Interview with Kristin Hannah

Posted by Goodreads on January 29, 2018
Kristin Hannah is the author of more than 20 novels, including Firefly Lane, Home Front, and The Nightingale, which spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list.

In The Great Alone, 14-year-old Leni and her parents, Ernt and Cora, move to Alaska for a fresh start on a piece of land Ernt inherited. They soon learn that life on the remote peninsula is much harsher than they were prepared for, and Ernt, who came back from Vietnam a changed man, may be unraveling.

Hannah spoke to Goodreads' Janet Potter about her lifelong love of Alaska, the incredible things women are capable of, and the perfect pen.

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Goodreads: As your book points out, Alaskans are suspicious of outsiders and tourists. Were you at all nervous about portraying the Alaskan way of life, as someone who didn't grow up there?

Kristin Hannah: I was, actually. I was nervous mostly because I just love the place so much, and I really wanted to show—at least—the Alaska that I felt I had seen, both physically and in the depiction of the people. I was nervous that it would be well received up there, and I had several Alaskan friends, who had come from homesteader families and had grown up in the area where the book is set, read it to see if I had made any mistakes or if I had depicted it accurately within the bounds of creative license. When they gave me the go-ahead, then I felt pretty good.

GR: I'm a little surprised this is the first time you've set a book there.

KH: My very, very first book, A Handful of Heaven, was set up in the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush. It's now out of print. So in a way it's coming full circle. I started with my love of Alaska, and I'm back, but most people haven't read that book.

GR: How did you know this was an Alaska story? Did the story come first or did Alaska come first?

KH: Alaska definitely came first. It was the book that followed The Nightingale, and although I've been writing for two decades and I've had over 20 books out, The Nightingale reached a new level of success, and I have to admit that it was a little daunting to try to follow The Nightingale. So what I originally tried to do was to write a book that couldn't compete or couldn't be compared to The Nightingale.

I wanted to do something completely different. So I set out to write kind of a domestic thriller, and it was set in Alaska, and ultimately I worked on that book for 18 months and I realized that I just didn't have a handle on it. I just wasn't creating the book that I thought was good enough. When I looked at it really analytically, the only thing that was working was the setting of Alaska. You could tell I was really in love with this setting, and the setting was a character—it was then and it certainly is now. So I kept the setting and created an entirely new story, and that's The Great Alone that you read. I don't know exactly how it came about. I think it was at the time the political turbulence in America made me think about the '70s and homesteading and people wanting to live off the grid and people wanting to get away from government and that sort of thing. It seemed sort of relevant and timely today, so I followed Alaska pioneers in the '70s.

GR: What was the research process like?

KH: It was sort of the opposite of The Nightingale. For The Nightingale there were literally thousands of books to read. In this one there weren't as many sources, library books, and newspaper articles, so I did a lot more interviews, and it helped, of course, that I grew up in this era. I would be the same age as Leni. In 1974, I was 14 also, and so I remember that time very well and how unsettled it was. I lived in Seattle during the Ted Bundy years, and there were the gas shortages and it was really a time of unrest. I was able to bring a lot of my personal reminiscences to the table.

GR: Is Kaneq, the town where the book takes place, based on a real place?

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KH: It is a fictional town, obviously, because I have learned over time that that is jut a cleaner, simpler way to do it. I don't get letters from people saying, "There are no trees on that corner," you know. It's loosely based on the town of Seldovia in Alaska. I used a fusion of Tutka Bay and Seldovia, that corner of the peninsula across from Homer. It's beautiful and it looks close to everything, but you just can't get there and there are no roads.

GR: Still?

KH: Still. It's interesting because I've been hearing that people love this quirky cast of Alaskan characters, and I just want to say that every single one of these people currently live in Alaska. You can still meet all of them.

GR: What are some of your favorite books about Alaska, whether they were research for this book or not?

KH: I love Into the Wild. It's iconic up there, frankly. Last I heard, you could still go visit the bus he lived in; it's still up there in the same place and people make pilgrimages to it. And, of course, The Call of the Wild. There's a lot of great landscape kind of memoirs about Alaska, people who are just so attached to the land itself because having to know the land and having to know the seasons and the animals and all that is so much more crucial for them up there, so they're that much closer to the natural world.

