As a historical novelist, Amanda Cockrell ’69, M.A. ’88 has employed backdrops ranging from the Hollywood blacklist to Roman myth and history. This spring, Cockrell, who retired in 2018 as director of Hollins’ graduate programs in children’s literature and currently is managing editor of Hollins University’s literary journal, The Hollins Critic, is immersing readers in the Vietnam War era with Coyote Weather, published by Northampton House Press.
Covering the years 1967 to 1972, Coyote Weather “is set partly in Virginia and partly in California in the town where I grew up,” Cockrell explains in an interview with author Brook Allen. “I have written a lot of other historical fiction from pre-Columbian to Victorian and Edwardian, but this one was the hardest, mainly because to me it is not historical fiction at all but fiction set in the years of my early twenties.” She adds, “It’s not autobiographical, although a few of the experiences are mine, as is the era.”
In its synopsis of the novel, Northampton House Press describes “coyote weather” as “the feral, hungry season in California, when everything is drought-stricken and ready to catch fire. It’s 1967 and the American culture is violently remaking itself while the country is forcing its young men to fight in a deeply unpopular war.”
Among the book’s main characters, “Jerry has stubbornly made no plans for the future because he believes that, in the shadow of Vietnam, the Cold War, and atomic bomb drills, there won’t be one. Ellen’s determined to have a plan, because nothing else can keep the world from tilting. And the Ghost just wants to go home to a place that won’t let him in: the small California town where they all grew up.”
Bestselling author and Hollins alumna Lee Smith ’67 praises Coyote Weather as “a spectacular re-creation of a lost but essential time in our history—California, the ’60s, Vietnam—nobody has ever captured it more accurately or written it with more understanding—from several different perspectives. A must read. Bravo!” John Ketwig, author of …and a hard rain fell: A G.I.’s True Story of the War in Vietnam, says, “This splendid novel describes the Vietnam generation’s feelings about the war in Southeast Asia, the draft, relationships, the counterculture, psychedelia, women’s issues, commitments, sexual tensions, and the looming uncertainty of where we were headed as individuals and a country. It’s a trip, with all that and more combined in an artful, beautifully written journey.” Historia, the magazine of the Historical Writers’ Association, cites Coyote Weather as one of the “Historical Books to Look Out for in 2023.”
The daughter of a screenwriter and a novelist, Cockrell holds a master’s degree in English and creative writing from Hollins. She has received fellowships in fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Under the pseudonym Damion Hunter, she wrote Shadow of the Eagle, a novel of Roman Britain and the first in The Borderlands series; The Legions of the Mist; The Wall at the Edge of the World; and the Centurion series. The young adult novel What We Keep Is Not Always What Will Stay; Pomegranate Seed, which spans the eras of silent film and Joseph McCarthy; the trilogies The Deer Dancers and The Horse Catchers; mythological novels of the American Southwest; and The Moonshine Blade, a comic thriller set in her current home of Southwest Virginia, are her books writing as Amanda Cockrell.