Irene Hannon is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than 50 romantic suspense and contemporary romance novels. She is a seven-time finalist for and three-time winner of the RITA award—the “Oscar” of romance fiction—from Romance Writers of America, and is a member of that organization’s elite Hall of Fame. Her books have been honored with a National Readers’ Choice award, three HOLT medallions, a Daphne du Maurier award, a Retailers Choice award, two Booksellers’ Best awards, two Carol awards, and two Reviewers’ Choice awards from RT Book Reviews magazine. In addition, she is a two-time Christy award finalist.
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Irene. From a busiess communications executive to being inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame, how has the journey been?
Irene Hannon: Amazing! When I think about all the things I’ve done in my life, I surprise myself. During my years with a Fortune 500 company, I had many roles, including managing editor of our global magazine and speechwriter for the CEO and chairman of the board. One day I flew with him on the corporate jet from the Midwest to the Caribbean for lunch on a cruise ship—and back the same day. It was an incredible job. I was also writing novels on the side, and eventually, I had to choose between the two careers. So I left behind the corporate politics, rush hour traffic and a BlackBerry that never slept, to be a full-time novelist—and I’ve never looked back. But I’m very grateful to have had two dream jobs in one lifetime.
Vinita Kinra: You have written more than 50 novels with romance being the key ingredient. Have you always been a romantic at heart?
Irene Hannon: Yes. Love, as they say, makes the world go around. I enjoy writing books that celebrate the tremendous power of love to transform lives. I also explore love in a broader context—between parent and child, siblings, friends…all those different aspects of love make life full and rich.
Vinita Kinra: How has your writing evolved since your first published novel?
Irene Hannon: It’s much, much more polished. I’ve learned a tremendous amount through the years—and I continue to learn…and improve…with each novel. I still love those early stories, but I’m a far better writer technically now than I was then. One of my publishers wanted to reprint an older book a few years ago, and when I pulled it out of mothballs and reread it, I cringed. I agreed to the reprint only if they let me revise it. I’m glad I wasn’t there when the editor got my changes, because there was so much red ink it looked as if I’d sliced an artery and bled all over the page.
Vinita Kinra: You have a Bachelor’s in Psychology. Did this discipline lay the foundation for your being able to analyse and find the rationale behind human behaviour exhibited by your fictional characters?
Irene Hannon: I think that training helped, but in truth, it’s more about developing a deep empathy that allows you to get into the skin of the characters you create and to think like they think. With some of my villains, that is a very scary place to be!
Vinita Kinra: You have won many awards for writing. How did winning your first award feel?
Irene Hannon: My first writing award was an honourable mention for an entry in a complete-the-story-contest conducted by a national children’s magazine. I still have the certificate. Winning awards—the first one or the most recent—is always gratifying because it’s a third-party validation of your skill. I get just as much of a thrill these days when I win an award as I did with that first one.
Vinita Kinra: Do you think taking creative writing courses makes better writers?
Irene Hannon: I think anything a writer can do to hone his or her craft is worthwhile. Creative writing courses, seminars, writing conferences…you can learn from all of them. And you’re never too established or too experienced to benefit from these opportunities. When I go to conferences, I squeeze in as many workshops as I can and I learn something helpful every time. Creative writing classes may be especially helpful at the beginning of a career, when you’re trying to find your voice and exploring lots of options. These days, I take more specialized classes that focus on my genres or specific topics that will be helpful to a work in progress.
Vinita Kinra: What does the art of weaving words do for you on a personal level?
Irene Hannon: It’s immensely gratifying—and satisfying. The creative process in general is also very energizing. The notion that you can take random words and string them together in ways that transport readers to a new world or introduce them to people who are so real they become friends is heady stuff.
Vinita Kinra: You gravitated from contemporary romance towards romantic suspense. Do you think adding a dash of a thriller in romance sits better with romance fanatics as opposed to something mushy?
