She was a banker and had no intention of writing a novel. So how did Kristen Harnisch go from a career in corporate America to becoming a well know writer? When she was pregnant with her first child, she and her husband took a trip to the Loire Valley of France and toured the vineyards there. “As I walked through the fields and chateaus, I wondered how the families created wine year after year, decade after decade and century after century with all that they had to face. I had a revelation of sorts as I thought about that spot as a great setting for a story about the generations of families that created wine.”
Kristen came home from that trip and developed an outline for her first book – which wouldn’t be published until 13 years later. She had always secretly wanted to write a novel and, now that she was a stay-at-home mom, she could do that. “I wrote to escape the piles and piles of laundry that came with a newborn. I had never written fiction but I was well read.”
Kristen began her writer’s education by taking classes on line at the Gotham Writer’s Workshop, “It was perfect because I could go to school from home while raising my kids.” The class was a small group and students were held accountable through specific assignments and message boards. “It was very social. I learned how to give and receive feedback. It was a great introduction to the collaborative effort many writers utilize.”
Research was key to Kristen’s novel of historical fiction, “I wanted my readers to be able to taste, feel and experience all that was found in my story’s time period. Readers, publishers and editors are sticklers for facts.” Kristen spoke to many wine experts and got a detailed education on wine making, vineyard life in the later 1800s and the history of the industry. “In addition to visiting multiple vineyards, I delved into French and California history books, read years of nineteenth century trade papers, and reviewed old maps and photographs at the Napa County Historical Society.” This was not only a fun topic to explore but it helped her in creating an authentic story.
Over the course of 13 years, Kristen had doubts and even put her manuscript away for a while after her younger brother passed away unexpectedly. But one day she went looking for it and couldn’t find it. “I collapsed on the closet floor, thinking that my writing career was not going to
happen. A voice in my head that sounded a lot like my brother, Matt, said ‘Look up.’ I did and there was the box with my book. I took this as sign to keep going.”
Three kids, thirteen years and multiple versions of her novel later, Kristen was ready to find an agent. “I sent out queries and got lots of rejections but knew if I was getting rejections that I was making progress and I didn’t get discouraged.” Kristen went to multiple writers’ conferences and became very adept at pitching her novel.
And then one day a fellow author whom she met through her networking, referred her to an agent. The agent immediately wanted to represent her work and then pitched it to numerous publishers including Harper Collins Canada. “They were interested and asked if they could buy the sequel too. I didn’t have one, but said yes. I figured I could write a sequel.” Kristen was so happy, she cried when she got her offer.
Now she had to write a new novel, edit the current one and market her books all at the same time. “Those 18 months were crazy and my whole family helped me find the time to work and write.” But when her book was published, Kristen felt an enormous sense of pride. Book tours, appearances and events followed. After that, she took a year off, “I was exhausted.”
Now what? Kristen is taking a break from historical fiction to write a humorous account of four women who escape to Italy to deal with their mid-life crises. “It’s very different, but fun.” Her agent has organized a writers’ trip to a chateau in France where Kristen will be assisting authors with their works in progress.
“Six authors, myself and my agent will spend a week touring, dining and writing. When I asked my husband how I could make that happen with three kids, he said, ‘Books and wine at a chateau in France!!! That’s your Van Halen moment. You have to go.’ Meaning this is what I’m all about so I can’t pass up the opportunity.”
Kristen loves the support that her family and the Darien community give her in her new career. She’s working on her third novel in the series and even has a movie agent. Wouldn’t that be awesome!?! Kristen says she feels so gratified that she stuck it out and pursued a new career. She hopes her novels provide entertaining reading and inspiration.
How does her new career make Kristen feel, “I recently spoke to a group of middle schoolers in Bridgeport. One 13-year-old girl told me she was inspired to work harder in school when she heard that I kept working for 13 years to finish my book and get it published. That made me beam.”
Take classes, network and never give up.
The Vintner’s Daughter has been described as a riveting, romantic tale of betrayal, retribution, love and redemption and a spirited heroine’s fight to determine her destiny.
The California Wife is a rich romantic tale that involves wine, love, new beginnings and a family’s determination to fight for what really matters.