I was recently interviewed about my novel Saving Abby:
Q: You are the author of more than two dozen books, which have sold more than one million copies, have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, won the National Excellence in Indie Award for Fiction, and are now published in the international market. Why do you think your books strike a cord and resonate so deeply with millions of readers?
A: Time and time again I hear from my readers that I write stories that could be about them or someone they know, that the characters I write are personable and real. With each story I write, I seem to touch their hearts in a way that I’m always grateful for.
In SAVING ABBY, married couple Josh and Claire Turner try unsuccessfully for years to have a child. It is only after they symbolically and intentionally decide to stop trying to have a baby that Claire becomes pregnant. What can readers learn from this example about our attempts to so tightly control our lives, and what sometimes happens once we let go? Are there areas of your life that have worked themselves out once you stopped trying to control them?
A: On a personal level, learning to let go is something I always seem to struggle with – and yet, when I do, things seem to work out (it’s almost frustrating how often this happens – you think I’d learn by now). Needing some semblance of control – I believe it’s something we all struggle with and I hope it’s a way readers can connect with Josh and Claire’s story.
Claire and Josh are successful children’s book illustrators. Much of their work is inspired by their travels. What is it about travel and about being away from home that moves us creatively? What have been some of your favorite places to travel? Which places or travels have inspired your writing?
A: Every place I’ve ever visited has touched my heart in such a way that I am changed. Whether it’s stepping back in time, seeing the places I’ve always dreamed about first hand or experiencing a culture in ways I’ve only ever read about…it touches me. I don’t believe you could travel and not be moved creatively – I know for me it’s not possible! I have so many favorite places – Bruges, Belgium because it’s a town with more than 50 chocolate shops (like hello…are you kidding me? That’s a chocolate lovers paradise right there!). Visiting the Christmas markets in Germany was a dream come true and Venice…Venice is just breathtaking. I find I’m always wanting to go back to Paris, to sit at a patisserie, to walk the cobbled stone streets and I still haven’t visited the museums in London. As you can tell…I can’t really say one place is my favorite – not yet at least – there’s still too many places I want to visit! I think that’s why I started my travel blog – steenatravels.com – because I love travel so much and I’d love nothing more than to share that passion with my readers.
Your books are known for packing quite an emotional punch, and you are never one to shy away from difficult themes. In previous books, you’ve written about relationships between friends, spouses, and siblings. In SAVING ABBY, you write about a relationship between a mother and her unborn child. What compelled you to delve into this relationship, and how was writing about this relationship particularly challenging or rewarding?
A: I like to confront the fears I face as a mother head on with my stories. Having to choose between my child’s life or my own…you would think that would be an easy decision and yet as I wrote this story, I realized it wasn’t. For me, as a mother, yes. But what about my own mother or my husband or other family members – that’s what I kept in mind while writing Claire’s story. As a mother of three girls, the relationship I have with each one of this is so complex and varied; this inadvertently is always a thread in each story I write. It’s never perfect and it’s often a disaster and I love it.
Your books center on emotionally-complex decisions or situations, often with heartbreaking moral implications. In SAVING ABBY, there are a number of emotionally-wrenching scenes that are quite affecting and emotional to read. How do you put yourself into your characters’ heads and hearts as they face difficult and emotional situations? How does it affect you?
A: I become each character as I write them. It tears my heart out at times to do so…I feel each emotion, I imagine myself in each situation and often, especially in Saving Abby, I would write scenes with tears streaking down my face. If a scene doesn’t leave me touched – then I rewrite it. If I haven’t experienced those emotions my characters are experiencing, then there is something wrong with that scene. Because I tend to work through all those emotions my characters are experiencing, it can be hard to close my laptop and be ‘present’ with my family. It’ll take me a little bit to remove myself from my story.
SAVING ABBY and many of your other books depict real-life, ripped-from-the-headlines-esque scenarios. Where do you generate your ideas? Do they stem from personal experience or experiences of those close to you? If so, how do you manage vulnerability, yours and/or that of those around you?
