Kristin Harmel on ‘The Life Intended’
Kristin Harmel has always been a favorite around the Shelf Pleasure office. Her unforgettable The Sweetness of Forgetting was our very first book club pick and we still recommend it to everyone we meet. So of course we couldn’t wait for her latest, The Life Intended, which hit bookstores everywhere last month. Read on for an exclusive chat with Kristin about this heart-wrenching novel.
What would you like our readers to know about The Life Intended?
It’s a love story . . . but it’s about so much more than just falling in love. It’s about letting go of a lost love, finding new ability to love, gaining clarity about different types of love; and perhaps most importantly, realizing that in order to love properly, one must learn to love oneself. It’s also about choosing happiness. The main character, Kate, was widowed twelve years ago, and as her story in the current day picks up, we slowly realize that she’s been making choices – albeit unconsciously – to settle for less. I think the psychology of her unwitting decisions ties in to the guilt she feels for living, for going on, while her husband never made it out of his thirties. She’s also carrying a belief that she already had the love of her life, so whatever comes next should be lesser. In order to move on, in order to be happy, she has to learn to open herself up to possibilities – and to give herself permission to live again. But as the book progresses, these lessons come from a perhaps surprisingly place—startlingly vivid dreams about Patrick, the husband who died a dozen years ago. The publisher is describing the book as a P.S. I Love You-meets-Sliding Doors love story, which is a description I absolutely love. The book was a joy to write, and it allowed me to explore some issues I was thinking about too. I hope you love it!
Your heroine is a music therapist, a career many of our readers might not be familiar with. What went into choosing that for her and making it feel realistic?
I know this sounds completely wacky – since Kate’s journey in the book centers largely on vivid dreams that she’s having – but I actually woke up one morning with most of the plot of this book already in head. I got up, raced to the dining room table, and wrote an outline out longhand as fast as my wrist could move. Of course many of the details of the book evolved later, but one of the things that was there from the start was Kate’s career as a music therapist. And it’s strange, because prior to conceiving the book, I’d never had much exposure to music therapy. But somehow, it just made sense in terms of her character, in terms of her own journey to heal, and in terms of some of the turns of the plot. For instance, I thought it was really interesting that Kate would be in a career where her job was to help other people find their way, but she’d been wandering around lost for all those years. It’s easier, sometimes, to look outward than to look inward, isn’t it? Also, I knew that one of the characters Kate encountered early on would be hard of hearing, and I loved the idea that Kate had spent the last decade building a world based on sound – and now she would have to find a new way. Plus, the book is a bit about defying expectations – your own expectations for yourself, others’ expectations of you – and I liked the idea that music therapy is often used with hard of hearing children. That defies what many of us might expect, and the idea is that we should open our minds a little more to the possibilities around us. In order to make Kate realistic, I read a few books on music therapy and was fortunate enough to have the guidance of a music therapist, who answered a ton of questions for me and who was kind enough to read several scenes. Her input definitely helped shape Kate professionally, and I’m very grateful to her.
What does your writing process look like?
I always, always outline first. I’ve done that since writing my first novel in 2003, and I taught a writing class for Mediabistro.com for a while and insisted that my students try it too. I think that an outline allows you the opportunity to test out – and tweak – plot points before you’re 300 pages into writing a book (at which point it might be too late to change course without a lot of wasted effort), and it also protects against writer’s block, because it provides a road map for where you’re going and how to get there. I write very detailed outlines, just because that’s how my weird brain works. I’m currently about halfway through an outline for a new novel, and I’m already at about 15,000 words! That’s pretty weird – most writers who outline do so much more briefly – but this is what works for me, and I think it allows my editor to get a good sense of where I’m going and to give me her valuable input before I set off on the wrong course. After the outline, which typically takes 6 to 8 weeks, I get feedback from my editor and agent, and then I sit down to write. The writing generally flows quickly, because the skeleton of the book is already built. I tend to write better in the mornings, so I usually start writing at about 8 a.m. each day and work until 1, when I take a break to work out, eat lunch, etc. Then I usually return to writing for another hour or two before finishing the day with the business side of things: replying to reader emails, answering interview questions, discussing things with my agent, editor or publicist, etc.
What books are currently sitting on your nightstand?
My friend Allison van Diepen’s On the Edge, a young adult novel that just came out a couple weeks ago. It just arrived in the mail, and I can’t wait to read it. And I just ordered Sarah Jio’s The Look of Love, which I look forward to reading too. Unfortunately, it might take me a while to get to it, because I’m in the middle of moving, which is taking up all my free time!
What can readers expect next from you?
I’m currently outlining my next novel, which is set partially in the present day and partially in an American prison camp for German prisoners during World War II. It’s been really fascinating to research, and I’m at that stage now where I lie in bed at night and mentally connect all the dots. (i.e. “Oh my gosh, what if Emily did this? And what if Powell did such and such? And what if it tied together like so?”) I’m hopeful that the new book will be out around this time next year!
Learn more and order your copy of The Life Intended here.
Kristin Harmel is the internationally bestselling author of The Sweetness of Forgetting and several other novels. Her books have been translated into numerous languages and are sold all over the world. A longtime reporter for People magazine, Kristin’s other magazine credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Day, Travel + Leisure, American Baby, Men’s Health, and Runner’s World magazines. Kristin graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She has lived in Paris, Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Miami and now resides in Orlando, Fla., with her husband, Jason.
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