Charlie N. Holmberg is a bestselling fantasy author with multiple awards to her name and her books sold in over 20 languages. But more enchanting than any character she’s created is the author herself.
“How are you?”
“Pretty good, I was just writing another ‘bad review’ song and I decided to scream it a little bit so my voice is a little hoarse,” Charlie explained matter-of-factly.
Generally, Charlie makes a point of not reading the negative reviews of her books. But since her publishers limit her to two books per year, she fills in time doing other things—like turning amusing bad reviews into songs.
“If I can tell a review is going to be mean, I don’t finish it—but some people are really funny with their bad reviews, and those I can appreciate,” Charlie said. “Somebody said that my book made them want to smash china dolls against the wall, and someone else said, ‘This book is just like Harry Potter, but with a less attractive protagonist.’ That’s funny. Funny things like that people say, I put in songs.”
Music was a big part of Charlie’s life all through high school, where she was a jazz pianist, played flute and French horn and enjoyed writing her own music. She seriously considered studying music composition when she went to Brigham Young University.
Fortunately for thousands of her fans, Charlie thought music theory was “too close to math” and chose to pursue writing instead. Things haven’t gone exactly as planned—for instance, she wrote nine novels before she got one published. But even as her life experiences have influenced her writing, Charlie’s writing has influenced her life. It has enabled her to support her family, including a special needs daughter; it helped her bounce back from unexpected depression; and it has created a life she loves, including a return to her passion for music.
Called to Write?
Charlie has always had a strong sense of humor and a lively personality. Whether talking to her, listening to one of her podcasts or simply reading her website biography (in which she claims to have made a quilt out of her many rejection letters), Charlie’s quick wit comes to the forefront.
“I’m glad you think I’m funny—I used to be incredibly annoying,” she said. “I think I was a little bit of a class clown. I feel like when people meet me, even now, they either really like me or they really don’t like me—not a lot of people are lukewarm on me.”
Charlie first became interested in writing as a teenager. “Everybody’s like, ‘This book or this author inspired me,’ and for me—well, it was an anime,” she admitted. “I watched an anime when I was 13 and said, ‘I want to make stories like that.’”
From there, it was a short jump to writing. “I figured either I can draw comic books or I can write books. I could always tell my drawing was bad—but I couldn’t tell my writing was bad. So I just went that way.”
As an English major (“Which is the dumbest major there is, you can say that in the magazine—I literally took a semester-long class on what to do with an English major. They don’t have that for any other major, I’m pretty sure.”) at BYU, Charlie finished her first novel (“Which was terrible.”) her first year and began to really take writing seriously. She finished her second book as a senior.
“From there it was just like, ‘Yeah, this is what I’m going to do—I just have to keep working to get to it,’” Charlie said. “Nine books later, it finally happened.”
After graduating in 2010, Charlie earned money as a technical writer and editor—while continuing to write novels on her own time. Unlike many creative people, committing herself to her writing every day was never a challenge for Charlie. She never suffered from writer’s block; she simply loved to write and knew that’s what she wanted to do.
“When I was trying to achieve it, I never thought it was my calling,” Charlie reflected. “I never thought, Oh, the Lord has sent me specifically to write romantic fantasy for the world, you know? But there’s a couple of things in my patriarchal blessing that now, looking back, I can see, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ I never thought it was my calling, no. Is it now? Maybe.”
In 2014, her ninth-finished book, The Paper Magician, became her first published. Since then, Charlie has published 14 other young adult and adult fiction novels, each with its own unique world and a sweet romance. Though she’s earned a label as a “clean” author because of her religion, Charlie’s magical worlds aren’t Latter-day Saint specific.
“Little things will end up in my books, because it’s part of who I am so it’s going to influence what I do,” Charlie said. “And it’s funny because sometimes I get criticisms about being preachy—but the ‘preachy’ things are not things I believe. I’ve written all kinds of different people in my books that don’t believe what I believe—because if you’re writing high fantasy, you can’t really have Christianity.”
Charlie’s fantasy worlds range from “if Victorian England had magic” to her latest novel series where stars power a universe including bear-faced godlings and powerful shapeshifters.
“Ideas come from everywhere,” she said. “I got the idea for Followed by Frost after scraping ice off my car and my hand was really cold. I thought, ‘Oh, it would suck to be like this all the time.’ And Paper Magician, I was really into origami and I just thought it would be really cool if origami could come to life. Fifth Doll, I was putting together a class about magic systems and I wanted people to think outside the box, so I was just walking around my house trying to find random objects that could make magic—thread, forks, stuff like that. I saw my matryoshka dolls and said, ‘I’m going to keep that one,’ and I did. The ideas come from everywhere.”
Real Life Charlie
Charlie works from home—though her office has been temporarily dedicated to being a catchall while remodeling the family’s basement. “I’m super excited for it to be done just so I can have space again in there—it’s like, ‘Oh, I need an envelope. Let me just shimmy around this armoire and elliptical,’” Charlie pantomimed from her dining room, where she was able to take a video call while her two kids were at school. “My daughter is 7, my son’s 5 and my husband is getting dressed.”
