The Next Chapter

Susan Perly on the inspirational power of the desert

The journalist speaks about her novel Death Valley and why she says the land has PTSD.
Susan Perly's novel Death Valley was inspired by the sand dunes and emptiness of the Nevada desert. (Wolsak and Wynn/Indigo)

As a journalist Susan Perly reported from conflict zones in Guatemala, El Salvador and Chiapas. Known for her Letters from Latin America and Letters From Baghdad series of reports, her experience covering wars partly inspired her to write the novel Death Valley. The darkly humourous story follows the exploits of a fictional war photographer whose mission for revenge takes her and her husband on a road trip through the Nevada desert, with unforeseen consequences.

Finding inspiration in the sand

"Death Valley began because I went hiking with my husband Dennis Lee in Death Valley. We went there by chance and we fell in love with the sand dunes, we fell in love with the openness, with the remarkable sense of nature, and with the sense that there might be hope in the future because this was such a vast, wild and inspiring place."   

Narrative autopsy

"The lasdscape is where 900 atomic bombs were set off at the Nevada test site. I was fascinated by the emptiness and what might have happened. In a way, I thought the land had PTSD. I started thinking I'm doing a narrative autopsy of a body, including the characters, the human bodies, but also the land." 

Susan Perly's comments have been edited and condensed