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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Keeping the names straight: Northwest Passages hosting author Olivia Hawker, Libbie Hawker, L.M. Ironside and Libbie Grant all in one night

L.M. Ironside. Libbie Hawker. Olivia Hawker. Which is her real name? All three are pen names that represent the writing styles of Libbie Grant. All share the same easy laugh, and all are created by this charming writer who lives “on a microfarm dedicated to sustainable permaculture practices” on San Juan Island.

“I don’t know where the line is drawn between farming and just a very involved garden,” she admitted in between cleaning and writing last week from the home she shares with her husband, Paul. “We are committed to this process, and really about 60% of what we eat comes from what we grow on this acre.” A professional writer since 2014, her writing income also has afforded her husband the ability to not work in a traditional 9-to-5 job.

“He takes on projects around the house. I just say, ‘Honey, can you build a fence?’ and next thing you know, there’s a fence.”

This lifestyle was not gained by a massive book deal in the traditional publishing world. Grant came into her own writing career much like the resilient, independent women she likes to write about – her own way.

Growing up Mormon in rural Idaho, one of her childhood responsibilities was chronicling the family history, an important part of the Latter-day Saints culture. Her interest in genealogy and the family tree stories remained even after she left the church. “My family is about 50/50 in and out of the church,” Grant said. “We are either really in or really out.”

Once she settled on becoming a writer, Hawker did her market research and started writing about subjects in different genres under different pen names. “It gave me a lot of flexibility with content,” she said. “And when I was moving to more upmarket books – like “The Ragged Edge of Night” – I needed a more fancy pants kind of name, so I researched names that Libbie was a nickname for and settled on Olivia.”

Much like her pen names, Grant’s writing evolved as she was developing a more “bookclub upmarket” style in her storytelling collaborating with Lake Union Publishing. Initially skeptical of working with a publisher after having achieved success on her own, she was suprised that the partnership worked. “I wasn’t breaking in (to writing) the traditional way, but I was making a very decent living, and Lake Union Publishing was willing to treat me very well.”

Leaning into her strength in finding interesting stories in ordinary lives, Grant delved into her husband’s family history to write “The Ragged Edge of Night” (2018, Lake Union Publishing) about a music teacher from a small town in Germany who became a resister against Hitler’s regime.

When she followed up with another “Olivia” novel, Grant’s own family history came into play. Her great-grandmother, Beulah, had her own system of willing the items she wanted to pass after she died: Beulah taped the intendent recipient’s name to bottom or side of the item, adding as much interesting information that would fit on the tape.

Admiring a beautifully hand-carved box that was tagged for Grant’s mother, she turned it over and read the message, “Daddy carved it while in jail.” Grant knew her family history, but had not heard of anyone being incarcerated, so she embarked on a quest to find out. That story became the basis of “One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow:”

The Webber and the Bemis families lived next to each other on neighboring farms in Wyoming in the 1880s with matriarchs who hated each other – as one had an affair with the other’s husband. It was not exactly a “Romeo & Juliet” saga on the frontier.

The pacing of “Blackbird” is very specific, with the narrative changing between the viewpoints of the characters as the story unfolds. Each has their own story, and the prose shifts between each point-of-view. Cora Bemis, a former socialite turned farmer’s wife and mother in Wyoming, is the transgressor who has an affair with Nettie Mae Webber’s husband simply because she is bored.

Ernest Bemis discovers the pair, shoots Substance Webber and then turns himself in for the murder and is sentenced to two years in prison. Nettie Mae is left with her only surviving son, Clyde, and Cora has her brood of four children, led by her eldest daughter Beulah, to live through the harsh Wyoming winter, which really becomes its own character.

As the teenage Clyde and Buelah slowly fall in love (the actual story of Grant’s great-grandparents), you can feel their heartwrenching perspectives of their situations. Grant’s story wraps you into the drama of female survivors on the Western frontier.

In all, Grant has penned more than a dozen novels and short stories. Her first series, the “She King” series, focused primarily on strong female characters in ancient Egypt. She published the series using her own Running Rabbit Press and enjoyed enough success to begin writing full time. Grant continued with writing about characters in ancient Egypt, publishing two more series, “Book of Coming Forth” and the “White Lotus Trilogy.”

Grant’s titles are consistently in the top 100 of Amazon’s literary fiction category, and she is able to turn around titles quickly. Fellow writers were constantly asking Grant for insight into how to finesse their process. So instead of continuing to cut and paste the same advice into emails, Grant published the ebook “Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books For Faster Better Writing.”

“It was a pretty smart time investment for me,” Grant said. “Four years later, I still get emails from people saying how it changed their writing process, and that makes me happy.”

Her process hasn’t changed and continues to work for her. She writes at least 1,000 words a day, a scale that increases heavily once a deadline is looming. “Procrastinating may make me more creative,” she laughed, “but I pre-plan and plot my books very carefully.”

As for what’s coming up next for “Olivia Hawker,” the project she is working on under that name came in a bolt of inspiration while listening to David Bowie. But there is another historical novel in the works, and it will be written under her real name.

No nom de plume for this subject matter. “It’s too important,” Grant said emphatically. “It’s a really accurate account of the fascinating history of the LDS Church. More Americans should know about it. It’s much more interesting than most Americans realize.”

Hawker Fun Facts

Pen names: L.M. Ironside, Libbie Hawker, Olivia Hawker

Real name: Libbie Grant

Born in Rexburg, Idaho

Background: Grew up in rural Idaho, raised in the LDS Church but decided to leave church and the area. Completed high school and pursued her own writing career. Has lived in Salt Lake City, Bellingham, Tacoma and settled outside Seattle

Lives in San Juan Islands on a one-acre microfarm dedicated to sustainable permaculture practices

Hobbies: Seed saving, sewing

Fun Jobs: (other than writing) zoo keeper, animal trainer, yarn dyer, dog handler, caretaker, bookseller

Latest book: “One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow” (2019), a story based on her great grandmother’s love story