I was born in Topeka Kansas. When I was nine my family moved to Oregon's Willamette Valley where I grew up and live today. My favorite activities include curling up with a good book, taking long walks in the fresh air, and exploring historic Places.
2. Tell us about your family. Do you have an occupation outside of writing?
I have a large, wonderful, close family. We get together often, at the youngest teacher/daughter's art shows, our music teacher/grandson's concerts, holiday celebrations, picnics, reunions. And the list goes on. I do not have an occupation outside of writing-no time for anything else.
3. When did you start writing? Why do you write? What genre or genres do you write? Who is your publisher?
I knew from a young age, reading HEIDI and LITTLE WOMEN, that I would be a writer. I began writing newspaper features, columns, children's and young adult books. Writing is hard, not writing is impossible. Most of my 20 books, for both young people and adult readers are historical or period novels. I have one small memoir, CHAFF 'N CHATTER. In the children's field I've been published by Atheneum, Scholastic, Viking Penguin, E.P. Dutton, and David McKay, Ballantine and Five Star/Cengage have published my novels for adults. I've indie published two contemporary mysteries, WHERE GABLE SLEPT and WHERE DANGER DANCED and a historical novel, THE BARGAIN.
4. Do you write series or single title books?
I write both. My latest book, a historical western, MISS ROYAL'S MULES is the first in the Nickel Hill Series released from Five Star/Cengage in November, 2018. Second book in the series is with the publisher now. My earlier series, The Women of Paragon Springs, is about a group of women who decide to build there own town on the raw Kansas plains as a way to survive. This 4-book saga takes the women from the 1870's sod house days to their part in the birth of aviation in Kansas 40 years later. Single title books include my historical novel, THE PLAINSWOMAN, a Spur Award finalist, and an Oregon historical, HAVEN.
5. Where do your ideas come from?
Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, often from fascinating tidbits discovered in nonfiction books, old diaries, and such. Another example: a few years back I reread my award winning YA novel, BEFORE THE LARK, about a young girl, Jocelyn Belle Royal, who has a facial disfigurement. To escape from taunting in the city, ill grandmother in tow, she takes them to her father's abandoned farm in Kansas. Always real to me, I wondered what might have happened to her after the ending of BEFORE THE LARK? Ten years later and now a grown woman, I wrote about her in MISS ROYAL'S MULES.
6. How do you create your characters?
In creating a main character, I often make a character sketch with a strong goal rising out of time and place with monumental obstacles. I create her fears, her flaws, her personality, and how she relates to others. Action and reactions to her problem(s) builds the plot. When writing MISS ROYAL'S MULES, I had much of this from the earlier YA novel. I knew Miss Jocey well.
7. How do you research your books?
I have a huge collection of books about Kansas--the sate's flora and fauna, major events of the real West such as cattle drives from Texas to Dodge City and Abilene; Carrie Nation with her ax, beating up saloons in response to prohibition. Schoolmarms and not so gentle women. Books with information about what people did for pleasure, deprivations, idiosyncrasies, tall tales, and humor. I joke I have more books about Kansas than anyone else in Oregon. Teamed with the internet, I can almost always find what I need. I find museums helpful.
8. How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing schedule , a place set aside for writing?
A book takes as long as it takes, normally a year and a half to two years, from the germ of an idea through research, outlining, writing draft after draft, to polished manuscript. I don't need a schedule. I'm called to writing each morning. I have a writing room with book shelves, two desks, and a computer. I, also, have a computer in the laundry room. I keep notes all over the place and I outline. A brief synopsis may grow to 10-pages or more as plot twists, new characters, and surprises occur to me.
9. Do you instill some of your own life experiences into your characters?
I'm more apt to use family history. The town of Skiddy, Kansas is where my grandmother was born in l886. Skiddy is now a ghost town but I revived it in MISS ROYAL'S MULES. An uncle was a rodeo contestant. My father was an artist, my mother as a young woman farmed with mules. All of that went into the new book.
10. What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
I want them to be happier at the end of the book than when they chose it. Excited by Kansas history new to them. I hope they like what they've read so much they are anxious for the next book, the next, and the next. I want to please my readers in any way possible. Recently I came across an old letter from a young boy whose school I had visited. It began, "You'll probably remember me. I'm the one who almost broke my ribcage getting your autograph..." Can't beat that.
In 1900 a steadfast and feisty young woman, Jocelyn Belle Royal, joins a mule drive to earn back her Kansas, Flint Hills farm lost to the bank. Entanglements over the mules, outlaws, a women's suffrage, and a disagreement over the governor's mansion, test her mettle to the limit. Jocelyn can't give up if 'home' will ever again be more than a few belongings in a shawl, all that she owns.
MISS ROYAL'S MULES
Irene Bennett Brown
Dusk was descending as Jocelyn Royal slipped into the darker interior of the Emporia livery stable. Moving through patchy shadows on the ground floor, she held her breath, worried that the liveryman might wake from his doze in his corner office chair. She gripped the weathered wood of the ladder to the loft and, hanging onto to bundle of possessions, climbed slowly, quietly. Below her, horses in their stalls snuffled and blew; some shifted restlessly, God willing covering any sounds she made. She was not a child. How, in the name of old Hannah, had she plummeted into this predicament?
Seconds later, nestled deep into the mounds of sweet smelling hay, hungry, tired, and exasperated beyond measure, tears burned behind her eyes.