Cast adrift in 1870s San Francisco after the death of her mother, a girl named Olive disguises herself as a boy and works as a lighthouse keeper’s assistant on the Farallon Islands to escape the dangers of a world unkind to young women. In 1941, nomad Victor scours the Sierras searching for refuge from a home to which he never belonged. And in the present day, precocious fifteen year-old Lily struggles, despite her willfulness, to find a place for herself amongst the small town attitudes of Burning Hills, Oregon. Living alone with her hardscrabble mother Alice compounds the problem―though their unique relationship to the natural world ties them together, Alice keeps an awful secret from her daughter, one that threatens to ignite the tension growing between them.
Emily Strelow's mesmerizing debut stitches together a sprawling saga of the feral Northwest across farmlands and deserts and generations: an American mosaic alive with birdsong and gunsmoke, held together by a silver box of eggshells―a long-ago gift from a mother to her daughter. Written with grace, grit, and an acute knowledge of how the past insists upon itself, The Wild Birds is a radiant and human story about the shelters we find and make along our crooked paths home.
Blurbs about THE WILD BIRDS
"The Wild Birds ranges over the Northwest and across decades, circling a diverse cast on the blind hunt for happiness. A lovesong to the living world, this shimmering, intricate web of a book is going to capture hearts."
―Karen Russell, New York Times bestselling author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove
"Strelow’s writing brings to mind early Barbara Kingsolver..."
―Washington Independent Review of Books
"Starting a human story from a harrier hawk’s point of view is one thing, but learning the hawk is hunting blind is but the first epiphany-twist in this novel Strelow sustains in the musical key of surprise. The prevailing intelligence in this story is feral, or sacred, where wise child Lily knows “the orchestra of whim and wonderment were not to be conducted by anyone other than herself.” An array of seekers travel unprotected through a landscape that welcomes them “to taste from the fountain” of the deep life force. This book will convey you through complex forms of kinship, and into the intuitive heart of the natural world, where a new way to be human is just being found."
―Kim Stafford, author of 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared
Interview with Emily Strelow
Emily Strelow’s debut novel, THE WILD BIRDS, was released on March 16th, 2018 by Rare Bird Books
Question - Please describe what the book is about.
Emily Strelow - Ultimately, it is a book about interconnectivity. It’s a book about how connected we are as humans, animals, insects and ecosystems. The interweaved characters illuminate what it is to experience trials and survival, connection and redemption.
Q - Share a teaser from your book.
ES - There are some wonderful adventurous food moments in the book. If you like the idea of duck eggs or eating raw abalone, this might be your book.
Q - Where did you get the idea?
ES - The idea percolated off a short story I wrote just after graduate school (MFA from University of Washington). I kept trying to make the story shorter and it kept getting longer…and longer…and longer.
Q - What’s the story behind the title?
ES - My agent and his team decided on the title. I had the title Patterns of Flight, but it was not to be.
Q - No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
ES - If you are the type of person interested in natural systems, wild animals, insects and birds, then this book is for you. If you hate nature, maybe skip it ;)
Q - Tell us about your favorite character.
ES - So hard to choose. But I am very close to the character of Sal, as she is a field biologist roaming the southwest for her work like a lone coyote. It was really fun to draw on my own experiences with wildlife for her chapters.
Q - If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
ES - I have a little crush on the character of Warren, an egger on the Farralon Islands in 1870. He’s rugged and bearded but has a big heart. He also knows a lot about fishing, mythology, adventure and daring escapes.
Q - Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?
ES - They are all fictional but of course there were moments I drew on people I’d met over the years, including, but not limited to, a naked bookseller in Arizona.
Q - How long did you take to write this book?
ES - Over 10 years! YIKES.
Q - What kind of research did you do for this book?
ES - Two timelines are historical so I did intensive research at both the Oregon and California Historical Societies.
Q - What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
ES - I had more on the state of Jefferson historical timeline written but it had to go for flow’s sake.
Q - Are you a plotter or a pantser?
ES - I’ve been a total pantser in the past but I’m trying to be more of a plotter.
Q - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
ES - I love the feeling of being inhabited by characters as they evolve and grow. After a day of writing successfully I can be floating free as though I’ve let go of all my anxiety and cares. If only they could bottle that stuff, I swear.
Q - What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
ES - Plotting, because my mind always wants to add MORE MORE MORE and sticking to the timeline and plot at hand can feel weighty, at times.
Q - Can you share your writing routine?
ES - Well. I have two small children, but one’s now in school finally. I write while the little one is napping. And then when he wakes up the party of playing on the floor with him commences.
Q - Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
ES - Sometimes I’ll just look at a photo, or read a poem, and try to riff off the ideas.
Q - If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
ES - Be more confident in your own talents.
Q - How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
ES - This is my first and only manuscript. But I’m working on a project right now I absolutely love.
Q - Do you have any writing quirks?
ES - Counter to the stereotype, I can’t seem to work in coffee shops. I’m too easily distracted. But I CAN work at the library in a quiet corner.
Q - Tell us about yourself.
ES - I’ve been a writing instructor and field biology tech since 2006. I have two beautiful, funny and kind boys with my husband (also funny and kind).
Q - How did you get into writing?
ES - Can’t remember a time I wasn’t, to be honest! I started out with poetry and moved into short stories in my teens.
Q - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
ES - I have to get out and hike almost every day, rain or shine. Lucky for me I live by a woods. I also like to scuba dive, kayak, swim, snorkel, and just generally learn about natural systems by exploring them in the flesh.
Q - Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?
ES - As I mentioned, I love to read and (privately) write poetry.
Q - Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
ES - I’m six feet tall.
Q - Which book influenced you the most?
ES - Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek showed me that you can write a book with micro and macro lenses about a small patch of earth on the planet and make it universally engaging to humans of all stripes.
Q - What are you working on right now?
ES - My work in progress is my therapist. It’s a climate fiction magical realist novel that I am absolutely loving writing.
Q - What’s your favorite writing advice?
ES - Be true to your experience and passion as a human.
Q - The book you’re currently reading.
ES - Terry Tempest Williams’ The Hour of Land.
Emily Strelow’s Biography
Emily Strelow has an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Washington in Seattle and an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science. Her first novel, The Wild Birds, was published March of 2018 with Rare Bird Books. Emily was born and raised in Oregon’s Willamette Valley but has lived all over the West, and now, Midwest. For the last decade she combined teaching writing with doing seasonal avian field biology. While doing field jobs she camped and wrote in remote areas in the desert, mountains and by the ocean. She is a mother to two boys, a naturalist, and writer.
Links to Emily Strelow