EXPLORING THE AMERICAN SPIRIT
COYOTE WINDS follows the adventures of a boy and his coyote living on the prairie in the years leading up to the Dust Bowl. It explores the American can-do spirit that drew families to the wind-swept frontier and the consequences of that spirit, both good and bad.
Setting the novel in the Dust Bowl had its challenges. No one can compete with John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath for capturing the story after the Dust Bowl, but I was fascinated by the story before the Dust Bowl. I wanted to explore American optimism, the source of our greatest achievements and some of our worst follies.
Many people don’t know that the Dust Bowl was one of the worst man-made ecological disasters in history, right up there with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I wanted portray the people who brought this disaster on themselves by believing in hard work and technology. It is a classic American story that happens again and again. The challenge is how to make that tale meaningful today.
To me, the key is characters. A writer must create characters that she loves, even the evil ones, otherwise the story lacks energy. She must place those characters in peril, both physical and emotional, and see how, or if, they survive. In an historical novel, these perils include real events, real threats, faced by a character who doesn’t know what’s looming ahead. A writer creates wonderful tension when the reader knows what is about to unfold when the character does not.
Then I try to get into the skin of a character living in a different time with different attitudes, expectations, limitations, hopes, and physical experiences. What day-to-day details would the character notice? The color of rain clouds, the circling of buzzards, the ribbon in a girl’s hair? Did the character hunch over his food or sit straight-back with a napkin at the ready? Did she spend her days stuffed into a corset or sweltering in a muddy swamp? How much would he know about the larger world and how much did he care? Who did she go to for guidance--a priest, her mother, the radio? What did he do with his free time? These historical details transport the reader into the character’s world.
I was blessed that my father left a memoir about growing up in Eastern Colorado in the 1930s. It was full of useful tidbits such as making ice cream from summer hail and the frightening silence before a dust storm hits. But I also researched coyotes, rattlesnakes, rifles, prairie dogs, hawks, homesteading, windmills, railroads, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and Volga Germans settlers. I looked at old Vogue and Harpers magazines to see what young women were reading. I watched 1930s films, including gangster movies and Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, and listened to old radio serials. I searched YouTube for clips of swing dancing and the lindy hop. Whenever my writing got stuck, researched sparked new ideas. Some of my sources are listed on my website. http://www.helensedwick.com/extras.html#resources
In addition to rich characters and spot-on details, historical fiction must touch on the universal yearnings that connect everyone from Ulysses to Katniss Everdeen. Whether your characters are searching for identity, struggling against doubt, confronting limitations, challenging authority, testing faith, facing injustice or overcoming despair, stories of such endeavors never grow stale.
Great characters, brought to life with historical details, facing challenges which resonate over time--that’s the magic of historical fiction.
Follow Author Helen Sedwick
Author: Helen Sedwick
Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: Ten Gallon Press (November 8, 2012)
Set against the time of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, Helen Sedwick's debut novel COYOTE WINDS is based on her father's tales of growing up on a farm in Eastern Colorado in the 1920s. Unlike typical Dust Bowl stories of suffering and loss, his tales brimmed with adventure, trouble-making, and an unfenced boyhood.
COYOTE WINDS pays tribute to his tales in the story of two boys, seventy years apart, living very different lives. In the 1930s Depression era, Myles Vincent snares rattlesnakes, dodges tornadoes, and tames a coyote. In 2003, his grandson Andy feels suffocated by his over-protective mother and the supervised routine of a modern boy. When he discovers a box his grandfather Myles left for him with stories of his adventures, Andy heads out to discover what’s left of the wild prairie.