Rannah GrayName:  Rannah Gray

Book Title:  Familiar Evil

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What is your book about?

Familiar Evil tells the true story of the international search for a television personality that revealed his dark side as a child predator. It goes inside the investigation that made headlines from Louisiana to London, when a young British businessman coincidentally connected with me, an American public relations consultant living in Louisiana. The two of us ended up working with authorities in two countries in an international criminal case that built to an explosive conclusion.

What inspired you to write your book?

I was contacted by a young man in the U.K. who had been searching for his childhood abuser for 13 years. The two of us became confidential informants in a federal investigation, assisting U.S. authorities in their international efforts to uncover the truth and determine what crimes the man may have also committed in the U.S., considering he was adopting little boys from state custody as he had done in England. My inspiration came from the young men who were survivors of childhood abuse at the hands of this evil man, especially the young man who contacted me. I felt I was given the rare opportunity to tell a story about survivors of terrible abuse that focuses on their heroism, perseverance, and resiliency instead of the unspeakable crimes committed against them. This made us realize we could reach a wider audience and educate people by sharing a story that reads more like an international thriller Familiar Evilthan a true-life story.

Can you describe your writing process? 

After being involved in the investigation, I was approached by my publisher to write this book to tell the story that had not been revealed in news stories—which was how U.S. officials found out about the man’s true identity. To write the book, I began by assembling a year of emails from the British man who contacted me along with news articles, photos, and information we had gathered throughout the investigation. The back and forth between us helped me develop a timeline. Once I had assembled everything, I would write, mostly at night in an office on the second floor of my home. It was a porch when I built the house, but it gets a lot of sun from the west and was too hot in the afternoons to enjoy being outside, so I enclosed it with glass and turned it into an office. It’s high up in the trees of my neighborhood and one wall is mostly stained glass, so now the setting sun splashes beautiful blue and gold light around the room as the lights from neighboring houses come on and twinkle among the trees. It’s my favorite place to write and I can write there until late in the night. I have one comfortable reading chair in the office, which lets me get up from the computer and move to the chair to think, while still staying close to the computer. My other favorite place is our family home in Mississippi, Evergreen Oaks, where my mother still lives. We have a guest house there that also has lots of windows, which makes it easier to spend long hours indoors. When I was writing Familiar Evil, I would visit my mom on weekends, stay in the guest house, and write for long stretches of time. It’s best when I can lay out my research around me and refer back to it as I write.

I knew I wanted readers to hear the voices of the man who contacted me—called Ethan in the book—and Mary Jane Marcantel, the paralegal who my attorney and close friend, Nathan Fisher, brought in to help with the investigation. My publisher encouraged me to go to England to conduct research and interviews in person, and the experience put the power of the real lives and faces affected by these crimes in perspective.

Once I had a first draft almost complete, I worked with Mary Jane to weave in her observations and experiences about the investigation. She has a keen sense about criminal minds and is an excellent legal researcher.

The writing process was equal parts making sure the facts were all correct and trying to share the various emotions that run through this story. I felt the stories told by Ethan throughout the book about growing up in Bury St. Edmunds, England and how a beautiful life was interrupted by these crimes, helped put the story in context for the reader. It was an honor to meet Jake, the adopted son of the TV personality in the U.K. who was violently abused for 13 years, and contributed a brave statement to the book. And the chapter written by Ethan absolutely touched my heart. At first, he had difficulty writing anything about his journey, but after sitting with me for an interview in England, he decided he wanted to try again to write his thoughts.  He’s a very creative writer and truly paints a picture with words. His chapter is amazing and truly inspiring…a pure gift to this book.

How did you come to do what you’re doing today?

I’m a public relations consultant in Louisiana. After earning two degrees in Journalism, I knew I enjoyed writing, but I preferred to advance ideas and projects that I enjoyed and believed in…not simply report on them.  I worked in state government when I was just out of college, then in sports marketing for many years at LSU, where I served as Associate Athletic Director responsible for marketing, advertising, radio, and television production and other activities to help 20 sports team be successful. After doing that for about 13 years, I left to start my own public relations firm and now work on projects that allow me to develop advertising campaigns, and create and launch new brands and strategies to engage the public—all things I enjoy a lot.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?

I’m a night owl, so not a very early riser.  If I’m up by 6:30 or 7 a.m. and don’t have an early meeting, I like to spend time reading the news online, sending out a few emails to get the day started, and organizing my day. I used to send out emails late at night when I was clearing my mind of the things I needed to get done the next day. Then I noticed people tended to focus on what time I sent the email…1:30 or 2 a.m. Now I just write the emails and save them as drafts, then send them out first thing in the morning. It’s amazing how differently people feel when it looks like you’re thinking about them at 7 a.m. instead of 2 a.m. My days are almost always busy with client meetings, creative work sessions, and phone calls. Because my firm stays involved in a number of public projects, there are sometimes meetings to attend after work hours. If not, I enjoy dinners with friends, hopefully some down time at home, and usually a recap of the day’s news on TV or online. As a journalism major, I’m always checking in on national and international news on my phone, computer, or TV when I can.

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

I mostly enjoy working with people on projects I feel can make a difference in people’s lives. I know my days are busy, but no more so than anyone else’s, so the challenge of bringing helpful information to people in a way they can receive it, understand it, and act on it is rewarding. I was a double-major in news editorial and advertising, so using writing skills to provide factual information and advertising skills to communicate creatively seems to hit the target on what I feel best about accomplishing. 

Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?

My parents are my greatest inspiration. My dad was always kind and helpful to others and taught us to treat everyone with respect, to help people when we can. My mother is probably the strongest woman I know, and she pushed me to stand up for what is right, to not back down. We were raised in the Episcopal Church, which I think also fed my sense of social justice. My favorite book has always been To Kill a Mockingbird. I grew up in Mississippi during the long, hot summers of civil rights unrest, and I found great solace in reading about a family who seemed to believe in respecting others as ours did. 

Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

People may be surprised to know I skipped the 11th grade in high school to graduate early and with advanced placement testing, I earned 13 hours of college credit, which allowed me to enter LSU at age 16 as a second-semester freshman. When I look back on it, I wonder why I was in such a hurry! They may also be surprised that I studied classical piano for 12 years and competed in musical competitions throughout elementary and high school. 

What’s next for you?

My focus now is on taking the story of Familiar Evil to as many people as possible. That includes going back to the U.K. to share it with others there and since there has been some interest from filmmakers, I want to pursue that to give it as large an audience as possible. I feel that Familiar Evil is an amazing opportunity to help others address a subject that has for too long been something people could not talk about. I am very proud to be the voice of those whose stories are too personal to tell themselves, because we are in complete agreement that their stories can help other survivors of abuse, as well as law enforcement and child services workers recognize how evil, especially familiar evil, operates in our society.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’ve been very proud of the national and international recognition Familiar Evil has received in the 2016 book awards programs:

Gold Medal – 1st Place for True Crime — Independent Publisher Book Awards

1st Place – New Non-Fiction – National Indie Excellence Awards

1st Place – True Crime – National Indie Excellence Awards

1st Place – Narrative Non-Fiction – International Book Awards

Finalist, True Crime – International Book Awards

As I have been speaking to groups about Familiar Evil, I know it touches people and can encourage others to speak up when they know someone could be hurt, especially a child. I’ve learned the power of one, and every one of us can make a difference—for ourselves or someone else—if we just speak up when something is not right.

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