Award-winning author Irene Bennett Brown likes Kansas settings for her historical novels. Her young adult novel, Before the Lark, won a Western Writers of America Spur Award and nomination for a Mark Twain Award. Miss Royal’s Mules and Tangled Times, Books One and Two in her Nickel Hill Series, are Will Rogers Medallion Winners and adult continuations of Before the Lark. To Brown’s delight, two more books for the series are readying for publication.
I was raised in Topeka, Kansas, until I was nine years old, then in Oregon where our family resettled.
My childhood was carefree—playing on the swings, slides and swimming in the park in Topeka. In Oregon my siblings and I swam in the creek next to our house, and later when we moved to another property, I enjoyed roaming the Cascade Mountain foothills.
My parents insisted on good behavior from me and my siblings. My father, beyond his day job, was an artist. He painted beautiful outdoor scenes, animals and people. I’m sure I inherited his creative genes, making me a writer.
A teacher, Mrs. Mona Moore, was my favorite. She taught 15 students in our one-room country school. I was a class of one in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Mrs. Moore ordered books for me from the State Library, took me home with her to spend the night and go to a play her two sons were in. She favored me, almost as if I was her daughter.
Oregon is a truly beautiful state, with mountains and desert in the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The green Willamette Valley, where we live, is in between.
I knew I wanted to be an author when entering high school. I wrote “author” on a questionnaire asking what I wanted to be in a future career. That seemed presumptuous and I marked it out. To be an author didn’t remain on paper but stayed in my mind.
I studied the usual offerings in grade school and high school. History and language arts were favorite subjects. I loved anything that required reading and writing—didn’t like math at all.
A mentor was something I didn’t have. I did take a home study course in writing and belonged to a writers’ group. I read aloud to the club my YA manuscript titled Willow Whip. A member reminded me that young people “don’t care for farm stories and won’t read them.” I couldn’t agree. The book was published and made the Child Study List, Junior Literary Guild and was a Kansas Reading Circle Choice. A best seller.
If I could write a screenplay from one of my novels and it was made into a successful movie, I’d be thrilled beyond measure.
Being married happily is the greatest thing and applies to Bob and me for 71 years. A retired chemist, he’s the best help ever with my writing—printing, research, especially computer problems.
My first novel, To Rainbow Valley, is a YA, patterned after my own family’s move from the Kansas dustbowl to “fresh air Oregon”. First published in 1969, it’s still in print and is accompanied by a 48-page workbook from Perfection Learning. My first adult novel was The Plainswoman, published by Ballantine and was a finalist for Western Writers of America’s Spur Award for Best Original Paperback.
Summertime doesn’t last long enough. Spring and summer are my favorite seasons. Although I do get my best writing done in the long, cold fall and winter.
My favorite pie is pumpkin in the fall, cherry in summer.
Every fall I should clean drawers and closets, but I’m dealing with writing projects. And watching football with Bob in free time.
Writing my memoir will have to wait, although memories that I constantly post on Facebook would be a good beginning.
The Owen Wister Award was an enormous surprise. I never for a second thought I’d win the Owen Wister or be inducted into the Western Writers of America Hall of Fame. But here I am, and I’m beyond thankful.
What history has taught me is to do what one loves. If they can’t “not write,” they should persist and never give up.