Guest post and book giveaway: Beach Plum Island (contest ended)

Cover of Beach Plum Island by Holly Robinson

Cover of Beach Plum Island by Holly Robinson

Congratulations Linda! You were was randomly selected as a winner and will receive a copy of Beach Plum Island from the author.

My friend and colleague, Holly Robinson, author of Beach Plum Island, shares a  guest post about how travel has not only informed and inspired her writing but also has helped her discover herself.

Putting Emotions on the Page: Travel as Discovery

by Holly Robinson

I’ve always loved to travel. Maybe I should blame my Navy father, who moved our family every year or so, for my restless spirit. Or my mom, who ran away from home on a pony at the age of four.

It’s also possible that I’m a gypsy due to a genetic fluke. For whatever reason, I studied in Argentina during high school, went to college in Spain, taught school in Mexico, and ditched my day job to trek in Nepal and bask on the beaches of Bali—all before I turned thirty. My travel schedule is slower these days, but I’m still eagerly exploring the world:  One recent vacation involved bear-spotting in western Alaska.

As it happens, I became a writer as well as a traveler. Although I don’t make a living as a travel writer, the places I’ve seen inform what—and how—I write, even if those places are close to home. I use settings not only as physical locales for the characters in my novels, but also as extended metaphors for who they are and what’s happening in their lives.

For instance, my last novel, The Wishing Hill, is set both in Mexico, which I love, and New England, where I live now. One of the main characters is a painter in Mexico; I chose sunny Puerto Vallarta for her home because it offered the perfect contrast to frigid New England, and I wanted her to struggle to adjust to her new life when she returned to Massachusetts to care for her ailing mother. (Who, by the way, turns out not to be her mother at all.)

I also have a very specific local setting in that novel, a snuff mill that was behind the first house I bought with my husband. I loved that building’s Gothic roof line, water-stained walls, and rusty water wheels as a metaphor for a tragic love affair in that book. I had spent many days staring at that building and thinking about its history, so I was eager to commit it to paper.

My newest novel, Beach Plum Island, is based on a family mystery my mother told me about a young boy locked in a back bedroom. Mom discovered the little boy while she was babysitting for the family’s other children, and her hair-raising story made me want to write a novel explaining how that boy ended up in such an awful place and what happened to him next.

Plum Island Boardwalk (Credit: Liz Desmarais)

Plum Island Boardwalk (Credit: Liz Desmarais)

Plum Island (Credit: Liz Desmarais)

Plum Island (Credit: Liz Desmarais)

I set the novel mainly on Beach Plum Island, a barrier island off the coast of northern Massachusetts based on the real Plum Island here. I put one of the main characters, a potter named Ava, in a cottage on the beach. Bliss—except that a barrier island shape-shifts with time, as storms deposit sand or wash it away. I never would have imagined when I first moved to northern Massachusetts that entire houses would fall off their foundations and land belly-up in the ocean off Plum Island, but they did, and so have the houses on Beach Plum Island.

When Ava’s dying father says she needs to find her brother and tell him the “truth,” her entire world is turned upside down. She had no idea she had a brother, and she certainly doesn’t know what “truth” she’s supposed to convey to him. As Ava and her two sisters set out to find that missing brother, her life continues to be battered by external forces, much as a barrier island is changed by storms and tides. She falls in love with absolutely the wrong guy; her teenaged sons rebel; her ex-husband decides to marry again; and her sister, who has always been close, becomes angry and estranged.

It’s an emotional journey, and describing the delicate ecosystem of a barrier island was a way for me to describe the psychic riptides we all struggle to survive when something unexpected happens in our lives. Beach Plum Island is a particular setting with specific place details I borrowed from the real Plum Island, but I hope the deeper meaning of the place resonates on a universal level with readers.

I travel, I write about what I see, and most importantly, I try to find meaning in the various ways people inhabit different corners of this fragile planet. Each of those corners is unique. Even if it’s just your family’s summer house on a lake or the city park across the street, the places you visit have the potential to help you discover and experience your emotions in unexpected ways.


Beach Plum Island by Holly Robinson is also available on Amazon, in hardcover and Kindle editions. The author is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. She is the author of one previous novel, The Wishing Hill and a memoir, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter. Robinson holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She and her husband have five children, two cats, a grumpy hamster, and two very stubborn small dogs.  


Win a free copy of Holly’s new novel by leaving a comment below—simply name one place you have visited that has inspired you. (One randomly chosen reader will win a copy of the book. Entries limited to U.S. mailing addresses only. Contest ends 6/20/14).

What place have you visited that inspired you?

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Category: BOOKS & GEAR

Comments (14)

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  1. Amy says:

    The Lizzie Borden House– Fall River, MA (Yes, not traditionally inspirational, but I’m weird like that)

  2. sheryl says:

    Sounds like a wonderful read. I’m inspired by every new place I visit – truly. Actually, it both spoils and inspires me.

  3. Diane Hall says:

    I have moved 49 times in 52 years, coming home to Massachusetts where I was born. Has given birth to the reality of all I am! I was not sure if you new this fact about me!

  4. Laurie says:

    Cordoba, Spain. Standing on the Roman bridge i felt swept by history almost to the point of hearing horses and chariots. Been reading lots more history ever since.
    PS already have the book!

  5. Carolsue says:

    I guess I would have to say Washington DC and Arlington National Cemetary…for obvious reasons.

  6. Gill says:

    Niagara Falls and the Pacific coast in California and Oregon have been places of inspiration and wonder for me.

  7. gail says:

    We are have traveled a little bit as a family and now as a couple as our kids are almost grown with the youngest turning 21 in a few weeks. We moved quite a bit for work with the younger two but have stayed put in Minnesota with youngest(only kid to do 12 years in one school district). He was born in Massachusetts but we left when he was one. My inspirational place is still Duxbury Beach- long walks on the beach with my golden retriever, picnics with the kids,digging in the sand and hunting for that elusive blue sea glass. I so long to do that again…

  8. Bj Schanzle says:

    The Azore island of Pico, my maternal grandfather left there when he was 14 yrs old on a whaling ship, to return to the place my great grandmother raised him/said good bye to him never knowing if she’d ever see him again was humbling/inspiring…made me further appreciate legacy. Another was Salem, MA….as a spiritual person/counselor… to know that I may have been perceived as a witch/killed had I lived there during those judgemental times was also saddening… Aloha Holly…

  9. Linda Kish says:

    Washington D.C. I don’t really travel much. I’m more of a stay at home person.

  10. Amy Wallen says:

    Where in Nepal did you trek? I trekked the Khumbu region to the Everest Base camp. It so intimidated, inspired and had me in such awe that I came home, quit my job at a law firm and wrote my first novel. The novel didn’t take place in the Himalayas, but I found myself inhabiting the South from my youth without judgement and with a new compassion. I went I Plum Island when I was going through my divorce and it felt as though my soul was cleansed in someway. I love that place. So quiet. Maybe that was all I needed-some silence in my life. And, I have to add, I loved the snuff mill in your novel, Holly. And I am so happy it’s a real place. Can’t wait to read Beach Plum Island.

  11. Jennifer Essad says:

    Sanibel Island, FL – an island off the Gulf Coast w/such beautiful beaches. It’s a quiet place w/no signs of big box stores or retail outlets that you see everyday. We walked the beach following paths to private spots to watch nature astound us everyday. If I was a writer I’d be inspired by that alone. It’s a wonderful place to be. Thanks for a chance to win.

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