Find a Christian store

Interview with Irene Hannon

Irene Hannon is a writer who isn’t big on labels. She quickly admits that she didn’t intentionally set out to be a ‘Christian fiction’ author—she wasn’t even aware the genre existed when she began writing! She simply wanted to write compelling stories based on traditional values. However, she is happy to have found a home in a genre that allows her to weave subtle faith threads into her novels.

On her author web site Irene describes her tales of suspense and romance as containing:

“… characters who are dealing with formidable challenges. Diverse settings, from a sun-kissed lane on Nantucket to a deserted railroad bridge high above a raging river. Touches of humor—because how would we survive without the ability to laugh and smile despite the adversities we face? And most of all, hope-filled endings. We live in a difficult age, but people of honor, principle, character and integrity do exist. You’ll meet them in my books. And I hope they’ll convince you that happy endings are possible.”

And Irene’s approach to writing is apparently working. Most recently, her book Deadly Pursuit – Book 2 in her Guardians of Justice series – won the Retailers Choice award from Christian Retailing magazine in the contemporary romance category. Deadly Pursuit is also one of three finalists left in the running in the romantic suspense category for the ACFW Carol award to be awarded at the conference in September.

Book 3, Lethal Legacy, has just released this month, and her next series–Private Justice– debuts in January.

Irene, like many writers you showed a very early interest in sharing your stories with others. Could you share further about what you considered your ‘official’ writing debut?

Being named an honoree at the age of ten in a complete-the-story contest sponsored by a national children’s magazine! That was heady stuff for a little girl!

For many years you were published as a contemporary romance author, yet several of your recent novels include elements of suspense. Have your romance readers followed you due to name recognition, or do you more frequently find that you have new readers discovering your writing?
Both. My first 26 novels were contemporary romance—and I continue to write in that genre. While many of my contemporary readers have followed me to suspense, I’ve also picked up lots of new readers…from both genders. That’s been a nice bonus!

At one point in time you juggled a full-time corporate job with your writing. Could you give your tips to juggling a full-time job and a writing career?
Don’t sleep.

Okay, seriously…it’s a very tough thing to do. I had a demanding corporate career for more than 20 years before I finally felt comfortable ditching the day job. Writing on weeknights was iffy because of day-job demands, and I was already getting up very early, so weekday mornings weren’t an option. I tried to write at least a couple of evenings a week and generally set aside a block of time on the weekends. I also set realistic deadlines with my publisher. That was critical. My best advice would be this: Don’t overextend. Yes, writers need to write, and getting published is wonderful. But if your relationships suffer because of it, or your writing is consuming every spare minute, you may have to reevaluate your aspirations. Life is too short to be stressed all the time.

Do you feel your corporate career made you better prepared for the business side of a writing career? For writers who haven’t had a corporate or business background of any kind what suggestions would you give them regarding balancing the business of writing with the creative process?
From a business management side, my corporate career was helpful, but by nature I’m organized and goal-oriented, anyway. I have to say, though, that balancing the business side of writing with the creative side is increasingly difficult. It’s way too easy these days to get sucked into social media and marketing campaigns and promotional projects. Those are all well and good and necessary—in moderation—but they can’t come at the expense of writing. The key is setting priorities and finding a balance that allows you to take care of the most important business demands without digging too deeply into your writing time.

You’ve said in past interviews that although the Internet has opened up writers to a wealth of knowledge that was unavailable to you when you first tried to write suspense - you feel real contacts are still essential to writing suspense well. How do you suggest people develop those contacts?
Start with people you know. It’s really the six-degrees-of-separation philosophy—the notion that everyone is only six introductions away from anyone one earth, beginning with a person you know. When I started writing suspense, I had no contacts in law enforcement—or so I thought. But then I remembered I’d once sung in the church choir with a police detective. The call I made to him opened amazing doors, and those in turn opened other doors. I now have access to an incredible array of expert sources.

Do you find that most people you approach to be a resource for keeping your stories authentic are willing to help you? Is there any approach that works better on first contact than another? (phone, e-mail, etc. )
I have had great success with this. Of course, people I approach through an introduction are always willing to help. But I’ve also made cold calls that have worked out well. In those cases, I try to find some kind of link or hook to the person, then I e-mail them. For example, when I needed a chemistry expert, I e-mailed the chemistry chair at my alma mater. I’ve had very few people ignore my requests for help. I do offer my publishing credentials and a link to my website in my introductory e-mail, and I suspect that helps pave the way. But it’s always better to have a recommendation from someone your potential source knows. I’ve had people in some areas of law enforcement tell me they only spoke with me because of that recommendation.

Do you consider yourself a character-driven author, or a plot-driven author? (I’ve been seeing these labels more lately instead of outliners and seat-of-the-pantsters.) Do you do a bit of both, or is one definitely stronger for you?
I’m a hybrid. Before I start a book, I spend some time getting to know my main characters and developing the basic concept of the story. Once I have those pieces, I plunge into the writing. I spend a LOT of time on the first three or four chapters, working and reworking them. That’s where the characters become real for me and the story begins to jell. Once I get past those early chapters, the story takes off on its own.

You mention in your web site bio that you are also a trained vocalist and have starred in several local musicals. Do you find that your involvement in dramatic productions helps you with characterization and writing dialogue?
Absolutely. 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 to get into the head 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 and reminds me to focus on showing vs. telling.

What tips would you give beginning writers that you wish you had known? (Do you have any regrets?)
Understand the business. I can’t stress this enough—and it’s especially important today, with the publishing landscape shifting so dramatically. To further drill down on that advice, understand contracts. I know—legalese isn’t a novelist’s favorite kind of writing. But when you sign a contract, that’s your signature on the bottom line. Not your agent’s. Not your editor’s. Not your attorney’s. Yours. And you’ll be living with that document for a very long time. Understand it, know what’s important, and don’t be afraid to ask for terms you feel are fair.

As for regrets—I try not to waste time on them. What’s done is done. Like the old adage says, “Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.”

You’ve mentioned in the past that you feel some people are biased against reading a book categorized as a romance, or as Christian. Do you feel there is a way to get past the labels and get readers to give books a chance despite their labels?
I’ve been wrestling with this dilemma for a long time and wish I had an answer. There are so many general-market readers who would LOVE our books if they gave them a try—but Christian fiction suffers from an erroneous in-your-face-preachy stereotype. That’s unfortunate, because I believe there’s a broad market for the kind of books we write. If there wasn’t, a publisher like Harlequin wouldn’t be starting a brand new line of wholesome romances. But I think getting general-market readers to give us a try will require a concerted, coordinated effort by CBA publishers and retailers. A large-scale sampling program in the general market could be part of that, perhaps. But I think the opportunity to expand our readership is huge, given the right kind of push.

I noticed that a few of your older books are now being reissued in digital formats for ereaders. Was that at the suggestion of your publisher or was it your idea? (Have you had to do anything to make that successful?)
Yes, some of my older contemporary romances (from as long ago as 15 years) are being reissued as ebooks, and no, this wasn’t my idea. To be honest, I’d rather have a chance to edit them first. While I still have a LOT to learn, I’m a much better writer than I was back then. Some of the things I did in those early books make me cringe. But all I can do is hope readers note the copyright date and cut me a little slack!

Any parting words?
Just some advice, for both the published and the unpublished—me included! Never lose touch with the joy of writing. Sometimes, in the day-to-day chaos of deadlines and line edits and rejections and contracts and rewrites, we forget that we’ve been given a very special talent. I think there are times we all need to step away for an hour…a day…a week…and take a deep breath. Give ourselves permission to enjoy what we’ve already accomplished instead of worrying about what lies ahead. To dance in the end zone and celebrate our successes—however we define them—as well as the amazing gift of words that allows us to touch so many lives…and hearts.

Thanks for sharing with us, Irene!

For more great interviews, visit our Author Interview Archives.

ACFW Members, click here to apply for an author interview!

Developed by Camna, LLC

This is a service provided by ACFW, but does not in any way endorse any publisher, author, or work herein.