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By Jackie Cassada, Asheville Buncombe Lib. Syst., NC -- Library Journal, 11/15/2007
Bergey, Michael. Coyote Season. Five Star: Gale. Nov. 2007. c.307p. ISBN 978-1-59414-610-7. $25.95. FANTASY
The trickster spirit Coyote decides that his powers need updating and that to be effective in the modern world he must master the contemporary magic that is science. Soon his efforts land him in trouble not only with the CIA, who want to talk to him or, perhaps, use him for research, but with other, stranger foes whose motives are not so easily discerned and whose goals have nothing to do with any good purpose. The sequel to New Coyote brings a modern twist to an ancient and mythic creature—the eternal trickster with the best of intentions and the worst of results. This comic fantasy belongs in larger libraries and where trickster tales are popular.
Below is an interview with Norman Prentiss that tells quite a bit about me and about my first book—NEW COYOTE. NEW COYOTE and the sequel—COYOTE SEASON—are available now at Amazon.com and other online book sellers.
Prentiss: I *really* enjoyed NEW COYOTE: a fun, complex, genre-defying book! NEW COYOTE covers a lot of territory—it's a fantasy, an adventure, a Native American spirit legend, a modern-day beast fable, a coming-of-age story with an animal protagonist—and you even manage to reinterpret a few classic horror motifs, like ghosts and shapeshifters. How did you manage to connect all these elements? And how do you describe the book to new readers?
Bergey: Honestly, I wish I knew the answer to that one. I write by feel, not by plan. I've tried outlines and such, but they just don't work for me. The story grows by itself, and I just try to follow along behind it as best I can. It's like wood carving, really. Your block of wood starts with infinite possibilities, and every cut you make destroys some of those possibilities, but makes the remaining ones more real. Finally in the end you have only one vision, perhaps with a few echoes or hints of what might have been. When I see writers changing their works to meet a different need—a movie or game, for instance—I have no problem with that. All those other possibilities were there from the beginning. The author is just revisiting them.
Prentiss: I got the impression you lived in the world of the novel for a long time—the characters and their histories are very well-developed. Tell me about your writing process for this book.
Bergey: Oh, yes! It took me five years to write that book. Part time, of course, and learning the whole time. As I mentioned before, I just sort of skulk along, stalking the story that's already there. It's not easy, though! I write something down, don't like it, throw it away, repeat the process. Finally I'll have a passage that feels right to me, and then I use that as the platform for the next step. Many times I'll feel my way forward this way for quite a while, then find I've written myself into a dead end. Then it's time to backtrack, and throw away much of what it took me to get there. Sometimes parts of it can be salvaged and used elsewhere, though.
Prentiss: One of the things that initially stands out for readers is the book's narrator, Coyote. I imagine it's difficult to present an entire novel through a non-human perspective, but Coyote's voice really adds a lot of charm to the book. Was this character's voice with you from the very beginning?
Bergey: Yes. Telling a story from a non-human perspective was always my goal. I also began the story in first person narration even though I'd been told that's a foolish thing for a first-time writer to do. I figured I'd give it a try for a few chapters, and then do it over if I couldn't make it work. But it did work! I'm as surprised as anyone else.
Prentiss: Coyote's likeable personality helps define the varied tones of the book: sometimes whimsical, sometimes mystical and spiritual, sometimes very serious. As you conceive him, he's a young character, but he's also much older—connected to the ancient Coyote spirit from Native American legend. Explain this double nature of the main character.
Bergey: One of the other spirit-characters in the story sums it up best: "Call me Fox. I am ancient and wise. More ancient and less wise than you may think. Too much wisdom makes one tired, so I let myself forget things." For one who is immortal but still very much fallible, time and memories can be hard things to bear. In this story Coyote has voluntarily surrendered his memories of the ancient times, so in one sense he's just a youngster. Beneath all that he's still the Coyote of legend, however, and he feels the connection. Coyote never says "the sun" or "the moon" or "the Wynoochee River." He names them every time. It's always "Sun is shining." or "Wynoochee is in flood." These are entities to him, not objects. He can't think of they any other way.
Prentiss: The cover of the book is a striking close-up image of a coyote's eye, with a DNA helix reflected in the pupil. In your novel, the ancient Coyote spirit is reincarnated into a modern-day coyote to learn more about human science—to see how it might reconcile with ancient magic. As a veterinarian, how does your workday perspective on science and medicine mix with the kinds of imaginative stories you like to tell?
