Author: Helen Sedwick
Page count: 244
Genre: Historical fiction/Young adult
Price: trade paperback $9.99; e-book $5.99
I grew up in a theater family in New York City. I majored in English at Cornell University and worked as an advertising copywriter before attending the University of Chicago Law School. After graduation, I moved to San Francisco Bay Area where I practice business law. I have been a finalist and received honorable mentions for short stories in the Writer’s Digest Competition for Mainstream/Literary Fiction, the Lorian Hemmingway Short Story Contest, and bosque (the magazine). I recently won second place in the Redwood Writers Flash Fiction Contest for a piece adapted from COYOTE WINDS, and my work appears in bosque (the magazine) and Redwood Writers Vintage Voices 2012 Anthology. I now live in the Sonoma wine country with Howard Klepper, a builder of handcrafted guitars, and an exuberant hound dog named Farlow.
Tell us about your book:
COYOTE WINDS is a coming-of-age story about a teen-age boy Myles and his one-eyed coyote Ro on the prairie in the years leading up to the Dust Bowl. In a parallel story, Myles’s grandson, Andy, comes to realize that his grandfather’s boyhood of hunting rabbits and snaring rattlesnakes sounds better than his safe, suburban routine of algebra and soccer practice. He sets out to have some adventures of his own.
Thematically, COYOTE WINDS explores the American can-do spirit that drew people to the wind-swept prairie and the consequences of that spirit, both good and bad. It opens during the ‘Great Plow-Up’ of the 1920s, a time of optimism and confidence when a man was measured by what he produced, not what he could buy. It ends in the early part of the Dust Bowl when that spirit is challenged by drought and the Great Depression. And it asks whether that spirit survives today.
How long did it take to write the book?
I started writing the book in late 2008. I wrote the first draft in two months, but then rewrote and revised the manuscript off and on for four years. Scenes and chapters came and went, darlings were killed, small characters grew into major ones. Writing a novel is a messy process.
What inspired you to write the book?
I was inspired to write COYOTE WINDS by my father’s stories of growing up during the Dust Bowl. While there was plenty of blowing dust in his stories, he also talked about freedom and adventure. With the schools closed, he spent his days hunting and exploring. He collected arrowheads and grasshoppers. He listened to radio serials like Little Orphan Annie, Tom Mix, and Jack Armstrong, All American Boy. He camped out on the prairie grass and counted a thousand shooting stars. I wanted to contrast my father’s unfenced boyhood with the over-supervised life of a modern, suburban boy who “couldn’t ride a bike without a helmet, play soccer without pads, or ride in a car with a driver under thirty.”
As I researched the Dust Bowl, I discovered that it is a classic example of American optimism. That can-do attitude which got us to the moon is the source of our greatest achievements, but also our worst follies. It drew families to the dry, wind-swept prairie with dreams of owning their own land and feeding the world. For a few years, many succeeded. But eventually “the wind did what it always did. Blow. And the men and women who tore up the land gave the wind the weapon that ripped their dreams apart.”
COYOTE WINDS is about good families doing what they believed to be the right thing, only to have the results turn out so terribly wrong. I wanted to tell that story.
Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?
I practice law for a living, and I find that I have a hard time making the transition between practicing law and writing fiction. If I jump back and forth, I end up not focusing well on either. So rather than write every day, I have ‘law days’ and ‘writing days.’
Research—that was the fun part. I researched coyotes, rattlesnakes, rifles, prairie dogs, homesteading, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and the Volga Germans settlers. I looked at old Vogue and Harpers magazines to see what young women like Clare were reading. I watched 1930’s movies, including gangster movies and Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, and listened to old radio serials. I watched videos of swing dancing and the lindy hop. Whenever my writing got stuck, I researched and came up with new ideas.
What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
I hope they come away with a better understanding of the human side of the Dust Bowl. When most people think of the Dust Bowl, they remember grainy black-and-white photos of looming clouds and impoverished families. They might not appreciate that it was a full-color event involving hard-working, well-intentioned people. I hope readers will understand this history on the personal scale.
I also hope readers will have a better appreciation that predators like coyotes play an important role in the balance of nature.
Finally, I want people to wonder if overprotecting our children stifles their dreams and ambitions.
Where can we go to buy your book?
