Billy Coffey

writer, observer, learner

Writing stuff that matters

Devil Walks Update-1She walked up to me at the end of church last Sunday, one wrinkled hand stretched out in search of my own. Her woolen coat was already cinched and her hat pulled down tight, leaving only a wisp of white curls jutting out the sides. She smiled, and I noticed her teeth were too straight and too white to be her own.

“I’ve just read your latest novel,” she said, and then she patted my hand.

I grinned. “Really? Well, thank you, ma’am.”

“Don’t thank me.” Still smiling. “I didn’t like it at all.”

She kept her hand in mine and squeezed, wanting to reassure me that all was still right in the world.

“I see.” It was all I could think to say. “I’ll have to try better next time.”

“I read your first book. Snow Day. That was wonderful.”

“Thank you.”

“Such a nice story. Almost like a Hallmark movie. Have you ever thought of doing a Hallmark movie?”

“I don’t think that’s up to me,” I said.

“But this last one…” She made a face. It was all sadness and misery. But it hid her teeth, and for that I was grateful. “I just don’t know what’s happened. This last book? Awful. Too much heartache. And the characters? The bad ones were good and the good ones bad, and I never knew who was right and who was wrong. And the deaths. Awful, awful stuff. How could you write something like that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Just kind of came to me, I guess.”

“You were always such a good boy. I’ll pray for you.”

“Can always use that, ma’am.”

“Good. Now you go write something like Snow Day. What a lovely book. There was no blood.”

She walked on, tackling the last button on her coat as she did, then tucking her Bible under her arm as she shook the preacher’s hand and then walked into the cold outside. I stood there alone and grabbed my own Bible, trying to find my family and my thoughts.

She was right, you know. There was no blood in my first novel. There was some in my second. A bit more in my third. I suppose I could have told her my next book will be out in March and is called The Devil Walks in Mattingly, but I think that would have only decreased her respect and increased her prayers. I wondered if that kind old lady would read that book. I hoped so and kind of didn’t.

When my first novel came out in 2010, I felt as though I had reached a distinct midpoint in my life. The same world that so often had played out in front of me full of disappointment and despair brightened in the sharp light of hope. I had crawled through the valley. Climbed the mountain.

I felt born again, again.

That feeling hasn’t lessened. Every novel I write is to me a miracle, evidence that God isn’t quite done with me yet. It still sometimes feels like I’m crawling through a valley and climbing a mountain. The only difference is that at the top of that mountain there is always another, higher one, and another, deeper valley. But that’s life for all of us. Those joys we feel, the days of contentment and peace? Those things are merely the peaks upon which we stand and rest before continuing on our long journey to a land we cannot see but can only feel.

After standing on so many of those peaks, I suppose a part of me changed. My writing certainly did. I am a product of my environment, of a small town and blue mountains and dark hollers and folktales of ghosts and angels, brimstone and grace. Between you and me? I sort of ran from that at first. I wanted books that were easy and inspiring. No pain. No hurt. No loss.

Not anymore, though. And ironically enough, it was church that convinced me otherwise. It was my faith. It was that kind old woman’s faith. It was faith in a book we believe is the very Word of God, a book of stories about a serpent bringing ruin; a baby left to float down the Nile in a basket; a lowly shepherd boy facing a giant. A book about a righteous man suffering much for no reason and a prophet being swallowed alive by a whale. Of cities destroyed and countries enslaved. A savior hung to die on a cross. Heartache and blood.

Not easy stuff to read. But real stuff. Stuff that matters a great deal.

Next time, I’ll tell her that.

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“Coffey spins a wicked tale . . . [The Curse of Crow Hollow] blends folklore, superstition, and subconscious dread in the vein of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery.’”

—Kirkus Reviews

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  1. write on, Billy
    with whatever stories He plants within you
    raising my cup to you, fellow Joshua 1:9’r
    be strong
    be strong and very courageous

  2. Thank you! This kind old lady has just made me want to read your latest stories. We would all like life to be happy and joyful all the time but that just isn’t how life is. We read to know we are not alone according to C S Lewis and I like to read stories that are real. Plus I also come from a land of folk tales and ghosts and superstition and there is nothing I like to read about more than those things.

  3. ““You were always such a good boy. I’ll pray for you.”

    LOL!!! Love this post, Billy, and as others say, keep writing from your heart. It’s a good one. A great one. Much better than mine.

    If it’s any consolation, mine’s not even out yet and my mother asked me months ago, “Why can’t you just write nice novels like Karen Kingsbury?”


  4. Well thought out, Billy. I think a lot of people avoid the Bible today, and even go so far as to castigate Christians, because they are afraid of what it contains. They are looking for something easy and painless, something that doesn’t offend themselves or anybody else. “Faith lite”, or thereabouts. “God will give you a free pass, no matter what, so don’t worry. Pass the joint and let’s sing another round of ‘Kum-by-yah'”.

  5. I have always seen Snow Day as an introduction to greater things to come. It touched lightly and inoffensively on topics which need to be dragged into the light. With each successive novel, you’ve done that, and I couldn’t be more proud. If that sweet old woman wants to read nice books with no blood and no heartache, there are plenty of those to choose from. You just keep on doing what you do.

  6. Billy,

    Love that just a conversation with an elderly woman sparked an insightful look into your books. I am thankful that you simply write whatever is laid upon your heart. We all wish our lives didn’t have bad days or evil things didn’t happen but they do. Your book is based on the lives that happen when we live in this world. It isn’t always like snow days and that’s what makes you real. Your books tell us that life happens and it can’t all be wrapped up in a bow. But what I do notice about your books if you read them, God moments happen. Good comes from them. That is the way life is supposed to be. Thank you for always keeping it real! We all see what we want to see, but God sees the outcomes of those storms further down the line than we do. We simply need to have faith and trust in Him that it will all work out.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  7. Billy, I’ve been privileged to read your first two books and hope to have the opportunity to read this coming one and many more. Your work comes from the heart, and that’s what matters. Thanks for sharing this vignette.

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