Today’s Guest: Kristin Harmel, romance novelist, The Art of French Kissing.
Kristin Harmel’s new novel, her fourth, in fact, is titled The Art of French Kissing. It’s a sweet, surprisingly gentle story of a young boy-band publicist, who’s a woman from Orlando, whose life there collapses, and she goes to Paris to escape and maybe find herself again.
It’s chick-lit for sure, but I enjoyed it. It also made me think more fondly of Paris than I had since the one time that my wife and I visited there back in ’88. Maybe we’ll get into that later.
KRISTIN HARMEL podcast excerpt: “the novels I write are very connected to sort of my own life, and I would say sort of the experiences that myself and my friends are going through right now. I’m 28, almost 29. I’m still sort of going through the struggles that you do sort of in your twenties and thirties of finding yourself and of sort of finding where you fit in the world and among others, the funny, little adventures that I get to go on and like I said, the bad dates.”
BOB ANDELMAN/Mr. MEDIA: So tell us that you’re in some fabulous part of the country.
KRISTIN HARMEL: I’m actually back home in Orlando, Florida right now. In the past week, we’ve been in Boston, New York, Atlanta, and now back in Orlando for launch parties.
ANDELMAN: Oh, Orlando. Well, that’s okay. We’ll just pretend you’re in Monte Carlo or something.
HARMEL: Exactly. Can I backtrack and revise that? I’m lying on a beach in Hawaii.
ANDELMAN: C’mon, you’re in the fiction business. It’s all about theater of the mind.
HARMEL: Exactly, my mistake. Sorry.
ANDELMAN: You just released two books pretty simultaneously, The Art of French Kissing, and what I believe is a young adult novel, When You Wish.
HARMEL: Yes, that’s correct. They’re both from different publishers, which I think accounts for the reason that they both came out around the same time. But, yes, When You Wish is my first novel for teenagers, basically for ages 12 and up, and it came out just a couple weeks ago. I’m really excited about that one, too.
ANDELMAN: But tell the truth, Kristin, because everybody wants to know this. You actually outsource the writing of your books to India so you have time for fun stuff.
HARMEL: I wish! I’m gonna have to start thinking about that. Thanks for the idea.
ANDELMAN: I hear they do everything for less.
HARMEL: There you go. Exactly. If I could do that or just find more hours in the day, I think we’d be all set.
ANDELMAN: The Art of French Kissing, which is the book that I just finished reading, from what I’ve read, it seems to hug very close to certain details of your own life. That true?
HARMEL: In some ways. It was basically inspired by the fact that I, myself, five years ago, went over to live in Paris sort of on a whim the same way that the main character of the novel does. And like the main character of my novel, I really didn’t speak much French when I went over, and I went over to live with a friend sort of at a time in my life when my own life was in a little bit of disarray. However, my path sort of parted from the main character of the novel when I went over there in that she actually had all these fabulous adventures of dealing with this crazy international rock star and whatever, and I would say my adventures were much more tame. So I had to use my imagination a little bit to create her world.
ANDELMAN: Oh, I just feel so sad now. I was hoping to hear that you had to tamp down your own experiences to put them in the book.
HARMEL: Well, I will have to say, a few of the things that poor Emma has to do in the book include hanging upside down from between a couple of buildings in Paris. So I’m happy that I didn’t have to do anything wacky like that, but I did have some crazy adventures. Paris is quite a place to go, I think, as a young person or goodness, as any person. I think it’s just such a wonderful city where you could just explore all sorts of different things. I did have quite a lot of adventures there, though.
ANDELMAN: And I’m thinking anyone reading this book is gonna feel the way I did when it was over: “I gotta go to Paris.” But then I think back, and I can’t believe that I wrote down it was 1988. It has actually been 20 years.
HARMEL: Oh, my.
ANDELMAN: I wasn’t terribly impressed. The city is wonderful, but the people there, they kind of spoil it for you.
HARMEL: I had always heard that before I went to Paris for the first time. I actually went to Paris for the first time the year before I lived there, and I had a great experience. But when I went back to live there for the summer, my experience was even better. And I think that maybe 20 or 30 years ago maybe Americans got a frostier reception from Parisians. I really just didn’t have any problems with it. I found people there to be very friendly. I think it’s just a different type of mentality. Probably the best way I can describe it is that I think that, in general, and this is a big generality, but in general, I think that French people tend to warm up to strangers a little more slowly, whereas in the United States, particularly in the South, I think that you meet someone in a store, and within 30 seconds, you feel like they’re your new best friend. Everyone’s very friendly, everyone’s talkative, everyone smiled. In France, in general, I think people tend to be a little bit wary of strangers but not in any sort of negative way. In a way, they’re a little bit more genuine like they want to get to know you as a person a little bit before they make a judgment about whether or not to be ultra-friendly to you. So I found that when I realized that about the culture and that when I realized that a reception that wasn’t warm wasn’t necessarily a cold reception, I think I really sort of understood where they were coming from, and I realized that they were not actually being unfriendly.
