Tales on the farm; Michael and Bev Cotter share stories of farm life in his latest book, “The Killdeer”

Michael Cotter weaves a story on how his book “The Killdeer” and his storytelling came into being during a presentation last week at the Austin Public Library. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Michael Cotter weaves a story on how his book “The Killdeer” and his storytelling came into being during a presentation last week at the Austin Public Library. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Michael Cotter didn’t know he wanted to tell stories until “everything went to hell.”

“My first wife had left me, she took half the farm, and everything went to hell,” he joked to a laughing audience on a recent Friday at the Austin Public Library.

To hear him tell it, Michael was feeling pretty low at the time, but a series of events and the right people in his life led him to become one of the area’s most renowned storytellers, a tradition he continued this year with the release of his book, “The Killdeer,” with his wife, Bev Jackson Cotter.

"The Killdeer," By Michael Cotter

“The Killdeer,” By Michael Cotter

“It’s such a treat,” Michael said.

Michael has been a storyteller since the 1980s, when he and his banker at the time, Michaell Bednar, came up with the idea to put on a storytelling festival. The Hormel Foods Corp. strike was brewing at the time and farm prices weren’t so good. In light of that, Michael was surprised when he met Bednar for lunch and she proposed an event to help the town heal.

“She said, ‘We have a town to save and we’re going to put on a storytelling festival and you’re going to be the artistic director,’” Michael said. “And I looked around to be sure none of my neighbors were there to hear her calling me an artistic director, because I didn’t know what one was.”

From there, Michael got the idea to write down some of his stories. He had toured and done a few workshops with storytellers, but he didn’t know the best way to go about it. Michael had tried to write with two previous authors but hadn’t found a good connection with his co-writers — especially after one of them tried to get him to sign a contract right off the bat.

“I had been farming for too long for that,” he said.

Yet he eventually met his wife, Bev, who helped him write in his own voice, as she puts it. Though they attribute their differences to their heritage — Bev is of German descent, “so she has a plan,” while Michael is Irish, “so I don’t,” the two found they could feel out what worked best for Michael to put his stories on paper.

Michael’s wife Bev helped pen the book of his stories through the years. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Michael’s wife Bev helped pen the book of his stories through the years. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“We could tell whenever I had inserted a word,” she said. “It didn’t seem right as we were reading, so all of a sudden it was not him.”

Since then, Bev has helped Michael put his words on the page for a variety of books and anthologies on storytelling — usually having to do with his days on the farm.

“The Killdeer” is a new step for the Cotters, however. Though Michael and Bev have self-published two previous books, the Cotters were asked to write a book by Parkhurst Brothers Publishing, Inc., which specializes in histories.

“This is the first time a publisher has approached us,” Bev said.

That’s how, over the past year, Michael and Bev have worked on “The Killdeer,” which focuses on farm life Michael saw through the years, from his childhood in the ‘30s and ‘40s to the modern day.

Bev, who used to work in a museum, told the crowd she once believed history only belonged to the important people — kings, discoverers and the like. Yet she has learned over the years how important every story can be.

“Everybody has a story to tell,” she said.

“The Killdeer” was released in September. Copies are available at Amazon.com.

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