“Women make up about half the population and, except for those who have no siblings, we are all someone’s sister,” said Rohnert Park author, editor and publisher Laura McHale Holland. Which is why the idea of publishing a collection of stories about sisterhood seemed so appealing.
The resulting book, “Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood,” was published in January and quickly earned best book honors in the Women’s Issues category of the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Holland, 65, is no stranger to the publishing business. Originally from Chicago, she moved to San Francisco in 1975 and has lived in Rohnert Park for the past decade. Although she works as an assistant vice president of Rohnert Park’s The Green Sheet, a trade publication that serves the payments industry, her passion has always been creative endeavors such as short stories, books and plays.
Holland’s first book was “Reversible Skirt,” a childhood memoir published in 2011 that won the RockWay Press International Writing Competition and received a silver medal in the 2011 Readers Favorite Book Awards. Her second was “The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song,” a collection of flash fiction published in 2012.
Her play “Are You Ready?” was produced in 2014 at the Sixth Street Playhouse and was shortlisted for Sydney’s 2015 Short+Sweet Festival.
But the idea for “Sisters Born, Sisters Found” came to Holland after finishing her memoir. It would focus on life with her sisters, a subject she thought had promise.
“In the late 1970s, I wrote my sisters a song, but it had been decades since I’d done anything creative to honor them. I thought it was about time,” she said.
Sisterhood also is an experience shared by millions.
“Even women who don’t have siblings by birth can form strong bonds with other women and become sisters that way,” Holland said. “For many women, relationships with their sisters outlast all others, partly because women tend to live longer than men. So women who are lucky enough to stay in touch with their sisters have comrades right to the final years of life.”
Holland started work on the book by holding readings at Sisters Consignment Couture in Sonoma, inviting four writers to start each evening as featured readers and following with an open mic for others who wanted to read. Most of the readers were women, although a few men stood up.
“The variety of work surprised me at the time, a microcosm of what the book ended up to be,” Holland said. “Several of the people who read at the events submitted work for the book, and I accepted most of it. Elspeth Benton, Skye Blaine, P.H. Garrett, Marie Millard, Pamela Taeuffer, Barbara Toboni and Jean Wong all have work in the anthology.”
Initially, Holland planned for a book with fewer than 100 pages, and after the readings posted a request for submissions on Facebook. Submissions poured in from every continent except Antarctica, enough to fill 279 pages with pieces from 76 contributors who include former Sonoma County poet laureate Gwynn O’Gara and Petaluma Post columnist Ana Manwaring.
“It was exciting with the number of people who wanted to be a part of it,” Holland said. “The pieces range from hilarious to heartbreaking. Emotions that are touched upon include joy, jealousy, sorrow, anger, regret, grief, acceptance, reluctance, admiration, passion, bemusement and confusion.”
Writers explored such things as the lifelong benefits of a healthy relationship between sisters; the longing for a sister different from the one you have; and the many ways sisters help each other navigate difficult life experiences.
Holland wrote a piece about the ways she and her sisters found safety from their stepmother during high school days. O’Gara wrote about the grief felt when a sister dies and the joy of friends so close they feel like sisters. Manwaring wrote about a sister with whom she had an extremely difficult relationship and for whom she finally stopped caring.
To cover contributors’ fees and costs involved with editing, printing and shipping the self-published book, Holland netted nearly $1,900 from a Pubslush campaign that raised $2,085. Artwork for the cover and inside design were donated by her sister Kathy McHale, a graphic artist.
Holland said she felt she was the perfect person to edit this book because her own sisters “are my best friends and strongest supporters. That isn’t the case with all sisters.”
While winning the award in itself was exhilarating, she said, positive feedback from the authors who had submitted stories also meant a lot to her.
“Unlike my other projects, there were more people than just me involved,” Holland said. “So I plan on working a bit harder to promote the book and make sure everyone has a chance to hear about it.”
“Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood” is available at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma, Redwood Cafe in Cotati and all major online bookstores.
For more on Laura McHale Holland, visit Lauramchaleholland.com or Wordforest.com.