Hannah D. State is a Canadian author. Born in London, Ontario, she graduated from McGill University with a BA and earned her MPL from Queen’s University. Hannah enjoys going on nature walks and pondering the mysteries of the universe. She currently resides in New Brunswick. Journey to the Hopewell Star is Hannah’s first novel and while it was written with a young reader audience in mind, I found it engrossing enough to keep my interest until the end, desiring to read more of Samantha’s adventures. With this in mind, I wanted to learn more about the author and find out if she plans on continuing the series. (Spoiler alert: she does!)
Miramichi Reader: Hannah, please tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.
I was born and raised in London, Ontario along with my younger sister. My father was a university professor of political science and later worked in health research and policy. My mother was a writer.
My parents were very loving and supportive and gave me a lot of freedom and independence. They encouraged my creative endeavours. My father taught me to have concern for the community and the importance of social justice. We volunteered a lot for different community organizations. My mother read to me at a young age and inspired my love of reading and writing.
I studied at McGill University and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree. Between my university studies, I held different jobs: a research assistant for Western University in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics classifying maps for use in policy-making; a student planner for the City of London, Ontario; and a census enumerator for Statistics Canada. The most difficult job was being a telemarketer, which required cold calling to sell ink cartridges. I wasn’t passionate about the work, and my personality isn’t suited to being a salesperson.
After I got my BA, I continued my schooling and completed my master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Queen’s University. When I graduated, it was around the time of the recession, so jobs were few and far between. There seemed to be a lot of competition for private sector planning jobs, and it was difficult to get one. Luckily, and in a twist of fate, I was recruited by the federal government and started working at Health Canada (in a real property role) but was eventually bridged into a permanent position. I’ve been working for the feds ever since and have relocated to different places across Canada, taking on positions in various departments. My husband has been so amazingly supportive, following me to different cities and switching jobs along the way, which isn’t easy. Looking back at my career path and the opportunities I had, I’m glad I didn’t get that planning job. Sometimes when you don’t get something you want, it can be a blessing in disguise!
MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.
My mom was a huge influence. She sparked my love of reading and writing at a young age. As a writer, she would sometimes give creative writing lessons at my high school. She was always supportive and encouraging. I remember writing as a child and wanting to do what she did. She was a guiding light in so many ways. As a young adult, I also looked up to my mom’s writing friends, many of whom took the time to answer several of my writing-related questions when I was first starting out. In high school, there were a couple of English teachers whom I really admired too. I later took a novel writing course at the University of New Brunswick and was inspired by the professor, who had achieved success as an independent science fiction author. He is an excellent mentor.
MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?
Well, I don’t really have just one favourite book—there are so many! Each one is unique in its own way, and could be evaluated and considered separately on its own merits. That’s like asking which child is my favourite! I can’t choose. Each has its own distinct personality and style, and I love them equally. Some of the authors whom I admire are (in no particular order): Margaret Atwood, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Clifford Simak, Lois Lowry, C.S. Lewis, Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins, Lucy Maud Montgomery, John Green, and Ray Bradbury, just to name a few. There are so many books on my reading list, and it’s growing exponentially. I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, The Golden Compass, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
MR: Let’s talk about your first novel, Journey to the Hopewell Star. Did you start out to write a YA novel, or did the story take you in that direction?
It started out as a short story. After sharing it with a couple of my close relatives and my husband, they all encouraged me to develop it further, and so it grew. After a while, I told myself it was going to be a novella. They’re relatively short and snappy. I will end it there. The end. But I soon realized the story had too many characters, and the plotline was evolving, rapidly spinning out of control in different directions, and so I had to buckle down and tackle it, even if it meant pushing myself further than I’d initially anticipated. But the lesson there is that challenges help us grow, and I’m especially grateful that my initial readers found promise in my writing and supported me throughout its development.
MR: One thing I noticed about your characters is that they range from the quiet Kobe to Simon, who is more outgoing. They are also ‘race-neutral’ if I can use that term. There is a noticeable lack of descriptors when it comes to Earthlings vs. Krygians. Can you tell us about the development of your characters?
The characters were formulated based on my imagination. Looking back, I think my female characters—like Sam and Onnisa—have a lot of qualities that reflect the strong women in my life and the women whom I admire. I wanted to bring diversity to my characters because, in my opinion, it makes the story more interesting when you have a group of characters with different backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses, or differences of opinion, sometimes clashing and sometimes agreeing, but nevertheless helping to drive the plot forward. For the otherworldly characters, I was interested in questions such as how would they communicate, what would be their planetary laws and customs, what would they value, and how could we learn from them?
In a workplace setting, people often talk about building effective teams. In order to solve problems, it’s important to have people from diverse backgrounds with different viewpoints and perspectives, because they all have something unique to offer to the team. Simon is extroverted, but Kobe, by nature, is more introverted. And yet, they complement each other well. In some ways, Kobe reminds me of myself because I’m hesitant to jump into conversations and prefer listening instead. Sometimes people view this as a weakness, but it’s not. Susan Cain wrote a book about the power and virtue of introverts (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking). It’s important for people not to judge others just by what’s on the surface. I know other people who seem shy but who have so much to offer.
In terms of the visual descriptors, I try to make it less relevant for the human characters’ development. I believe people should be valued for their perspectives, personal values, and actions, rather than their looks. It also helps—especially for readers who might envision a character a certain way—if the character resonates with him or her. Having too much description might risk taking away from their experience of that character, if that makes sense. Although a little description can be helpful, I think it’s important to leave some mystery there and allow the readers to choose how they would imagine the visual details of some of the characters.
MR: What has been the response to the book?
The response to the book has been wonderful, and the reviews have been so positive. I’m grateful and happy with the feedback.
MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be?
If I had to write a biography of someone, it would have to be someone who had a really good story to tell. Someone who faced numerous challenges, not only in his or her professional life but in his or her personal life, too. Someone who changed the world in a positive way and trailblazed a bright path for others to follow. A person who fought for what was right, despite the relentless pushback and tribulations along the way, and who desperately pursued justice, not merely to help themselves, but to help generations that would follow. I deeply admire Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was resilient, able and willing to defy authority, a steadfast advocate for gender equality, and a talented leader who inspired so many with her words and actions.
MR: What are you working on now?
I’m working on a sequel, but I’m also working on keeping healthy during the pandemic. I telework full-time from home now, so I need to structure my days accordingly to be efficient, but also to ensure I’m still eating healthy, stretching, and getting enough exercise. I’m also working on improving my culinary skills.
MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I love watching movies and TV shows! My current pop culture obsessions include Star Wars, Stranger Things, and Harry Potter. My husband and I love going on nature hikes. There are several gorgeous trails nearby. It’s wonderful living so close to a beautiful river and being able to take day trips to the ocean, too.
MR: Finally, tell us a fun fact about yourself!
I love inviting birds to eat out of my hands. I also have a passion for zip-lining.
MR: Thanks for this, Hannah!