I was born in Kenya in 1964 and spend my childhood largely unsupervised, roaming suburban Nairobi’s remnant woodlands and back roads. In 1976, my mother remarried an American, and we moved to Connecticut. Later I attended New York University, graduating with a BA in journalism.
For a decade, I worked as a freelance journalist in Asia, Australia, the US and Africa, writing about a wide variety of subjects including the Grateful Dead, child soldiers and scuba diving. Landing in Los Angeles in the early 90’s, I lucked into a job writing erotica for the successful SHOWTIME series, The Red Shoe Diaries, starring David Duchovney. I then returned to East Africa to write my first novel in 2000. Away From You was long-listed for the Orange Award for Fiction and the IMPAC Award. This was very much a first novel – a deeply autobiographical struggle to come to terms with my alcoholic father.
While in Tanzania, I met my husband, the wildlife filmmaker Matt Aeberhard. Together we made the acclaimed NatureDisney feature film, "The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos." Following the life cycle of the elusive lesser flamingo, the film is also a love letter to Lake Natron, the remote and wild corner of Tanzania where the flamingos breed. During the three years we were at Natron, I became the de facto medic to the local Masai community, who had no meaningful access to medical care. Before returning to the US in 2009, I co-founded the Natron Healthcare Project to bring sustainable healthcare to the area.
My high-risk pregnancy was part of the reason we moved back to the States. In the third trimester of my pregnancy, I developed pre-eclampsia, and had to deliver my twin babies, Molly and Pearl, at 30 weeks. The babies were so tenderly cared for by the staff at the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit that we were able to bring them home at 36 weeks. When I began writing Shame/The Gloaming, I felt an enormous survivor’s guilt, as I knew how many Masai women and their babies, without my access to resources, died from pre-eclampsia.
The Underneath, published in May, 2018, became a cypher for my own struggles as a mother, living often in isolation on our Vermont homestead. I wanted to explore the ambiguity of evil, and how it is not always the spectacle of headlines, but mundane, close-to-home savagery. Like my previous books, it is ultimately redemptive – though this is the novelist’s hand, the mother’s hope, a feint against fate’s blank indifference. I also continue my work with the Natron Healthcare Project, focusing increasingly on health education and child/maternal health.