Posts Tagged ‘author interviews’
There are days when I tire of being a reviewer, but then along comes a book like Coyote Winds by Helen Sedwick that makes me feel excited about my role. Coyote Winds is a bittersweet story, full of sadness and hope. As a historical novel, it’s about Myles and his family who struggle against overwhelming odds to maintain a farm during the depression and the Dust Bowl. As a young adult novel, it’s about thirteen-year-old Andy who lives in our modern times but misses his Grandpa Myles and is determined to keep his grandfather’s memories alive.
It’s been a long time since I have read a book about the love between a boy and a wild animal. Books such as Rascal come to mind. Being about a teenage boy and a coyote he rescues from a dust storm, Coyote Winds is also such a book. Their relationship is not without angst. When Myles brings Ro home, his father warns him that a coyote can’t be trusted. Moreover, their neighbor threatens to kill Ro, because of how certain he is that Ro will destroy livestock. This prediction seems true one day when the family arrives home to find Ro chasing their hog. But then the family realizes Ro is trying to keep Spark Plug from escaping her pen. Over the years, the relationship between Myles and Ro is tested, in ways that will make you mad and happy and sad. Isn’t that how the best relationships are?
If you look at the back pages of Coyote Winds, under the Suggestions for Further Reading, you’ll find references to books about coyotes and other multiple other topics. You see, Coyote Winds is also about the Dust Bowl, homesteading and life on the American Western Prairie, the Great Depression, and even Volga German settlers. Whew! That’s a mouthful. With all these elements squeezed into a novel of just over two-hundred pages, you might expect Coyote Winds to read like a dry textbook. In contrast, while reading it, I found myself thinking of other novels which cover the same time era such as A Lantern in her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich and Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The first especially carries the same poignancy of a family facing changes and hardship but also in love with the land that they own and are trying to master. Some of the most heartbreaking scenes in Coyote Winds occur when one by one, even the most arrogant families are forced to admit that the land will forever be their master. Not that this means they give up and leave, for some do endure, but these pivotal moments still tore me up.
The last topic I’ll address is how Sedwick makes use of the literary “story within a story” device. Anyone who follows my reviews knows that this isn’t one of my favorite techniques. To be honest, until the second half of the Coyote Winds, I’d intended to fault Sedwick for it. Coyote Winds is inspired by her fond memories of her father. Thus, it probably felt more natural for her to write as a young person looking back than one firmly entrenched in our modern world. For a while then, I wish she had just written about the teen in the past. Especially given that the affection she feels for her father and his memories comes across so strong that Sedwick seems at times to have fallen into the trap of promoting the “good old days”. However, because the story of Myles is so compelling I kept reading and eventually decided that both stories were needed. Only through both stories can we realize how cruel but beautiful nature is. And only through both stories can we understand the message of believing in dreams, no matter what the pain and cost.
When a book can make me feel as many emotions as Coyote Winds, I feel safe in declaring it an excellent read. What a beautiful tribute Sedwick has written for her father and what a wonderful story she has given to the literary world. I hope she has future historical tales to share.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?
Helen Sedwick is the author of Coyote Winds, an historical novel about the Dust Bowl. Having been inspired by her father’s stories of growing up during the Dust Bowl, Coyote Winds is a story close to her heart. I appreciate that she took time to answer questions and to write a guest post. Enjoy!
ALLISON: In one interview, you noted that you grew up in a theater family and that a dinnertime sport was to speculate about people’s characters and their story. What is the most outrageous story your family came up with?
HELEN: Oh, I wish I had a better memory. One comes to mind. It seemed outrageous at the time, and later proved to be percipient.
My mother was a woman of elegant reserved. (She played Dr. Sedwick for years on THE GUIDING LIGHT. Yes, they used her real name for the character. Some of your readers may remember her or find her on YouTube.) One time, when Richard Nixon appeared on television, my mother hunched over and launched into a Nixon imitation. The scolding finger, pinched forehead, darting eyes and one-sided scowl. It was hilariously and completely out-of-character for her. She called Nixon a study in paranoia. A few years later, Watergate proved her right.
ALLISON: In the same interview, you indicated that you tried acting but weren’t good at it. Have you tried other theater roles such as screenwriting or directing? What was your worst theater experience?
HELEN: Years ago I wrote a comedic play about dating titled Telling Tales. It ran for a couple of weekends in a small theater in Los Angeles. That was both my best and worst theater experience—getting produced, then closing in a flash.