ANDELMAN: I’m sorry. I’m going back to my notes here. I just want to be sure. Are we talking about Paris?
HARMEL: Yes, we are. But see, you’re saying you haven’t been there in 20 years, and my experience of having been there more recently is that the people there actually were very kind. And I also think that one of the problems that Americans encounter is going over there and expecting every French person to be able to speak English, and that’s not always the case. But generally, in the big cities like Paris, especially in the retail industry or if you go out to a meal or whatever, generally they speak at least basic English. So I feel like, as an American, if you either make an effort to speak a few words of French or if you just say I’m so sorry, I don’t speak French, they’ll usually warm right up to you. I think that sometimes Americans get a negative reception when they just sort of assume that their language will be spoken. You know what I mean?
ANDELMAN: I’m dying for you to ask me what happened to me in Paris.
HARMEL: Oh, I’m so sorry I missed my cue. What happened to you in Paris?
ANDELMAN: Alright, the only story that I will share because it’s your time and not mine.
HARMEL: No, no, I would like to hear it.
ANDELMAN: I’m dying to tell this. So I’m there with my wife. It’s like middle of the afternoon. We’re starving. We go into a café, a patisserie, I don’t know. It was a place where there were tables for dining, there was a bar. It was the middle of the afternoon. There was no one there, but staff was hanging out at the bar. We walked in, we’re dying of thirst and hunger, and we sit down and we’ll wait, and we wait, and we wait, and no one waits on us. No one comes over, and I finally get up, and I walk over, and I say, “Excuse me.” Maybe I even said, “Excuse moi, pardon.” I tried. I had my University of Florida college French.
HARMEL: Go Gators.
ANDELMAN: So you know it had to be good French. I asked for a menu. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ll bring it to you. So I go and sit down, and we wait and we wait and still there’s only us and the staff.
HARMEL: Oh no.
ANDELMAN: So we wait and we wait, and finally, someone else comes into the restaurant, and it’s a man with a full-sized standard poodle. And he goes over to the bar, and they immediately give him a drink, they give him a croissant, and then the poodle puts its paws up on the bar, and the poodle gets a bowl of water. And this was when I knew that my impression of the French to that point was not far off. They made a real good show of how little they cared for us American people.
HARMEL: Oh goodness.
ANDELMAN: This is in central Paris. We weren’t out in the boondocks. That’s why I keep asking are we sure we’re talking about Paris?
HARMEL: That’s a terrible story. I’m so sorry that that sort of shaped your opinion of Paris. I will say that I have found that, it seems like it wouldn’t be that logical, but I found that, sort of in the more touristy areas of Paris, they do tend to turn their nose up to tourists a little bit more, which is sort of a strange contradiction. But I think there’s another thing about the French that, for me, took a little bit of getting used to because I’m very kind of rush, rush, rush from one thing to the next, and I think sometimes, particularly when it comes to eating or situations in restaurants, they just do things much more slowly. So they were probably having a little coffee break in back or something and thought oh, he can wait.
ANDELMAN: Yes, I think that may have been it. Well, now the reason I asked you this is that… I saw the segment you did on “Good Morning America.” First of all, eight minutes on “Good Morning America” is amazing. But you’re being called on, I think, I guess, more and more to be that American expert on Paris and the French. How do you feel about that part?
HARMEL: I love it. It sounds silly, but the summer that I spent living there, and it was just three months, and it was just sort of a very impulsive thing to do. I just picked up and left my life here behind, took three months off my job, and went and lived over there for three months. But it was a three-month period that I would say really, really shaped my life, and again, it sounds a little corny, but I just feel like Paris has sort of been a part of me ever since, if that makes sense. I felt very passionate about the city, about the country, about learning about French customs and things like that. I’ve enrolled in a French class, and I take French classes now so I’m learning to speak French, although I certainly don’t speak it very well. I’m still working on my accent. But I just feel so passionately about Paris that it’s an enormous honor for me to be called on in any way, in any arena, to talk about what makes France so wonderful. And I think like any country, there are things I don’t like about France, certainly, but I think that, in general, they just have such a different and lovely outlook on life. Being over there and sort of being around that, I think really taught me to appreciate the little things in life a little bit more than I had learned to here in the United States.
ANDELMAN: Okay, but Kristin, now you’re teasing me because you just said there were things you didn’t like.
HARMEL: As soon as I said that, I was like, “He’s gonna ask me about that.”
ANDELMAN: Yeah, you know I want to hear that.
