Wednesday, February 9, 2011

H - Interview with Author Jennie Hansen

I was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho to Jed and Mary Smith. We lived in many farming and ranching

communities in Idaho and Montana. My family moved more than 20 times as I grew up. Born the fifth of eight children, I grew up with a ready supply of playmates who are still among my closest friends. I married Boyd Hansen and we became the parents of five children of our own and three foster children.

We’ve made our home in Utah since our marriage.

I graduated from Ricks College in Idaho, then continued my education at Westminster College in Utah after my oldest child was married and my youngest was in high school. I have been a receptionist, a model, a Utah House page, freelance magazine writer, newspaper reporter, editor, librarian, mother and grandmother.

Numerous first and second place writing awards from the Utah and National Federation of Press Women

including the 1978 Second place national award for Page Editing were highlights of my journalism years.

I was the 1997 third place winner of the URWA Heart of the West Writers Contest. In 2008 I received the Bronze Trumpet Award from my publisher, Covenant Communications, and in March of 2008 I was honored by the LDStorymakers at their Whitney Gala with the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award.

I have been active in community affairs. In addition to numerous responsibilities in the LDS church, I

served a term on the Kearns Town Council, and two terms on the Salt Palace Advisory Board, and was a delegate to the White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services.

All of our children are now married and have so far provided us with ten grandchildren, eight grandsons and two granddaughters.

Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Jennie:When I was seven years old I read an article in a farm magazine about a cat. I thought my cat was a lot smarter than the one I read about so I wrote an article about my cat and sent it to the magazine. A few weeks later the magazine sent me a check and published my story. There was never a time after that when I didn't want to be a writer.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Jennie: My educational background involves ten different schools. I have degrees in English, Communications, and Business from Westminster College. The magazine I wrote that first article for invited me to write occasional stories for them until I was eighteen. In high school I helped start the school's first newspaper for which we received a state award. I wrote a few articles for newspapers and literary magazines while in college. A few years after leaving Ricks College, I went to work for Stahle Publishing ( aweekly newspaper consortium) as a reporter and eventually editor. I also did some free lance writing with articles appearing in the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, AP, and several magazines including The Ensign. I joined the National Federation of Press Women and received numerous journalism awards from them and from the Utah Press Association. My first novel was published in 1993 and I just signed a contract for my twenty-second novel. I also have short stories in several compilations. In addition, I write a weekly review column for a national LDS online magazine, Meridian.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

Jennie: I love books and stories. My mother and my older sister and brothers read to me when I was little and taught me to read. I thought it was the most remarkable thing to be able to do. I had rheumatic fever later as a child and spent a long time recovering; books were my greatest friends. I also became interested in politics and the workings of communities at an early age. Together with my interest in writing, I turned to journalism. It was only when my growing family interfered with my mobility to cover news stories that I left journalism and went to work for the Salt Lake City Library System. I loved being around books, but the little bit of technical writing I did at that time and an occasional magazine article didn't satisfy my need to write so I began a novel and have been writing novels ever since.

Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Jennie: I submitted my first couple of novels to a New York publisher and got a favorable response, but I was uncomfortable with the changes they wanted me to make in my manuscript. While I was wondering what to do, I met the editor of Covenant Publishing at the library and told her about my concerns. She asked to see one of the manuscripts. I sent it to her and three weeks later she offered me a contract. She also requested a few changes, but they were ones I was eager to make. About the time Run Away Home, my first book was released, I learned I had cancer. During that traumatic time I received a strong impression that I should use my writing ability to entertain and strengthen others faith in God.

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Jennie: Yes, Not enough time, fatigue, and a feeling I'm not as good as I'd like to be have left me feeling discouraged many times. A smaller than expected royalty check can be discouraging. Negative comments about one of my books will leave me feeling depressed. I don't have a particular formula for dealing with occasional discouragment unless it's the same rule my Dad taught for riding a hores. When you get bucked off, climb back on and try it again.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

Jennie: I used to get up at five o'clock in the morning to write before work, then write late at night. Now I don't work outside of my home and my children are all raised and on their own, so theoretically I can write when I want. It really doesn't work that way though, I serve two days a week in the temple, then have just four days to shop, clean house, garden, be a wife, mother, and grandmother, and read a ton of books which I review for Meridian Magazine.

Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
Jennie:Some of my book ideas were triggered by a news story I once covered and some are just ideas that have popped into my head. It never occurred to me that an idea wouldn't be good enough to write a book about. Any topic can be built up and added to until it becomes a story.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?

Jennie: I hope they'll be entertained, that they'll see the possibilities in our own culture, that they'll be more tolerant of people who are different from themselves, and that their faith in God and our older Brother will be reaffirmed and strengthened.

Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
Jennie:I'm inconsistent. Sometimes I outline, sometimes I just write, and other times I outline a section at a time. I research the same way; sometimes immersing my self completely in an era or situation, other times just researching what I need when I need it.

Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Jennie: Of course, I think all writers have times when the story just won't come together. Some forms of writers' block can be handled by writing something totally different for awhile, taking a walk, going for a run, scrubbing the kitchen floor, or doing some other physical activity. Most of the time I can get past it if I just sit down and write anyway even if I change most of it later.
Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
Jennie: I enjoy the luxury of quiet now, but for years I wrote in a noisy news office at work and in a room with a piano, TV, and at least five teenagers at home. I find listening to music while I work annoying.

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Jennie: Probably just observation of the people and world around me.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Jennie: My English Seminar teacher my senior year of high school probably did more than anyone else to introduce me to the realities and disciplines of writing as well as instilling in me confidence that I could really succeed as a writer. An adult education class I took when I switched from journalism to fiction led to joining a critique group. Between that class and the group I learned the basics of fiction writing. I've been fortunate through the years to work with some really great editors and enjoy the friendship of the most talented, generous friends who also happen to be writers. My husband's unfailing faith in my ability and his willingness to pick up the slack in other parts of our life when I'm deeply involved or facing a deadline has made all the difference in the world.

Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?

Jennie: In my head they are real, so all I have to do is pay attention to their emotions, actions, and preferences. It also helps to keep a character notebook where I record every character's name, physical description, and special characteristics.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
Jennie: I admire the work of so many writers I don't know where to begin listing them. Since I began reviewing LDS fiction about ten years ago, I've discovered I can find something good in almost every book I read, even in the genre's I'm not particularly fond of, and I can also find something that isn't so good. I have favorites, but since I'm a critic and a reviewer I think it wouldn't be a good idea to list them. There are some writers I love and admire personally and some whose work I admire though they or their lifestyle don't appeal to me. Past writers who have greatly influenced me include William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, William Faulkner, Leon Uris, Henrik Ibson, Jeanne Williams, M. M. Kaye, Pearl S. Buck, Louis L'Amore, George Eliot, and who knows how many others.

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?

Jennie: Chocolate chips and raisins, but I really am trying to avoid snacking.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?

Jennie: Who has time for hobbies? I love the outdoors and look forward to fishing with my son-in-law. My husband and I like to garden. I enjoy plays, Jazz basketball, and spending time with my grandchildren.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

Jennie: Read! Write something every day. Get involved with a critique group, a guild, or writers' group of some kind. Follow the submission rules most publishers post on their web pages.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Jennie: I have a murder mystery under contract with a tentative release date about a year out and I' working on a pair of companion historical westerns.

Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
Jennie: Some of my books are out of print, but most can be found at Seagull Book Stores or Deseret Book. Even some of the out of print ones can be located on Amazon.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Jennie: In my experience I would say holding a book in your hands with your name displayed prominently on the cover as the author is the closest a person can get to that heady feeling of creation without giving birth. Receiving a letter from someone who credits your book with turning a life around is one of the most satisfying and humbling experiences a writer is privileged to have. Other writers are some of the most fascinating, fun, courageous, interesting friends I've ever known. Being a writer is one of the greatest satisfactions of my life.


  1. Thanks! It was fun and a privilege to be interviewed for your blog.

  2. Great interview! It's fun to hear about successful authors.

  3. Loved this interview! Jennie--you are amazing and an inspiration to me. I loved the final words because I think it envelops the feelings anyone can have when they accomplish a dream or goal.

  4. Always impressive and inspiring! Thanks!


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