Kristin Hannah (kristinhannah.com) is The New York Times bestselling author of 18 novels, including the blockbusters Firefly Lane, True Colors and Winter Garden, and, most recently, Night Road.
You’ve said the seed of your writing was first planted by your mother, not long before she passed away. Does that still influence the types of stories you write today, and if so, in what way?
I’ve been asked hundreds of questions about my mom’s impact on my career, but no one has ever asked me this question. It’s a good one to think about, so thanks for that. I would say that my mom made a difference at the very start of my career; she was definitely the one who steered me toward romantic fiction. Back then, I was just finishing Law School and hadn’t read much fiction at all in the previous few years. So, yes, she was a big part of the direction I took at the beginning.
As my career went on, though, I would say that I have been more influenced in recent years by my own life and the choices I’ve made, and those I didn’t make. The writing process, the words themselves have also gained importance with me. Also, as I get older, I find myself increasingly interested in the inner lives of women, and that’s really what I’m writing about these days.
You seamlessly blend elements of other popular genres, from historical fiction to romance to legal thrillers, into your work. Do you approach the process of crafting a story or combining story elements in a systematic way? How do you begin?
I blend a lot of elements from popular genres into my work because I love reading so many kinds of fiction. I love legal thrillers and regular thrillers, horror and historical fiction. It’s not surprising that bits and pieces of all of that show up in my novels. I love books that are well written and yet have commercial, can’t-put-it-down kind of plots. Stories like The Shadow of the Wind are my favorite.
Having said that, I don’t consciously try to weave such elements into my books. I simply go after a good story, try to create fully dimensional, complex characters, and then set about blending the two into a cohesive, organic story. For me, this means months of research on the front end, a long, extremely detailed synopsis, and more drafts than I care to admit. Somehow, no matter how carefully I plan, I discover that errors in conception occur. I try to write my way out of those problems, allowing the characters’ evolutions to show me the truth of the story.
Your books are enormously popular with book clubs. What do you think is the key to penning a successful novel for the female audience? What essential elements do you believe all the best books in your genre tend to have in common?
I have been very lucky that my books have been embraced so completely by book clubs. I can’t say with any degree of certainty what the key to penning a successful novel for women is—mostly because I think women read across all genres, all kinds of books. If forced to give an answer, I’d say the key to appealing to women is probably to write a powerful, emotional story that keeps her turning the pages, regardless of what the book is about. Another way is to write the story is such a way that the words themselves are mesmerizing and illuminating of the human condition. The key to reaching book clubs is a little easier to pinpoint. I think club members like books that inform and educate them, as well as those that challenge their beliefs or introduce them to an unknown place or time. Controversial issues work especially well with book clubs because they create lively discussions.
You actively interact with your readers on Facebook and your blog. How does you’re involvement in social media play into your writing career, and how do you think aspiring writers should approach the medium?
It’s all new to me! For years and years, I never knew who was reading my books. Now, thanks to Facebook and the Internet and touring, I get to meet a lot of the women who read me. It’s great. As to how aspiring writers should approach the medium, I honestly have no idea. There’s a whole community out there who work on selling their work before it’s published, and now there’s the rise of e-books, so I guess my answer is to go for it … as long as you don’t get so sucked into networking that you forget to write.