HARMEL: I’m trying to think what I could say that I don’t like. Some of the things are just things that I didn’t like about being over there such as when you’re over somewhere for a few months, you really start to miss the things that you took for granted at home like being able to drive in a car that I’m familiar with or being able to speak to anyone I want in the language that I’m familiar with, so just those little things that would be pieces of traveling anywhere. I will say that I think there are some upsides and some downsides to their approach to life. I have always thought that it must be lovely to live in a country like that where people work to live rather than living to work, if that makes sense. Whereas in the United States, I think that we’re sort of a very work-driven society, like a lot of our lives revolve around our jobs and making money and finding success and things like that, I feel like, in France, people work a short workweek, and again, this is a very broad generalization, but in France, I think the tendency is more to work a very short workweek and then truly enjoy and savor all of your time off. They have standard six weeks of vacation every year and the thirty-five hour workweek is fairly standard, although I believe that’s beginning to change. I think it’s been changed in their legal system, if I’m not mistaken, but for a while, I believe that they were actually limited by law to a 35-hour workweek. I could be mistaken about that, but I believe that’s the way that it is. So in a way, I think that’s wonderful because I think that, as Americans, we could take a little bit of a lesson from that, sort of learn to enjoy our lives outside the office a little bit better. But at the same time, I will say that I think in the United States, we really should also be proud of everything that we’ve built up, and we’re such a successful nation, and we have such successful industry here, not that France doesn’t, but I feel like we’re a little bit further ahead of that curve because of the attitude we have toward work. So there are sort of upsides and downsides, I think, to every nationally-prevailing attitude, if that makes sense.
ANDELMAN: Kristin, I like you so much more now that you’ve given me something else not to be so fond of the French about. We have a call. I think I know who this is.
PETE WILLIAMS: Hey Bob. Pete Williams here.
ANDELMAN: Hey Pete, how are ya?
WILLIAMS: Doing just fine. Hello Kristin.
HARMEL: Hey, Pete, how are you?
WILLIAMS: I am fine. And I want to share this little anecdote first. I’m out covering a sporting-related event here in the Tampa Bay area, talking to a young lady who’s a year out of college, and she’s covering football for a TV station and talking about, “Geez, I don’t know how I’m ever gonna move up.” And I’m thinking it would seem like just the other day, and I know it was 10 years ago, but there you were still in college covering the Devil Rays for a now-defunct publication, and here you are. So congratulations. I know it’s been a lot of work and well deserved for you.
HARMEL: Thank you. Well, Pete, you were actually always one of the people who really was very supportive of me early on, like you were one of the first journalists I met when I first started working, and you were always really good to me, so thank you for that.
WILLIAMS: You bet. And obviously, I am not a chick-lit aficionado, but I recognize the importance and the attraction it has to millions of readers. And I’m just wondering where do you get your material for these books?
HARMEL: A lot of bad dates. No, I’m just kidding. I think that the novels I write are very connected to sort of my own life, and I would say sort of the experiences that myself and my friends are going through right now. I’m 28, almost 29. I’m still sort of going through the struggles that you do sort of in your twenties and thirties of finding yourself and of sort of finding where you fit in the world and among others, the funny, little adventures that I get to go on and like I said, the bad dates. I think I sort of tie together loosely from my own experiences sort of the basis of these characters, and then I sort of put them in worlds or situations that are interesting to me whether they are things that I have experienced or not. For example, with The Art of French Kissing, of course, I set it in Paris, which is the city that I feel very passionately about, but the things that happened to the character there never happened to me. Those were sort of just out of my imagination, but the lessons that she learned I feel are lessons that I’m still learning myself and lessons that I think are fairly universal for women of my generation, I would say.
WILLIAMS: Do you have any plans to take these characters down to the French Riviera and have some, I guess, saucier, racier experiences for them?
HARMEL: I’ll have to think about that. I’m actually in the midst of writing a new novel that’s going to be set in Rome that will come out in summer of 2009. I’ll probably tackle that first, but I do generally try to drop characters from previous novels into my new novels, not in any major role, but I like to have the old characters cross paths with the new characters so that readers who have read a lot of my books sort of can say, “Hey, I remember that person from your first book or whatever.”
WILLIAMS: Well, again, best of luck with everything, Kristin. I’m proud to say I knew you when.
HARMEL: Well, I’m proud to say I knew you, and I’m proud to say I still know you. You’re a good friend, and I appreciate that.
WILLIAMS: Alright. Bob, thanks as always. Appreciate it.
ANDELMAN: Thanks for calling in, Pete. And let me tell everybody that Pete is a host on blogtalkradio.com himself. He does a show called The Fitness Buff. Airs every Friday, at 4 PM.
ANDELMAN: When you jokingly said that you had a lot of bad dates, it worries me there because I thought boy, if that’s all it takes to write a chick-lit novel, then I probably inspired an awful lot of them.
HARMEL: I think that’s just my rationalization in my head when I go on a bad date. I just think to myself that was horrible, but at least maybe it’ll inspire a scene in a book or something. But, no, I’m actually just kidding. I really have not been on that many bad dates. I’ve been fortunate to know and to go out with a lot of nice people.
