Writing her latest novel almost killed Melissa Broder—or, anyway, that’s how it seemed when the Milk Fed and So Sad Today author realized she was lost during a solo hike at Death Valley National Park’s Zabriskie Point. The Los Angeles-based Broder had come to this trail to research what would eventually become her third novel, Death Valley. How she ended up lost in “the most touristy area” under the hot April sun with no cell reception, no water, and a bottle of Diet Coke, was thanks to both misdirection and tragedy.
In December 2020, Broder’s father was in a car accident, and his resulting injuries required a months-long stay in the intensive care unit. Living on the other side of the country and unable to visit him due to the hospital’s COVID precautions, Broder spent hours driving back and forth between her home in Los Angeles and her sister’s in Las Vegas, “trying to escape a feeling.”
“I was driving through Baker, [California], which is approximately where the fictional town [in the novel] would be, and the first line of the novel came to me,” Broder says. (The book starts: “I pull into the desert town at sunset feeling empty.”) “I was like, ‘OK, this is it.’ I was working on another novel, and I put it down and started writing this.”
This epiphany led to her taking a “desert recon trip” to research Death Valley for her book, where she roamed astray around Zabriskie Point, panicked and cut-up from climbing rocks to find her way. Around 40 minutes after becoming lost, Broder found her way back to her car. “When I got out, I was like, ‘This is a gift.’” she said. “Now I know what’s going to happen in my novel.”