Friday, April 19, 2019

Meet Coyote: The Loner, The Lover, The Leaver

The wolf pack will die when scattered by man, lonesome coyote survives. --El Coyote, Kris Kristofferson

Of all the characters within the pages of my forthcoming novel CLOVER BLUE, Coyote was the most unknown to me. Usually when I start a book, I acquaint myself with each person, learn their history, let them tell me their story so I can tell it to you. In Coyote's case, his story was more of a quiet reveal as I got to know him through his actions. This is partly because he's a man of few words, and usually only speaks when he has something worth saying. 

Because of this, the best way to introduce Coyote is to share some excerpts that might offer a few clues about this father, protector, army deserter, and loyal friend. In the following scene, young Clover Blue shares his thoughts in the midst of a powerful storm lashing outside their tree house shelter:

Coyote’s hammock hangs empty across from my bed. He’s an insomniac and often disappears on walks at night. On nights like this, you’d think he’d want to take shelter in the tree house, but Coyote loves storms. Nobody knows where he goes but he usually comes back long after I’m asleep.

Coyote is also a beloved father. His daughter Aura makes her appearance within the first few pages of the book during a home birth with his loving partner, Jade. Aura calls him Yo-Yi. Here's glimpse of Coyote and two-year-old Aura at Saffron Freedom Community.
Aura runs behind Coyote carrying a basket of wild berries in her chubby arms. She follows him everywhere. Half the time Coyote has Aura’s little legs curled around his neck as he moves around the compound with her on his shoulders. She hangs on to his dreadlocks like reins, leaning this way and that as if they’re two heads on one body. Coyote often has bits of food in his hair from her munching on apples or carrots while she floats around on his shoulders.

Blue often seeks  answers to his many questions from his older brother and confidant. In one of the most telling scenes from the book, Clover Blue wonders about Coyote's motivations for leaving boot camp and fleeing to the commune:

“I was just wondering if you ever wish you didn’t go AWOL. I mean wouldn’t it have been easier to just do your stint and be done? Or turn yourself in and take the punishment now that the Vietnam war is over?”
Coyote lets the truck door gently swing back closed. He looks me up and down while he chews a little on his lower lip. “You know we live in a bubble here, right? Things are crazy different out there in the real world. They sent all the brothers to Nam, put ’em on the front lines. Most of them came home in body bags. My ‘stint,’ as you call it, meant I’d have to kill people, you realize that?”

 “It was a stupid question.”
“No, it’s not. You need to know this. That war was for the military industry. Most are. But the war against the black man is far from over. What they most want to take away from us is our dignity and our freedom.”

Finally, Coyote is also quietly compassionate, as revealed by newcomer Rain:

My first day here, everything was so, I don’t know, different. I was scared. Coyote sat here on the other side of me. My hand was shaking so bad the food kept falling off the fork. He put his hand over mine and held it. He said, ‘It’s cool, sister. Everyone here is your friend.’ His words calmed me down. I’ll never forget that.

To be frank, as a white woman who grew up in the Midwest, creating a believable character like Coyote, a black man from Oakland, CA, was challenging. But it also presented a unique opportunity to underscore the issues of the day, and give voice to the disparity in African American military recruits who were sent to the front lines, and the unrelenting bigotry they endured. I don't for a minute profess to know what it would be like to walk in Coyote's shoes, but I hope that I've imprinted the reader's heart with one man's indelible footprints.


Only 39 days until the release of CLOVER BLUE. I hope you'll pre-order your copy today, currently 34% off the cover price! 

And don't forget, my debut novel This I Know will be out in paperback on April 30. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Willow and Wave: The Surfer and the Yogi

The wound is the place where the Light enters you. --Rumi

When I was a young girl I slipped out from under a blow-up swim ring at the lake near our home. I panicked, flailing and gulping water until a nearby adult grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to safety. From that point on, I was terrified of drowning. Despite a number of swimming lessons throughout my life, I'm still not a strong swimmer. That childhood experience, and the accompanying emotions are as fresh in my mind as the day it happened.

When I begin to write a new book, one of the first things I do is trace a line backward to a source of fear or pain in each new character I create. Relatable human beings, not just flat images on a page, are what draws me in as a reader. I want to know why Sirona took up midwifery, why Coyote takes lone walks at night, and why Goji traveled to India to explore mysticism instead of becoming a lawyer. I expect you do, too.

