Irene Bennett Brown takes pleasure in using
, where she was born,
as background for her historical novels. These include The Plainswoman, a Western Writers of America Spur Award finalist
and Brown’s young adult novel, Before the
Lark, winner of a Western Writers of America Spur Award and nomination for
the Mark Twain Award. Miss Royal’s Mules is
the adult sequel to Before the Lark.
The author lives with her husband, Bob, a retired research chemist, on two
fruitful acres along the Kansas in Santiam River . Oregon
Question: What is the title and genre of your novel? Why did you select them?
Answer: MISS ROYAL’S MULES is a historical western written in response to a discussion with an editor from Five Star–Cengage. I go for short titles because cover designers have enough trouble fitting in my name. The main character, Jocelyn Royal, desperate to earn back her farm lost to the bank, takes work with a mule drive in 1900
, with results she’d never expected. Kansas
Question: What inspired this novel? How did it come about?
Answer: Both accident and inspiration birthed this book. I’d come to a Western Writers of America Convention in
chiefly for vacation and to see
friends. No plans to pitch a novel. The first night, I connected with Five
Star’s developmental editor and she suggested we set a time to talk. I needed
to come up with an idea for a book, fast. My mind turned to Jocelyn “Jocey”
Belle Royal from my YA book, BEFORE THE LARK. (Originally published by Atheneum
in 1982, the newest edition from Texas Tech Press.) Jocey–child of my
imagination–was and is as real to me as any living person. A tough, practical,
enterprising youngster with a facial disfigurement, a cleft lip. Constantly
taunted in the city, she hauled up and moved herself and her ill grandmother to
a small farm in Lubbock, Texas that her drifter father had
abandoned. Whatever happened to her after the end of that book? I told the
editor I’d find out, writing another book set ten years later, Jocelyn as a young
woman. The mule element would come from my deceased mother’s history. She’d
helped her father work their Kansas farm using mules, and at the age
of sixteen was responsible for feeding, watering, and otherwise caring for a
neighbor’s herd of mules. The developmental editor’s response to my somewhat
scattered idea was, “Awesome!” Deep breath. On the crest of that one word I
swept along from first line to published novel. Kansas
Question: Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?
Answer: Jocelyn, now in her early twenties, knows mules, is adept at farming, has had successful surgery for her cleft as a teen, but is lonely and adrift with no family, or a place of her own. She’s good-hearted, honest, strong, and “all the good kinds of stubborn” as a reviewer in Roundup Magazine described her. At a rodeo, Jocelyn spots a friend from her childhood, Pete Pladson, now a cowboy and western artist. He was the boy from the next farm, one of the few people at the time to treat her equally, seeing beyond her disfigurement to her true self. Another reviewer states that Jocelyn, “feels deeply”. Surely so in all facets of her life, as she becomes more enmeshed with mules, outlaws, women’s suffrage, disagreement over the Governor’s mansion, and a growing love for Pete.
Question: Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?
Answer: My first book was a children’s story, TO RAINBOW VALLEY, about a family who flees the dustbowl for a new life in
. Published 50 years ago, the book
is still in print. To six historical kid’s books, I added three contemporary
teen novels popular in their time – JUST ANOTHER GORGEOUS GUY, ANSWER ME,
ANSWER ME, and I LOVED YOU, LOGAN MCGEE. The majority of my young people’s
books appeared on ‘best books’ lists and/or were book club choices. Which I
enjoyed, but I also wanted to deal with adult matters in fiction. I wrote THE PLAINSWOMAN,
my first novel for adults, a mass-market historical novel from Ballantine. (Now
available in e-book, audio, or trade paper.) It is about a fiercely independent
woman who builds her Oregon Western Kansas homestead, Dove’s Nest, with her bare hands and accepts
a second challenge, to run for election as the county school superintendent. Happy to stay in the adult field, my next
project was a historical novel series, The Women of Paragon Springs: LONG ROAD
TURNING, BLUE HORIZONS, NO OTHER PLACE, and REAP THE SOUTH WIND–about a group
of women who decide the way to survive the raw plains is to build their own
town. The series takes them from 1870s sod-house days to their part in the
birth of aviation 40 years later. These are a representative few of my twenty
published books. Kansas
Question: What are you working on now?
Answer: Book Two in the Nickel Series, TANGLED TIMES, has been accepted and is close to contract. After that there will be more polishing before it goes into print. In the meantime, I’m having a great time researching for Book Three in the series. I’m also promoting MISS ROYAL’S MULES as much as I can. A writer’s life can be blessed busy!
Question: What made you start writing?
Answer: My first success as a writer was in second grade. I understood how to write two-line rhymes, while other kids, great on the Monkey Bars and in Arithmetic, which I wasn’t, were stymied with putting words together. I’ve always loved to write. Story problems in grammar and high school were fun. Given enough thought, you could always write something that would work for an answer and even embellish it a little. My first writings to show up in print were newspaper features and columns, children’s short stories and books, then the adult novel field where I am now. I’m an avid reader, purely love books, and reading a good book has always made me want to write one. From the time I read every fairy tale written, to historical novels like LITTLE WOMEN, and CADDIE WOODLAWN, I’ve wanted to write.
Question: What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?
Answer: If you love to write and you’re good at it, you are where you belong. Continue to read, write, learn, and enjoy your special talent. As they say, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Question: Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?
Answer: MISS ROYAL’S MULES is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and through local bookstores.
Note: I gave MISS ROYAL’S MULES a five star review on Goodreads because I think the novel is not only well-written but enjoyable to read. Ms. Brown really knows
and makes the characters come
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