Let me introduce you to a very special book written by two very special women. Stephanie and Holland are a mother and daughter team who have lived their dreams together to write a book and get it published. I think that this is just beautiful and is inspirational for families every where!
Why don’t you first tell us a little about yourselves?
Stephanie: Well, we live on the west coast of the United States. Holland is going into middle school in the fall, and I teach high school English. Since she’s my only child (and we share the same quirky sense of humor and love of home improvement TV shows), we ending up spending most of our time together, hanging out, writing, walking the dog, or laughing over weird jokes!
Holland: Not only do my mom and I write stories, but I am working on some of my own too. I love swimming competitively. My favorite and best stroke is breaststroke. I love my pets! Bella is my dog, and Louie is my cat. Plus sometimes I just can’t get over my mom’s weird jokes. And when I say weird, I mean weird!
Have you both always had a passion for writing?
Stephanie: I have. I remember being Holland’s age and telling my mom that the only two things I wanted to be when I grew up were “happy, and a writer.” I majored in English and took creative writing classes in college, and I started writing fiction and querying agents and publishers in my early 20s.
Holland: I think I get my love of writing from my mom. And my favorite part of writing is creating characters!
What made you start this writing adventure together?
Holland: This project we did in 4th grade was about writing journals for American pioneers, and I thought it was fun so I asked my mom if she would type up my stories after I wrote them. We talked about it, and then we made up this idea for “The American Dream Series” and we just started writing!
Stephanie: Of course I loved that she was developing her love of writing, and I’d like to say that I consciously started this project so that we could have something to do together, but it really was born from an organic discussion/brainstorm session. In hindsight, I’m patting myself on the back for starting a long-term project with my daughter during a traditionally turbulent time in the mother-daughter relationship, as it gives us the opportunity to work on something together during her teenage years. But honestly, we just sort of stumbled into it!
What were some of your achievements and challenges collaborating on Iris?
Holland: It was hard for us to find a way to make Iris interesting as a character. That’s really hard to do.
Stephanie: I’ll second that. Putting all of the pieces of writing together (plot, character, theme, pacing, etc) is CHALLENGING. And the number of times we read and re-read Iris during the school year and tried to edit at night between homework, dinner, and swim practice was kind of overwhelming! As for achievements, just getting a final draft with a cover that we both love was an AMAZING feeling!
Holland: Iris is about a girl whose family moves from Holland to America. Her parents are divorced and she is kind of like the middle child, since her brother is older, and her twin sisters are younger. Her grandma comes with them, and her mom is a professor at Stanford University. Once they get there, Iris’s brother wants to go home and wants to get their parents back together, but Iris finds out that California is pretty cool. She likes American holidays, and she makes friends. She wants to help her brother with his plan to get their mom and dad back together, but she also wants to fit in and get used to her new life.
Where did this idea come from?
Stephanie: It was a really interesting conversation, and I remember it vividly. Holland said she wanted to write stories based on the pioneer diary project she was doing at school, and we talked through that, then we just started kicking around ideas about modern-day pioneers in the form of young girls trying to make their way in a new life. We really quickly landed on the idea of doing standalone books where each one features a girl from a different country, and follows her as her family moves to a different state in the U.S. Right now, we’re planning on doing one book for each of the 50 states, and we’re hoping to have book 2 (about a Japanese girl named Mai who moves to Hawaii) out by the end of the summer!
What kind of research did you do for your book?
Holland: We looked up so many things! We researched food in Holland, what the flag looks like, what the weather is there, and some of the words in Dutch. And I made inspiration boards online and also a slideshow set to music. That’s one of my favorite parts of research.
Who are your favourite characters and why?
Stephanie: He’s a minor character, but Felipe is one of my favorites. I had a lot of Mexican-American students in my classes the past couple of years, and they were some of my all-time favorites--I have a real soft-spot for all of them, and I loved listening to them speak Spanish to each other and talk about their families and lives. But I think Felipe also parallels Iris in a lot of ways, in that they’re both on this journey to create new lives in a new country.
Holland: I love the twins because after we made up the characters, I met these little blonde twin girls who were the same age--it was a total coincidence! And they even act like the twins in the book.
What is your favourite scene and why?
Holland: Thanksgiving because it’s so crazy and there’s so much action! I read a lot of action books, so I liked that there was some action there.
Stephanie: I’d agree on the Thanksgiving scene, but honestly, the best part of it to me was that after we were done, we were like, “OMG--Peanut Butter and Skelly!” (which are the names of the pets involved) We didn’t plan that--I swear!
Stephanie: We’ve tried really hard to look at an overarching theme for the series, which is that we’re all searching for home in some way. As humans, we all share the same desires: to be loved, accepted, and happy. It doesn’t matter where we’re from, what color our skin is, what our religion is--we want to be happy. As for Iris, we decided that the theme for that book specifically was that home isn’t just a fixed spot on a map--it’s in your heart.
How did you go about writing your book? What is the process you take?
Holland: We kind of make our big plans and the little details write themselves out.
Stephanie: To expand on that a little, we do talk through our major themes and plot points, but I’m a bit of a “pantser” (okay, I’m a HUGE pantser!) when it comes to writing, so I do like to let the story write itself. Our actual writing process is my favorite part of the project, because it involves us sitting side-by-side, usually with Holland’s head on my shoulder, and me typing the story as we talk. She stops me whenever we hit a snag or need to revise language or take things in a different direction. It’s my excuse to sneak in a few more cuddles in the middle of a busy life!
Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
Holland: Well, my age (11), and also other young readers who like books like the “American Girl” doll series. And just kids who like to read! Probably mostly girls.
Stephanie: We definitely went into it with upper-middle grade readers in mind, but our beta-readers were older, as I wanted to get critiques on plot and editing suggestions. The feedback we’ve gotten from adult readers was that they were just as engrossed with the story and the character development as they would have been with more traditional “adult” books. Another thing that people seem to appreciate is the contemporary, realistic aspect, which stands out in the current sea of vampire/underworld/fantasy/futuristic fiction.
You have self published you book. What made you go down this route?
Stephanie: As I said, I’ve been querying and riding that roller coaster of hope and disappointment for years. I’ve had some great feedback, and have come reasonably close to finding an agent to represent me, but in the end, I started researching self-publishing and was just totally won over by the limitless possibility of it. It’s a ton of work to do all of it yourself, but I can say in all honestly that it’s been the most invigorating and fun thing I’ve done in years. Oh, and also I turned 40 this year. Nothing like a landmark birthday to kick you into high gear and get you DOING that thing you’ve always wanted to do!
Do you have any advice for other mother/daughter, father/son or other writing teams such as this?
Holland: Write from the heart. Write something you like to read.
Stephanie: Enjoy the collaboration and discussion that it fosters as much as you appreciate the end result. So basically, the journey is the reward!
Thank you so much for doing this interview with me! I really think that what you have created is something special. To do this together must be truly wonderful for both of you and will connect you both forever.
Thank you so much for these thoughtful, fun questions, Shelly. We really appreciate being featured on Keystrokes & Closed Doors!
If you want to follow Stephanie and Holland on their writing journey you can add them on: