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About the author:
Kim Sullivan Harwanko
I’m a freelance writer – after going back to college and graduating in my early 50’s with a degree in journalism from Rutgers. After 23 years as a litigation paralegal, those 18-year-olds didn’t scare me. I loved every minute of being in college. As one student told me “Ma’am – you’re ruining the curve for the rest of us.” Who would have thought?
I blog, I tweet, I post for some of the nicest interior designers in Northern New Jersey and am also a contributing writer to local community newspapers. I’m an active member of the Publicity Committee for the Women’s Association of Morristown Medical Center and a board member for Mansion in May, a designer showhouse.
As our own target audience, we like to read and have a website devoted to our book club Between Friends at www.betweenfriendsbookclub.com. We’ve been together since 2004.
I’m a Jersey girl, without the much talked about big hair. I have lived in seven of the 21 counties in my beautiful state. It is to my utter amazement that I have to admit to saying, “I do” to three different men. Sometimes life takes turns that are surprising and unexpected. With my third husband, I added 4 “bonus children” to the two I gave birth to. In the ensuing years the family has grown with marriages and babies. By end of summer this year we will have two granddaughters and two grandsons. Truly blessed.
I have worked in, left and returned three times to be a part of my law firm. Starting in my late teens as an assistant to the bookkeeper and over time I became the head of the accounting department and eventually added office administrator to the mix. I’m also a licensed realtor and enjoy helping people find their perfect home.
Having lost my parents at a young age I have a real appreciation and love for spending time with all my family. I love to cook and bake, which everyone enjoys. Reading, gardening, sewing, counted cross stitch and crafts have also been an integral part of my entire life.
I am an embracer of creativity and curiosity and a strong believer in the power of storytelling.
Speaking of storytelling… when I was in high school, we were given a "job assessment" to see what we were best suited for in the future. My top job came out as "circus performer". I am NOT making this up. I didn't even know that was an option. We all got a good laugh out of it.
Then, I spent the next 35 years in corporate communications where I successfully juggled myriad projects and details without dropping a ball; jumped through burning hoops to satisfy demanding clients and gracefully swung from deadline to deadline usually without a net.
Use for those skills, along with my motto of "keep that sense of humor, it's critical," have led me to success in personal and professional life, including as a writer and photographer.
Born and bred in NYC, I am the oldest of five children in a traditional Puerto Rican family. Always striving for personal improvement, I have never stopped trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Upon discovering that nursing school wasn’t for me, I tried my hand at selling insurance and real estate and held positions in the banking and investment industries. Eventually, a technical sales career in telecommunications suited me perfectly for many years, during which time I married and moved across the river to New Jersey to raise family.
Now a mother of two and a divorced empty nester, my latest career is in consumer health marketing. Still moonlighting, but this time with dear friends from book club in a collaboration of fictional love stories, as an author. Finally, my life’s journey makes sense.
I grew up in Midwestern bliss with a cornfield down the road, and two “Cheaper by the Dozen” families bookending my block. The announcement of our move to NJ was met with tears and TV-induced fears—of riots, of congestion, and of “tough” people. Relocating at age 9, I quickly met my future husband (married 28 years), and I fell in love with the state’s greenery, beaches, and people. I am proud to be able to negotiate traffic circles and jug-handles, and to pump my own gas, even though I don’t have to!
I have had a love-hate relationship with writing. It is a passion but also can be a torture. Case in point is my college senior thesis of 150+ pages, on which I labored in hermitic seclusion in a friend’s vacated dorm room for several weeks in order to make deadline and get my “A”. I existed on caffeine and dining hall meals delivered by kind friends–one even sent me a sympathy card via campus mail.
With three young adult children and an approaching empty nest, I am looking forward to returning to writing. A la Tom Clancy, I’ll do corporate insurance by day, writing by night. Totally ready for this next chapter in my life.
Between Friends Book Club
We’ve been together since 2004 and are still going strong. We discuss books between mouthfuls of decadent desserts and sips of caloric cocktails. We are a part of the over 45 crowd that has found a lifeline with book club and want to share this bond with others.
In 2008, we began a website documenting our meetings and reviewing the books we read for other book clubs. To date, we have read and reviewed almost 100 books.
Eventually book discussions will turn toward a member’s real-life experience. We’ve shared our fears and our hopes and everything in between. We’ve found empathy and understanding and have given comfort and encouragement. Book club is so much more than just reading! See Between Friends at www.betweenfriendsbookclub.com.
What inspired you to write your book?
The idea for NOVEL WOMEN was born of our realization that there was a profound lack of romance books featuring "women of a certain age." Our children are grown, we now need glasses to read, but we navigate this new stage of our lives with an abundance of wisdom, resilience, strength, love, and—yes,—passion.
We're embolden by the current cultural narrative involving women and want to celebrate our stage of life and invite our sisterhood along with us. Together we can thrive.
Here is a short sample from the book:
My radio blasted, “I’m ridin’ solo….” Yup, that’s me. I’m finally free!
I drove up and away from my old life on that sun-drenched day, turning onto scenic Route 22A in Vermont. All I could see were rolling pastures speckled with farms, cows and horses. I cruised with the top down on my rented white convertible, my hair flying this way and that. I felt giddy, more like a teenager escaping to college for the first time rather than a 49-year-old divorcee.
