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Irene Hannon Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"I love writing about relationships and the power of love, so I can’t imagine ever writing a book that doesn’t contain a love story of some kind."
--Irene Hannon

Irene Hannon is the author of more than 25 novels, including the CBA bestsellers Against All Odds, An Eye for an Eye, and In Harm's Way. Her books have been honored with the coveted RITA Award from Romance Writers of America, the HOLT Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier award, and the Reviewer's Choice Award from Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine. She lives in Missouri.

It’s fun to hear you’ve been writing since you were a kid. In fact, I’m very intrigued to hear more about that famous story you wrote at age ten. Care to share more details?

I wish I could give you a few more details! But all I remember is that I was one of the honorees in a complete-the-story contest for the national children’s magazine, Jack and Jill, which was launched in 1938 and is now published by the Saturday Evening Post. I still have the (very faded!) certificate in a cabinet in my office, though I have no recollection of the story I wrote! But I always like to tell people I consider that my professional writing debut.

I hear you were (are?) a big Nancy Drew fan. What did you love most about the series, and what was your favorite book?

Once a Nancy Drew fan, always a Nancy Drew fan! I discovered this series one summer when I was nine or ten and fell in love with it. In fact, I was biking to the library so often to get new ones that the librarian became skeptical. One day when I was returning the latest batch, she suggested I keep them for a few more days, doubting I’d read them all. I was crushed. When I arrived home and told my mother what had happened, she had a little chat with the librarian. There were no more questions after that! As for which book was my favorite—I honestly don’t recall. I loved them all! Nancy was such a great role model—she was strong, smart, in control, independent and confident.

The very first novel you wrote was romantic suspense, but you eventually stuck it in the back of your closet never to see the night of day. What inspired you to return to the genre after successfully writing contemporary romance stories?

Romantic suspense was my first love, thanks first to Nancy Drew and later to Emilie Loring. That’s why the first novella I wrote fell into this genre. But I didn’t have the law enforcement background to do justice to that kind of story. And twenty-plus years ago, there was no internet to speak of. So without connections, doing research was tough.

However, I continued to enjoy reading this genre. A few years ago I discovered Dee Henderson, read The Guardian—and knew I had to give romantic suspense another try. Even though the research challenge is still formidable, there are many accessible resources out there now for writers, thanks to the internet. And I’ve also developed some invaluable personal connections in law enforcement that I think give my books an extra measure of authenticity.

Fatal JudgmentYou wrote the Heroes of Quantico series entirely on spec. Is that something you’d do again? Why or why not?

Yes, I’d do it again—if I truly believed in a project, if it was an untested genre for me…and if that was the only way to sell it. And sometimes it is. Even though I was a multi-published, RITA-award-winning author of contemporary category romance, it wasn’t easy to find a publisher willing to take a chance on me with a single-title-length book. Single-title publishers are looking for name recognition, which is difficult to build in category, because category publishers are more interested in promoting the line than the individual authors. And since the bulk of category books are sold through book clubs, single-title publishers don’t consider those sales an accurate measurement of an author’s marketability. So while it might have been possible for me to sell my suspense work on spec, I thought I’d have a much better chance with a completed manuscript. And the Quantico series did start out as a single book. I figured I’d write one, see how it did, and go from there. But two more hunky heroes appeared in book one, demanding that their stories be told, so what could I do? I had to write all three books.

Where did the idea for Fatal Judgment come from, and how much of the story did you know ahead of time before you began writing?

I wish I could pinpoint one incident or one moment in time and say, “That’s when the idea for this book began to germinate,” but I can’t. I knew I wanted to write a series about siblings in justice fields, so I thought of the series as a whole as I planned it. The idea of featuring a U.S. marshal was appealing, and Jake sort of appeared out of the mist as I researched the U.S. Marshal Service. Then, while doing that research, I came across information on sovereign citizen groups. I was intrigued…and that ended up giving me my plot line. Here’s a short synopsis of the book:

Deputy Marshal Jake Taylor has seen plenty of action as a member of the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group, including a recent stint in Iraq. But he’d much rather go back to that hotbed of trouble than deal with his next assignment: providing protection for federal judge Liz Michaels. His antipathy toward her is just as strong as it was five years ago, when her husband—his best friend—died in a possible suicide. But as Jake works to keep Liz safe, he discovers she’s not a cold-hearted workaholic wedded to nothing but her job, as he expected. Forced to reevaluate his opinion, he also finds himself grappling with a growing attraction. And when it becomes clear that an unknown enemy may want her dead, the stakes go up. Because now both her life—and his heart—are in danger.

Beyond that short blurb, I developed about a 1 ½ page synopsis that detailed major plot points. I also knew who my villain was. But the scene-by-scene details emerged as I wrote.

Did you find it at all easier to write another book featuring those in law enforcement having already Against All Oddswritten Heroes of Quantico? Or did Fatal Judgment have plenty of its own challenges since it’s dealing with an entirely different arm of the justice system?

It was easier in the sense that I felt confident I would be able to connect with experts and find the research I needed to accurately depict the law enforcement and other technical aspects of the story. But the research challenge was no less demanding or time consuming because I was dealing with a completely different arm of the justice system and with plot-related subject matter that was unfamiliar to me. So the book was no faster or easier to write. But I was very blessed to connect with a U.S. marshal who agreed to act as my expert source and who read the entire manuscript when I finished.

