Dead Drift A Whitewater Thriller Book 1
by Kelly Romo Genre: Thriller
Two teenage girls on the run with fake IDs and a beater car…what could go wrong?
Emmy has always been impulsive. She is no longer a minor and has aged out of foster care. When her best friend, Amber, is the target of a perverted uncle who lives in the basement of her group home, they plan her escape.
They head for Canada, where Amber will be safe, and the foster care system can no longer control their lives. When they come across a whitewater rafting brochure, they decide to take a detour for one last adventure before leaving the country. Emmy and Amber have no idea it will be a decision that will forever change their fates.
The rafting town is so far in the middle of nowhere that Emmy’s car radio catches nothing but static. They consider turning around until a truck pulls up, loaded with hot whitewater rafting guides and rubber rafts--just the fun they were looking for. Ignoring every instinct, they turn off the pavement and follow the truck down an isolated dirt road. They end up in Lodell, the town where a girl went missing the previous summer…and she will not be the last.
There are five stages of drowning: surprise, involuntary breath-holding, unconsciousness, hypoxic convulsions, and finally, death. Shawna’s hair spreads out in a halo of jet-black strands lit by the moon and rippling in the current. There is no fear or panic in her. I spared her of that. Her death is beautiful and silent as I hold her in my arms and cradle her beneath the surface. I put my lips to hers and inhale her very last breath before she gasps and draws my water into her lungs. She becomes heavy then seizes like a fish. My blood surges and thunders inside me. I have never felt so alive. Shawna finally relaxes, surrenders, and becomes mine forever. I hold and comfort her through it all. Binding her to me was easier than I thought. I should have done this years ago. I raise Shawna up. Her nose, lips, and tits break the surface, all slick and shiny in the moonlight. I give her one last kiss, then take her nipple between my lips and flick it with my tongue. I wish I could keep her longer, but she is losing her warmth. I take a clump of her jet-black hair and wind it tight around my finger until the tip of it goes numb. I yank it from her head. It is surprising how easily it comes out and hangs from my hand, as black and shiny as tar. It will be perfect. No longer will I catch and release. Shawna is mine forever, for I am the river, and the river is me. It is the fluid, and I am the flesh.
I guess I’m turning out just like everyone expected, but at least I’m not pregnant. Aiding in Amber’s escape will be the biggest crime I have ever committed. I don’t realize what a death grip I have on my steering wheel until I pull to the curb, put it in park, and turn my headlights off. A million butterflies flutter in my chest and up my throat. It is exactly four-fifteen in the morning, and Amber is not expecting me until four-thirty. She will be shocked that I made it on time.
Everything I own in the world sits in the trunk, which isn't more than a single suitcase. I used to have more until three years ago. I was pissed that I had to leave my foster parents, Scott and Jeanette. I thought they loved me, and their house would be my forever home. I was so tired of packing up and dragging all my shit with me that I threw garbage bags of clothes, photos, notes, and keepsakes into the trash—which I now regret. I thought all the pictures were of former friends who I would never see again. It took me about a month to realize that the only two photos I had of my mom were mixed in with them.
I don’t remember much about my mom. She overdosed when I was four. I do remember she had dry hands and a scratchy voice. She used to read to me from a Mother Goose nursery rhyme book with bright watercolor pictures. Other than the two photos, the book was the last thing I had from my mom, but it went missing at my eighth-grade parents’ house. I think one of the little kids stole it when they left.
The neon blue numbers on my phone say it is four twenty-five. I step out of my car, press the lock button, and silently push the door until it clicks shut. I lived in this neighborhood—until last November when I turned eighteen. I lived in that house. Thanks to the state of Oregon, I’ve always lived in that house in any neighborhood. The one with the foster children—where kids come and go based on their behavior or personality. Sometimes, no matter how good you are, you have to move somewhere new. And you have no idea why.
A few porch lights glow, and some houses have a window or two lit, probably for some child afraid to sleep in the dark—which I never understood. If your light is on, a peeping Tom could stand right outside your window and watch you sleep, even through the smallest gap in the curtains.
My stomach clenches tight, and my heart pounds on the wall of my chest. I broke laws before, like staying out after curfew, drinking underage, egging houses, or stealing things I needed—but nothing like this. I am legally an adult and about to harbor a runaway. I can do hard-time for this. Amber and I have one chance, and we need to get it right.
