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NYT best-selling author talks switching genres and writing in Calgary

By Kent Wong, March 22 2018 —

A little over a decade ago, Steena Holmes began writing in her spare time while working as a receptionist in downtown Calgary. After winning a short story contest, she found herself looking for publishers for her first novel. Holmes continues to self-publish books, including the 2013 novel Sweet Memories, which quickly became a New York Times best-seller.

Continuing to write in Calgary, Holmes’ upcoming book, The Forgotten Ones, is on track for a April 1 release. She’s set to take a first step into the psychological thriller genre with the new novel.

The Forgotten Ones is about Elle, the adult daughter of an unstable mother, who is only beginning to unravel the truths of her family’s past. She discovers that her supposedly long-deceased grandfather is alive — but on his deathbed. Desperate to reconnect, she uncovers a story that is ripping apart the family narrative told by her mother all her life. Elle attempts to rectify the preconceived concept of her family by digging into the past, but struggles with whether these artifacts are lies or truths.

Something Holmes wants readers to take away from the book are difficult truths and how we receive them.

“The things that happen in our lives, there’s always different sides to look at,” she says. “We’re blinded. We have rose-coloured glasses on at times. We think that something happens for this reason and sometimes we’re not willing to look behind that to see the true reasons behind actions.”

Holmes draws on her own past and upbringing for the book, which is set in her hometown of Kincardine, Ontario.

“I was able to use a lot of my memories growing up,” Holmes says. “[I use] the hospital — my mom used to work there and I used to volunteer there. I have fond memories of the cafeteria there, walking the hallways and what not.”

Holmes, a long-time advocate of indie publishing, also reflects on her experiences starting off as a writer.

“I really loved the journey I’ve been on. I started off with small presses and then I went self-publishing. I chose working with Lake Union [Amazon] for specific reasons. I knew that I would be able to find a broader audience than if I just continued self-publishing on my own or if I focused on getting my book into stores,” she says. “But going with Amazon and being able to self-publish, opened doors for readers, which has always been my goal.”

While changing genres from romance to thriller may be daunting for many writers, Holmes seems excited by the challenge.

“For this story, I view it as a bridge. It’s a step closer to where I want to take my readers on a journey but it’s not too far of a step that when they read it they’ll be like, ‘Whoa this is not what I was expecting,’ ”  she says. “So I hope they’re not being pushed too far but I’m hoping they’re accepting these little steps.”

Naturally, much of her experience has been formed by the Calgary writing scene.

“Here in Canada, there’s more of an acceptance to literature [compared to the United States], but there isn’t a lot of cohesiveness or acceptance to writing in general. It’s a lot of, ‘I do this, you do that,’ ” Holmes says. “I just wish there was a little more acceptance to different paths of writing, instead of the assumption that it has to be one or another.”

Holmes is launching her book tour for The Forgotten Ones at the Owl’s Nest Books in Calgary. The launch includes a raffle for reader bags and a Kindle and a reading from the book. For more, check out Holmes’ website featuring news on releases and a blog on writing and indie publishing at steenaholmes.com.

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