“Your past is a living thing.”
Oh, of course, I’d follow up a romance with a horror-inspired emotionally devistating novel. What else would you expect?!
Like many readers, I read to escape – escape the world, escape my life, and escape from the things that I don’t particularly want to remember. However, occasionally, there are books that take those same things we try to escape and plunge us deep into them, wrapping around us like a cocoon as we explore how another person copes with the trauma similar to our own.
Debut author Rebecca Mahoney introduces us to a world where our fears and traumas take form in ways we would never imagine. From stunningly real characters to tragedy that both hits home and explores a wider world, The Valley and The Flood is a mirage of a story that leaves you questioning yourself and how you perceive the world around you.
Check out the Synposis for The Valley and The Flood below.
The Valley and The Flood
Rose Colter is almost home, but she can’t go back there yet. When her car breaks down in the Nevada desert, the silence of the night is broken by a radio broadcast of a voicemail message from her best friend, Gaby. A message Rose has listened to countless times over the past year. The last one Gaby left before she died.
So Rose follows the lights from the closest radio tower to Lotus Valley, a small town where prophets are a dime a dozen, secrets lurk in every shadow, and the diner pie is legendary. And according to Cassie Cyrene, the town’s third most accurate prophet, they’ve been waiting for her. Because Rose’s arrival is part of a looming prophecy, one that says a flood will destroy Lotus Valley in just three days’ time.
Rose believes if the prophecy comes true then it will confirm her worst fear–the PTSD she was diagnosed with after Gaby’s death has changed her in ways she can’t face. So with help from new friends, Rose sets out to stop the flood, but her connection to it, and to this strange little town, runs deeper than she could’ve imagined.
For the full review, click here!
“Fear turns the world a different color, and we don’t always see clearly through it.”
WOW, TVATF really blew me away! How did you come up with the idea of “The Flood”?
I am so glad you liked it!
I’ll get into my love of horror in a little more detail in another one of your questions below, but one of my favorite things about the genre is the interesting ways in which you can figure out how to externalize very internal fears. So my question to myself in the proto-stages of Valley was, what does an externalization of trauma look like to Rose? Particularly where I was using the project to explore trauma’s surreal and often visceral impact on memory?
So thinking through that question, and particularly how Rose prefers to look at her PTSD as an incidental set of symptoms in a way that avoids the memories they’re grounded in, I thought about Rose’s worst case scenario: what if continuing to look away from her own mind meant putting others in danger? And that’s how I ended up with something like The Flood, a being whose experiences are so enmeshed with her own – and who is desperately trying to communicate with the only language they share, which turns out to be Rose’s memories themselves.
And as for how this being took the form of a great flood, that part came from TVATF’s Greek mythology shoutout roots – I originally conceived it as a riff on The Odyssey, and those beats still exist throughout the story. (Also, I may or may not be incapable of writing without some kind of water motif. I’ve been lucky enough to live within driving distance of the sea for most of my life, and it’s so often woven throughout my writing!)
In your opinion, what’s the best part of the writing process? What’s the hardest?
Drafting is the hardest part for me, by far, and it’s only getting harder as my own standards get steeper! I’ve actually been trying to get myself more comfortable with messier first drafts – these days, to speed up my drafting, I’ve been trying to skip anything that’s stopping me up (usually reactions, transitions, or other thornier parts of a scene) to fill in on the next draft. That’s made it a lot easier, but it’s not always easy to shake some of my initial drafting anxiety! I just feel so much more settled when a project is in the polishing phases.
Which brings me to my favorite part: revisions! Not only the polishing I get to do myself, but I love the discovery phases of working with editors, my agent, and my betas on edit letters, and finding new angles and opportunities I never explored before. There’s always a gap between the story in your head and the story on the page, and I’ll never forget the first time I worked through a real edit letter and realized that gap had gotten so much smaller.
Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the most difficult?
Writing Rose was an interesting process because she is so, so similar to me that I took care to differentiate her in a couple key ways: Rose is an oldest child, I’m a youngest. Though she was too young to remember her biological father, her mother’s grief at Rose’s formative age shapes her in a lot of ways, whereas I didn’t encounter major loss in my life until I was older. I was pretty timid in high school, whereas with Gaby egging her on, Rose is pretty adventurous. But the ways that Rose and I process our emotions are so similar that it was always so cathartic to write her voice, and seeing things through her perspective helped me understand my own head a little better too. I also particularly loved writing The Flood themself: it was always the coolest exercise trying to imagine what and how they were trying to communicate.
And speaking of communication issues, I think the hardest character to write was Cassie! She’s such a fun, hyperbolic character, but I wanted to make sure I believably grounded her, too, so I spent a lot of time thinking about how she’d relate to other people, and the particular impatience she has with stopping to explain herself to people who don’t have her abilities and haven’t seen what she has. Writing her in any given scene always involved stopping to figure out how much she knows and how much she’s winging. But that was a really, really fun challenge, and I loved where I got to take her in later drafts of the story, especially as she began to open up to Rose a bit.
