The Book Smugglers


Above all, I adore the series’ protagonist, Hallie. I love her arc and I love her resolution and fierceness. She is taciturn (like many of the characters in the series) and often hasty but never stupid. I appreciate how her arc was about choice and about coming to understand her place in the world…Read the rest here.

Publisher’s Weekly


Serial killings and macabre motives are the order of the day in this solid third adventure (after Wide Open and Deep Down) featuring psychic Hallie Michaels, whose return from the land of the dead has opened her life up to a plethora of supernatural incursions… Read the rest here.

Strange Country is out today

Strange CountryMy third novel, Strange Country, is on bookstore shelves today.

Here’s the description:

After facing Death himself and banishing a reaper bent on the destruction of Sheriff’s deputy Boyd Davies, Hallie Michaels had hoped things would finally settle down; that she and Boyd would find more time to spend together, and that the ghosts she attracts would stay in the cemeteries where they belong.

But on a wintry night in mid-December, a woman is murdered with a high-powered rifle. Not long after, another of West Prairie City’s citizens is killed in exactly the same way, drawing the attention of state investigators. But the connection between the victims is not easily uncovered.

Meanwhile, Hallie finds a note tied to post outside her home. “What do you fear most?” it asks, accompanied by a set of map coordinates. Over the next few days she receives an anonymous phone call, and a letter left for Hallie at the local ag supply. All pose the same question and offer the same set of coordinates. The mystery deepens, and Hallie must solve it before the body count rises again, in Strange Country by Deborah Coates.


What I’ll say: Strange Country is about Hallie and Boyd, about a killer, about the past and the present, about dogs, both supernatural and non-, about place and family and friends and community, about figuring out what you want and about holding onto it.

I hope it sounds like something you’d like to buy. But more than that I hope it sounds like something you’d enjoy.

Deep Down Out in Paperback

Deep Down cover


Deep Down, the second book in my three book contemporary fantasy series set in western South Dakota, came out in trade paperback on February 11th.

About the story:

All that changes when she gets a call asking her to help an elderly neighbor who is being stalked by black dogs, creatures from the underworld that are harbingers of death. When a black dog appears, Hallie learns, a reaper is sure to follow. And if the dark visions she’s suddenly receiving are any indication, it looks like the reaper is now following her.

Meanwhile, strange events herald the arrival of ghosts from Boyd’s past, ghosts the young deputy isn’t ready to face. Refusing Hallie’s help, Boyd takes off to deal with the problem on his own, only to find that he’s facing something much larger and more frightening than he’d imagined.

Stalked by a reaper and plagued by dark visions, Hallie finds she must face her fears and travel into Death’s own realm to save those she most loves.

What other people say:

 From The Gazette:

This may sound like a fantasy thriller — and it is — but it’s also a story about  the sense of community and steadfastness present in the Midwest. When Hallie finds herself caught in a riddle, she turns to a neighbor. When she’s facing down an angry ghost, the county sheriff stands by her, even though he has no  idea what’s happening. In times of trouble, we turn to one another and show our true (and hopefully best) selves. Coates captures this beautifully.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Supernatural-sensitive Hallie Michaels returns for a thrill-packed adventure in this solid follow-up to Wide Open.


With Hallie Michaels, Coates has given us an interesting character with a compelling voice. The friendship between her and Boyd Davies—the developing relationship—feels real, honest, textured. Nuanced, the way real relationships are. Her interaction with the supernatural is a combination of eerie and well, shit matter-of-fact. I particularly enjoyed the fact that one of the black dogs just decides to follow Hallie around. Because it thinks she’s interesting.

 To buy:


Strange Country


Coming soon: The third novel in a stunning “rural fantasy” series

The third novel in the sequence that includes Wide Open and Deep Down, Strange Country will be published on May 27, 2014.

In Strange Country, Hallie is settling into life in Taylor County, South Dakota. She’s survived a trip to the underworld and she has a ranch to run, and she’s waiting, not very patiently, for the other shoe to drop. Death will return. He always does. And Hallie knows that this time could be the final meeting she dreads.

Meanwhile, deputy Boyd Davies gets a late night call to investigate a prowler. An hour later, a woman is dead, shot and killed by a bullet from a high-powered rifle. It soon becomes clear that the killing is far from over, that ever small town has its secrets, and that Taylor County’s secrets are stranger than most.

Coming home isn’t easy. When you combine your home coming with harbingers, ghosts, strange magic and Death, it can be downright deadly.