ANDELMAN: Okay. She’s backtracking again.
HARMEL: I’m backtracking. Sorry guys.
ANDELMAN: It’s funny. When you said that, it reminded me of something my dad said to me when I was starting off as a writer many years ago. He didn’t say it in necessarily a good way, but he said, “The thing about you is if anything bad happens to you, you’ll just write about it and make it a good thing.”
HARMEL: Exactly. There you go.
ANDELMAN: That’s really what it comes down to. I’ve got to ask: What does make a bad date? My sense is that you’re single so it’s a fair question.
HARMEL: Yes. What makes a bad date? Let me think. I think that maybe the reason I don’t feel like I’ve been on a lot of bad dates is because I usually just enjoy talking to people and finding out about them. I enjoy meeting new people so usually dates are fine, but I think the ones that are bad are the ones that you feel like you’re pulling teeth just to talk to a person. You know what I mean? Like when I feel like I’m interviewing somebody as opposed to having a conversation with them. To me, that’s sort of the worst kind of date where you have these I ask a million questions, and they just answer them with yeses or nos, and they stare at me blankly. It’s like, “Okay, I only have so many questions. I’m running out here.” But, fortunately, I have not been on many of those.
ANDELMAN: Let’s come back to the book. Emma, the lead character, comes off as kind of a doormat at the start of the book. I’ll use the male description here. Everybody’s kind of lifting their leg and peeing on the poor woman.
HARMEL: That’s true.
ANDELMAN: Have you been through anything as consistent and awful as she, or can you just pile on the poor girl in the book?
HARMEL: No, you know what? Writing her like that at the beginning of the book was actually sort of a personal thing for me. I feel like it was something that, to some extent, I feel like I used to be like that a little bit, too, and I think that’s something that many novelists do. They sort of work through some of what they feel to be their own issues, in their fiction. I think, hopefully, that I’m mostly past doing that, but that was a lesson I had to learn a couple years ago. And at the beginning of my novel, you’re right. Emma is a little bit of a doormat. But I think it’s less of her being a doormat and more of her foolishly sort of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. And then when it doesn’t turn out that her perceptions are correct, I think not having the guts to stand up for herself, and I think that’s a mistake I have made in my life, too. At the beginning of the novel, Emma actually has her fiancé say, “I no longer want to be with you,” and I think that’s one of the most hurtful things that someone can say to you. Like I said, she’s engaged to him, and she’s planning to spend the rest of her life with him despite the fact that, in retrospect, there were obvious problems in the relationship. I think that she sort of chose not to see them and turned a blind eye on them and therefore, became sort of a doormat.
ANDELMAN: It was tough. And I don’t want to give away anything from the middle or the end of the book. There was one thing at the beginning that happens with her. I hope I can give this away.
HARMEL: We’ll see. If it’s the beginning, that’s no problem.
ANDELMAN: Alright. The fiancé dumps her, and she loses her job. And that in itself is horrible, but when her best friend sleeps with the fiancé, I just thought oh, I actually feel sorry for this character that doesn’t even exist.
HARMEL: Fortunately, I’ve never had anything like that happen to me before. But I guess I just wanted to create a situation in the book where she sort of felt like everything that she defined herself by had been sort of ripped away. And I think part of my point with doing that was to sort of show that I think, all too often in life, we define ourselves by the things that are outside of us, who we’re dating or who we’re engaged to or who we’re married to, for instance, or what our job is or even who our friends are. And I think that that’s sort of a mistake. I think that you can rely on those people and love those people around you and believe in those people, especially if they truly are good people, but I think that a lesson that Emma learns through the course of the book and that I feel I’m still sort of learning through the course of my life is that it’s important to define yourself by what’s inside of you. You know what I mean? And who you are as opposed to all those external factors. And I guess I sort of wanted to create a situation where Emma was forced to learn that the hard way.
ANDELMAN: That was tough. Now, I wondered: Was there a moment in your life where something clicked for you where you became very aware, very self-assured, the world just kind of came together for you?
HARMEL: Gosh, in my own life?
HARMEL: I feel like I’m still getting there. I feel like I have a lot more self-confidence and self-assuredness than I used to, but I feel like I’m still kind of growing into that. I don’t quite have myself figured out yet, and I certainly don’t have the world figured out yet. And I think, again, that’s something I’m just sort of exploring through my writing. And this sounds silly, but like you mentioned at the beginning of the program, this is my fourth novel now, and I feel like with every novel, I feel like my writing has grown, and I hope that people who have read a few of my books would agree with that. I also feel like it’s been almost therapeutic for me because I sort of work through these issues that I feel like are issues in my own life and sort of through the characters, I feel like I learn a little bit, and I become a little bit more confident. I sort of feel like I’m still a work in progress, but shoot, maybe I should be writing like six novels a year, and then I’ll be a totally complete human being in the next couple of years.
