Your book is a synthesis of memoir and cultural critique. Why did you choose this form?

Because the material demanded it—isn’t this what writers usually say? Except in my case it was because the stand-alone memoir was going nowhere. The agents I sent it to all said the same thing: “I like it, but …” Then they couldn’t tell me what else was needed. So I hired an editor, sent her my chapters, and chewed my nails until we got on the phone. And the first words out of her mouth were, “The most interesting part of this book hasn’t been written yet.” Not what I wanted to hear when I was almost done with a full draft!

 

What was the “most interesting part” she was looking for?

It turned out to be connecting the dots between my personal experience and the larger culture. Some synthesizing of all those years I spent in grad school studying history and religion and anthropology.

Midnight blue water rested at the horizon under a brightening sky, framing shafts of pine and fir at shore’s edge. Here on the southern tip of Lopez Island, off the coast of Seattle, the dawn air was cool and still, the only sound a few songbirds calling far away. I headed across the needle-packed yard toward a clump of pines. The bald eagle nest was right over there, Anya had said; she’d seen the chicks fledging just days ago, and they couldn’t be far away now.

I turned my binoculars toward the pines, eager to spot that huge platform of sticks three to five feet across. Eagles use the same structure year after year, weaving in more and more sticks for support until the whole can weigh a ton or more. Surely a nest the size of a mattress should be easy to find! I scanned the trees in one direction. Nothing. Puzzled, I looked the other way. No nest anywhere in sight.

Soon my neck stiffened from the upward gaze. I lowered the glasses and headed across the thick carpet of pine needles. The eagles would have to show up soon. Anya had said they were here, so I might as well wait.