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Beneath The Coyote Hills
ISBN 978-1-944682-18-7 $16.00 252 pages
Sept. 18, 2016 reading:
Beneath The Coyote Hills explores the influence of choice and chance in our lives. Do we control our own destiny or is it dictated in part by mysterious forces beyond our control? Tommy Aristophanos is a luckless man, homeless freegan, fiction writer, and epileptic, who is haunted by grotesque “spell visions” and by his abusive father who returns, quite literally, from the dead. When Tommy’s fictional creation, wealthy and successful V.C. Hoffstatter, emerges from the pages of Tommy’s novel to harass him, plucky Tommy has to fight back. Hoffstatter believes that we author our own destiny, while Tommy’s many reverses and ailment teach him that we control far less than we imagine. In the book’s final narrative twist, we are left wondering who is the true Pygmalion–Tommy or Hoffstatter?
A great part of this novel’s charm is this thoughtful, hilarious, imaginative, and enterprising community of like minded misfits and outcasts who befriend Tommy and who look out for each other. The total result for the reader is a compelling POV and a fascinating and inventive narrative.
Elan Barnehama, The Huffington Post
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 the prose, has made the discovery of William Luvaas' 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 this 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 and 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 that's realistic, viscerally affective, and relentless.
Clare MacQueen, Publisher of KYSO Flash and editor at Serving House Journal
Praise for William Luvaas
Going Under is told with power and authority as it explores a family’s collapse into self-destruction and abuse. Luvaas’s great power as a storyteller brings the reader up out of these sorrows and into a sense of redemption that is triumphant and true.
Frederick Busch, Author of Sometimes I Live in the Country
A mother drowning in alcohol drags her whole family down in William Luvaas’s powerful novel.
New York Times Book Review
In his second novel, Luvaas skillfully peels away the layers of deception in the Tillotson family to reveal three generations of trauma and abuse. A surreal and frightening air prevails, as guilt, aggression and madness escalate in this powerful evocation of family members coming to grips with their crimes against one another.
When we meet the Tillotsons, Meena and Jeff have just survived being run over by a truck, fortuitously saved by wet Oregon mud, and it seems at that moment the family has used up most of its luck. Thereafter their lives spiral ever downward, things getting worse when they move to Southern California in an attempt to start anew. Don loses his job and his perspective, Jerri loses touch and, more slowly, her mind, and [Aunt] Debbie tries but fails, until the last moment, to pick up the pieces. Going Under does capture well the ways in which, as Jeff says as a teenager, “What was once your home becomes foreign territory.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
I found GOING UNDER to be powerful, moving, frequently funny, and ultimately positive. Luvaas portrays the members of a dysfunctional family with compassion and insight....Those who admired Wally Lamb’s best-selling novel SHE’S COME UNDONE will find GOING UNDER to be a richer, deeper, and more insightful study of the psychological problems that can damage essentially good people.
Stephen Minot, Author of Three Genres: The Writing of Poetry, Fiction, and Drama
Luvaas has created here a terrible and tragic picture of the ways family dysfunctions appear in succeeding generations. Reading Going Under is like watching a train wreck happen before your eyes. It’s horrifying, powerful stuff you can’t tear your eyes away from.
The Seductions of Natalie Bach is one of the best works of fiction about that pregnant decade [the sixties], comparable to Marge Piercy’s “Small Changes” and Lisa Alther’s “Kinflicks.” Luvaas recaptures the excitement of coming of age against a background of assassination, political activism, sexual experimentation, intellectual arrogance and generational conflict.
This is a tale of lost sexual innocence, female relationships and growing up. Perhaps the most striking thing about The Seductions of Natalie Bach is Luvaas’ writing style. He tumbles onto the pages in an explosion of original phrases and descriptions to produce a novel that is not only fun to read but also full of surprises.
The Arizona Daily Star
The story relates the coming of age of Natalie Bach: New Yorker and child of the ‘60s, who, while traveling down all the dead-end alleyways of her generation, manages to save herself by a gutsy determination to remain her own person....a novel by turns warm, coy, sad and funny, always human, and ultimately heroic.
BookMarx, Willamette Week
A Master of metaphor, of character and imagination, Luvaas takes the reader on odysseys every bit as compelling as those of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or J.M. Coetzee. I was enchanted and moved by these stories, some of which are bound to become classics.
Pamela Uschuk, American Book Award winning Author of Peaches in the Desert
This collection displays notable strengths, sweet rendering of unexpected and unspoken love; humble work precisely described; compressed, believable dialogue; and humor. An absorbing collection by a writer to keep your eye on.
