A metal maiden and gothic queen who enjoys discovering ancient cultures is also a USA Today bestseller and award-winning author.
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Steff. I’m a USA Today bestselling author of dark, gothic, and sinful paranormal romance. I have nearly 50 books published under my pen name, Steffanie Holmes, and I’m entirely indie published. (This means I don’t have a publisher. I write, package, distribute, and market my books myself.)
What role does creativity play in your life?
Creativity IS my life.
Tell us about your beginnings. What does the journey to bestselling author look like?
Originally, I trained to be an archaeologist. But because of my disability (I’m legally blind), I couldn’t find work in my industry, so I realised I had to pivot. I wanted a job in something no one could tell me I couldn’t do, and I’ve always loved writing stories, so I decided I wanted to become a writer.
I originally started out writing articles for magazines and websites for companies, as well as working on a fantasy novel that was picked up by a publisher. But it wasn’t to be – that publishing deal fell through.
This was around the same time some of my friends were talking about the book 50 Shades of Grey. I tried to read it and couldn’t get through the first chapter because I hated the writing style. A friend of mine was sick of hearing me bitch about it, so jokingly dared me to write something better. So in secret, without telling anyone, I wrote a short, sexy, werewolf romance and put it up on sale as an ebook on Amazon, thinking it would sell 5 copies and I’d tell my friend and we’d have a laugh. Instead, it sold 1000 copies in a week. So I kept writing them, and here we are.
You write paranormal and fantasy books under the name Steffanie Holmes. When did you publish your first book?
May 2015. I’ve been publishing a novel roughly every two months ever since. I was able to quit my day job as a copywriter and go full-time as an author in 2018.
What attracts you about paranormal and fantasy?
It comes from my fascination with old ruins and ancient mythology. I love how we as humans use our imagination to fill in the blanks for things we don’t understand, or to help us articulate intense emotions like fear or anger or love.
What is your creative process? Do you sit and write when inspiration strikes, or do you have a concept in mind that you then develop?
I write in series of 4-10 books that tell one long story over the arc of the series. When I sit down to write a new book, I have a hook in my head – a couple of lines about the concept of what’s happening.
Right now, the hook for my current project is simply, “Jurassic Park meets 50 Shades of Grey.” From that, I will actually write the blurb of the book – the copy on the back of a book’s jacket that entices you to read it. I write that first, and might even test it on my readers to see if they’re into it.
Then I write the book. I write a ‘skeleton draft’ - a quick 20,000 word rough outline of the book (mostly dialogue and notes to myself like INSERT SEX SCENE HERE) in a couple of days. Then I fill in the gaps and make it pretty. I write roughly 4000 words a day and it takes me around 4-6 weeks to complete an 80,000-word manuscript. I send it off to my editor and start the next one.
What are your rules in life?
Don’t quit before the miracle. In a world where you can be anything, be kind and weird. And if you’re not having fun, become an investment banker, because it’s a WAY easier way
of making a living.
What book is your favourite one (written by you). Can you sum up what is it about?
It’s so hard to choose because they are all special in their own ways. I choose my Nevermore Bookshop Mysteries – a murder mystery series where our heroine Mina solves murders in a small English village with the help of famous characters from literature.
Mina is also blind, and so am I. Writing a blind character who gets to have adventures, solve murders, be clever and cunning, and falls in love with not one but three hot boyfriends, is pretty amazing. I get the most amazing letters from fans of this series.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everywhere! The cool thing about being a writer is that everything is fodder. I love to go on adventures, travel, and learn new things. Many stories or characters spark from listening to true crime or spooky history podcasts. I always find the best ideas come to me when I’m not writing – usually in the shower, or just as I’m nodding off to sleep.
Every week in my newsletter I share an unusual story or tidbit that appears in one of my books, and the story behind it – think Victorian poisons, witchcraft trials, and Roman brothels.
Can you tell us about challenges on your journey and how you overcame them?
For the longest time I dreamed of being a published author, so when I lost my publishing contract I was devastated. I’d worked for ten years on that book and I was going to have to start over from scratch. But it turned out to be a blessing – I wrote a new book and self-published it. I didn’t have to wait for someone else to say I was good enough. I could put my work out in the world and let the readers decide. And they seem to quite like me.
Because I self-publish, I’m in complete control over everything, including my book covers, my marketing, my website, my schedule. That’s fun, but it’s also challenging. I have to learn a lot of different skills and delegate tasks to my team of editors, designers, etc, and sometimes it can be overwhelming.
Write things that you love and are excited about, because otherwise, what’s the point? And be okay with writing a bunch of crap – it’s more important to finish a book than it is to get the first chapter perfect. You fix all the crap in editing, but if you never get past chapter one, you’ll be stuck forever.
You won some significant awards. Can you tell us which ones and how they changed your life?
I’ve won several awards and prizes for my books, but by far the biggest honour was willing the 2017 Attitude Award for Artistic Achievement. The Attitude Awards recognise excellence by disabled people in NZ, so to stand up on stage with these incredible athletes and artists and realise I was one of them was pretty amazing.
I even got to give an Oscar-style speech that was aired on national TV!
What would be your advice to authors at the beginning of their journey?
“Don’t quit before the miracle.” Writing is damn hard work, and finding an audience for your work is even harder. But as long as you keep going and keep writing and keep publishing, you will beat out all the other writers who decide to give up.
Every book is important, because you learn things. I wrote 33 books before book 34 became a big hit. But if I hadn’t written those 33 books, I never could have written 34.
What else do you do apart from writing?
When am I ever not writing? :)
My land and house keep me pretty busy. I also love to paint, to brew alcohol (I make mead and cider), and to bake delicious things. I do pole dance/pole fit and lift weights on the regular, and a few times a year I go bush – I love to hike and immerse myself in nature for a few days. I always come back bursting with ideas and in desperate need of a shower.
What else? I read a lot – 2-4 books a week. And I’m obsessed with travel and heavy metal. My husband is a musician, and all my friends are crazy metalheads. We spend far too much time and money travelling, going to gigs and music festivals, and debating the age-old question – Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath?
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
I’d quite like self-driving cars to be a thing so I could take myself out for ice cream after I finish a book, but I’d also settle for world peace :)
Who is the most important woman in your life and how did she influence you in your journey as an artist or as a woman?
Probably my mum. Even when I was a blind 3-year-old declaring that my dream job was to be a WWI Flying Ace like my hero Snoopy, she never told me that WWI was over or that I couldn’t actually fly a plane. She always believed in me and she’s the biggest fan of my books and I love and cherish her support so much.