Interview: February 8, 2008
February 8, 2008
Kristin Hannah is the author of 16 novels, including BETWEEN SISTERS, THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE, MAGIC HOUR and the newly released FIREFLY LANE.
In this interview with Bookreporter.com's Carol Fitzgerald, Erin Quinn and Norah Piehl, Hannah describes her fascination with the complex relationships among women and discusses how she was able to conjure up specific periods of time during which her narrative takes place. She also explains which of her protagonists she can relate to more and reveals some of her most memorable "looks" from the past.
Bookreporter.com: FIREFLY LANE spans several decades in the lives of its main characters. Why did you choose to cover such a sweeping time span with this book, and was there something that triggered the idea for the story?
Kristin Hannah: I think a big part of the inspiration for this book actually came from the idea of time passing. Before FIREFLY LANE, I had written a lot of books that examine a key time in a person's life --- a month, a year, a few years --- but I'd never before tried to capture a person's whole life. I really wanted to show how these girls became friends and how that friendship was the bulkhead of their lives. And as we know, more often than not, a relationship like that is the sum of a dozen little moments that span years. So there you have it...suddenly I'm covering four decades.
BRC: Did you have to do a lot of research to add historical color to Kate and Tully's stories, or did you rely on your own experiences and memories?
KH: To make things easier, I began by making them my own age. That way, I knew that the characters would be experiencing popular culture through the prism of my own life experiences. They were listening to the same music I did, going to the same movies, watching the same television shows. So that part was really drawn from my life. That being said, our memories are often faulty or a little confused, so everything I thought I remembered had to be checked out. In the end, it was a quagmire of work, making sure that every song, current event, TV show, food product, etc. was available when and where I needed it.
BRC: Music is a huge part of the novel --- you even use song lyrics as you introduce each decade in your characters' lives. Did you listen to music as you wrote? If so, what were some key songs or artists on your playlist?
KH: Music is a huge part of our lives, which is why it's so prominent in the book. Who doesn't remember the song they first danced to? The song that used to make them cry? The first album you bought with your own money? I didn't listen to the songs while I was writing, but I was constantly researching the music and using songs to jumpstart my memories and anchor the storylines. The book has its own playlist, which can be found on my website.
BRC: Kate and Tully start out together on Firefly Lane, but they end up making very different choices in their lives. Can you speak a little about the role that the women's movement plays in your story?
KH: In the end, I saw this book as a story of choices. As women, we have endless choices these days and myriad possibilities, but each decision carries a great weight. We try, but it's harder and harder to "have it all," and yet still we strive for that. One of the major themes in this book is the different paths we can take as women and how we live with the choices we make. In the end, I believe Tully and Kate each make the right choice for themselves, but still there is always a sneaky little amount of jealousy for the road not taken. That's really human, I think. We all want just a little of what we don't have. Or think we do.
BRC: Kate and Tully come from different backgrounds and lead very different lifestyles. Do you find yourself relating more with one or the other?
KH: Quite simply, I'm 90% Kate. I wish I had a little more Tully in me. I loved her all-in/larger-than-life personality, but it's not me. So much of Kate is who I am.
BRC: Although the book focuses primarily on a lifelong friendship between two women, you also touch on mother-daughter relationships, a dynamic you've explored in several previous novels. How do you see FIREFLY LANE fitting in to your earlier fiction?
KH: FIREFLY LANE is definitely "of a piece" with my previous novels, in that it's an emotional story of relationships. The biggest difference, as you've pointed out, is the friendship vs. love angle and the passage of time. I think it gives the reader a little more to think about than some of my previous work, a little more to talk about. Tully is a very unique character for me --- she's not even-tempered or rational or thoughtful. Instead, she's a bit overblown, extremely damaged and quite selfish. It was a real challenge to give the readers a character like that and still make her believable and sympathetic. That being said, there's still a solid love story at the center of the book. And as you know, the mother-daughter dynamic is a continual theme of mine. I just can't get enough of the complex nature of that relationship. One of my favorite parts of FIREFLY LANE is the Mrs. Mularkey/Kate/Marah relationship. The story really goes full circle in showing Kate, first as a daughter and then as a mother.
BRC: On your website, you talk about being a mother and sending your son off to college recently. Was writing FIREFLY LANE like taking a trip down "memory lane" for you? Did you go through your old photos, school yearbooks, etc. and reminisce about your life growing up during these decades?
KH: The funny thing was, all I had to do was turn on the music. A few well-chosen songs and those years came back to me in vivid detail. The Farrah Fawcett and Dorothy Hamill haircuts, the Earth shoes, the lava lamps, the punk rock clubs, the Madonna years. It was a blast.
BRC: You clearly are someone who understands the value of female friendships. Do you still keep in touch with girlfriends from high school?
KH: I have packs of girlfriends from every stage in my life. Obviously, some I keep in touch with more than others, but I still hear regularly from high school friends, college friends and career-year friends, as well as the friends I made in the writing communities and at my son's school functions. The best thing about us all is that no matter where we began or where we went in life, we have held on to who we are, and we still have plenty in common.
BRC: Your descriptions of Kate and Tully's hairstyles, makeup and fashions through the years definitely enhance the book. Can you remember your favorite "look" from these periods? And can you also share the one that makes you cringe as you look back?
KH: My most memorable was the Farrah Fawcett hair, low-rise, elephant bell jeans with floral platform sandals, and a mood ring. Wait...that's practically in style now. Who would have thought??? Cringeworthy --- my first perm (which made it look as if I were wearing a poodle draped over my head) and the asymetrical cut, which thankfully, my mother talked me out of.
BRC: FIREFLY LANE seems like the kind of novel that would be perfect for book clubs. What kinds of conversations do you imagine women having with each other after they've read the book?
KH: I'd love it if this book sparked discussion about how important we women are in others' lives, and about the nature of forgiveness. I think those are the central themes of the book. We need to stick together, and sometimes we have to forgive terrible things to make that happen.
BRC: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?
KH: I have just finished the first draft of my next book. I don't know when it will be published, but I can say that it's a really complex book about a family in Western Washington that is slowly falling apart.