Runaways and Revenge
An interview with Holly Brown
by B. Lynn Goodwin
The psychology of runaways fascinates me. Most are either selfish or
proactive, depending on what drove them away from home. Some, though,
like Marley, are lost and lured by the promise of a better life than the one
they left behind. She scrawls, ďDonít try to find me,Ē on the kitchen white
board and takes off. Her mother, Rachel, hopes this is ďopposite speak,Ē but
the reader knows better as author Holly Brown reveals the complexities of
Marleyís reality in Donít Try to Find Me.
Shortly after their daughterís disappearance, Rachel Willits and her husband
Paul are informed that the police have ďlimited resources.Ē If they want their
fourteen-year-old daughter back, they will have to find her themselves.
Desperation becomes determination when Paul turns to Facebook and Twitter,
and launches FindMarley.com. Rachel feels left behind, and Marley finds that
B., the boy who pleaded with her to join him, cannot offer the fulfilling
relationship she imagined. Family secrets and strained relationships co-mingle
in this novel that explores a parentís worst nightmare in alternating mother
and daughter voices. Itís a family drama for everyone whoís ever had a child
and every child whoís ever considered leaving home.
In the Q & A below, author Holly Brown writes about her inspiration, process
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Judge B. Lynn Goodwin has been the owner/editor of Writer Advice since 1997. She is the author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers, plus a YA, Talent (forthcoming in 2015), and numerous stories and articles in print and online.
LG: Tell us about yourself. How long have you been writing, what else have you had published, and what kind of training have you had?
HB: Iíve written throughout my life with varying degrees of seriousness. I attended a few semesters of an MFA program in creative writing and then
left to pursue my degree in marriage and family therapy. Currently, I split my professional time between practicing therapy and writing.
From 2007-2009, I published two womenís fiction novels that I donít love, under my maiden name. Then I parted ways with my agent as I wanted to
move in the direction of more suspenseful family dramas. It had been so easy to publish my first books that I didnít realize how hard the road ahead
I completed five novels before writing Donít Try to Find Me. I had an agent for one of the books and she wasnít able to sell it, and the others never
received any offers of representation. I have to say, though, that writing those books was the best training. No time spent writing is wasted; the
muscles are getting stronger!
LG: Thanks for reminding us that no time spent writing is ever wasted. When did you know that you had a story worth telling? Can you tell us what
triggered the ideas for this situation?
HB: I was listening to NPR and heard Tony Loftis talking about his non-profit, findyourmissingchild.org. His mission is to teach parents how to launch
social media campaigns to bring their runaway children home. The idea captivated me-first as a mom and as a therapist-and by the end of the day,
as a writer.
LG: Tell us about your writing process. How do you combine writing with your professional life? Are you a ďplotterĒ or a ďpantserĒ? How long did it take
you to complete your first draft?
HB: I work three 10-hour days as a therapist, and Iím also a mom, so itís definitely a balancing act. But I make sure to get in some hours on the days
Iím not practicing therapy, and it helps that Iím a fast writer.
Iím a plotty pantser (or maybe a pantsy plotter.). I sketch out the overall arc of the story, and I always try to see at least 3-4 chapters ahead, in
detail. I put notes at the top of each chapter so Iíll know what that chapter will contain. That way, Iím never staring at a dauntingly blank screen.
It took me about eight months to finish the first draft of ďDonít Try to Find Me.Ē Itís been through at least five extensive revisions since then. But I
like revising, especially when itís guided by skilled experts like my agent and editor.
LG: What do you do when you get stuck? Or what did you do to keep from getting stuck?
HB: I donít get stuck too much, because of the trick outlined above (the 3-4 chapter approach.) Also, writing books with an element of suspense
creates a certain propulsion. Itís like I can feel where Iím being pulled next.
LG: Thanks so much for sharing that tool. What tips can you offer for creating three-dimensional characters?
HB: Give your characters competing motivations. What I mean is, your character has to want something, but if they only want one thing, then that
doesnít make them very credible human beings. Weíre all driven by multiple forces. Exploiting that makes for interesting fiction.
LG: So true. What tips can you offer for escalating the stakes as a novel progresses?
HB: I think that your characters need to get in increasingly deep water. Theyíre wading into the ocean, and with each chapter, they should always
be further from shore. Maybe they donít even realize they canít see land anymore, but the reader does. If you have chapters where your characters
are just treading water, thatís a problem. You might need to tighten up your plotting and make something happen sooner than you initially thought, or
use a flashback that creates more questions than it answers, as questions propel the reader forward.
LG: When did you know you were ready to find an agent? Tell us about the experience of finding the right agent.
HB: After Iíd finished a draft of the book, I went back through and made revisions. Then I had my husband and a few friends read it. I incorporated
their feedback into the next draft. At that point, I felt confident enough to start querying agents.
I had a subscription to Publishers Weekly and I used it to compile my list of dream agents (the agents who had sold books like mine for good money.)
And I got very lucky in that the woman who was to become my agent, Elisabeth Weed, was at the top of that list.
I spent a lot of time on my query letter, recognizing that if you donít nail that, they wonít even read the manuscript. Because a query is brief, youíve
got to get every word right. Itís not like writing a novel; itís like writing advertising copy. You need to sell yourself and your work.
So I polished that thing until it shone, and then I got a bunch of requests to read the novel, and from there, I got multiple offers of representation,
and I (rightly) chose Elisabeth.
LG: Impressive. Where can people learn more about you, and what advice would you give to aspiring writers (other than to read in your genre and
HB: They can visit me at my Facebook author page (www.facebook.com/hollybrownauthor) and at my PsychCentral blog
My advice is to write as often as you can, which might not be daily, and to be honest with yourself about your purpose. If you want to write purely
for joy, then be joyous; write whatever you want, without the slightest constraint. But if you want to be published, then you need to accept that it
is a business, and that there are certain steps you might not want to take but will likely have to take (for example, evaluating your idea for
marketability, and then later spending hours things like query letters.) Every job has parts you donít like, right?
I would never advocate writing something that doesnít interest you just because you think it will sell, but rather, spending time finding the right
inspiration and idea from the start.
LG: Thanks for sharing such wise advice, Holly. Your book addresses some vital issues, and Iím sure weíll be hearing more from you.
If you love family drama, runaways, or watching how others cope, be sure to pick up a copy of Donít Try to Find Me online or in bookstores. Feel free
to share your reactions on Amazon or B&N.com. And if youíre in a book club, your members will find plenty to discuss if they select this book. I highly
In case youíd like an independent bookseller to order you a copy the ISBN # is 978-0-06-230584-8 and the book is from William Morrow, an imprint of