About | Awards | Interview
Irene Hannon is a bestselling, award-winning author who took the publishing world by storm at the tender age of 10 with a sparkling piece of fiction that received national attention.
Okay…maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But she was one of the honorees in a complete-the-story contest conducted by a national children’s magazine. And she likes to think of that as her “official” fiction-writing debut!
Since then, she has written more than 50 romantic suspense and contemporary romance/women’s fiction novels. She is a seven-time finalist for and three-time winner of the RITA award—the “Oscar” of romance fiction—and a member of the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. Her books have also won a Daphne du Maurier award, two Carol awards, three HOLT Medallions, a National Readers’ Choice award, a Retailers Choice award, two Booksellers’ Best awards and two Reviewers’ Choice awards from RT Book Reviews magazine. One of her novels was also named by Booklist as a top 10 inspirational fiction books of 2011. In addition, she is a two-time Christy award finalist.
Irene, who holds a B.A. in psychology and an M.A. in journalism, juggled two careers for many years until she gave up her executive corporate communications position with a Fortune 500 company to write full time. She is happy to say she has no regrets!
In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, gardening and singing. A trained vocalist, she has sung the leading role in numerous musicals, including “South Pacific,” “Brigadoon,” “Oklahoma” “The King and I” and “Anything Goes.” She is also a soloist at her church.
When not otherwise occupied, Irene and her husband enjoy traveling, Saturday mornings at their favorite coffee shop and spending time with family. They make their home in Missouri.
Want to know more? Scroll down for an interview with Irene!
Awards and Honors
2015 RT Career Achievement Award
2015 Induction into Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame
2015 RITA Award
2015 Booksellers’ Best Award
2015 Carol Award
2015 Daphne du Maurier Finalist
2014 HOLT Medallion
2014 Booksellers’ Best Award
2014 Carol Award Finalist
2014 Christy Award Finalist
2014 Carol Award Finalist
2014 Retailers’ Choice Finalist
2014 Daphne du Maurier Finalist
2013 National Readers’ Choice Award Finalist
2013 HOLT Medallion
2013 Christy Award Finalist
2013 Carol Award Finalist
2012 National Readers’ Choice Award Finalist
2012 Carol Award finalist
2012 Family Fiction Favorite Suspense Author finalist
2012 HOLT Medallion finalist
2012 Retailers Choice Award
2012 RITA Award finalist
2011 National Readers’ Choice Award
2011 Booklist Top 10 Inspirational Fiction
2011 Carol Award
2011 RITA Award
2011 Daphne du Maurier Award Finalist
2010 RT BOOKreviews Reviewers’ Choice Award finalist
2010 RITA Award Finalist
2010 Daphne du Maurier Award
2010 Booksellers’ Best Award Finalist
2010 HOLT Medallion Finalist
2009 RT BOOKreviews Reviewers’ Choice Award
2009 RITA Award finalist
2008 HOLT Medallion
2008 RITA Award finalist
2007 National Readers’ Choice Award finalist
2007 RT BOOKreviews Series Storyteller of the Year finalist
2007 HOLT Medallion Finalist
2006 HOLT Medallion Finalist
2006 RT BOOKreviews Reviewers’ Choice Award finalist
2003 RITA Award
2000 RT BOOKreviews Reviewers’ Choice Award
1999 RT BOOKreviews Reviewers’ Choice Award finalist
Up Close and Personal with Irene Hannon
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I can’t remember ever not being a writer. I really believe people are born writers. It’s a gift, just like any other talent. I did toy with the idea of becoming a psychologist, but in the end, writing won out. However, my psychology degree is a great background for writing about relationships—a key ingredient in romantic fiction!
Until 2009, you wrote contemporary romance only. Why did you branch into suspense?
