2017-06-01 / Front Page

Coyote Saga Inspires Local Novelist

By James Merolla

When coyotes became problematic in Newport and Middletown, one island nature lover did the only responsible thing in his repertoire: he wrote a novel about it.

James Conroy, a popular novelist, moved to Newport in the summer of 2010. The coyote issue was getting notice, sporadically, in the local press. This month, with the publication of “The Coyote Hunter of Aquidneck Island,” Conroy’s fictionalized account of Middletown’s solution to the dilemma may get some press attention as well.

By 2012, with media coverage of the coyotes increasing, Conroy’s notes solidified the plot in his mind and he began a first draft in January 2012, accompanied by the necessary research for authenticity, though not historical accuracy.

His plot involves a retired federal civil servant, Micah LaVeck, who is semi-incapacitated and intrigued by the fictionalized Middletown’s hiring of a lone, professional, Native American woman hunter to remove the band of animals humanely and discreetly.

LaVeck finds former Army sniper

Kodi Red Moon provocative, exotic, athletic and much more. Her initial hunts are successful, but despite attempts to curtail publicity, it’s a small island. Local amateur hunters want their crack at the “fair game.”

“The hiring of the ‘official’ coyote hunter by Middletown nailed [writing the book] for me. Based on the emotional, environmental, and political facets reported, frankly, the idea was irresistible. It nagged at me for months until I gave in,” said Conroy.

“[The coyotes] deserve our consideration and respect. I don’t have the answers, and my book doesn’t provide one. I only hope it raises awareness that we are often too quick to react to an inconvenient reality and selfishly choose the course that suits only us,” said the author.

Conroy credits Newport This Week’s late nature writer/photographer Jack Kelly with inspiring his love of natural possibilities on the island.

“I never personally met Jack Kelly, and I regret that immeasurably. Every week, I looked forward to his column. Micah LaVeck is an amateur birdwatcher. I cut out Jack’s pictures of local birds and pasted them in a notebook,” Conroy said.

“While writing the book, I used them for reference. I still have the notebook, and wouldn’t part with it.

“I would have loved his opinion of the book, good or bad, and taken his critique to heart. His concern for the environment and empathy for creatures, all kinds, was boundless. Also, Jack was one damn fine writer.”

Though the book is based on a true event, Middletown’s coyote hunter, Conroy emphasized it is “entirely fiction,” and “pure imagination,” like the town having a mayor, rather than a town administrator, and other inventions to advance the plot.

“I thought the story’s issue and theme were bigger than its setting, so I had to improvise in many places to make it more accessible and understandable to a wider readership. I beg the indulgence of my fellow islanders as I did not want to hamper the book’s pacing with explanations of the intricacies of local politics and infrastructure,” said Conroy.

All of his research was for background only, not “factual integrity,” he added. “I visited all the places in the book and, as a writer will do, made composite characters from some people that I met, but I did not ‘officially’ interview anyone.”

Every novel he has written, he said, has a “sense of place,” and was written in that place: his New York novels, his Chicago novels and now, his Aquidneck Island novel.

He pointed out that the book was sold to its publisher, The Permanent Press, in November 2015, long before “Cliff the coyote,” who approached joggers and had to be moved to an off-island natural area, became national news.

“I have two projects in the works I intend to finish before possibly meeting up with Cliff,” said Conroy. “I have not yet written a sequel to any of my books. We’ll see.”

Sheila Deeth of Goodreads, writes: “Coyote Hunter is a truly beautiful book, a hauntingly evocative story, and a vision that expands to encompass far more than is told. It’s highly recommended. 5 Stars.”

“The Coyote Hunter of Aquidneck Island” is available online.

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