Congratulations, Hannah, on the release of your latest book Her Secret Son ($19.99, HarperCollins Canada).
Thank you very much! I’m excited (and nervous) to send Josh and Logan off into the world.

It was a super fast read and an exciting one, particularly toward the end, which we will not talk about. The book had an interesting premise and Josh had some tough decisions to make. If you were in Josh’s position in regards to your son, would you have done the same?
All things being equal, yes, I believe I would. As a mum of three boys, it wasn’t hard to imagine my protective instincts kicking in, doing whatever I could to ensure Logan’s safety and well-being. Mind you, that’s easy to say when you’re not in Josh’s situation, and you know what happens in the end.

Photograph of a red-headed woman watching as a boy runs across the field.
Her Secret Son is by author Hannah Mary McKinnon.

How did you come up with the idea for this book?
At the gym! I usually listen to music or an audiobook when I work out, but in this instance the TV was on, and I caught the tail end of a news report. Difficult to tell you what it was about without giving away the story, but suffice it to say it caught my interest and got me wondering “what if…?” I let the idea noodle around my head for a while as it shaped itself into something I felt I could tell.

It is interesting to read this type of story from at adopted father point of view. Why did you make your main character a man?
As a woman, writing an entire novel from a man’s point of view was definitely a challenge, but one I welcomed. In my previous book, The Neighbors, one of the protagonists is a man, and I absolutely loved writing his side of the story.

Once I’d come up with the premise of Her Secret Son, it became clear this was very much Josh’s story. His partner dies, leaving behind not only her seven-year old son, but also deep, dark secrets Josh has to choose to ignore or unravel – there was something so compelling about that angle, I had to write it.

Josh has a lot of things going on – past tragedies, addictions – why was those important parts of this story.
The audiobook’s narrator, Alex Wyndham, described Josh as a “tortured soul” and I think that’s absolutely spot on. Josh’s past has very much shaped his present, and who he is, yet he’s adamant it won’t determine his future. Consequently he’s been trying to make up for his mistakes for years. The theme running through the book is redemption, and Josh is a complex character who doesn’t forgive himself easily, which is another big part of his character. I adored writing him.

What types of research did you do for this book?
I had to look into autopsies, obtaining birth certificates, legal guardianship and adoption, to name a few, and there were geographical considerations, too, as the novel is based in upstate New York and Maine. I needed the help and knowledge from many specialists to guide me.

Some of my research never made it into the book, but enabled me to write with plausibility. The research part is always fun. People are so generous with their time and incredibly helpful with what can be very strange questions indeed.

In your bio, you said you sometimes think you’ll never get all the story ideas out of your head. Where do these ideas come from?
A multitude of places. Something I see on TV, hear on the radio or read. Sometimes it’s a line of dialogue I overhear, or an image that pops into my head – my brain seems to constantly be looking for things to write about, and asking “what if…” questions.

Have these ideas always been there or do they keep appearing?
Some old ideas hang around, and if they stick, they’re usually the ones I should write about. However, new ideas do keep coming up, more so since I’ve written creatively. The more I write, the more ideas I seem to have – although many of them are discarded, and will never make it to the page.

Where to do you find these inspirations?
Specifically for my novels, the ideas came from four different places. My debut, Time After Time, was born out of frustration. I’d moved to Canada, the company I’d started up had failed, and I felt lost. I wondered how things might have turned out had I made different choices, then I thought about a character who got a glimpse of her alternate realities, and the story was born.

The Neighbors is about an ex-boyfriend moving in next door. They haven’t seen each other for almost 20 years, and, in their wisdom, decide not to tell their respective partners they used to be together. The idea came to me when two houses on our court went up for sale at the same time. I wondered who might move in, thought how awkward it could be if it were an ex-boyfriend. That spawned characters with lots and lots of secrets, things they’d never want anyone to know.

Her Secret Son was generated by the news segment on TV and the genesis of my fourth book came from a comment I heard on the radio, and I built the story around it.

You have written 12 short stories and three novels. Are they similar in style why or why not?
My short stories are quite varied with comedy, drama and more thriller-type reads. In contrast, my novels started with a rom-com, but I quickly moved to domestic suspense/drama. I prefer writing grittier, darker stories. There’s something about them that gives me more to sink my teeth into.

How is writing short stories different from novels? What do you like, dislike about each?
Short stories are fun because they’re quick and, well, short. I don’t plot them, but have an idea in mind and simply go with it and see where it takes me. There’s something very liberating about that process. Is there a downside? Not really, other than fewer people reading them.

Novels are a far greater investment in time and effort, but they let me create in-depth characters and storylines, which I love to do. However, before the novel really starts coming together, there’s an awful lot more room and time for that pesky voice of self-doubt to creep in. I’m getting better at duct-taping its mouth shut.

