In KNAU's latest Southwest Book Review, the reviewer - Mary Sojourner - becomes the reviewed. Sojourner's latest novel 29 has just been released. It tells the story of Nell Walker, a woman navigating a cycle of despair after losing her heart - and her job as a high-powered corporate executive - all at once. She flees Los Angeles and ends up in the small desert town of Twenty Nine Palms in a battle against energy developers who are threatening sacred lands. Arizona Public Radio's Gillian Ferris spoke with Mary Sojourner about blending her passions for writing and environmental activism into the pages of 29.
GF: Why did you choose the Mojave Desert as the setting for your novel? Does that have personal significance for you?
MJ: I adore the Mojave Desert. I had my own kind of loss of everything in 2007, and I moved to the Mojave for a year. And, that landscape and the kindness of the people there were instrumental in coming back to myself.
GF: You mention landscape. It's a big theme in the book. Wind and solar energy development are also big themes running through 29. I thought it was very reflective of what's happening now across the world. In your opinion, is there a happy medium to moving toward sustainable energy while still trying to preserve and protect the environment?
MJ: Well, in the process of writing the book, I went from being a gung-ho-solar -energy-no-matter-what-person to somebody who believes now that rooftop solar energy is probably the only way to go; localized installations. And it happened because I met the people of the Chemehuevi Tribe who have faced big solar power installations impinging on their sacred sites. To me, sacred sites...the earth is more sacred than anything. So, the more I learned and the more I educated myself, I realized that wind power has lots of dangers in it mostly to wildlife and birds, and solar power - strongly - has lots of dangers.
GF: In some ways, maybe even down to the name of one of your characters - Monkey Burnett - this novel is reminiscent of Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang. The characters are fighting against development in the desert, they're going up against big corporations trying to be the voice for wilderness and indigenous people. Is that an accurate notion? Or, is that just my interpretation?
MJ: Ed Abbey's Desert Solitaire and Ed Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang were instrumental in my decision in 1984 to more to The West. I came out here with two vows: to write and to fight for The West. I knew Ed a little bit. I sat with him one time, and he cried about what's happening out here. I think if he could see what's happening now...his pain then was so great I can't even imagine it.
GF: Love and loss are huge themes in 29. For you, how is loving or losing a person similar - or different - from loving or losing a place?
MJ: Losing a place, at this point, is far more devastating. Once infrastructure goes over a place - at least in my lifetime and probably my kid's lifetime and my grandchildren's lifetime - that place is gone. And, it's maddening to me when people say, 'oh, the earth's going to go on'. That means nothing to the creatures that are living in a place right now. That means nothing to the web between the tree and the squirrel and the coyote. Nothing. It's nothing.