My guest author today has a very interesting story to share with you all. Please help me welcome Irene Frances Olson who has written a fictional story about her real life experiences. But I’ll let her tell you all about it right after I share her official bio with you all. Ready?
Irene Frances Olson writes from passion and experience. She was her father’s caregiver during his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Having previously worked in memory care, she was not new to the disease, nor was her family immune. Irene hopes to make a difference in the lives of others by writing novels that encourage and support those who just might need another person in their corner. As a matter of fact, she has her own byline, In Your Corner, in the Australian online publication, Grandparents Day Magazine. Ms. Olson is on the Management Team of the 501(c)(3) non-profit, AlzAuthors, an organization that through a digital platform and community events, uses the art of storytelling to light the way for those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. For updates on the author’s current projects, please visit www.irenefrancesolson.com, or Facebook. She’s also on Twitter @Boomer98053 and LinkedIn.
Betty: How many books have you written and published?
Irene: Written 2½ books and published one. My second novel – title still being finalized – will be published early 2020.
Betty: What genre(s) do you write in and why?
Irene: Contemporary Fiction and Women’s Fiction. Quite frankly, I hesitate to even say Women’s Fiction because I write for everyone with a variety of themes in which most readers would readily engage.
Betty: What themes or motifs did you use in your recent release and why were they important to your story?
Irene: Requiem for the Status Quo, published in July 2017, is a true – yet fictional account – of my experience as my father’s caregiver after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Immediately after his death in 2007, I had no interest in anything related to dementia. Five years later, however, I realized I couldn’t just let my Alzheimer’s caregiving experience fade away, I needed to bring it out into the open so others might benefit from what was the worst time in my and my family’s life. First and foremost, I wanted to honor my father, a man who wore his disease with the dignity it did not deserve.
Family caregivers are oftentimes ruthlessly challenged by uninvolved family members who are quick to condemn, but reticent to offer assistance. Such is the case for Colleen Strand, a widow who recently found her own footing who takes on the task of caring for her father, Patrick Quinn, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Her older brother, Jonathan, criticizes Colleen at every turn and verbally abuses the father when he has the gall to exhibit symptoms of his disease. In short, Jonathan travels down the road of denial, leaving Colleen to deal with all matters regarding their father’s care.
Connected tenuously to a father who barely remembers her and a brother who has become an enigma, Colleen faces the moving target that is Alzheimer’s disease, determined to clothe her father with the dignity he deserves, while struggling to squeeze every minute she can from the fleeting amount of time remaining with him.
Betty: Do you have a specific place that you write? Revise?
Irene: Early on in the process, I spread a cardboard sheet on my dining table and pull together all the notes I’ve collected in brainstorming my current work in progress. I then retire to my home office where I proceed to make an absolute mess of things – so much so that my husband decided years ago never to attempt using the office or computer. That pleases him to no end, however, because he’s a retired engineer and doesn’t want to have anything to do with technology, other than his cell phone or his eReader.
Betty: Do you have any writing rituals while you write? Did you have a special drink, or music, or time of day that you gravitated toward?
Irene: I can’t have music on while I’m writing or reading; that has always been a distraction for me, even as far back as my college days. I always quit my writing work at 3 pm, however, retiring to my living room reading chair to read someone else’s work, not returning to my office to write until the next day, or the next day, or the next day…
Betty: What helped you move from unpublished to published? A mentor or organization or something else?
Irene: I was greatly encouraged as a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) based in the Seattle, WA area. I submitted two manuscripts to them for judging. Their very constructive criticism of my 1st novel was extraordinarily helpful toward making it publishable. But I guess my publishing route is no different from anyone else’s: I queried more than 100 agents, didn’t get a bite from any of them; then I submitted Requiem to a few small, independent publishers with no affirmative response until four months later when a publisher made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – I jumped on it post haste.
Betty: What do you think is your greatest strength in your writing?
Irene: I love creating characters and I perform much research before assigning them names. I use a writing program called Snowflake. For me, the greatest strength of that program is character creation and development. The program asks numerous questions about individuals that once answered, allows the character to materialize right before your eyes.
Betty: What comes first when you’re brainstorming a new story: setting, situation, characters?
