Anyone who listened to Rick Springfield in the '80s knows you don't talk to strangers. But when Horatio "Bobby" Cotton finds the number 1-800-CALL-GOD scrawled inside a stolen self-improvement book, he can't help but dial. That call sets off a free-wheeling, fast-paced journey in Springfield's sometimes irreverent, often thoughtful debut novel Magnificent Vibration, out May 6 from Touchstone. The Jessie's Girl singer, 64, says he grew up wanting to be a writer, and he discusses his novel, and its theological implications, with USA TODAY's Brian Mansfield.
Q: Did you choose the title Magnificent Vibration because Brian Wilson had already used Good Vibrations and you wanted to one-up him?
A: It came out of a self-help thing. I've always listened to tapes and watched guys that I respect. One of them, Bob Proctor, has a DVD series I watch every now and then to tune myself back in to the direction I should be heading.
He used that phrase, talking about what you can do if you really focus on what you want. He said, you can create a magnificent vibration. I loved that phrase and wrote it down, thinking it might be a song or an album title. When I started writing the book, it became the natural title.
Q: What was the first self-improvement book you ever read?
A: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, which was the foundation of them all, really. He started it all, talking to Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, John Wanamaker and all these guys.
As a young kid I thought, "I want to be rich, and this sounds like the book." But it's a spiritual book. For him, it's really not about making money, and Bob Proctor's approach is that it's not about the money. It's about your focus and doing something you love. The money follows. I don't know any musician, successful or otherwise, that got in it to make money. Or writer, for that matter. You get into it because you love it.
Q: You had a well-received memoir, Late, Late at Night, a few years back. How did that experience prepare you to write a novel?
A: It gave me the confidence that I could actually finish a book. 'Cause I started writing a lot of stories. I started writing stories as a kid. That's really what I focused on before music took over. I thought I was going to be a writer, but I channeled that into songwriting once music took ahold of me.
I always hoped I would get back to writing. Writing an autobiography myself, I think, proved that I could do it.
Q: The God that talks to Bobby (a sound editor at an audio/video company that specializes in dubbing Cambodian gangster films into English) is a bit of a wiseacre. In fact, Bobby says God sounds like him, "if I was, I don't know, in charge and a bit drunk." Does he talk like that to everybody? We know he has conversations with other characters in the book, including Alice, a nun on sabbatical. We really hear God talking only to Bobby, though.
A: There is one moment where Alice comes out of the bathroom, having talked to God, and Bobby says, "Obviously, she's had a very different conversation than I did."
I think God does speak differently. It's very much a part of the characters' personalities, which I believe in, too. I think we shape God in our own image a lot of the time.
Q: How do you talk to God, and how do you imagine God talking to you?
A: Not quite like this. This is more an outgrowth of Bobby's attitude. It really took on its own life. Part of me is in every character, but they really do take on their own lives, form some kind of real feeling.
God has spoken to me differently through my life, and it has gotten better as I've gotten older. I don't know if that's my reception or his maturing.
Q: How about Bobby's penchant for good-looking nuns? Do you share that, or did you develop it for the book?
A: That kind of came out of the book. But I do have a lot of deep religious iconography. I have crosses all over my house, and there's something very attractive about seeing nuns walking down the street. It's not a sexual thing for me; I know it is for some guys.
Alice was originally just going to be a girl, then it started feeding into Bobby's whole spiritual-sexual side. I thought that was a funny little hook. It made it a little different than him meeting a regular girl, that she had all her own stuff going on, too.
Q: Do you look at nuns differently now than you did when you started the book?
A: I do look at them and go, "Whoa, you look nothing like Alice."