This week, the fabulous Kristin Harmel is joining us. Her funny and utterly charming new book, The Art of French Kissing is out this week. Kristin is a novelist whose books have been translated into numerous languages and are sold all over the world. Cosmopolitan magazine has called her writing “hilarious,” and People magazine has referred to her books as “Bridget Jones-esque.” A longtime reporter for People magazine, Kristin’s other magazine credits include Glamour, Woman’s Day, American Baby, Teen People, Men’s Health, YM and Runner’s World magazines. She is often recognized as “The Lit Chick,” the official book reviewer for the nationally syndicated morning TV show The Daily Buzz, for whom she has interviewed many celebrities too!
Kristin’s novels include: HOW TO SLEEP WITH A MOVIE STAR, THE BLONDE THEORY, THE ART OF FRENCH KISSING (Hachette Book Group, Feb. 2008), and WHEN YOU WISH (Random House/Delacorte Books For Young Readers, Feb. 2008). Look for two more novels from Kristin coming in 2009!
What was the inspiration for THE ART OF FRENCH KISSING?
I lived in Paris myself and went through a transformation that was very similar to the one my main character, Emma, undergoes. In The Art of French Kissing, Emma has the rug basically yanked out from under her in her life. In the space of just a couple of weeks, her fiancé dumps her, she loses her job, and she finds out she has been betrayed by a good friend. Thankfully, those things haven’t happened to me (well, not all at once, anyhow!), but my life was in a somewhat similar state of general disarray when the opportunity arose for me to pick up and move to Paris for the summer five years ago. I’d only been to the City of Light once, on a family vacation, and I didn’t speak a word of French, so when I said yes, it was the most impulsive thing I had ever done in my life. It’s also the summer during which I became who I am today.
Similarly, Emma makes a snap decision to go to Paris and start her life over, with the help of a friend who lives there. And like me, Emma goes to Paris expecting a slight change of pace and instead has her eyes opened up to a whole new world of possibilities. It took me a few years to put into words – and into a novel – the feelings and changes that Paris evoked in me, but telling Emma’s story was a little like delving into my not-so-distant past and telling my own tale of inadvertent self-discovery. (Although I should note that Emma has to deal with a handsome – but quite possibly insane – rock star, and I never had to do that, so rest assured, most of this story is fictional!)
Basically, I’ve always wanted to write a novel set in Paris, which is, to me, the most inspiring city in the world. And it was a true joy to place a main character there, in a place that is as unfamiliar to her as it once was to me, and watch her spread her wings. I think it’s a story of reinvention and self-discovery that could take place anywhere in the world, but it just so happens that the catalyst for Emma’s change – and mine – was Paris.
Your main character goes to Paris to nurse a broken heart and do some serious soul-searching — is she running away from her problems or just getting a different perspective?
At the beginning, I think she believes she’s running away, but in the end, it turns out that she’s running toward a more authentic version of herself. She goes to Paris to escape a life that feels like it’s caving in around her, but she never suspects that this unfamiliar city will feel more like home than the place in which she has spent her whole life.
I think that oftentimes in life, we wind up stumbling upon a different perspective or something that opens our eyes when we least expect it. That has been the case for me in the past, and it was the case for Emma in my novel. It’s funny how life throws up roadblocks sometimes but then opens entirely unexpected doors just when we need them most. As Emma learns, even when it feels like everything is going wrong, life tends to have a way of working out the way it’s supposed to.
What are the major differences in American and French cultures?
There are a lot of differences, and I think that one of the big ones is in the way they approach life. I’m sure I’m being overly broad here, but I think that in general, the French do a much better job of appreciating all the little things in life. As Americans, I think we sometimes have the tendency to rush from one thing to the next, whereas the French literally stop and smell the roses. They live life through all five senses, delighting in the way a perfect glass of champagne tickles one’s tongue, for example, or enjoying the sights and sounds we too often take for granted. It’s customary in France to spend a couple of hours at dinner, for example, slowly savoring the tastes of the food and wine, and enjoying the conversation. I think that when life slows down a bit, it’s much easier to discover little pleasures in every moment. So it’s just a slightly different point of view than we have here, but it makes an enormous difference in the way that daily life is conducted.
Are French men really better kissers? Do you think they’re more romantic than American men?
Haha – Are you trying to get me in trouble with American men I might want to date?
To be honest, yes, I do feel that in general, it’s much more common for men in France to be romantic. They tend to be more expressive and more open with their feelings. A French guy in a Parisian bar even wrote me a poem once! But I think that once you get past all the initial pleasantries and the “courting” phase, it all comes down to what the men are like on the inside. Love is love, whether or not it’s dressed up in poetry, music and wine. You have to have that deeper, core compatibility to make things last, and it’s just as likely (or unlikely) to find that with a French man as it is with an American.
As for kissing… let’s just say that there’s a reason the French have a kiss named after them! But I’ve met some amazing American kissers too! Let’s just leave it at that while I blush and plead the fifth!
Thanks for the kind words (about the book – not about me sleeping with movie stars!)! That book was so much fun to write! I’d love to say that I went out and did the field research, but no, I have never slept with a movie star! (Although, Lisa and the other Debs, if P.S. I Love You’s Gerard Butler calls you and asks for my number, please let him know that I’d be happy to use him for, er, research purposes for a sequel.)
Actually, as much as I’d love to fill you in on some sort of salacious scandal, the book is actually about a woman, not unlike myself (okay, exactly like myself – twentysomething, blonde, five feet tall, magazine writer) who gets involved in a situation where the whole world thinks she is sleeping with a movie star, whereas in reality, her romantic life is actually a complete disaster. I loved writing it!
I have met Patrick Dempsey several times (but of course he’s married to a woman he absolutely adores, and they have three beautiful children together), and I’ve also had the pleasure to meet many other celebs, including people like Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Willis, Paul Walker, etc. (Sorry, I am pausing here to wipe the drool from chin. Okay, resuming typing…) I’ve been writing for PEOPLE magazine for eight years now, and over the years, that has brought me into contact with many interesting movie stars (none of whom I have slept with, I promise!).
Interestingly, I came back to celebrities with The Art of French Kissing (where Emma deals with a nutty rock star) and my first novel for teens, When You Wish (where the main character is a troubled teen pop star running away from her life of fame). The complications of fame and celebrity fascinate me, and I love writing about issues that arise in connection to lives that look so perfect from the outside. I hope you enjoy reading what I’ve written!
Thanks so very much for your time! I’d love to hear your feedback!
Visit me at www.KristinHarmel.com, or write me at Kristin@kristinharmel.com! Thanks!
Thanks for joining us! Be sure to pick up THE ART OF FRENCH KISSING and WHEN YOU WISH, out this week!