Headwaters of The River Wild

As any moving body of water has a headwater – a starting point – so, too, does this novel.

It started out as a humorous magazine article for Fly Rod & Reel (“Diary of a Mad Floater”) following a six-day float trip down Montana’s wilderness Smith River. From there, it flowed into an original screenplay which attracted Meryl Streep, director Curtis Hanson and the interest of Universal Studio, which released the motion picture incarnation in September of 1994. That flowed uninterrupted for nearly twenty years, until I decided the story should have a final life on the printed page. By then, there was more I wanted to say about the power and beauty of wild rivers and Mother Nature. The thriller ingredients, propelled by a vigorous downstream journey, provided the foundation I needed to add a new layer of suspense – a pursuing Montana state trooper not present in the film. It also gave me the storytelling energy I wanted to complement some more resonant thoughts about the importance of preserving our natural resources. The result is this novel – which has been shaped by its tributaries – yet like all rivers, has an identity of its own.


Adapted from the Movie

It was frantic, fantastic! Perhaps I am a man of exceptional moods.

Meryl Streep | The River Wild


We are honored to have received the following kind words…

“Denis O’Neill knows the high risk thrills and danger that come with Class V river rafting.” ~ Meryl Streep

Publisher’s Weekly

Screenwriter O’Neill successfully adapts his 1994 movie The River Wild to the page.

In an effort to save her floundering marriage, lawyer Gail MacDonald, a resident of Brookline, Mass., takes her architect husband, Tom, and their 13-year-old son, Roarke, to ride the rapids in Montana’s Lewis and Clark National Forest, where she once guided raft trips. At their campsite, they encounter two men, murderer William Deakens “Deke” Patterson and rapist Terrance “Terry” Everton O’Reilly, who have just escaped from prison. The convicts, determined to elude law enforcement, compel the MacDonalds to travel down the river with Gail as their guide. Gail knows that, even if she can get them all safely past the violent rapids known as the Gauntlet, her family will be killed when they’re no longer useful to Deke and Terry. Meanwhile, Det. Lt. Bobby Long of the Montana State Police and his assistant, William “Billy” Heston, are trying to locate the escapees, but they have no leads. O’Neill pits man against man and man against nature in this gripping thriller.

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The Author

That love of nature carried forward, from the Berkshires, to the Adirondacks, to the Sierra, to the wilds of Montana

Denis O’Neill grew up in a house in suburban Connecticut, at the edge of a wood.   As a boy, he exposed himself on a daily basis to the joys of the great outdoors: fishing, fort building, exploring, camping, fire making – the full range of youthful adventures and misadventures.

Four years at Dartmouth College cemented his love of the less civilized.  The words of fellow Dartmouth writers Norman MacLean and Nelson Bryant showed him the power of writing in and about nature.   He carried that love of nature forward, from the Berkshires, to the Adirondacks, to the Sierra, to the wilds of Montana.

Along the way, he wrote articles for Sports Illustrated, Fly Rod & Reel and the Boston Globe Magazine.   When Hollywood beckoned, he melded his outdoor experience with the motion picture business, leading to produced movies such as The River Wild, and other stories set in the wilderness.

For almost forty years he’s fished various Montana rivers with a regular pack of friends.   He lives in Los Angeles, fully aware you can take the boy out of the woods, but the woods stay in the picture.

Author Denis R. O'Neill

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