Irene Hannon: Both genres have their fans, and in my case those fans tend to cross over from my romance to suspense and vice-versa. The suspense element adds a certain edge to stories and gives readers an adrenaline rush—but that’s the biggest difference. No matter the genre, what interests me most is the people on the page. I want to pull readers into the lives of my characters and make them turn the last page thinking: Those people were real. I felt for them. And I’m sorry to say goodbye. As for mushy…I try to avoid that—in both genres! I go for substance rather than schmaltz.
Vinita Kinra: You are a trained vocalist, having sung the leading role in numerous musicals. Between writing and singing, which is your greater passion and why?
Irene Hannon: I love them both. And there’s more crossover than you might think. When I act, I have to get into the head of the character and understand what makes her tick. I also have to pay attention to things like tone of voice, body language, timing beats and facial expressions…all of the same nuances that bring a scene alive on the pages of a book. So my two passions have more in common than you might think at first glance. In both cases, you’re trying to transport the audience to an imaginary world you’re creating.
Irene Hannon is a seven-time finalist for and three-time winner of the RITA award—the “Oscar” of romance fiction—from Romance Writers of America, and is a member of that organization’s elite Hall of Fame.
Vinita Kinra: Do you feel satiated by your life journey so far, or are there more milestones to achieve in your personal context?
Irene Hannon: I’d still like to be a #1 New York Times bestseller! But on the whole, I’m satisfied with where I am in my life…and open to whatever the future holds.
Vinita Kinra: What is your life philosophy?
Irene Hannon: I like what Thoreau said during his time at Walden Pond. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
What was that odd shimmer in the night sky?
Christy Reed crested the hill on the undulating rural road and peered at the eerie dome of light above the trees in the distance. On a chilly, clear November evening, the heavens should be pitch black save for the stars strewn across the inky firmament, not tainted by unnatural illumination.
The road dived again, the woods snuffing out her view of the mysterious glow. But the twinge of unease that had compelled her to head to her sister’s tonight instead of waiting until tomorrow intensified.
Pressing on the accelerator, she swooped through the dip in the road and shot up again.
At the peak of the next hill, her twinge of apprehension morphed to panic.
Flames were strafing the night sky—in the vicinity of her sister’s house.
Please, God, no! Not again! We can’t take any more trauma!
Smashing the gas pedal to the floor, she plunged down the hill.
Only then did she notice the police cruiser at the bottom, angled sideways, blocking access to the narrow road that led to the Missouri farmhouse her sister called home.
She flinched as the harsh, flashing lights strobed across her retinas. They screamed emergency. Disaster. Tragedy.
All the things that had changed her world forever six months ago.
Fingers clenched around the wheel, she sped toward the vehicle, screeching to a stop beside it.
As a uniformed officer emerged from the shadows and circled around to her side of the car, she fumbled for the auto window opener. Lowered the insulating sheet of glass. Inhaled the smoke-fouled air that leached into the car.
The coil of fear in the pit of her stomach tightened.
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
“I need to get down that road.” Her last word hitched.
“Do you live that way?”
“No. My s-sister does.”
Twin furrows dented the man’s brow. “What’s her name?”
“Hold on a minute.” He pulled his radio off his belt and melted back into the shadows.
Christy closed her eyes and clung to the wheel, shudders coursing through her.
Please let there be some simple reason Ginny wasn’t answering her phones or returning calls all evening! A dead cell. An emergency at work. Anything that’s not connected to this fire.
She jerked her eyelids open.
“There’s a fire at your sister’s house. I’ll move my vehicle so you can get through. One of the officers at the scene will meet you.”
Her knuckles whitened as she struggled to suck in air. “Is she okay?”
He shifted from one foot to the other, the leather of his belt squeaking as he rested one hand on his gun. “I don’t know. But they’re doing everything they can to contain the fire so they can get inside.”
“You mean she’s still in the house!” Hysteria goosed the pitch of her voice.
“They aren’t certain of that. Give me a minute.”
Before she could respond, he jogged toward his car—putting as much distance between him and her questions as possible.
Because he didn’t have the answers . . . or because he didn’t want to deliver more bad news?
Please, God, let it be the former!
Vinita Kinra, featured among 150 most remarkable Canadians, is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.