The truth is, the very first book I ever wrote was a romantic suspense novella. It was SO bad, however, that I stashed it in the deepest, darkest corner of my closest, where it will forever remain. I just didn’t have the necessary technical background to make it work, and in those days (20+ years ago), it was far more difficult to do research. So I focused on contemporary romance. But as an avid Nancy Drew reader in my younger days, I guess it’s no surprise that I eventually found my way back to suspense!
What inspires you to write?
Writers write. They have to write. It’s almost a compulsion. I can’t imagine my life without writing in it. As for what compels me to sit down every day at my computer—I like how one well-known writer once responded when asked if he waits for inspiration to strike before he writes. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Yes, I do. And I make sure I’m inspired every day at nine o’clock.”
What is something your readers might be surprised to learn about you?
While researching my Heroes of Quantico series, I enrolled in the local Citizen Police Academy. As part of that experience, I did a heart-pounding ride-along with a patrol officer that included a tense domestic violence call and a high-speed burglary response. The poor guy had to practically peel my fingers off the dashboard when we finally stopped. What I quickly learned is that I prefer to experience my suspense vicariously—safely tucked in the pages of a book!
What is your favorite book?
I don’t have one favorite. I’ve read many books I’ve liked. A few that come to mind are Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn, Mila 18 by Leon Uris and A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford. I’ve also enjoyed the Mitford series by Jan Karon, as well as books by LaVyrle Spencer and Dee Henderson.
What is your favorite movie?
Again, no single movie. But I do like happy endings! And for pure enjoyment, it’s hard to beat a Cary Grant flick. The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer is fabulous if you like romantic comedy. And it’s timeless. Of more recent vintage, I enjoyed While You Were Sleeping and Return to Me.
What is your favorite Bible verse?
Matthew 6:21—“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Who has had the most influence on your life?
My parents. They have always been my ardent fans, encouraging me every step of the way in any venture I undertook. They believed in me, and because they believed, I believed, too. There’s an old saying about the two gifts parents can give their children—roots and wings. My parents gave me both. They created a home where I was accepted without question, loved without conditions and encouraged without restraint. With that kind of foundation, it’s easy to take on the world. I give thanks every day for the gift of their continued presence in my life.
Name one of the bravest things you've ever done.
Signing up for voice lessons in college—and going to auditions for musicals. I’d always wanted to sing, but had zero confidence in my abilities. Taking the first step of committing to voice lessons was tough…and going to those first auditions in front of a roomful of competitors who wanted you to fail was even tougher. But I wanted it badly enough to persevere—and it paid off. Kind of like getting published!
You juggled two careers concurrently for a long time. How did you manage that?
In the beginning, it wasn’t difficult. The demands of my entry level job in corporate communications were reasonable and I had regular hours. By the time I left the corporate world, however, I’d risen to the executive ranks. I was a senior group director in a Fortune 500 company, managing three departments and overseeing major projects like the annual report. I was also managing editor of the company’s worldwide magazine and the speechwriter for the CEO and president, as well as for other executives. When the job became 24/7, I knew I had to pick between the two careers. Winning the RITA award and being offered a three-book contract made the decision much easier, though.
Sounds like your corporate job was interesting—and a little glitzy!
It had its moments. My favorite memories include skimming over an Alaskan glacier in a float plane, flying first-class to a prestigious spa to get the full treatment as background for a magazine article I was writing, jet-setting with the CEO on the corporate plane to a cruise ship in the Caribbean for a business lunch, visiting a remote island in Ireland and soaring over the Grand Tetons in a hot-air balloon. Plus, I met some wonderful people along the way.
How did you make the adjustment from such an exciting, high-powered career to the rather solitary life of a writer?
The truth is, there was no adjustment. I’m perfectly happy spending my days with the fascinating characters who people my novels. And I definitely don’t miss the rush-hour commute, corporate politics or a relentless BlackBerry that never slept!
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Learn as much as you can about how the industry works. Read exhaustively in the genres that interest you. Target your work carefully. Join a professional writers organization like Romance Writers of America. Master the basics (spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.). Listen to criticism with an open mind. Set aside time to write on a regular basis. Believe in yourself. And don’t give up your day job!