A: There is always a kernel of truth to each story I write. I find those kernels throughout life – whether on the news, an article I read or it’s something I’ve heard in passing. I then take that kernel and think about how it affects me, how I would handle it and how it would mark me. That’s the story I then want to tell – when there is a personal connection within my own heart. From there the story unfolds and I never know where it’s going to go until I’m in the middle of writing it (I often start off with one idea and then it goes into something very very different). These stories always stem from a fear or belief that I hold as a woman, as a mother. I make sure that each and every story is personal only to me – that it’s never a story that a friend or family relative is going through.
In SAVING ABBY, Claire has an almost compulsive need to make lists: to-do lists, bucket lists, etc. Her life has been marked by significant traumatic touchstones: becoming unexpectedly pregnant as a teenager and giving up her child for adoption, being unable to become pregnant as an adult, being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness when she does finally become pregnant. Is her need to make lists symbolic of a desire for control and order in her life that has been marked by heartbreak and lack of control?
A: When someone has their control stripped from them, they will find a way to get it back – even if it’s something small. For Claire, she started the idea of making lists early on in life, and I think that was due to growing up with a very controlling father. He might have tried to control her life, but he couldn’t control her dreams and goals. Making these lists – that was something that can never be taken away from Claire. I found how she uses her lists as a means to find hope, to believe in a better day encouraging. I knew from the beginning that she was a list maker, but I didn’t know why and it wasn’t until her past became known to me that I understood. Claire didn’t just make the lists to remind herself that she had dreams and goals, she kept these lists as proof of who she was and what she’d done with her life.
Claire’s husband Josh is a supportive and loving partner both professionally and personally. The reader can feel his sense of helplessness as he watches his wife struggle to face her possible infertility and her medical diagnoses. Why did you decide to tell parts of the novel from Josh’s perspective?
A: When I started to write this story, I realized that the story couldn’t properly be told if it was only from Claire’s POV. Josh had just as much to lose and who he was, as a man and as a husband was just as important to the story line. Yes, it was Claire’s body that was affected with her diagnoses and pregnancy and ultimately it was Claire’s decision – but her decision affected so many people and it was only fair that their voices were heard throughout the process as well. Besides, I really like Josh. He was very supportive and loving and yet, not perfect.
Not only does Claire have a supportive and loving husband in Josh, but she also has a close-knit group of girlfriends she leans on for support. Do you have a community of female friends or girlfriends in your own life? Did they inspire the characters in SAVING ABBY? What do girlfriends or female friendships provide that even the most loving, supportive male spouse cannot?
A: Women need women in order to remain sane. I love my husband and he is a very strong support to me – but men and women think and feel differently and it’s not fair of me to put that pressure on him, you know? He’s logical. I’m emotional. Two completely different worlds. I joke that my girlfriends have saved my marriage more times than I can count but it’s probably true. He would probably agree as well.
Claire is a professional storyteller. Without giving too much away, through the course of the novel, she must face the possibility she will not live to raise her child. This motivates her to start to pen stories for her unborn daughter. You have three daughters. How do they influence your work? Do you write with them in mind? What do you hope they learn about you, about themselves, about life, in your books?
A: To say my daughter’s don’t influence me would be a lie. I’m a storyteller and with each book I write, I hope they will one day read and see a part of me, a part of us in those stories. I want them to learn that women are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. I want them to value the relationships they have around them. I hope that they will understand that no one is perfect, that we all make mistakes but it’s what we do after that matters. My girls always have something to add to my stories – whether it’s with ideas or names or if I use them as a character building block.
What’s next for Steena Holmes?
A: I currently have three projects on the go…talk about fun! I’m in the middle of writing Stillwater Deep, a novel set in my Stillwater Bay series that I hope to have out this summer. I also plan to have a new story out by end of the year, one that touches on the dynamics of a broken family and a decision that literally destroyed lives. Finally, I’m in the planning stages of another heart hitting story of a young girl with the courage to change lives and make dreams come true. It’s an idea I’ve fallen in love with and I think you will too!