Author to Author: The “Unconventional Love Story” Interviews, Part One


Today’s post by Colleen Oakley and Kristin Harmel | @ColleenOakley @KristinHarmel

The timing of this author-to-author interview couldn’t be better since I (Ariel) had the great privilege of meeting debut author Colleen Oakley this last weekend at an event in Atlanta, Georgia (scroll to the end of this post for a photo). We, along with Greer Macallister, one of the She Reads Books of Winter authors, participated in a discussion and book signing at Foxtale Book Shoppe and it was an absolute delight. I can personally attest to the fact that Colleen and Greer are both brilliant writers and charming women. Having met Colleen, a master of the unconventional love story, I am even more enchanted by her interview with Kristin Harmel, author of THE LIFE INTENDED. We’ll return on Thursday with the second part in this series and will see how Colleen does in the hot seat. Until then, enjoy!

Unconventional Love Story Collage

Colleen: Some of my favorite books explore the idea of the path not taken— The Post Birthday WorldThe Time of My Life and now The Life Intended! Are you someone that’s always wondered what your life would be like if only you’d done this or that one thing never happened? Also (sorry, two-part question!) what grabbed me immediately were the dream sequences. Don’t we all have those dreams that we don’t want to wake up from? I could actually feel Kate’s anguish at waking up in her real life. Has that happened to you, and dare I ask what you were dreaming about? 🙂

Kristin: Well, let me just begin by saying how flattered I am by your kind words! As you know, I adored your book, so I’m especially touched to hear that from an author I like so much.

As for your questions, despite the fact that I wrote a book about a woman who spends a lot of time looking back, I don’t think I play the “what if” game with the past very often. I think often about important decisions I’ve made, but it’s mainly so that I can (hopefully) make better decisions in the future. I know that I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, and I’d venture to say that we all probably have, but since I have yet to encounter a real time machine (although I admit I loved the indie movie Primer, which is about just that), I think the best way to rectify past mistakes is to atone for them and learn from them, so that I can do better in the future. I suppose I do think about things that were out of my control. I lost a very dear friend in a car accident in 2003, for example, and I think from time to time about what would have been if he had lived. He died at the age of 24; today, he’d be 35. It’s such a tragedy when lives are cut short, and it’s hard not to think about how life would have been different in that regard. But I think living in the past is a bit dangerous; if you do so too frequently, it becomes difficult to move on to your future.

As for your question about dreams, I’m clearly outing myself as a weirdo, but most of my vivid dreams are of the couldn’t-possibly-happen-in-real-life variety. I spend an awful lot of time single-handedly triumphing over bad guys while I’m asleep. Basically, I’m an action hero waiting to happen – at least in my own head. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with that!

Colleen: One of the things that I love about novel writing, is choosing topics that I don’t know much about and having to immerse myself in new worlds and learn about different walks of life. Did you know a lot about music therapy and/or the Deaf community when you started writing this book or were those things that always interested you? How did you go about your research? And what’s the most surprising thing you learned?

Kristin: You are so right, and it was fascinating to see how expertly you did just that in BEFORE I GO. No, I didn’t know much at all about music therapy or the Deaf community when I set out to write THE LIFE INTENDED. Believe it or not – and I suppose I should have mentioned this in the previous question since you asked about dreams – I woke up one morning a couple years ago with most of the plot of THE LIFE INTENDED already in my head. That has never happened to me before – not even close – but music therapy and hearing difficulties were already there as integral parts of the story. Then, I had to work backwards. I bought books on ASL and watched dozens of videos to get a feel for it, and I even hired a sign language expert (who was kind enough to donate a lot of his time too) to make sure I was getting things right. (You can see him signing some phrases from the book at this link, actually!) I also spoke at length with a good friend of my husband’s (now a good friend of mine too!) whose awesome son Jack has cochlear implants, as well as my longtime friend Kari’s husband, who is hard of hearing. My friend Pam’s son is also hard of hearing and was kind enough to donate his time for a chat too. For the scenes that included signing, I had an ASL expert review them. My research process with music therapy was similar; I had the help of a wonderful music therapist in New York who was very, very generous with her time and expertise, and I also bought and read a few textbooks and case study books about music therapy. The most surprising thing I learned is probably something that a lot of others already know: that there’s a big difference between deaf (with a lowercase d) and Deaf (with an uppercase D). The first term is broader and refers to the actual condition of not being able to hear. The second refers to the Deaf community, a group of people with a shared culture and shared language. I also hadn’t realized that there are many people in the Deaf community who don’t believe that hard of hearing children should necessarily receive cochlear implants. It was interesting to read all about that, and to tweak the plot accordingly.

Colleen: OK, this may be a selfish question, but you’re such a successful novelist and I have to ask — on behalf of myself and other debut authors, what advice do you have for those just starting out in this business? Or, sticking with the theme of your book — if you could go back and give your-just-starting-out-self three pieces of advice, what would they be?

Kristin: Well, first of all, Colleen, let me just say that you’re doing just fine! But to answer your question, I think I would say to relax and enjoy the ride. I was basically a bundle of nerves for my first few book releases, and I think that in trying to micromanage everything, I lost out on a lot of the enjoyment of being a debut novelist. Every book is special, but there’s nothing quite like having your first novel published, because it’s the book that’s been living inside of you for a long time, just waiting to get out. So yes, answer all the questions that come your way, set up book signings, etc. But HAVE FUN. Revel in what you’ve accomplished. And really listen to the kind words people will say to you.

That said, my second piece of advice would be to take the criticism in stride. I still have my feelings hurt by critical reviews, especially those in which I can tell the reviewer has completely misunderstood something I was trying to say. Some of them even get very personal – and at times, flat-out mean. But for me, at least, learning to accept the critical words as well as the kind ones was sort of a lesson in – as Rick Nelson would have said – “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.” And I don’t mean you should be writing for yourself, of course. I just mean that as long as you are proud of what you’ve done, you should feel good about it. Some people will love your book; some will hate it. And that’s okay. That’s life. And I think that realizing that in the context of my writing has made me a better person in other areas of my life.

My third piece of advice would be to not let the first book defeat your second effort. And what I mean by that is that a lot of writers struggle with the second novel, because they’re scared. I know that was the case with me. My first novel (which came out in 2006) was the book that I’d been wanting to write for ages. So I wrote it, and then there came a paralyzing moment of, “What now?” It took me a long time to find my footing with my second novel, and honestly, I think I put a lot of pressure on myself and wrote a book that wasn’t as good as the first. I was terrified of failing, and I think it showed in the writing. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to take another stab at things – with 2008’s The Art of French Kissing (not a how-to manual, FYI!) – but I’m still not particularly proud of that second novel. So learn from my mistake: Don’t pressure yourself. You found a publisher for your first novel because you’re good at what you do. Remember that, and have confidence in your ability to write a knockout book the second time around too!

* * *

The Life IntendedFrom 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.

And, as promised, here is my favorite picture from this weekend’s event. Left to right: me, Colleen Oakley, one of our lovely attendees, and Greer Macallister. If you get the chance to see these ladies while they’re out and about on book tour, don’t miss it. But even better, pick up a copy of BEFORE I GO or THE MAGICIAN’S LIE.

Foxtale Pic

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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