ANDELMAN: If you decide to go that route, I really recommend outsourcing to India.
HARMEL: Exactly. The outsourcing. I’ll just write the outline, yes.
ANDELMAN: There’s a web chat that goes alongside the Mr. Media interviews, and Missy333 just wanted to ask you a question.
ANDELMAN: I don’t know if this is serious or not. She says, “I hear Disney is casting for the lead role in their new live-action ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ and they’re looking at you for the part. Is this true?”
HARMEL: Missy and her husband Al were the first people who gave me my break in journalism way back when I was 16-years-old, and I pitched them a story about the, I believe, it was the St. Louis Cardinals Instructional League, which was happening in Tampa Bay. I actually really wanted to be a sports reporter at the time. And I didn’t tell them my age, but they met me fairly soon after and realized how young I was. But I don’t know that I’d be doing what I’m doing today if it was not for them. Missy and Al, who ran, at the time, Tampa Bay All Sports and now run Accent magazine and Fight Zone, they really completely put their trust in me, helped me to grow as a writer, and sort of gave me my start in the business, and they always tease me and say that I look like Alice in Wonderland. So that’s where that comes from.
ANDELMAN: I see, I see. I have to tell you. I guess we have something in common: We are both graduates of the Martino School of Faux Journalism.
HARMEL: See, I didn’t know. I didn’t know you knew the Martinos. It’s wonderful.
ANDELMAN: I do, and I wasn’t sure when I asked you the question. I knew who Missy333 was, but I didn’t know if you’d know. This is going to be really boring for anybody listening, but yeah, I actually worked for Al’s brother, Ray.
HARMEL: Oh wonderful.
ANDELMAN: Twenty years ago and I learned magazine layout and design from him. Of course, no one does it that way anymore. We did it by hand, obviously. We had a typesetting machine and all that kind of stuff. So, yes, I’ve known them a long time. That’s funny. It’s a small world.
HARMEL: Small world, but look at the legacy that the Martino family is creating.
ANDELMAN: That’s true. That’s true. And they’re good people. No doubt about it.
HARMEL: They’re incredible people, yes.
ANDELMAN: That’s so funny. So how come the sports writing didn’t work out for you?
HARMEL: It did. I loved it. I loved doing that, but when I was in college, I really hoped my senior year of college to get an internship at Sports Illustrated. I had applied to the Time Incorporated magazine internship program hoping that I’d be placed with Sports Illustrated. Instead, I was placed at People magazine, and I thought oh, I don’t know if this is something that’s really gonna be up my alley, and I loved it. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I had a fabulous summer working for People. I worked hard. The bureau chief at the time, his name was Joseph Harmes, put his trust in me, and they wound up hiring me, and I’ve been working for them for eight years now as a contributor. So I still do sports stories for People occasionally. If they need a sports story in the Southeast, I’m generally the one to do it or have been until recently, and I still love doing that. I really enjoy sports, particularly baseball and college football — as you know, as a Gator. What I had always enjoyed about sports, though, was getting to know sort of the people behind the teams and the personalities behind the athletes, like that kind of thing. I liked doing the personality profiles. So it was actually a very natural move to work for People instead.
ANDELMAN: And you’ve done some other magazine stuff as well, I guess.
HARMEL: I primarily work for People magazine when I do magazine writing, but I also do work for Runner’s World, and I wrote a medical column for American Baby for quite a while. I’ve worked for Men’s Health in the past. I’ve done some writing for Woman’s Day, Health magazine, just a bunch of them. I’ve written for probably dozens of magazines over the years, some that I really enjoy doing.
ANDELMAN: I was asking if there was a moment where you became more self-assured, but I’m kind of wondering, too. You’ve just recently been out touring on these books. What do the women that you meet, what do they want to talk to you about most? Is it your characters, your success, your smoky eyes, what is it?
HARMEL: My smoky eyes. A lot of times they want to talk about something that has happened in the book that meant something to them. I get a lot of emails from readers who say, “I really connected with Harper in your book, The Blonde Theory, when she did this or when she said this or a very similar experience happened to me.” It’ll be something that sort of connects to something in their lives. Generally, they want to talk about how something in one of my novels has touched them, which means so much to me. When you’re sitting at your computer writing a novel, it’s almost like writing into a vacuum so it’s amazing when someone comes up to you and not only has read your novel but has actually been touched or moved in some way by something that you’ve written. So that has been a wonderful experience for me. But a lot of times people want to find out about how to write a book, too, so I’m always happy to talk to them about that. And, in fact, I teach a novel-writing class for an organization called mediabistro.com, and that’s actually been filling up every semester. I really enjoy it. It’s an eight-week course, and I get to teach it online and talk to aspiring writers about how to put together a book, which has been a good learning experience for me, too.
ANDELMAN: MediaBistro does a lot of good work. They’re good people over there.
ANDELMAN: On “Good Morning America,” you talked about the things that French women know that American women don’t know.
