaking, music or silence?
Music. Anything from Johnny Cash to AC/DC, depending upon what I’m writing.
Open Range or 3:10 to Yuma?
3:10 to Yuma. Open Range is a great movie, but it wasn’t written by Elmore Leonard.
Favorite 19th-century Russian fiction writer?
I can’t decide on either Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, so I’ll go with Gogol. His Dead Souls is a masterpiece.
You can see why I like Billy, yes? You can order When Mockingbirds Sing here on Amazon, or pick up a copy at your local Barnes and Noble. And you can go here for a chance to win a free copy of the book, autographed by Billy. Or here, where they’re giving away five copies!
If you need further convincing, here’s the book’s super-cool trailer: