Current Release: Coyote Heart, Second Edition
Where did you get the idea for this novel?
I had the idea for a short story about a married woman who falls in love with a Native American man. I don’t know where this idea came from, but I kept seeing the image of the husband, who I imagined had been in an accident of some sort, sitting in a chair with a rifle in his hands and his arms raised up in a Native American victory gesture. This image haunted me so much that I began writing about it, and that evolved into the novel, Coyote Heart.
You’re a hybrid author. Tell us how Coyote Heart was originally published.
I began Coyote Heart (then called Bow and Arrow) in 2003 and finished it in 2004. In January 2005, I took the manuscript to the SDSU Writer’s Conference, where it won an Editor’s Choice Award from Shaye Areheart, an editor at Crown Publishers. I met my agent, Bob Tabian, at the same conference, and in 2008, I was offered a royalty contract by a small press, which then published Coyote Heart in 2009. I regained the rights to it in 2013 and have now published it myself as a second edition.
In the story, the main character, Carolyn Weedman, who is married to an engineer, Everett, falls in love with Pala Indian professor, Roy Washburn. Why did you want to tell a story about a woman who is unfaithful to her husband?
Initially, the story I envisioned was going to be about a husband and wife whose marriage falters, but then mends again. As I was developing the characters in this story, I realized that until something drastic happened – in this case, Carolyn having an affair with another man – there would most likely not be any reason to reconcile the differences that were breaking the marriage apart. I believe that the affair awakens feelings in both Carolyn and Everett; Carolyn has to choose between her new love and her marriage, and Everett has to face the fact that is wife might be leaving him. The affair forces both of them to come to terms with what is wrong in the marriage, and that, along with some other cataclysmic circumstances, leads them to the ultimate decision about whether or not they should stay together.
Carolyn’s love interest, Roy Washburn, is a Pala Indian man who teaches British history at a local college. His son Luke, on the other hand, is a tribal activist. Why did you decide to give Roy a career that focuses on another culture?
In this story, I wanted to explore both sides of cultural heritage – those who embrace it and those who deny it. I decided Roy and his son would act as examples of two extremes in their views about their native history. With Roy, we have a character who has focused on another culture as a way of distancing himself from his upbringing, while Luke is someone who has embraced his cultural heritage to an extreme. Roy’s focus on another culture is a source of pain for Luke, and vice versa – Luke’s tribal identity borders on fanaticism, which drives a lot of the conflict in the story between the two men, especially when Carolyn, a white woman, comes into the picture.
The story, which is set on the Pala Indian Reservation in San Diego, has a subplot about a landfill issue there. Is the subplot based on true events and, if so, what’s happening with them now?
Yes, the plan to place a landfill on sacred ground near Gregory Canyon is still an important issue on the Pala Reservation. There was legislation (SB 833) proposed in the California legislature to stop the project, and although the bill passed the legislature with only three opposing votes, Governor Brown vetoed it. In 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a draft Environmental Impact Survey for public comment, and then held a public hearing in late January 2013 on the project. The response was great, with a number of proposed oral comments, so the Army Corps extended the written comment period of the draft survey. The project is still under investigation.
Do you have a favorite character?
I read somewhere that an author should love all the characters in her novel, and I feel that way about this one. The characters in Coyote Heart are all flawed and all have suffered some kind of loss, which makes me feel for each of them, but if I had to pick one, it would have to be Carolyn’s husband, Everett Weedman. He is a rational man, who likes order and logic in his world yet, at the same time, he has a deep love of nature and he’s willing to sacrifice for what matters.
Have you written any other books?
Yes, I recently published a collection of short stories called Face Value: Collected Stories.
What is your next novel about?
I’m working on an historical novel called Favorite Daughter, which is about Pocahontas, who tells the story in first person, in her own point of view. I recently read Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel, Abundance, which tells the story of Marie Antoinette in her own voice and was fascinated by the way it dispelled so many myths about her character, while showing us who she really was as a person. I’m trying to do the same thing in Favorite Daughter, by telling the story from Pocahontas’s perspective and letting her show us the true nature of her relationship with John Smith and how she came to play such a significant role in American history.