An interviewer once told Craig Holden that reading one of his novels was "like driving down a mountainous, two-lane road with no brakes and encountering a semi-tractor trailer weaving from side to side as it comes right at you." He added, "The reader never knows what is going to happen next." Dubbed a thriller writer, a mystery writer, and a crime writer, Holden acknowledges and appreciates those titles, but likes to consider himself, simply, a novelist. He tells stories of characters caught in fantastic circumstances and the things they do to escape them. "…Crime offers a fascinating, I would even say unequalled, view into character, into personality."
Holden was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, where he went to college at the University of Toledo. He studied an interdepartmental major of psychology/biology/philosophy and after that, got a job drawing blood on the night shift at a medical center. "Instead of applying to medical schools, as I had planned," says Holden, "I just worked at night, drank too much, and wrote during the days." Tired of that life, he applied to some MFA Creative Writing Programs and was accepted to the University of Montana. He moved there in 1984, glad to be going back to school and not having to work anymore. Holden was convinced that "writing could not be taught."
Fortunately, Holden was wrong -- he learned a great deal from his writing teachers and began to publish some short stories. He also spent time teaching, working in a lumber mill, and editing a literary magazine. Despite his previous years of writing, Holden remembers that time was his "real education" as a writer.
In 1987 Holden moved to New York in search of a job in the writing or publishing fields. After almost a year of looking, he moved back to Ohio to teach at a junior college before he could return to New York. He did go back to New York in 1988, and this time he had a little bit more luck. He not only found a job with a literary agent within a week, but was now living with his new wife, whom he had met back home in Ohio.
The story of Holden's first novel starts in New York, in 1989, when he and his wife "were (again) broke." The budding writer needed to make some money, and he decided to write a bad novel, quickly. "I saw these being sold all the time. Good genre story, mediocre writing. I figured I too could write a bad novel." Starting on his (bad) detective novel, he used his former medical training to write about a doctor. But his plan fell through. "I couldn't write this schlocky book. …I got interested in the characters.…" The couple's finances survived, and in 1994, The River Sorrow was published, definitely not the "bad novel" it was originally intended to be.
The success of The River Sorrow allowed Holden to move his new family back to the Midwest, where he lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1999, he won the Great Lakes Book Award for The Jazz Bird, his fictional account of a real-life murder trial in Cincinnati in the 1920s. He still writes, investing more and more research into his plots before he starts writing; he followed homicide detectives for his book Four Corners of Night, and studied American history for The Jazz Bird. Though Holden is a renowned author with four popular novels to date, he is still perfecting his craft: "I don't really know the ending until I get there, but the closer I get, the more idea I have of what's going to happen. I'll say, though, that in the beginning I always think I know the ending, and I'm always wrong."
Photos courtesy of Craig Holden.