Dee J Holmes
The Four Houses
Dee J Holmes is an artist and author—at least when she's not working her day job, or being bossed around by her Great Dane—who writes tales of monsters falling in love and characters who break the rules. The fifth and final book in her Four Houses series is coming soon!
Why do you write? Like, give us the reason that drives you.
I started writing to make the stories I wanted to find in the world. Not to say there aren’t—or weren’t—great stories out there. But there wasn’t enough of what I craved: Stories where monsters were people first and abilities second. Where women could find their strength, and the people (or monsters) they love would cherish that strength. I wanted worlds where a big, tough Alpha werewolf could also have a gentle soul and a kind heart, where vampires weren’t dead or driven blindly by blood, and where the tiniest witch might be the scariest thing in the room. And, of course, I wanted them all to find love.
This desire for a big urban fantasy world, full of complex characters and love that breaks boundaries, drove me to create the world of The Four Houses.
What is this week’s featured book about? Tell us a little about it!
The Four Houses is what happens when four magical races—witches, werewolves, vampires and fae—who’ve been forced to live apart for a thousand years—collide. Escaping from an evil witch’s cellar together, a witch, werewolf, vampire and fae learn that the horrors they’ve been taught about each other aren’t true. In fact, they not only need each other to survive… but they might even find love.
Unfortunately, even after they escape the dangers of book 1, they discover the conspiracy behind that threat runs deeper—all the way to the grave. If they’re going to keep each other and the love they’ve found, they’re going to have to unearth that conspiracy and change their worlds.
What drives/motivates/inspires your life, and how does that flow into your writing?
Oof, tough question. Sometimes it’s just the basics that drive me: making rent, paying for my dog’s
care, groceries. You know, the things we all (or at least the majority of us) struggle with. But when it comes to my writing, I want to both entertain and inform. Not “inform” in some kind of bulls**t preachy way. But I do believe that stories can be tons of fun—can be heartwarming, hilarious, with kick-ass fight scenes—and still tackle big ideas. And that those big ideas don’t have to be smothered in overly flowery prose or heavy-handed academic jargon. I mean, sometimes all you need is a hot
"I wanted worlds where a big, tough Alpha werewolf could also have a gentle soul and a kind heart...and where the tiniest witch might b
e the scariest thing in the room. And, of course, I wanted them to find love."
Are there any common themes or tropes that seem to find their way into your work over and over again?
Do zombies count? It’s a weird thing, but somehow a zombie—or something of the creepy, undead
variety—always makes it into my work. I’ve yet to unpack this… and not entirely sure I want to.
Okay! So in seriousness, my books tend to revolve around the main themes of “finding light in the dark” and “doing the right thing, even if it’s hard.” These are core tenants for me, and there’s just no way that can’t bleed into my work. I also tend to feature characters learning to love themselves, and to embrace their strengths.
In terms of tropes, forced proximity is one of my favs—and one I’m having a blast playing with in my current newsletter serial. (If you like badass women, great danes, and complex relationships with friendly zombies, come on down). I also love—and tend to play with—the tropes of chosen one, fated mates, enemies to lovers, and beauty & the beast. I’m sure there’s more, but those are the ones at the top of my brain right now.
What’s your writing process?
My books usually start with an idea—like what would happen if a witch and a werewolf were forced into a false mate-bond, only to discover they genuinely like each other?—and then I move into figuring out who the leading characters are and what they want. For me, two of the most important pieces are figuring out where the story starts—and especially how it ends. Knowing the ending is a pretty crucial piece for me (sure, that ending might change, but it gives me a fixed point to work toward).
Once I’ve got the basics, I outline. I outline like a b**ch. While I might not stick to that outline, I’ve learned I just need it. No outline? My writing speed rivals that of a geriatric turtle on sleeping pills. With outline? Hold on, because I can word fast and furious.
When it comes to drafting, I’ve learned the hard way that I have to write from start to finish—I can’t skip ahead and write that one scene I’m dying to dig into. Nope. If I do that, I’ll forget not only drop key threads, I’ll never want to go back and write those before pieces. So, yeah. I have to start at chapter one and work my way to the end. What I’ve learned to love about that linear process, is how it makes me find the punch in each scene, and how it helps me keep the pacing tight—because I’m just as excited to get to the next “money” scene as I want a reader to be.
"...stories can be tons of fun—can be heartwarming, hilarious, with kick-ass fight scenes—and still tackle big ideas."
If you can share, what is the project you’re most looking forward to writing one day, even if you don’t currently have plans for it? I’m talking that dream project that’s always on your mind!
Ooh, I can totally share! I’ve just finished the fifth—and final installment—of the first series in my Four Houses world. This means I’m rolling into 2021 with some brand new projects!
I’m diving into a new genre!! I’m part of the Alien Embrace collection, coming fall 2021, and am starting a whole new, alien-based world for my story. While I don’t want to give too much away, I promise there will be laser fights at a wedding reception, evil invaders, and hot times between our human heroine and her unexpected alien hero.
In the Four Houses, Nova Blake and I are co-writing a story set after the events of book 5. We’re so excited to work together, and our story is going to have a brand new cast—and be a cool reimagining of a favorite fairy tale.
I’ll be sharing updates with my newsletter as both stories come together.
What’s the last book you couldn’t put down and why?
There’s been a couple lately!
In the past couple months I’ve read Under Her Skin by Margo Bond Collins—I’d never read a book with a snake shifter as the main character, and I loved how flawed and scary and vulnerable the heroine was. Her journey just sucked me right in! And the opposites attract trope with her love interest, with him being a mongoose shifter and natural hunter of her kind, was exactly my candy.
I devoured Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert. Just… this book is glorious. It’s nerdy and funny and heartwarming and smart as f**k. I adored how both characters were meaningfully flawed, and yet still so lovable. And how the hero unquestioningly valued the heroine—having a movie star cinnamon roll was a real treat.
I’m now completely hooked on Saranna DeWylde’s Fairy Godmothers, Inc. Magic town, reimagined fairy tales, deliciously complex characters and meddling fairy godmothers. What’s not to love? It’s the perfect mix of substance and pure sugar.
If you could have your work exist in any other form, what form would it take?
Um, a Netflix series. Obvs.
Outside of the box? Well, my Four Houses series actually began as a tabletop RPG campaign (think Dungeons and Dragons style with dice and maps)—one I created and ran for a group of friends. It would be pretty cool to see Hero Games publish a story module, or five, based in my world!
To you, what is the value of imagination?
What can’t imagination do? Through stories and art, we can not just imagine other worlds, we can find new ways to see our own world. It frees us to understand other peoples’ stories, to care about their lives, and to picture a world that’s a better, fairer, kinder place for everyone. Now… how exactly does a world where werewolves have hot sex with witches do that? I might have to let you see for yourself ;)