Eight Ladies Writing is mostly about romance, but sometimes it’s nice to add a touch of mystery, so today we’ll be talking with Janet Irvin, a mystery writer I met through my local writing community. Back in 2015, her debut novel, The Dark End of the Rainbow (great title!) won the inaugural Jeremiah Healy award, aka the Jerry, for best mystery manuscript. The prize, presented at the Mystery Writers Key West Fest, included a contract with Absolutely Amazing eBooks, free entry to Key West Fest, including airfare and hotel (!), and a bobble-head Jerry trophy. How stinkin’ cute is that? Way more fun than a Golden Heart necklace.
Her newest book, The Strange Disappearance of Rose Stone, was released in September, 2019.
Question 1: Tell us a little bit about your newest book.
The Strange Disappearance of Rose Stone began as a series of connected short stories about siblings Peter and Rose Stone. Inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Children,” the stories followed Peter and Rose through their troubled childhood. Once completed, I gave them to an agent, who kept them for a year, said no one was interested, and returned them. I turned to other projects, but the characters refused to go away. So, I rethought the concept, weaving the original stories in with what my instinct determined was their current situation. The main idea of the book evolved into this: Ten days after his sister disappears, Peter receives a note from Rose and a package containing their most treasured childhood possession. Now he must revisit the landscape of that traumatic childhood in search of clues that will help him solve the mystery of her vanishing. At the same time, he and his wife Kelly are struggling with infertility issues, and his detective partner has woman troubles of his own. Yet they work together to anchor Peter as he confronts the ghosts of his past and the ones still to be revealed.
Question 2: Your first book, The Dark End of the Rainbow, won the 2015 Jeremiah Healy Mystery Award. Tell us about that experience.
In the spring of 2015, I received an unsolicited announcement in my inbox about a contest based on the first three pages of a manuscript. I sent off the first three pages of both The Dark End and The Rules of the Game, my second novel, and promptly forgot I had done so. Meanwhile, I continued to polish The Dark End and took it to the Antioch Writers Workshop, where I pitched it to an agent. She asked for the full manuscript. A week later I received a new email saying I was a finalist in the competition named after Mr. Healy, who had recently passed away. At the same time, I was scheduled to undergo a brain surgery to correct my hemifacial spasms. The conference awarding the prize wanted all finalists to be there. I called to tell them my family wouldn’t let me fly a mere four days after surgery. We arranged for a Skype connection so I could watch the presentation. I planned to sit in my robe and slippers when my husband said, “You might have won. You better get dressed.” I did, and when they made the announcement, I was absolutely astonished, amazed, and humbled. Later, the contest sponsors told me both my submissions had made it to the top ten. The agent replied to my follow-up emails, but never made an offer.
Question 3: You have a developmentally disabled son. As you may know, my brother is also developmentally disabled. Growing up with a sibling who was intellectually challenged had a profound impact on my life. My mother used to say that whatever my other siblings and I know about empathy we learned from Lynnie and I think she may be right. What kinds of impacts did your son’s challenges have on your family?
Our son Scott’s disability was profound. He never advanced beyond the three-month level. After four years of in-home care, the toll on our family was severe. Having a handicapped child constrains your activities. Since I refused to consent to a feeding tube, his meals took longer and longer to complete. As he grew, it became more difficult to move him. His therapy, although never successful, involved daily visits to a center and the recruiting of many volunteers. Our older daughter started school. Then I became pregnant again. The social worker who counseled us suggested we place Scottie in a facility and, with great reluctance and many tears, we did so. Because of our son, my daughters developed a deep and compassionate understanding of what it means to be blessed. None of us takes for granted the gifts we enjoy: the ability to move on our own, to speak, to swallow, to interact with others. Scott passed away at the age of 19 from a difficult surgery. The sadness and the longing for him never goes away, but we have gone on to honor him as best we can by doing good things. I agree with you, Jeanne, that these angels teach us many lessons, empathy being one of the most important of all.
J.E. Irvin is a career educator and an award-winning writer. Her stories have appeared in a variety of print and on-line publications, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The Zodiac Review and SPARK a creative anthology. She lives on the edge of a nature park, where sightings of deer and serenades by coyotes enrich her creative life. She and her husband are avid canoeists, spending as much time as money permits paddling the waters of the Northwoods. A favorite quote by Kahlil Gibran serves to focus the direction of her life and her work: “We live to discover beauty; all else is a form of waiting.”