Thank you for Visiting

This book club provided an opportunity to discuss books with authors from 2009 - 2013. I like to think we were a group of daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, well... women finding time to meet while juggling daily life.

I hope you enjoy exploring The Manic Mommies Book Club Archives. We read 46 books over the years, with audio or written author discussions for each book read documented on this blog.

~ with kindness & gratitude, Mari

Hannah’s Dream: Diane Hammond answers our questions

Thank you Diane for answering our questions! Our discussion begins Weds under the Big Tent – I will post questions for us to discuss Wednesday morning. Check back tomorrow!

How did the idea for the story come to you?
From 1996-1998, I was lucky enough to serve as press secretary for an ailing killer whale named Keiko, the star of the hit movie Free Willy. I spent every day standing on the pool-top, interpreting for the world media what the handful of men and women were doing as they restored him to health both physically and mentally, spending hours in his icy pool swimming with him, petting him, playing with him and challenging him. The relationships I saw unfold between the staff and Keiko over those two years were powerful, individual, complex and deep. In the end, at its most pure, Keiko’s rehabilitation was a love story.

When Keiko was moved to Iceland for eventual release back to the wild, I left the project. I had thought, once it was over, that I’d write about it, or at least about some of the issues and conflicts it raised. But the story was simply too close and too filled with baggage.

My husband, who’d led Keiko’s rehabilitation, suggested, instead, that I write about a different species—an elephant, say—and see if that freed me to base a work on fiction on my Keiko experience. I agreed that it might be a good idea, and even went so far as to learn about elephants, but still didn’t have a story and let the idea languish. Then, purely by accident, I stumbled upon footage of a weeping man standing by the side of an Asian elephant inside a travel truck. And in that moment, I was given my main characters and a situation that was complex enough to fill a novel. My intention was to inform this story with what I’d witnessed so powerfully during my Keiko years.

It’s so interesting to learn while reading and Diane has such an interesting background (I’m jealous). I would like to ask her if how long it took for write this book, was the story building for years or did the story come to her after she left the zoo/animal world: It took a year to write the story, once I’d met the main characters, and another six or eight months to refine it. It is as pure a work of fiction as I’ll probably ever create, though it was based on the Keiko years. And after my initial research, I was never in the presence of an elephant again as I wrote the book.

When developing the story, where did you start? Did you start with the characters or the storyline? I consider myself to be plot-challenged. I’ve never been able to write to a storyline developed before the actual writing begins, and even then it’s sometimes it’s difficult for me to identify a plot amidst what my first editor termed “throat-clearing,” by which she meant the exploratory character development that doesn’t end up in a final work, but is integral to its development. In the case of Hannah’s Dream, I simply started writing about Hannah, an Asian elephant; Samson Brown, her long-time keeper; and a somewhat dilapidated zoo in Washington State. The rest of the story, including the conflict and all the supporting characters, arrived in piecemeal fashion, and during the writing itself. I remember turning to my husband one day, for instance, and announcing with genuine surprise that there would be a pig in the book—Miles, Truman and Winslow’s potbellied miniature pig. Who knew why Miles appeared in the first place—certainly I didn’t, but it seemed like a good idea to go along with it! And this was just as true for Johnson Johnson, Reginald Poole, Rhonda and the others.

I enjoyed the side story of adding Diabetes to the story, I would be interested to learn why the author chose diabetes (does she have a personal connection or just to add depth to the story): I needed an ailment that would lend urgency to Sam’s need to retire, but I didn’t want to use something acute like cancer, which inevitably introduces the prospect of death, but rather some serious but chronic illness. Diabetes not only filled that bill, but often produces unhealing ulcers, especially on the legs and feet, which gave me a nice parallel between Hannah’s health problems and Sam’s.

What research into animal behavior in general and elephants specifically did the author do? Though I’d love to pass myself off as a dedicated and thorough researcher, it’s not true. I spent a day with several very devoted and experienced elephant keepers at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, picking their brains and asking every single question I could think of: common health issues for elephants in zoos, elephant body language and expression, food preferences, etc. In addition, I haunted the excellent website of the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN.

There appear to be several themes throughout Hannah's Dream (Reincarnation, faith and religion, renewal) - How did the author's views on these topics influence the writing? Oddly, although I don’t consider myself a spiritual person, and have never practiced any religion (though I would say I’m an agnostic rather than an atheist), spirituality and religion often play big parts in the lives of my characters. In Hannah’s Dream, Sam and Corinna deal with tragedy both with the help of and, in Corinna’s case, despite their religious beliefs. The notion of reincarnation also strengthens their devotion to Hannah. For the record, however, I’ve never experienced a feeling or example of reincarnation in my own life.
The characters are evolved and well written, I would be curious to hear how the author developed Harriet. We learn of her childhood and on page 156 I was taken aback by her mother’s statement “I’m sorry but if you were my daughter, I would know you, I would love you.” Each character is unique and with multiple levels, did you have to research to create any of the character or are they merely fiction? Do you know someone like Harriet’s mom? On the one hand, I’d say unequivocally that the characters in Hannah’s Dream are works of fiction, but on the other hand, I believe that fiction writers, like magpies, assemble our characters from shiny bits we’ve scavenged from our life experiences, however subconsciously. I did meet a woman whose mother, like Harriet’s, sustained a serious head injury and never again recognized her as her daughter.

I also believe that, with the exception of sociopaths and psychopaths, there are very few truly bad people, only damaged ones. Harriet’s childhood, for instance, was hugely injurious, and she spends her adult life doing the best she can with the damage she sustained in her youth. Harriet is one of my very favorite characters in Hannah’s Dream. Others are Max Biedelman and Johnson Johnson.

I found this last question on the author’s website:

Most of your characters have very close relationships with animals, even above and beyond Hannah. Do you write your animal characters the same way you write your human characters? One of the greatest challenges in writing Hannah’s Dream was to avoid anthropomorphizing—endowing my animal characters with human qualities. To be honest, I’m not sure how well I did: Miles, in particular, is an irrepressible character to whom I gave a very strong sense of whimsy and humor. In my gut it felt right, and animals do sometimes laugh, so I think I got away with it. Hannah, too, though clearly an elephant, has a personality that is entirely her own, transcending but hopefully not violating her elephant-ness. And let’s not forget the thuggish Kitty, one of three cats belonging to Johnson Johnson. He is 100% cat—but then, I have cats of my own, so I knew I was on solid ground there!

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