Short Stories

Slide1Thanks to a helpful cover-making tutorial from Jenn Reese (she actually did the great cover for Cowgirls in Space a while back) I’ve put some of my short stories up as ebooks.  In particular, this includes some of the stories I originally published in Asimov’s and that aren’t available elsewhere.  One or two of them might, possibly, if you look, also be available out on the Internets.  Some of them, however, have never been reprinted anywhere.

If you want them nicely formatted for your Kindle or Nook with covers and no DRM, well, now you can have them.

The stories are:

Cowgirls In Space (Amazon/B&N)
They called themselves the Junkyard Girls, used to ride drill team in the summer parades all over Nebraska. One hot July day in the back of the junkyard where they practiced, Big Patti found a Thing. The Junkyard Girls–and the world–would never be the same….

46 Directions, None Of Them North (with bonus story, Flyboy) (Amazon/B&N)
Aliens are landing in Fairbanks, Alaska on June 21st. One lone high school student knows it’s going to happen because–text messages on her cell phone, duh! She’s determined to get there. Somehow. Best friend? Boy friend? Dad? Mom??? Someone’s going to help her, aren’t they?

Magic In A Certain Slant Of Light (Amazon/B&N)
Nora knows science. She knows what’s going to happen before it happens. She knows that Jeff will leave her and she doesn’t know what to do about it.

Chainsaw On Hand (Amazon/B&N)
Chelly used to think she knew her ex-husband Bobby better than anyone. She used to think he knew her. But that was before he started seeing angels. Or maybe fairies. Or really handsome trolls. Now she has to figure out what it means to live in South Dakota in the winter with a chainsaw on hand.

The Whale’s Lover (Amazon/B&N)
Tish has come to the end of the universe to hunt the leviathan. She’s come to escape her past. On Pretoria, in the middle of a vast and endless ocean, it turns out the one thing you can’t escape is yourself. And when you call the leviathan, sometimes the leviathan is calling you.

How To Hide Your Heart (Amazon/B&N)
Max hunts nightmare Things in the dark and mostly alone. Then, he meets Beth who’s too skinny and too shy and no one ever notices her. Beth knows about Things. She doesn’t want to. She pretends she doesn’t. But both Max and Beth know that sometimes you have to do what needs to be done. And sometimes you don’t have to do it alone.

What Makes A River (Amazon/B&N), a sequel to How To Hide Your Heart, is also available as an ebook from Tor.


Strange Country

old elevator sqThere will indeed be a third book featuring Hallie Michaels and Boyd Davies.  It will be published in early 2014.

In the meantime, here’s a brief snippet (which could still change) from Strange Country:

The phone woke Hallie at 4:00 in the morning.

She blinked, sitting up before she was even awake, but disoriented because it was dark and she’d been having a dark dream that she didn’t actually remember, except it was about escape and wanting and things that had never been promised, but could still be taken.

“Hello?”  For a moment, she thought it was Death on the phone, thought he’d found a way to reach her in the world.

“Hallie Michaels?”

She didn’t recognize the voice, couldn’t have recognized it because it was mechanical, spoken through some sort of filter, deep and slow and flat like something ground from stone.

“Who the hell is this?”

“Is this Hallie Michaels?”

Hallie threw back the blankets, dropped her bare feet onto the cold wood floor and started looking for jeans and a shirt.  Nothing good was going to come from a disguised mechanical voice calling at four o’clock in the morning.

Deep Down Deleted Scene #3

Windmill 2One more deleted scene before Deep Down is available tomorrow.  The fox who appears in this excerpt was left out of the final version of the book entirely.  Maybe it will come back in some future story.

When Hallie’s alarm went off the next morning at 6:30 AM, she sat up blinking.  It might have been the first time since she’d come home that she’d slept a full 8 hours straight without waking.  It was not quite light, the sky outside her window lightened to charcoal, but everything still indistinct and dark.

One of the water troughs needed repair down in the back south pasture and Hallie’d told her father she’d get to it today.  After a quick breakfast, she grabbed a jacket and headed to the barn to load supplies.  The little fox was back, trotting behind her as she crossed the yard.  She stopped.  The fox stopped.

“What do you want?” she asked.

The fox looked at her.  It sat and curled its tail around its body and blinked its eyes.  Hallie headed on into the barn.  At least it wasn’t trying to kill her.

