Q + A: Kristen Hannah

In the late 1980s, Pacific Northwest native Kristin Hannah was doing exactly what she’d set out to do in life: She was busy cultivating a successful career in law and getting ready to expand her family. She had no idea she was about to be dealt a wild card that would change the course of her life forever.

Fast forward, and Hannah has transformed her deep love for homeland and family, a diehard passion for reading, and several life interests into an inspiring collection of critically acclaimed novels. Literary works that, over the past three decades, have captured the hearts of readers across the globe who will soon see four of their favorite Hannah novels become Hollywood feature films.

As a novelist, how would you personally describe your writing genre?

I’m a fiction writer, sometimes historical, and sometimes contemporary. I laugh, because my publisher considered my last book historical fiction, and it was set in the 1970s.

Do your roots here in the Pacific Northwest have an influence on your writing?

Many of my books are locally set in Western Washington, with several of them in the South Sound area. For example, True Colors is set on Hood Canal, and Home Front is set in Poulsbo. I’m from this area, and I love it here. I really try to reveal a Western Washington that not everyone knows.

Did you always want to be a published fiction author?

I was not one of those people who always wanted to be a writer. Books have always been a huge part of my life, and I was a big reader growing up — you know, the kid on the family vacation who missed the Grand Canyon, because she was reading Lord of the Rings.

I’m a lawyer, and that’s what I set out to be. A difficult pregnancy left me bedridden for seven months, so I decided to give fiction writing a try.

Your first novel, A Handful of Heaven, was published in the early 1990s by Ballentine Paperbacks. What inspired this story?

A Handful of Heaven was set in the Yukon, because I have a long history in Alaska, and a love for the state. My family owns a sport fishing lodge on the Kenai River called the Great Alaska Adventure Lodge, and it’s one of the greatest places in the world. It’s filled with beauty, isolation, and terror. It’s a wild place.

In a way, it has all come back full circle this year with publishing The Great Alone. It’s a big story, also set in Alaska, and it was named Best Historical Fiction Novel of 2018 in the Good Reads Choice Awards.

How did it feel to have your first novel released by a mainstream publisher?

It felt fabulous to be published! And, I feel that way every time. It doesn’t ever get commonplace or less exciting. It’s always fun and a big moment to have a book you’ve been working on see the light of day.

Now that you are a distinguished New York Times best-selling author, what do you feel your greatest achievement as a writer has been?

One of my most notable achievements has been my focus on women’s stories over the last few years. The stories of great, untold women who survive and thrive during extraordinarily difficult times. What I like to do most is put a reader in these women’s shoes and try to help the modern woman understand what it felt like to be an ordinary woman in Nazi occupational France, or off-the-grid Alaska, just trying to survive in a dangerous time.

Has it become easier over the years to sit down and draft a new story?

The key to writing now is the same as it was before and will always be — discipline. It is a job that, as you become more accomplished, you also ask more of yourself. The books get bigger, so they get harder to complete. It remains a constant challenge to write as good of a book as I’m capable of writing. The answer is sitting down and “actually writing.”

With more than 20 novels published, and four of them now slated for films, did you ever anticipate your books would become screenplays?

I never imagined the career that I’ve had. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and writing the next book, and then the next book, and I think I have been extraordinarily lucky.

Is there a new project in the works?

I am just finishing the first draft of my next book about a couple of cool women who lived during a difficult time in American history. I don’t know when it will be out or how long it will take to edit.

Do you see yourself ever retiring from writing novels?

I do think about retiring, but it’s not time yet. I can’t imagine my life without writing. It’s such an integral part of who I am and is still my favorite thing to do. This said, I am slowing down a bit, mainly to spend more quality time with friends and family and do more traveling.

In today’s dynamic publishing world, what advice do you have for aspiring novelists?

I brought the same level of intensity to writing that I did to law school, undergrad, etc., so I was able to work 10-12 hours a day for months and months, and that helped me get started.

I am a semi-dinosaur when it comes to what’s going on in the publishing world, and there is so much happening with self-publishing that I’m not familiar or adept with. I would counsel writers to find the people who are.

More often, I hear about someone who “wants” to write a book, but they have no time to write, or are scared to begin, because they haven’t done it before. I give them the same advice I always give: The great thing about writing is you “can” do it and you can “learn” to do it, but you have to begin writing, and you have to keep going.

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