I’m so excited to share this post with you today! ONLY CHILD was the first book I read in 2018 and it was such an amazing read. It moved me so much I couldn’t believe it was her debut novel! Click HERE for more details and my full review.
In honor of ONLY CHILD’s release next week, I’m sharing a Q&A with Rhiannon Navin on how she began writing, where her idea for the story came from, the type of research she did, and more. And don’t forget to scroll all the way to the bottom to enter the giveaway for a signed copy of ONLY CHILD!
Read Eat Sleep Repeat: What started you on the path to become a writer?
Rhiannon Navin: ONLY CHILD was my first real foray into the world of writing. I’ve dabbled with it here and there, but never seriously thought of myself as a “writer.” I found the inspiration for my story in a personal experience that occurred in my life a couple of years ago, when my twins were five years old. They had just started kindergarten when they had to participate in their first “lockdown drill” at school. Later that same day I found my son sitting underneath our dining room table. He said he was “hiding from the bad guy,” and he was petrified. That hit me incredibly hard. I guess it took something that really rattled me to the core to open up the writing floodgates. I sat down and wrote the opening scene of Zach hiding in his classroom closet in one sitting. I scribbled furiously, in one of my kids’ school notebooks, barely coming up for air. And just liked that I was hooked.
RESR: How did you come up with the idea for Only Child?
RN: I am a mom of three young children and the shooting at Sandy Hook five years ago left me reeling. That morning, when twenty-year-old Adam Lanza marched into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed twenty children and six adults, I had dropped off my oldest son at school like I did every day. My son was in first grade then—the same age as many of the young victims—and until that horrifying day I believed his school was a safe place for him. Since then, every single time I walk up to my children’s school, a quick “what if?” crosses my mind: What if a shooter tries to get in through the front door? How far are my children’s classrooms from the front door this year? And when I found my little guy hiding from the “bad guy” underneath the table, I began to wonder: what would living through an actual horrifying event like a school shooting and its aftermath would look and feel like through the eyes of a child?
RESR: What sort of research did you do for Only Child?
RN: I spent many, many hours educating myself about grief, its progression and its manifestation especially in children. I read accounts of children who lived through traumatic situations and experienced profound loss. It was heartbreaking research, but inspiring, too. Children are so resilient and brave and wise in the way they confront and process their reality.
RESR: Reading this from Zach’s perspective was so convincing. What did you do to get in the head of a seven year old?
RN: While writing ONLY CHILD, I used my own kids as my focus group for how Zach might act or speak. I paid close attention and watched them intently for clues: What are they thinking right now? How are they processing, expressing themselves? Whenever I was doubtful as to how Zach might speak, what kind of words he would choose, I asked my children. I would ask them in German: How would you say this in English or how would you describe that? Zach’s voice grew directly from my children’s voices.
RESR: What was your hardest scene to write?
RN: There were a lot of scenes that were tough for me to write. I wrote ONLY CHILD with my own family in mind, pictured my children in Zach’s position and myself in Melissa’s. This really intensified the emotions I felt while writing this story manyfold. I often emerged from a writing session feeling completely gutted and disoriented. I had to pull myself together and splash some cold water on my face before my kids came home on the school bus. The hardest scene of them all was the very last one. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say, I was a blubbering mess by the end of it. I actually took a picture of myself because I’d been ugly crying for over an hour and looked awful.
RESR: How did you break into the publishing world?
RN: I broke into the publishing world the traditional way. I researched agents that I thought would be a good fit for me and created a detailed excel spreadsheet (old advertising account manager’s habits die hard.) But in the end, I reached out to only one agent. I was extremely fortunate that he responded to me right away and offered to represent me pretty much on the spot. From there, things happened quickly and within a few weeks, I had signed with Knopf here in the U.S., Mantle in the U.K., and several other countries around the world. It was such an exciting whirlwind.
RESR: What are you working on now?
RN: I’ve been working on another story for a little while now and I’m beginning to feel it pulling me in the way ONLY CHILD did at the beginning. But I’m going to wait a while longer to talk about it if that’s OK.
RESR: Are there any nuggets of wisdom you can impart to aspiring writers?
RN: Oh, I’m not sure I am qualified to impart any wisdom to other writers because I’m so new at this myself. I can only say that I think my experience of writing ONLY CHILD was such a positive one because I wrote without any expectations. I didn’t expect anyone to necessarily even read it, let alone to find an agent, or a publisher. I had found this story that grabbed me and pulled me in, and I only focused on that. Maybe that’s my advice: Try to write without an agenda. If you’re writing with the goal of publication in mind, if you daydream about the incredible reviews you will receive and the huge success your book is going to be, you will probably do the story a disservice. Try to focus only on reaching inside of you and finding the story you were meant to tell, and success will come naturally. After you’ve put in the hard work.
RESR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
RN: I would just like to add that my hope for my book is that it might, in whatever small way, help bring about change and contribute to the conversation about the gun epidemic this country is facing. I am heart-broken that my children are growing up in a world where they have to learn how to hide from “bad guys.” And I don’t want any other child to ever have to endure an awful incident like the shooting at Sandy Hook. As parents, we already have a long list of worries and fears for our children that keep us up at night. We shouldn’t have to add “my child could be gunned down at school or at the movies or at a music concert” to that list. Hopefully, ONLY CHILD can make a difference and help prevent such tragic loss from happening to more families.
RESR: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
RN: I have a website (www.rhiannonnavin.com) and a monthly newsletter in which I share some of my diary entries I jotted down during my unexpected journey from stay-at-home mom to published author.
I hope you enjoyed this Q&A with Rhiannon Navin. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a signed copy of her book, ONLY CHILD!