GR: This book portrays the cycle of abuse, which is by nature cyclical and repetitive. How do you write about something like that without becoming repetitive and cyclical yourself?

KH: This was a great challenge. I went through many, many versions of this book and many versions of trying to figure out how to do that, how to show this in a way that I thought was honest and was intense but wasn't a relentless battering of the reader. The way I decided ultimately to do it was to essentially not reveal the actual abuse until well into the book. The book is Leni's viewpoint, and Leni doesn't know this is happening. The argument could be made that it had been happening all along, but we don't know that for sure.

It's important, too, because it feels like a big year for women's issues and women standing up, and it's important to talk about women who stay in these relationships and why they stay and how we as a society handle that and help them. It's interesting to show that it was even more difficult in the '70s and in an isolated place like Alaska.

GR: Throughout the book, Cora talks about wishing that Leni knew Ernt before the war. Did you consider including flashbacks so we could see the younger Ernt?

KH: I did, and there are versions of that book out there in the ether. The bottom line was I liked the question better than the answer. Did PTSD cause this? Is this what he was like before? Is Cora a reliable assessor of his character? How much of this is true? I thought all of those questions were really interesting.

GR: The Great Alone, The Nightingale, Home Front, and Winter Garden are all about war to varying degrees or the effects on people at the periphery of war. Why is this a subject that interests you?

KH: I wouldn't even have said that it was an interest of mine, but I guess I find that in looking for what I want to write about, ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances just really appeal to me. I really like life-or-death stakes, and war obviously provides that. Like I said, I came of age during the Vietnam War, and I saw how our veterans were treated, and I wore one of those Prisoner of War bracelets for a captain who never came home, so I've long held on to a fascination of our Vietnam veterans.

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GR: Amanda asks: So many readers had strong reactions to The Nightingale. What is it like to internalize feedback that is so likely wrought with emotion?

KH: Humbling and terrifying. I can't express the level of gratitude that I feel for how much they loved it. I think it's because it's a book about female heroism and female bravery, and it's a book about WWII from an almost entirely female perspective, and I think it's just really resonating with people, this reminder of how powerful women are and how powerful we can be when we come together and how resilient. I also think it's because, once again, the world is so volatile right now that the messages of WWII seem relevant again.

GR: Arielle asks: When you were researching The Nightingale, what was your most unexpected find?

KH: The genesis of The Nightingale was learning the story of a woman named Andree de Jongh, a 19-year-old Belgian woman who started one of the first escape routes out of Nazi-occupied France for downed airmen. She literally did walk over the Pyrenees without any training, in shoes that didn't fit, in clothes that weren't right, and she helped dozens and dozens of airmen get into Spain. To me there were a lot of remarkable things, but that was the beginning, and the fact that this story wasn't more well known made me want to tell it, and it was that story that inspired the character of Isabelle and got me started on the road to this novel.

GR: Diane asks: On your website you said that one thing you can't live without is the perfect pen. I'm always looking for a perfect pen...which one do you use?

KH: I use a medium fine-point gel-tipped uni-ball. And you can get packs of, like, 16 from Costco.

GR: What is your writing process?

KH: It's an unwieldy thing. I come up with a question, something that interests me enough that I'm willing to put a year or two or three into answering it. In The Nightingale it was: When would I risk my life to save a stranger? With The Great Alone it was: Could I survive in this environment? So I come up with the question, and then I do several months of research and come up with what I think is the story. And then I dive in and begin writing. I do have a detailed outline, but I tend not to refer to it, and it tends not to be very correct, except that when I begin, I know the beginning and I know the end. If I don't know the end scene, then I don't begin. So I just start writing, and about every 200 pages I throw out half of it, keep the half that's working, and follow whatever that new story is, and I just keep doing that every 100 or 200 pages until I finally get to the end.

GR: What was your favorite book growing up?

KH: The Lord of the Rings. It took me, like, eight times. I kept starting The Hobbit and going, I don't think so, but then I got sick one weekend and read all four books in a weekend.

GR: What was the last book you loved?