The queer rep in this novel is A+! Why is it important to show causal queerness in books for young people?
Thank you so much for mentioning this! It’s particularly important to me to write casual queerness into all of my stories, and a lot of that draws from my own relationship to queerness over the last few years in particular. I’m a pretty introspective person, but it still took me so long to realize I was queer. A lot of people who’ve had my experience joke about the period of figuring out your sexuality when you assume you’re just a very enthusiastic ally… and mine went on until I was 28!
But every time I thought, “maybe my whole brain lights up when I see queer people in media because I’m queer myself,” I still dismissed the possibility, because I assumed that if that was true, I wouldn’t have to question it. I thought I’d just know. And what I learned, from talking to a lot of smart people over those years, was that sometimes it doesn’t matter if the messaging immediately around you is supportive and open. The broader messaging assumes, from a very young age, that you’re straight. And sometimes you internalize that so deeply that it’s hard to contradict.
So it’s important to me, and is going to be important to me going forward, to have books populated by queer characters. And especially where TVATF wasn’t going to have a central romance, I wanted to make sure that rep existed somewhere in the book, and especially wanted to make sure that rep existed both with characters Rose’s age like Felix and Alex and a happy adult couple like Christie and Sandra.
Villains are something people tend to fall for, and in TVATF our villains are truly different. Do you think people will connect with an unusual antagonist?
This is such a good question, because this was such an important discussion during revisions! The original draft of TVATF was actually pretty spare in terms of antagonists, because I always wanted the crux of the conflict with The Flood themself to be a communication issue. I really love the idea of a monster as a force of nature, with a sense of morality totally alien from what people feel – I wanted The Flood to be capable of harm, but I didn’t want harm to be their intent. And actually, in the original draft, I think Rose catches onto that fairly early, though we played up her initial suspense and distrust as the editing process went on. I’m always really interested to hear how people connect with The Flood, because even though they’re this wholly inhuman force, they’re so completely pulled from how I tried to conceptualize my own trauma and fear: terrifying and sometimes painful, but something that’s reacting out of fear and pain itself. That’s always helped me sit with those emotions better.
In terms of the human antagonists, Nick, Rose’s classmate who was driving in the accident that killed Gaby, was also present from the start, though he was always only present in flashbacks.
But when I signed with my agent, Hannah, one of her first suggestions was to create another human antagonist who could more directly oppose Rose and The Flood, and that was the part of the process where I completely rewrote the middle to add in Mayor Maggie Williams and the faction she represents in Lotus Valley. Not only did that give me a chance to play out the bureaucracy of Lotus Valley a bit, which I had a lot of fun with (I called the Town Hall scene “Dark Parks and Rec” a few times) but it was really fun to set Rose against someone else who fears parts of herself – but unlike Rose, turns that on the rest of the town rather than inward.
What do you hope that readers will take away from TVATF?
Ooh, this is so tough for me to explain sometimes, because TVATF is in so many ways about figuring out how to tell your own story to yourself before anyone else – and there were a lot of things I really figured out how to put into words through TVATF itself, so it feels easier to say them in the world of Lotus Valley than to say them here as myself. But I’m gonna do my best!
One of my many hopes for TVATF was that I could write the kind of story that would have given me company in a lot of lonely corners of my mind. And writing that kind of story was both such a relief, and also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. For something that effects so many of us, grief and trauma are so, so specific. I kept thinking, how do I know what’s true and comforting for me is going to have any meaning for anyone else? What if I’m just fully off-base and no one else experienced these things this way?
But I know, even if it’s not always easy to believe, that it’s much less cut and dried than my anxiety brain tells me. Someone might pick up TVATF and feel really seen. Someone might not relate, but could find a piece or two of it that speaks to them. And someone might not connect with it at all, but maybe it’ll help them figure out what will. If a reader can take what they need from this story, even if what they need is something else entirely, I feel like I will have done my job.
TVATF has an underlying horror element to it. Are you a horror fan as well? If so, what are some of your favorites?
I’ve been such a voracious horror fan since I was a kid, and I still consume everything I can get my hands on! Aside from just being naturally drawn to it, I also think horror is a great tool for metabolizing my frequent and not always predictable anxiety. Horror naturally has this build and release of tension (whereas anxiety, of course, is just that build!) so especially after I got to know the tropes really well, it’s almost calming for me to watch a good horror movie. Which isn’t to say I no longer get scared, it’s just much harder!
I tend to watch different kinds of horror all across the board, as long as it’s not torture porn or shock value horror, but I gravitate the most strongly toward horror movies geared toward catharsis – or reckoning – for their characters’ trauma. Some all-time favorites include The Babadook, The Haunting of Hill House season one, Us, Under the Shadow, and my two comfort movies, The Conjuring 1 and 2. Two recent ones I’ve loved have been La Llorona (the 2020 Guatemalan version) and The Vigil.
Let’s throw some fun questions at you!
Cassie’s bookshelf? What would be on it? Trashy Romance? Epic Fantasy? We need to know!
Now that I think about it, I’d love for Cassie to be a huge mystery fan: her powers of prophecy probably wouldn’t extend to fiction, so she’d enjoy the novelty of not knowing what was going to happen. (Of course, John Jonas, with his endless supply of extremely accurate small-scale prophecies, would know the ending to every book she was reading. She avoids him at every opportunity anyway, but ESPECIALLY when she’s in the middle of a new Tana French thriller.)
What about Rose? Would she be buried in books or binging Netflix?
I mentioned Rose’s love of K-dramas in TVATF, but TV is just her medium of choice overall: aside from the constant presence of Netflix in the Colter household, Rose has well-loved Viki and Dramafever accounts, watches YouTube supercuts of her favorite soap opera characters’ plotlines (she’s particularly into those decades-long, generation-spanning British soaps), and she probably set up a Canadian VPN so she could watch the last season of Schitt’s Creek as it aired. Even before Gaby’s death, Rose’s mind tended to tie itself into little overthinking knots if she didn’t give it enough to focus on – if she can throw on a TV show and busy herself with a mindless task like cleaning her room, that takes up her full attention in the way she really needs to relax.
What would Alex and Felix be doing on a rainy afternoon — ehhh? 😉
According to them, at least, they’d be watching a movie. But also, Felix and Alex are absolutely the type who cannot choose what to watch without at least an hour of browsing and extremely animated debate. Once they get together, this routine doesn’t change much, except that 1) they are probably even worse, to the extent that sometimes they never manage to pick a movie 2) they are going to be holding hands the entire time.
Stolen from Sarah – but with her permission!! – YOUTUBE CHANNELS! What kind of YouTube Channel would Rose create? Cassie?
Oooh – if you came to my launch you will have heard these before, but here’s what I decided for each of the core four!
Rose: Though Rose is too reserved to be in front of the camera, as an astronomy nerd (and probably someone whose happiest memories involve half-dozing through planetarium shows), I think she’d curate a great space-themed ASMR channel. Her selections would include different wave patterns, NASA recordings, and probably a track entirely composed of sounds from the Voyager Golden Record.
Cassie: This one has been my favorite thing to think about for at least the past month, but: Cassie would have a prophecy TikTok in which she answers questions from people who write in. Sometimes her answers are actually related to the question, and sometimes they’re like “I don’t know, but you should avoid calls from Christopher on Thursday.” She probably has at least a few in which she does her eye makeup and talks about her dreams from the prior evening.
Alex: Even more reserved than Rose, but probably produces a few Know Your Neighbors informational videos for the Sheriff’s office in which he never appears.
Felix: Felix is also TikTok-inclined, and aside from your standard observational comedy videos (he would aspire to that classic “Road work ahead? Yeah, I sure hope it does!” Vine) he would love to have a ‘my best friend reacts’ series of videos where he infodumps about his fascination of the day and records Alex’s reaction to it. Topics can range from anything from ‘Destiel’ to ‘those sneakers with little toes.’
Do you think the Mockingbird would create one?! SO MANY OPTIONS!
Oh, this is SUCH a good idea. And the Mockingbird is so shrewd with her business, so I’m sure she’d find endless ways to monetize her YouTube channel. Video commissions? Spon-con? Maybe she even takes requests for celebrity impersonations. The nice thing about being older than most civilizations is that you don’t have much of a sense of shame anymore.
For the writers in training reading this interview, let’s dish!
What advice would you give to anyone writing, but still struggling to break through, getting discouraged, or on the verge of self-destruction?
Nothing in your career is wasted. Every book you write that doesn’t sell, and every query or submission you send that ends in rejection, has some piece that’s going to be useful to you in the future, whether it’s a passage you’ll take from your shelved project and put in another, an agent who rejected you who will remember you the next time around, or just a story that wasn’t the right one but made you a better writer for working on it. There is so much in this industry you can’t control. But you can take what you need from any given setback, and you can keep going.
Were there any other books or authors who gave you inspiration and ideas for your own writing?
In terms of early writing heroes, I have to give shout-outs to Louis Sachar, whose sense of the surreal, whether in the Wayside School books or in Holes, really helped spark my own, and Diana Wynne Jones, who gave me a sense of the kind of emotions I wanted to inspire in readers one day. Shirley Jackson, with her insightful psychologically-driven horror, has always been a inspiration. And in terms of my current writer heroes, I absolutely the lush, lyrical, and keenly emotional work of Nova Ren Suma, Emily X.R Pan, and Anna-Marie McLemore.