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This blog was featured on 08/27/2018
Why I Wrote a Book That Challenges Conventional Wisdom
Written by
She Writes
August 2018
Written by
She Writes
August 2018

This guest post was provided to She Writes by Rea Frey, author of Not Her Daughter. Her debut novel is a result of a challenge she gave herself; to write a book in eight weeks. She welcomed the challenge and expertly defeated it like she has all other goals she's set for herself. She shared with us how she came about the idea for her thrilling new novel.

I’ve never been someone who operates in black or white. I tend to question every seemingly concrete concept or idea. I’m not afraid to challenge thoughts, ideas, and dissect why it is we do the things we do.

Which is precisely why I became a writer.

When you’re in the game of fiction writing, anything goes. (Well, almost anything.) In the genre of domestic suspense, lines are often crossed. Morals are questioned. There’s usually a villain, secrets, shaky relationships, and unreliable narrators who shock you in the end.

When I was writing my debut novel, I wasn’t thinking about genre (I didn’t even know what the domestic suspense genre was at the time). I wasn’t contemplating unreliable narrators or ratcheting up suspense.

Instead, I took a subject we all fear—kidnapping—and boiled my entire book down to a single question: What happens when you challenge people to consider a new way of thinking about a “subject” we all view as pretty black and white?

For my novel, Not Her Daughter, this is the question I decided to answer.

Cue the reverse kidnapping.

If you say the word “kidnapping,” most people shudder. It’s the very circumstance that parents fear most; it’s the worst nightmare scenario we’ve all heard about and can’t quite wrap our brains around. Who would want to harm a child? Why does this even happen?

But, has there ever been a case of kidnapping a child in order to rescue and not harm? And the real question: is kidnapping still morally wrong if it’s done for the right reasons?

For my main character, Sarah Walker, that’s just what she aims to find out. Not Her Daughter is about a woman who kidnaps a five-year-old to save her from her mother.

As a mother to a six-year-old, I am fascinated by mother-daughter relationships. My daughter sees the absolute best parts of me, and the ugliest. We share a bond that is unshakeable, but we also rattle each other’s nerves in ways no one else can. Once I became a parent, I started observing parent-child behavior with a more scrupulous lens. I’ve had my fair share of cringe-worthy moments where I’ve offered a frazzled mother a helping hand. And I’ve also been on the other end of the spectrum where I’ve had to step in and say something because it felt morally wrong not to.

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably been somewhere in public where you’ve witnessed “inappropriate” parent-child behavior. The sharp tones. The swift jerk of a child’s arm. Spanking. Yelling. That knot in your stomach as you question: “Should I do something or say something?” Is it ever our right to step in?

For my novel, I was forced to ask myself this question while in an airport. (Ironically, this is a scene that made it into the book.) I’d been toying with the idea of this reverse kidnapping premise for a while. I knew the little girl’s name was going to be Emma. I knew the kidnapper’s name was going to be Sarah. I knew she was going to take a child from a bad situation.

That’s about all I knew.

The exchange I witnessed between mother and daughter in that airport was toxic. A seemingly benign little girl in her beautiful red dress, red bow, and red shoes got pushed, pulled, and yelled at by an overweight, overwrought, larger-than-life mother. At first, I was going to empathize because, as parents, we’ve all been there. But as I watched, I became enraged. The father ignored the interaction. The mother grew angrier and louder as she jostled a toddler on her hip. The girl stayed silent. The mother did not. I was left with the question:

Is this woman a bad mother, or is this mother having a bad day?

And the most incredible part? That little girl in the red dress was named Emma. #goosebumps

I immediately went home and answered that question by writing the book.

At the end of the day, my book isn’t about kidnapping but rather the morality of the question it offers: are there circumstances where kids would be better off with someone else? Look at any news report of abused or abandoned children, and the answer is overwhelmingly yes.

I want readers to see themselves both in Sarah (the kidnapper) and Amy (the mother) and ask:

1.     Could you empathize with an “abusive” mother?

2.     Could you empathize with a kidnapper?

3.     Could you root for a kidnapper?

4.     Should a child always stay with their parents no matter what?

I love books that make you think long after the last page. That’s what I hope to offer to you, my readers.

Let the complicated contemplation begin.

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