I haven’t read much fiction about coyotes, but a couple coyotes wandered down my street once and my neighbor said he started pawing at the dirt with his foot or something and they ran off. I don’t know, the whole thing could be apocryphal. Which is kind of what Christy Crutchfield’s new book, How To Catch a Coyote, is about. It’s about how one character, Daniel grows up and his perceptions about his family–what to believe and what not to believe–and what his parents think about him, his sister and each other. It also has some nifty time shifts and perspectives that create a great read.
Christy Crutchfield lives in Massachusetts, this is her first novel and it’s being published in July from Publishing Genius. Check it.
Why did North Carolina seem like the right setting for this book? Any wild coyote experiences there?
North Carolina and coyotes came to me separately. I went to Elon University for undergrad, and I was always interested in the small town of Burlington where it was located (technically Elon University is in Elon, NC, but I think that’s so they can control the liquor laws). Burlington was once a mill town, but now it’s a bedroom community since the majority of the factories shut down. There’s not much going on there. There’s a big class divide. And then there’s this small, liberal arts college that is full of middle-upper class students who rarely leave campus unless it’s to go to a bigger city like Chapel Hill. I became hyper-aware of my own place in the class divide while I was finishing school, especially when working with and befriending locals. I knew I wanted to explore the town in something I wrote, but I never had the right story. The town in the book, Lafayette, is a composite town that includes many other North Carolina, Georgia, and Massachusetts towns, but it is very heavily influenced by Burlington.
As far as coyotes, my fascination started when I was living in Atlanta. One of my friends had moved to the northern suburbs and was telling me about the coyotes that were infiltrating her neighborhood, eating house cats, crying at night. I didn’t even know we had them in Georgia. I thought they only lived in the desert. But I found out that coyotes are all over the US–they’ve even been found on islands off the Massachusetts coast. I tried to fit these coyotes into everything I was writing at the time. They eventually made it into a short story. Years later, that short story became the beginning of a novel, and I finally found the right characters and right story for a Burlington-esque town.
My first actual coyote experiences, beyond research and taxidermy, was in Massachusetts. I saw one on the side of the road one night, but my companion said it was probably a dog. A few months later, one ran in front of my car to get to the other side of a woodsy highway at night. This was was definitely not a dog.
This is a family story that splits into 4 parts. I liked this perspective, but also wanted to see some more interaction among the characters together? Thoughts?
Something I’m really interested in is disconnection, in relationships and especially between family. A big part of this book is the disconnection between the Walker family. I wanted to concentrate on what characters wanted to say to each other or thought about each other that they would never actually get a chance or let themselves say. Instead of focusing on what breaks the family apart, I wanted to concentrate on what led up to it and the effects on the family. I wanted my characters to be reliving and re-seeing what happened years later, and so for a good deal of the book we’re stuck in the characters’ heads.
I also very purposefully made the daughter Dakota constantly there but not there at all. She’s the only member of the Walker family we don’t get close to POV-wise. She’s almost mythic to her younger brother Daniel this way. Not everyone in the book believes Dakota’s story, not everyone believes Hill’s, and Daniel is left putting the puzzle together. I wanted a similar effect for the reader.
A big part of the story are the different time shifts. Sometimes I got confused by it, other times I wanted to skip ahead just to read what happened in that time frame. How do you expect people to read it and why did you set up the story in that way?
Sorry to confuse you! But I’m glad (I think) that you wanted to read ahead. The shifts in time work similarly to the shifts in POV. They also serve as part of the puzzle the family and the reader are putting together. The shifts are also for tone, mood, and plot. I love when I have one belief about someone and then find out something about his/her past that changes my impression or my understanding. I wanted this effect to happen to my reader too.
The novel was actually my MFA thesis and in earlier drafts, Chris Bachelder suggested that there be an introductory chapter that laid out the important details for the reader. The first chapter also serves as a way to, hopefully, clear things up for the reader so she can concentrate on the characters.
I guess what I was most concerned about when it came to the reader was what she took away in the end. Did she side with certain characters? Did she believe certain characters and not trust others? Did things change as she read on? But I love the idea of people reading it in chronological order, in character order, and in the chapter order. I think each reading might lend a different understanding to the book.
This is your first novel, right? How long has this been marinating?
Yup, first novel and first book. As I mentioned earlier, this started out as a short story, which I wrote before I went to grad school. About two of three years later, I returned to the characters in that short story and realized that I had started writing something much longer. I ended up throwing out the first 150 pages or so and starting over. I would say it took about three years from that very first abandoned draft. And then almost two years to find it a home.