Melissa L. Sevigny: Mythical River

Mythical River cover

Cover: Mythical River: Chasing the Mirage of New Water in the American Southwest by Melissa L. Sevigny


Melissa L. Sevigny
University of Iowa Press, March 15, 2016, $27.50
ISBN-10: 1609383931
ISBN-13: 978-1609383930

Sevigny reports:

I first had the idea for Mythical River in 2010, while I was working for a water research institute in Tucson, Arizona. On a slow day I asked my editor, Joe Gelt, if he had a story for me to work on. He asked me to write a short piece about the mythical Buenaventura River, once believed to provide easy passage across the American Southwest by Anglo explorers, fur trappers, and pioneers.

The story captured my imagination. It struck me as a metaphor for our modern ideas about water. Tucson and other desert communities didn’t live within their watersheds, but instead relied on water transported from hundreds of miles away, or drank fossil aquifers faster than they could replenish. We acted as if water would appear wherever we demanded it. This is a myth, a mirage.

I decided to tell those stories in parallel: the tale of the Buenaventura River, which was printed on maps of the American Southwest for 75 years, alongside stories of “new water:” canals, dams, cloud-seeding towers, and desalination plants.

Melissa Sevigny

Melissa Sevigny

Wrapped up in this narrative is my personal journey to acknowledge the difficulties of making an ethical home in a desert. I tell the stories of people working to create a new outlook on water — one that recognizes the rights of rivers, from the beleaguered and litigated Colorado, to the dry washes that crisscross my childhood landscape.

I wrote the core of this book as my graduate MFA thesis at Iowa State University. A chance encounter at an environmental conference led to the offer of a contract from the University of Iowa Press well before the book was done. A grant from the Ellen Meloy Award for Desert Writers enabled me to finish my travel and research.

One thing I might do differently next time is seek funding more diligently and sooner — not only because the money was useful, but also because the process of applying for grants greatly helped me refine my vision for the book, and ultimately write a successful prospectus.

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Mar. 16, 2016

Advance Copy

For this column, NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here.

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