First, I’d like to preface this entire post with a sort of disclaimer: I don’t like spending time writing “buy my books” type posts for a couple reasons: 1) yes, I write the words but I truly, from the depths of my heart, believe that God just knew that I had to have a safe way of expressing myself because, otherwise, really awful avenues would have almost been too hard to avoid. God fills my soul not only with words but also with the if-I-don’t-I-can’t-breathe kind of desire to write that, really, there’s no other choice for me but to use writing. 2) I promised myself when I started this blog that it would, basically, simply replace the journals I used to keep. I’d journal here. I would not write anything, or write anything for that matter, that wasn’t for me. My life is full of sunshine, rain and hail–it is what I wish to capture most here because, when I die, I want m girls to have a way of knowing who I was. 3) My books are written for a very specific audience and can create emotional havoc even for members of that specific audience. I say this simply because it’s true: readers have sent me messages soaked in tears, and also raging mad. As much as I want my words to reach the public, I shudder to think of some of my books getting into hands that are not ready to read them.
For all these reasons, the writings and the books are a big part of this journal, but they do not define it. With all that being said, I have to admit that I am very proud of this novel, and I believe in its potential. My characters are like members of my family. I am proud of them, and want others to hear their words and read their stories. For that reason, this post is dedicated to an interview I did recently with JJ, a reviewer who, after reading the book, asked if she could send some questions my way. With that, here is the new novel, Holding Home. I hope you’ll find it as intriguing and inspiring as I do!
Can you tell me what inspired the novel?
The characters! After I finished The Character, I had a vague, blurry-like idea of doing a book on domestic violence. But the idea made me too nervous. For one thing, I expected the story to be from the wife’s perspective, and that made me uncomfortable for several reasons. One, I’ve never really been in that sort of situation and two, my passion lies with highlighting children. So when Jessie, from Forget Me Not came along, I rolled with it and forgot the domestic violence idea. After Forget Me Not was out, though, Mary Beth’s name showed up, but not her full story. I thought Mary Beth was the wife for the longest time–actually until I actually started writing!
What kind of research went into this book?
A lot! First, I wanted to create an abuser that would resound with actual survivors. So I researched violent offenders. I watched videos of convicted offenders talking about the violence. I read several pieces where they wrote about it. And I looked up classic manipulation tricks they use to keep their partners in the relationship. I ended up not actually using most of what I learned, because the voice wasn’t from the wife’s perspective, but it came me a rounded view of what happens, and why. I also had to research Transformers, and boy, that was enlightening!
Yeah, the toys. Michael loves them. I needed to create a scene with him playing with them. Frankly, my previous knowledge was rather pathetic — I knew they were toys that could be manipulated, changed, but I had no idea how. And who would have thought there was an entire story history behind them! I mean, really, after watching episodes and reading the backstory of these things, I found myself actually wanting to buy an Optimus Prime or Bumble Bee! Who would have thought it? But I couldn’t Michael completely without understanding those toys.
Neither of the children are harmed directly in the story. But after the end of the book, you point out that half of the offenders also abuse their children. It would have been realistic to add that, and given the sensitivity of your other books, consistent with your writing. Why did you decide not to include it?
Well, for lots of reasons. Mainly– the characters didn’t include such scenes in their narrative to me. In fact, I had a heart-breaking scene lined up that was intended to change Michael–a scene that included direct child abuse. But my characters nixed it. It was not their story. Two, though they are not directly physically or sexually harmed, a point there is to make: they -were- abused. Emotional abuse, which they undoubtedly were subjected to, is just as life altering as physical abuse. The mind games associated with emotional abuse are out of this world and, indeed, comparable to physical wounds. Also, a excellent argument could be made that Michael in particular was directly abused. Three, the original premise of the novel was that two children who shared the same history could interpret that environment in drastically different ways. They form different views on women in particular, even though their mother treated them the same. A violent man would be more likely to sexually violate a little girl instead of a little boy. Had that happened, an entirely different scenario would have played out in Mary Beth’s head, and life. The premise would have disappeared. Lastly, I wanted to show that violence, even violence not done directly to them hurts children in irreparable ways. Ultimately, that was not what the characters wanted and I have to follow their stories.