Irene: Theme, most definitely. With Requiem that theme was obvious as I wanted to portray family struggles with Alzheimer’s, a disease that is always fatal. With my 2nd Novel I chose a theme that is sure to resonate with people worldwide: what it means to be a neighbor and how we are all more similar than not.
Betty: Do you have a structured time to write or is it more fluid/flexible? Do you have to write between family obligations or do you set aside a block of time?
Irene: Not structured, other than I always quit my writing day at 3 pm. I am extraordinarily busy with the privilege of caring for my 2.5-year-old grandson a couple days a week, being a Board Member and Officer of AlzAuthors, a 501(c)(3) I formed with the help of five other team members, and managing my health which does not allow for sitting at a desk for extended periods of time.
Betty: What is one recent struggle you’ve experienced in your writing?
Irene: This is going to seem like a minor struggle, but I find it awfully difficult coming up with book titles. Requiem for the Status Quo came to me quite readily because status quo is something that no longer exists for anyone caring for a loved one with a chronic, debilitating illness. Requiem is a memorial to that status quo. I’m getting close to firming up the title for my 2nd novel – which is a good thing if I expect it to be published early 2020.
Betty: Do you participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? Why or why not?
Irene: Yes! Yes! Yes! Although Requiem was not a byproduct of NaNoWriMo, my 2nd and third novels were. Several years ago, I had more time to commit to the NaNoWriMo schedule, and I’m extremely grateful it existed when I did have the time. I thoroughly enjoyed participating and I highly recommend all novice – and even experienced – writers do so.
Betty: What are you reading right now?
Irene: Hah! I just finished reading The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. It was a great respite from all the reading I had been doing centered around the topic of dementia. You see, as a Director/Officer for AlzAuthors, I vet non-fiction and fiction books from authors who approach AlzAuthors to become a part of our resource community.
Betty: What is your favorite genre to read?
Irene: Fiction for pleasure; non-fiction for enlightenment. I know there are so many sub-genres within those, but my taste in books is quite varied, although I usually don’t read horror or high-suspense because I feel life is so full of the latter, I don’t want to add to it in my leisure time.
Betty: What are your keeper books? How often might you reread them?
Irene: Most non-fiction books I keep forever and if I really fall in love with one on my eReader, I purchase the paperback/hardcover for my literal bookshelf, as opposed to just my virtual one.
Betty: When you’re writing, do you read in the same genre as your work in progress or something else?
Irene: As I mentioned earlier, I’ll steer clear of horror or high-suspense but whether I’m writing or in a dry spell and not writing, I read fiction and non-fiction every day.
Betty: Do you have a “day job” or do you write full time?
Irene: My day job is as a grandmother, a Director/Officer for AlzAuthors, and a gatherer of family at our house whenever I have the opportunity to do so. I am very fortunate because 99.9% of my family lives in Washington State so family get-togethers are the norm.
Betty: What do you wish readers knew about the publishing industry?
Irene: In a sentence: The publishing industry is virtually impossible to crack. Very few authors sign with agents and publishing houses – regardless of how small the house – so if you have something to say and really want to get it out there, self-publish before all the rejections permanently turn you off to writing.
Betty: What advice do you have for new writers?
Irene: I guess my advice would be to read my answer to the last question.
Betty: Any hints of what you’re next writing project might be?
Irene: With 1.5 books currently works in progress, I’ll finish those – which I hope will be completed and published in 2020, and then I might switch to non-fiction going into 2021.
Betty: What kind of writing would you like to experiment with? Or what’s a different genre you’ve considered writing but haven’t yet?
Irene: I have written more than 1,000 non-fiction blog posts on my personal blog which I have hosted for more than eight years, www.babyboomersandmore.com also known as Living: the ultimate team sport. Perhaps I’ll experiment with writing a full-length non-fiction book, using the prevalent theme on that blog: caregiving and family relationships.
Sounds like Irene has several interesting projects on the horizon. Thanks so much for sharing your writing process and stories with us today!
My heart goes out to everyone who faces dementia in any of its forms. I’ve been through it with my own family and it’s definitely a struggle.
For all of my American readers, I hope you had a very Happy Thanksgiving and peaceful time spent with family and friends this week!
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