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A love story: Cedar Rapids native uses parents marriage as inspiration for her novels

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By Stacie Gorkow, correspondent

Kelly Harms returned to her hometown after the Floods of 2008 to help friends and family clean up, and she returned after the flood of 2016, this time to share her sophomore novel with readers at Next Page Books. Harms, a graduate of Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School, has strong attachments to Cedar Rapids. Her mother still lives here. Her dad was a huge part of this community as a business owner and Lions member. His death was a great loss to her family and to Cedar Rapids.

I caught Harms for a few minutes to chat for a phone interview while painters had just arrived at her home. Her 5-year-old son was at school and her goldendoodle puppy was at her feet. Her first book, “The Goodluck Girls of Shipwreck Lane” centers on the dream of finding a forever home.

She said it was special to her because she was also getting ready to relocate to Madison, Wis., leaving New York City, the place where she had spent her own roaring 20s. Her newest book, “The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay,” is inspired by the lake areas of northern Wisconsin and has a bit of the same feel with the main character, Lily, needing to revisit where she is in her life. She is stuck in the past and determined not to move forward in her life.

“I was also tired of treading water and needed to move forward in my life,” Harms said. “I needed to write from the perspective of someone who had much to offer and was at a crossroads in life. There is magic in who steps into your life in that moment to help you move forward.”

After working in publishing for almost a decade, which she called the best job in the world, she was able to rub elbows with some of her writer heroes like Susan Wiggs.

“It was a formative time for me. Every day was a master class where I could learn from the best writers in the business,” she said.

Her early years in the business allowed her to create lifelong friendships with some fabulous authors, many of whom offered wide praise on her second book.

Harms’ novels are for readers looking for fun and pleasure.

“The fact that I write love stories is no surprise because my parents had a beautiful love story that lasted 47 years,” Harms said proudly.

Harms said she didn’t always want to be a writer. She had plans to be a doctor. Fortunately for readers, organic chemistry was difficult and after taking it twice, she decided to look at other options, taking an internship at a magazine with a book section.

“I knew right away that I needed to be near where books were being made,” she said.

Harms said she was always an avid reader and her mom told her she was great at making up stories. I’d say she is too.

Having the opportunity to learn from the best fiction writers out there encouraged her to take a leap of faith and write her first book, Harms said.

“It was a 10-year-long overnight success,” she said.

Harms said she is inspired by authors like Marisa de los Santos, Fannie Flagg, Jane Green, Jo Jo Moyes and Susan Wiggs who “write from a place of bold, fearless optimism. There are no perfect characters, no bad guys, just people muddling along in life.”

Harms said she typically reads outside her genre while writing to not be influenced by what she is reading at the time. But, when I asked what book she is most excited about this fall, she said, “the new Maria Semple book (‘Today Will Be Different’). I’ll be sitting by my mailbox waiting for it to arrive.”

At book readings and discussions Harms said she will read snippets from her novel, answer questions, but mostly talk off the cuff.

“We are all there because we love books.”

Fans will be thrilled to hear she is working on another Minnow Bay book focusing on the character, Colleen.

“I’m also having an affair with a story of a woman who steps away from her busy life as a mom and wife and what happens when she does,” she said.

Harms definitely has the talent to write the stories readers want to read.

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