Edith Pearlman, author of Binocular Vision
In these unforgettable stories, Luvaas depicts the struggles of everyday people facing situations far from the ordinary. A Working Man’s Apocrypha is masterful storytelling that breathes life into unlikely but oddly familiar characters in landscapes borrowed from dreams. Luvaas manages to make such swerving and impossible lives feel utterly true and real and maybe—incredibly—even normal.
Linda Swanson-Davies, Co-Editor Glimmer Train
Luvaas’ poetic prose is powerful as the Santa Ana winds yet delicate enough to limn the silences that speak louder than words, as in the title story, where the bond between a widow and her dying handyman is too profound to risk actual words of love.
Jendi Reiter, WINNING WRITERS WEBSITE
Ashes Rain Down is holy-smokes brilliant, ten connected stories of the apocalypse that are sharp and filthy and gut-bustingly funny, to boot. I’ve been shouting it for years, but now I’ll shout it louder: William Luvaas, my friends, is a wild-eyed genius.
Lauren Groff, Author of Delicate Edible Birds
Heat, flies, wind and even ghosts form the eerie landscape of Luvaas’s extraordinary collection about love, hope and the stubborn resistance of humans even in the face of doom. Jaw-droppingly brilliant and downright transcendent.
Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You
While comparisons to Cormac McCarthy’s powerful The Road novel seem inevitable, William Luvaas’s brilliant new collection of short stories, Ashes Rain Down: A Story Cycle, is a wildly inventive and epic comedy of prophetic visions, and a masterpiece of fiction for our own modern times….Luvaas manages to weave ten stories into a moving, gripping and often hilarious journey of wily characters—friends, lovers and conflicted family members—attempting to navigate the demands of a crumbling world. In a year of extreme climate disruptions, Luvaas’s stories should be required reading—if only as a reminder of the never-ending quest for food, water, fuel, redemption, understanding, love—and sex—in a world shattered by the “forever war,” unrelenting natural disasters and unleashed civil disorder, and the power of storytelling to bring some sense and laugh-out-loud humor to the pieces.
Jeff Biggers, Huffington Post – Book of the Year
The Style and mixture of voices used throughout these ten tightly linked offerings suggests Flannery O’Connor’s eccentrics channeling the apocalyptic visions of Cormac McCarthy (if McCarthy had a sense of humor) laced with brilliant absurdities that might also be labeled eerie ecstasies, the musings of a gifted ironist, a jubilantly dark comedian, a compelling writer whose mind is filled with prophetic visions about a future entirely possible—credibly even inevitable.
Duff Brenna, Los Angeles Review of Books
The collection is strangely uplifting despite the operatic landscape of desolation that pervades every aspect of these characters’ lives….The writing style is poetic but also refreshingly crisp. Some stories echo elements of magic realism, layering the collection with an unsettling, almost cathartic energy.
Shoilee Khan, Foreword Reviews
Luvaas’ stories suggest that society would be less threatening, less unpredictable, if citizens banded together, and he suggests this by depicting libertarian characters trying to deal with the end of the world while retaining their value systems. Beneath the grotesques, and the gestures toward genre horror, Luvaas has created a deeply thoughtful cycle of stories.
Andre van Loon, Review 31
William Luvaas has published two previous novels, The Seductions of Natalie Bach (Little, Brown & Foreverland Press) and Going Under (Putnam & Foreverland Press), and two story collections, A Working Man’s Apocrypha (Univ. Okla. Press) and Ashes Rain Down: A Story Cycle (Spuyten Duyvil). His essays, articles and short stories have appeared in many publications, including The American Fiction Anthology, Antioch Review, Confrontation, Epiphany, Glimmer Train, Grain Mag., North American Review, Short Story, Stand Mag., The Sun, Texas Review, The Village Voice and The Washington Post Book World. He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Fiction. His stories have won Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open Contest, The Ledge Magazine’s Fiction Awards Competition and Fiction Network’s 2nd National Fiction Competition. He has taught creative writing at San Diego State University, The Univ. of California, Riverside and The Writer’s Voice in New York. He is online fiction editor for Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts. Luvaas’s collection Ashes Rain Down was The Huffington Post’s Book of the Year and a finalist for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
WILLIAM LUVAAS INTERVIEWED BY JULIA DRAKE 5/29/16
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).
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.
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.
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.
Glimmer Train Co-editor, Linda Swanson-Davies, says of your characters: “He manages 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.
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.