Kelly Romo grew up in California but has lived in Oregon for over twenty-five years. She teaches writing, literature, and social studies. She is the mother of three grown children: Brittany, Brennan, and Ryan. She is an avid outdoorswoman who loves to kayak, hike, and fish.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I wanted to be a writer ever since I was in middle school, but I never had the patience to finish a story. I should have kept those and put them in their own book called “Kelly’s Book of Beginnings.” I could sell that to Language Arts teachers.
I became a teacher but never gave up on my passion for writing. I think I read every "How to Write" book out there and kept submitting my work. I have a pile of rejection letters that would come up to my knees.
I finally came to the conclusion that I did as much as I could on my own, and I enrolled in an MFA program at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. It was a low-residency program where we were in person twice a year for a week and a half. One was on campus during the summer, and we stayed in the dorms. The other was in January where we took over two hotels in Seaside, Oregon. Since I have summers off, I only had to take time off work in January. In between residencies, we worked with published authors as our advisors.
The program lasted two years, and I took my writing to a whole new level. I also made many author friends from all around the world…However, I did have to refinance my house to pay off the debt.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I could say something really cool or that makes me look smart, but one of the biggest things people say about me is that I have a middle school boy sense of humor…I’m not sure how to take that. I also drink ice coffee in the morning, just brewed coffee over ice with no sugar or creamer. I’ve been told that the sound of ice in the morning reminds people of me.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I don’t know if it is interesting or miraculous, but I have been hit by a car three times. I was outside the car, one time on a bicycle, once on foot, and the last time on a moped. I was seven years old the first two times and fifteen the last time.
I should have died each time, especially the second one. I was crossing the highway in Rosarito, Mexico. I had been hit a month earlier, so I was a bit skittish. I saw the station wagon out of the corner of my eye and turned toward it like a deer in the headlights. It hit me at about 65 miles per hour. Each time I was hit, I was out and about playing the next day. I had no broken bones and no internal injuries, just concussions…which explains a lot.
Who is your hero and why?
My heroes are people who overcome the odds and accomplish their dreams. There are a lot of female aviators from the 1920s and 1930s who flew when it was a man's world and found a way to do it. Most people know of Amelia Earhart--but there are many amazing aviatrixes such as Bessie Coleman, Ruth Elder, Florence Klingensmith, Louise Thaden, Ruth Nichols, Elinor Smith, and Beryl Markham.
What are you passionate about these days?
I like the outdoors. I hike, fish, and kayak. Because of DEAD DRIFT and the fact that my serial killer ties a hair from one of his victims in his flies, I started tying my own. They are like little works of art--a type of art that I can complete in twenty minutes, unlike my novels, which take from a year to five years to finish. Flies are tied with natural fibers, such as animal fur and feathers. I found out that one of my former female students became a taxidermist. She hooked me up with so much fur that I could tie for years with it. I'm considering tying flies and offering them with my book for readers interested in that. Some people may think it is cool to have a fly hand-tied by the author. Maybe I could even put one of their loved ones' hair in it. Do you think that would go against mailing regulations?
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I go into the woods or on a river. Nature rejuvenates me. Because Oregon is very wet in the winter and I cannot get out, I just bought a VR Headset. I sit in the middle of the room with Oculus on, or I work out around the world with Supernatural.
How to find time to write as a parent?
My children are now adults, but when they were young, I would get up at 4:00 in the morning to write while the house was quiet. I still get up at 4:00 because I need to write before work. After work, I am tired and have no creativity. Sometimes I would write on the weekend, and my daughter would come to Barnes and Noble with me. She would draw while I wrote. She is now a graphic designer and designed my covers for WHEN SORROW TAKES WING and DEAD DRIFT.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have considered myself a writer ever since I started working on a novel. To me, anyone who writes for others to read or to seek publication is a writer. I considered myself an author when my first book was published. I know those are not the official distinctions, but they are to me.
Do you have a favorite movie?
