River guides rejoice: finally a book you can all relate to. Former river guide Tom Mahony’s Flooding Granite (Casperian Books) details the plight of river guide Zack Pruitt, a college drop-out who abandoned his girlfriend and young son when things got tough and headed back to the Sierra Nevada to guide. But he gets more than he bargained for when he signs on for a high-water trip with three other guides and eleven clients.
As the river rises, so does the suspense as he’s courted by the daughter of a wacko and still has to face Class V Gallows. Events spin out of control as an accident leaves the guides and clients fighting for survival, and Zack confronting with some demons of his own and the daughter’s father.
You can tell Mahony has spent some time behind the oars. His descriptions of everything from rapids and river running to the hassles of dealing with clients are spot-on. It makes you wish you were on the river with him.
But you don’t wish for the drama he has to deal with. We’ve all had difficult clients, but these take the cake. Still, steering rafts as well as people’s psychosis is all part of the job for a guide. Enter Victoria, a nympho after him like nobody’s business. Like most guides, he eventually succumbs, but then has to deal with pops, who doesn’t exactly have all his faculties together either. And he has all this going on while dealing with a flooded river. It’s enough to make you appreciate private river running with your friends.
We caught up with Tom for more insight:
What is the origin of Flooding Granite?
Years ago I was a river guide for a season on the Kern River. During a high-water
training trip with a bunch of other guides on an amazing but difficult stretch of
wilderness class-five whitewater, I got pretty worked over. The trip opened my
eyes to the intensity of the wilderness experience: the beauty, fun, danger, hardship.
Everything seems amplified in the wilderness, both good and bad. It really
gets to the core of existence. The seeds of Flooding Granite were planted on that
trip and just grew through the years.
So it’s based on a real river
No. It’s loosely based on the Kern River, but the similarities end quickly. I had to invent terrain that suited the needs of the story. For instance, I needed a deep gorge that was difficult to escape at high water. If the characters could easily hike out, then the story wouldn’t work. Yet, like with all my stories, I tried to make it accurate in terms of plants, wildlife, geology, and climate for the real region upon which the fictional setting is based.
Tell us about the main conflicts in the story
The story is fundamentally about redemption. Zack Pruitt is a decent but imperfect human being who’s made mistakes. He blew it with his girlfriend and son and is trying to shape up in order to earn their trust and return to their lives. Paralleling this conflict is his fear of Gallows, a brutal rapid waiting downstream that’s always pounded him. The challenges of the river mirror what he’s experiencing
in his life, and he’s not sure if he’s capable of rising to the occasion with his family or the river.
And you somehow get people to root for the guide?
It can be a tricky balance. The character needs to be flawed in order to achieve redemption, but if he’s too flawed the reader will lose sympathy. I think the key is to always maintain a fundamental decency in the character, something the reader can relate to and respect, even as the character makes mistakes. If the reader stops rooting for the protagonist, then it’s all over.
How long did it take you to crank this baby out?
I actually started this novel as a short story fifteen years ago. Then, over the past seven years or so, I worked it into a novel. The early drafts were completely different; most of the story took place off the river. There were serious flaws with the story which I couldn’t pinpoint until somebody said, “Keep it on the river.”
So a couple of years ago I deleted eighty percent of the manuscript, revised and expanded what remained, and the final version was born.
About the Author
Tom Mahony is a biological consultant in California with an MS from Humboldt State University. He has spent sixteen years conducting biological surveys and environmental studies throughout the state. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in dozens of online and print publications, including Surfer Magazine, Flashquake, and Boston Literary Magazine. He is the author of Slow Entropy, a collection of short fiction released in 2009, and a novel, Imperfect Solitude, released in 2010. His website may be found at www.tommahony.net