Liz & Lisa's Book Club: The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel

The_Life_IntendedOMG, y'all! Kristin Harmel's latest book is soooooo good. The Life Intended is a Sliding Doors-esque (one of our all-time favorite movies!) story that makes you think about life and love and happiness. And guess what? You can win a copy of this novel that's not even out until December 30th. (You're welcome!) Just leave a message to be entered to win. Contest closes on December 27th at 10 am PST. The scoop: From the author of the international bestseller The Sweetness of Forgetting, named one of the Best Books of Summer 2012 by Marie Claire magazine, comes a captivating novel about the struggle to overcome the past when our memories refuse to be forgotten.

In this richly told story where Sliding Doors meets P.S. I Love You, Kristin Harmel weaves a heart-wrenching tale that asks: what does it take to move forward in life without forgetting the past?

After her husband’s sudden death over ten years ago, Kate Waithman never expected to be lucky enough to find another love of her life. But now she’s planning her second walk down the aisle to a perfectly nice man. So why isn’t she more excited?

At first, Kate blames her lack of sleep on stress. But when she starts seeing Patrick, her late husband, in her dreams, she begins to wonder if she’s really ready to move on. Is Patrick trying to tell her something? Attempting to navigate between dreams and reality, Kate must uncover her husband’s hidden message. Her quest leads her to a sign language class and into the New York City foster system, where she finds rewards greater than she could have imagined.

Our thoughts: The perfect book to read as we head into a new year.

Liz & Lisa's Book Club: The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel

Photo credit: Robin Gage

1. THE LIFE INTENDED is such a fabulous concept. (Sliding Doors meets P.S. I Love You is one of the best descriptions we've read in a while). How did you think of the idea?

Thank you so much!      SLIDING DOORS is one of my favorite movies and P.S. I LOVE YOU is one of my favorite books and movies, so when I realized this was the description the publisher was using, I was absolutely thrilled! That said, I never set out to write a book that paralleled either of those stories! Whereas every other novel I’ve written has evolved over months – or even years – of thinking and reflecting, the genesis of THE LIFE INTENDED was a bit unusual. I actually dreamed the plot almost whole. I know that sounds kooky, especially since the novel centers partially on the dreams that the main character has of her dead husband, but it’s true. I woke up one morning a couple of years ago, and the entire book was already in my head. I jumped out of bed, rushed to the kitchen table, grabbed a stack of paper, and began scribbling as quickly as I could, to get as many elements of the plot down on paper as I possibly could. The finer details – the sign language lessons, the kids’ cochlear implants, Patrick’s and Kate’s personalities, etc. – evolved later, but the basic structure of the plot and lots of the broader details were there from day one. Weird, right? Maybe this is the book intended!

2. Tell us about the cover. It's beautiful! 

 Oh, I love the cover. I think it evokes New York, where the book takes place, but it also looks very dreamlike. And so much of this novel is about Kate, the main character, trying to figure out whether she’s dreaming – and what her dreams (if they are indeed dreams) actually mean. I like that the cover has the same sort of hazy, intangible, almost gauzy look that dreams sometimes do.

 3. You've always been so great about helping up and coming authors (years ago Liz and I took one of your writing classes in Los Angeles). What advice do you give to aspiring writers now that the publishing landscape has changed?

Oh, thanks! It was such a pleasure to have you two in my class, and I’m so glad we’re still in touch. It’s been lovely to see the success you’ve had! Congratulations! As for advice, hmmm… The thing is, I think every situation is different. For some people, the wide open world of self-publishing, or publishing with a small press, might be the best idea in the world, whereas a few years ago, many of those types of options didn’t even exist. There are so many more ways now to put your book out into the world. But at the same time, if you hope to be published traditionally by a major publisher, as I am, I believe it’s important to be thinking in terms of both the quality of your writing and the heart of your story. In other words, competition is tough. So if you’re writing a novel, make sure the writing itself is good before trying to find an agent. Just as importantly, your story has to be good, and when it comes to mainstream fiction geared toward women – the kind of novels I write – I think the feelings and emotions you put into the story really matter. Your characters should be experiencing big transformations in their lives, big moments where their worlds are changing. And from the standpoint of making your story appealing to agents and editors, you also have to be able to sum up your book in less than a paragraph in a way that would make the average reader saying, “Oh cool! I think I might want to read that!” So think in terms of that elevator pitch, that short description of your book, and if you can summarize it in a tantalizing way, then it will help you as you write and as you edit to nail down exactly what makes your book special. In my experience, I’ve also found that focusing on family dynamics is just as important as focusing on romantic dynamics between characters. Our families really make us who we are, and that’s something I love exploring in fiction. It makes books much richer, much more well-rounded and impactful, I think.


