|Against All Odds, Heroes of Quantico Series #1|
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For FBI Hostage Rescue Team member Evan Cooper and his partner, dignitary protection duty should have been a piece of cake. Unfortunately, Monica Callahan isn't making it easy. Estranged from her diplomat father--who is involved in a sensitive hostage situation in the Middle East--she refuses to be intimidated by a related terrorist threat back in the States. That is, until a chilling warning convinces her that the danger is very real--and escalating.
Photo courtesy of Laszlo Bencze
Irene Hannon, who writes both romance and romantic suspense, is the author of more than 25 novels. Her books have been honored with the coveted RITA Award from Romance Writers of America, the HOLT Medallion and the Reviewer's Choice Award from Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine. A former corporate communications executive with a Fortune 500 company, Irene now writes full time. In her spare time, she enjoys singing, long walks, cooking, gardening, traveling, and spending time with family. She and her husband make their home in Missouri.
Favorite Verse: Matthew 6:21: "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be."
Our Interview with Irene Hannon
How did you get started as a CBA writer?
My brother can actually take credit for this—as well as for the sale of my first book. Here’s how it all came about. I’ve always loved to write, and a few years out of grad school, after I’d settled into my corporate career, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. My first effort—a very short book—ended up stashed away in a drawer, but I felt good enough about my second effort to begin sending it out to publishers. In the meantime, I started another book. Long story short, after a couple of years I had three full-length books finished…and a stack of rejection letters.
Although the books I’d written weren’t specifically Christian fiction, they were clean, wholesome romances about characters with strong, traditional moral values. In other words, no graphic sex, no gratuitous violence, no four-letter words. And there didn’t seem to be much interest in those kinds of books from traditional publishers twenty+ years ago. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware of the Christian fiction back then—probably because it was very small.
Fortunately, my brother happened to notice a tiny newspaper article one day about Thomas Nelson launching a line of inspirational romances. After he pointed it out to me, I sent off one of my books—and a very short time later I had a contract. That’s how it all began. And the CBA market has been a very comfortable fit for me, since that type of fiction is consistent with my worldview.
How did you come up with the concept for Against All Odds?
Against All Odds is actually the second suspense novel I wrote, although it ended up becoming the first book in my Heroes of Quantico series. Book two, which will be out in the fall of 2009, was written first. When I started that first book, I had no idea it would evolve into a series. But I became intrigued by the hero’s partner—and I began to wonder about his background, and how he had come to be at the place he was in that book. I started asking questions…and my imagination was happy to provide the answers! Against All Odds took on a life of its own—and led me to places and situations I never expected when the concept first occurred to me.
How did you choose the time frame?
Because of the “ticking-bomb” nature of this story, the key events had to occur in a very condensed time frame. It’s a very fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat kind of story with lots of action that takes place on two continents.
What is the symbolism for the title Against All Odds?
The title for this book is more literal than symbolic. The odds truly are stacked against the good guys on several fronts, yet good triumphs in the end.
Do you have a favorite character in the Against All Odds? Why?
I like Coop, the hero, a lot. He’s the kind of guy you’d want on your side in a dicey situation. He’s also tall, dark and handsome, which doesn’t hurt a bit! I also like Monica, the heroine, very much. She’s strong, smart and courageous. But neither character is perfect. Both of them have personal issues to work through, and I liked watching them grow and change in the course of the story as they faced extraordinary challenges that pushed them to their limits and forced them to reexamine some long-held perceptions.
How much research did Against All Odds take?
Tons! I have zero background in law enforcement, so tackling this series was pretty intimidating. But after reading Dee Henderson’s wonderful O’Malley Family books, I was inspired to try. (And I’m pleased to say that when I approached her cold about reading Against All Odds, she not only graciously agreed to do so but gave me a glowing endorsement!)
The first thing I did was research the FBI and its Hostage Rescue Team. Several very good books were invaluable to me on that subject. But books only go so far. Eventually you have to talk to real people. I started with a police detective, who sang with me in the church choir, and he put me in touch with a just-retired FBI agent who was a tremendous help. Eventually, one connection led to another. In the course of writing this series, I worked with police officers, FBI agents, physicians, academics and a host of other experts in their fields. I also enrolled in the Citizens Police Academy. And I spent hours on the Net.
Of the three books in the series, Against All Odds had the most daunting research challenges. Since parts of the book take place in Afghanistan, I had to do a lot of research on that country—geographic, political, social. This is the first time I’ve ever set portions of a book in a place I haven’t visited, but I learned an incredible amount about the country on the Net, and I was very fortunate to have a contact who has travelled there extensively and was willing to read the Afghanistan sections to ensure my physical descriptions of the country were accurate. The interesting thing about the Afghanistan setting is that since I started this book well over a year ago, the problems I wrote about over there have been growing and are getting much more press now. So the book is very timely in that regard.
