Coyote Summer by Laura Koerber Genre: Magical Realism, Coming of Age
Ben O’Rourke, his best friend Clint, and their classmate Claire were supposed to grow up to be wealthy, prominent people like their parents. They were private school kids, raised in the belief that they were obliged to turn expensive educations into prestigious positions in society. Actually, more than that. They were entitled to prestigious positions—at the top.
Clint had done that by winning his dad’s seat in Congress. Benny didn’t know anything about Claire, except she’d never married and she still lived in Camden. Right there in Clint’s district.
Ben was nervous. His voice had to reach across the Rocky Mountains, across the Great Plains, and all the way to Wisconsin. And it had to reach across nearly forty years and who-knows-what changes and pain as well. Did it mean anything that Claire never got married? Girls who went to Saint Anne’s were brought up to get married.
As the phone rang, Ben’s memory returned to the past…and the two girls who’d rerouted his life the summer before college. An assault on Claire right after their high school graduation had led Ben to struggle with right, wrong, and his place in society; while his first love, Puppy, taught him there was much more to life than a prep school upbringing…maybe even things that floated beyond the realm of human understanding.
Every star in heaven was out that night. Every single star from the brightest and most glaring to the softest and faintest. Together they made interwoven skeins, almost like smoke but shiny, in an arc across the blackness of the universe. I carefully tilted back my head and looked up. Amazing, I thought. Stars all over. Some were lone rangers, sparkling in solitary splendor while others gathered in groups and patterns and sparkled together like choral singers. Others were so far away and so faint that they were like silvery dust. I thought maybe somewhere out there intelligent life was looking down here at me. Me, the fuckup.
I had no idea how I was going to get home. I was out in the boonies somewhere, sitting in a ditch by a gravel road that obviously didn’t get much traffic after dark. I couldn’t see much, but I had the impression of trees on the far side of the road and a pasture on the near side, an impression based mostly on smell. The near side smelled of damp grass and manure and the far side smelled like the ravine behind my house: leaves, bark, moss, dirt. I saw no lights which meant there was no farm nearby or, at least, not one with anyone up late. The one bit of good news was that most of my spewing had gone all over the inside of the Mustang and not on me. I had some puke on my sleeve from wiping my face and some on my knees from I don’t know how, but my chest was clean of vomit. And my hair. So at least I wouldn’t be covered with puke when I found someone to help me. But I probably stank from the skunk weed and the cigarettes. Icky.
I negotiated my way very carefully out of the roadside ditch mostly by crawling. Once I felt the gravel under my hands, I carefully hoisted myself upright again and stood swaying, but balanced, until I felt more or less stable. Then I started to walk. I had to go slowly because the road was rising and falling beneath my feet, and my toes kept catching on the gravel. My knees were as wobbly as Jello. I was aware of my bones, my joints, and my head bobbin’ along at the end of my neck. I had to conserve my energy, too, because it was going to be a long walk home.
But it felt good to be upright and to have enough control to move. It actually felt good to shamble along. And I liked the clean, cool feel of the night air sliding by my hot forehead and sighing in and out of my burnt lungs. The air, scents, stars, and blackness all mixed together around me and inside me, healing me. All I had to do was keep moving and I’d be okay and I would never, ever screw myself up with too much booze again. And then I saw the coyote.
Laura started off life as an artist. Even in early elementary school she could draw with near-photo realism. She liked to tell herself stories while driving, or doing boring tasks such as housework, but never thought of herself as a writer.
That is, until she got involved in the rescue of an abused dog. Her first book, a collection of short stories entitled The Dog Thief, made the Kirkus Review list of one hundred best indy publications and set her on a course of writing.
With one exception, her subsequent novels are in the genre of fantasy, though four have themes relating to current events, and three are also dystopias. Wild Hare, the story of a half/man-half/nature spirit and his feud with the local civic powers also made the Kirkus Review “best of” list.
The exception, I Once Was Lost But Now Am Found, is the nonfiction account of the largest dog rescue in the US to succeed without help of local authorities.
Laura is a retired teacher and lives on an island in Puget Sound with her husband; her one-eyed cat; and her elderly, disabled and chronically grumpy shih tzu. She is volunteers at a rescue for unadoptable cats.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I became an author because of a midnight rescue of a dog. I wrote a story about the experience. I think it is safe to say that now because the statute of limitations for a gross misdemeanor is up. I checked.