I love historical movies based on real people or incidents. Titanic was one of my favorites because the main character, Rose, followed her heart instead of what others expected of her. She gave up a life of wealth and comfort for one of adventure. I like to think of myself as the same, except I was never really offered the wealth and comfort in the first place. I think if I was, I would choose the adventure. I am always up for learning something new. I learned to fly (a bit) for the female aviatrix story I am just finishing. I have traveled into the middle of the Yukon in a floatplane, then on horseback. I have photos of me doing all sorts of new things that I keep in a box that I call my Rose Garden...in honor of Rose from the Titanic movie.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I think any of them could be made into a movie. WHISTLING WOMEN was set in 1935 at the world fair in San Diego. Most of the setting is still at Balboa Park, so it would be easy to film there. WHEN SORROW TAKES WING would be beautifully filmed in Guadalajara and filled with the action of the Cristero War. DEAD DRIFT would be a wild whitewater murder adventure along a gorgeous river.
What inspired you to write this book?
The story came to me while on a road trip in Oregon, where we visited a tiny rural town called Maupin. We went whitewater rafting and fly fishing there. My fictional town of Lodell is based on Maupin. I did not want to use Maupin because I did not want to curse the town by writing about a serial killer. Little did I know that Maupin really did have a serial killer come through it. His name was Israel Keyes, and he was a prolific serial killer in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. I did not base my story on him because I just found out…but it is odd that the story came to me there.
I also had to justify why I stream all the true crime and psychopath shows. I am fascinated with how the human mind works and why people do what they do.
What can we expect from you in the future?
DEAD DRIFT is the first book in a three-book WHITEWATER THRILLER series. I also have a companion historical fiction novel for WHEN SORROW TAKES WING almost finished. I also have an idea for a spin-off series that starts with DEAD DRIFT.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
At the beginning of my novel, Emmy was not a foster child, and I had some issues determining why she would stay in Lodell. My son started dating a lovely young lady who had aged out of foster care. After many conversations with her about her experiences in the foster system, I decided that would be perfect for Emmy. I also thought it would be a great way to bring attention to what these children have to deal with. My son's girlfriend let me include some of her experiences or experiences she knew other kids went through. She was also one of my content editors. I am very proud of her strength and what she has done with her life despite her rough childhood.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in DEAD DRIFT?
Most of my characters are from a small fictional town called Lodell. One of the main families is the Ungers. Skid and Jake are cousins, and both are whitewater rafting guides. Jake is a guide in the summer and attends a university during the school year. He wants to be a lawyer. His girlfriend, Erin, who also grew up in Lodell, is attending college to be a veterinarian. Jake's father, Doc, is helping her with her tuition. Skid is the youngest child of Rose and Russ. His older siblings moved out of Lodell. He is only a guide and does odd jobs in the off-season. Rose owns the local bar, Buckskin Mary's, and Russ is the Chief of Police—and the only paid officer in town. Brian is Emmy's love interest. He grew up in Lodell. He does not know who his father is and his mother died when he was eight years old. Rose and Russ raised him with their children when his mother passed away. Emmy is my main character. She aged out of foster care and aided in the escape of her friend, Amber. They were on the way to Canada when they took a detour for a whitewater rafting adventure…and the rest is history.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
There is something about the Deschutes River that entices me. I have done a lot of camping, fly fishing, and whitewater rafting there. I have also interacted with many different whitewater guides and fly fishing guides. I based my characters on people I have met that fit that love the outdoors and adventure.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
Character names just come to me, and they feel right. One time, I had to change a character name because I met someone with the same first and last name. The character was a pedophile, and I didn't want to do that to the kind man with the same name. I changed it, but to this day, it feels wrong, and it bothers me every time I read it.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I loved the rawness of the setting and the characters. I loved incorporating some of the guides' experiences and how they live. I also loved the freedom to write something more contemporary, so I didn't have as much research. Don't get me wrong, I love research, and I did quite a bit for this book, but historical fiction takes an enormous amount.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
Titles are challenging for me. At one time, this book had a working title of DROWNING TOWN and DROWN ME LIKE A RIVER. My son loved DROWN ME LIKE A RIVER because it reminded him of the Bishop Briggs song, RIVER. I liked it also, and I love her song, but the title didn't feel quite right. I watched a video on fly fishing that demonstrated how Dead Drift your fly to mimic a real insect. I liked its sound, and it went perfectly with the serial killer who ties flies--and he puts his victims in the water in a literal "dead drift."
