In the Spotlight: Hannah McKinnon, an Award-Winning Writer

Hannah McKinnonHannah McKinnon just released her latest commercial fiction novel, “Mystic Summer.” This second book in a two-book deal with Emily Bestler Books of Atria / Simon & Schuster is quickly becoming a “great summer beach book” after hitting the shelves across the nation only two months ago.

Bestselling authors like Elin Hillenbrand, Shelley Noble, and Nan Rossiter support this introspective book about a woman’s visit back to her childhood home where she reconnects with an old boyfriend who’s going through turmoil.

Hannah shared how she celebrated the book launch on location in the town she beautifully and descriptively wrote about. The grandiose party was held at the Mystic Museum of Art on the Mystic River on June 22nd. “It was a magical summer evening and the Town of Mystic, along with many of the local businesses, like the iconic Mystic Pizza, got involved. We had a huge local Mystic turnout. My hometown team was there, too. It was a nice surprise.”

Mystic Summer JacketShe added, “the whole experience was fantastic. It feels like you’re on a tour that goes by quickly. I was on tour at various bookstores and author events and I love it because it connects me to my readers. Writing is solitary. Touring is a whirlwind. I love connecting with other writers and authors, too, and my circle is so supportive.”

Hannah knows Mystic well and it shows through in her writing.  “I have personally vetted every place that I mention in my book. I have tasted food at the local restaurants. I have visited the seaport and aquarium. I’ve been to Main Street. I have shopped in the downtown village.”

Early on, Barnes & Noble picked up “Mystic Summer” as part of their summer promotion list. Target, Walmart, Amazon, and Indie Books also carry it. The book is available in softcover and audio in North America and foreign rights are in the works. “We’ve already sold more copies in the first month than in the first year of ‘The Lake Season’ sales, which launched last June and had solid sales. We are proud of that,” she said.

When discussing “The Lake Season,” which is about a New England family everyone can relate to, Hannah said it was featured by CNN, Cosmo, and InStyle magazine as a “best summer read” and “the backdrop is an organic, lakeside farm in New Hampshire. It gives it a definitive sense of time and place,” she said.

Common threads in her novels are a lyrical prose style and very descriptive segments. The books are also character driven and are about family relationships. “I start out with a character or two in a given situation. Then, the story develops from there,” she said. Her inspiration for “Mystic Summer” came from the post graduate years where there were a lot of “firsts” and milestones. “I wanted to try to pay homage to this ‘coming of age’ period in one’s life that’s both exciting and overwhelming.”

Hannah also draws on personal experience. For instance, when it comes to setting, she studied literature and education as an undergraduate at Connecticut College. “This is when I spent a lot of time in Mystic. It’s a great tourist destination. In addition to its Yankee charm, Mystic possesses a relaxing coastal vibe, rich New England history, and culture, all of which make it a desirable summertime location.” One of the sub-characters in the novel was inspired by a childhood family friend who lived with a congenital pediatric health issue, similar to the one described in the story.

What some may not realize is that Hannah is a successful writer in another genre. She’s the author of two critically acclaimed children’s books for middle school readers that Macmillan published. In 2009, “Franny Parker” received many distinctions like the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, Iowa Children’s Choice Winner, and the Volunteer State Book Award. In 2010, “The Properties of Water” distinctions included AMAZON Best Book 2010, South Dakota State Reading List, and Voya Magazine.

Growing up in Connecticut, Hannah was surrounded by books as her parents taught English and Reading. Her writing interest was a natural progression. After receiving her Sixth Year Master’s Degree at Flinders University of South Australia, she came back to Connecticut to teach 5th Grade students at the Timothy Dwight School in Fairfield. In 2000, she taught 4th Grade students at the Scotland School in Ridgefield. Hannah’s defining moment happened while reading aloud “Because of Winn Dixie,” and her students were greatly moved. “It was pivotal because I always wanted to write. Although I loved teaching, it allowed me to immerse myself in great children’s literature. It was time to stop thinking about it and instead try to make it happen.” While on maternity leave, she penned her first two stories.

Hannah’s transition from a children’s literature writer to an adult fiction writer wasn’t easy. “I had hoped, and thought, once I was published it would lend itself to transitioning into adult fiction, but it didn’t. Switching genres was akin to starting all over from scratch. Breaking into commercial fiction was hard. I selected three favorite authors’ books and reached out to their agents. After waiting for what felt like forever, I got a call,” she said.

Along the way, Hannah learned the industry’s ins and outs. “It’s a business first and foremost and it’s difficult to balance because writing is a creative process, but there are deadlines and sales figures and promotion that come along with the package. I had to learn how to separate them.”

Hannah also learned how to embrace social media. “When I wrote children’s books, there was none of that. Now, I can reach readers instantly on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. I still need to teach myself to do more with social media, but I’ve learned its value: It helps me to keep my readers engaged and growing. Social media plays a vital role in marketing your work. The role of bloggers and reviewers is important. They’re savvy and highly influential and can really promote your work. Spikes can happen overnight.  It’s a virtual marketplace,” she said.

Hannah’s words of wisdom for aspiring writers: “Whatever your genre, read widely and deeply in that market. Get to know the material, get to know the writers’ works, look into their acknowledgement sections to see who represents them, who edits them, who publishes them. Eventually, these are the players that you may aspire to reach out to. Do your due diligence. Keep writing. You can’t edit a blank page. If you have a great story, then get it down on paper. Don’t worry about the business part until afterwards.  The bottom line is your story, and with that you have to always remember who you’re writing it for.”

Hannah stressed the importance of writing regularly. She works writing around her children. “I wrote my first two novels during naptimes when they were babies. As the kids grew up and started nursery school, I was able to write a little more. Now that both girls are in school, I try to write Monday through Friday during school hours. Believe me, there are plenty of distractions working from home, from piles of laundry to that sunny day outside your window, but deadlines force you to do the office time.”

hannah book signingShe added, “I am so honored to be able to do what I love and I’m quite touched by how my town and the local communities have supported me both personally and professionally.  Every day it’s a gift I try very hard to not take for granted.”

Hannah just signed another two-book deadline with Emily Bestler Books of Atria / Simon & Schuster and the new releases are scheduled for June 2017 and June 2018. They’ll be part of the “summer beach read crowd.”

She’s already halfway through her next novel that’s set in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. “It’s about grown children returning to their parents’ seaside cottage to celebrate their father’s 75th birthday. No one comes home lugging just one bag. At least not the emotional kind!”

To learn more about Hannah McKinnon, visit: www.hannahmckinnon.com

Save the Date:

The Savoy Bookshop, a live mic night with authors in Westerly, Road Island, August 25th at 7 p.m.

This article is written by Alicia Sakal. The original version appeared in the Town Tribune on August 11, 2016. Contributed photos.

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