Why was the book written in two voices?
The character I had in mind first was Mary Beth. She dictated the drawings. I thought it was her book. Right up until I was ready to start writing. The first scene that came to me was from Michael. I thought they were trying to kill me! How could I write a book with one adult voice and one child’s book? But, in his first chapter, Michael referred to his younger sister–who was named Mary Beth. That’s when I realized that the character that had been shadowing me for so long was a little girl. I didn’t question it–I just wrote.
So how much of a story do you plan out before you write? Any outlines?
I used to do ridiculously detailed outlines that even had how many approximate pages long each chapter would be They detailed every event in the entire book. They were insane. They were tedious. And they made my writing stifled. Since I wrote “The Character”, I have not written a true outline or character summary or any of that actually. I usually don’t know squat! A scene, just like in a movie, comes to my mind and I just start writing. I don’t know if what I’m writing is the first chapter, tenth chapter or last. I just record the individual scene. Then another scene comes to mind. I remember the previous scene, to keep details straight, but I don’t order them. The point isn’t to make a masterpiece at that time–the point is to record what the scene in my head is. It makes writing effortless and fun.
Writing that way, you must get surprises along the way… What was the biggest surprise of Holding Home?
Definitely Teddy. I had no clue about that bear. Nothing. I didn’t even know that Mary Beth had a bear! Then, every so often, I’d just see it in my head. It was on the floor or the bed or behind a table. Toward the end, I had a epiphany: “that bear matters!” That thought unleashed the Teddy chapter.
You talk about writing as though it’s a partnership.
Have any of the other books included drawings?
Did you draw them?
Why are they significant?
Well, before I ever started writing, I saw these pictures in my head. The first was of the little girl asleep on a kite. I had no idea what it meant. But I felt Mary Beth’s presence and knew I was supposed to draw it. So I did. Then came another and another and another. In all, there are about 30, although only some of them made it into the book. I like to think they are Mary Beth’s saving grace.
What do you think happens to her?
The readers get to determine that. Personally, I like to believe she’s ok. But then again–maybe Michael was really the lucky one.
Sibling relationships is a theme of this novel. You imply that they are better off because they have a sibling. Why is that?
Having a sibling dramatically helps an endangered child. No matter how good a parent, an adult cannot think exactly as a child does. Having someone experience the same familial environment as you do, someone who sees the details as you do, someone who is frightened by the same things, is a subconscious comfort to which nothing can compare. No, you’re not really safe, but at least you know you are not alone. An only child does not have that same assurance.
What do you think would have happened to Michael without Mary Beth?
I think that he wouldn’t have lasted as long as he did. Turning to drugs, gangs or violence would have been easier. Mary Beth gave him a reason to control himself–at least, sort of.
And Mary Beth?
I think her dad would have sexually abused her, which would have destroyed another level of her mind.
In terms of innocence–yes.
What’s the title mean, and why that picture?
The title is because you never forget your childhood. Yes, you can overcome it. No, it doesn’t have to define you, but you never forget it. The picture is because the dad primarily affected their childhood. It’s also significant because the dad is holding Mary Beth’s hand.
What do you hope readers find from the novel?
That abuse comes in many shapes and formats. Sometimes it’s blatant, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s easy to look over classic signs of trouble in a child because normal children who are simply shy can display the same behaviors. That so, however, it is best to never ignore signs–no matter how subtle. What happens around you happens to you.. If children see frequent violence, they are mentally and emotionally impacted– for the rest of their lives.
Another book! But I don’t know what it’s about yet. When I have a character, I’ll let you know.
Do you miss the characters when a book is complete?
Thank you for reading! For $9.99, you can purchase Holding Home online or by request via any major bookstore!
And, until Monday, you can purchase it for 18% percent off retail here by entering discount code: NFWN43JA.
Please let me know what you think!