The first thing that caught my eye about Steena Holmes was her love of chocolate. Oh yes, she’s a certified chocoholic like me. In our world, chocolate goes with everything and is appropriate for all occasions. Meeting during Kristen Lamb’s blogging course last summer, I next learned Steena had a wicked way with romance, including a steamy erotic selection published under her pen name, Anya Winter. The covers alone set the tone. There is something to be said about covers and Steena has a strong eye for them. She designs her own and provides services for other authors.
Steena is what I call a sweet soul. As a writer. As a wife and mother of three. As a friend. She is open to sharing her know-how of the self-publishing world as well as words of support for fellow writers. So it is my pleasure to interview her here for Melodic Monday as well as share a treat.
Glad to be here, Barbara.
How did you become a writer? What is your background?
My husband forwarded me an e-mail about a contest–the winner would receive a book contract through a Christian publisher. I decided to try it. Took me six months to write the story, had a friend read it and then I sent it in. That was Chocolate Reality. It won and was published.
Wow, you coming to writing was meant to be. Tell us about Devil Unknown.
“Each generation, evil takes form and steals the soul of the most devout.”
A long forgotten myth holds the key to the evil descending upon Bandit Creek. When the town turns to their beloved former pastor for answers, little do they realize he may be the evil they fear.
Nathan Hanlin is at a crossroads. His soul is in jeopardy, and he doesn’t know it. Yet. He thought leaving the church would be easy, but when demonic crows start talking and demons reveal a secret about his past–he realizes turning his back on God might have been a mistake. A ripped page from a journal holds the key to discovering why the supernatural are appearing in Bandit Creek, but it’s too late. The myth is real and the only person who knows the answer is missing. Can Nathan save the woman he loves…or is he the reason her life is in danger?
He stood motionless in the cold, sparse room. Perfect for his plans.
The rat droppings were fresh. His intended guest would have more company than first thought. The stench of mold, urine and sulfur filled the air. The aroma aroused him.
He rubbed his hands together as he viewed the room. The scorched cement blocks were a nice addition. The fingers of long ago flames licked the walls and left burn patterns snaking towards the ceiling. The little cracks in the floor crisscrossed each other until the kaleidoscope of weeds peeping through the cracks decorated the floor. Ants and other insects scurried away from his boots as he walked around the room.
Chains anchored in the walls promised torturous delight. Exactly what his guest deserved. Saliva pooled and dripped from his lips as he imagined the hell he was about to create for her.
It was all for her.
A gift. For him.
Rotting carcasses littered the path to home.
Nathan Hanlin entered the twilight zone as he drove along the curving mountain road towards home. The remnants of ominous music played in his mind. If he didn’t know better, from the dark swelling clouds filling his rearview mirrors to the dust swirls up ahead, Nathan would think he’d entered his own private hell.
Sentries of large black crows faced him on either side of the highway.
His worst nightmares come true.
For the past week his dreams were filled with the disgusting birds circling over a car wreck. Nathan shuddered at the memory. He’d heard that crows were once used as messengers from the spirits, but if they were trying to tell him something, he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it.
He rolled his shoulders, trying to ease a kink that had set in more than an hour ago. The highway from the city to Bandit Creek stretched on forever. Ahead was the pass but at the rate he was going, it would be night before he reached it.
Swerving to miss another dead animal, Nathan’s grip tightened on the steering wheel. The crows’ beady eyes followed him as he drove past. It was unreal how they perched there, their black wings tucked tight against their slick bodies.
Only their eyes moved, as if tracking him.
He could have sworn they were looking directly at him. Not his vehicle. Him. As if they knew him.
The archway to the Pass approached in the distance. Nathan pushed his foot until the speedometer inched higher. Thirty feet ahead a barricade of large black crows were positioned beneath the large metal sign with the aged black letters – Crow Mountain Pass. Swirling clouds of dust sheathed the birds’ movements, creating an illusion of a huge black dust storm. Hundreds of eyes stared at him.
You need us.
Nathan jerked his foot off the pedal. What the…?
He must be more tired than he thought. Not a good thing to be on this road. He’d conducted too many funerals from late night driving accidents on this windy road.
His vehicle inched its way along, coming to a full stop right before the crows as their deafening caws filled the air. The side windows and windshield cracked as the multitude of crows flew at him, their screams filling the air. Nathan ducked his head to his steering wheel, hands over his ears. The glass shook from the impact. Nathan was sure his windows would break. He didn’t understand what was happening. His skin rippled from the onslaught of the invisible beaks poking at his skin. Fingers of dread tunneled through his brain. Nathan cried out in anguish, begging God for help.
Raising his head, he jammed his foot on the gas and accelerated until he drove past the swirling cascade. Gasping, Nathan struggled to regulate his breathing, failing with each inhale. Once he made it beneath the archway, he glanced in his rearview mirror. Nothing.
No crows, no swirling dust, nothing. The chaos had vanished.
He hit the brake, his toes cramping from the quick movement. He leaned forward and rested his arms on the steering wheel. Scratch marks ran along the hood.
Nicked, dented and littered with stray feathers, his truck looked like it had been dragged into hell. Nathan reached for the door handle then stopped. His arms collapsed and chafed against the leather edge of the wheel before they fell onto his legs. His body shook as if an earthquake erupted beneath his feet and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Pools of sweat poured down his face as they mingled with his tears.
What just happened?
Fab, Steena. I love that Nathan is an imperfect character and embodies feelings some might consider taboo for a pastor. His questioning of faith reads true. As a fan of thrillers, your blend of supernatural and other ominous elements woven throughout (hello crows!) gripped me as I tried to figure out what was really going on in the town. What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
It took me out of my element! I loved it. I loved creating Morax and his story line. Nathan tugged at my heart in so many ways–this was such an easy story to write because I fell in love with it right away. 🙂
You seem to be quite comfortable working within varying genres. Why do you think that is? Do you have any tips for others wanting to jump genres?
So here’s the thing. I’m not agented. I don’t have a publishing contract that will demand I stick to one genre or another. I can write what I want and have fun with it. I can see what my readers will like and experiment. Devil Unknown was a complete experiment. I’ve wanted to write a thriller for so long. I’ve written a few and stored them away, but when the Bandit Creek series started I knew this was a perfect opportunity for me. I know I can write romance, but could I write thrillers? Great time to find out. 🙂 And I trust my readers. We’ve often heard that crossing genres is not good for your writing career, but I think we’ve forgotten to trust our readers.
What are some of your inspirations for story ideas? Does the full story come to you first or do characters come first?
Every day life. Things I hear on the radio, read in the paper…all you need is an idea. I’ll think about the idea and see what plays out in my head.
Do you consider yourself to be a pantser or plotter? How in-depth do you outline?
I’m a planter. 🙂 I plot what my scenes are or what will happen. I like to write in scenes instead of chapters (which is why I love Scrivener).
What tips do you have for writing through any story stalls or blocked moments?
Talk to your crit partners. Explain what is going on and what the problem is. Even if they don’t have the answer–something they say may just trigger whatever the blockage is. It works for me every time.
What is your writing process? Words done every day? Working on more than one project at a time?
I love Scrivener. It’s my lifesaver. I put in what I want my projected word count to be and it tells me what I need to write daily. And then I do it. And if I have more than one project going at a time (which I always seem to do) then I need to make sure I use my time wisely.
You’ve taken the indie route for your books? Why is that?
Ahh, indie. The key to my heart. Yes, going indie is hard and stressful, but the rewards are amazing! I love being in control. I love that the possibilities for indie writers are now endless. The key to being successful is on me, but I’m not alone in this journey. There are millions of other indie authors who can help me and they do. One thing I’ve noticed in the indie world is that we don’t hold our secrets tight to our chests and say ‘figure it out.’ We share. We want others to be successful. To me, that’s the key. If I can help to make you successful, then I’ll be successful too! It’s why I like to help indie authors with book covers and formatting.
Walk us through the process of your book production from writing time to edits to cover design to launch.
You think with nine stories out there since June 2011 I’d be able to answer this with my eyes closed! With novellas, I give myself a two to three month window. Up to two months to write the story (I prefer less), and then one month for edits, revision and cover design. For novels I do a six month window. I’m not a patient person by any means.
What advice do you have for new novelists?
Just write. Don’t worry about the rules, the deadline, the character and story arcs. Just write. Write with the passion that drives the story. The art or the craft of writing can be taught, but the passion has to be deep inside of you. Once you’ve written the story–then worry about the craft–that’s all part of the revision process! Besides, the more you write, the better you’ll become and each story will have it’s own struggles–but the passion–that’s the crucial element!
