There are many good reasons to live in Ottawa, including ice skating on the Rideau Canal, concerts at the National Arts Centre, and easy access to the cosmopolitan pleasures of Montreal, just a couple hours’ drive away. But even the promise of a teaching job at Carleton University couldn’t keep Ivan E. Coyote in Eastern Canada.
As of this November, the prolific storyteller is coming home to Vancouver, where the attractions include great food, great scenery, a queer-positive culture, and, most of all, a supportive network of friends.
“I was going to stay,” says Coyote, who’s finishing up a year in our nation’s capital, thanks to Carleton’s writer-in-residence program. “But I realized that I have 20-year friendships in Vancouver, and I really cherish those. They really mean a lot to me—and a 20-year friendship in Ottawa is going to take another 19 years!”
Friends, family, and lovers are the lifeblood of Coyote’s latest story collection, The Slow Fix (Arsenal Pulp Press, $18.95). These largely autobiographical pieces are all about connection—or, sometimes, missed connections. They’re about fitting in, or not. They’re about being mistaken for a man by little old ladies in gas-station restrooms, and about being mistaken for a girl by one’s own family.
Coyote self-defines as “a primarily estrogen-based organism” but dresses male; at 39, the boyish author looks enough like a fresh-faced young man that even bigots can be fooled. The Slow Fix includes “Judging a Book”, a hilarious anecdote about one such incident.
“I realized how fun it was to listen to a fundamentalist Christian lecture me on how God wanted me to marry my girlfriend,” Coyote writes, “how the family unit in this country was depending on me, and how not fun it might immediately become if he were to find out he was brushing thighs with a full-blown sodomite disguised as a harmless wayward Catholic boy in a crisp shirt and a tie.”¦I told him he was right, and that I was going to propose to my girlfriend as soon as I had enough money saved up to buy a decent conflict-free diamond ring.”
The wonder of Coyote’s stories, though, is that even the straightest reader will be touched by their generous heart, and by the seeming immediacy of their kitchen-table clarity. But, as the author explains, their construction is not always as straightforward as it might appear.
“It takes a while for me to build the characters up,” Coyote says. “With the longer projects especially, they start from this seemingly small, not-very-significant detail. You know how oysters, when they’re making a pearl, it starts off with a little piece of sand? Well, it’s sort of like a little piece of sand gets in the crack of my ass—except for it’s in my brain.”
Coyote’s new novel-in-progress, tentatively titled The Truth About That Man, traces its genesis back 10 years, taking its inspiration from an unclaimed roll of film that a friend found while working in a remote Yukon park.
“The photos were of these four old ladies on holiday together,” explains the Whitehorse-born author. “Now, I know what groups of tourists look like in the Yukon—and they’re certainly not four little old ladies in a Honda Civic and a tent, right?”
Some magnifying-glass-assisted forensic work revealed that one of the women was sporting a labrys necklace, and this lesbian signifier further sparked Coyote’s imagination.
“I started to build a story around that, and it turned out the story’s really about twin sisters—one’s straight and one’s not—whose father has just died. And he’s asked them to scatter his ashes in Marsh Lake, just outside of Whitehorse, where him and three of his buddies capsized in the late 1950s. His three buddies drowned, and he didn’t—but he always felt that there was a part of him that belonged at the bottom of Marsh Lake with his friends. So that’s the premise of why they’re up there.”
This next major undertaking, then, is another exploration of family, friendship, sexuality, and the Canadian North—topics Coyote taps as movingly as anyone writing today.