Seriously, that’s what happened. And after the first story, other stories appeared on other topics, mostly related to life here on an island in Puget Sound. Don’t think that island life is idyllic! This is Appalachia with water fronts. So the stories are about drug addition, alcoholism, death, and abuse. Most have something to do with a person’s relationship with an animal.
After about a year rereading and rewriting, I decided that I was done. I thought that maybe the stories were okay: readable and perhaps publishable. I got them all done up as a book and then sent a copy to Kirkus Review. Nervously, I waited for the reaction of a professional.
To my intense pleasure and surprise, I got a starred review, my book was highlighted for a month, and I made their list of 100 indy best books of the year. That gave me the confidence to write more.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I lost my bra at a truck stop about an hour’s drive from the Arctic Circle.
I was on a camping trip in Yukon Territory, driving up the Dempster Highway, which is a gravel road that starts in Dawson and goes almost to the Arctic Ocean. After driving all day on that gravel road—and had some adventures there, but that’s another story—I went into the motel office to get some “loonies” so I could shower off the road dust. I was carrying a change of clothes.
Then I went around back to the pay showers and got all cleaned up. But, oh no! As I was putting clean clothes on, it became clear that I did not have a fresh bra. Where was it? Not on the floor, not mixed up with my dirty clothes. But no worries, right? Must’ve left it in my tent. So I went and looked. No bra.
Ooops. I had a creeping feeling of dread and embarrassment, but I had to check. A peek through the glass doors to the motel lobby, and the mystery was solved. There in the middle of the lobby floor was my bra. Just laying there like bait. And a dozen or so Canadian truck drivers were lounging around the lobby, watching. I retreated back to my tent.
What are some of your pet peeves?
I hate people who pump their gas, and then get in their car, and then…don’t drive away. They sit there. The brake lights go on and off. They sit some more. I have no idea what they are doing. The next time I am stuck behind one of these jerks, waiting to get to the pump, I’m going to run up and shout at the driver, “Use your gas pedal! Why did you buy gas if you aren’t going to actually drive away?” Except with lots of swear words.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
What inspired you to write this book?
Brett Kavanaugh. Well, not directly. While watching the confirmation hearings, I got really interested in the situation of the male witness to a rape or sexual abuse situation. How does the male witness respond? The story of the abuse of a girl being covered up to protect the future of boy is a pretty common one. Small town football teams make the news this way every now and then. Many of the “Me Too” stories are about women who are told to keep their mouths shut to protect the career of a man.
These stories are centered on the female—which is how it should be. Still, what about the witness? An event like that is going to be pivotal. Will the witness side with the abuser, or with the abused? The context of such stories is nearly always one that protects the abuser and gives the witness a framework of values to justify that protection. So the most likely outcome is that the witness will protect the abuser. But what if the witness doesn’t? That’s the question that interested me.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
Coyote Summer fuses two things: a real social problem and tricksters. Why? I suppose because I am a politically aware person who needs the escapism of magic. I am interested in how people change themselves, so all of my books are character-driven and involve changes inside the main character in response to some external event that challenges their assumptions.
And in all of my novels a trickster either is the main character or is the change agent that impacts the main character. Nearly every culture has stories about a character who is lawless and creative. The trickster can be the hero in some stories and the bad guy in others. The stories function both as entertainment and as an aspect of a broader spiritual tradition. To Native people of the Pacific Northwest, Raven was the trickster. In the Southwest, the trickster was Coyote. In pre-Christian Ireland, the tricksters were called pucas and they were shapeshifters. The ancient Greeks had Hermes.
Tricksters are catalysts. They represent randomness, chaos, creativity, and change. They stir things up so that the predictable doesn’t happen and something unexpected does. So in each of my books, there is a trickster somewhere, stirring things up, a catalyst for change.
Who designed your book covers?
Tamira Thayne of Who Chains You does the designs. Who Chains You is a niche publisher who specializes on animal-theme books. She has a lovely line of children’s books, really beautifully illustrated. She also is a writer and is working on a rollicking, adventurous YA series. Tamira comes from a background in animal rescue. She was the founder of a nationwide dog rescue group called Dogs Deserve Better. I highly recommend her website if you are gift shopping for kids or if you like stories about animals and animal/human relationships.
Follow the tourHEREfor special content and a giveaway!