On a bench at the edge of the Lithia Park playground, someone is stalking two-year- old Emily Michaelson as she plays with her eighteen-year old half-sister, Brandy. The child’s laughter curves through the sunlight, as if on wings. The stalker is more enamored than ever, but aware of Brandy’s vigilance with Emily, knows a kidnapping won’t be easy. Planning to gain Emily’s trust, the stalker gives her a necklace—little girls love pretty things. A few days later, Brandy and Emily arrive at the park for the Children's Health Fair. When the stalker sees them enter the public restroom, the opportunity is seized.
Not long after Emily's disappearance, Detective Radhauser finds her rainbow- colored sneakers in Ashland Creek, their laces tied together in double knots. Brandy’s father and stepmother blame her for Emily’s disappearance. Radhauser feels sorry for Brandy, but insists she stay out of the investigation. Brandy can’t do that. She is obsessed with finding out who took her little sister, and why. Will Emily be found in time?
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THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
It's both strange and a little bit magical, the way a book comes together--so many puzzle pieces, some drawn from memory, others created from imagination. The story behind the story of When Time Is A River is a combination of truth and imagination. Sometimes, when writing, I’m unaware I’m pulling events from my life, stories I’ve heard, things that happened to me or others. Like most writers, I suppose, I collect and alter them to fit my story needs.
Years ago, I was babysitting my 2-year-old granddaughter in Lithia Park while her parents and grandfather saw a play at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival. As I watched Elisabeth on the playground, I had a frightening thought. What if I got distracted for a moment, looked away, and someone kidnapped her? It would be my worst nightmare. I would suffer the guilt and pain of having lost Elisabeth, but would also have the double wound of seeing her parents, whom I also love, suffer.
Needless to say, I didn’t allow myself any distraction that day. Elisabeth was safely returned to her parents and has grown into an amazing young woman. But a seed was planted and eventually grew into the novel, When Time Is A River. In the story, a 2-year-old girl is kidnapped from Lithia Park Playground in Ashland, Oregon.
In the book, I chose a teen-aged girl, Brandy, as my protagonist. And the little girl who is kidnapped is her half-sister, Emily. Brandy is eighteen and a senior at Ashland High School. Emily’s mother, Brandy’s stepmother, is only four years older than Brandy. She resents her stepmother for both her youth and her perfection. Brandy has scars on her cheek from an escalator accident. And though she’s endured many surgeries, the scarring is still prominent.
In the early nineties, when I worked in a Tucson hospital, I met a nurse with a severely scarred cheek. She told me she’d climbed out of her stroller to ride the escalator while her mother was shopping. This 3-year-old child tripped over her shoelaces and her cheek caught in the escalator’s teeth. I remember being moved by her story. Haunted. And I wondered what it would feel like to be her mother.
That nurse’s accident and scar reappeared on the cheek of my protagonist. I didn’t know I’d held her story inside me all those years, but it seems I did. Why did I choose to make my character scarred? Wounds help readers to connect with a character. Brandy wants to be an actress—a profession where a face is important. So, almost immediately, the reader has sympathy for Brandy and wants her to succeed.
If the job of a writer is to put a character out on a limb and throw rocks at them—the scar was one of the rocks I threw at Brandy. Her bad decision that leads to Emily's kidnapping is another. Her father and stepmother blaming her for the 2-year-old's disappearance is yet another.
In truth, Brandy really loves her little sister. When people mention how Emily looks like Brandy, she smiles--believes her little sister has given her another chance to be beautiful.
One day, Brandy makes a bad decision and Emily is kidnapped from the restroom at the Lithia Park Playground. In writing this novel, I learned how the mother of that nurse in Tucson must have felt. And how I would have felt had something happened to my granddaughter that long-ago day. One decision can alter a life.
On a more humorous note, when I was writing this book, on the night Ashland High School held their graduation services, my husband turned to me and said, "aren't we going to Brandy's graduation?" That's how real she became to us.