Allison's Book Bag

Story Inspired by the Dust Bowl

Posted on: May 15, 2013

At 13 years old, I was too nerdy to be a tomboy and too tomboyish to be a nerd.

As a middle child, I was too young to be a big girl and too old to be a baby.

In school, I did well enough to be called smart, but was too boisterous to be considered good.

I hated it—not knowing who I was and where I fit in. I was stuck in the in-between, and it felt awkward, frustrating, and terribly lonely.

I write for adolescents in the hope that I can help at least one young reader feel less lonely.

Helen Sedwick,  taken from an interview at Sheila Deeth’s blog

Helen Sedwick is the author of Coyote Winds, an historical novel about the Dust Bowl. Check back the next two days when I’ll share an interview with and a guest post from Sedwick. As traditional, on Saturday, I’ll post my review. Save the dates: May 16-18!

EARLY LIFE

HelenSedwick_TeasersMeet an author whose background is in theater! Helen Sedwick’s parents were theater people. Her father was a director. Her mother was an actress. For many summers, their family operated a summer stock theater. Sedwick and her siblings would build the sets, scrounge for props, and man the box office. Then night after night, Sedwick would watch the audience reactions. She grew up seeing the power of even a simple story to touch an audience and to connect a roomful of people to a common experience.

Sedwick’s parents believed that everyone had a story. At Three Guys One Book, Sedwick shared how a dinnertime sport was to speculate about people’s characters and their story: “What was hidden? What was percolating to the surface? How were their struggles revealed in a hesitation, a hand gesture,  a choice of words? What villain hid behind a well-crafted façade?”

Because theater was a family affair, Sedwick tried acting but every role she ever got involved crying on stage and she found playing the role of an injured innocent to be dull. Well, Sedwick also apparently wasn’t any good. She told Three Guys One Book: “I am analytical and distant, traits which are more useful to a writer than an actor. My on-stage tears were pathetically unbelievable. As bad as I was, I could still look out into the audience and see the power of the story.”

Cover of "Snow Treasure"

Cover of Snow Treasure

WRITING LIFE

However, from those theater years and from reading countless books, Sedwick fell in love with the power of the story. She also traces her decision to become an author to reading Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan in second grade. Based on a true story, Snow Treasure tells of Norwegian children transporting nine million dollars of gold bullion past the noses of Nazi soldiers by hiding the gold on the sleds. At BookSnatch,she recalls sitting on the floor in her families’ apartment in New York and deciding that if she couldn’t live stories like Snow Treasure, then she wanted to make them up.

Sedwick majored in English at Cornell University and spent several years as an advertising copywriter. Then she attended University of Chicago Law School and moved to San Francisco where she practiced business law for almost thirty years, but she never forgot her dream to write. Over the years, Sedwick has also taken writing classes and participated in workshops. Her first major writing project was a play titled Telling Tales.

Described at Three Guys One Book as a light comedy about dating, Telling Tales explored the tension between trying to find one’s soul mate while still acting cool and disengaged. The play apparently enjoyed a short run in Los Angeles. Because Sedwick enjoyed seeing her worlds brought to life, she wrote another screenplay. It made the rounds in Hollywood but was never picked up. However, her short stories have won prizes in various contests and appeared in magazines and anthologies.

BOOK INFORMATION

A few years ago, Sedwick took a step back from her writing to see if her work contained any recurring themes. To Sheila Deeth, Sedwick reports: “Characters were almost always in the process of figuring who they were and what role they played, or were expected to play, within a family. Would they live their lives hidden behind the masks they created or which were handed to them? Or would they find a sense of self other than that mask?” Having made this realization, Sedwick decided to write for the young adult audience.

Helen Sedwick told Maga Manic Cafe that she was inspired to write Coyote Winds by her 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. He hunted rattlesnakes and rabbits, collected arrowheads and grasshopper, and camped out on the prairie grass where he counted a thousand shooting stars. Sedwick wanted to contrast her 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.”

English: A farmer's son in Cimarron County, Ok...

English: A farmer’s son in Cimarron County, Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl era. Category:Farm Security Administration images (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As she researched the Dust Bowl, Sedwick also discovered that it is “a classic story about American optimism”. This positive attitude is what drew families to the prairie with dreams of owning their own land. They plowed up millions of acres of native grassland. Then the prairie winds blew, so constant that for time her father and others stopped noticing its presence. Unfortunately, what followed was one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in history: the Dust Bowl. The howling wind is what Sedwick considered the “soundtrack” to her novel, which she describes as “good families doing what they believed to be the right thing, only to have the results turn out so terribly wrong.”

How is Coyote Winds for young adults? By the end of the novel, the two main characters of Myles and Andy come to question their parents’ choices and start to make their own. As such, they are moving past the in-between phase of adolescence.

2 Responses to "Story Inspired by the Dust Bowl"

[…] Story Inspired by the Dust Bowl (allisonsbookbag.wordpress.com) […]

Kylie wrote about dust devils in her blog post entitled Oklahoma. For that reason, I approved her ping.

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