Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah, who published her latest novel, Home Front, January 31, 2012, by St. Martens Press. Her novel spent the first week as #1 on five NYT lists. Her book is under contract for a movie. I also will give away one copy of Home Front to a lucky person who leaves a comment by 11:59 p.m. May 9. I will do a random drawing and announce the winner on May 10.
Kristin has a surefire hit with her latest gripping novel, Home Front. She has tackled a harrowing subject about a wife and mother deployed to war, For Jolene and Michael Zarkades, there is and emotional toll on their relationship and family. Michael, a criminal defense attorney, is suddenly thrust into parenting their two daughters, and creating a stable environment on the home front. He’s angry at his wife for deploying and never really accepts her military service. Jolene is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and duty comes first as she heads to the war zone with her best friend Tami. There they face the atrocities and trauma of war on the front lines. Tragedy strikes and the reader is catapulted into a story of love, loss, heroism in war and at home, honor and hope.
Kristin is a master at developing characters, getting inside their minds and touching their core. Her writing is powerful and emotive. Kristin is one of those rare authors who is able to get her story out of your head and into your soul. You are not reading about characters, you are sharing the experience with them. Home Front will be a story that will linger with you because of its emotional imprint and realism.
I’ve followed Kristin’s career since she began writing, some 20 novels ago. We finally met and had dinner last spring. She graciously agreed to let me interview her about her new book. Welcome Kristin. It’s nice to speak again.
What inspired you to write Home Front?
[K] Quite simply, this story was inspired by the nightly news. As the war in Iraq went on, I watched the stories — night after night — of soldiers lost in battle, wounded, and the stories of their families left behind, waiting for them to return. As a mother, I was heartbroken for the men and women and their families. So many of the young soldiers on the news were the same age as my son, and that hit me really hard. As an American, I was grateful, and as a woman, I began to wonder what it must be like to go off to war and leave your children behind. I can’t imagine anything that would be more terrifying and difficult. I realized that I had never read that story, and I wanted to. I wanted to explore the idea of a woman torn between love and honor. So I decided to write it.
I never thought about the potentially controversial nature of the themes in Home Front. I simply set out to write a story about a female mother and soldier who went to war. Although Michael is fairly anti-military and anti-war, the book is ultimately less political and more personal. I didn’t set out to take a stance on the war itself. This was really about supporting and understanding the troops and realizing the extent of the sacrifices they make.
How do you feel about your book and how would your rate it?
[K] That’s a great question! Honestly, I am usually the harshest critic of my own work. Although I work as hard as I can on every book, there are simply some that I end up liking better than others and a few –a very few–that I fall in love with. Home Front is one of those rare and special books that really ended up better than I imagined it would be. I’m quite proud of it. I think that’s because the characters are so real and three-dimensional and the issues raised are so important. It is a book that comes at a great time. As Americans, we need to remember to be grateful to and supportive of our troops and their families.
What do you want people to take away from Home Front?
[K] At is core, Home Front is a novel about two ordinary people who have lost their way over twelve years of marriage and then find themselves separated. I think this is a story we can all relate to. You don’t have to be a soldier or even know a soldier to relate to the powerful emotional themes in the book. We can all imagine how it felt for Jolene to hear her husband say, “I don’t love you anymore,” and we can understand how lost Michael felt after the death of his father. A marriage is a tricky thing that hangs on hooks both big and small. Every little thing can matter. Words spoken and unspoken carry a tremendous weight, and in a way it requires as much commitment and honor to hold a marriage together as to go off to war. In that way, we all understand sacrifice. It’s no surprise that I’m a romantic, and to me, there’s nothing more romantic than a husband and wife falling back in love with each other.
That’s what I want people to see in the end–the story of an ordinary marriage tested in an extraordinary way. And, of course, I hope readers end up with a slightly better understanding of and appreciation for the sacrifices made by our military families.
How much research was involved in writing Home Front? Did you have contact with the military?
[K] The research for Home Front almost killed me. :) I didn’t anticipate that would be the case, either. I was actually fairly cavalier about this particular aspect. I mean, I’m a lawyer, so research is something I’m comfortable with, and additionally, I have tackled breast cancer, brain tumors, the Siege of Leningrad, and World War II Russia, and DNA testing to exonerate convicted prisoners. I didn’t think that the themes and issues in Home Front would require any more research than I was used to. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Researching and writing Home Front, with its military theme, was a mammoth undertaking. I was a bit like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole, into a world where nothing was the way I imagined it. I was incredibly lucky to work with CW5 Teresa Burgess, a Black Hawk pilot/wife/mother who was a real lifesaver in the research and understanding department.
