Thursday, July 13, 2023

#AuthorInterview with Colleen Hollis, author of Karma Two

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kathy Stickles is talking with Colleen Hollis, author of Karma Two: A Novel.
FQ: For those readers who have not read Karma One, and I sincerely hope that they do, can you give us a brief overview of the book and how it ties into Karma Two?
HOLLIS: In the first book, Karma One, you follow a very privileged young man, Albert Joseph Stevens III (also nicknamed AJ), throughout his lifetime and beyond. You get to see a glimpse of how being raised by a cruel, power-hungry, entitled father causes him pressure to follow in his footsteps. Being raised in the upper echelons of society, seeing those around him get whatever and whomever they please, it is only a matter of time before he is doing just the same. Eventually leaving him just as entitled. His entitlement and lust for power comes from generations of power-hungry men. Throughout Karma One you see the ways in which he abuses and takes advantage of those who are less fortunate. He and his family make their fortune off of the suffering of others without guilt or a second thought.
FQ: Where did the idea for these two stories come from?
HOLLIS: Crazy enough, the concept for these books came when I was cleaning my bathroom at the age of 33. I was just getting out of a failing marriage, and I was overworking myself to the point where I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. My life was almost feeling like a prison sentence; I was so defeated. I was under so much stress, when all of a sudden here comes this beautiful download, for lack of a better way to put it. I prefer to call it an answered prayer. Either way I felt so blessed God gave me my mission. When I got the idea of two lifetimes that were polar opposite experiences, it made me giddy for life again knowing I have a direction for my life finally. I had already been a nurse for many years and had conceded that that was going to be my life, but somehow God had different plans for me. I never envisioned becoming a writer before that day. That day, aside from those two novels, I received several other different book ideas all at the same time. Now I’m just pumping them out as fast as I can.
FQ: As you note in your synopsis to Karma Two, Arizona Sunshine Jacksyn has a very positive sounding name, full of optimism. Why did you decide to give your protagonist such an optimistic name when he would face such hardships? Was it to really drive home the contrast between potential/hope and real-life situations?
HOLLIS: Arizona’s name was interesting to come up with. I had read a thing about the sunshine in Arizona, and it had mentioned Arizona’s sunshine and how it had made a difference in something-something, that’s not important, but the moment I saw Arizona sunshine I just felt this resonance inside me. I just knew I wanted to make this his name. I needed similar initials to the first lifetime because I wanted him to be able to have the same nickname of AJ, just for cohesiveness between the two novels. I love that it was so different and that it would give such a positive aspect to his name's vibration as well. I thought that it would be an interesting angle to elevate his character's energy without causing attention to it through his name. He does bring sunshine to so many people throughout his lifetime that it couldn’t be any more fitting for his character.
FQ: Arizona is a wonderful and very strong character. I felt so very proud of what he accomplished by the end of the story. I have to ask, is he completely fictional or based on someone real?
HOLLIS: Arizona’s character is loosely based off of myself and my determination and drive to keep going in the face of my own adversity. I grew up in poverty with abuse of my own, multiple types of abuse even, so as an adult I have found many ways to give back to those in similar circumstances to my younger self. Whether it be counseling abused women, or addicts at church, or starting a hygiene assistance program through my local schools for underprivileged children, I try to remember those who, like myself once, just need to be shown kindness does still exist. The project Amy’s Angels is my project. The hospice line of books is a real line I am creating. I was lucky to make it out of my situation with a positive outcome. Now I spend my life trying to ease others’ journeys if I can. In a lot of ways I wanted that to shine through with this character.
FQ: You cover a lot of very harsh topics in the first half of the book. It just breaks the heart of the reader, at least me, as we see what this boy has to suffer through. How hard is that for you to handle as a writer trying to put these things on paper?
HOLLIS: It was extremely hard to make this kind of material while staying compassionate to the reader who’s never experienced anything of this nature, or the opposite – the reader who remains cognitive to the way a victim may feel and who’s gone through something similar to these scenarios. I knew from the beginning this was not going to be an easy task. The more AJ took advantage of other people in the first book, the more I dreaded writing the second one. I realized then the difficulty I would have when writing the second book since I have such a soft spot for children; that and I knew I would have to face my own abuses while writing the material. When I got the download for these novels I knew he’d face childhood abuse just like many many children do every day, so I wanted to bring awareness to these topics with as much dignity and grace as I could since it’s still happening every single day. I never want to say that a child deserves to go through any number of things that my book has this character go through because they “deserve” it–this is only a fictional story–but the reality is we are the most vulnerable as children and it’s a lot easier to be taken advantage of being in such a vulnerable state. I can only hope people who read these novels can see above that narrative and really understand the trials-to-triumph story I am really trying to tell.
FQ: For all those heartbreaking situations AJ had to deal with - they read very true to life. How much research did you have to do to get everything so accurate? And how, exactly, can you research something like this?
HOLLIS: Many of these characters are loosely based off of people that I know who have been in these similar scenarios, I myself have dealt with, or that I encountered during my time in psych nursing or counseling at my church. Your heart just breaks for these people because these are real actual people. Growing up in poverty, I either encountered these scenarios, encountered people who were in these scenarios, or counseled them in some way. The darker side of life is often swept under the rug and ignored so that the masses can believe the world is less harsh than it actually is. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t that the saying? Besides, if people have to admit these terrible things happen everyday, it would then have to be justified as to why some horrific things aren’t dealt with more intentionally by those in positions of power able to make a real difference. It’s so sad to see so many be taken advantage of and yet still so many turn a blind eye.
