What and where is the most powerful or fun or harrowing experience you’ve ever had with water?
My wife Jean and I rowed the Grand Canyon at 70,000 cubic feet per second in 1983, the year Glen Canyon Dam almost got away. We were cooking breakfast in a tiny camp below the walls of the inner gorge. A thunderstorm broke and sent waterfalls and rocks into our camp. We had to throw everything onto the rafts in about five minutes and get out on the river where we'd be safe from falling debris and cascading water.
What property of water most fascinates you? How did your appreciation of this property affect your book?
Every mile of the river is so stunningly beautiful, all of those little paradises waiting to be explored in hidden side canyons, with waterfalls and plunge pools and maidenhair ferns.
What attitude did you have about water and people that changed in the course of researching and writing your book?
Teaching middle school for seventeen years, I've had some experience with a kid a lot like Troy. I wanted to dramatize just how much power an appealing but manipulative leader can have on a group. In Downriver, the other kids trust him in the beginning, and Jessie is quite taken with him. As the dangers of their situation become clearer to them, each of them are on their own in the Grand Canyon and need to start thinking for themselves, figuring out who to listen to, who to trust. The selfish Troy throws the whole group into chaos. Though they fail to complete the trip, Jessie gets them out alive. In River Thunder, Troy jumps into the river to rescue a girl who is being swept away. They pull together and make it the whole way.
In writing your book, what was the greatest difficulty you encountered in conveying the feeling of what you’ve learned about water and people?
A challenge for me as a writer was to imagine the world from a girl's point of view. I thought that outdoor adventure novels needed to catch up to real life. Outdoor adventure is every bit as appealing to girls as it is to boys. Just look around at who's out there skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, river rafting, climbing—girls are active in every kind of sport. In starting Downriver, I wrote three very different drafts, each told in the first person by a different kid. Jessie didn't appear until my third try. I had the other characters from the very beginning, but not Jessie.
What is your favorite image/passage in your book?
The last few lines of River Thunder: "I was leaving the river knowing myself better than ever before. Perhaps that was the river's gift to each of us. How can rock and light and moving water do this? That's a mystery I could take a lifetime to explore."
What is your hope for Colorado and the World's water future?
That we leave enough water in the streams and rivers for plants, trees, fish, and wildlife.
What is your favorite water book by another author?
Huckleberry Finn, with The Wind in the Willows in a close second.
Find River Thunder at a book store near you here!