I am so excited to welcome Kristin Harmel to The Debutante Ball. Kristin’s latest novel is The Winemaker’s Wife, an instant #1 bestseller from The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star. It’s a story of forbidden love, shocking secrets, and devastating betrayal, set amid the champagne vineyards of northern France during the darkest days of World War II.
Kristin Harmel is the #1 international bestselling author of The Winemaker’s Wife, The Room on Rue Amelie, The Sweetness of Forgetting, and several other novels. A former reporter for PEOPLE magazine, Kristin has also freelanced for many other publications, including American Baby, Men’s Health, Glamour, Woman’s Day, Travel + Leisure, and more. Her books have been translated into numerous languages and are sold all around the world. After having lived in Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, she now lives in Florida with her husband and young son.
Read through to learn more about Kristin AND get your chance to win The Winemaker’s Wife!
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And now to the interview!
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
This is probably the same answer that fifty percent of readers could give, but for me, it was Anne Frank’s diary. I’ve always wanted to write books—in fact, several years ago, my mom was going through an old stack of papers and found my first “novel”, a stapled-together, illustrated (naturally!) tale of the Bobbsey Twins heading to Ohio to solve the mystery of my dad’s missing solid gold tuxedo. (I was six years old when I wrote it, and the fanciest things I could think of at the time were apparently gold and tuxedos, so of course I combined them!) But I also grew up obsessed with Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy (seriously, the walls of my childhood bedroom were plastered with their quotes), and I dreamed, too, of changing the world. The two goals felt mutually exclusive—in my mind, books were fun, but they didn’t really make any sort of impact—until I read Anne Frank’s diary as a young preteen. It was the first time I realized that books could change the world, because to change the world, you only need to reach one person at a time. If I could tell entertaining stories and inspire people to want to be better, stronger, kinder, etc., then I would be doing some good. I read Anne Frank’s diary dozens of times throughout my childhood, but it was that very first reading of it that changed my life and solidified my goal of wanting to one day write books.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
My very first job, actually, was working for a minor league baseball team—the St. Petersburg Cardinals (a now-defunct farm team in the St. Louis Cardinals’ system) in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was sixteen and loved baseball, and I think what made the job so strange was that I had to quickly become a jack of all trades. I would start each evening off in either the ice cream stand or the souvenir shop, and then, in between innings, I would race down the field, where I was responsible for hosting on-field promotions, such as the dizzy bat race (two contestants spun around bats ten times then had to stagger down the baseline for first base) and the ball splash (two teams of two competed to see who could smash more water balloons with a baseball bat). My boss knew I wanted to be a writer, so he also let me take a stab at writing the annual program that first year. I guess I was decent at it, because I wrote it the next two years, too! I also sometimes worked in the front office answering phones and flipped burgers at the grill on the first base side. I even occasionally drove the players to elementary schools to talk to kids—and it was during one of those day trips that future major league first baseman Chris Richard taught me how to parallel park; he was horrified to discover that I had no idea how to do so. (It wasn’t part of the driving test in Florida.) To this day, I think of him whenever I have to edge my car into a tight spot!
Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why?
My dear, dear friend Wendy Toliver, a young adult and middle grade writer (Lifted, Once Upon A Time: Red’s Untold Tale, Once Upon A Time: Regina Rising, etc.) has been my first reader for years, and I’ve been hers. She’s one of the most generous, giving people I know, and we have a really amazing connection as both people and writers. No one understands my writing like she does, and she has an uncanny ability to point to all the spots I know are weak and to offer ingenious advice for making my books better. I try to do the same for her! I think it’s a particularly interesting partnership, because we write different kinds of books for different readers, but maybe that’s why it works so well. Because she’s not writing women’s fiction, and because I’m not writing YA or middle grade fiction, none of our notes are colored by our own writing. We read each other’s work entirely objectively, with respect for each other’s authorial voices. Wendy’s a great editor—and truly one of the best human beings I know.
Have you ever traveled to do research for your writing? Where did you go?
Oh, yes! That’s one of the best parts of my job! I actually lived in Paris for a short time during my early twenties, but now that I write about France, I adore returning there for the specific purpose of researching new books. For 2012’s The Sweetness of Forgetting, for instance, I had to eat my way through the bakeries of Paris (including a handful of traditional Jewish bakeries, and one amazing Muslim bakery), since Parisian bakeries play a vital role in the novel. Last year, for The Winemaker’s Wife, I had to spend some time in Champagne, visiting champagne houses, talking with winemakers and historians, and just wandering the streets of Reims. Tough life, right? Seriously, I have to pinch myself sometimes. My job is to go to cool places and to make things up!
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
That this job is not always going to be easy—but it will always be worth it. It took me eight years – from selling my first book in 2004 to the publication of The Sweetness of Forgetting in 2012—before I could actually make a living doing from this. In those years, I had some small successes and some colossal failures. I went through a period of time, right after the economy crashed, where my magazine jobs dried up and I struggled to pay my bills. I was often lonely and unsettled during those years, and I always wondered if I was fooling myself by thinking that anyone really cared what I wrote. But then the tide changed. Things got better. I still have ups and downs, but I’m in a different place now. I’m glad I stuck with writing all these years, because frankly, I can’t imagine my life without it. The need to write is deep within me, in the very marrow of my bones, and I think that even if no one wanted to read my books anymore, I would still write them. I just wish that I could tell that 2008-09 version of me—who was down on her luck and conflicted about where her career and life would go—that the best was yet to come. Perhaps that’s a good lesson for all of us who find ourselves at a crossroads. Things eventually work out the way they’re meant to, even if you couldn’t have imagined what the future would have in store.
Learn more about THE WINEMAKER’S WIFE.
Reviews: “Love and betrayal, forgiveness and redemption combine in a heady tale of the ever present past…fantastic!” (Pam Jenoff, NYT bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris )
“With exceptional skill, Kristin Harmel constructs The Winemaker’s Wife between the past and the present, giving equal weight and importance to both, all the while weaving a tale full of secrets and betrayals that puts to the test mankind’s strength, fragility and vileness. Once you start reading this moving novel, you will not be able to put it down until you reach the last page.” (Armando Lucas Correa, bestselling author of THE GERMAN GIRL )
“Written in heart-wrenching prose, THE WINEMAKER’S WIFE is a complex story of love, betrayal and impossible courage set in the champagne growing region of France during World War II. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and savored every moment at the same time.” (Anita Hughes, bestselling author of Christmas in Paris )
Available pretty much anywhere books are sold