Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Same Six Questions - Anne Holly

Hi, and welcome to another installment of The Same Six Questions. Today, we have author Anne Holly. Welcome, Anne!

Hi Andy! I am a Canadian instructor at a university and mom with a secret double life—I write romance at night! Growing up on a little family farm in Nova Scotia, without television or computers, reading, drawing and making up stories were my life. From an early age, I knew that my home, while beautiful, wouldn’t hold me, and soon I was off to the big city, where I studied and eventually had a child, my three year old son. When I finished my education, I returned to writing, and published my current new release, Strings Attached, which I originally wrote in 2001. Since then, I’ve been a double agent—working the day job to pay the bills, and spending the nights (when I finally get the tot to bed) thinking of new adventures for people who don’t exist, and doing the “buy my book!” dance on the internet.

So, what are your answers to The Same Six Questions?

1. Have you published a book yet?

Strings Attached was written at a crossroads in my life. I had just finished college and wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue in academics or work. Then one day, I read the foreword to the last book from romance author LaVyrle Spencer. She wrote that romances had been good to her, and about the love of her readers, and about how people should write if they feel the fire to do so. And I recalled when I was a kid and loved writing.

So, facing this indecision, I sat down and wrote Strings Attached. At face value, it’s a simple story—a Canadian rancher, Josie, falls in love with an Australian rancher, Theo, and then proceeds to convince him they have a future. Theo has been badly damaged, and is convinced that his life is over—he has become an automaton. It’s up to Josie to save him. The novel comes from a dark place, where the road ahead isn’t very clear, every grasp for happiness is a huge gamble, and sometimes you feel damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

I was too young in some ways to write this story. It was partially inspired by an American case of a woman killing her children, and the discussion of postpartum psychosis surrounding it. This case made me think about how people can face this kind of tragedy and still go on. This was the seed of Theo’s story—a father without a child—and he wouldn’t stop nagging me. I knew I had to make someone save him. And Josie was born. Only love and hope can dig a man out of that kind of pain.

Then I put the book away when I decided to go to graduate school. When I graduated, I was again at a crossroads. Now a mother myself, I pulled out that old manuscript and rewrote it—finding new wells of pain and hope inside myself. What the younger me had written naively, the older me could rewrite into something both heartbreaking and redemptive. This became my novel, Strings Attached.

2. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t making up stories, or illustrating them, or acting out plays of my own devising. We were a very low-tech family, so it was entertainment. I spent a lot of time by myself, outside, and my characters were my friends. One summer after reading too much Farley Mowat, I spent all my daytimes fantasizing the story of an abandoned wolf cub for the whole school break.

As idyllic as my childhood was in some ways, in others it wasn’t. I also can’t recall a time when we weren’t poor as dirt. And anyone who grew up out of charity boxes knows this doesn’t make for happy school society at times. I was always eager for validation as a child, and I quickly realized my teachers liked my writing—winning their approval was the saving grace of my early school years, so I kept at it. While my classmates teased me, I was off in my stories.

In high school I decided to become a “real writer.” And I saw it as my ticket up and out. Eventually, academics swayed my path, but I never wandered too far from writing being a means of improving my mind, supporting my family and distinguishing myself from what others thought me capable of. And as a means of escape.

3. What was your first lengthy piece of fiction? What was it about? When did you write it? Do you still have it?

In the eighth grade, I wrote my first novel. It was about segregation in the American south of all things, as if a white kid in Canada during the 1990s knew anything at all about it. It was tawdry and awful, I know now, but at the time I felt like the next Harper Lee. I do still have it. It’s in the same binder that held the loose leaf back then, although quite worse for wear. It lives in a storage box in my closet. I think I also still have the second draft on a now completely unusable giant floppy disk I typed it into in computer class. It will never, ever see the light of day, and if I become famous I will destroy it so no one gets the bright idea of publishing it in a “juvenilia collection” after I’m dead.

4. When was your first indication, "I can do this (write)"?

I give all the credit for my initial ideas to become a writer to my wonderful teachers. In high school, I won a regional competition for a play I wrote, and some essay and poem prizes. I got in the local paper. Most importantly, my teachers were constantly urging me to hone my skills and focus on a career in writing. I realized, “Hey, I can do this!”, despite my natural inclination towards shyness, because they believed in me so much that they were always pressing me to enter this or that contest, and helping me publish small bits here or there.

Being a writer is wonderful, but being a teacher can literally save lives. I cannot ever thank them enough for what they did for me.

Then, in 2010, after re-writing Strings Attached (which had been rejected by a publisher—quite rightfully, I know now—back in 2002 or so), I decided to give “being a writer” a chance. When my editors and test readers embraced the book, I felt like maybe I really could really do it. When I then came up with new books, that’s when I did know my teachers had been right.

5. If you could meet one of your characters in real life, which would it be?

I have a huge crush on the writer Kale, who is the main character in my Christmas romantic comedy novella Unwrapping Scrooge. I loved him so much, and had such a good time writing him, that I still miss him. I would like it if he were real—and I am now writing a short story where a novelist falls for her main character, based on the weirdness of crushing on Kale.

In truth, though, I would be happy to know most of my main characters. I try to put positive energy out there, and even the most flawed of my characters are usually people I could live amongst happily.

6. It's a dark and stormy night...you're alone in the house...there's a knock at the door...you open it, look out, and proceed to scream like a little girl/boy (they kinda scream the same anyway). What's on the doorstep?

I don’t know—that depends. Is it a good scream or a bad scream? I guess, if it were Kale from question 5, it would be both, because I would be gleeful while also realizing I had finally lost my crackers.

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Thanks so much for spending some time, Anne! For more of Anne’s work, please check out her blog, website, and Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Makes sure to stop by on Thursday when author Lisa Scott answers The Same Six Questions!