Stay in your lane. Have you heard that, authors? The admonition to decide who you are as a writer, write that, and keep writing that. But. How about Nora Roberts? How about Charlaine Harris? How about WIlliam Kent Krueger? We bet you could think of many successful authors who have written in several genres. (Some of them hang out around here, right?)
The multi-multi-bestselling author Hannah Mary McKinnon started with rom-coms. She changed to suspense, where she hits the Canadian bestseller lists week after week. And continues to do so! (Her newest thriller, THE REVENGE LIST comes out May 23. And there’s another one in the works.)
But then she had another idea. And we thought that would be perfect for a special Career Authors 11.
1. You write thrillers as Hannah Mary McKinnon and are releasing a romantic comedy, The Christmas Wager, as Holly Cassidy this year, too. How did that happen?
In short: the year 2020. My mum passed away a couple of months after the pandemic hit and I couldn’t get to Switzerland to say goodbye. It was one of the most gut-wrenching, guilt-inducing ex¬periences of my life. During that time, I worked on my sixth book, the thriller Never Coming Home. Although it’s crime fiction, it turned out to be funny (dark and twisted but funny none¬theless) and that happened because I needed to escape some¬place where I could laugh when everything else felt so desperate.
I enjoyed writing the humor so much, it got me thinking—could I go back to my romantic-comedy roots (my first book, Time After Time, was a rom-com). If so, how, and when would I do that? I didn’t want to stop writing thrillers but do both if possible, so I played around with a few ideas. To be honest, I didn’t do much with them until my agent asked if I’d thought about writing a romantic-comedy. Now that’s what I call serendipitous! I had so much fun working on The Christmas Wager and bringing Bella and Jesse together. It was truly a delight to explore the lighter side of life before going back to my fictional murderous ways. Writing crime and romantic-comedies has turned out to be a great balance for me.
2. Is your process different for thrillers vs. romantic-comedies?
In thrillers, the pressure of coming up with a twist at the end that nobody will see coming is immense. That pressure fell away with the rom-com, which felt great…until I realized while the expectation would be for my characters to end up together, I had to find unique obstacles to pepper their journey with. Writing romance isn’t easy, either!
Other than that, I approached the rom-com the same way I did my thrillers—with a detailed outline, character interviews, and an approximate sketch of Maple Falls, the fictional town in which The Christmas Wager is set. I can’t write until I know (or think I know) the major plot points and the ending. Without those I meander around like a person in the forest with no map, wondering where I’m headed.
3. What’s your advice for authors who want to branch out into a different genre?
Connect with authors in the genre you want to branch out into, and attend workshops and conferences, if you can (online options are great). Read and listen to books in the genre, too. Play around with story ideas and character sketches. What I also found really helpful when writing a rom-com was to remember to give the reader a reason to turn the page at the end of every chapter. Having mini cliff-hangers is just as important in a rom-com as it is in a thriller.
4. What’s your biggest dream as an author?
I used to say “have one of my books become a movie or TV show,” and while that’s still true and I’d absolutely love for that to happen, my bigger dream is to keep growing my audience so I can continue adding to my body of published works. When I first started out, I wanted my back-list to be ten books. I’m almost there (I’ve just plotted my tenth), so now I’m aiming for twenty.
5. What’s the funniest thing you’ve been asked about your novels?
If my first suspense novel, The Neighbors, was autobiographical. Considering it’s about adultery and very bad stuff happens to a main character, I hoped the person who asked me that question hadn’t yet read the book, ha, ha, ha.
6. What are you most scared of as an author?
Years ago, when I told someone I hoped to continue writing novels for years and years, they replied, “Well, yeah, until you run out of ideas.” It wasn’t a nice thing to say, and it stuck in my mind. Thankfully it hasn’t happened yet, so there!
7. Is there anything you’d never write about?
I’m not big on gore on the page, so I’d probably never write anything particularly graphic. As a general subject, it’s highly unlikely I’d ever write about cults. I had an extremely traumatic experience in my early 20s, which I detailed in this article for Crimereads. Sometimes I think writing about a cult might help me work through the trauma but honestly, I don’t have the courage. Maybe if I run out of other ideas…
8. If you could choose one non-writing skill to master instantly, what would it be?
I’d love to be able to sing well. I have such a dreadful singing voice and I mouth the words to “Happy Birthday” because I’m embarrassed. I’ve always been envious of people who can belt out a perfect tune, it must be so satisfying. A close second wish would my being able to play the drums. The protagonist in my thriller for 2024 is a drummer, and it made me want to learn. Maybe I will someday!
9. Have you recently read any books about the craft of writing?
Writing The Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit, which I found extremely helpful while plotting my next romantic-comedy. It’s such a joy to read. Sometimes craft books can feel a little dry, but not this one. I laughed out loud many times. While it’s primary focus is screenwriting, so much of it can be applied to novels – and not only romantic comedies. I love injecting humor into my thrillers, and this book will help with that moving forward, too.
10. What books are you reading right now?
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley to satisfy my rom-com needs and Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six by Lisa Unger because she’s one of my all-time favorite thriller authors. She has a few nods and mentions in my next thriller, The Revenge List, which were such fun to include.
11. Speaking of The Revenge List, tell us more about the novel and can you reveal any insider info about the story?
With pleasure! The Revenge List is my 7th novel (6th thriller), publishes on May 23, 2023, and is about an anger management group therapy exercise gone terribly wrong. When Frankie Morgan loses her “forgiveness list” – the names of people who have wronged her in the past, and whom she could work to forgive – she thinks nothing of it. As the people on Frankie’s list have increasingly serious accidents, Frankie realizes she’s in trouble. She wrote her own name on the list because her past self is the one person she’ll never forgive, and if she doesn’t find out who’s behind the attacks, she might be next…
As for insider info, the fictional coffee shop, Jake’s Cakes, originally appears in my 2020 thriller, Sister Dear. I loved reviving it as a little easter egg for those who read both books.
Also, I modeled The Revenge List’s reporter, Danika Danforth’s personality on my wonderful friend and fellow crime author Hank Phillippi Ryan. When one early-reader told me “reporters aren’t that nice,” I replied, “Hank is!”
Career Authors says: That’s hilarious! Any more questions for the fabulous Hannah Mary McKinnon? Ask her on the Career Authors Facebook Page!
Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. Her suspense novels include THE NEIGHBORS, and bestsellers HER SECRET SON, SISTER DEAR, YOU WILL REMEMBER ME, NEVER COMING HOME, and THE REVENGE LIST. She has also written the romantic comedy THE CHRISTMAS WAGER as Holly Cassidy. Hannah Mary lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons. Connect on Facebook and Instagram @hannahmarymckinnon, and on Twitter @HannahMMcKinnon.
For more, visit www.hannahmarymckinnon.com