Now for some fun rapid fire questions:
I know you love chocolate (that’s a given). What is your absolute favorite kind? Milk chocolate. Sweet, sensual, smooth on the tongue. 🙂
Favorite beverage? Coffee with creamer. Hot chocolate. Root Beer.
Favorite author? Really? Just one? Diane Chamberlain. Stephanie Draven. Karen Marie Moning.
Favorite book? This is hard. Right now I love the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning.
What’s your writing soundtrack right now? I hate listening to music while I write. I need quiet. I can’t drown it out very well.
Fave vacation destination? Right now, I’m going to say some place warm. Any place warm. 🙂 But I would love to tour Europe–Italy, German, etc.
Favorite song? I don’t have one–whatever is popular at the time I guess.
Fave movie? Lake House and My Fair Lady.
What male actor would you love to have play one of your characters? Gerard Butler
Ooo, Gerard. I can totally see that. How about female actress? Jennifer Garner
Thanks for sharing about your writing process, tips and inspirations, Steena! You can find Steena at her blog, Writing with Passion. She recently released a novella Cabin Fever and you can also check out her novel, Hot for Cowboy.
Now for the treats:
Book Giveaway Details
- Prizes – Three e-Books of Devil Unknown (open internationally)
- How do you win?
- The book giveaway will be open all week February 20-25, 2012 (until 11:59 pm EST).
- One entry is earned for the drawing each time you comment on one of my blog posts this week.
- Tweet about this post and you earn an additional entry. Please make sure you put my Twitter handle @BMcDowellOH in your tweet so I see it.
- On February 26, 2012, I will put all the names in a hat and then draw the winner names.
- Check back on February 27, 2012, for the announcement of the winners. Then Steena will get you your prize. Good luck!
Musical Selection: Adam Lambert singing a cover of “Mad World” by Tears for Fears. Perfect mood music for the circling evil in Nathan’s life.
Now for your feedback. What are your questions for Steena?
Fabulous, ladies! And fabulous ladies! It’s so good to learn more about each other. I’ve always been fascinated by Steena’s writing and her ability to pull readers into her stories. Her words simply flow whether we are being frightened or fulfilled!
Appreciate that, Patricia! Yes, Steena has a knack for the pacing and pull of storytelling.
Patricia – what an absolute darlin you are!! Thank you!
Barbara is a sweetheart for having me on her blog!
Hi Barbara and Steena!
Great cover on your book, Steena! And I’d have to say with the demonic talking crows, you’ve definitely got writing a thriller down to a fine art. Gave me goosebumps! My question – when you’re genre hopping, how do you try to brand yourself?
Hi Carrie! Branding oneself is a topic on its own! I try to brand me – as the author – and not the genre that I write. I write with passion – whether its in my romance, my women’s fiction or in my thriller. I believe it’s the passion that draws the reader – I know for me, as a reader – its the first thing I notice. You can tell when the writer has a passion for their story or not – it comes alive on the pages.
I hope that helps and makes sense!
Fantastic interview ladies. It is so wonderful to learn more about each other and I am fascinating by the different writing styles and processes everyone has. I love what Steena said about writing in different genres and trusting her readers. So true! We must have faith and write with passion and trust that in the end, that will carry us through and be our success.
I’ve been thinking about downloading Scrivener to learn right from the start. It sounds like it gets high recommendations from Steena so that’s great to know!
Wonderful spotlight both of you!!! Woot woot!!!
Natalie – you’ll love Scrivener!
Great interview Ladies. Steena, as always, you are fascinating and interesting. must be all that chocolate that makes you sweet. luv you
Thanks Louise darlin!
Great interview, ladies! I’ve read Devil Unknown, and it was certainly creepy.
Exactly what I like to hear!
Wow. Definitely looking into this author!!
Thanks Traci! I hope you like what you find!
I just read Cabin Fever yesterday and LOVED it!! It was steamy, but had a sweet ending. I didn’t realize how many other books and genres you have written. Very cool. I agree with you on being an independent publisher. I’m so glad it’s the route I’m on.
I have 9 to date on amazon. How cool is that! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! I agree – I love this route!
Ohh! Another one to add!!! Steena, how do you do it all???? I bow to your greatness!!! Thanks, Barbara and Steena for giving us a glimpse!
Diana, the same way you do – I just write. It helps these are just novellas. I’m not a patient person and I like to see immediate rewards. Writing novellas are so easy for me to do, and I enjoy them!
