Please help me welcome author Adele Holmes! She’s going to share her “little” secrets and more with us. Are you ready? Let’s peruse her bio and then find out more about her writing process.
Adele Holmes graduated from UAMS medical school in 1993, and from residency at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in 1996. She practiced general pediatrics in central Arkansas for over twenty years. While she loved every moment of it, a serious travel bug, a need to put the voice of her soul onto paper, and a call to give back to the community led her to an early retirement in 2017. Her debut novel, Winter’s Reckoning, was published on August 9, 2022. She continues to write, travel, and serve in her community.
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Adele: Winter’s Reckoning is actually the backstory of a novel I began years ago. That first novel is wrapped in brown paper awaiting my attention. I fell in love with the (back) story of an herbalist healer who moves south from Boston, and falls in love with the Southern Appalachian way of life. It’s technically a Southern Gothic because of the race issues it deals with during the time between the Civil War and WWI—the beginning of the Jim Crow era.
Betty: What, if any, new writing skill did you develop while working on this story?
Adele: Many! In fact, I had to learn that putting fancy words onto paper in a grammatically correct manner does not a novel make. I took courses, went to conferences, and finally sequestered myself with writing books before I got it into my head how to structure the thing.
Betty: Did you struggle with any part of this story? What and how?
Adele: Yes, the meat of the story was placed on paper after our country fell into such a deeply divided—oft cruelly so—place. The anger and despair I felt found an outlet by writing social justice themes into the story. This was never meant to be a story about racial discrimination, women’s rights, or even education. But it turned out to have some major underlying themes of just those things. By quietly telling a tale of that ugliness from the past, I hope to help keep us from repeating the same mistakes again and again.
Betty: Which character(s) were the easiest to get to know? Why do you think?
Adele: The protagonist, Maddie Fairbanks, was loosely patterned after my maternal grandmother. Her essence was so easy for me to get onto the page. Though she wasn’t a medical person—nor did she struggle with moonshine—she would have said and done all the things that Maddie did, given the situation. The protagonist’s warmth, hope, and integrity are all my grandmother’s.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Adele: I first researched what I would need for the bones of the story: clothing, transportation, housing/utilities, jobs, etc. of the time for both Boston and the rural South. As the story unfolded, new things constantly arose that I needed to know: What did the books I referred to look like in 1917? How did newspapers operate? How active was the KKK during this time? And on and on. An especially big topic of research was herbs—I knew the medical practice of my time, but what herbs were used to treat those same conditions then, and how were they concocted?
Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?
Adele: Can you believe I’m not sure? Many. The biggest revision came after I felt the novel was finished. When pitching it to agents and publishers, I ran across a particularly helpful editor who told me the reason it was being rejected was because one of my three POV characters (third person, limited) was a Black woman. I am white. Now, this was before American Dirt came out, and just at the beginning of the #ownvoices movement. Two of my beta-readers were Black women, and they were both against me removing the Black woman as a POV character. So, I stood my ground and refused to revise. However, as #ownvoices became more widely heard, I understood the meaning. I realized that I had no basis upon which to write the thoughts of the Black character. I completely revised. The character remained as a major player, but I took her out as a POV character and replaced her POV with that of the antagonist. The story is richer and better told because of it. And, as importantly, I feel good about how it’s handled.
Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?
Adele: I need instrumental music and time. Though I would love to impart words of wisdom here, the truth is that I write in wide swaths. For hours on end, days on end. And then not at all for days or weeks.
Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
Adele: Little. How many hundreds of times did I have to replace that word? Incredible that I had no idea I was overusing it.
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
Adele: Janis F. Kearney is my biggest role model in this part of my life. She’s an author, publisher, social and community activist, and so much more. Her family has an incredible history: she’s one of nineteen children born to Mississippi Delta sharecropper parents. Eighteen of them went to college, most to graduate school. It’s worth a wiki search on her just for inspiration.
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Adele: My best writing and revision is done anywhere with a window, preferably onto water or trees, or maybe very high in a building so sky is outside. Reading, I can do that anywhere!
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
Adele: I retired from a career in pediatrics before I began to write in earnest. I never take for granted the fact that I am fortunate enough to work on my writing unfettered by a day job. Many people can do such a thing quite well; I admire those people. While I wrote before, it was only when I had retired that I could fully devote myself to such a task as a novel.
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Adele: Writing a novel that my children, grandchildren, and even their descendants can look back on as a beacon of light in a dark time in our country.
Betty: What is your favorite genre to read?
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?
Adele: When I retired early, it was with the decision that in the last part of my time on this earth I would move my goal from success to significance. I got this idea directly from Bob Buford’s book, Halftime. So, I hope that my writing will send some hope into the world, nudge people toward integrity, and inspire my descendants to strive toward better good for all.
Forty-six-year-old Madeline Fairbanks has no use for ideas like “separation of the races” or “men as the superior sex.” There are many in her dying Southern Appalachian town who are upset by her socially progressive views, but for years—partly due to her late husband’s still-powerful influence, and partly due to her skill as a healer in a remote town with no doctor of its own—folks have been willing to turn a blind eye to her “transgressions.” Even Maddie’s decision to take on a Black apprentice, Ren Morgan, goes largely unchallenged by her white neighbors, though it’s certainly grumbled about. But when a charismatic and power-hungry new reverend blows into town in 1917 and begins to preach about the importance of racial segregation, the long-idle local KKK chapter fires back into action—and places Maddie and her friends in Jamesville’s Black community squarely in their sights. Maddie had better stop intermingling with Black folks, discontinue her herbalistic “witchcraft,” and leave town immediately, they threaten, or they’ll lynch Ren’s father, Daniel. Faced with this decision, Maddie is terrified . . . and torn. Will she bow to their demands and walk away—or will she fight to keep the home she’s built in Jamesville and protect the future of the people she loves, both Black and white?
Those pesky “crutch” words writers tend to us can seriously impede an otherwise good story. Thanks for sharing, Adele!
Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
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