Bergey: Magic and alternate world views are very real to me. I learned to read using my father's collection of "Golden Age" science fiction and fantasy, and I went to college in San Diego so I could talk to dolphins. That dream failed but I did learn how to think like a scientist, and now I'm a veterinarian with a clinic of my own, and a nice income. I'm sensible and respectable now, right? Wrong. Thorne Smith and the Marx brothers are my real heroes. I'm not alone in this, by the way. Scientists have always been fond of fantasy.
Prentiss: Your work as a veterinarian gives you special insight into animal behavior and personality. Some of the most amusing parts of the book, though, are Coyote's observations about human behavior. Do you see NEW COYOTE as more about animals, or about people?
Bergey: As I mentioned before, I grew up reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Many of the science fiction stories dealt with aliens and their relations with humans. What these stories ignored many times is that our planet is already populated with many kinds of non-humans. We don't call them aliens, though. We call them animals. In writing this book I've tried to the best of my ability to really think like a coyote—an "alien" that just happens to be native to the same planet I live on. My coyote character lives among humans, though, so he's bound to have developed a few opinions about them! Many times I think of Coyote as an analog of Huckleberry Finn or Voltaire's Candide—a naive outsider whos simple questions draw out the true nature of those around him.
Prentiss: You wisely don't reveal the entire purpose of Coyote's reincarnation at one time—it unfolds gradually, as the narrator learns it himself. He hears about his namesake from different characters, which allows you to provide examples of an "oral storytelling" tradition within the novel. How did you become interested in Native American legends? How did this tradition influence your own idea of storytelling?
Bergey: I grew up with Native American lore. I have my mother to thank for that! As I write, every word has to be one that my narrator, Coyote, would choose to use while speaking before a group of good listeners. He teases and cajoles them as any good story teller will, and he's very aware of the ancient bond between a story teller and his audience. He needs to keep them entertained, and they need to treat him with respect. I think of the story as something that was tape-recorded, and then typed out on paper with minimal editing.
Prentiss: In your acknowledgements, you list Mourning Dove's book COYOTE STORIES as an inspiration. When did you first come across this book, and how has it influenced you?
Bergey: Actually, although Native American lore (mostly Navaho and Hopi) has always been with me, I didn't become aware of the incredible richness of the Coyote stories until more recently. It was at Wolf Haven in Tenino, Washington that I first saw a performance of Coyote's naming story. It was done outdoors by firelight, with the wolves around us, and the players wore masks. I loved it! Afterward I began my search for other stories, but Mourning Dove's book was my first major find along that path. Many Native American story collections have been compiled by outsiders, but Mourning Dove wrote down these stories for herself, and to me they have a more intimate feel, like she's telling them to me, personally. In my own stories I've tried to capture that same feeling.
Prentiss: What other sources or novels would you list as influences? For example, NEW COYOTE has a kind of heroic/epic feel to it, which reminded me of Richard Adams' WATERSHIP DOWN.
Bergey: I loved that book! I've taken my own story in a different direction, however. NEW COYOTE deals much more with humans, and with magic. Roger Zelazny, L. Sprague deCamp, Thorne Smith, Poul Anderson and a dozen others are all in there. They're part of me, too.
Prentiss: As I read NEW COYOTE, I never knew what was going to happen next. You introduce a lot of surprising plot twists and new characters along the way: a government raid of the commune where Coyote lives; Coyote's stint as a Guide Dog for a blind school girl; battles with human hunters and several ancient spirits. Without giving too much away, what are some of your favorite episodes or plot twists in the novel?
Bergey: You're right. It's hard to say much about that without giving things away. Sticking to generalities, I'd say one of my favorite parts would be where Coyote begins to learn of his magical nature. Another would be where this ancient magic of his is combined with the science knowledge he's learning from modern humans. The result is much more powerful than expected!
Prentiss: The novel has a very satisfying conclusion, but something tells me Coyote has more adventures ahead of him . . .
Bergey: Well, yes. The sequel is just about finished. In COYOTE SEASON Coyote and his friends take on the CIA, international terrorists, and several rather intimidating supernatural foes. On the side, Coyote also manages to save the world from nuclear annihilation. The story takes place in the early 1990's, but you may not have read it in the newspapers. The CIA is like that. They're always suppressing the best stories.
Who I'd like to meet:
- Status: Married
- Zodiac Sign: Aquarius
- Children: Proud parent
- Education: Grad / professional school
- Occupation: Veterinarian and Author
Oregon State University
1987 to 1991
- Corvallis, OR
- Graduated: 1991
- Student status: Alumni
- Degree: Professional
- Major: Veterinary Medicine
University Of Miami
1979 to 1984
- Coral Gables, FL
- Graduated: 1984
- Student status: Alumni
- Degree: Master's Degree
- Major: Marine Biology