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Keynote Speaker Kristin Harmel Reflects on Overcoming Challenges

Bestselling author shares path to historical fiction writing.
Photo by Zoie Carlile
Author Kristin Harmel gives keynote presentation to audience of students and faculty. Harmel discussed her journey from sports reporting to writing historical fiction. “If you want to write a book, put your butt on that chair and write,” Harmel said.

At the age of 16, New York Times bestselling author Kristin Harmel was breaking social barriers as a female sportswriter covering minor league baseball.

In 1995, the world of sports was mostly closed to women. There were very few female commentators on ESPN, and even fewer female sportswriters. However, this didn’t stop Harmel, an avid baseball fan, from pursuing a writing career in the field.

“I always felt like I was having to prove to people that I wasn’t there trying to pick up baseball players, which was a really uncomfortable feeling,” Harmel said. “That was something I constantly had to overcome. It was something really difficult, but I think it made me stronger as a person and more tenacious as a reporter.”

Harmel wrote for various magazines in Tampa Bay, including Tampa Bay AllSports, Accent on Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Times, where she wrote articles covering everything from sports to popular culture. Then, in college, she applied to an internship program in New York, hoping to snag a position with a magazine like Sports Illustrated.

“I got placed with Woman’s Day, which is not a sports magazine,” Harmel said. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe I have to go and work there.’”

However, working with Women’s Day ended up being a transformative experience for Harmel, pushing her out of her previous comfort zone. Her next internship landed her at People Magazine.

During Harmel’s time at People Magazine, her favorite stories to write were the “Heroes Among Us” stories, which were features about everyday people performing significant acts of service for the world. These narrative stories became the basis of Harmel’s fiction writing.

“If I had gotten that Sports Illustrated internship like I wanted, I don’t know that I would have been on that road,” Harmel said. “So I think everything works out the way it’s supposed to.”

Harmel’s first books were what was known as “chick lit,” similar to the movie genre “chick flicks,” which center around female protagonists and romantic misadventures, and are marketed toward young women. Despite initial success with these novels, Harmel longed to write in a different genre – historical fiction.

“[Chick lits] aren’t bad,” Harmel said. “They just weren’t where my heart was. And it took me some growing up to figure that out.”

Keynote Speaker Kristin Harmel Reflects on Overcoming Challenges

Ready to take the next step in her writing career, Harmel approached her literary agent at the time with the idea that later became her book, “The Sweetness of Forgetting.”

“I was really excited about it, but my literary agent at the time said that she didn’t think it was ‘a Kristin Harmel book,’” Harmel said. “She didn’t think I was capable of writing it, and so I had to make the decision then to leave my literary agent.”

Harmel later found her current literary agent, Holly Root, who was excited about Harmel’s venture into historical fiction. “The Sweetness of Forgetting” was published in 2012, and was followed by a string of historical fiction novels like it, including “The Life Intended” in 2014, which is being adapted into a TV show slated to release in 2024 or 2025.

However, in October of 2022, Harmel received shocking news. At her annual mammogram, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor, diagnosing Harmel with stage one breast cancer. Harmel was just 43, with no relevant family history or any sign of a lump. In December, Harmel began chemotherapy, and spent long hours in the hospital.

Even amid the exhaustion and lethargy associated with chemotherapy treatment, Harmel wrote parts of “The Paris Daughter,” her most recent novel. The treatment often made her thoughts cloudy, resulting in constant writer’s block. The solution to this writer’s block, Harmel said, was setting daily and weekly word goals.

“If you want to write a book, put your butt on that chair and write,” Harmel said. “It could be 100 words a day, it could be 500 words a day, it could be 1000 words a day, whatever you feel like is a manageable daily word count for you.”

At Harmel’s presentation, she gave advice about writing your first novel and finding your inner strength. She emphasized to her audience that the hardest things in life are the things that are most worth doing, and that while safe choices are okay, making difficult choices are what make the world a better place.

“Your first draft is going to be a mess,” Harmel says. “But you can clean up that mess. So don’t be afraid to just sit down and write.”

About the Contributor
Ellie Levy
Ellie Levy, Editorials editor
What are your favorite TV shows/movies? Community and Back To The Future What are your hobbies? Reading, TV, and French Horn What causes are you passionate about? Climate change and child labor regulation