Very nice! What a fabulous interview! So in depth! I’m in your group for Rachael’s 4th campaign! Glad to meet you! ~Theresa Sneed, author of No Angel and its forthcoming prequel, From Heaven to Earth
Thanks Theresa! Off to check out No Angel 🙂
Great to meet you, Theresa! Off to check out No Angel as well.
On my TBR list, Steena. I’m so happy to learn that you design book covers – I might hire you to work on mine!
This is a great interview – Barbara’s questions are clever and let us learn so much about Steena.
Steena, you are such a talented writer! I want to read ALL of your books.
I’m curious, why do you use pen name for the erotica novels? I’m writing in two different genres but I’m going to publish it all under my name.
Oh, I am a “ceritified chocoholic” myself and the milk chocolate is my favorite. I don’t care much for dark chocolate, despite its definite health benefits (I eat healthy otherwise 🙂 ) although I love dark chocolate covered acai berries. My favorite drinks are, like yours, coffee with creamer and hot chocolate. Plus red wine 🙂
Angela, the moment you want a cover – give me a yell! I’d love to work on one for you.
I originally created a pen name due to my background. A pastor writing erotica or even erotic romance wouldn’t look too good. The past 6 months or so I’ve realized that I’m my best seller though and I need to be real. I took the chance and switched one of my erotic romances over from Anya Winter to my real name and I’m so glad that I did!
When I created Anya Winter – I was trying to respect my family and those that knew me as a pastor. But the respect has to go both ways, doesn’t it – I have to respect myself as well. So I doubt you’ll see anymore Anya books 😉 They’ll all be mine!
One day you and I need to sit down over wine and chocolate 🙂
What a fun interview – thanks for sharing! Devil Unknown sounds fascinating – I really need to check out some of these! And wow am I impressed with how prolific you are. Am I correct in guessing that writing and cover design are your full-time job, or do you do this in addition to one?
HI Jennette – I actually do this ‘part time’. I work full time as a virtual assistant from home. But .. it leaves me with time to fit in a cover or two during the day and then I write at night. I love living my dream and seeing it come to fruition!
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I downloaded Cabin Fever last week and can’t wait to read it!
Awesome Traci!! Let me know if you like it!
Thanks for giving us such an in depth visit with Steena Holmes, Barbara. Steena, you are amazing. Requests for book covers and your novels will undoubtedly climb.
Marion – a dream come true 🙂
Awesome! Steena is so cool, I just love how she embraces indie and pays it forward. And the chocolate part, well who doesn’t love that about her?!
I loved getting to know her a bit more and the excerpt from her book. Thanks, Barbara for a fab interview. Oh, and thanks for the video – one of my favorite songs performed by an awesomely talented guy who is from my hometown. His dad belongs to one of my writer associations, pretty cool!
Love you both.
Tameri – That is cool about Adam’s dad! Barbara did a fab interview – she’s amazing!
Appeciate the love, Tameri and Steena! 🙂
You are right that Steena is way cool, Tameri. And prolific. I’m learning a ton from her approach to the indie process. Now for Mr. Adam…another reason to wander to your neck of the woods and just patiently sit and wait for him to come home. Heh. I love when he sings quiet like this versus the louder songs.
Thanks Barbara for the great interview with Steena. I loved Cabin Fever Steena and your book covers are awesome. I like what you said about passion and laying it all out on the page. It is a great time to be a writer! Congrats on your indie publishing success.
Kate – this is the perfect time for us as indie authors! If we pour our heart into our stories and offer a presentation that readers can’t refuse – there’s no reason why we can’t be successful! This is our year girl!
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Fantastic interview, girls! I love what you said, Steena, about crossing genres. I totally agree. If the reader loves your writing, she’ll love referring you to others. Maybe one genre won’t be for her, but she’ll know someone who would love it….and the circle widens!
9 titles out already! Amazing!
Cabin Fever sounds great and I’m off to check it out. Devil Unknown is an intriguing story, but anything supernatural creeps me out.
Thanks, Marcia! Steena’s title count is rocking. Maybe you can do little pieces of Devil Unknown? *giggles the horror and thriller writer*
Steena what great insight into the indie world. I admit this is foreign soil for me, so I love reading about your success and that the indie world is about sharing information. Just love it!
Good interview Barbara!!!
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