I should make one small note here, for readers of my Heroes of Quantico series. The new series takes place in St. Louis, as did the second two books in my Quantico series, and there is some FBI involvement in Fatal Judgment. So Mark and Nick, the heroes of An Eye For An Eye and In Harm’s Way, respectively, do play a small role in this book!

Of all your characters, who’s your favorite, and why?

Impossible to pick! That’s like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. I do have to say, though, that I’m always very intrigued by my villains, who typically have some interesting contradictions that give them a lot of complexity.

Do you feel that your experiences in theater and your writing compliment each other, or do they require completely different aspects of creativity?

I think they’re very complimentary. Stage work has given me a better understanding of the nuances of language, inflection and gestures, which helps me create realistic dialogue. And playing different roles requires me get into the mindset of a variety of characters, which is a plus as I develop my own characters. Theater experience comes into play with pacing, too, because there’s no inner narrative in stage work—everything is communicated by action and dialogue. Seeing how that’s done—and living it—helps me keep the action moving in my stories.

An Eye for An EyeWhat would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?

I love writing about relationships and the power of love, so I can’t imagine ever writing a book that doesn’t contain a love story of some kind. And for now, I’m very happy writing what I write. As for the future…I do have an intriguing idea for a women’s fiction book. And though I’m not a historical reader, I’ve had a historical romance idea bouncing around in my brain for years now. Once of these days I may have to put it on paper.

Do you ever find it challenging to head to your keyboard every day? What do you do when the words don’t seem to come?

I have no trouble heading for my keyboard when it’s cold outside, or rainy, or a hundred degrees in the shades. But give me perfect weather—it’s agony! I’d much rather be taking a walk, sitting in my screened porch reading, heading to the country for a camping trip or working in my garden. But…this is my job, not a hobby. So I hit my page count goal every day—even if that mean I’m at my computer until midnight because I played hooky during the day. As for words not coming…I’ve never really had that happen. And on the few occasions when things are a bit sluggish, I just make myself keep writing. Because as Nora Roberts always says, you can fix a bad page, but you can’t fix a blank one!

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

Mainly how to be a better writer. I’ve learned SO much through the years about all the technical aspects of writing—grammar, plotting, characterizations, POV, etc. When I look at my early published books, I sometimes cringe. I still love the stories—but I’d write them very differently now.

To be honest, there are also some things I’m glad I didn’t know. One of those is the fundamental shift that occurs when you go from the unpublished to the published ranks.

When you’re seeking that first contract and writing for the pure joy of following your muse, all you have to worry about is creating your best story. Once you’ve landed that contract, however, you realize that publishers don’t want one-book wonders—they want authors who can produce regularly. The first sale isn’t the summit; it’s the start of a whole new journey. And in addition to being expected to continually create new books, you now also find yourself doing promotion, creating/maintaining a website, answering reader mail, keeping accounting records, proofing galleys…the list continues. So the pressure is on, and writing becomes a business as well as a passion. That changes its complexion.

I hear you love to cook and garden! Is this your favorite way to relax? What’s your favorite meal to make?

I do love to cook and garden. Both help me relax. I also enjoy reading, and I look forward to trips to my favorite coffee shop with my husband, where we chill and chat. Favorite meal? Hmm. For the most part my husband and I eat very simple, healthy meals. Regular favorites on our menu include rosemary-encrusted pork tenderloin, stir fry and sautéed chicken in a white wine sauce. Being Irish, I’m a great potato lover, so I have many wonderful potato recipes. I always fix a simple, unadorned vegetable, too. For special occasions, though, I turn to more gourmet fare and always make an ultra-rich dessert—like my decadent almond fudge torte.

How many more books can we expect in the Guardians of Justice series? In Harm's Way

There are three books in the series, one about each of the siblings (two brothers and a sister). One brother is a U.S. marshal, the other a police detective, and their sister is a children’s service worker with Social Services.

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

When I ventured into suspense, I hoped my books would be well received. But I’ve been blown away by the response. All three Heroes of Quantico books made both the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists—some for multiple months. The first two, which came out in 2009, also did very well on this year’s contest circuit. Against All Odds won both the Daphne du Maurier award and the RT BOOKreviews Reviewers’ Choice award. And An Eye for An Eye was a RITA finalist. I’m thrilled by those honors—and very grateful to all the readers who’ve responded so enthusiastically to my suspense debut.

Who is Irene Hannon?

A multi-faceted woman who embraces life with enthusiasm, values love & laughter, and tries very hard to keep her priorities straight.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

I love performing in musical theater and I enjoy camping.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Performing in musical theater, gardening, taking long walks, spending time with my husband and visiting with family.

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

The same thing I eat every morning: a piece of homemade bacon-cheese cornbread followed by a cup of hot chocolate that I carry upstairs to my office.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

Milk, yogurt and Fannie May truffle petites.

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

Either a double chocolate chip frappuccino (summer only) or an Awake tea and a scone.

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

Not much. I’ve done most of the things I wanted to do, short of starring in a show on Broadway. But having a book hit the New York Times bestseller list would be fabulous!

When was the last time you cried?

It’s been a while—probably while watching a sentimental movie.

Three words that best describe you:

When it comes to work, I’d pick focused, disciplined and professional. On the personal front—I’d have to let those who know me choose the words!

What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?

True confession—I don’t have either. I work in silence, and when I take walks, I listen to the birds and the crickets and the wind in the trees, not music or audio books. I like quiet and the sounds of nature. But if I were to listen to music, it would be light classical (such as Vivaldi) preferably played on a string quartet or harp, or 1940s-era songs.

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.