ANDELMAN: Now, I gotta tell you, Kristin. I don’t really care about that. But what I do want to know is what is different about French men, we’re back to the original theme here, but what’s different about French men from American men? In other words, what is it that those Frenchie guys, what is it that those guys have that Mr. Media doesn’t?
HARMEL: Well, I’m sure none of them have anything on you, Mr. Media.
ANDELMAN: Good answer.
HARMEL: Oh, gosh, that’s a good question. Well, first of all, I, as I think probably many girls are, am a sucker for accents so you put on that sexy French accent.
ANDELMAN: Ah, oui, oui, mademoiselle.
HARMEL: Exactly. I think that probably one of the major differences that I can think of is that really, in general, French men, and again, this is a broad generalization, and it’s hard to sort of generalize about an entire culture or country full of men, but in general, I would say that French men tend to be more unabashedly romantic, if that makes any sense. I was sitting at a bar with a friend of mine one time in Paris, with a female friend of mine, and this French guy tried to start talking to us, and he didn’t speak any English at all. And this was five years ago when I didn’t really speak any French so there was really no basis for communication between us. So after literally not being able to communicate, he turns away for a moment, and he comes back about ten minutes later with something scribbled on a gum wrapper, which he handed to me. He had written me a poem in English, I guess, using the only English words that he knew and at the end, asking me to see Paris with him. So it was cheesy to be sure, and I think it’s sort of funny that it happened, but I can’t imagine ever having that experience in the United States with someone who was actually serious. And this guy was dead serious. He really thought that his poem was going to sway me into being swept off my feet in the beauty of Paris. But that silliness aside, I do feel that French men do tend to be more romantic and not at all ashamed of it. I think there’s more of an emphasis on being sort of just masculine and sort of like keeping your feelings a little bit, maybe playing your cards closer to your chest here in the United States, whereas I think in France, people wear, men in particular, their emotions on their sleeve a little bit more.
ANDELMAN: Now, having said that, I did read your book so I do know about the French character in there who makes a big play for Emma, and he’s so sweet, he does this. Well, it turns out he does that to every American woman.
HARMEL: Yes, that’s true.
ANDELMAN: I’m reminded of that Geena Davis movie from years ago, Earth Girls are Easy.
ANDELMAN: Is part of it over there that they think that American women are easy? Is that part of it?
HARMEL: I don’t know that they think that American girls are easy as much as some of the slimy guys, and there are slimy guys, I think, in every country.
ANDELMAN: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
HARMEL: I would say the small handful of slimy guys that exist in France probably do look at American girls, to some extent, as easy prey because, quite frankly, we probably are. We’re used to men, like I said, sort of being a little bit more or maybe like withholding their emotions a little bit more. So I think it’s easy as an American girl to listen to a guy saying sweet things to you in that wonderful French accent to the backdrop of this beautiful city and telling you how beautiful and lovely you are. They’ve never seen anyone as lovely as you. I think that there are certainly cheesy guys in the United States, though, who would use the same line with the same amount of success. So I don’t think it’s just American girls that would be singled out as easy targets by those types of people. I think it would probably be any girls who look like they could be easily swayed.
ANDELMAN: Alright. But it really does come down to the accent, right?
HARMEL: The accent, perhaps. Gosh, it’s such a beautiful accent. I wish I had a French accent.
ANDELMAN: I wish you did, too.
HARMEL: I will have to start talking in one.
ANDELMAN: But if you did have the accent, you wouldn’t be talking to me so let’s keep things as they are. So you told us a little bit about how you got the magazine break. You got the internship. You wound up at People instead of Sports Illustrated. How did you get your fiction break? How did you get the first book published? Was there a good story to that?
HARMEL: I always wanted to write a novel, and I thought to myself, “I’m too young to do this. I don’t have the life perspective yet.” And then, to be honest, it really was that summer that I went over and lived in Paris. It made me think to myself why not try? Yes, I could just stay on the fast track and try to do everything I can in the magazine world, or I could continue to do that but also sort of pursue my dream. So slowly, I started writing my first novel. I had not contacted an agent yet. I had not contacted a publisher. I just came up with the idea for a story. And I had a few friends in Tampa at the time that all worked in the same office, and I said, “Hey, I’m gonna try to write this book. I need to stay motivated. Could I send you one chapter a week so that I know that someone’s waiting for it?” And they were all excited, and I started sending them one chapter a week, and so slowly, I actually wrote this first novel. And then when I finished it, I started sending it off to literary agents, and I got an agent, and we did a little bit of work on the book. They thought I needed to make it a little bit funnier and a little bit shorter, and so I made those fixes that they suggested. And then they sent it off to, at the time, Warner Books, which is now Hachette Book Group, my current publisher that I’m with now, and they made an offer almost right away. I had the chance to work with a wonderful editor there named Amy Einhorn, who now actually has her own imprint. She’s just a fabulous, super editor, but she was the one who really gave me my first chance, and I was so happy with that and so happy that I’m still with Hachette Book Group. I have another wonderful editor there now named Karen Kosztolnyik, and she’s equally fabulous. I feel like I’ve really become a part of a really wonderful family there.
