As with her earlier novel, Finding Emma, about the after effects of a toddler's kidnapping, author Steena Holmes doesn't back away from tackling the devastating events every mother fears in her latest novel, The Word Game. Holmes introduces us to sisters Alyson and Tricia, their friend, Myah, and their mother, Ida. Despite the closeness between the women, dark secrets threaten their children and their relationships with each other.
The Word Game and your earlier novel, Finding Emma, both focus on terrifying events, the stuff of a parent's nightmares. What draws you to these intense subjects? How did you come to tell this story in particular?
One thing I've learned as a mother of three girls - it's best to face those things we fear the most in order to help raise strong children. In facing those fears, we learn there's a strength deep within us we might not have known before, and that's my goal: to take a journey with my readers through these fears and realize we are stronger than those nightmares. I had to deal with this particular nightmare, the one we see in The Word Game, personally with one of my own daughters. It made me question how well we know those in our lives and tested my own control issues when it came to my children. How much is too much when it comes to protecting them?
I loved the idea of having two sisters be so opposite when it came to dealing with one situation. There was a depth there that wouldn't have been seen if I had only written this story through Alyson's point of view. Their parenting styles, how they faced life... it was fascinating to me. Then I realized that by ignoring Myah and Ida's views, I was missing another dimension. Each woman handles pressure differently and I'm interested to see if my readers are able to connect with one woman over the other or see facets of their own personality through my characters.
The devastating effects of secrets is clearly woven through this novel. What would you like people in similar situations to take away from The Word Game?
To realize they have a voice, that the topic of The Word Game isn't one that should be kept a secret - not when it comes to our children.
What proved to be the biggest challenge in writing this novel?
The emotional intensity of it seemed to affect me more than I thought it would. This book went through seven drafts before I felt it was ready. The relationship between women - whether it be moms, sisters or daughters - is intrinsic. I knew that if I wanted to touch a reader's heart with my story, I needed to push through my own past and fears.
Your biography notes that you always wanted to be a full-time novelist. What path did you take to get here?
Sometimes it takes a while for people to have the faith in themselves to see a dream come true. I didn't write my first novel until 2005 where it won a contest and was published by a vanity press. In 2010, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing, and after receiving my rights back from that novel, I published it myself. It was an instant addiction, and I tested the waters by writing novellas. In 2011, I pulled my first contemporary women's fiction novel from agents and published it myself - it turned out to be my 'breakout' novel. Finding Emma is the story that has made my dreams come true in more ways than one - it was also the first story where I decided to push myself and dig into those fears most mothers try to ignore. Being able to live a dream, of having a career that feeds your soul... it's something I never thought I could experience as well as a journey I would never give up.