Author Tom Mahony of Scotts Valley recently published his first novel, “Imperfect Solitude,” which deals with the dilemma faced by a young biologist caught between the demands of a wealthy land developer and his own principles. Lucjan Szewczyk/Press-Banne

There are many perks to being self-employed in Santa Cruz County: time to hike, time to surf, time for family, time to write the great American novel.
Scotts Valley resident Tom Mahony, a self-employed biological consultant by trade, recently celebrated the publication of his first novel “Imperfect Solitude.”
The novel follows the story of Evan Nellis, a young biologist struggling with the death of his father, a lack of financial stability, his work as an assistant to a curmudgeonly biologist and pressure from his mother to move home to rural California.
When performing biological assessments of a wealthy developer’s properties, Nellis finds himself in conflict with his principles, and he must confront everyone, including himself, before all he values is destroyed.
The novel, Mahony said, began as an outline and scribble ideas as he studied for his master’s degree in biology at Humboldt State University in the late 1990s. Actually writing the book, he said, took place off and on over a 10-year period before Casperian Books agreed to publish it in fall 2009.
The major theme of the book is morality and ethics, Mahony said, specifically within the conflicted position Nellis faces as a biological consultant for the development of land.
“A novel needs conflict, and nothing causes more conflict than land use,” Mahony said.
The author said he set the novel primarily in the coastal areas of San Mateo County, an area he knows from consulting jobs he’s undertaken.
“It’s a beautiful rural area,” Mahony said. “People want to live there for the rural beauty — but the more people that move there, the less rural a place becomes.”
Mahony said that as a biological consultant, he has often seen first-hand the conflict between those who would develop land and those who would preserve it. All sides, he said, look to the consultant to deliver the news they want to hear.
“I think some of the conflict between conservation and development as a consultant comes from feeling stuck in the middle,” Mahony said.
Mahony said that living in Santa Cruz County has provided a positive environment in regard to both writing and self-employ.
“It’s a great set-up for writing when I’m not working out in the field,” he said. “I can go work in the field when it’s nice outside, and I can come inside and write when it’s rainy.”
The publishing process went on for several months following the publisher’s acceptance of his manuscript and involved several months of back-and-forth editing, rewrites and proofreading.
“I read the entire thing out loud to myself to hear how the sentences flowed together,” Mahony said.
Mahony has previously published a collection of short fiction, titled “Slow Entropy.” He also has written a second and a third novel, both of which await publication.
At a glance
• “Imperfect Solitude,” by Tom Mahony of Scotts Valley, can be bought at the publisher’s Web site (, at Bookshop Santa Cruz and at the Capitola Book Café.

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