Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How did you get started writing?

KH: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. In fact, my mom recently found a stapled-together “book” I’d written when I was about 6 about the Bobbsey Twins – my favorite fictional characters at the time – going to visit my family in Ohio to solve the mystery of my dad’s missing “solid gold tuxedo.” I have no idea why I thought my dad might have a solid gold tuxedo stashed away somewhere! But in any case, reading and writing have always been my passion, and I’ve been writing professionally since I was 16, when I pitched a few local stories to a magazine called Tampa Bay AllSports, and the editor there, Al Martino, gave me my first freelance writing job. I began writing for People magazine when I was 21, and I wrote my first book when I was 24.

Q: What other authors would you recommend?

Kristin Harmel

Photo by Robin Gage

KH:Waaaaaay too many to name! I go to a writing retreat each year with some close writer friends, including Wendy Toliver, Jay Asher, Alyson Noel, Allison Van Diepen, Emily Wing Smith, Linda Gerber and Aprilynne Pike, and I would absolutely recommend any of their books without hesitation. They’re all such nice people, and I’ve come to believe that there really is a correlation between a writer’s kindness and the appeal of his or her work! Other writer friends–and people I admire–include Barbara Taylor Sissel, Jane Porter, Liza Palmer, Megan Crane, Kerry Reichs, Cathy Alter, Heather Hach (who primarily writes screenplays but has a great book out too!), Melissa Senate, Sarah Mlynowski, Lynda Curnyn, Alison Pace, and more. There are dozens more writers whose work I adore, and when I discover new books, I often mention them on Twitter (@kristinharmel).

Q: What’s your writing routine?

KH: I actually don’t have much of a magical routine; I simply sit down at my desk with my aging Toshiba laptop (I really need to upgrade this thing!) and get the words on the page. I don’t have any special rituals, nor do I listen to music, as some writers do. In fact, I prefer to write in silence. I always outline my books before I write them, which helps me a great deal. I think of outlines as my safety nets and my road maps!

Q: How do you come up with an idea for a book?

KH: Ideas can come from anywhere, and for me, they often do. My first novel, How to Sleep With a Movie Star, was largely drawn from my experiences as a celebrity magazine reporter (although for the record, I have not, in fact, slept with any movie stars!). My second, The Blonde Theory, stemmed from conversations I’d had with my friends about how it was sometimes difficult to date if you were a strong, successful, intimidating woman. The idea for writing The Sweetness of Forgetting, which centers around the Holocaust, stemmed both from my own childhood (during which I was enamored with The Diary of Anne Frank) and from an article I wrote a decade ago about the founder of the charity Give Kids The World, who also happens to be a Holocaust survivor.

So if you want to write a novel, get used to thinking like a novelist. That means filing every conversation and experience you have into that little closet in the back of your brain where ideas take shape. When I talk to a friend, I’m never consciously thinking, “Hmm, this idea could lead to a novel one day.” But I try to think long and hard about the things that are bothering people, the things people are wrestling with, the issues that keep coming up again and again. If an idea keeps resurfacing, or if you find yourself thinking a year later about a conversation you had with a friend, it’s worth jotting down. I keep an “Ideas File” on my computer for just that purpose.

Other novelists often draw ideas from newspaper and magazine articles, or from things they see on the news. So read often, and stay up to date on what’s going on in the world. You never know what will trigger an idea that stays with you.

But books are more than just basic ideas. Once you have the seed, you have to water your garden and wait for it to grow. Sometimes an idea you jot down won’t stick around in your head for long. That’s okay; if it vanishes, it wasn’t meant to be the basis for your book. But other ideas stay with you and haunt you. They’re the ones that keep you up at night. They’re the ones that you think about while you drive, while you’re in the shower, while you do your dishes. Those are the ideas that are meant to become something. But in order for them to become something, you have to begin to focus on them. Think about them consciously all the time. Think about what kind of story you frame around a central idea.

Eventually, your idea should turn into a “What if.” What if a magazine reporter got involved in a situation in which the whole world thought that she was having an affair with one of the Hollywood stars she’d interviewed, whereas in reality, her love life was a complete disaster? (This became How to Sleep With a Movie Star.) What if a strong, successful attorney decided to try to change her dating luck by pretending to be a dumb blonde, with the help of her friends? (This became The Blonde Theory.) What if a woman who lost everyone in the Holocaust began remembering things seventy years later, as she succumbed to Alzheimer’s, and those memories changed everything? (This became The Sweetness of Forgetting.)

Q: What do you do for fun?

KH: In addition to writing, I love going to see live music; I’m fortunate enough to live near a lot of great venues including Hard Rock Live Orlando and the House of Blues Orlando. I love to travel – my favorite places in the world are France, Ireland, Italy and Napa Valley – and I love road trips. I also love to cook, go to the beach, and go to the movies, and I’ve had an annual pass to Disney World since I was ten. I even got married there in 2014!

For more on Kristin, click here.

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