When I knew I was writing this book with all these terrible scenarios I literally just had to remember things from my past. I didn’t want to base them completely on people that I knew, for privacy reasons of course, so they are only ‘loosely’ based. I do have to believe that is why it stings so much to read, because these are real people that have gone through terrible experiences. By the grace of God I was able to put it down on paper in a manner that hopefully brings these people justice. People did lose their lives whether by their own hands or by someone else’s so I'm grateful I can honor them and I take these topics very seriously. I felt they deserved to have their stories be told.
FQ: I found the black and white cover for Karma Two (and Karma One!) very intriguing. In a world where bright covers practically scream at the reader, your covers are very subtle and yet drew me to the story. What was the reasoning for going with black and white covers?
HOLLIS: When I first got the idea for the novels I knew it was going to be a yin yang symbol since the concept is balancing out energy. I actually originally thought that it was going to have a cut out and the two covers would fit/lock together, but I quickly realized that was not going to be something I could do so I had decided that I would just draw a sphere in the center and have that connect the two novels, completing the overall image. After several attempts, I finally had a proof I liked and I felt my concept looked great.
As for the black-and-white concept, light and dark just made sense. I always thought it made it look more classic without too much to distract the reader as well. I do feel AJ is light in the darkness in the second novel, so I love the idea of the book being lighter, as if he really is a physical representation of being the light drowning out the darkness. Whereas in the first book it has a lot of the main character’s family taking advantage of other people. He truly embodies the ‘darkness,’ I feel, as he lusts after money and power. From an artist point of view I like that the darkness was more prevalent on the first cover and felt it was an excellent play on my take of his energy in each lifetime. Even though the world feels darker in the second novel it really is all about AJ’s energy. Good for you for noticing there may be a meaning behind it!
FQ: I was drawn to AJ's conflict of whether he deserved his new, better, transformed life. Did he deserve it? Why him? It was fascinating and I think it will get a lot of readers thinking. Do you think a lot of people struggle with similar thoughts? It's similar to "survivor's guilt" in that the person asks "why me?" Have you worked with people who may have unresolved guilt like AJ or was this something that you researched?
HOLLIS: Yes, I myself, and many others that I have encountered, do indeed suffer from survivor’s guilt. That was absolutely on the forefront when building this character. He survives so many tragic things, yet watches so many go through as much or worse, some even losing their lives. I hoped with him having a glimpse into the other side of the veil, through the help of his spiritual guides, it would allow the character to understand, in a way that others that completely lost hope around him were unable to, how he was paying his specific karma back. I thought it would seem to ease his suffering a bit. Having him be separated from his abuse gave me the ability to detach the character from his firsthand abuse to minimize the suffering the reader would endure when reading or I myself would have to go through writing it. Would it not be easier to pay someone back if you knew how you ‘wronged’ them before? I often asked myself this question when writing the second novel for sure. I wished to get the reader thinking outside the box, so it sounds like mission accomplished!
FQ: What do you hope people will take away from the book when they are finished?
HOLLIS: I hope that the people who read my novels become a little more reflective after reading them. Ideally, I’d love for them to become more kind just by the simple fact of knowing that they don’t always know what someone else may be going through and in some way be a little more patient because of it. I hope for them to be more compassionate to those who are suffering or less fortunate. I encourage everybody to seek out their own spiritual journey and see where it takes them. Mine has certainly been one of healing and unexpected twists that has led me to where I am today and I couldn’t be more grateful. I do hope I have caused the reader to think of their own actions and how they may be affecting those around them at the very least.
FQ: What is next for Colleen Hollis since this is the end of AJ’s story?
HOLLIS: Well, what is next for Colleen Hollis is in the next month or so I will be going live with my first children’s bedtime storybook. Amy’s Bedtime Stories will be available on Amazon shortly. It’s an adventurous, uplifting bedtime storybook that infuses a love for our planet and those who inhabit it within five short stories.
After that, I have a hospice children’s line that should go live soon as well. It is truly a passion project near and dear to my heart. In my time as a hospice nurse I really saw a need for resources to help the bereaved and decided to do something about it myself. Having it come full circle and finally be about ready to publish, it is really an honor to get to embark upon this new journey of helping children through their grief process. Be on the lookout for Colleen’s Bereavement Line For Children by the end of the year.
I am truly proud of myself for all the hard work, dedication, and effort I’ve put into writing, illustrating, and editing my own line of books, alongside numerous other writing endeavors simultaneously. Though the last few years have been chaotic to say the least, as I begin to publish all this work I’ve created I get to really appreciate what God is doing with little ole me in a real big way and I’m truly humbled and honored to do the work I do. However, don’t count AJ out; if I ever get the itch to revisit AJ’s character, I have left it open to another lifetime in any part of the Cosmos I should choose. Just so you know, he and his cast of characters may very well be back!

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