I met Deborah Coates when I was in graduate school at the University of Iowa. She and I were in a writers group together with a lot of other people. We called it Dragons of the Corn.
Deb writes beautiful magical realism, fantasy and science fiction. At one point, she was tossing around the term “rural fantasy.” Her prose is lovely, and the moods she creates are delicate and pervasive.
“Magic in a Certain Slant of Light” is one of my favorites of her short stories. Take a look at the beginning:
Jeff has been gone all day, helping a friend fix the plumbing in his basement. There’s no “Hello,” or “How was your day?” Just Jeff, in the doorway, asking about magic. “It can’t be about yourself,” he continues. “I mean, like making yourself immortal. Or about world peace. It has to be—”
“Talking dogs,” Nora says.
Jeff smiles in that way he has that seems to change his face. He’s wearing faded jeans and a sweatshirt that’s been washed so many times its cuffs are all unraveled; it’s a change from pin-striped suits and crisp white shirts. “You know, Dexter made a dog talk once and it didn’t work out like he figured it would. That dog was annoying.”
“Well, I don’t know how to tell you this”—Nora chops onions under running water, then transfers them to the frying pan on the stove—”but I don’t rely on Dexter’s Laboratory for my scientific knowledge.”
“Talking dogs are not scientific.”
“Yeah, magical.” Nora turns the heat up on the pan and looks through the cupboards for the spices that she needs. She swears that they’re never where she put them, no matter how often she returns them to their proper place. “That’s what we were talking about, right? Magic? You tell me, what would you wish for?”
“Zeppelins,” he says without hesitation.
“Uhm, zeppelins actually exist.”
He stands in the kitchen doorway, slouched against the frame, and she knows that he will leave her. There is something in the way he looks, a shadow in his eye, that wasn’t there yesterday or even this morning. And it almost kills her, like being stabbed right through the heart, because he’s the only one she ever really loved.
“Zeppelins,” he says, crossing to her and putting his arms around her waist from behind as she turns back to the stove, “are a collective figment of the imagination.”
“Zeppelins are totally possible. Plus, you can ride in one.”
He kisses the back of her neck and it feels like the soft brush of sun-warmed honey. “Bring me a zeppelin,” he says. His words murmur against her skin as he talks and she can feel his smile through the small hairs along the nape of her neck. “Then I’ll believe you.”
“Bring me a talking dog.”
By the way, since the story involves talking dogs, I may as well show off a picture of Deb’s. The photograph is from Deb’s site, taken by Rachel Ritland.