Beneath The Coyote Hills
Beneath The Coyote Hills enters the bizarre world of Tommy Aristophanos, a homeless epileptic visionary who lives in a hut he has built in an abandoned olive grove in California’s high desert. Tommy is tormented by spells that leave him unconscious or stumbling through dark fogs that blur the line between reality and illusion. Demons from his spell visions materialize in the flesh to torment him, including his dead father and predaceous Lizard Man. A hapless, though enterprising, freegan, Tommy survives on his wits and society’s leavings, while his fictional creation, V.C. Hoffstatter (Volt), is the rich and successful architect of a financial empire. He materializes in the flesh from pages of Tommy’s novel, and author and character face off in a battle of wills in a limbo between fiction and reality. Along the way, Tommy endures attacks by vigilante thugs, by marauding coyotes, and by a criminal organ transplant ring in Kosovo that steals one of his kidneys.
Early Praise for Beneath The Coyote Hills:
“Beneath The Coyote Hills” has cost me a sleepless night that I can scarcely afford, and has left me cold with awe at the unwavering skill and subtlety of the narrative. The sheer scope of the author’s imagination, and the almost impossibly delicate poetic weight of his prose, has made the discovery of William Luvaas’s writing one of the genuine joys of my reading-year. He is a remarkable writer, comfortably among the finest at work in America today, and the novel is a towering and maybe career-defining achievement, art of the highest order.”
– Billy O’Callaghan, Irish Book Award-winning author of The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind
“With his third published novel, Beneath the Coyote Hills, master storyteller William Luvaas demonstrates once again his remarkable talent for creating over-the-top characters amd tragic lives that feel entirely true and believable. And he does so in his signature lyrical style of writing, brilliantly enhanced here by grace notes of hyperbole and humor and anti-heroic irony, juxtaposed with imagery in turn that’s realistic, viscerally affective, and relentless.”
– Clare MacQueen. Author, Editor-in-Chief of KYSO Flash
AUTHOR Q & A – BENEATH THE COYOTE HILLS:
1) What was your inspiration for Beneath The Coyote Hills?
No single event catalyzed the book, rather a lifetime of thinking and observation. I have long been troubled by our culture’s obsession with success and failure. With Heraclitus, we Americans tend to believe that “a man’s character is his fate.” If we succeed, it is wholly due to our own merits and efforts; if we fail it is due to our faults. We underplay the influence of forces beyond our control: sickness, tragedy, war, economic downturn, et.al. So those who fail—at career, love, even good health—carry a burden of shame, just as the successful carry a burden of pride. It frightens us to realize we haven’t half the control we hope to have in our lives. In the novel, I contrast self-described “failure” Tommy (who may not strike us as failed in the end) to his immensely successful alter ego, V.C. Hoffstatter (who may not ultimately strike us as much of a role model).
2) What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Ideally, I hope they will think about the interplay of choice and chance in our lives and how we have no choice but to cope with misfortune. Maybe even to consider that we should be more generous with ourselves when we are struggling and with homeless people we see sleeping on the street, who may be as much victims of ill circumstance, lack of opportunity, mental or physical illness, as of poor choices they make in their lives. “There but for the grace of God go I.” We all need some good fortune in our lives, and some have more of it than others. I strive, in my work, to be on the side of compassion. As Faulkner asserts in his towering Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “The writer’s duty is to…help men endure by lifting the heart.” Beyond this, I hope my readers will enjoy what is at times a wild and unpredictable ride, with no knowing where we will end up.
3) Why did you become a writer?
I was reading Dostoevski’s The Brothers Karamazov as a sophomore in college, pulling an all-nighter in the attic of the Theta Chi fraternity house at The University of Oregon, which might have been a dusty garret in Saint Petersburg. I had a World Literature final the next morning at 8:00, and I hadn’t started reading the 985 page book until that afternoon. Not smart. I became so immersed in the characters and story that time stopped; I was not in Oregon, I was in Russia (though I ran down to the kitchen now and again for more coffee). That whole long night seemed to pass in an hour. Towards the end of the book, tears ran down my cheeks; I was moved and overwhelmed that a book could be so powerful. It took me through all the troubles and questions of my own young life. When the boys shouted “Hoorah for Karamazov” at the end, I shouted with them. At that moment, a tiny, quavering voice in me whispered, I want to be able to do that. I want to be a writer. It would be years before that voice led me to the desk.