Bottom line, when it comes to research I’m a stickler for accuracy. I always try very hard to get my facts straight, because if a book has an error, someone will spot it. And errors also hurt the credibility of a story. But Against All Odds was the biggest research challenge I’ve ever faced.
What is the most interesting fact that you learned while researching and writing Against All Odds?
I don’t know if I can single out one thing, because I learned so much in so many areas. And it was all fascinating! But delving into the inner workings of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team was especially intriguing. Wow! Those guys are amazing! The training alone is astounding.
How many books will be in the Heroes of Quantico series?
There are three books in the series. Against All Odds will be out in February, Book 2 will be out in fall 2009, and Book 3 will be out in February or March 2010. One of the things I like about these books is that each story is very, very different from the others. But all of them are highly suspenseful, and each contains a compelling romance.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Carving out time to write amid the demands of life is near the top of the list, though this is less of a challenge than it used to be. After a long corporate career, I left that world a few years ago to write full time. It was either that or give up my fiction career completely, as my job had become twenty-four/seven and left me no time or energy for writing. But in the past couple of years, my parents have had significant health issues that have pulled me away from writing. I’ve come to accept that writing will always be a juggling act to some extent, but it’s certainly more manageable now than when I was in the corporate world.
Also, even after 25 books, dealing with uncertainty remains a challenge. Being a novelist is a contract-to-contract career, with no guarantees. The publishing world has changed a great deal—and continues to change—and most writers I know live with the constant worry that their next book won’t find a home.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
Flexibility, for one. I can juggle my schedule to accommodate my personal life, which I especially appreciate after dealing with a boss near the end of my corporate career who believed personal commitments were ALWAYS secondary to work—not only during weekdays, but at night and on weekends, holidays, vacations, etc. So I love the fact that I can declare a holiday for two days and have my little nieces over for an impromptu slumber party without having to beg for time off and then have to check my BlackBerry every ten minutes!
I also love not having to play corporate politics or fight the rush-hour commute!
On a deeper level, I find great satisfaction in being able to take an idea and develop it into a story that will sweep readers along on an exciting ride, or touch their hearts, or entertain and uplift them—or, better yet, do all of the above!
What clubs or organizations are you involved with that help with your writing?
I’m a longtime member of Romance Writers of America, and the organization’s monthly magazine alone is worth the price of membership. Plus, the group does a fabulous annual conference filled with fantastic workshops.
What do you do to keep your writing fresh and improve on it each time you write a book?
Each story is unique, so keeping my work fresh hasn’t been difficult. But one of the reasons I branched into suspense was to take on a new challenge, which is always invigorating. (Against All Odds is my first foray into suspense.) Also, different genres allow you to write in different ways, which is refreshing. My suspense style, for example, is more dialogue heavy and fast-paced than my straight romances.
I also find that even after 25 books, I still have a lot to learn. I’ve had the good fortune to work with talented editors during my career, and they’ve taught me a lot. Special kudos go to the fabulous copy editor on Against All Odds, whose astute comments will continue to have an impact on my writing in the future.
Are there any other new projects on the horizon?
Of course! In February, the same month Against All Odds releases with Revell, I’ll also have a new romance out with Steeple Hill called Apprentice Father. Then, in May, my Lighthouse Lane series with Steeple Hill will debut with Tides of Hope. All of the books in that series are set on Nantucket. In early 2009, I plan to start another suspense novel, and an intriguing idea is already beginning to percolate in my mind!
You can always visit my Web site, www.irenehannon.com, for more details about my existing books and upcoming projects.
What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer?
I have lots of ideas on this topic—too many for this interview format! So check out the Writer’s Corner on this site if you’re interested in my answer to this question!
What message would you like your readers to take away from reading Against All Odds?
There are many themes in this book—overcoming past hurts, forgiveness, reconciliation, the tremendous power of love to transform lives—all wrapped up in a fast-faced, high-adventure book. I hope all readers will find something worthwhile to take away while being thoroughly entertained!
What is your greatest achievement?
I like to think this is still ahead! But up to this point in my life, on a professional level winning the RITA award from Romance Writers of America (the “Oscar” of romantic fiction) and selling my Heroes of Quantico suspense series are right at the top of the list.
But while awards and sales are nice, equally important are the letters I’ve received from readers. For example, one of my 2007 novels, Rainbow’s End, was nominated for two prestigious awards, including the RITA, but didn’t win either. Yet the letters it generated were astounding. Reader after reader told me that book changed their life. In the end, that’s better than any award.
What do you do to get away from it all?
I love to sing, so performing is a great escape! I also like to steal away for an hour or two with my husband to our favorite coffee shop. We enjoy traveling, too—sometimes to exotic places (like Tuscany last summer), but even quick three-day camping trips are fun. Spending time with family is near the top of my list, and I also like to garden, take long walks and cook (I especially like to bake fattening desserts!).