The Dinosaur’s Daughter

India with fossil turtle she excavated in 1985

The Dinosaur’s Daughter is my 1980s coming-of-age memoir as a bullheaded beer-swilling Colorado teenager, living alone with a dinosaur under my bed, her fossilized bones both a deep past and possible bright future. Improbably, I had found the allosaurus when I was 12 years old on a friend’s Colorado ranch, dug up her bones on multiple visits, and stashed them in my bedroom. Then my mother wanted the dinosaur gone, the beast who anchored my life and I had named Alice. So, I cajoled the Denver Museum of Nature and Science into hiring me at age 16 to help excavate my giant meat-eating allosaurus out of a Jurassic cliff, alongside their inept drunk of a paleontologist and his hot teenage son. I was determined to get my dinosaur on display in the museum, but my scientific mind and passionate heart wanted more than just this dead animal.

Drawing on my own journals and letters, vintage museum videos, photographs, and extensive interviews, I have created a true story, an inspiring portrait of a capable and adventurous young woman, a window into the whimsical human drama of excavating dinosaurs that most male authors don’t dare open, and a chronicle of one teenage girl’s extraordinary accomplishment: the unearthing of her own dinosaur and some of the world’s rarest Jurassic fossils.

The Dinosaur’s Daughter will appeal worldwide to audiences of women’s adventures of transformation set in unusual places, including Educated by Tara Westover, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and H Is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. My story has a 30-year media platform, including a People magazine feature in 1984, TV specials, a one-hour NPR podcast in 2016, and the permanent public display of my dinosaur at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, seen by 1.7 million visitors per year.

I am currently seeking an agent for this complete 92,000-word memoir. 

BOOK SYNOPSIS

When I was 15 I had a dinosaur in my Colorado Springs bedroom and a supportive but bipolar mother who demanded I get rid of the bones and find another place to live. But I couldn’t imagine getting rid of the allosaurus I’d named Alice; she was my refuge amid the adolescent wildfires of family dysfunction, boys, and beer. Little did I know back then that the dinosaur would again become my refuge amid middle-aged wildfires.

I found my dinosaur when I was 12, in 1979, hunting alone along rainbow cliffs of Jurassic mudstone on Sage Springs Ranch. Our family friends Minford and Judy Beard managed the ranch that smelled of sagebrush and cow manure near Dinosaur, Colorado. Minford thought I could do anything. Judy made canes out of bull penises and loathed children, so she taught me how to hunt dinosaur bones to get rid of me. Armed with Minford’s old pick axe, an ice pick, paintbrush, and Elmer’s glue, I dug up one dinosaur bone, then another, excavating joy and confidence, too. I uncovered 19 bones in the course of several visits to evade the human wildfires back home: both step-parents vanished, my dear Daddy withdrew, Mom threatened to kill herself, and I lived alone, groping for companionship at drunken high school parties. My wiser older sister Kate sometimes helped me dig as we shivered in the snow or burned ourselves purple in the desert sun. I identified the bones from library books but kept my dinosaur secret except for a surreal attempt to exhibit the bones as part of a middle school history fair. I didn’t think a girl could have found anything important. Then Mom, despite being a poet, insisted I get rid of the dinosaur who anchored my life.

I left several allosaurus bones in a Nocona boot box at the front desk of the Denver Museum of Natural History. A call from their paleontologist Don Lindsey in the spring of 1982 changed everything. He said they wanted my bones; I said give me a job, so the museum hired me at age 16 to excavate the allosaurus alongside Don and his teenage son Jim. Jimmy, hard-working and talented with both bones and boners, became my excavation partner, good friend, and first love. Don was both science mentor and hung-over nemesis, an erratic gate clanging between me and becoming a scientist. I just wanted to dig up the allosaurus, but so much got in my way: Don’s incompetence, hordes of biting insects, desert heat, injury, a flood, rivalry and love with Jim, Mom’s threats to kill herself, and the museum’s financial crisis. After two summers, the museum closed the dig, my North Star for most of my teenage years. Directionless, I fell asleep at the wheel after a drunken party and unconsented sex, nearly killing myself in a highway rollover. I realized I must steer. I attracted a supportive boyfriend and worked in the halls of the museum for the summer, my new love of people making me realize how much I hated being alone with fossils, so I swore off dinosaurs and boarded a plane to Dartmouth College. Freshman fall, alone again, I bumped through drunken frat basement pool games and landed on academic probation. Meanwhile the museum fired Don, closed the paleo department, and tossed Alice behind the eohippus display. I felt like a loser but now had no dinosaur to rescue me.

So I broke into the museum’s closed paleontology lab through a ventilation duct. I was desperate for one last dose of paleontology, my intellectual joy drug of choice. I took photos of the tiny rare animal bones we had found alongside the allosaurus, fossils much more scientifically-important than the dinosaur. The pictures helped me get grants, something Don had refused to do. At age 19 I ran my own three-month paleontological expedition to the old Sage Springs site. I was a real scientist now: I hired a field assistant, drove a bulldozer, prepared the tiny bones under a microscope, and wrote an academic paper. The fossils went to Harvard. My paleontology work uncovered my inner Superwoman, but I was still lonely and poor and Alice was just a pile of bones. So I quit paleo, using my fossil-fueled capabilities to fly off for an internship with the Peace Corps in Africa. Years later, at age 29, I cut the ribbon on the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s new paleontology hall where Alice’s skeleton still reigns as the centerpiece. At the time I was completing an MBA at MIT that conned me into thinking Boston corporate life was for me, despite being a new mother. I told Alice, who had followed me everywhere, to go away. But years later the wildfires of middle age hit: parents dead, kids off to college, business work meaningless, and marriage cracked. Once again I sought refuge with my old dinosaur, but this time by writing a book—In my past I rediscovered my inner allosaurus: a passionate, whimsical, self-propelled, and capable woman.

India's allosaurus at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, 1995

VINTAGE PHOTO GALLERY

Vintage photographs, museum and news video footage, and my journal sketches are available to use in promotional media and in the book. Many of the photographs were taken by professional photographers, including my parents, Myron Wood and Nancy Wood. I have the rights to these media or can easily obtain them. Photographs are available as negatives or vintage prints.