Friday, January 18, 2019

Interview with Author Irene Bennett Brown

Irene Bennett Brown takes pleasure in using Kansas, 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 Santiam River in 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 Kansas, with results she’d never expected.

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 Lubbock, Texas 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 Kansas 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.

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 Oregon. 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 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 Kansas 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.

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 Kansas and makes the characters come alive.

Your comments welcome here!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Analysis and Insights: Interview with Dan Brown

Over the years, Dan Brown has engaged in many interesting interviews. In his last one with THE GUARDIAN, he provided insights into how to write a bestseller. What can fellow writers learn from Brown?

First, he assured writers that they don’t have to be brilliantly original. (As the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is nothing new under the sun.)

According to Brown, the key elements that a thriller must have are:  a hero, a goal, obstacles that seem to make it impossible and a moment when the hero conquers the villain. Don’t get overcomplicated, Brown urges. Keep it simple.

Next is the idea of the ticking clock. This keeps the action interesting and exciting. He also talks about the crucible—constraining the main characters and forcing them to act.

Brown observes that these elements are needed in all forms of fiction not just thrillers. He also comments that we should write what we want to know not just what we actually know. I interpret that to mean that researching a topic of interest is significant. Having read his novels, I know he does love to do research—although at times, he info dumps, which is something I think writers need to be wary about doing.

Analyzing Dan Brown’s writing style and techniques can prove helpful to those of us writing today. In my last novel, DEATH PROMISE, I combined elements of both mystery and thriller. I would add that pacing is important in any novel. For instance, the writing should not sag in the middle.

Your thoughts and opinions valued here!

Friday, January 4, 2019

2019: Starting the New Year Right!

January marks a new beginning and a fresh start for us. I am planning what I intend to do during the new year. However, my resolutions have only slightly changed for 2019.

First come family needs and concerns. This very much includes seeing to health matters.

After that I resolve to continue my writing. This I do faithfully beginning early each morning. I am at this time hard at work on a new novel. It’s the fifth one in the Kim Reynolds mystery series and I believe the best one yet. Kim has evolved as a very real individual not a cardboard character.

I will also continue to send my work out to various publishers and publications regardless of acceptances. Most writers meet with a lot more rejection than acceptance. In that respect, I am typical. But if writing is something you feel compelled to do—like me—than you work at it regardless.

One of my continuing resolutions is striving to improve the quality of my work. With that in mind, I pay attention to editorial and reader comments. The year 2018 brought publication of my novels, DEATH PROMISE, for adult readers and WITCH WISH for teens. There were also short stories published in a variety of genres.

I intend to continue reading diverse books and writing reviews of those I truly enjoy.

I resolve to do more landscape painting. I’ve let that go of late.

I confess housework comes last—but it does and will get done, as does shopping and cooking. All of life’s necessities.

What are some of your plans or resolutions for the year ahead? Are they the same as last year or have they changed?