Charlie’s husband, Jordan, is a stay-at-home dad, supporting Charlie in her literary career—and helping her balance being present in the real world with letting her thoughts wander into fantasy.
“It totally happens, because my husband will be like, ‘Are you in book land right now?’” Charlie admitted. “Honestly, it’s not too bad because mornings are generally like my work time and so that’s when I go do my work stuff. But whenever we’re on long car rides, I always go into book land. I feel like showers and car rides are the best time for brainstorming…and sometimes you just can’t because your kids are screaming at you and the toaster’s on fire.”
As a family, the Holmbergs enjoy going to the aquarium and to diners to eat pancakes—one of the few things Charlie’s autistic daughter will eat. “If we want to go to restaurants, we can go to diners or Arctic Circle because she thinks, very mistakenly, that Arctic Circle has the best French fries,” Charlie explained.
Raising a child with autism provided Charlie with many of the themes for her most recent novel, Star Mother—which was also the book that pulled Charlie from an unexpected depression in 2019.
Having gained a reputation as a prolific author, publishing multiple books per year ever since her first release, Charlie felt the pressure to continue producing rapidly—and got burnt out. The entire year, Charlie hit a block and couldn’t finish the books she started, including Spellmaker and the not-yet-published Hanging City.
“As far as writing goes, I was kind of running before I could walk, so to speak,” she shared. “Out of nowhere I was just super depressed. It was the weirdest thing; for the first time in my life, I had to stop writing. I love it so much, as soon as I finish a book I’m already working on the next one—I don’t really take breaks. It was the first time ever I had to say, ‘I can’t write this week.’”
What did Charlie do? “I took a lot of walks. And I said a lot of prayers.”
Then came Star Mother. During a trip to France, her first time leaving the country, Charlie went to Bayeux and was impressed by the famous Bayeux Tapsetry—providing Charlie with a talent for her main character and the basis of a setting, complete with cathedrals, for Star Mother.
“Everybody’s going to call it Young Adult because I debuted with a Young Adult novel, but it’s not—it’s a story about motherhood,” Charlie said. “It’s a story about family, and family lines—there’s where you can see some of my religion coming in, because I talk about genealogy.”
It’s also a story about sacrifice: Heroine Ceris volunteers to sacrifice her life in order to give birth to a new star, which powers all life within the universe. When she survives, she ends up sacrificing differently than she thought she would.
“Life’s never exactly what you expected—if you look at it from a religious lens, you may think God’s going to answer your prayers in one way and He doesn’t. That’s a standard thing you have to learn,” Charlie said. “The trials that we end up facing are usually not the ones you think you’re going to face.”
Some trials we may be prepared for—when Charlie was a teenager, 10 years before she ever sold a book, she had the impression that she needed to prepare herself to be charitable with future success. Other life-altering circumstances, however, come as more of a surprise.
“I never expected that I was going to have a special needs daughter, for example, and it just totally changes your life. I’m really grateful that I don’t have to sacrifice financially so much to help her, but then you sacrifice other aspects of your life—I don’t want to get into it because I’ll start crying,” Charlie said, rubbing beneath an eye. “But I would definitely say sacrifice is a theme in Star Mother—and in the second book, too, Star Father, that comes out in March.”
Writing Back to Music
After writing Star Mother, Charlie was able to go back and finish her incomplete novels. Though she felt better emotionally, the block was still there and for the first time in her life struggled to complete the books.
“I love Spellmaker and I love Hanging City, but they were hard to finish,” she said. “It was a really interesting experience, and it definitely gives me more empathy towards people who struggle with that regularly. That’s really common among creative people; a lot of people struggle with anxiety and depression.”
Now, Charlie makes herself take breaks so that she can continue doing what she loves without burning out. Since her publishers limit her to two or, in the case of a series, three books per year, Charlie fills the time with other things—including a self-published contemporary fiction series set in Utah called The Nerds of Happy Valley, set to come out next May, and music.
Music fell by the wayside for years after Charlie got married, until writing brought her back to it. While working on The Will and the Wilds, published in January 2020, Charlie started playing around on the piano and came up with a simple piece called Enna’s Wildwood that she ended up including in the back of the book and for free on her website.
“That kind of triggered something, because I ended up meeting a music producer who lives really close to me, through a friend of a friend, and I started taking composition lessons from him,” Charlie said. “I like pop music, so I started making pop music—and I quickly learned that my readers do not care about my music. I do it for me.”
Charlie has been enjoying writing music for the last two years, including joining the Nashville Songwriters Association. Though her book fans may not necessarily become fans of her music, there’s plenty of crossover between Charlie’s writing and her music—from “bad review songs” to the ballad she wrote for Star Mother.
Charlie also makes “your mom” jokes to her heart’s content on the writing podcast “Your Mom Writes Books” with fellow writer Caitlyn McFarland, and occasionally teaches classes at writing conferences.