Prior to Home Front, I would have said that I understood something about military families–their lives and their service. But, I was wrong in almost everything. I only understood the thinnest layer. I learned so much in the writing of this novel and in researching it. I went to a deployment ceremony and honestly, I think every American should attend one. Watching our soldiers preparing to go off to war, and their families standing alongside to say goodbye, really brings their sacrifice into sharp focus. It is a powerful reminder that whatever one feels about any particular war, we need to always respect and honor our soldiers and their families. Honestly, I felt a little ashamed that I hadn’t attended one before. Although, boy, was it difficult. I was humbled by their pride and strength in the face of such an undertaking. It makes you truly consider what heroism is and reminds you to be grateful.
Did you find that the experience of a woman deployed different from a man being deployed?
[K] Yes, I think it’s very different, and those differences were important to me. As you know, I write about women’s issues and women’s lives, so I guess it’s not surprising that I came to this topic. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a mother/soldier to leave her children and go off to war.
The parallel story of Michael defending a soldier with PTSD in a criminal case, while Jolene was dealing with PTSD, was brilliant! Did you have that in mind from the start?
[K] Thanks! That was a really lucky stroke, coming up with that. And yes, it existed almost from the beginning (at least from the time Michael existed). I came up with it because I wanted to educate the reader–and by extension, Michael–about PTSD without having to worry about being author intrusive or boring. The depiction of PTSD is one of the most important and relevant portions of the book. I tried to really bring it home in a way that allowed readers to understand how it feels to suffer the symptoms. I also tried to inform–this was the point of the Keller trial. The reader learns the truth of PTSD along with Michael. ultimately, one of the points of the novel is a reminder to all of us. As a nation we have to care for our soldiers upon their return. It’s just that simple.
What is your writing process?
[K] My writing process is extremely burdensome and time-consuming. I have spent years trying to pare it down, to be “smarter” from the beginning, and none of it seems to work for me. No matter how much research I do, I never seem to quite nail the right story from the start. Nonetheless, I begin with either a theme or an issue. In the case of Home Front, it was an issue. I wanted to write a story about the price of deployment on a wife/soldier/mother. We have all read about ment going off to war and women staying on the home front; I wanted to turn the story on its head and make it about a woman. That idea obviously leads to dozens of potential story lines. It began as a story about sisters, then about an estranged father/daughter, and ultimately became about Jolene and Michael’s crumbling marriage and their frightened children. As you know, I write longhand–often sitting on the beach. Then my fabulous assistant, Kim, types up my pages and hands them to me. It is normal for me to do as many as twenty drafts. Half of those drafts are game changers–characters, settings, storylines will be changed–and half are more line edit. It takes me about four months to research, outline and conceive the idea; six months to write the “first” draft; and another five months of editing after that.
How has social media effected you as a writer?
[K] Early in my writing career, I was isolated and didn’t know what people thought about my books. I was dragged into the new world of social media kicking and screaming, but the surprising truth is that I like talking to my readers via Facebook and my blog. (Kristin has a FB following of over 64,000.) It’s amazing, isn’t it? And they’re so fun!
After 20 novels, you’ve been approached by the film industry about two of your books?
Yes, Chris Columbus, who is one my favorite director/producers has begun work on Home Front. I can’t wait to see what he does with it. He’s such a genius at mixing drama and emotion. Also, Abigail Breslin, the Oscar-nominated star of Little Miss Sunshine, has optioned The things We Do for Love. That’s a real reader favorite, so I have high hopes for it.
Any tiny hints about your 2013 novel — inquiring minds will want to know?
[K] LOL! Nice try. It’s changing every second, so we’ll see.
Great talking with you again, Patricia! Thanks so much.
Kristin, thank you for taking time out of your crazy-busy schedule to talk with me about Home Front and all the exciting news you had to share. Home Front is a powerful novel, and has all the right ingredients to make a compelling movie. What a great new experience for you. We will all be standing in line at the theaters when the movies are released! Best of luck!
Readers: Don’t forget to leave a comment, if you want a chance to win a copy of Home Front! During May, I will be reviewing books for military families, children, and veterans. I also will share information about support programs for families who have lost loved ones.