Rea Frey - Is Kidnapping Ever Justified?
Rea Frey is the author of the novels NOT HER DAUGHTER and BECAUSE YOU'RE MINE. When she's not working on her own books, you can find her coaching clients, homeschooling her daughter, or plotting her next great adventure. As our Author of the Day, Frey tells us more about Not Her Daughter.
Please give us a short introduction to what Not Her Daughter is about.
Not Her Daughter aims to answer one question: is kidnapping ever justified? When successful entrepreneur Sarah Walker sees five-year-old Emma Grace Townsend being mistreated by her mother, it raises some painful memories about her own upbringing. When Sarah has a chance run-in with the girl again, she decides to kidnap her—but not in hopes of harming her. She wants to save Emma from a possibly horrible upbringing. As Emma and Sarah travel across the country, Sarah realizes how foolish she’s been to kidnap a child. Will she get away with it? Should she? Readers will find themselves empathizing and maybe even rooting for a kidnapper…and wondering if a child always belongs with her parents, or if family can mean something else.
What inspired you to write about a kidnapping?
Before I wrote Not Her Daughter, I hadn’t touched fiction in over ten years. But when I became a mother, I really started noticing all of these parent-child interactions (some good, some terrible). I got the idea for a reverse kidnapping story, mainly because we’ve all witnessed a questionable parent-child interaction and thought, “Man, I hope that kid is okay.” So I had the loose plot for this story, as well as my character names. I was traveling for work and was in the Dallas airport, when I saw this little girl dressed in red: red shoes, red dress, red bow. She looked like Christmas. And then there was her mother: angry, hurling horrible insults at the girl and physically pushing her around. My first impulse was to empathize with the mother, but then I started thinking: is she a bad mother or is she just having a bad day? And: if she’s doing this in public, what’s happening behind closed doors? To top it off, that child’s name was Emma, the same character name I had picked out for my own fictional character! I took that as a sign. I went home, quit two of my three jobs that very week, gave myself eight weeks to write this book, and a month later, Not Her Daughter was born. To this day, I still think about the real Emma. It’s why I dedicated Not Her Daughter to her.
Tell us more about Amy Townsend. What makes her tick?
I based the character of Amy on the real woman I saw in the airport (like, the exact physical version of her). In Amy, I saw myself on my worst parenting day. I empathized with her. I understood her to my very core. Amy has two kids, a husband, and a job—all of the things she’s supposed to have, but she has a weight problem, she doesn’t like her husband, and she and her daughter Emma are like oil and water. Emma represents everything she’s not: young, bright, beautiful, with a world of possibility at her fingertips. But Emma knows how to push her buttons. At the end of the day, Amy just wants to be left alone. I really wanted to explore how a parent and child can just intrinsically not get along, but when you place that child somewhere else, they thrive.
Readers say the book kept them up through the night - how did you manage to make it gripping throughout?
That’s a lovely compliment! I think setting the stakes high—what will happen to Emma?—keeps a reader turning pages. I also told the story in an atypical format using BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER the kidnapping to punctuate the chapters, so we get to know these characters before this “thing” happens to disrupt their lives.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a really great maker of pancakes and strong coffee. I was a competitive boxer for five years and have spent most of my life as a gym rat, so I love moving my body in impossible ways. I’m a great manifester and a kickass personal trainer and plant-based nutrition coach. I also feel I was put on this earth to make others believe what is possible for themselves. I love being a cheerleader for someone else’s dreams as much as my own.
This book took a lot of people on an emotional rollercoaster - did you intend to make this a tearjerker?
I think in the suspense genre, sometimes emotion is missing. I love to write about situations that could happen—things parents fear, things that keep us up at night—but I also love playing with a reader’s emotions in terms of entering a moral gray area. Can you ever do the wrong thing for the right reason? What I really love is to start conversations, and I wanted this to be a book you remembered long after the last page.
Which of your characters has been the most challenging to write for?
A lot of people expect me to say Amy, because she’s cruel and harsh, but I think she’s misunderstood. I have a seven-year-old daughter. She’s seen the best of me and the worst of me. (I literally just wrote an article the other day called WHY I QUIT PARENTING, so you know what I mean!) I connected with Amy the most. I think Sarah was difficult to write because while I understood why she did what she did, she made a lot of foolish choices along the way and did act selfishly. I rooted for her, but I didn’t always agree with her choices.
Have changes in your own life affected any of your characters?
That’s a great question. I don’t pull directly from my life, but I do use my experience as a parent to pepper my characters with certain thoughts, emotions, or actions. I’ve lived a very full life with lots of interesting moments: brain surgery, overseas travel, sexual assault, an early marriage and divorce in my twenties, a heart-wrenching affair with my married best friend, over thirteen moves, getting remarried, getting surprised by pregnancy, a 52-hour labor, jobs ending, money struggles, building a business…I’m always trying to absorb people’s stories around me. I’m very open-minded and empathetic, so I love to play with situations on the page that people might not have seen before.
When working on a novel, how do you immerse yourself in the main characters' lives? Do you observe people in a certain culture, or do you try to walk in their shoes?
For Not Her Daughter, this book really unfolded for me in its entirety. So when I sat down to write it, I knew exactly where it was going. I actually wrote the end first. The characters become real people for me, but they truly do live in my head. For my third book, UNTIL I FIND YOU (August 11, 2020), my main character, Rebecca Gray, is a blind widow who believes her three month old son has been swapped for another baby…but no one will believe her. That required a ton of research and spending time with visually impaired people. I literally walked in their shoes by having my husband guide me around blindfolded. I think each book requires a different level of immersion.
In this book you’re dealing with so many difficult themes – as a writer, do you feel a sense of responsibility? If so, how do you deal with this?
I love the difficult themes! In my second novel, BECAUSE YOU’RE MINE, there’s sexual assault, suicide, depression, addiction, autism…I think the tough themes are universal, and I naturally gravitate toward controversial themes, but what I try and remind myself is that when someone picks up a novel, I’m still solving a problem for them: whether they want to be entertained, scared, elated, etc. I might not always get the delivery right, but I have a fun time trying.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
My writing life is intense! I run a writing coach business where I work with fiction and nonfiction writers who want to get published. For my nonfiction clients, they come to me with a book idea, and I help them craft their book proposal. I then submit to literary agents to land representation. I’m happy to report that almost every person I’ve worked with has gotten an agent or book deal, so it’s a really amazing and rewarding business. Each book proposal is close to 100 pages, so these take a lot of time and work. I’m always working on a proposal and my own work simultaneously.
I’m a morning writer. I love to get up, breathe, make coffee, stretch, write for a few hours, take a break to go to the gym or do yoga, write for another few hours, then spend the rest of the day/night with my family. I used to be addicted to working at all hours of the day, but now that I homeschool my daughter, I’m trying to strike that balance. After dinner, I leave my phone upstairs and don’t touch it until the next day. I’ve finally realized I want to spend time in my real life…not mindlessly scrolling through someone else’s on social media.
What are you working on right now?
I’m just wrapping up edits for my third book, UNTIL I FIND YOU, which is about a blind widow, Rebecca Gray, who believes her three-month-old son has been swapped for another baby…but no one will believe her.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
They can go directly to my website at reafrey.com to learn more or how to work with me. While I’m on all social media channels, I spend most of my time on Instagram: @reafrey. And don’t forget Not Her Daughter’s ebook is on sale for just $2.99 for the entire month of October! Learn more HERE.