Monday, March 22, 2010

Meet Author Irene Latham

Picture a back porch swing and daffodils bobbing in the yard. Welcome into this cyberspace setting author Irene Latham. Her debut novel, LEAVING GEE’S BEND, is written for readers ten and up, and it’s garnering much attention. Our Book Log visit with Irene was postponed due to an accident which showed how vulnerable our high tech world is to man’s missteps. Tree service workmen accidentally broke our Charter cable Friday and cut off our entire side of the street from the internet. No email. No web surfing. No TV. No March Madness!

Now back to the scene of the swing, the flowers, and the delight of meeting one of today’s most personable authors. Pour a cup of hot, spicy tea and pass the lemon bars. If you are reading this, the world in my neighborhood is back to normal

It was my pleasure to attend Irene Latham’s book launch. Two Gee’s Bend quilt makers opened her program. Their stories, songs, and soft, gentle humor lifted us from a crowded, standing-room-only community meeting room and settled us into an armchair somewhere on the edge of their lives. Then Irene read excerpts from her book. The voice of her main character, Ludelphia, wrapped around us. If we hadn’t already read her story, we knew we must.

A week later, Irene appeared at a bustling library where a million items circulate annually. Their newly dedicated modern and inviting plaza was packed with parents, kids, media specialists, teachers, and writers like me. This time Irene talked about how she researched her book. Then a class of children took the stage with the author and charmed the audience with their account of how they performed Irene’s book as a play.

Since then there have been bookstore signings, conference appearances, classroom visits, and other gatherings with Irene as the center of attention. So my first question of Irene, here in my imagined setting, is

“How do you do this? How do you manage to be wife, mom, and writer of a successful book?”

This is what Irene says: “As I answer your questions from a hotel room in Fairhope, Alabama, that I am sharing with my mother–who at this very moment is ripping strips of fabric for a quilt project, I am struck by what a wonderful opportunity this time has been to share experiences with my loved ones. It’s not without its challenges, of course. And a distinction must be made between writing, which I am able to work into the cracks of everyday life, and promoting, which is more of a highwire act, requiring a skilled partner. Fortunately, I have one of those in my husband. I could not be out promoting this book in all the ways that I have without his steadfast support. I mean, someone’s got to get those kids to school!”

I wanted to know more about Irene’s kids. I wondered what they read and what books they’d recommend to their peers.

Irene said, “All three of my sons, ages 10, 13, and 15, love stories, although my youngest would rather be read TO than read himself. The teenagers have recently enjoyed THE HUNGER GAMES series by Suzanne Collins, THE RANGER’S APPRENTICE series and Kathleen Duey’s SKIN HUNGER series. (Key word: series.) My youngest son loves the GREGOR THE OVERLANDER series by Suzanne Collins (also a favorite of the other two when they were younger) and has recently been on a Barbara O’Connor kick, with HOW TO STEAL A DOG and THE SMALL ADVENTURES OF POPEYE AND ELVIS being tops on the list.”

At this point I’d like to stop and send congratulations to Irene’s son, Andrew, who was recently accepted into the Math/Science program at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Surely all that reading is significant.

My next question was about the books Irene read as a child. “Did you have a favorite?”

Irene’s answer: “While I can’t claim my father’s amazing book-a-day average (last year he logged some 385 books!) I have always been a voracious reader. My first love was the poetry of Shel Silverstein. Then I moved to the Little House books and anything with animals: THE BLACK STALLION, MRS FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, and WATERSHIP DOWN. By age 12 my main criteria for a book was length–the longer the better! I loved books like GONE WITH THE WIND (over and over), THE MISTS OF AVALON and THE LORD OF THE RINGS."

Now we’ve come full circle and back to writing books. My last question for Irene is, “What now? Will there be a sequel to LEAVING GEE’S BEND?”

Irene’s response: “I am currently on a 500 word a day plan for a new midgrade project that is too raw yet to really talk about. As for a sequel to LEAVING GEE’S BEND, I would love to write a story about Etta Mae, a secondary character in the current novel who has had all sorts of adventures of her own that I’m just dying to know about! Also, I’m curious about life changes for Ludelphia when government housing comes to Gee’s Bend in 1937.”

With the last drop of tea and the last lemon bar crumb, Irene and I must leave this spring cybersetting and return to our real lives. You can keep up with Irene’s busy schedule by visiting her web page

I’ll be catching up on my email. I must say catching up after the cable is back is a lot more fun than catching up after the washing machine is fixed.

My thanks and all best wishes to Irene!


  1. I so enjoyed meeting Irene at Springmingle, and getting to know her a little better here! (I dashed over to my library afterwards to get her book and it was checked out-but I'm on the list.)

    And thanks for those swell book recs-guess I better put them on a list, too :-)

  2. Joan, if you want to keep up with new releases Irene's blog is a great place... she gives reviews on many and gives blurbs of new releases

  3. Enjoyed the interview, Joan. I picked up Irene's book at the recent Southern Breeze Springmingle conference and am looking forward to reading it.

  4. Great comments. Thanks, everyone. It really feels as if we are sitting on the back porch and having a great conversation about books. May our tribe increase!

  5. Great interview, and you sure made me appreciate spring! I'll also add that I know Irene through the internets and she is an incredibly generous collaborator in the writerly community. Another talent!


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