My book is scheduled to be released in March 2013 and will be available on Amazon (trade paperback and e-book), Smashwords (e-books in all formats), BarnesandNoble.com and other on-line retailers, and by order through your local bookstore. You can also order copies directly from Ten Gallon Press at email@example.com.
Any other links or info you’d like to share?
My website: www.helensedwick.com
Excerpt from book:
The following except describes a rabbit drive.
One evening, driving the eleven miles between Vona and the farm, Myles counted one hundred and ten rabbits in the headlights. Mangy cottontails and skittish jackrabbits stared at the truck with half-starved eyes glowing red in the headlights.
Farmers pulled rabbits out of hog troughs and corncribs. They caught thin babies squeezing through garden fences. One woman found a brood in her cellar, but not before they had eaten a season’s harvest of potatoes. At the hardware store, at the feedlot, after church, all people talked about were rabbits. In his Sunday sermon, the minister ranted against the long-eared devils.
The farmers blamed the ranchers for killing all the coyotes. The ranchers blamed the farmers for planting all the rabbit food. The county called for rabbit drives and offered a bounty of two cents an ear. It would provide the chicken wire if the towns provided the clubs.
One morning, Lionel and Myles helped a group of men set up a fence in a large circle with a funnel leading into it. Then they joined over a hundred people gathered beside the Republican River. Neighbors chatted with one another, catching up on marriages, babies, and deaths. A man from Burlington offered homemade ale in Mason jars. Boys tossed ax handles in the air like batons, and men held barking dogs on tight leashes. As the sun warmed the air, mist rose from the backs of anxious horses.
Myles saw Tommy herding his younger brothers and sisters into the crowd. Each carried a club or a stick. Herbert was showing the little ones how to swing. Myles and Lionel had left Shirley standing at the house, her arms crossed in front of her chest. Between her chickens and hogs, she said she’d seen enough killing. And Clare had waved them off. She had bought an old typewriter from the Burlington newspaper when it closed down, and she was teaching herself to type. She claimed that the typewriter, not the tractor, was the machine that would change the world. Every time she said that, Lionel grew red in the face.
Myles watched the crowd fan out into a circle at least half a mile across. The men with dogs and horses rimmed the outside. Then a shot fired, and the crowd, shouting and whistling, moved inward toward the fenced area. In front of them, panicked rabbits exploded from the grasses. Those that tried to break the line were run down by the dogs or clubbed in flight.
As the crowd moved in, people became giddy. Hundreds of rabbits ran ahead of them into the fenced pen. They looked like a herd of sheep, except for the big ears and loping gate. A loud cheer rose as the men closed the funnel and trapped the rabbits.
Myles’s ears rang with the sounds of the hooting crowd. As he climbed inside the fence, he stumbled over the terrified rabbits. He wondered why they didn’t jump the fence, why they huddled in thigh-high bundles and bit one another. He almost tossed a handful over the fence so he could watch them bolt to freedom and life.
With so many people in close proximity, no guns were allowed. So men and women swung their clubs down onto the heads of the rabbits. Myles had killed rabbits before, but always from the comforting distance of a gun. He hadn’t known they cried when frightened. They squealed like a door hinge in need of oil. No, like a baby pig. No, like a newborn baby. They squealed by the hundreds. Myles could not do it. He could not lift his club. Lionel took him aside. “I know it’s brutal. But the rabbits will starve us out.”
“If people like Moser didn’t kill all the coyotes,” Myles argued.
“Don’t act better than your neighbors,” Lionel barked. “Do your part.”
But Myles couldn’t. He pretended to swing, intentionally missing the rabbits, twice hitting his own shin with a painful smack. His clothes grew soggy with sweat, blood, and brains.
At the end of the day, the crowd had killed over four hundred rabbits. To get the bounty, people chopped off ears and stuffed them into burlap sacks. The earless cottontails were split among the families. Some farmers took jackrabbits for pig feed and pelts. The rest of the carcasses were left for the buzzards, coyotes, and rats.
On the drive home, Lionel hummed a tune. “Bet you some day they’ll put radios in trucks like this. People will drive their Fords and Chevrolets and listen to music at the same time.”
Myles sank low in his seat. Every bump in the road shook his bones and rattled his teeth. He didn’t remember the days being so cold, so gray. He didn’t remember aching like this. He couldn’t understand how land so flat made a ride so rough.
He had to cover his ears to block out his father’s songs.