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Interview: Pat MacEwen on “Coyote Song”

Tell us a bit about “Coyote Song.”

The story concerns a head-on collision between modern forensics and three different magical traditions:  Native American, Voudoun, and Cambodian.  My home town is usually considered an agricultural backwater, but people come here from everywhere and bring their cultures and beliefs (and recipes!) with them.  The main character is half Miwok, so she represents the folks who were here first – the Native Americans and the Animal People.  Everyone and everything has been changed again and again by the repeated influx of new groups. Sometimes that causes conflicts, sometimes adaptation and unexpected fusions.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

This story grew out of events I was part of while working as a forensic tech (a CSI) at the Stockton Police Department.  Stockton took in about 40,000 Southeast Asians after the Viet Nam War, including Hmongs, Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians, and I spent a lot of time working in those communities.  There are lots of other ethnic groups too.  Our last 911 survey of translation needs said there were 125 different languages and dialects being spoken in town.  A whole set of traditions comes with every one of them.


Was “Coyote Song” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Nearly all of the characters and events in the story are based on cases I worked, or heard about from other CSIs.  I’ve filed off the serial numbers on the people, as I don’t want to embarrass anybody (although one of the minor characters is wearing a real name, at that person’s request).  I wanted to convey the reality of being an immigrant and what I’ve seen it do to families, and to tell the story from the point of view of the First Nations, who were invaded by everyone else.


What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?  Can you tell us more about the bangengut phenomenon?

We had a major problem with ‘bangengut’ for a while – that’s what the Cambodians call a sudden death syndrome with mysterious causes. The victims are usually young men who wake up screaming in the night, and then fall over dead, without a mark on their bodies.  One theory was that it’s caused by some new form of ergotism affecting rice, which is a dietary staple.  Now it looks more like it’s genetic – the victim has a nightmare and that sets off tachycardia, causing a heart attack.  Even if you survive the first attack, the Khmer say the Angel of Death will simply come back and try again, until she gets you.  The families are horrified by autopsies, so they used to hide the body when this happened.  Well, that automatically looks like a homicide to Western cops, so then we were off to the races.  It’s better now, since we’ve been able to hire some Southeast Asians, and the assimilation process has opened up more lines of communication.


What are you working on now?

My first novel was Rough Magic, the first book in a trilogy called ‘The Fallen’ which also looks at refugee communities in Stockton, only these particular refugees are elves.  So the crime scenes often involve either magic or magical creatures, and the forensic techniques the CSIs use have to deal with that.  The second book, True-Born, will be coming out later this year and has a lot to do with election year politics as well as another series of very odd murders.  So I’ve been having a lot of fun with that.  I’ve also got a blog on WordPress called “Fae Forensics.”  That is told from the point of view of the main character in ‘The Fallen’ – Sathyllien, a former fairy queen who now works as a CSI for the local police and tries to solve these murders.

The URL for the blog is here:

Oh, and there’s another Coyote story in the submission queue!


“Coyote Song” appears in the May/June 2016 issue of F&SF.

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