4) Tommy Aristophanos struggles with epilepsy and you have lived with epilepsy yourself. Did you intend to communicate a specific message about this condition to readers?
This is my first novel with an epileptic main character. It has taken me years to be able to write about it. I wanted the reader to experience up close what it’s like to grapple with the demons of epilepsy, as Tommy must. His ailment is a trope of sorts, the ultimate existential joke in a culture that fetishizes control of one’s destiny. The epileptic—whether Tommy, Van Gogh, or Dostoevski—is never fully in control. At any instant, without warning, we can be seized and thrown to the floor through no fault of our own. We can neither control our seizures, nor predict their coming. Thus epilepsy seemed in earlier times to be divinely inspired: the victim “seized” by a higher power, either divine or demonic, and thrown to the ground or into the fire. So, in terms of the book’s major themes, it made sense that Tommy be an epileptic. He comes to realize that it isn’t the falling that matters—we are bound to fall—but rather the getting up again. I suppose my message is that though we can never fully control our fate we can decide how we cope with it. This is no new message in literature but one of its most enduring themes.
Another element that is informed by my experience as an epileptic is that we can’t always draw a firm line between reality and illusion. Many epileptics experience a distortion of reality in vivid auras before their seizures, wherein we may hear celestial music or experience the sensation of stepping out of our bodies or macropsia and micropsia, as Lewis Carroll did—the world seeming to shrink or magnify around him—as does his Alice in Wonderland. Reality distorts before a fit and remains distorted after. Thus, Tommy’s auras make it impossible for him to distinguish between illusion and reality at times. Which of his experiences and fellow characters are real, which figments of his spell visions? Is he authoring Hoffstatter’s fate or is Hoffstatter’s wife authoring his or is someone else writing their story? We never know.
5) Glimmer Train Co-editor, Linda Swanson-Davies, says of your characters: “Hemanages to make such swerving and impossible lives feel utterly true…even normal.” Would you describe that as a conscious choice in creating your characters?
I suppose I am attracted to outsiders in both my work and my life: folks who don’t fit in, misfits who live on the edge, not so much defying the mainstream as disinterested in it. They want to make their own way in the world and live by their own rules. It’s not easy being yourself in a world that insists you fit the norm, so there are tensions and conflicts in such characters’ lives that I find compelling; they often end up in compromised situations and must struggle just to get by, living by their wits. Maybe it goes back to growing up in Oregon in the fifties and sixties. My father was always calling people “oddballs” or “characters.” It seemed to me everyone was an oddball: my aunts and uncles, parents’ friends, even my father and mother. They might work as lawyers, doctors or preachers, but deep down they were oddballs. That’s what I found most compelling about them.
6) Aside from being a highly accomplished writer, you’ve also worked as a carpenter, pipe maker, and window washer, and for a year lived in a primitive shelter you built in a giant stump in the Mendocino County redwoods. How have these experiences influenced your writing career
Tremendously. I wrote a long (unpublished) novel about my experience living in the redwoods: The Uranian Circus, my starter book, 1,200 pages long. Then wrote about my experience of the Sixties counterculture in The Seductions of Natalie Bach. Going Under is about growing up in a troubled family; my mother was an alcoholic and my father lived in denial, and we kids spent much of our time tiptoeing around them. So, while my work is not literally autobiographical, I have shared the road with my characters. I regularly borrow people and events from “real life.” My stories are usually set in places where I’m living when I write them: in snowbound upstate New York, or the sweltering California high desert, or the rain-drenched Mendocino Coast. My story, “Carpentry,” retells an incident from my own life pounding nails. “How I Died” recalls a nearly fatal car accident my wife and I had on the New York State Thruway one snowy night. I encourage my writing students to expose themselves to a wide variety of people, places, and experiences. Mark Twain instructs us to “Write what you know.” The more you have seen and done, the more you have to write about.