The Friends of the Coronado Public Library partnered with Warwick’s Bookstore and the Coronado Cultural Arts Commission to present Kristin Hannah in Conversation with Susan Elizabeth Phillips discussing her latest work, “The Four Winds.” The award winning and #1 New York Times bestselling author drew an astounding crowd for the fundraising event at the Coronado Performing Arts Center on March 15th.
Books were stacked in the arms of fans lined up to get their novels signed before the discussion began. Interviewer Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and USA Today bestselling author who writes contemporary romance novels. She and Hannah met thirty years ago and quickly became close friends. Phillips opened the event by playfully asking how Hannah has kept her humility with all the accomplishments she has achieved. The two cheerfully reminisced and transitioned into how she went from a lawyer to a writer.
“The Four Winds” follows Elsa Martinelli’s pilgrimage west towards California during the Dust Bowl Era in the Great Depression.
San Diego local Donna Lerbet read “The Four Winds” for her book club and expressed, “I loved the way she developed the characters and thought it was realistic how the author talked about the way they had to make choices on survival. It was really compelling to bring up [those themes] as well as the prejudice during the time of the Great Depression and that move to California.”
Event-goer Julie Howe was in awe as she explained, “The lead female was so strong and courageous. Even in the worst of times she continued to carry the family on her back. It was truly remarkable and the character development was one of a kind. Simply sensational as you could feel her heartbreak and determination.”
Journey to Becoming a Writer
Hannah’s mother was the leading inspiration for why she began her journey in this career. While battling breast cancer, her mother decided they should write a book together. Settling upon her mom’s choice of genre, historical romance, they plotted their ideas when Hannah would visit the hospital after law school. When her mother passed away, Hannah put everything in a box and moved on with life.
During her pregnancy with her son, she went into early labor at 14 weeks which resulted in bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy. So her husband suggested she finish what she and her mother started. Hannah humorously explained, “I pulled it all out and thought to myself ‘I’ll write a book, how hard can that be?’”
With little to no revision and much confidence, she decided to send it to an editor. Many months later they responded by saying, You may have talent, it’s impossible to tell. It was that specific moment 35 years ago when Hannah reveals, “I understood I had chosen to do something that not only I could fail, but I could fail for years. That was when I decided this was what I wanted to do, I wanted to be an at-home mom, so I’m going to do this writing thing.”
Phillips further explored how an audience started growing in response to the boundaries she pushed with the sense of quirkiness in her historical romance novels. During the time of “Home Again” and “On Mystic Lake,” there was a shift to contemporary. She was never driven by the desire for success, but rather, “A chance on the field.”
The two friends continued to share the hard reality that most editors choose what has already been proven to succeed. It takes the exceptional few to take a chance and see something off the wall, which does not necessarily fit the niche. The common theme present in every Kristin Hannah novel is the power of female relationships. Hannah explains this core element in her stories as a reflection of her upbringing and a cornerstone to her life.
Her childhood was centered around a hippie lifestyle. Born in Huntington Beach, she remembers her parents loading everyone in the Volkswagen and traveling for four months up the Pacific Northwest. Her nose was always buried in a book, which Hannah believes impacted her writing greatly. Her favorite adventures began with “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” and transformed into her geek years indulging in “Dune.”
Epic stories like the French Resistance and the Great Depression challenged Hannah to step outside of her comfort zone. They needed to be written for, “Women’s lost and forgotten stories to be passed down.” As Newsweek proclaimed, “The Four Winds” is “brutally beautiful.”
Hannah’s Writing Process, and a New Book
The eloquent imagery and defining lessons are all written in longhand. Hannah’s process is messy, but she cannot write another way. She’ll do a year of research before she begins putting it on paper. During the first draft of “The Four Winds,” she reached page 450 when the character of Elsa entered and she could not ignore her powerful presence. The idea of motherhood was missing, so she was left to throw away a year’s worth of work and begin again. Phillips jokingly termed her process as “Screwy,” however in the end her works are truly wonderful.
As Phillips and Hannah concluded their conversation a roar of excitement erupted from the audience. The internationally known author announced that she is working on a new book to be released February 2024 and it will be set on Coronado Island!
For tickets and details on all upcoming events, check out https://coronado.librarycalendar.com/