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.