When she came back out, the ghost was there, floating in the early morning sunlight, almost completely transparent, but there all the same.  Great.  “He told me it wasn’t any of my business,” Hallie said. “So, go away.” It made her morning just about perfect so far, talking to two things that didn’t talk back.  The ghost floated, staring, maybe at her, maybe at nothing, cold radiating like a deep freeze.

foxHallie ignored both–the fox and the ghost–and loaded the truck with wrenches and hammers, a shovel, and several lengths of pipe in case she actually had to replace something.  The morning was cool and clear, a light wind blowing out of the north.  Things had started to green up in the last few days, though there was still plenty of dead, dry grass.  The ground was springy underneath, an artifact of the snow melt.

Hallie was never sure if she liked spring or not.  She’d been through spring in four different places–South Dakota, Missouri, Texas and Afghanistan.  Sometimes it was gloomy, cold, and muddy.  Other times it was warm and bright and alive, like Persephone really did walk out of Hell, bringing life and flowers with her.

This spring was the first time in a long time when Hallie seriously didn’t know what she was going to do next.  Not day to day didn’t know, because she could keep busy on the ranch all spring.  But after that, for her sanity and her father’s, both, she’d need to figure out what she was going to do next.

Out at the water trough and windmill, she replaced a length of pipe.  As she worked, she thought about Boyd.  She thought about the accident and the zone of dead things surrounding it.  And she thought about the fox.  She didn’t want any of it.  Because, why her?  Though the accident had maybe been directed at  her.  Or directed through her to Boyd.  Still, she had no idea what it meant and she didn’t think Boyd really did either.

She worked steadily until just after noon, replaced two lengths of pipe, inspected three other water troughs and replaced a bent windmill blade on one of them.  She was rolling back across one of the upper pastures when her phone beeped.  A voice mail from her father.

“Hey, where are you?” Like this was a regular conversation and she was going to answer him.  “Don Pabahar called me.  Says he hasn’t heard from his Mom in a couple of days.  Wanted one of us to stop by and check on her.  Since you’re out that way I figured you could do it on your way back.  Okay?  Yeah, talk to you later.”

Well, shit.

1. Fox. By Mark Lehigh. Used under  CC BY-NC-SC 2.0)
2. Windmill. By Karen Sergent.  Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Deep Down Deleted Scene #2

Warning: This scene is just a little spoilery though a) the scene itself or any variation of the scene isn’t in the book and b) I don’t think it’s much more spoilery than some of the reviews.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Paint horse“Hallie?  Hallie Michaels?”

Hallie looked up.  In front of her stood a man she guessed was about her own age.  He was tall with broad-shoulders, dark hair cut a shade too long, wearing a cowboy hat, starched blue and red Western shirt, faded blue jeans and boots.  For a moment, he looked like Pete Bolluyt and Hallie’s senses ratcheted up.  Her head knew it couldn’t be Pete, Pete had died last fall, along with Martin.  It couldn’t be Pete.  It wasn’t. 

She willed herself to relax.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” the man said.

Hallie stood.   “I don’t–” she began.

“Will Tolliver,” he told her without waiting for her to finish.

“Wow,” Hallie said, because Will Tolliver had been the skinniest guy in her class and not nearly as tall as he was now.  He’d had glasses that were always broken and taped together crooked, a rash of freckles that had made him look like he was blushing all the time and a spiky haircut that his mother gave him every other Saturday at home.

He made a gesture toward a chair, “Can I–”

“Yeah, sure.”  She sat back down and gestured toward the other chair with an open hand.

“You want a beer?” he asked and signaled the waitress without waiting for her answer, though when the waitress came he turned to Hallie and cocked an eyebrow.  Hallie tipped the bottle in her hand, realized it was still half full and shook her head.  Will slipped a ten into the waitress’s apron and gave her a grin full of gleaming white teeth.  Then, he turned back to Hallie.  “So,” he said, “what have you been up to since high school?”

Hallie looked at him.  What was she supposed to say?  I died?  I can see ghosts?  Finally she said, “I left for awhile, but now I’m back.”

He frowned, not entirely sure what to do with that answer.  “I’m going to law school,” he said.  “Well, not right this minute, but I’m in my second year, out at the University of Washington.”  He leaned back in his chair, laughter in his eyes, like it was all good with him, all easy.  Hallie remembered easy, she did.  It was supposed to be easy now.  She had a place to live, not too much work to do, a flexible schedule and wide open spaces.  Easy.

“Did you go to college after?” Will asked.  “I never heard.”

“No, I–”  She looked up, but not at Will.  Then she grinned, quick and bright enough, apparently, that Will’s head came up and he turned to follow her gaze.  Boyd crossed the floor toward them.  He stopped when someone reached a hand out, bent over their table with a serious expression on his face.  He wore what Hallie had come to think of as his out-of-uniform uniform–blue-jeans with a barely visible crease down the center of each leg, a button-down shirt ironed with knife-like precision.  He had one hand stuck in his jeans’ pocket as he listened to a Sigurdsen hand.  Then he grinned, so quick most people would miss it and straightened. 

