The River at Night is the story of four women friends who fight to survive the aftermath of a disastrous white water rafting trip in the vast wilderness of Northern Maine.
My first inspiration for the story came from reading James Dickey’s 1970 novel Deliverance. Most people have seen the movie – cue the banjos! – but I’m not sure the book has gotten the love it deserves. Dickey was a poet, but he also wrote this propulsive, visceral, first-person novel about four male friends who go white-water rafting in the Georgia wilderness. The story was utterly terrifying to me; I was struck by this series of increasingly bad decisions that led to calamity.
After reading the book I thought, why not write a similar story involving women instead of men? How about using the minefield of female friendship, tossing it into the maelstrom of an ill-advised white water rafting trip, and why not set the story in the Allagash Territory of Northern Maine, smack in the middle of 5000 square miles of unnamed lakes, forests, and rivers? How would things devolve, what long-held grudges would explode to the surface? And finally, how would these women survive each other, much less an uncaring wilderness and the people they came upon in the woods who they believed would be their saviors?
To research the book, I embarked on a nine-day trip to the hinterlands of the storied Allagash Territory. In order to get ideas for my characters as well as get a true sense of the landscape, I hatched a plan to interview people who had decided to leave traditional society behind.
I didn’t know a soul up there, so I called the chambers of commerce in towns from Orono to New Sweden to Fort Kent, as far north and west as you can go before the road ends and the forest begins. Everyone I spoke to on the phone said: well, these folks don’t want to be contacted. That’s why they live off the grid…but I do know someone who knows someone… Soon I was able to line up half a dozen interviews with people who had decided to disappear. Armed with a reluctant blessing from my husband and a backpack filled with power bars, warm clothes and mace, I took off on the twelve hour drive from my home in Massachusetts.
Even though I made hotel reservations for nine nights, I only needed them for the first and last, because everyone I met offered me a place to stay. I ended up crashing in two cabins, a teepee, yurt, a rehabbed bus, and a boat (in a field, not on water,) usually a good mile from anything resembling a road. I was often lost, cold, and frankly a little scared, but I also met some unforgettable people who blew me away with their resourcefulness and resilience. In the end I had everything I needed to launch myself into writing The River at Night.
Don’t miss the next stop on Erica’s tour with Shaz’s Book Blog!