It’s early morning and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Steena Holmes is at her kitchen table drinking coffee and talking about her latest novel THE FORGOTTEN ONES, the haunting story of Elle and what she is compelled to do when she receives a deathbed request from her grandfather, a man racked by grief, regrets, and a dark secret.
“I wish I could take you into my office,” Holmes says, “but it’s currently a cluttered disaster zone. I’m in the middle of preparing reader boxes that need to get mailed.” She elaborates on the reader boxes she’s assembling: “I’ve put together a few of my favorite things, like a special reading mug, chocolates, tote bag, etc., along with a signed copy of THE FORGOTTEN ONES, for those in my awesome reader group. Thanks to the crazy mess in my office I’ve been writing up in my bedroom.”
Holmes says her husband surprised her with a cozy lounger that she’s been writing in. “I’ve written my last two books up there. No, wait, I basically wrote THE FORGOTTEN ONES in my car during field hockey practices where my middle daughter plays goalie. Yes, I have three teenage daughters. Someone once told me life gets easier as the kids get older, but they lied!”
Holmes has been writing fulltime from home for eight years, and she says she’s learning that the books dictate her routine. “I’ve tried to rewire my brain to write during the day while the house is quiet but year after year, that doesn’t seem to work. When I first started writing it was in the middle of the night while everyone was asleep. Now, I’m lucky if the words start to flow around 3 p.m. THE FORGOTTEN ONES was written in the evenings while I sat in my car or on a park bench on long weekend mornings. For my last book, The Therapist—I just handed it in, yay!—my best hours were from 3 to 7 and 9 to 11 p.m. During the day I tend to work on social media, blog posts, interviews, and work with authors helping them create a brand via my Branding with Intent course.”
Holmes definitely knows branding, as evidenced by her wonderful Instagram feeds (@authorsteenaholmes and @steenatravels) and her website (www.steenaholmes.com). How does she choose which content to share? “I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way,” she says. “My goal is to be relatable and personable with my readers. Sometimes it’s hard to find the balance, but I just bring it back to the basics—at the core of who I am, I’m a reader and I survive on coffee, which is easy to share on Instagram. I recently rebranded my website, which I created myself. I want to take my readers on a journey, and that includes my website.”
After a top-off of joe, we get back to THE FORGOTTEN ONES and the research Holmes did for the novel. “It ranged from chats with my dad, who is a truck driver, about what trucking would have been like in the late ’50s, to reading various websites and interviews about mental health and insane asylums in the ’50s and ’60s, to speaking with friends who work in the mental health field now,” she says. “Thankfully, I also have several nurses in my extended family who gave me pointers.”
Appropriate, considering the main theme of the novel revolves around family. Holmes says she also loves to delve into the idea of secrets and how they affect us on a personal level—how important they are to us, why we fear the consequences of revealing them, and how we react when the truth finally comes out.
Holmes expands on this by relating how THE FORGOTTEN ONES is darker then her other novels, like those in the Finding Emma and Stillwater Bay series. “Every story I write, I want to connect with my readers on an emotional level,” she says. “But at the same time, I’ve been wanting to head in a darker, deeper direction. With this novel, I’m taking my readers by the hand and asking them to trust me as we go on a new journey together. The road is full of more twists than they normally experience with my novels, but I’m hoping they’ll continue to trust me to take the driver’s seat.”
Even with the dark aspects, or perhaps because of them, Holmes says this was her favorite story to write. “The words just flowed out of me, the ideas continued to come, and the ending wasn’t what I’d originally planned. It helped that I was in a dark place myself—we were dealing with mental health issues with one of my daughters, and this novel ended up being very cathartic for me.” And with next year’s release of The Therapist, she’ll take readers deeper into the psychological realm.
But just to prove Holmes has a lighter side, we talk about her other hobbies. “Have I mentioned yet that I’m a travelholic?” she asks. “All my life I’ve wanted to travel. In fact, I have notebooks full of destinations I want to visit, restaurants to try, things to see, tours to take. When I’m not on a trip, I’m planning a trip. In fact, I’m planning a European Christmas Market River Cruise Reader Tour for 2019. So far, I have a few authors joining me, including the amazing Kimberly Belle.” She also loves chocolates and sweet treats. “It’s a well-known secret that chocolate gives me headaches, so I tend to eat only a little bit. I’ve learned to curb my cravings for sweets by baking—the craving is gone even before I have a bite.”
As she goes for another refill of her very aromatic brew, she quips, “Also, did I mention my slight addiction to coffee?”
Steena Holmes is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of titles including Saving Abby, Stillwater Rising, and The Memory Child. Named to the “20 Best Books by Women in 2015” list by Good Housekeeping and Redbook, Steena won the National Indie Excellence Award in 2012 for Finding Emma as well as the USA Book News Award for The Word Game in 2015. Steena lives in Calgary, Alberta, and is a self-proclaimed “travelholic” who can’t resist a good cup of coffee. To find out more about her books and her love of traveling, you can visit her website or follow her journeys on Instagram @authorsteenaholmes.