New York Times bestseller Steena Holmes’ latest book has just the hit shelves. Saving Abby is an emotional page-turner that depicts one woman’s impossible choice. After six years of infertility, Claire Turner is shocked—and delighted—to discover she is pregnant. But a few months in, she realizes all is not well with her body; her debilitating headaches and fainting spells soon lead to a shocking medical diagnosis. With any treatment unsafe for the unborn baby, Claire has to decide whether to risk her own life or end her much-longed for child’s.
We are happy to have Steena Holmes here to discuss Saving Abby, and more.
Kelly Sarabyn: Saving Abby revolves around Claire’s path to motherhood—first, as a teenage mother who gives her child up for adoption, then later, her year-long struggle with infertility, and finally, a surprise pregnancy that is endangered when Claire finds out she has a life-threatening illness. Claire’s journey to become a mother is riddled with tough choices, and she, like many women on similar paths, chooses to share her struggle with only a few people. In part, this is because these decisions and trials are private, but part of it might also be because women can encounter a lot of harsh judgment on these subjects. Was part of your motivation for writing Claire’s story to bring the reality of these struggles to light?
Steena Holmes: Let me start off by saying thank you for having me here! Today’s society makes it difficult for people to not only make choices based on their own personal realities but to be honest about those decisions in public. We’re so quick to judge nowadays based on our own personal preferences and it’s really quite sad to see. Claire’s decision was a tough one and I realize a lot of readers wouldn’t agree – but I hope that it makes people think before casting judgment on someone in real life.
KS: Your characters have to make a lot of tough, morally complex choices. Do you ever have a main character make a choice you disagree with and wouldn’t make yourself? Is it more difficult to write about those decisions sympathetically?
SH: My goal is to be true to the characters – regardless of my own feelings towards their decisions. I’ll be honest, writing Claire was tough at times. I love her mother’s heart but would I be able to make the same choice? I’m not sure…especially with children of my own. While writing her scenes, I knew that I needed to respect the decision she’d made. The same when it came to Josh and Millie – this affected them both. Josh had to choose between possibly losing his wife or his daughter and Millie…well; Millie didn’t want to lose her daughter at all. There were times I’d sit my husband down and just talk things through with him and time and time again, he would encourage me to be true to the character. I hope I was able to do that.
KS: Claire and Josh are not only married, but they make children’s books together—Josh writes the stories and Claire illustrates. This creates an incredible bond between them. Have you ever experienced an artistic collaboration that was also a romance? In Claire and Josh’s case, their working relationship didn’t seem to negatively affect their personal relationship; their artistic disagreements were minor and didn’t seem to spill over into their personal relationship, and they didn’t appear suffocated by living and working together. In your mind, did their working together ever cause problems for their relationship, or did they have such a great bond they were able to seamlessly navigate being both professional and personal partners?
SH: I fell in love with their love story from the beginning. The way Josh loves Claire, it’s all encompassing. I loved his own personal struggle with Claire’s decision and how he turned to his friends to help him sort through his emotions rather than throw that on Claire and leave her with even more of a burden to deal with. In my mind, they’ve had years to work on creating that partnership aspect to their marriage which brought us to this point in their story…the strong, unshakeable bond they had for one another. They weren’t perfect and of course I’m sure they butted heads a few times during their professional career but I envisioned them knowing where the give and take would be.
KS: When Josh meets Claire, she has already given her child up for adoption. Josh is completely supportive of this, but I wondered, did he ever have any feelings of jealousy, especially after their years of infertility? Or feelings of judgment?
SH: It would be hard not to, wouldn’t it? This was one of those areas where I sat my husband down and asked him to be brutally honest with me on how he would feel if we were in that situation. I don’t believe Josh judged Claire or was jealous about her infertility because ultimately, having Claire in his life was enough. He wanted her happy, but for him having a child wouldn’t complete them, it would just enhance what they all ready had.
