Today we're pleased to have Hannah McKinnon at CLC to talk about her latest novel, Mystic Summer. Thanks to TLC Book Tours, we have a copy to give away!
Hannah McKinnon is the author of The Lake Season, as well as two young adult novels. She graduated from Connecticut College and the University of South Australia. She lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut, with her family, a flock of chickens, and two rescue dogs. Visit her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
Since finishing graduate school, Maggie Griffin has worked hard to build an enviable life in Boston. She’s an elementary school teacher in a tony Boston suburb, a devoted sister, and a loving aunt. With her childhood best friend’s wedding quickly approaching and her own relationship blossoming, this is the summer she has been waiting for.
But when Maggie’s career is suddenly in jeopardy, her life begins to unravel. Stricken, Maggie returns home to seaside Mystic, Connecticut, where she expects to find comfort in family and familiarity. Instead, she runs into Cameron Wilder, a young man from her past who has also returned home, and whose life has taken a turn that puts Maggie’s city struggles in harsh perspective. When tragedy strikes for Cameron, Maggie is faced with big decisions as she weighs what matters most and strives to stay true to the person she’s become.
Set against the gorgeous backdrop of a New England summer when past and present collide, Mystic Summer is a gorgeous novel about looking back, moving forward, and the beauty that blooms when fate intervenes.
What was the most challenging and most rewarding part of writing Mystic Summer?
Writing Mystic Summer was a joy, but it also took me out of my comfort zone in regard to style and technique. Most of my published work has been written in third person, past tense, which happens to come very naturally for me. But when I first began work on Mystic Summer, there was something very present about Maggie- in both her voice and her story. And as soon as I began writing, there it was: first person, present tense. Which proved to be much harder for me than I initially thought it would be. Throughout the drafting of this novel, I would lapse into past tense, or third person, and I’d catch myself when rereading passages. At one point my editor and I had to have “the talk” and decide which direction to take it in. Honestly, it would’ve been easier for me as the author to change it all to third person, past, but in the end we agreed that it worked better for Maggie to try present. It makes her voice that much stronger, and ultimately it brings the reader right into the action and dialogue of the story as it’s unfolding. There’s something very powerful about the immediacy of that, and hopefully it’s satisfying for my readers to find themselves in the heart of it all.
The other challenge- no joke - was going on a virtual gastronomic tour of Mystic Village- which is rough stuff when one finds herself sitting in her writing room on a dreary winter day as she pens the culinary path of her main characters whose setting is in the land of lobster rolls. But that was also part of the reward! Traveling to Mystic to ‘conduct research’ for the book! I literally ate and drank my way across town- and who could blame me? If Maggie had a scene at the Oyster Club’s Tree House on Water Street, then I had better sample the raw bar before I put it in writing. While it’s fun to include real-life places, I wanted to be sure I did my homework. Mystic Village is a very unique New England spot, and it was important to me to not only make the setting authentic, but also to give props to the many amazing local venues who call it home. Probably the most rewarding part of writing this book is the way Mystic has responded. We’re hosting a launch party at the Mystic Museum of Art on June 22nd, courtesy of Bank Square Books, and so many of the local businesses have opened their arms (lifted the drawbridge?) to let us sail into town and celebrate all that’s special about a summer night in Mystic. I can’t wait to connect with my readers!
How do you approach your writing? Do you plot or go with the flow?
Oh, how I wish I could plot a story! It’s so interesting, because whenever I see interviews with my favorite authors I most want to know their process- process is such an individual thing. It’s quite personal! To the point of being private.
That said, I can tell you what works for me. I have large bulleting boards in my writing room, and once the story begins to take shape and I’m a few chapters-deep, then I’ll break scenes down onto index cards and post them. I’m a pretty visual learner, so it’s helpful to me to step back and look at the board to see how the story breaks down from a whole. Sometimes there are glaring holes where a character seems to have fallen off the map. (Which begs the question- do you axe that one?) Sometimes there are scenes that are well written, but they don’t propel the story forward. (Which forces you to ask, what if I cut this? Would it alter the story or no?)
My stories always begin with character. And I write until the characters develop enough voice and dimension to take over- then they are the ones who determine where we go next. Plot and themes arise from my characters. It’s a strange notion, the thought that you are handing over the reins to fictional people. But for me, that’s how it works. My new book I’m working on now started as one character’s story, but I kept finding that another was inserting herself into so many scenes and conversations. Which led me to realize it was really her story I was telling. Which surprised me as much as I’m sure it will surprise my editor!
What did you learn from writing Mystic Summer?
I learned that even though this is my fourth published novel, there is still so much to learn about the process. Changing tense and narrators and point of view were just a few of my challenges, and I’m glad I played with my craft and pushed my envelope. As a writer, we’re used to being isolated to our own physical space and our own head space. Until you let your agent or editor into what you’re doing, it’s all you. And that is kind of terrifying. Playing around with technique let me flex some aritistic muscles I’d been afraid to use. Am I going to write my next novel the same way? Probably not- having pushed that envelope, there is also much to be said for your knowing comfort zone and recognizing your strengths. Will I try those changes again down the road? Probably so.
It’s important to expand on your range. Even if you’re really good at what you do, there’s always room for growth, and as you develop a readership, I think it’s critical to offer your readers your best work with each book. People are so busy these days- if they take the time to crack open the pages of your book, you need to make it worth their while. And that comes from good storyline, as much as it does from solid writing.
If Mystic Summer were made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?
That’s the million dollar question! It’s funny, because I never let myself go ‘there’ as I’m writing. Too much pressure- don’t want to jinx it. But once the book is edited, published, and out in the world, it creates this ‘safe’ distance from which you can ask those questions. Well, whisper them, perhaps!
I see Maggie Griffin being played by Rachel McAdams. She’s whip smart, expressive, and downright adorable. Cam would have to be a Zac Efron type- that all American boy next door look who has the range to simultaneously pull off sensitive and smoldering. Kate Hudson is Erika- sassy, playful, and that friend who can get you to do things you really don’t want to do but suddenly find yourself agreeing to twice, and out loud. Yep- Kate. No way around it.
Since Mystic Pizza takes place in the same location as your book, what is your favorite thing about that movie and which character did you like best?
I love, love, love Mystic Pizza. It came out when I was a teenager, and all my friends and I would rent it over and over. What I loved about that story is that each of those female characters was relatable, as they stood for character traits we all possess or aspire to possess. The rebel. The bookworm. The lost girl. The good girl. I was probably most like Kat (Annabeth Gish), but I really wanted to be Daisy (Julia Roberts)!
What is your favorite way to escape?
Heading outside is my favorite way to escape. Whether it’s a long walk on a crisp fall day with my dogs to clear my head, or taking my children to the lake each day during the summer, there’s something about connecting with nature that is restorative physically and spiritually. Like Maggie, in Mystic Summer, who leaves the city and heads home to the coast to steer her course. Of course, I also love to read! So lying on the beach with a good book combines the best of both worlds.
Thanks to Hannah for visiting with us and to TLC Book Tours for sharing her book with our readers. Visit the other stops on Hannah's blog tour!
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Giveaway ends June 19th at midnight EST.