We are all molded through the nurturing we received as children. But that form is malleable, shifting shape through a litany of experiences, some that leave indelible scars. In the case of Wave, conventional parents mocked his teen-aged longing to become a singer. He left his home in Fresno and headed for the ocean, where he honed his musical skills and learned to surf. But his ambition and bravery were eventually curbed by the practical aspects of the music industry and the unpredictability of Mother Nature.

In the following scene from my forthcoming novel, Clover Blue sits in the woods with Wave, who is teaching his young mentee to play guitar:

When I ask how he first came here, Wave traces the scar on his thigh and smiles. “After the shark attack I gave up surfing and spent most days outside a coffee shop in Bodega Bay, singing for tips.”

“I don’t blame you for being afraid of the ocean after that.”

Wave slowly shakes his head. “Respect, not fear. It was a good lesson and I don’t need to learn it twice.” He strokes the neck of his beat-up guitar. “I taught myself how to play when I was your age. I had big dreams of becoming a famous singer either by myself or with a band. In the sixties, everybody and his brother was a folk singer so it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.”

We later learn that Wave eventually joined Saffron Freedom Community, where he met his soulmate, Willow, a yoga enthusiast. Willow is tall and strong and disciplined in her daily practice of yoga and meditation. From the outside, she appears solid and unwavering in her status as the group's alpha female, often delegating chores to the other sister-mothers, though she is the only woman who remains childless. 

When a new girl (Rain) arrives at the commune, she asks Clover Blue to help her get to know the others. This is how he describes Willow to her. 

"Willow holds her thoughts inside. She keeps us on track with things like homework and chores. She taught me to read by the time I was four."

What neither Blue nor Rain can possibly know is that Willow's deep focus and intense discipline is steeped in the chaos of former experiences. Beneath her strong exterior, she harbors a deep pain that grows into a hardened knot, one that no asana can ever unwind. Willow can try to control herself and the people around her, but eventually she must allow herself to be vulnerable or risk becoming the knot itself.

Jumping back to my own childhood swimming trauma, many years later my young son and I signed up for a river rafting expedition while on vacation near Moab. The trip was overbooked, so Jacob and I were put in an inflatable "ducky" kayak and instructed to follow behind the larger raft. I was nervous, of course, but my son was so excited I couldn't back out. Besides, we were wearing life vests. What could go wrong? A few things, as it turns out. 

Being an inexperienced kayaker, I paddled too close behind the large raft. When the back end of the big yellow raft lifted out of the river rapids, I over-corrected to keep from nosing under it. The ducky flipped and dumped my son and me into the rapids. While seasoned company employees rescued Jacob, I found myself stuck under the kayak, unable to right it.The river current sent me hurtling into yet more frothing rapids. Terrified, I was seven years old all over again, certain I was about to drown.

And then something shifted. I stopped panicking and accepted my situation. I remember thinking, "I'm going to drown." I was taking water into my lungs, and yet I relaxed. It was the most peaceful moment I've ever experienced, almost blissful. I could see light shining through the blue plastic of the duckie, like a summer sky. And in that serene moment of acceptance, a voice in the back of my mind said, punch the ducky one more time. So I did, and it flipped off and away from me.

I tell this story because so often we react from a place of past fear, guilt, pain or unmet needs. It's human nature to try and fix the past by attempting to control the present. But control is an illusion. Eventually Wave will need to choose whether to face his fears and ride his board into the surf again. Willow will choose whether to confront her past demons as well. It's one of life's biggest questions: Do we let the past form us or inform us?

I hope you'll lose yourself in CLOVER BLUE's world, surrounded by all these unique characters as they make their choices, good and bad. Only fifty more days to go! You can pre-order the book from amazon. Better yet, pre-order CLOVER BLUE from your local bookstore here.

Join me for the exciting book launch of CLOVER BLUE and the paperback release of THIS I KNOW

Upcoming 2019 Dates:

407 Columbus St, Grand Haven, MI
Thurs May 16, 7:00 PM
714 Washington Grand Haven, MI
Sunday May 19, 1:00 PM
894 Marsh St. San Luis Obispo, CASaturday June 1, 2:00 PM
18512 McArthur Blvd, Irvine, CA
Monday June 3, 6:00 PM
1680 Mission Dr. Solvang, CA
Saturday June 8, 1:00 PM
1775 Dove Lane, Carlsbad, CA
Sunday June 9, 2:00 PM
3321 State St., Santa Barbara, CA
Monday, July 29, 7:00 PM
855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA
Thursday, August 1, 7:00 PM
138 N. Main St, Sebastopol, CA
Friday August 2, 7:00 PM