Her children’s books in the national marketplace include hardcover editions by Atheneum, E.P. Dutton, Thomas Nelson and David McKay, and paperback book club editions by Viking Penguin, Scholastic, and Junior Literary Guild. Awards and honors include a Spur Award from Western Writers of America, Inc., and nomination for the Mark Twain Award for Before the Lark; the Evelyn Sibley Lampman Award for significant contribution to children’s literature; and inclusion on several best books’ lists.
The Plainswoman, published originally by Ballantine, was Irene’s first novel for adults and a Western Writers of America, Inc. Spur Award finalist. Other novels include her “Women Of Paragon Springs” series from Five Star Publishing: Long Road Turning, Blue Horizons, No Other Place, and Reap the South Wind. A love story set in Oregon’s Hells Canyon, Haven, a single title, was also published by Five Star. Irene’s most recent historical novel, The Bargain, was released by her own company, Riveredge Books, in 2007.
Irene is beloved by her peers in Western Writers of America and Women Writing the West. She lives in Oregon with her husband, whose birthday is today. Happy Birthday, Bob!
Welcome, Irene. How long have you been writing? What made you start?
I've known since I was twelve years old that I wanted to be a writer, like Jo in Little Women. In my twenties, I began to publish newspaper feature articles and on-going columns, and children's short stories. I believe I was born to write, as some are born to sing, or excel in math. I simply couldn't not write. This is who I am.
When did you sell your first book?
To Rainbow Valley, a children's book published in 1969, was my fourth book to write and my first to sell. Thirty-two years later, the book was picked up by Perfection Learning Corporation and brought out as an Easy Reader. It is still in print, in hardcover and paperback.
What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
I plan my books, from a paragraph of what I believe it will be about, through research, character sketches, outlining, refining the outline, refining it some more, and then the first draft -- which comes easier for me because of the preliminary work.
How do you choose your characters' names?
This is embarrassing. Often I find them in obituaries. I choose a first name from one deceased person and pair it with the last name of another. Names that appeal to me and suit my characters. I also use name-your-baby books and a book called What's In A Name that has over 7,000 surnames with origins and meanings.
What is your daily schedule like?
When I'm working on a book, I try to get at it as soon as breakfast is finished and the dishwasher and washing machine are humming away. When my children were still home, I kept what I called "school hours", writing from around nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. I didn't write in the summer when the kids were out of school. My first published book was written with my youngest in a bassinet next to my typewriter. No excuses!
How do you handle life interruptions?
As much as my writing is important to me in being "healthy", my family always comes first. Life happens -- weddings, family reunions, illnesses. School events, phone calls, overnight visitors. You name it. Somehow it works out. Life may take me away at times, but the book remains in place, waiting, the characters in limbo, primed to continue where we left off.
Do you write to music? If so, with lyrics or only instrumentals?
No music. I'd be tempted to waltz away from the computer and just dance, not write.
What food or snack keeps the words flowing?
Apple slices spread with chunky peanut butter, or iced tea and a graham cracker. Sometimes, if the writing is really intense, a piece of Baker's Semi-sweet cooking chocolate.
What one thing do you like most about writing?
I like pretty much everything about writing but enjoy those final revisions most. It's really satisfying after a year or two of work, to have the book down and only in need of the fun stuff, polishing to make it my absolute best.
The Bargain is a historical novel set in 19th-century New Hampshire and Kansas and revolves around a privileged young woman who must choose between her own happiness and aiding her troubled family. It is a love story, although not traditional romance in that it deals equally with family relationships. I also explore themes of mental deficiency and misjudgments. The novel is based on fragments of my family history and was a joy to research and write.
What is your next project?
Heaven help me, I'm writing my first mystery! Gore and violence scare me, so naturally this novel will be a cozy, light, funny, contemporary. My main character is a walking-tour guide (based on a real person) in a small historic town struggling to survive on the tourist trade. Title is Where Gable Slept and important to the plot is a historic house where the actor, Clark Gable, (really) lived for a time. And so on, and so on. I'm having a whale of a good time, even though I really don't know what I'm doing.
What is your advice for other writers?
Write, read, and believe.
CHILDREN'S AND YOUNG ADULT: