Monday, August 23, 2010
Author Interview - Irene Bennett Brown
I'm adding something new to my blog, folks: author interviews! I thought it would be a fun change to pose a few questions to some of the writers out there about their books and about themselves.
I'm starting this first interview with friend and fellow Women Writing the West member, Irene Bennett Brown. Known for her historical novels for children and adults, Where Gable Slept is Irene's first contemporary mystery. She has published several young adult novels, including Before The Lark, winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award and nominee for the Mark Twain Award. Her first adult historical, The Plainswoman, was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award. She is also a recipient of the Oregon Library Association's Evelyn Sibley Lampman Award for significant contribution to literature.
Where Gable Slept features Celia Landrey, walking-tour guide and innkeeper in her small historic town. She must deal with a mysterious female newcomer--a woman bent on destroying their most famous structure, the house where actor Clark Gable lived as a young man. Donning an additional role as sleuth, Celia struggles through a complicated and sometimes humorous maze of secrets and lies, murder and romance, to save Gable House, her town, and her life.
You've written many historical novels set in the West. Can you tell us why you decided to switch genres?
As I got older eyestrain was a problem doing intensive research for my historical novels, so it was time for a change. Truth is, I've always enjoyed the challenge of switching genres. Early in my career my published novels were for children and young adults; most of those books were historical but three were contemporary. Those three were written at the request of my editor at Atheneum. My first adult novel The Plainswoman, was back to historical. My four-book historical series, The Women Of Paragon Springs, about a group of women who build their own town on the raw Kansas plains as a means to survive, was an immense amount of work. Researching, meeting deadlines, the whole of it. I looked forward to taking it easier, hence the change to writing a cozy mystery--which I would set in the present, in my own backyard!
How was your experience writing your first cozy mystery? What about writing cozies do you particularly like?
The fact that most cozies are lighthearted and fun really appealed to me. I've never enjoyed gore or horror so the thriller was definitely not for me. I was the kid who crawled under her seat at the theatre, eyes squeezed tightly shut, hands over her ears, at a matinee showing of the movie Dracula--while my older brother and sister ate it up. Before writing Where Gable Slept, I read a kazillion cozies. Some I didn't care for, many I enjoyed to the point that I knew I had to give writing the traditional mystery, or cozy, a whirl. Writing my first mystery was the most fun I'd had in a long time.
How much is true about the house, town, and Clark Gable in Where Gable Slept?
My main character is a walking-tour guide to her historic town, and the "facts" she gives her tourists about Clark Gable are true. Against the wishes of his father, a young Clark Gable worked his way west from his home in Ohio by taking acting jobs where he could find them. Here in Oregon he landed in the town of Silverton, stayed in a boarding house there, and worked in the timber industry in the Silverton Hills. He lived in several places in Oregon, including Ashland, where he was in theatre, and Portland, where he took acting classes. It's also said that he lived a couple miles north of the small town of Jefferson where I live, in a house still standing and occupied. To give myself necessary freedom in writing Where Gable Slept, I created the fictional town of Pass Creek, and the Queen Anne Victorian mansion where Clark Gable resided for a time. My characters call the mansion "Gable House" and it is an all important draw for the small town's tourist trade. A mysterious newcomer intends to see the house demolished, keeping the reasons to herself and turning the town on its ear. My main character has no choice but to investigate,if she's to save Gable House and her town.The plot focuses more on the mystery than on Clark Gable specifically. The setting truly is my own backyard, with embellishments. Not made up are the eleven next-door dachshunds that drive my main character crazy as she goes about her business. Those little doggies are straight from my life!
What advice would you give to a writer who would like to switch genres or write in more than one genre?
If you've got the yen, go for it. If you're not already thoroughly familiar with that particular genre, read extensively the type book you want to write, until knowing how it's done is second nature. Attend conferences where professionals in the genre are speaking--learn from them. There are on-line tips and articles about how to write the cozy mystery, but the most important thing you can do is read. Can't say it enough.
What, or whom, influenced you to become a writer?
As far back as I can remember, reading a good book made me want to write one. If I was born too late to be Caddie Woodlawn running from Indians in the Wisconsin woods, I could write such books and live adventure that way. Wonderful school teachers encouraged my writing skills. At our high school, my husband was the "class brain" but when it came to writing, I put him in the shade! Great encouragement, that.
What are you working on now?
Where Gable Slept is the first in my proposed Celia Landrey Mystery series. The second, tentatively titled Where Danger Danced is in the works and I'm quite excited about the book. I'm sketching plans for others as I go.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the writing life or about Where Gable Slept?
News stories about release of my first mystery are showing up in newspapers locally and it tickled me pink to hear from an elderly man whose mother delivered milk to Clark Gable when he lived in Silverton, Oregon in the 1920s. Who knew then, that the handsome young logger/actor would later star in one of the most popular movies of all time? Which of course is Gone With The Wind. The gentleman whose mother delivered the milk is coming to chat further with me at an upcoming signing. When you're a writer, you never know where the fun is coming from next.
Irene and her husband, Bob, live in Jefferson, Oregon. For more information about Irene and her many books, please check out her website.
Title: "Where Gable Slept"
Author: Irene Bennett Brown
Publisher: Riveredge Books