Kelly Harms is the author of the new novel The Overdue Life of Amy Byler. She also has written The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane and The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay. She has worked as an editor at HarperCollins and as a literary agent, and she lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, and for your character Amy?
A: I find that most of my story ideas are cooked up from a little bit of my own personal escapism with just a sprinkling of cultural subversion. As a single mom myself, it wasn't hard to dream up a situation where a woman would want to step out of her daily toil and try the road not traveled.
But the subversion comes in when you understand just how much messaging is out there about what a single mother should be. Our culture reveres and abhors single mothers in equal parts, and places expectations on such women that are absolutely untenable, and the more I dug into that, the more I realized it applied to parenting in general, and not just women in my own personal situation.
Q: How did the "momspringa" concept become a focus of the novel, and what do you hope readers take away from Amy's experiences?
A: The word "Momspringa" has popped up before in the record, but to me it first flew out of my mouth in the midst of a girls night with a librarian friend of mine. And then once you have that concept to play with, how can you not try to turn it into a book?
Frankly, I'd like to turn it into a movement, but if my readers even take one Saturday to themselves guilt free, and do what they like and let their loved ones fend for themselves for that one day, I'm calling that a huge win.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I had to find out with Amy where life was going to take her. This has generally been my process. I start drafting with a general idea of a crisis ahead, but no set way it will settle out. I do know from the outset that my stories are going to be uplifting because it happens automatically; writing a downer would be hard work for me, and also feel forced.
Q: You've worked as an editor at HarperCollins and as a literary agent. How did that experience affect your own writing?
A: It was a tremendous gift. It was the best possible way to learn this craft--from the best writers and editors in the field, in the trenches, with real life happening all around me, real pressures, real connections. And it was hard, and hard things give you the gift of perspective. I love the occasional writing retreat now, but that's not where 99 percent of life's work gets done.
Also, I learned to go to the movies once a week and read everything. I don't think there's a better takeaway for writers than to consume story.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm drafting, and drafting is, for me, the fun part that also makes you cringe. I have to imagine it's the literary equivalent of making a sex tape that you know will be critiqued later. Sure, the making part will be fun. But can you forget that the critique is on the horizon?
I used to draft with the (incorrect) idea that I might get through a book and not need to hack it back up into tiny bits and fix it seven times. That beginner's mindset is hard to maintain.
Still, I think there's a good book in there, and if you are starting to fantasize about throwing your phone off a cliff and returning to the blissful disconnection of a time where the words "like," "follow," and "friend" did not require quotation marks, this book will be for you.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I'm so grateful to bloggers like you and readers that spread the word about books they love. It's fashionable to bemoan the state of letters in America, but if you want to be inspired to read more, scroll the #tallpoppywriters hashtag or visit Bloom, the reader's group I adore, and join the conversation around reading.
(Just be sure and set a 20-minute timer so you don't forget to get off the screen and into the pages of all the wonderful stories you'll be adding to your TBR pile.)
--Interview with Deborah Kalb