S.M. Holland is an author, mental health advocate, and world traveler, currently living in Indonesia. She spends her time writing the “Get In My Head” series, books that focus on teens with mental illness. Her mission is to continue to open conversations about mental health so others can be free to share their stories.
You can find her on the following platforms:
- Twitter: @shy_holland
- Instagram: shy_holland
- Website: smholland.com
- Amazon: http://amazon.com/author/smholland
Read all the way to the end for a special announcement!
Roughly how long did it take you to complete each of your Get in My Head series?
It usually takes me one to two years to complete a manuscript from the first draft until completely finished.
Was mental illness a particularly difficult topic to write about?
Yes and no. I have my own personal struggles, and family members who have a mental illness, so it was familiar territory. The difficulty came from how emotional it was to work through sometimes.
How do you go about research in order to get an accurate representation of mental illness?
Research is very important. I personally start with searching on google or youtube to watch documentaries and get a baseline idea of what I am working on. I also have a copy of the DSM to help understand the technical workings behind each mental illness. But the most important: I talk to and interview people who struggle with whatever mental illness I am researching, and when my manuscript is finished, I enlist sensitivity readers to help me get as accurate as possible.
It’s a long process, but highly recommended, especially when writing about sensitive topics.
Which of your books is your favourite? Why?
I think Jared’s Story is my favorite. It was the first book I had ever written and completed. Writing it helped me get through a dark time in my personal life. Writing that book, and knowing I could do it, saved my life in many ways.
Which of your books was the hardest to write? Why?
Cameron’s Story was the most difficult. There is a lot about social work that I thought I knew and understood, but once I had a sensitivity reader go through, I found out that I was very wrong. There were a lot of tear filled nights doing re-writes for that book. But it had to be done right. I was fortunate to have a social worker friend guide me through, and I learned a lot more about the foster care system. It gave me a heart for not only foster children, but the adults who pour their lives into them.
Were there any big surprises when you were researching or writing your books?
So far, nothing too surprising. There are a lot of overlapping symptoms in mental illnesses. If I had to pick something that surprised me the most, it would be that at times I thought I was giving one character a certain mental illness, but as I did further research, I realized that I’ve been writing about a different mental illness the whole time. At that point I just go with it. Sometimes the manuscript tells you what it wants.
How would you say your books have been received? Are you pleased or disappointed by their performance on the market?
As of now, my books have been well received. I don’t have a very large audience, but at this point in my writing career, I do not mind. There are months they do very well, and other months, not so well. But over all, I would say I am doing okay for not doing a lot of marketing.
Have you received any criticism for your books? How did you respond?
I have received criticism, not for the whole book in general, but how a certain side character was portrayed. I was writing from my own real life experience, but the reader, who also worked the same type of job, had never witnessed what I had witnessed. I started to respond with how everyone’s experiences are different, but it is wise for a writer to never respond to a reader outside of: thank you for your thoughts.
Who is your target audience? Why?
My books are considered YA, I have a 15+ warning on my amazon site, but they really are for anybody who is curious.
Why did you write about mental illness? For representation targeted at those struggling with mental illness, or did you write them to bring awareness and understanding to those with no experience in the subject?
I originally started writing about mental illness to better understand myself, and it evolved into this series. I write for representation for those who struggle, so they know they are not alone. But these books are a great way for people who don’t understand how to get into the head of someone who does struggle with a mental illness. Of course, everyone’s experiences are different.
Do you have any writing quirks?
I always have to have a huge tumbler full of water when I write. That or coffee.
Do you write or have any interest in writing in any other genres?
One day I would love to be able to write a thriller or horror story. I have always been interested in those genres, but for now, I am writing contemporary YA.
Do you draw inspiration from any authors?
A little from Stephen Chbosky. He wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I like how we follow the journey of the main character, all his problems and quirks, knowing there was something off, but not knowing what until we discover the underlying problem of what he’s going through.
Name a few of your favourite reads?
- A List of Cages by Robin Roe
- The Perks of being a WallFlower by Stephen Chbosky
- Malfunction by J.E. Purrazzi
- Government Man by E.B.Dawson
What are your thoughts on general mental health representation in fiction?
I think overall it is done poorly. There needs to be more accurate representation which means writers need to do more research and talk with people who have a mental illness. Mental illness is not a quirk or a plot device, and it can greatly affect other people, not just the main character. Mental illnesses have roots that reach deep, and I think a lot of the depth gets missed.
What pushed you to focus so deeply on mental health in your writing?