KH: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

Comments Showing 1-50 of 60 (60 new)

message 1: by Shirley (new)

Shirley Leclerc I finished my advance copy of this yesterday and everyone MUST read this book. I always give too much away so I'll just say it's about a dysfunctional family looking to Alaska to save them from the ghosts of Vietnam for the father, the enabling mom and the daughter that gets stuck in the middle while in the interior of Alaska. In reading this, it felt as though I was there! Told with such description that I could visualize the entire setting!

Rush out to buy this book, you won't be sorry!!!

message 2: by Aida (new)

Aida Alberto You are one of my top favorite authors and Firefly Lane is my favorite book by you so that is what I use to measure your new book even though I loved The Nightingale.

message 3: by Christina (new)

Christina Webster oh must get my hands on this book

message 4: by Madi (new)

Madi Must order!! Firefly Lane is my fave! You are def one of my fave authors!

message 5: by Khalil (new)

Khalil I finished "The Nightingale" two weeks ago and still couldn't get out of the spell of that world of Isabelle.You wrote a great war novel KH.

message 6: by Dana (new)

Dana Gilstrap My first Kristin Hannah book was “The Nighringale” fell in love with the book and you as an author. I have read “Winter Garden” loved it, but just recently read “Night Road” I have never become so mentally involved with the Characters. LOVED IT. Thank you Kristin Hannah for the greatest reading experience of my life. I am now ready to read “ The Great Alone”

message 7: by Brittany (new)

Brittany Waiting for my Book of the Month box so I can read The Great Alone! I love Kristin Hannah!

message 8: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Just finished winter garden. Enjoyed very much
Now reading night road and have just found fire fly Lane
I am reall enjoy Kristin Hannah.
As author i only Her found by accident

message 9: by Shirley (new)

Shirley Green I have read every single one of Kristen Hannah’s books. If I find I’ve miss one I go out and buy it immediatley. I recently lost my husband of 65 years and whenever we’d be at the store hewould find her books and ask did you read this one and this one. Well I haven’t read Great Alone so I’ll be buying it as soon as I can get to get it. Very favorite authorand I have read many hundreds of books. Shirley Green

message 10: by Frankie (new)

Frankie Brazelton Fantastic interview. That's so interesting how Andree de Jongh inspired Kristen Hannah to write The Nightingale. I was inspired by the true story of Nancy Wake, who also smuggled downed pilots out of France, over the mountains and into Spain, and later became a commanding officer in the SOE. She was a total bad ass.

Also, A Gentleman in Moscow is my favorite book, along side Fahrenheit 451. Love a writer with impeccable taste. The Nightingale was a phenomenal read. I can't wait to receive my copy of The Great Alone.

message 11: by Robin (new)

Robin I happened upon The Nightingale while browsing for my next book. Before that I had not heard of the author Kristin Hannah. Since than I’ve read almost all of her books. What impressed me so much about the Nightingale is that there are only two other books that I’ve read more than once, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Two outstanding books in my library and now your Nightingale is there also. A book I could read again and again. It can be difficult to impress me with a book and you have. And I not one to write reviews, but so moved was I by your book, I felt it would be unfair not to encourage others to read and enjoy such a wonderfully written work of art. I look forward to reading The Great Alone, which I just received today.

message 12: by Bruce (new)

Bruce Bond A must read for me. I actually built a cabin on Sadie Cove between Tutka Bay and Seldovia in 1974 and care-took a now famous homestead up the bay from Homer in 1981-82, and have a few novels published myself under the name Bruce Lee Bond including one in the Klondike and a pulp fiction crime novel in modern day Alaska. Kind of required reading.

message 13: by Martha (new)

Martha Camire I would give The Nightengale 10 stars if I could. It was my favorite book I have read in the last 5 years...maybe ever. I read Firefly Lane 10 years ago and loved it as well....had a good cry at the end.

message 14: by Heather (new)

Heather Hyde So looking forward to the new novel The Nightingale is in my top 10 books and I read a lot of books!

message 15: by Marcia (new)

Marcia My husband and I watch "Alaska: the last frontier" on the Discovery Channel. It is rather close to Homer, so I simply must read your new book as the setting will be familiar though I have never visited Alaska. Your books, "The Nightingale" and "Winter Garden" were wonderful, and I am just starting "A Gentleman in Moscow" so it follows that my next book must be "The Great Alone."

message 16: by Joyce (new)

Joyce Ohnemus Awesome I really like her books,!

message 17: by Leslie (new)

Leslie Kitchin I've lived in Alaska since 1985. I was here when Christopher McCandless was originally lost and then discovered by hunters. People do still make pilgrimages to "the bus" and then need to be rescued when they can't recross the river or otherwise get lost. It's very frustrating to Alaskans when people who are unfamiliar with the country and unprepared make a pilgrimage, get stuck, and then need to be rescued. Or worse. It's not a jaunt off a trail. It's a difficult trip through harsh and unforgiving country.

message 18: by Lynn (new)

Lynn I cannot wait to read!!!

message 19: by Anna (new)

Anna I will get this book. Kristen Hannah is one of my favorite authors and I have read all her books. She is the best.

message 20: by Pat (new)

Pat I am so eager to read the book, 'The Nightingale'!! I picked up 'Firefly Lane' because I loved the title and the story began at the time I was the age of the characters. Your books have given me many hours of true reading pleasure. Thank you, Kristen Hannah for that!! I recommended your books to a friend. I don't do that unless I find them remarkable and they were just that, remarkable!!!

Carole (in Canada) Wonderful interview and insight. I still have 'Handful of Heaven' on my bookshelf along with Kristen Hannah's earlier books. Last year I read and loved 'The Nightingale'. I think it's time to catch up on all the ones I missed!

message 22: by Christine (new)

Christine You are one of my favorite authors. Looking forward to reading this book especially after reading your interview

message 23: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I think you are a great writer.I knew you since I read Firefly Lane.This is my favourite book.

message 24: by John (new)

John Buitenbos I also read The Nightingale! Loved it ,how can i purchase this book?

On Amezon,?DO they have all your books?

Sincerely,Grace Buitenbos

Author, Kristen Hannah.

message 25: by Kristin (new)

Kristin One of my favorite parts of a Kristin Hannah book is the character development. Hearing that this book has a new quirky set of characters for me to get to know makes me so excited to read the novel:

message 26: by Alisa (new)

Alisa Loved The Nightingale but really loved Winter Garden and I feel like it doesn’t get enough attention Any chance one of these could be a movie? If someone asked that already forgive me. I’m jumping in here on my work break and don’t have enough time to read all the comments.

message 27: by Sara (new)

Sara Hockenberry I recently read The Nightingale... SO good. Left me thinking about the characters and the story for weeks. Jaw dropping book, I couldn’t put it down. I am so excited to read The Great Alone.

message 28: by Mindy (new)

Mindy Ehrlich Loved The Nightingale and can’t wait to read The Great Alone!

message 29: by Sharlayne (new)

Sharlayne Never read an author that can compare to the KH books. One gets so emotionally attached to the characters the story stays with you well after the last page is read. From laughing out loud to sniffling the tears back, incredible books. THANK YOU for spending so much time creating engaging stories for us to enjoy!! :o)

message 30: by Angel (new)

Angel Igweze You did well in ur books I like reading but I can not afford it ,can u help me to get books to read

message 31: by Laura (new)

Laura I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed Home Front and the Nightegale. I look forward to picking this up next.

message 32: by Akibsi (last edited Feb 06, 2018 08:43PM) (new)

Akibsi Escribo en castellano para hacer énfasis en que el talento de KH es universal. Espero que sus libros, en particular The Nightingale, sean traducidos a otros idiomas para que quienes no puedan leer en ingles, tengan la oportunidad de disfrutarlos ... KH talent is universal ... I hope her books, in particular The Nightingale, are being translated into other languages, so people that cannot read English can also enjoy them. I very much enjoyed The Nightingale, I still have sweet memories of the scenes and the characters. Thank you for the interview ... looking forward to get my eyes on the new one!

Bookworm Between the Sheets Great interview! I want to go meet these characters in Alaska, that is awesome!

message 34: by Rosalie (new)

Rosalie Nelson Angel wrote: "You did well in ur books I like reading but I can not afford it ,can u help me to get books to read"

depending on where you live, public libraries, several state now have "free libraries' a little roadside box with books for free; I don't know how widespread this is in US, I have seen them in Minn and Wisc.

message 35: by Michele (new)

Michele Millington I too have a fascination and love of Alaska. I can’t wait to read this book. Pennsylvania is my home but my annual trip to Alaska brings me great joy. During the year I read books set in Alaska so I’m taken there. We should arrange a Homer meet up! Joan Dodd Brown is my favorite Alaskan author.... I can’t wait to read The Great Alone since I loved the Nightingale!!!

message 36: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Harris Ooh - I have more books on my To Read list! Loved reading this interview.
I thoroughly enjoyed Firefly Lane but my favourite book, which was a fresh surprise page after page was Once in Every Life.
I've been to Alaska and loved it - it's a surreal place and I can't wait to read The Nightingale and The Great Alone!

message 37: by Jane (new)

Jane One of my favorite authors and I have read over half her books. I haven’t read The Nightingale though which is strange seeing as it’s one of her first books but I will be on the look out for that book now. Loved reading this article. ❤️

message 38: by Joyce flohr (new)

Joyce flohr I just read your interview and checked on my list and noticed that I have read most of your books and had rated them mostly 10 +++. I have noticed that I haven't read your Great Alone and will try to locate it right away. Thank you so much Kristian Hannah

message 39: by Barbm1020 (new)

Barbm1020 Just read your interview and I'm excited to read your new book about Alaska. Someone at my read-aloud book club gave us selections from The Nightingale, and it was a heart-stopping story and very well told. Now you've got one about Alaska, where I spent a year teaching school after college. Thank you for your great stories about women.

message 40: by Doris (new)

Doris My book club read The Nightingale and we had deep and involved discussion on the characters, their motivation, and the complicated forces behind their actions. This book is a thumbs up book for every one of us. I look forward to reading your latest and possibly discussing it in a future book club meeting.

message 41: by Gerri (new)

Gerri Wood Looking forward to reading this latest book by Kristin Hannah, one of my favorite authors.

message 42: by CINDI (new)

CINDI CAIN Oh a NEW Kristin Hannah novel
What a lovely thought.
Lock the door, turn off the phone - dive in !!!
Looking forward to another great ride !!!

message 43: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Bryant I have loved reading every one of your books. I just finished reading Distant Shores and it was def a good read! I look forward to continually trying to 'catch up' on your amazing list of books!

message 44: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Almand Kristin, as a 747 pilot for Northwest Airlines, I was based in Anchorage briefly and spent a lot of time in Alaska and I honestly think you nailed it!

And now, as a professional narrator (with an Audie nomination and a couple other audiobook awards under my belt) I'd sure love to narrate one of your books! You write the wonderfully strong and human female protagonists to whom I enjoy bringing voice.

Just finished narrating 12 of Madeleine L'Engle's (A Wrinkle In Time) non-fiction titles for Brilliance and you would be right up there with her as one of my favorite authors to narrate!

message 45: by Dianne (new)

Dianne Matthews For those that said they can't afford to read, there is always the library.

message 46: by Balach (new)

Balach Bali i want to read

message 47: by Angie (new)

Angie Choinière The Nightingale was my introduction to your books. I will be reading them all. It was such a powerful read, that I have been getting everyone to read it. Everyone has loved it! I can't wait to read all the others.

message 48: by Redhattet1046 (new)

Redhattet1046 I have read many of your books and loved them. Just picked up “The Great Alone” and only on page 25 but hooked already. You are a very thoughtful writer. Loved Nightgale and know so many people who have used it for their book clubs. Keep up the good work.

message 49: by Wendi (new)

Wendi Dusseault Cant wait to read this! Kristin is definitely one of my favorite authors.

message 50: by Jordan (new)

Jordan Stivers I didn't read The Nightingale so The Great Alone is my first Hannah novel. It was a stunning, heart-wrenching journey and I loved every bit of it. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy via NetGalley (thanks again St. Martin's Press!) and I couldn't put it down. I've been recommending it to everyone ever since!

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