Readers are always fascinated by the people behind the books they love — the authors who pull characters out of thin air, who create a world that draws us in and who then turn those characters loose to have adventures, solve mysteries, fall in love, and capture our hearts in the process. Irene Hannon has spun this magic over 45 times with her novels of suspense and romance. After finishing her most recent novel, Buried Secrets, my mind was buzzing with questions. She has an official website where you can find out that she is an accomplished vocalist who lives in Missouri and enjoys gardening, but I had specific questions about her books and her writing, so I asked her if she would mind doing an interview with me on Living Our Days. She has graciously agreed, and I invite you to pull up a chair and enjoy this glimpse into her life.
Irene, last summer I was introduced to your writing and thoroughly enjoyed reading Deceived. It was such a vivid experience that I can still remember the setting. Our family has a lawn mowing business in the summer, and, having finished up a job, I was sitting in the truck waiting for everyone to pile in. Naturally, I had my book with me, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the story, so there I sat — warm sunshine pouring in through the windows, a cool breeze teasing the corners of the pages. Even after I finished the story, I found myself wondering about the people in the book as I pushed my mower. Your characters are so genuine. I know better than to ask if you have a favorite, but is there a group of characters in one of your series that you particularly bonded with, and that you miss now that you are through writing about them?
I miss them all! Truly. I loved my FBI leads in Heroes of Quantico, the Taylor siblings in Guardians of Justice, my PI’s in Private Justice and I’m loving the high-octane McGregor brothers in my new Men of Valor of series. They are all special to me. So how do I deal with saying goodbye to them at the end of a series? By working in a cameo by one of my former heroes or heroines in a subsequent book. For example, Detective Mitch Morgan—the hero from Deadly Pursuit—has a role in my latest book, Buried Secrets. And FBI Special Agent Mark Sanders will make an appearance in Thin Ice, Book 2 in the Men of Valor series.
Have you ever had a character take off in a direction you hadn’t planned so that you had to change your book’s narrative arc to accommodate the will of the character?
This doesn’t happen very often, as I spend a long time developing my characters before I begin writing a book. But on occasion, a character does surprise me. Several chapters into Trapped, my villain suddenly revealed something he’d done earlier in this life. I was so startled I stopped typing, stared at the screen, and said, “You did what!”. The revelation didn’t require me to change much of the story, but it definitely added a deeper dimension to that character.
Are any of your characters modelled from a person in your real life or from combinations of several people?
Many of my characters have blended attributes from people I’ve known in real life, but none are based on a specific person.
My family has a St. Bernard, so I guess you could say that we are “dog people,” and I thought that Tally, the dog in Buried Secrets added so much to the story. Do you have a loyal pet in your life — past or present — who helped you to create Tally?
I have had so many positive comments about Tally! He really is a sweetheart. And yes, my family had a wonderful dog while I was growing up. She was a puppy when my dad found her one cold winter night, shivering by our trash can, apparently abandoned. We adopted her, and she was an integral party of our family for many years. Golden-haired, with soulful brown eyes and a gentle spirit, she was a wonderful companion. I still miss her.
One of the amazing features of your writing in Buried Secrets was point of view. I love how seamlessly the chapters switched from Mac’s perspective to Lisa’s perspective, and then, chillingly, to your villain’s point of view. I was unprepared for the feelings of empathy that this produced in me, and I’m wondering if that was why you did it, and I also wonder if you found all those point of view changes to be challenging and how you happened to approach the plot in that way.
I love writing multiple points of view. That’s the only way an author can take readers inside the heads of different characters. And I think, when readers are privy to the inner thoughts of a character, it’s much easier to have empathy for them. Doing this also helps to create dimensional, layered characters. We’re not just seeing what they do; we’re learning what motivates them. All of my books are written his way. It can be challenging to get deep into a character’s point of view—especially for the villains!—but it’s also fascinating.
I know from your website that you are a very disciplined writer with regular hours at the desk. Are you also structured in your approach to a book? Do you map out your books one at a time, or did you have Thin Ice already in outline form as you were writing Buried Secrets?