Honestly? Trying to figure myself out, and working through my own personal struggles. There is a lot of ‘me’ and my experiences in my writing at this point.
Do your family read your work? What are their thoughts on it?
A couple of them do, and so far the feedback has been positive.
What route did you take for publishing? Tradition or Indie? Why? Are you glad or regretful of your choice?
Currently I am Indie Published. I chose this route to have complete control over the Get in My Head series. This was important to me. The costs for editors, book cover designers and marketing is all out of pocket. It’s expensive, but I am happy with this decision.
Do you have any plans for future projects?
I do! I have more books in the Get in My Head series that I am working on (ten books total planned as of now) I am also working on a couple stand-alone books that I would like to query for in the future.
Would you be willing to share a little snippet of your current project?
From Get in My Head: Daniel’s Story:
“You can’t help the feelings you are experiencing. You can’t stop the thoughts from popping into your head. BUT, let me tell you what you can do, Daniel.” Dr. Hannah leans forward like he’s about to tell me some great secret. “You can choose not to act on those thoughts and compulsions you are having. Isn’t that great news?”
I stare at him. Does he think I’m dumb? If it were that easy, wouldn’t I have stopped already?
It’s his senior year, and everything seems to be going well; captain of the soccer team, perfect girlfriend, student body president. But there’s something most people don’t know about Daniel. He’s struggled with OCD for as long as he can remember. When Daniel’s parents inform him that their marriage has ended, his carefully controlled life starts to fall apart. An avalanche of circumstances threatens to take him under. Slowly, he loses control of his perfect world and of himself. Will he learn to navigate his new reality, or will he fail?
The bell rings again, but instead of sitting at my desk, my feet are glued to the floor.
Principle Johnson walks out of his office.
“Daniel? Why aren’t you in class? Did you hear the bell ring?”
“Um. Yep. Yes. I did.”
“So, what are you doing?”
“Don’t have a clue.” Because I can’t remember my password, and little Timmy is going to fail at life because I’ve been ditching little readers club and he’s never going to learn how to read and it’s all my fault. I shove my hands in my pockets, because that seems to be the only thing keeping my skin from melting off my fingers.
“Uh, actually. I need to go. Right now.” I turn and run out the door.
“Hey, Daniel? Daniel! I’m calling your parents.” His voice is stern, annoyed. But that only makes me feel worse. Just another person I’m letting down.
I tap the door handle four times before jumping into the driver’s seat of my car. I tear out of the school parking lot and quickly slow down so I don’t cause an accident. It’s a slow creep to my empty house where I race up the stairs, strip off all my clothes and jump in the shower.
I squirt a bunch of soap on the scrub brush, and run it over my skin, making sure I don’t miss an inch. That should be enough scrubbing.
But I can’t stop. I turn the water on as hot as I can stand it, and do it again. Until all the faces of those I’m letting down wash out of my mind and down the drain.
I slowly turn the water off, making sure I catch every last drop on the top of my head and grab a clean towel. The ring from my phone floats into the bathroom, and the calm feeling dissipates. I rush over to my back pack and pull it out just as it goes to voicemail.
“Shit.” Seven missed calls from Mom. But I don’t call her back. I wait until the call back number says eight and then call her back. “Hey-”
“Where are you?” Her voice is rushed and panicked. “Are you okay? Do you need me to come get you?”
I try to hold onto what little tendrils of calm I have left from my shower. “I’m fine. I just had to take a shower-”
“Daniel… You already had one this morning.” Her sigh weighs heavy in my ear. And on my shoulders.
I don’t say anything. What is there to say?
“I think maybe we should see a doctor again-”
“No! Don’t say that. I said I’m fine. I’m headed back to school anyway.” I look down at my hands, slightly raw from all the washing.
More silence. It might as well be fingernails on a chalkboard.
“What time will be you back at school?” She finally asks.
“Maybe before third period.”
“Before third period.”
“I’ll call the school to let them know you’re on your way.”
“Okay.” My heart sinks. I don’t want to go back to school. But I have to go back to school or I’ll lose my class standing.
“I love you. You can talk to me, okay?”
“I know. I love you too, Mom.”
Get in quick!
You have until the 14th of February to be sure you’re in the draw to win a free e-copy of Holland’s soon-to-be-released book, Get in My Head: Danie’s Story!
All new subscribers until then will be entered in the draw!
(Note: If you’re already subscribed, check January’s (coming 31st Jan) newsletter for the link to put yourself in the draw!)