J. E. Irvin grew up in Struthers, Ohio, in the industrial north area of the state. The oldest of seven children, she spent her childhood caring for her siblings and reading her way through the shelves of the local library. She completed her undergraduate BA at Ohio University, earned an M.S. in Education from the University of Dayton and an M.A. in Spanish from the University of Cincinnati. Her stories have won numerous awards and appeared in a variety of print and online publications. A career educator, Irvin taught high school for 38 years and served as adjunct faculty in Spanish at Wright State University for four years. Her interests include canoeing, gardening and travel.
DAU-First, let’s talk about your new book. The Strange Disappearance of Rose Stone, available from Amazon and other fine retailers. It must be bittersweet to finish. I mean, of course you want to tell the story, but you live you with your characters for some time. When you’ve finished a book, do you miss the characters?
JI – It’s interesting you should ask that. When I finish a book, the characters reside in me like beloved family members who show up at Thanksgiving dinner to provide an update on their lives. There are some who never come back home. Others insist there is more to tell. In the case of the protagonist from The Dark End of the Rainbow, Xandra Byrd, her story is actually just beginning. I have a series planned for her, but first I have research to do. I’m looking for a criminology student at Sinclair to inform me about the program and allow me to shadow him/her for a few days.
DAU-I know your Uncle Joe was an inspiration for a character in one of your books. You’ve also said that you never have trouble writing, that you have so many ideas. Talk about inspiration. And yes, this is a thinly disguised “where do you get your ideas” query.
JI- Sometimes my head feels like a pot of stew, all these characters bubbling around, asking for their shot at the spotlight. I keep a file of interesting news articles, lines of dialogue, titles. The most demanding ‘voice’ is the one that gets my attention. Sometimes it’s a theme that inspires me, a contemporary issue, but most of the time, it’s a what-if question that keeps me in my writer’s chair. Since I’ve transitioned from short stories to novels, many of my ideas are still waiting to be addressed. The list is so long, I’ll never finish it!
DAU-One of the things I admire about you is your involvement in your community. You are spearheading an effort to make sure local school districts have lunch funds. Can you share the impetus behind this effort?
JI-In mid-October, I saw a TV news story about a New Jersey school that was ‘lunch shaming’ students who owed lunch debts. The report left me in tears. As a teacher and a mother, I couldn’t bear the thought of children going hungry or being shamed because their parents couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the bill. I lamented this to my husband, who quite calmly told me,” Do something, Jan.” I wondered if this problem existed locally. I found out that some districts receive federal funds to provide breakfast and lunch for their students, so they may not need food assistance. But those schools may need things like socks and shoes. As I contacted the district where I live and surrounding communities, I learned that, indeed, this was a huge problem, even in those areas seen as affluent. I created a group called “Take A Kid To Lunch” and asked my social media friends to join me. We now have over fifty members, two districts have set up donation accounts, and more are being contacted. The group will remain anonymous (no actual contact with the children). Speed and efficiency is more important than tax deductions, so I didn’t set up a non-profit. Donors send what they can to the schools. It is a quick way to make sure children are not humiliated and that they get to eat. For more information, contact me at [email protected] or request to join the group Take A Kid To Lunch.
DAU- You also have an upcoming event Christmas in Springboro, November 23 and 24. You are featuring a nice group of authors there. Can you tell us about that?
JI-I believe very strongly in being a good literary citizen. One way to do that is to support and encourage local authors. Five years ago I proposed to the Springboro Area Historical Society, of which I am a member, that we hold a MEET THE AUTHORS event in the Museum during the Christmas in Springboro festival. 2019 will be the fifth such annual event. This year twelve local authors will be at the Museum Saturday, November 23, and Sunday, November 24, to meet patrons, sell and sign their books. We have authors of children’s books, paranormal romances, mysteries, memoirs. I post brief bios of the featured writers on my facebook page every few days. More visitors to the Museum increase the Society’s profile in the area, and the more people who meet the authors, the greater the fan base created. Besides, books make great holiday gifts!
DAU-In previous interviews, you’ve revealed that you’re an outdoor girl. What outdoor experiences or places would you recommend for visitors to the Dayton region?
JI-Dayton has a wealth of beautiful areas to explore. For hiking, I recommend Dayton Metroparks, all of them, and for watersports, the lakes and rivers that are part of our region’s great resources. If one is interested in a little travel, spots like Caesar’s Creek, Paint Creek, and Cowan Lake offer interesting canoe, kayak, and fishing opportunities. And Springboro has scenic, recreational, and historic trails to explore.
DAU- I’ve read that you sometimes begin your story process by asking yourself “what if?” and that your stories often center on secrets. What if I asked you what it is about secrets that you find compelling?
JI-Secrets intrigue, confuse, bewilder, and fascinate us. Although I can’t go into detail here, a long-held secret in my own family haunts me. Those who knew the truth are now gone, but I still hypothesize about what really happened. One day I may write that story. So it is with those other what-ifs. What we don’t know is what feeds our curiosity, at times to our own peril. These are the building blocks of a good story – mystery, surprise, suspense, and romance. Every secret contains one of more of these elements.
DAU– Is there any question you always wished an interview would ask and how would you answer.
JI-I guess the questions I would most like to answer revolve around the issues raised in the books. I love a good discussion. Not all the issues I raise are resolvable in an absolute sense. Why do I use children and teens as heroic figures in my stories? Because, as a teacher, I witnessed the resilience, hope, and strength of young people, and I want to believe that their journeys, as dark as they may be, mean goodness and truth will prevail in the end.
J.E. Irvin’s first novel THE DARK END OF THE RAINBOW won the Jeremiah Healey Mystery Fiction Contest at the Key West Mystery Writers Fest. Her second novel — THE RULES OF THE GAME — was published in late 2016. Her third novel, THE STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF ROSE STONE, has just been released.