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?
Every reader letter touches me, and many have been memorable. A few stand out. With my contemporary romances, I recall one from a very atypical romance reader—a 23-year-old man who stumbled across my book, read it because he was bored, and told me it inspired him, taught him some valuable life lessons and gave him the guidance he’d had trouble finding himself. And I love the reader who wrote, “No one but Nicholas Sparks can grab me and get my attention after reading only a few pages—until YOU!”
With my suspense books, I’m getting feedback from both men and women, and I’m loving the letters that contain lines like this one: “I bought your book this past Tuesday evening and spent the entire day today reading it! I did have to put it down a few times just to breathe.” And I was thrilled with this comment: “I have been a Nora Roberts fan for a few years now and have just worked my way through all of her romantic suspense books. Your book was just as captivating.”
Do you have a pet peeve about the writing business?
One of my biggest pet peeves is how commercial fiction—and the romance genre in particular—is often considered less worthy than “literary” fiction. Not long ago, I read a review about a romance novel that said readers must pick between mental nourishment and romance—snarkily suggesting that stories about two people working to overcome formidable obstacles in order to build a life together can’t engage the reader’s mind as well as the heart. The reviewer also denigrated what she called “the best romance tradition” of an ending suffused with “a sense of almost religious redemption and possibility.” What a sad commentary on our world when a hope-filled ending seems so implausible that it renders a book too unrealistic to be taken seriously.
What has surprised you most about being a published novelist?
I didn’t realize how much making that first sale would change the complexion of writing. 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 keeps growing. So the pressure is on, and writing becomes a business as well as a passion. It’s still fun, but it’s a job—with deadlines. Which means you now have to plunk yourself in front of the computer even when you’d rather be doing something else. And that’s an adjustment.
What is your average writing day like?
Long! I’m usually at my computer by 8:30 a.m. First I answer e-mail and check a couple of websites and writing loops. Then I edit the work I wrote the previous day. At lunchtime I take a walk, then I’m back at the keyboard. I write 5-10 new pages a day, minimum. In the first third to half of a book, I’m usually closer to five because the characters and plot are loosely formed and still gelling in my mind. And depending on the subject matter, research can also slow the writing process. But I’m a stickler for accuracy, so I don’t shortchange the research piece. Without distractions, I can hit my page count by 5 or 6 p.m. So that’s my ideal writing day. However, distractions are common. Galleys show up, publicity requests come in, prep has to be done for speaking engagements…you get the idea. So I’m often at my computer well into the evening. It’s a busy life!
What do you hope readers take away from your books?
I have three goals with every book I write. First, I want to entertain. People need wholesome ways to unwind in today’s stressful, fast-paced world, and I do my best to write books that help them put aside their cares for a few hours. Second, I want to leave people with hope; with a belief that no matter how tough life gets, a happy ending is always possible. And finally, I want people to close the last page with a better appreciation for the tremendous power of love—both human and divine—to change lives. To sum up my goal in three words: entertain, enrich, uplift.
Are your books available in other countries?
My books are available worldwide and have been translated into many languages, including Afrikaans, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Russian, Turkish and Vietnamese.
How do you integrate faith into the stories and lives of your characters?
For me, the faith element is organic to the story because at least one of my main characters has a strong faith that guides his or her life. But my books aren’t preachy. The faith content is subtle and reflected more in characters’ actions than in words. I prefer to show characters living their faith rather than talking about it.
Any parting words?
I’d like to say a few words about Christian fiction. For years it’s had a reputation as being too preachy and heavy-handed in terms of evangelizing. In truth, some of that is deserved. But the genre has changed considerably over the past few years. Now, Christian fiction refers more to books with a certain worldview. As a result, any reader who likes fiction that features traditional values would enjoy many Christian fiction books. I would love to find a way to convince more secular readers to wander into the Christian fiction aisle at their local bookstore. I think many of them would be very pleasantly surprised.