Ah, the writing process. A great mystery—and different for every writer. In my early days of fiction writing, I did fairly detailed plot outlines. Now when I write a series, I spend a considerable amount of time developing the concept—what ties the books together—and a general notion of the basic story for each book. I also do some character development for the three main characters the series will revolve around. Then I jot down story ideas for each book. These are very vague. Just enough to give me some navigation markers as I write the first book. For that first book in a series, I spend quite a long time developing the main characters and thinking about how the story might unfold. Eventually, I get frustrated with all that heavy thinking and start itching to write. So I begin doodling on an opening. Once I have that, I dive into the book and let the story flow from there. Typically as I’m writing the first book in a series, more concrete ideas for the next two books begin to develop, and I tuck those in a folder until I’m ready to start those books. So not a very structured approach in the sense of mapping my books out in detail in advance—but a process that works for me.
I love your motivations for writing: “to entertain, to enrich, and to uplift.” In order for you to do that, though, you’ve got to keep the well from going dry. What inspires you, fills you up spiritually and emotionally?
Long vacations where I laze on the beach and do nothing for days on end and … Oh, wait. This is reality, not fantasy, isn’t it? The truth is, keeping the well from going dry can be a serious challenge, especially when you write multiple books a year and deadlines are always breathing down your neck. Time off does help, when I can manage it. I also have a wonderful husband and a close-knit family who provide a lot of emotional support. And my faith both inspires and sustains.
I know that your parents have been a real encouragement to you. Do you have other mentors that have shaped your life and career or other authors that you look up to?
My high school English teacher is at the top of the list. She had a passion for language and literature, and she lit the fire for fiction in me. It was in her classes that I first grasped the incredible power of words to transform lives. I’ve also read many wonderful authors…too many to name…and I’ve learned from every one.
I read a lot of non-fiction, but, by far, my best and my most formative reading experiences have come from fiction. There are fictional characters that I look to as if they were theologians because their words are so true and so wise. I’ve tried to analyze the reason why, because really good writing is not moralistic or “preachy,” and yet these characters do impact my thinking and living in significant ways. As a fiction writer, does this kind of character/reader connection come into your mind as you write, and do you have any examples of readers who have been impacted by your writing?
You are absolutely right—good writing molds our thinking and shapes our character in positive ways without being moralistic or preachy. How do authors do this? By creating people who may be fictional but who touch our hearts because of the universal truths they embody, the emotions we feel through them, and the insights they give us into our own psyches. When a reader finishes one of my books, I want them to be thinking, “Those people were real. I felt for them. And I’m sorry to say good-bye.” I have countless examples of readers who’ve told me my writing has had an impact on them. Here’s a recent quote from an email: “I don’t usually contact my favorite authors, but I feel that God wants me to tell you how much your book changed my life. The first time I read it, my husband I were considering adoption but were on the fence about adopting older children. Your book helped me to make that decision and we adopted two wonderful and beautiful children. I just wanted to thank you for writing such a wonderful tale that inspired me to become a mother.” Letters like that remind me that all the hours I spend in front of my laptop really do make a difference.
There are many reasons why your books are loved by your readers, but I think it boils down to the fact that God has made you a storyteller. Would you mind closing our interview by sharing a brief story from your life — either a childhood memory, a life-changing experience, or just something you’d like your readers to know about you?
I agree that storytelling is a gift—one for which I am immensely grateful. Since all my books contain romance, I’ll share with you a bit of romance from my own life. When my husband and I got married, we decided to create a unique invitation. He’s a wonderful artist, so I wrote a storybook about our romance and he illustrated it with pen-and-ink drawings. The finished piece was beautiful—and to this day, people tell me they still have our invitation. We have a framed copy on our bedroom wall, and although the ink has faded, I’m happy to say the romance hasn’t. In fact, for our 25th anniversary last year we decided to celebrate in a big way. We held a dinner for close family and friends at the same place we had our wedding reception. He wore a tux, I wore my wedding dress. We renewed our vows. I carried a nosegay that included a silk flower from my wedding bouquet. We used the same cake cutter we’d used on our wedding cake for the small tiered cake we ordered. And we danced again to our first-dance song—“Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Because it really is!
What a great idea — and a great story! Thank you for taking time to chat with me and my readers. We’ll be looking forward to Thin Ice later on this year.
For more information about Irene and her books, be sure to check out her website where you will find a printable booklist, information about all her books, a radio interview, and much more. You can also connect with her on Facebook.