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home : features : community news April 29, 2016

10/23/2012 3:06:00 PM
Local author takes book to the big screen
Gary McCarthy and David Seals working to adapt McCarthy's novel 'River Thunder' to screenplay with some preliminary filming already under way

David Yankus

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - The Northern Arizona Authors Association is producing a feature-length film of Williams author Gary McCarthy's celebrated novel "River Thunder."

The tale about a Hualapai boy in the early 1900s is scheduled to begin shooting in the spring on the Hualapai Reservation of the Grand Canyon, as well as in and around the Peach Springs and Prescott areas.

McCarthy, who currently lives in Williams, and David Seals are writing the screenplay adaptation of McCarthy's novel. Seals, an author himself, is directing and producing the feature-length film.

McCarthy and Seals met several years ago at a Northern Arizona Authors Association meeting. According to Seals, McCarthy really enjoyed the film "The Powwow Highway," based on Seals' book of the same name. Eventually McCarthy asked Seals if they should turn "River Thunder" into a film as well.

"After I read the book, we just decided to go ahead and see if we can do this," said Seals. "I've been going back and forth between New York, working on projects out there, but we've been working on the screenplay now for a few weeks."

Seals said the screenplay should be done by Thanksgiving, casting will begin shortly after, and then shooting can begin in the spring. The vast majority of the cast will be made up of Native American actors.

Seals, a Flagstaff resident, said shooting has already begun for some location shots. An open casting call will be held sometime after New Years.

"It's a tricky thing to write a screenplay, we've gone through several drafts already," Seals said. "What's exciting to me is nobody's ever made a movie, a feature film anyways, with the Grand Canyon as a major location that I know of."

The film will take place on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. A young Hualapai boy named River Thunder faces a bleak future in 1902. His mother has just passed into the Spirit World and his father has nothing left to give the boy except his hand carved flute and his magical gift for music.

It is a time in America's history when Native American children were separated from their families, tribes, and ancient and traditional cultures and sent to distant "Indian Schools" for re-education and vocational training.

River Thunder carried his flute, courage, and trusting innocence to the Hackberry Day School, still standing on Historic Route 66, while never once imagining how his fate would one day soar like an eagle over the magnificent Grand Canyon. His life journey carried him into a tender but forbidden love, and the terrifying but exhilarating experience of aerial warfare fought in a World War I biplane.

"River Thunder" won the prestigious Western Writers of America's 2009 Spur Award for Best Western Audio Book. The story begins in 1902 and ends shortly after World War I, and is set against the harsh background of Arizona's rugged northern mountains and the magnificent Grand Canyon. McCarthy has won numerous awards for his best-selling novels about the Old West.

The Northern Arizona Authors Association has dozens of members from around the area, with both published and unpublished writers writing books, plays, biographies, histories, and even a cookbook. The group meets every two weeks in Williams or Flagstaff, and serious writers are welcome to attend. For more information visit

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