Wringing something beautiful and life-affirming out of the tragedies of everyday life is a gift. But it is a gift that Holden Robinson believes we have all been given. You only need to recognize it and make use of it. As she has. She has taken the gift further than most of us can or even desire to. In the process of healing herself from the tragedies she has suffered, Holden discovered the power of humor and employed it in her writing. Holden says:
I have a passion for the triumph from tragedy story, and I think it is beautiful to take a reader someplace that is so human and real. Sadly, we will all face tragedy, but it isn’t the tragedy that defines us, rather what we do in its aftermath. Laughter, on the other hand, is so healing. Having the ability to combine a tragedy to triumph story with such hilarity is something of which I am so very proud.
Among artists, a turning point—an “aha” moment (more like a long series of moments)—may occur when something in what they do clicks and, later resonates with an audience. When aware of the process, artists usually describe a feeling of wonder and of being pleasantly propelled through the act of creation. Not everyone who reaches this point, however, gets to it from a tragic experience.
Holden has, in fact, gone through a disaster most of us have not or will never encounter. A disaster that can elicit the worst or the best in us. This was not the first tragedy she has suffered, either. Earlier, Holden went through an extremely sad and difficult period of seeing her father suffer and eventually perish from cancer. Out of this, she had written a book that was too “gut-wrenching” for major publishers so Holden’s first attempt to be published did not meet with success.
Holden’s reaction to the tragedies she went through is intriguing as well as informative of the various paths writers (and other artists) take through the creative process. It also shows her tenacity and resilience and is, thus, ultimately a tribute to the human spirit.
First of all, tell us about the disaster you had to endure:
In March of 2011, everything changed. I was forced to evacuate after a negligent oil company left me with a leaking oil tank. The tank ruptured after an enormous snowstorm, and I was forced into the night with seven pets, some of which were rescue animals, and left with no choice but to evacuate. My home, my writer’s retreat, my sweet cabin in the woods, was ruined. I’d lost nearly everything I’d worked a lifetime to acquire. I also came to realize, as the months passed, that I wasn’t the only one writing fiction. Those responsible were not forthcoming with the truth, and I was left with a ruined home, an enormous pile of debt, and no compensation to make necessary repairs.
I now live in upstate New York. I did have to trade my rural retreat for urban living. I don’t much care for it, and I look forward to settling back into rural living in the next couple of years.
Can you tell us more how this disaster led you to writing a “breakthrough” novel?
I think the critical moment for me was when the shock and adrenaline rush of having to save myself and my pets had worn off, and I was left standing in the rubble of the reality of the situation. I was forty-five. For all intents and purposes I was unemployed. I was declared technically homeless. Everything I had worked for was gone. Every nail pounded, every stroke of a paint brush, everything…..gone. I came to a difficult crossroads. I could give in to the anger, the grief, the bitterness, or I could rise above it, become better for it, and later laugh in its face because I hadn’t let it claim me.
I chose the latter. I recommitted to my writing career.
Crushed and fighting bitterness and anger, I turned to a comedy manuscript I’d written, but had neglected. I began doing rewrites in earnest and Becoming Mona Lisa was born. I was forced into reclaiming my identity under bizarre circumstances, and I created a modern-day heroine forced to do the same. It was a delightful journey, creating this book, and I am so proud to see it gaining momentum, and loved by those who are reading it. It is a celebration of love and the zany joy of everyday life.
Why Mona Lisa?
The book was not originally titled Becoming Mona Lisa. The working title was replaced when the book’s true message emerged, and that message is this: we are all treasures, so worthy, so important, and so deserving of the love of self and others. As Mona Lisa is a true treasure, and Mona was my protagonists name from the story’s birth, it just fit.
What have you learned from the success of Becoming Mona Lisa that you would apply to subsequent projects?
As far as what I’ve learned, the book industry is fickle. Sometimes it’s hard to predict why some books do well, and why others don’t, why some marketing ideas work for some authors and not others. I did a blog tour. Although it was delightful seeing the four and five star reviews get posted, the blog tour generated very few sales. A blog tour is a great idea. One word of advice, ask for a sample tour schedule up front. If the hosts have few followers, and posts have few or no comments, you’re probably not going to reach readers.
Do you have other projects you’re currently working on?
I am working on numerous projects at present. One is a blog-to-book conversion of the hilarious blog, Tommy’s Tool Town. Another is a poignant animal rescue story titled, And Her Name Shall be Beloved. Combining my passion for writing and animal rescue is my ultimate goal. I plan to open a sanctuary for senior cats called Tenth Life. My current marketing project, Saving the Forgotten, One Word at a Time, is designed to bring awareness not only to my books, but to the forgotten animals who die every day waiting for homes, and the horrendous problem of overcrowding in America’s shelters and rescues.
All writers dream of that first big royalty check. Money, although more minimal in meaning than most people know, has power. It can buy a new home, a new car, the dream vacation of a lifetime. For me, it is different. Although I can imagine a life with my own home again, a life that includes a nicer car, or vacations, what I want most is to rescue an old cat, deaf, blind, and frightened. I long to hold it in my arms and whisper, whether or not it can hear me. “No harm with come to you again. Not on my watch.”
Do you see yourself resurrecting the first novel you wrote (the gut-wrenching one)? If you do, what would you change about it?
I finished my first book, In The Shadow of Angels, in August of 2007, and was successful in finding a literary agent. Sadly, the agency wasn’t what I thought and I realized I’d jumped far too quickly at their offer to represent. My first book was rejected by every publisher who read it. They all found it far too gut wrenching as a debut novel. Daunted, but not ready to give up just yet, I wrote a second book, and although this book was also rejected by all major publishers, we (my new agent and I) received an offer to publish from Black Rose Writing, a mid-size publisher from Texas. I quickly realized that many good books never get published, because most major publishers are not willing to take a chance on someone who is unknown. This realization broke my heart a bit, and I subsequently embraced the opportunity to publish with Black Rose.
My debut novel, The House of Roses, published in 2010 by Black Rose Writing, was very well loved, but sadly, by a very small audience.
I do see myself resurrecting In The Shadow of Angels. It is a beautiful story. I would take everything I’ve learned and tighten up the story a bit. I have already begun a rewrite, changing the story line a bit to add a paranormal twist.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I work full time in the retail industry. The job is terrific, but the schedule is lousy, which leaves little time for any other activities. I was a die hard community theater participant until my retail job forced me to give up on that passion. I hope to revisit it one day.