How long does it take you, on average, to write a book and short story?
I’ve written a short story in a day, or half a day, but that’s only because they tend to be no longer than 2,500 words and I type really fast. I’ve been known to write flash-fiction stories in 30 minutes, but that’s the exception, and only because the idea was crystal-clear from the moment my fingers touched the keyboard.

The first draft of a novel – my skeleton draft where I’m essentially telling myself the story – typically takes around two months. This isn’t something I’d share with my editor. To get to that point takes another three months or so.

What is your writing process?
Four books in and I’m definitely a plotter. I start with an idea, usually the beginning, and work out where I want the character(s) to be at the end of the story. From there I build stepping stones how to get them there. I interview my characters (sounds bizarre but it’s incredibly helpful to flesh them out), and break the story up into around 30 manageable chapters with five to seven bullet points per chapter.

In the draft stage, each of those chapters has to reach a minimum of 2,000 words, meaning my skeleton draft will be around 60,000, or two thirds of my final word count. At that point the heavy editing begins. I’ll go over the manuscript five, six, seven times, layering, building and developing with each round.

Once done, I send it to my editor as a “first” draft, after which we go through another few rounds of edits – this time with her wonderful expertise and support.

Do you write full time? If no, what else do you do? If yes, when did writing become full time and how did you decide you could do it full time?
My husband runs an electrical contracting company and I take care of all the finance, HR and admin for that, although writing is my main job. I’ve been a full-time author for a few years now, and am very fortunate that I’m able to do so.

I decided to dedicate my time to writing because I can’t imagine doing anything else, and of course because I was lucky enough to get multiple book deals.

I noticed on your website in addition to writing, you also do editing, helping other authors get to where you are. What do you like about editing? How has editing helped with your writing? Do you like the editing process for yourself? What advice would you give to new writers about the editing process?
The writing community is so supportive and encouraging, and offering editing services allows me to help others break into the market, too, which is a fabulous feeling. It’s fun and incredibly satisfying to help someone shape their story, work out where to add character depth, improve pacing, or polish dialogue, and figure out blind spots.

As for my own editing process, I love it! Writing the “skeleton draft” is by far the most tedious part, and why I write that draft as quickly as I can. It’s far easier to edit a page with words than a blank one.

Having other people edit my work has been extremely helpful, career defining, actually. For Time After Time I hired a freelance editor, and it was an eye-opening experience. It changed the way I write forever because she was able to pinpoint exactly what wasn’t working, and the mistakes I’d made.

Multiple lessons learned, all of which culminated in my securing agent representation.

I’ve since worked with two editors at my publisher (HarperCollins) and they’re phenomenal. Both Michelle and Emily bring so much insight to my work, have been able to get far more out of the manuscript than I’d ever imagined. They’re both savvy and whip-smart. I’ve loved every minute of our collaboration.

In terms of advice for new writers I’d say this: when editing your own work, know that the first draft of anything you write will more than likely not be your best – that’s what the editing stage is for, so keep layering. When working with a professional editor: listen, be open-minded, and try not to get defensive. They have your best interests at heart. But, ultimately, it’s your work, and you have to trust your gut instincts, too. It’s a fine balance.

If you could offer one piece of advice to new writers in general, what would it be?
Can I make it three?

One; take some writing courses and find the courage to share your work. Two; if you’re stuck on a chapter but know what comes after, skip ahead. I have no idea why I didn’t think of that myself, but it was revelatory and liberating when I realized I didn’t need anybody’s permission to do so.

Three; keep writing. The road to publication is littered with the corpses of fictional characters others gave up on. Don’t let yours die, too.

You mention you also dab in kid-lit. What kind of writing do you do for kids? Do you think you’ll write for other audiences?
I have a middle-grade project I’ve been working on, and I’d love for it to be picked up, but it’s early days so we’ll see. I might end up writing for other audiences. As my children grow, I do wonder if I’ll ever attempt writing for young adults, but for now I’ll stick to my domestic suspense stories.

What are you working on now?
My fourth book, SISTER DEAR (working title) is getting close to the final editing stages with my editor. It’s another domestic suspense/drama, this time about two half-sisters who don’t know the other exists…until one of them finds out, and decides to infiltrate her sibling’s life. Dark and twisty. I’m excited for this one, too, and it’ll be out in 2020.

Her Secret Son came out May 28. What are you most looking forward to about the book promotion journey?
Gosh, having a book published is both exciting and incredibly nerve-wracking. I’m looking forward to hearing what people make of the story, and hope people love Josh and Logan as much as I do.

Is there anything you would like to say to your potential readers/existing ones?
Thank you for choosing to read my novels. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly, and I hope you find it time well spent.

Thank you for your time. And congratulations on your success – writing and otherwise.
Thank you very much! This has been fun.