KS: I loved the complexity and strength of the relationship between Claire and her mother. On a couple important occasions, they disagreed about what was best for Claire, but somehow they both, ultimately, understood that the other was motivated by love. Do you think the closeness of their relationship is part of the reason Claire so badly wanted to be a mother? Is there something unique about mother-daughter bonds?
SH: Millie is one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever written. She’s gone through a lot as a woman and as a mother and rather than let that define her, she moved beyond to become an even stronger person. Claire saw that, loved that, and wanted that for her own life. Their bond was one that grew through time and yet, it wasn’t always as strong as you’d think it would be. I love mother-daughter relationships – they are so complex at the best of times. This complexity is what helped to shape Claire’s desire to be a mother and to be a better mother.
KS: Despite the many hardships Claire and Josh endure, they both seemed optimistic and grateful for what they did have—their relationship, their unborn child, the love of their family and friends. Ultimately, Saving Abby seemed to be about having optimism and hope in the face of great difficulties. Do you look at it that way, too, or did you see it as more of a tragedy?
SH: That is exactly how I see it. I fell in love with this story from the beginning because of the hope and optimism despite the difficulties. I firmly believe that we are not defined by what we go through but rather how we react. I kept that in mind through each storyline for Saving Abby.
KS: When Claire discovers, during her pregnancy, that she has a life-threatening illness that may need immediate treatment, there is a lot of tension over whether Claire and the unborn baby will survive. While you were writing, did you already know how the pregnancy and Claire’s illness would resolve, or did you find out what happens to Claire and her unborn baby at the same time the characters did?
SH: The last scene is the one I started out with when this story came to mind. I could picture it in my head and knew right away where this story needed to go. A lot of my stories are like that – I know the ending before I know how it begins or even how they get to where they end up.
KS: An important theme in Saving Abby is the power of stories to bring us together. Claire and Josh collaborate and create stories together. Claire creates stories for her unborn child. Do you see the power of stories in your own life? Do you create stories for your daughters? Do your fans write you about how your stories have affected their lives?
SH: That is one of the things I love most about writing – the emails and messages I receive from readers where they share their own stories with me and how my story impacted them. I couldn’t ask for more. I tell my daughters all the time that they are the authors of their own stories where the ending has yet to be written. I want them to enjoy the journey they are on, regardless of the direction they are headed.
KS: Did you self-publish your first book, and, if so, why? Can you tell us about what marketing strategies you deployed to acquire such a large audience? What are the pros and cons of being self-published vs. published by a large publishing house?
SH: I actually started out self-publishing my first novel and still self publish stories today along with working with a publisher. I am in the camp where the label doesn’t matter – indie vs. hybrid vs. traditionally published. Regarding pros and cons, I believe that each story you write has its own publishing journey and the focus should be on figuring out what is the best path to take for that story. Do you want to give it to your readers for free as a bonus, do you want to be in a bookstore/wider market, do you want to have control over pricing? The strategy authors have in place will determine how you publish your story. My marketing strategy is very simple – I focus on my readers for each book I write. It doesn’t matter if it’s self-published or with a publisher – I focus on the readers.
KS: Most writers are also avid readers. Are there any writers or books that have inspired your own writing? What are you currently reading?
SH: I love 5 Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer. There was so much beauty to her story that left me breathless. I love anything by Kimberly Belle and then of course I’m a huge fan of James Rollins. I want to get lost in a story so that nothing else matters (not even dinner) and these three authors have done that in the past. I’m currently reading a few ARCS for upcoming novels but I have one of James Patterson’s ZOO II books in my purse right now that I’m reading while waiting for my children (teenage daughters who don’t have their licenses means a lot of reading time in the car). How about you? What are you reading?
KS: Currently, I am reading She Poured Out Her Heart by Jean Thompson, and it’s a great literary page-turner. It is long book, and I am happy it is. I am also reading The Temporary Agent by Daniel Judson, which was a Kindle First book, and it is an engaging thriller. I love the Kindle First program because it gives me an opportunity to try new authors and genres.
Thank you for chatting with us!
Steena Holmes lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her husband, three daughters, and two dogs. Her two dozen novels have sold more than one million copies. You can buy her book here.