Kristin Hannah: Discovering an Unexpected Protagonist

New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah discusses the most surprising aspect of writing her newest historical fiction novel The Four Winds.
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Kristin Hannah is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than 20 novels, including The Nightingale and The Great Alone. The film version of The Nightingale, starring Dakota Fanning and Elle Fanning, is slated for December 2021. Netflix is releasing a series based on Firefly Lane in February 2021. A former lawyer turned writer, Hannah lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest.

Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah

In this post, Hannah discusses the most surprising aspect of writing her newest historical fiction novel The Four Winds and much more!

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Name: Kristin Hannah
Literary agent: Andrea Cirillo at Jane Rotrosen Agency
Title: The Four Winds
Publisher: St Martin’s
Release date: February 2, 2021
Genre: Historical fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: An American epic set during the Great Depression.
Previous titles by the author: The Nightingale, The Great Alone, plus others.

The Four Winds

The Four Winds

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What prompted you to write this book? 

I have become fascinated in recent years with women’s lost history. I love to explore times and eras in which the historical narrative has been dominated by men and examine those times—especially of great hardship—through the female perspective.

(10 Steps to the Past: How to Do World Building Right in Historical Fiction)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

The whole process on The Four Winds took about three and a half years. The first year was largely research and idea-wrangling, and then a little more than two years to write the various drafts. I always do a lot of rewriting and re-imagining of a novel as I go along, but this one was unusual in that the main character, Elsa, was not envisioned as a major character in the novel. Once I found her and fell in love with her, I had to scrap almost everything and start over.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

As I said above, the biggest surprise in this book was discovering an unexpected protagonist. I don’t believe that’s ever happened to me before. I may change the plot or theme as I go along, but usually, my main characters remain from conception to end.

(5 Considerations for Writing About Historical Figures in Fiction)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

There are always big surprises along the way. I think that’s part of the magic of writing. In this book, I had planned—and in fact, did in several versions—continue the story on for another decade and another 300 pages. But once I created Elsa and essentially let it be her book, I pared it down and focused on the story as it appears.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book? 

Of course, I had no idea that the book would be so timely. I couldn’t have imagined the pandemic three years ago, but it turns out to be a really good time to read a book like this. The Four Winds is a reminder of our strength and endurance as Americans. We’ve been through hard times before and survived, and we will do so again. I hope people recognize the hope that permeates these pages and shines through from our own shared history of hardship and recovery.

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If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Don’t give up. The only way you really fail as a writer is to give up and stop writing. It may take a long time to find your voice, and it may be disheartening along the way, but just remember that you’re always learning and growing and getting better. 

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