Dog Days of Summer
The actual sweetest member of the Dartmoor family, Holly is always the first to welcome new girlfriends and old ladies, and the last to scrimp on hospitality duty. To say she’s been to hell and back is an understatement, and still, she works hard not to dwell on the past, focuses instead on the joy of having a family. She says Michael’s her savior angel, but in his eyes, the opposite is true.
Holly is the victim of terrible abuse, but I never wanted her to be seen as such. I wanted the reader to meet her first, get a feel for some of her anxiety and triggers, and then learn the truth about her past. And when it came to that past, I argued with myself about hinting versus showing. Ultimately, I went with showing, which was a bit of a controversial decision, as it turned out. But there was a reason – there’s always a reason.
Firstly, a picture really is worth a thousand words. She could have said she was abused all day, but that wouldn’t have meant much.
Secondly, I didn’t want her abuse to be a cheap plot point. I decided if I was going to write about something as serious as abuse, I needed to “go there.” I needed to make it real; for it to be the kind of horrible thing that people struggle past every day; the kind of thing amazingly strong people overcome in silence, none of us the wiser. I wanted everyone to “see” what Holly endured, so they could really know how tough she was, for surviving, for getting out, for having the grace to love a man after that. It would have been too easy and manipulative to just mention that she had been abused; not to mention it would have been completely disrespectful to real victims. Abuse should never be used. At least not in my book.
I’m always looking for a chance to show that strength isn’t a one-dimensional trait. It doesn’t look the same in everyone, and where one person’s strength stumbles, another person’s gives it a shoulder to lean on. Holly doesn’t have Maggie or Ava’s boldness, but she’s got resiliency is spades. It would have been so easy for her to be fearful of all men, to be helpless, to depend on others too much. But Holly knows exactly how sheltered she’s been, and sets about educating herself. Books, magazines, gossip – she absorbs it all like a sponge. She doesn’t want to be helpless any longer, and in its own violent way, seeking out Michael’s hitman skills is a show of strength; she’s taking control of the situation. (Not that I’m recommending anyone do that, obviously.)
My take on motherhood was that Holly wouldn’t want children. After seeing the dark depths of the world, she doesn’t think she can bring a child into it and ever have any peace of mind that her baby will be safe. But, of course, she loves Lucy more than anything. Motherhood was a fantasy she didn’t allow herself, so sure it wasn’t a possibility for her. That’s one of the saddest things about Holly for me – the way she assumes good things won’t happen for her. That she won’t be allowed happiness.
My favorite thing about Holly is the way she just knows what Michael really means. She can read the small movements of his body, his nervous tics, his expressions, like a Golden Book. I have this idea that it only intensifies the older they grow together; that she learns to read the other people in her life, to the point that it becomes a sort of joke amongst the boys. She’s almost psychic. I love the thought that over time she goes from the girl Ghost almost gave back as payment, to a respected, often-consulted old lady. Someone for the younger girls to look up to. Someone the men look to for advice. She deserves that, our Holly. I want all the good things for her, and to watch her find joy in the simple wonders of an ordinary life.