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Behind the story of 'Beach Plum Island' with Holly Robinson

Holly Robinson and the cover of her new release, Beach Plum Island
Holly Robinson and the cover of her new release, Beach Plum Island
Beach Plum Island byNAL Trade (April 1, 2014);author photo credit: Mariah Gale

Not a lot of authors will tell you that their mom gave them the idea for their latest book. That, however, is what Holly Robinson said of her latest release. Robinson writes what she calls “family mysteries.” Her stories tackle difficult social issues in our society. And her mother had a whopper of a true story which led her to write “Beach Plum Island.

“Prospective readers should know that my novels are a sort of cross-genre,” said Robinson. “I call them family mysteries because they have the rapid pacing of mystery novels, with clues being unveiled along the way, but the characters are fully developed and the writing is often extremely emotional.” Robinson said “Beach Plum Island” typifies this writing style.

“The events in ‘Beach Plum Island’ are set in motion when a dying father makes a mysterious request: he wants his daughters to find a brother they never knew they had, and tell their brother ‘the truth.’” According to Robinson, the three sisters are stunned by the revelation that they have a brother and a family history they never knew about.

“As they set out on a quest to uncover the answers,” said Robinson, “they unravel a series of haunting family secrets, and in the process must examine their own lives. Throughout the novel, I explore the conflicts that can surface in families when divorces rip them apart and remarriages attempt to weave them into a new fabric.”

Robinson grew up reading her grandfather's castoff mystery novels, but also loved reading so-called literary classics. As a result, she’s naturally drawn to stories with both a complex plot and characters. It’s that propensity for family mysteries that brings this story almost full circle. Robinson said, “My mother gave me the idea for ‘Beach Plum Island’ when we were children. She used to entertain us with stories, and one of them was about a babysitting job she had when she was a teenager in rural Maine.

“The family she was babysitting for told her that the children were asleep and she could do her homework or whatever, but under no circumstances was she to go into the back bedroom. Naturally, being a curious teenager, she sneaked down the hallway and listened at the door. To her shock, she heard a noise, so she opened the door—and discovered a blind, semi-feral child, a little boy, who was being kept under lock and key in that bedroom.”

Her mother said she didn't know anything more about the family or the boy. But, that never satisfied Robinson. “I always wanted that story to have a beginning and an ending. I finally had to make them up myself.” And isn’t that exactly what writers do? Take snippets and turn them into a complete story? Robinson seems destined for that role.

“I majored in biology and intended to go to medical school—until I got sidetracked by a creative writing class my last semester of college. Today, I make my living as a freelance writer, bouncing between fiction, magazine assignments, and working as a ghost writer for celebrities.”

Robinson’s career as a writer is not one of those overnight-success stories. She said it took her more than twenty years to publish her first novel. Now, she has a contract with Penguin asking for one book a year. She offers this piece of advice to aspiring writers: “Keep knocking on doors. One will eventually open!”

When she was twelve, Robinson lost her five-year-old sister to cystic fibrosis. Later, her stepbrother died in a car accident. Even her family’s basic structure classifies as “complicated.” Robinson said, “My parents were divorced, then remarried after a hiatus where my father was married to another woman for sixteen years. I now have a blended family—the ‘yours, mine, and ours’ sort—of five children, and live in perpetual fear of something happening to one of the kids.”

While Robinson worries about her children, she doesn’t feel her fears are unusual. “It’s nothing psychotic, just the usual ‘mother anxiety’ most moms suffer through. I guess writing about family and loss serves not exactly as therapy, but as a way for me to pour my emotions onto the pages of my books rather than steamroll my kids with them.”

More information:

Learn more about Holly Robinson on her website at authorhollyrobinson.com.