Who designed your book covers?
My first cover for WHISTLING WOMEN was created by a designer at my publisher. For WHEN SORROW TAKES WING and DEAD DRIFT, my daughter designed them. She is a graphic designer. It was wonderful sitting with her and coming up with ideas together. She takes my ideas and does magic with them. I love that we are a mother-daughter team, especially since she used to come writing with me when she was a little girl. She would sit and do her artwork for hours.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not that I know of yet. I guess I will know when I start getting reviews and feedback from readers.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learned to whitewater raft and tie my own flies. I also learned about the life of a river guide.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
I would love to spend a day on the river with Erin and Emmy. We would have a blast shooting the rapids and having a girls' day.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
My characters are combinations of people I know, but nobody specific.
What did you edit out of this book?
I edited out a hog farm. I was going to have the serial killer feed his victims to hogs. I'm glad I cut that. The entire town revolves around the river, and I kept it that way.
How long have you been writing?
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was pregnant with my youngest child. Between raising three kids and teaching myself how to write, it took me forever--but I never gave up. I got my first book published when he was twenty-two years old.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I usually know the main characters, but others come to me as I write.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
At the beginning, I do a lot of preliminary research. As I add new things, I research more. I am a stickler for accuracy. If someone is familiar with guiding, and I represent something wrong, it will pull them from the book. One time, I had a character look up at the night sky in August in San Diego, 1935. I got star charts and made sure the constellation she saw was visible at that location on that date and time of night. I know that is a bit obsessive, but what can I say? I also have content editors review my novel before I publish it. For DEAD DRIFT, I had it edited by a young woman who grew up in foster care, a sergeant from the sheriff's department, two river guides (one male and one female), and another author who grew up fly fishing in the area I wrote about.
Do you see writing as a career?
It is a dream career for me. I hope I can earn enough to write full-time. I have so many ideas, just not enough writing time.
What do you think about the current publishing market?
I think the market is shifting, and there are so many unknowns. I think the indie market is taking off, and writers do not have to rely on traditional publishing anymore. Indie publishing is a lot of work, but it also allows people without connections in the publishing industry to get their awesome books out there.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I love historical fiction and thrillers, both of which I write.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I prefer to write in silence. The voices in my head are enough for me.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I have several "in process," but I usually focus on one at a time.
Pen or type writer or computer?
I write on the computer. I used to write in the computer and print it out to edit. I now edit directly on the computer. I use Scrivener software, and that makes it easy.
A day in the life of the author?
I get up at 4:00 and write for about three hours before work. After work, I may do some research, walk my dog, do something with friends or family, or work on my marketing. Since I am a teacher, I have summers to camp, hike, and fish. The funny thing is that I get much more writing done during the school year than I do over the summer. Maybe because the weather in Oregon is rainy in the winter, or maybe because of the strict schedule.
Do you have any advice to offer for new authors?
Butt in the seat. Whether you feel like writing or not, put your butt in the seat every day. You may only get a few paragraphs written, but they add up.
Describe your writing style.
I've heard writers described as plotters or pantsers. Plotters make outlines, and pantsers write by the seat of their pants. I am a plotter. I've done extensive plotting, and I've created basic outlines. I'm someone who needs a direction to go. I find freedom in at least having an outline. I know what needs to happen, and I can focus on that one plot point. Once, I tried being a pantser…after staring at a blank screen for fifteen minutes without a single idea of what to write, I made an outline.
What makes a good story?
Dynamic characters, a setting that is almost like another character, and a plot that forces the characters to grow.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve been reading Lucy Foley and Catherine Ryan Howard.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
My family. They are a loved Kryptonite, but I cannot write when they are awake. I don't want to miss my time with them. I was able to write with my daughter when she was little because she would sit with me doing her art, and I did not feel like I was neglecting her. Plus, we would take a break for a nice lunch together.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I try to be true to the story with the reader in mind.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I believe in things getting in the way of my writing and losing focus. When I have what could be considered writer's block, I sit down to write anyway. I open a new document and a published novel. I type word-for-word what is in the novel. I usually choose one written from the same point of view of my work in progress. By doing this, I get in the flow of writing. After a page or two, I close the document and open my own manuscript.
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