ALLISON: Since your teens you have written in some form or another. What was your favorite subject in school and why? What was your worst subject in school and why?
HELEN: Interestingly, but it was math. The puzzles and logic of math made sense to me. I didn’t love math, but I did well, and when you are a teenager it’s a relief to do something well. My most painful subject was French. In 10th grade I transferred to a high school where my classmates had been studying French with a real French woman. I had one year of French with a teacher who spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent. I did not have a clue what was going on. I was terrified of getting called on. I remember the teacher gave me what was called a “charity pass.” D.
ALLISON: Have your experiences with advertising or business law helped you as a writer? When did you decide to become a writer?
HELEN: I always wanted to be a writer. But I saw how my parents, both artistic types, were taken advantage of because they did not understand business or money. After college, I realized I too had no idea about business or money, and I did not want to be taken advantage of like my parents. I went to law school with the plan that I would practice law long enough to learn what I needed to know, then quit and start writing again. Unfortunately, life, children, mortgages and school tuitions have a way of keeping us working instead of pursuing our dreams. Most of those obligations are behind me now. I am able to work part-time now and write more.
ALLISON: I loved your description in your guest post about “Why I Write for Teens” about yourself as a teen. Exactly how I felt at thirteen! How do you recapture those feelings and update them for today’s teenagers?
HELEN: I viscerally remember the painful awkwardness of those early teen years. Don’t you? And when you see your own children go through it, it all comes back to you. You want to help them, but there is only so much you can do.
ALLISON: Your father’s stories of growing up during the Dust Bowl inspired you to write Coyote Winds. If you could travel to back in time, what time period would you pick?
HELEN: The 1920s. Women had just won the right to vote. They were shedding their corsets, cutting their hair, and spreading their wings. It was a time of optimism and promise.
ALLISON: In your bio, you write that you grew up in the wilds of New York City before there were coyotes in Central Park. How close have you gotten to a coyote? Or any other wild animal?
HELEN: Now I live in a rural area of Sonoma County, so I see a lot of wild life. Foxes, deer, hawks, wild turkeys and coyotes. We also backpack in Sierras. On one backpack trip, a coyote followed alongside us for quite a while. She was not more than fifteen feet away. I suspect she had some pups nearby. And once a small black bear charged into camp while we were having breakfast and took off with a bag of food. We almost chased him until we realized there was probably a mother bear close by.
ALLISON: You have lived in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Which is your favorite place and why? If you had to pick somewhere else to live, where would that be?
HELEN: I love the San Francisco area. The area is sophisticated and educated. If you are into art, music, food, wine, writing, it’s all here. But so are stunning natural surroundings. Whether you enjoy oceans, rivers, mountains or rolling hills, they are all close by. And California is the home of transplants. Almost everyone came here in pursuit of a dream. I love that. I am staying put.
ALLISON: The weirdest experience for you was having twins. What’s your most memorable experience?
HELEN: That is a hard one because I have so many. Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, camping overnight, and hiking out again all by myself is certainly one of them. The canyon is a timeless, mystical place. Silence and solitude were my companions. I recommend it for everyone’s bucket list.
ALLISON: How has being a published novelist changed you?
HELEN: I feel more centered. I have accomplished something I have always wanted to do, and I know that I can do it again. It requires hard work, and I will certainly have moments of doubt when I want to delete every word, but I know that I can retreat to this private, writing place and create a gift to give others.
ALLISON: How does your dad feel about Coyote Winds?
HELEN: Sadly, my father passed away in 2008. I had heard his stories about the Dust Bowl, and he left a wonderful memoir about those times. After he died, I was not ready to say good bye. I looked at his memoirs and found a way to bring them to life in COYOTE WINDS. He would have loved COYOTE WINDS. In fact, I am sure we would have written it together.
ALLISON: What’s next?
HELEN: Although I have several fiction projects at various stages. I am currently working on a non-fiction book tentatively title “Keeping It Legal, A Step-By-Step Guide to the Legal Issues of Self-Publishing, Blogging and Marketing Your Book.” Surprisingly, there isn’t a book that covers both the mundane and the intellectual legal issues. And I am asked legal questions all the time by my writer friends. I just started a blog and will use it to develop and test material for the book: Keeping It Legal.
I have posted my father’s memoir on my blog. www.helensedwick.blogspot.com