Author Kimberly Stuart took a break from her vacation in Okoboji to chat with me about growing up with strong Iowa values, her writing process and favorite romcom movies. In just over an hour I felt like Stuart and I could be lifelong friends.
Stuart grew up in Des Moines and then left for about 10 years, living in some of the bigger cities in the Midwest before returning to her hometown to raise her family. Much like the characters in her books, Stuart can identify with returning home. It’s a natural story for her to tell.
“I like telling those fish-out-of-water stories because they can offer an opportunity for self-examination,” she said.
Stuart said she was an avid reader growing up and liked writing, but felt like it wasn’t a viable career option. She didn’t know anyone who had made writing novels their career and it seemed too unreachable, “like tap dancing on Broadway, I surely couldn’t do that,” Stuart said.
So, instead she taught Spanish, including teaching at Anamosa High School where she still is in contact with several of her former students. As a stay-at-home mom, though, she found she missed the social interactions and would anxiously wait for her husband to come home from work just to have some conversation.
Her husband, Marc, was the one who suggested she try writing. She started writing vignettes about parenting and life in Iowa. She said she wanted to share the stories that made her laugh after conversations about mom-life with her girlfriends. Stuart entered one of those stories into a non-fiction contest at the University of Iowa and won.
“I was so flabbergasted to open the letter. My eyes were bugging out and I couldn’t believe they paid me dollars for words. It gave me the momentum to keep writing,” she said.
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After receiving tickets to attend a writer’s conference as a Christmas gift from her parents, the rest is pretty much history. Twelve years and eight novels later, Stuart said her success is “attributed to lots of help from kind people, hard work, and the discipline to write every day.”
She said her faith also is at the core of who she is.
“It’s a gift from God to be able to do something that I love,” Stuart said.
Stuart thinks of reading as an escape and typically starts each novel centered on a main character with an interesting career because it’s a way to interest the reader. Her books include an opera singer, veterinarian, pastry chef, and, most recently, a fashion designer. She said she wants to create a character that she enjoys spending time with and finds interesting. Research behind her latest character, Grace, a fashion designer in New York City, was supported by her good friend, Sarah, who attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and is owner of the boutique Dornink in Des Moines. Those connections help Stuart create the characters and the details of her new book, “Heart Land.”
The title “Heart Land” is a play on both Iowa being the geographic heartland of the country, but also the big-heartedness of the Midwest and the people in it, Stuart said.
In the novel, Grace runs away from home and coming back, was still greeted with open arms by the people she shunned. Stuart said she wants to share the big hearts of Iowans in her stories as well as their strong work ethic and the idea of neighbors helping neighbors.
She said she included bits of her grandmas’ characteristics into the book because they both showed her how to be full of life, have a love for hard work and the importance of a great sense of humor.
“Heart Land” includes a romance, but that isn’t the main focus of the story, Stuart said. Relationships are the real focus, including marriages that struggle, relationships that take a lot of hard work, but most important — have a lot of humor. Stuart finds inspiration in her parents’ marriage of nearly 40 years. Their marriage has been a huge gift, she said, something that she didn’t realize until she was older.
When Stuart isn’t running to an activity with her three children, you’ll find her in a quiet spot in her home, writing and meeting her daily word goal.
“If you really want this to happen, you have to make the choice to sit down every day and do it. It needs to be a like a doctor appointment. You have to carve out the time and force yourself to push toward your dream,” she said.
Stuart said it also is important to celebrate milestones.
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“Whether it’s completing a scene in the book, getting a call from an agent, or entering a contest, celebrate those moments. So many times you won’t feel like celebrating. Give yourself permission to grin,” she said.
• What: Kimberly Stuart will read from “Heart Land” and sign copies of her books
• When: 6:30 p.m. July 24
• Where: Barnes & Noble, 333 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids
• Cost: Free