In her new book, Pure Land, author Annette McGivney chronicles the decade she spent covering Japanese hiker Tomomi Hanamure's 2006 murder near the picturesque waterfalls on the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon. McGivney followed the case as Southwest regional editor for Backpacker Magazine. When Randy Wescogame, a Native man, was arrested for the killing, she began to sense she had more on her hands than a magazine article. At the time, McGivney couldn't quite explain why she was so drawn to the story of Hanamure and Wescogame. Halfway through the writing, however, she came face-to-face with demons from her own past that tied her to the lives of both the victim and her killer. We caught up with the Flagstaff-based author and journalist, who hopes to make a swing through New Mexico next year. Meanwhile, her book is in stock at Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse (202 Galisteo St., 988-4226) and op.cit Books (DeVargas Center, 157 Paseo de Peralta, 428-0321).
Journalists are often encouraged to keep a safe emotional distance from their subjects. Did you make a conscious choice to avoid that maxim or did it happen organically?
It was definitely organic and in some ways terrifying as it evolved. I'm very much a traditional journalist and never had any desire to write about myself. … I thought I was impervious. I'd trained myself so that whatever I was researching, I could let it roll off so that I could do my objective reporting. And I thought, 'This story has gotten to me in ways I didn't realize.'
When did you realize you had a book on your hands rather than an article for Backpacker?
From the moment I read the the first headline about Tomomi missing, I felt almost like a heartstring pulling. I know a lot of women who hike alone. I sort of had a desire to advocate for her. … But I knew I would not have a book unless I made it to [her family in] Japan.
One of the things New Mexico struggles with—as do many rural places in the Southwest—is access to mental health. Are you more aware of it now, or is mental health something that's more of a personal awareness for you?
Definitely more aware on both levels. I'd spend like an hour a day exercising, but how many people spend an hour a day focusing on their mental health? … It doesn't take an extreme case of child abuse. Pretty much everybody has things they need to work on. … I was an emotional zombie, thinking no feeling can bubble up because some of those memories might come with it. As a culture, we're afraid to say it … but you carry those memories with you until you deal with them.