4. Because THE LIFE INTENDED is our Liz & Lisa Book Club pick of the month, what do you think are the top (non spoiler related) themes book clubs can discuss for this novel? 

 Thank you so much for picking THE LIFE INTENDED as your book of the month! How cool! Well, it just so happens that there’s a Reading Group Guide in the back of the book. (You can also find it here: Simon & Schuster does such a good job with these discussion guides that I’d definitely recommend starting with that. (But please don’t read the Reading Group Guide until after you’ve finished the book, because it does contain spoilers!)

If you plan to read this for your book club, I’d pull out the Readers Group Guide on the night of the meeting, once everyone has read the book. In the meantime, I think two of the themes that are worth discussion are:

  • CHOOSING HAPPINESS: How has Kate failed to choose happiness over the last 12 years? Do you think she believed she didn’t have the right to a happy life? Why? How can you choose happiness in your own life? And since this book comes out just before the new year, how can you make 2015 a year of choosing happiness?
  • FAMILY: What makes a family? Kate definitely has some nontraditional relationships in this book. For instance, she seems closer to Patrick’s mother than her own mother. And in a way, she’s searching to rebuild her family with Dan. In life, how do we choose our families, and how do our families choose us? How much is fate and how much is choice? And when it comes to building a future, how do the choices we make affect everything?

5. We can't believe it's already December. Do you give books as gifts? Which ones top your list?

 Eesh! Where has the year gone?? Yes, I do sometimes give books as gifts, but I don’t have any annual standbys. Instead, I tend to give people books I’ve enjoyed over the few months preceding the holidays. I look for books that are thought-provoking, and I usually write a little note in the card explaining why I thought the recipient would like the book. This year, I might give friends a novel by Lucinda Riley, a new favorite author of mine. I also love the proliferation of non-fiction, gift-oriented books around the holidays. Cookbooks are often a good gift option, as are humor books. It’s also nice to give people biographies if they are interested in a particular person or period in history.

 6. Okay, so this question has nothing to do with your book per se, but you had the most romantic proposal ever and now you are married. (Congrats!) What can you tell us about him?

Aw, thanks! Yes, I still can’t quite believe it! I’m in my mid-thirties, and before Jason and I started to date, I had just begun to have those little “What if you never meet someone?” whispers in the back of my head. I had also begun to figure out that whatever happened, I’d be okay, which I think was key to being ready for the love of my life to sweep in. It sounds silly, but I think that getting to a point in my life where I was happy alone, and where I was focused on being a better person and a better writer (as opposed to finding a guy) was really a hugely important step. I finally became me – and that’s when I finally became ready to be with the right guy. In any case, Jason is great. We’re a funny pair, because I’m five feet on the dot, and he’s six foot one, but I like to think we’re cute together! He’s a big runner – he does marathons and triathlons – and he’s also very creative. He works in advertising and PR, but he’s also very creative in his spare time. The very first gift he gave me was an original painting he’d done of the Eiffel Tower (which is actually where he proposed a year and a half later!), and there are several pieces of art around our house that are his originals! We’re buying a new house right now, and he’s been sketching some really creative, awesome plans for landscaping the back yard. He’s just really imaginative. I love it. But much more importantly, he’s good and kind and supportive, and I trust him entirely. He’s also so generous; he’s always volunteering for charitable organizations. Oh, and did I mention he’s handsome? Seriously, I couldn’t have written a better character in a book. He’s perfect for me.

 7. Are you working on another novel? If so, can you give us any details?

Yes! I’m currently in the outline stages of my next book, which may or may not work. Sometimes, it takes me an outline or two to hit on the right idea. But I think this is the one. Like THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING, which came out in 2012, this new idea will focus on a character in the present and a connected character in the past. The story in the past is the one that’s a little more vivid to me right now; it’s about a mystery involving a German POW who was imprisoned in the southern United States during World War II. Did you know that more than 400,000 German prisoners lived in the States during the war, in more than 700 prison camps? It’s just such a rich period in history, and I’m truly enjoying the research.

Thanks, ladies!

xo, Kristin