He looked around for a moment, spotted Hallie and approached.

“Hey,” Hallie said. 

Boyd looked from Hallie to Will. 

“Will Tolliver,” Hallie said.

“Well,” Will shoved himself to his feet. He grabbed Hallie and hugged her, like they’d been friends for years, rather than two people who hadn’t seen each other since graduation.  He kissed her quick on the cheek.  “See you around,” he said, grabbed the beer the waitress was just bringing him off her tray and sauntered off to the bar.

“We were in high school,” Hallie said, though Boyd hadn’t asked.

Frost trees winterA different waitress brought Boyd a beer and a glass without asking, like she’d been watching the door until he came in.  And maybe she had.  He was the prettiest boy in the room and that wasn’t just Hallie’s opinion; it was one of the first things someone had told her when she came back to Taylor County.  He had short dark blond hair precisely cut, like he’d been in the military, though Hallie knew that he hadn’t.  His face was refined, almost delicate, his cheekbones were high, though not prominent, his eyes were a dark blue-gray, like storms.

None of those things, though pleasant enough, were why Hallie liked him, though.  He was thoughtful and kind, also good traits, but not ‘it.’  He’d backed her when it counted.  He listened.  And sometimes he smiled, like the sun breaking through.

Tonight he looked a little grim, the lines around his mouth tighter than usual.

“Hey,” Hallie said.  She reached across and took his hand.  He jumped, like he’d been a million miles away.  “I thought you were working today,” she said.

He smiled, then settled himself more completely in his chair and leaned toward her.  “Something came up,” he said.  “I heard you found a wreck out on route 4.”

“What did Teedt say?” Hallie asked.  The band was testing their microphones and Hallie slid her chair toward Boyd and leaned closer. 

“Basically, that’s what he said.  You found a wreck out on route 4.”

“Has he identified the cars yet?”

Boyd raised an eyebrow.

“No,” Hallie said, “don’t tell me it’s an ‘official investigation.’”  Because they’d been through all this last year.  If he didn’t want to tell her, she’d find out anyway.

Boyd shook his head.  “Well, it is an official investigation.  But I can tell you he hasn’t found anything yet.  The license plates don’t exist.  Well,” he considered, “they exist.  Obviously.  They don’t appear to belong to anyone.”

“Wow.”  Though in a way Hallie wasn’t surprised. “I need to–” she began.

“Dance with me?”

“What?”  Her thoughts had been clear out on the prairie, here and gone from dancing.

Boyd smiled, tilted his head as he did it, as if she’d said something surprising.  “Dance.  With me.”

The band was striking up a slow song, a ballad about cheating wives or dead lovers or old dogs or something.  And Hallie did want to dance with him.  Wanted to breathe.  To listen to him breathing.

She also wanted–needed–to talk about wrecks in the middle of nowhere and disappearing men and dead trees.

“Yes,” she said.  “Okay.  But, tomorrow?” she said it like a question, though it wasn’t.  “Out where the wreck was–there’s something I want to show you.”

“Okay,” he said.  “Okay.”  They stood and he was so close, she could feel his breath on her neck.  She turned and he kissed her, right there, in front of the world.   She slid a hand along the small of his back where his shirt met his jeans.  He was warm, always warm and lean and…

“Let’s dance,” she whispered it in his ear, like it was a promise, which maybe it was because they’d been dancing around each other for months, mostly because Hallie didn’t want to/couldn’t commit to anything that said–you’re staying here. 

But she was staying here, wasn’t she?  It was time to get used to it.

Prairie house 1As they walked onto the dance floor, she told herself–don’t think–which turned out to be a mistake because it all began to play back in her mind like an unwinding movie reel–red car, grain truck, dead grass, dead trees, birds–

“Hey,” Boyd’s voice was low.  “You with me?”

“Not entirely,” she said.  “It’s been a weird day.”

“Can it wait?” he said.  His left hand rested lightly on her back, his right holding hers.  He could actually dance, which was another thing about him, probably actually liked it though Hallie had never asked.  She didn’t care much one way or another about dancing itself, but she liked the touch, liked moving together, liked the feel of being together, of letting the world go.

“It can wait,” she said.

Pictures used under CC license:

  1. Paint Horse by Rachel Patterson CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0
  2. Frost trees winter by tinkerick CC-BY-2.0
  3. Prairie house by gripped CC-BY-2.0