ANDELMAN: Would you describe yourself as successful at this point as a novelist, or are you still looking for that around the corner?
HARMEL: This is the first year that I would say yes to that question. The first two years I always sort of felt like well, I have these books out. And it was so exciting to walk into any Barnes & Noble in the country or any Borders and see my books sitting there. It still took a little bit of getting used to, like, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it. That’s my novel.” This is the first year, though, that I feel like something has really clicked into place. I’m having a lot of people turn up at my launch parties — and I’m having these launch parties all over the country — and strangers, people I’ve never met, and say things to me like, “Oh my God, I’m so excited to read your book. I loved your first two books and such a fan.” I guess I never thought I’d get to the point where people would say that. I always kind of look at them like, “Really, are you sure you have the right person?” It’s just an amazing, amazing feeling. So I guess because of that I do feel like I’ve achieved a moderate level of success, but I feel like I have a long way to go. It’s funny. I’ve had people ask me before, “Oh, you must be so rich now,” and obviously, these are people who have probably never read my book or known what a book contract could be. I’m certainly not speaking to you from the deck of my yacht or anything like that yet, but I do feel like I’m in a very good position where I feel like I’m beginning to get readers who are reading all of my books. And I’m able to support myself doing this, and at the end of the day, I think that’s what it’s all about. I have a life that I’m very, very happy with, and I’m doing something I love, and to me, I think that’s all you need to feel successful.
ANDELMAN: Do you indulge yourself in any way from time to time?
HARMEL: I shop too much. It sounds so stereotypically girly, and I know I sound like I’m trying to be Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City,” and perhaps, in a way, I am. But I’m obsessed with shoes, and I do love to shop. And cupcakes, they’re my other indulgence. I’m obsessed with cupcakes.
ANDELMAN: Cupcakes and shoes.
ANDELMAN: So if a guy shows up at your door with a French accent, puts a cup of cupcakes in each of two new shoes, he’s got it made.
HARMEL: I’m sold. Exactly.
HARMEL: That’s all you need to charm me. Exactly.
ANDELMAN: I’m learning so much here. Now I have to figure out how to apply all this to a 20-year marriage.
HARMEL: There you go. Just show up with some shoes and cupcakes for your wife and speak French.
ANDELMAN: Speak French. That’ll be the tip-off. Okay, speaking of girly moments, have you had a, maybe this is kind of a boy thing, but have you had any in-your-face moments with girls that you went to high school or college with since the books have come out?
HARMEL: What do you mean by in-your-face moments?
ANDELMAN: Oh, I think you know. Someone who did not think very highly of you in high school or college, somebody you were competitive with, perhaps.
HARMEL: No, no, no. I’ve certainly had nothing like that. In fact, at my Atlanta party and my Orlando party, I actually had girls who I had gone to high school and college with, which was really nice. In fact, I even saw in New York, this doesn’t answer the girl part of the question, but I actually saw a boy that I had gone to kindergarten through third grade with at my New York party. So I think I’m fortunate in that, hopefully. I’m sure there are some people out there that probably don’t like me, but I think that, for the most part, I have not made many enemies along the way. So I’ve been fortunate in that.
ANDELMAN: Okay. This boy from third grade? Did he have a French accent? How do you remember him?
HARMEL: No, you know what? I remember him because we had gotten in touch recently on Facebook, which is obviously just a great way to connect with people, but he was actually my very first crush, my very first crush back in the third grade. When I was nine years old, I had a crush on him, and I actually saw him again for the first time since we were 10.
ANDELMAN: That I can buy. Okay, that makes sense to me. Now, I think Pete was kind of heading this direction when he called before. Now, I kept turning the pages in The Art of French Kissing thinking, “Okay, there’s gonna be sex on the next page, right? What? No, not this page. Okay, it must be the next page.” And just seeing the book, as tame as the book looks, it is called The Art of French Kissing. So my wife sees it, I’m reading it in the course of a few days, and she’s like thinking the same thing, and she made me swear that I would keep this book out of my daughter’s eyesight.
HARMEL: Oh, how funny. How old is your daughter?
ANDELMAN: She’s 11.
HARMEL: Oh, how funny.
ANDELMAN: So I get to the end of the book, there’s no sex. So what is it that I, as a man, do not understand about chick-lit? What have I missed here?
