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Kristin Hannah

Genre: General Mainstream Fiction, Mainstream

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A Wedding Reunites Estranged Siblings in Kristin Hannah's New Novel, BETWEEN SISTERS

By Diane Snyder

As an author, Kristin Hannah never had trouble letting go. She'd finish a book, bid farewell to the characters she'd spent the last year nurturing and begin a new novel with a fresh cast. Until she reached her 11th book, last year's . A minor character, Meghann Dontess, the best friend of that novel's heroine, appeared in only a few scenes but left an enduring impression on Hannah.

"She drank a lot of cocktails, eyed a lot of younger men, said a
lot of funny things and then moved on," says the romance writer turned mainstream women's fiction author. "Because she was a walk-on, I was able to create some edges in her that one doesn't normally see in a heroine. About three quarters of the way through the book, I thought, what an interesting woman … she needs a book."

Now she has one. Hannah's new novel, BETWEEN SISTERS (Ballantine), explores Meghann's journey toward love and to the half-sister she's been estranged from for more than 25 years, Claire. Raised by a neglectful mother, the sisters became best friends as children, until Mom headed to Hollywood to star in a cheesy sci-fi TV series. Their relationship was severed suddenly when 9-year-old Claire went to live with her father in a small Washington State town, and Meg, then 16, entered college early and went on to become a successful Seattle divorce attorney.

Having written extensively about romantic and parent-child relationships in books like On Mystic Lake, Angel Falls and Summer Island, Hannah was intrigued by the opportunity to explore the strength of sisterly bonds. "It's such a complex and complicated relationship," says the author, who drew on her relationship with her younger sister, Laura, for the novel's emotional story. Like Meg, Hannah was a lawyer before turning to writing, and she is quick to point out that the autobiographical elements end there. "But it's easy to imagine the heartache and loss that
an estrangement would cause. A lot of times you make decisions that lead you away from people, and you end up looking back and thinking, how do you find your way back?"

That's one problem facing Meg and Claire. Now 42, Meg is a bulldog in the courtroom but lonely and afraid of intimacy in her personal life. Her therapist is her only nearby confidant, and her physical contact is limited to sex with the younger men she picks up for one-night (or, more accurately, half-night) stands. When she ends up on a forced vacation with nowhere to go, Claire, now a 35-year-old single mother, calls to announce that she's getting married for the first time—to a man she met only a couple of weeks earlier.

Before you can say prenuptial agreement, Meg is at her sister's door, trying to persuade her to call off the marriage and, when that doesn't work, planning to give her sister the best wedding the town has ever seen. In the process, Meg's edges are softened—but not entirely dulled—and she finds love and makes changes in her life without losing her backbone. For Hannah, creating a heroine with Meg's somewhat masculine authoritative personality was a pleasure to write.

"In essence, she's a hero," she says. "We as readers and writers allow our heroes a lot of personal and sexual latitude—they're allowed to be larger than life in a lot of ways. I wanted to take the chance to show a heroine who is damaged emotionally and has chosen, because of that, to live a very solitary life. But because I'm a romantic at heart, part of the happy ending for me is finding both the love of yourself and the love of your life."

That's one constant in Hannah's work, along with her knack for getting to the core of her characters' emotional lives and exploring the depth of their fears, desires and motivations. And, like her four previous hardcover books, BETWEEN SISTERS is set in the Pacific Northwest, the region that's been Hannah's home for most of her life and that she sees as having characteristics all its own.

"I read a lot of women's fiction that was set in New England and the South, but nobody seemed to be representing my corner of the world," says the author, who lives on Bainbridge Island, a Seattle suburb, with her husband, Benjamin, and teenage son, Tucker. "We in the West are different. In my work, my characters don't live in communities where they have huge extended families that go back for generations, and that's because we don't see much of that here. There's a pioneer spirit still here, [we're] a bit less connected to the past and to family, for good and for bad."

Ironically, family ultimately led Hannah to a writing career. She gave up law when she was pregnant with her son, vowing that if she hadn't sold a book by the time he was in first grade, she'd go back. It took only until he was 2. "The law is a great profession," she says. "It's very creative and very interesting. The problem was that I couldn't be the kind of lawyer I wanted to be and the kind of mother I wanted to be at the same time. Since I knew I couldn't have any more children, I just wanted to spend every minute with my son."

Though she established herself as a romance author with the publication of her debut novel, 1991's A Handful of Heaven, Hannah's first inclination was to write in a very different genre: horror. "I'm a huge horror and thriller fan," she explains, "but at the time there was a small baby around, and I did not want to open my mind to the things you had to think about to write those kinds of books. Ultimately, I decided that I would write about the brighter side of life—the hopes, dreams, wishes, fulfillment, heartache of ordinary life—and that's what led me to romance."

Fortunately for Hannah, she enjoyed writing the wedding-planning sections of BETWEEN SISTERS. Not long after completing the book, she was called on to plan
her father's second wedding, though unlike her fictional ceremony, there was no $4,000 wedding dress. "He proposed to his longtime girlfriend, then turned to me and said, 'You plan it. Tell us when and where we should be.' And I thought, 'Gosh, I just wrote this, didn't I?'"

Excerpt from Kristin Hannah's BETWEEN SISTERS

Meghann had achieved every goal she'd set for herself. When she'd started college as a scared, lonely 16-year-old, she'd dared to dream of a better life. Now, she had it. Her practice was among the most successful and most respected in the city. She owned an expensive condo in downtown Seattle (a far cry from the broken-down travel trailer that had been her childhood "home"), and no one depended on her.

She glanced down at her watch. Four-twenty.

Her client was late.

You would think that charging well over three hundred dollars an hour would encourage people to be on time.

"Ms. Dontess?" came a voice through the intercom.

"Yes, Rhona?"

"Your sister, Claire, is on line one."

"Put her through. And buzz me the second May Monroe gets here."

"Very good."

She pushed the button on her headset and forced a smile into her voice.

"Claire, it's good to hear from you."

"The phone works both ways, you know. So. How's life in Moneyland."
"Good. And in Hayden? Everyone still sitting around waiting for the river to flood?"

"The danger's passed for the year."

"Oh." Meghann stared out her window. Below and to her left, huge orange cranes loaded multicolored containers onto a tanker. She had no idea what to say to her sister. They had a past in common, but that was pretty much it. "So, how's that beautiful niece of mine? Did she like the skateboard?"
"She loved it." Claire laughed. "But really, Meg, someday you'll have
to ask a salesperson for help. Five-year-old girls don't generally have the coordination for skateboards."

"You did. We were living in Needles that year. The same year I taught you to ride a two-wheeler." Meg immediately wished she hadn't said that.
It always hurt to remember their past together. For a lot of years, Claire had been more of a daughter to Meghann than a sister. Certainly, Meg had been more of a mother to Claire than Mama ever had.

"Just get her a Disney movie next time. You don't need to spend so much money on her. She's happy with a Polly Pocket."

Whatever that was. An awkward silence fell between them. Meghann looked down at her watch…

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