Interview: Holly McDowell

The first installment of Holly McDowell’s serial novel

I met Holly McDowell at one convention, and heard her read at another. Her novel, King Solomon’s Wives, is a serial e-book produced by Colliquy, with an intriguing premise. The publisher describes it this way:

The two thousand descendants of King Solomon’s ancient harem have the ultimate power of seduction: Their very touch is as addictive as any drug. But that power comes at a price: Wives die giving birth. They can only bear daughters. They are only fertile until the age of twenty-four. Hunted for hundreds of generations by men who crave their touch and fear its power, the Wives have kept safe by following three simple rules:

A Wife shall have no meaningful relationships outside the clan.
A Wife’s addictive touch may be used only for procreation or to protect the clan.
A Wife shall sacrifice herself for her daughter at the age of twenty-four.

But tonight, the rules have been broken, and someone must pay.

Having heard Holly read some this aloud, I can also say it’s exciting and suspenseful. Holly was kind enough to answer some questions about the novel, and its unique format.


Holly McDowell

Me: Your book is a “serial novel,” a form that isn’t that common in contemporary literature. What made you decide to write it in this format, and what unique problems did you encounter?

Holly: I originally wrote King Solomon’s Wives as a full-length novel, but in the back of my mind, I always had the idea it could be a series. It’s about a secret society of women with an addictive touch who live in small groups spread all over the world, so there are plenty of opportunities for different points of view.

I might not have thought to make it a serial, however, if I hadn’t met the brilliant team at Coliloquy. Their experimental “Active Content” format uses choose-your-own-adventure links and lets readers vote on story elements. When I heard about it, I couldn’t wait to transform my story for the inspiring new platform.

As for problems… so far I haven’t found any! Each episode is a blast to write.

How many episodes will this story run, will they be collected in a single e-volume when you’re done?

Coliloquy is fabulous for this very reason; they’ll let me keep writing the story as long as readers want to read it! I have a big arc in mind, but I’m not constrained to a set number of episodes. I’m hoping I get to keep writing until the story feels complete.

You mentioned that you hadn’t read King Solomon’s Mines, which I incorrectly assumed your title referenced. What, then, were your influences on the story?

I remember the day I came home and wrote the first draft of the first chapter of the first version of this story… It was 2007! I’d been to a writing group meeting that night, and we’d discussed my love of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. I liked Atwood’s exploration of feminist themes through social and political extrapolation. I wanted to create a world where the challenges women face every day were exaggerated into an oppressive environment for the story. And I wanted to mix that with my love of history, of course.

Solomon was both a Biblical and Judaic figure of considerable importance. How do you address the religious aspects of the women’s history?

There was this pivotal moment in the real King Solomon’s life: he turned away from his religious beliefs to worship his wives’ gods. The change always intrigued me–the wives’ spirituality must have been something special to capture Solomon’s heart.

Without spoiling anything… I can say this particular historical moment was a major catalyst for the Wives’ millennia-long story. Naturally, their opinions on faith and religion are woven into their struggles in the modern world.

You’re also a musician, specifically a classical pianist. How does this discipline influence your writing?

Good question! There’s so much to learn from music. Any Beethoven Sonata is a perfect example of form, and it’s full of artistic substance. I think studying music must have given me some idea of how to start trying to learn form in writing. And I’m sure the daily hours of focused practiced helped train me as an introverted writer for those long weekends I’ve needed to spend at the computer.

Do you also compose music?

I do! Well, a little. My undergraduate degree was in music composition, and I’ve always enjoyed composing and arranging, especially for piano. Writing is my first love, of course.

Thanks to Holly for taking the time to talk to me. King Solomon’s Wives is now available here.

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