HARMEL: Oh, chick-lit is generally not sex. There’s generally very little sex in chick-lit, and if there ever is, it’s never like in a romance novel where it’s a sex scene for the purposes of getting you turned on or whatever. The only sex scenes I’ve ever seen in chick-lit novels are ones that have to do with the growth of a character or the growth of a character’s relationship. Chick-lit is a very different genre from romance, and I think a lot of people who don’t read a lot in this genre assume that it’s a very close sister to romance novels, and it’s really not. So I would describe chick-lit, in general, as more, basically, stories that are often light-hearted in some way but stories that are basically, at their core, stories of women finding themselves and of developing or learning some major lesson in their lives. It usually involves some level of romantic interest, but there are also a lot of chick-lit novels that are written about women who are married or women who are new moms or even women who have been recently widowed. I think chick-lit encompasses a lot of different types of novels and a lot of age ranges, too, but generally, there’s not a lot of sex in chick-lit. Sorry to disappoint you.
ANDELMAN: Especially if you’re telling me that a lot of it is marriage-related, I know there’s no sex.
HARMEL: The title of my first novel was actually How to Sleep with a Movie Star, and you should have heard the reactions about that. My God, I’ve been asked 50,000 times which movie star I’ve slept with, and I keep telling people nobody, nobody, but I think I’m going to start just saying, “I never kiss and tell,” and just leaving it up to their imagination.
ANDELMAN: But now you say what you will, but, ladies and gentlemen, go to kristinharmel.com, and the picture that pops up is her with Patrick Dempsey.
HARMEL: Who is very, very happily married with three wonderful young children and a gorgeous, gorgeous wife so he’s just someone I’ve interviewed a few times, and he’s an extremely, extremely nice man. And, yes, I admit to thinking he’s one of the most attractive people on the planet.
ANDELMAN: As Chris Farley would do, “interview,” and he’d be holding up his fingers like “interview” several times.
HARMEL: No, no, no. Just interview.
ANDELMAN: What is the difference between chick-lit like this, but there is no sex, which is okay, I get that, some people don’t want to read that stuff, and then doing a young adult novel which, I’m assuming, there probably is no sex in, either?
HARMEL: No, certainly not in the ones that I write. I think, at their core, they’re sort of very similar types of novels. And a lot of writers who write chick-lit also do a very good job with young adult novels. I think it’s a pretty easy transition because it’s obviously different types of settings, different types of scenarios, and obviously a different age group. But I think, in general, we’re doing the same types of character explorations and following our characters sort of on the road to learning a little bit more about themselves. The lessons tend to be a little bit different because the girls in the books are 15, 16, 17 as opposed to 28 or 35 or 42. You know what I mean? So they’re obviously at a different place in their lives in terms of discovering who they are and what they want out of life, but I think, in general, they deal with similar emotions and similar complications in their lives. And it’s funny. If you think about it, if you think back to high school, I think that sometimes the issues that you confronted in high school are sort of issues that continually re-appear throughout your life in just sort of in different form, if that makes sense.
ANDELMAN: I don’t know if my wife will agree, but I actually got to the end of this, and I thought my daughter actually could read this book.
HARMEL: Yes, I think so. It’s important to me, just personally, not to really write anything inappropriate in books. I’m certainly not marketing The Art of French Kissing necessarily to pre-teens, of course, but there’s certainly nothing in there that would be inappropriate for a girl who’s 15 or 16 or 17 to read and certainly the same with my teen novel, When You Wish, which is geared toward ages 12 and up. But I talked to a 10-year-old last night about it at my Orlando party. She was a really sweet 10-year-old who was telling me that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up, and I gave her a copy of the book cause I thought yeah, she might really like this. And I told her if she wanted to email me, we could keep in touch and talk about writing and stuff. So I think that I really try to keep the books very appropriate.
ANDELMAN: So what’s next? Do you have another book already in the pipeline, are you writing, what are you working on?
HARMEL: I do. I have two books due at the end of the month of April so I’m sort of losing my mind right now. I have one more young adult novel due and one more women’s fiction or chick-lit novel due at the end of April. So I am bearing down and working hard on those. And then when they’re done, I’m actually going to take a trip to Paris and to Rome – Rome, because my next book is going to be set there, and I need to do a little bit of research and Paris, just because I can’t go all the way to Europe and not go to Paris. So that’s what’s in the next couple months for me.
ANDELMAN: I’m going to recommend Vienna to you. I just thought that was a far more romantic and wonderful city than Paris could ever hope to be.
HARMEL: I’ve heard that Vienna is really beautiful, and I regret that I’ve never been there so maybe I will have to do that either this spring or when I go back in the fall.
ANDELMAN: I’ll watch for that.
ANDELMAN: Alright. Well, let’s end with this. We’re both Florida Gators, apparently proud Florida Gators at that. Is there anything you’d like to tell the world about membership to the world’s best and, at times, most-reviled alma mater?
HARMEL: Gosh, I’m so proud to have gone to school there. I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful school, and I say that from the bottom of my heart. I feel like I could not have gone to college at a better place. It was a fabulous balance of a wonderful education as well as a great social life, and, of course, wonderful athletic life. God, who’s better than the Florida Gators?