In his cross country travels, the name of a single small town beckons: Fairhope. That is where Abel believes his magic lays. The latest novel from Billy Coffey is Some Small Magic (Thomas Nelson). In this Q&A, Billy tells us the inspiration behind the novel, why he named his main character after someone in the Bible, and how his faith impacts him as a storyteller…
Q: What was the inspiration behind Some Small Magic?
I grew up near a section of the Norfolk Southern railroad and spent much of my childhood along the tracks. Trains were a source of adventure to me. I’d hear a whistle and take off out the front door, cut across the cornfield and watch all those cars roll by. Mostly it was coal they carried, but I remember flatbed cars hauling army tanks and others carrying trucks fresh off some city assembly line. And boxcars. Thousands of boxcars. Every once in a while I would get a glimpse of a hobo peeking out of one and feel a sense of wanderlust that nearly burst me. I always wondered who those people were, where they were going and why. Those questions stuck with me long enough that I decided it meant I should write a story about them.
Q: Given some of the story points, it seems interesting that the main character’s name is “Abel” – was that a deliberate choice?
It was. Abel is still a fairly common name in my part of the South, and I liked the Biblical reference. He’s a good kid, an innocent kid, and you can say his life at the start of the novel is one marked by a great sense of unfairness. It’s what Abel does with that unfairness that matters.
Q: The book details a journey – did this require any special research or prep to write it?
Much of the land our three heroes travel is land I’ve traveled myself. This is home to me. The mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina are some of the most rugged country you’ll ever visit, filled with some of the most gracious people you’ll ever meet. But many of these people are hurting in very real ways, and I wanted to tell a bit of their story also.
Q: What was the most challenging part of writing Some Small Magic?
Probably the extraordinariness of it all. It doesn’t take long to realize Abel has found himself in a pretty strange situation, especially with the arrival of Dorothy into the story. Death is always a tricky thing to write about. When Death is an actual character? Even trickier. The mystical element is much more present in this story than in many of my others. The trick was to weave that sense of supernatural so deeply into the natural world that the reader is left thinking, Well of course it’s really like this. How else could it be?
Q: What do you hope readers take away after reading the novel?
I’d say the message of the novel is an affirmation of the two things that give us hope: death is a beginning rather than an end, and love overcomes all.
Q: How does your faith impact the way you approach writing stories?
The choice every writer has going into a book is to tell a good story about how we’re all different, or a great story about how we’re all the same. My faith tells me that deep down, we’re all the same. That’s why so many of my characters are ones lost looking to be found and ones broken looking to be made whole, because that’s all of us at some point. The grace they find is the grace available to us all.