Am I allowed to be this happy? It had been so long, and it felt so good.
Up and over, hill after hill, farm after farm, bordered by the Adirondacks on one side and the Green Mountains on the other, this roller coaster landscape seemed as if it ought to be in a movie or a coffee table book. It hadn't changed in twenty-five years. I had traveled this road back and forth during my college years and it still took my breath away. I was headed back to the last place I’d lived when I was single—just for a visit, to reinvigorate myself, enjoy the jazz festival, and begin again.
The undulating road was in sync with the radio. I sang along at the top of my lungs to Jason Derulo’s song, totally out of key. It always amazed me that a song could so exactly nail a mood.
A few miles outside of Fair Haven, an odor began to waft over the windshield, growing stronger with each mile. In the heat of late spring, the manure stored on all the nearby dairy farms takes on a life of its own, especially when the wind blows toward the highway. The malodorous scent immediately brought me back to my college days.
The stench becoming too much for me, I decided to put the top up. A large sign ahead read Devil's Bowl Speedway. As I pulled into the parking lot, I remembered passing this track on my way to college, but it was different now, more professional, with a large asphalt driveway and spectator stands.
A black pickup truck with a trailer attached was the only other vehicle in the lot. I parked next to the truck and raised the convertible top.
Looking at the stunning mountain range behind the racetrack, I was struck by the beauty of the swirling clouds. My spirits soared, and I felt an urge to twirl around like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Instead, I grabbed my tote bag out of the back seat with my camera in it. The mountains naturally framed the race track and the surrounding fields. Memories floated in, of me sitting with my dad on our old, beat-up Adirondack chairs, talking and laughing. My dad would look up into the sky and point to a passing cloud formation.
“Staci, do you see that spaceship up there?” my father once asked. I must have been eight or nine.
I told him I did. Off we journeyed to a planet called Paragon in the Sunflower Galaxy where the inhabitants dressed in the finest silks embellished with rare gems that changed colors in the light and dark. Dad built a world around the Paragonians’ lives. Somewhere buried in all these stories were life lessons, the kind my children would later read in the Bernstein Bears series or Dr. Seuss.
We always ended with a few lines from Shelley’s cloud poem:
I am the daughter of Earth and Water
And the nursling of the Sky
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores,
I change but I cannot die….
I miss my father every single day enough though it’s been ten years since he passed away. An eternity really. I lowered my head as my eyes welled up.
A strong breeze blew from the valley, catching my orange floral silk scarf, a gift from my sons. The knot must have loosened around my neck while driving with the top down. It lifted up and above my head. The breeze died quickly, sending it floating back down, landing a few feet away from me. My thoughts turned to my ex-husband, George. My father never told me what he really thought of him. When George and I told my parents that we were engaged, my father had looked down at the ground before shaking George’s hand and hugging me. Looking back on it now, I’m certain my father knew I was making a mistake. All those years of my dad’s stories and life lessons had managed to fly off in the wind just like my scarf.
My cell rang, and I rummaged in my bag pulling it out only to discover it was George. I hit decline and turned the volume off.
I threw my phone back into my purse. My ex-husband was nothing like my father. George could be so charming, having the perfect response for every situation. But he would drive by a car accident and never think to stop to help or even call 911. After all, if he did, he might miss an important call. The next business deal was his true love. Stories were just a waste of time to him, and only cold hard facts and deals mattered.
George complained when I encouraged him to look at the beauty all around us. He usually would say: Let’s go, what’s taking so long, who cares what the sunset looks like, we’ll be late for my client dinner. Remembering that now, I shuddered.
For years I listened to his rants. He’d wind himself up, saying: My mother could handle the home, her children and have dinner on the table seven days a week, without breaking a sweat, and all with limited means. Not like the money I give you. I closed my eyes and shook my head trying to shake away the memories. How did I make such a huge mistake? I still can’t believe I married him and stayed married for 25 years.
I walked through the parking lot into the field beyond where a huge sugar maple caught my attention. I took a picture, then snapped a few more of the mountain range beyond before putting the camera into my bag and heading back.
Reaching the car, I looked at the track. A few pictures might be nice for my blog. I was in no hurry.
A simple chain link fence surrounded it with a large open gate just beyond the black truck. I walked through and stopped at the stands, pulling my camera back out of the bag.
A loud roar erupted behind me. Startled, I dropped my bag and the contents spilled everywhere. Luckily, I was holding my camera in my other hand.
Jesus, what an idiot.
The noise grew louder, closer. Out of my peripheral vision, a dark blur appeared. My arms reacted quicker than my mind and I lifted the camera and snapped a few pictures to capture the moment.
Thank God my ex wasn’t there. I could almost hear him raging about my lack of coordination and how much the items that I just dropped on the ground cost. Still stunned by the noise, I bent to retrieve my makeup bag, jamming it and the rest of the fallen stuff back into the bag. Only one car was on the track and it was so loud. How could people tolerate the volume with several cars on the track, race after race?
Looking for a different angle to photograph the car, I climbed up the bleachers and snapped a few more pictures as it rounded the curve. I hoped one of the shots would be clear enough for my blog. I had invested in a good camera because blog posts need lots of images. No one likes to read anymore, now the goal was fewer words, more pictures, like grammar school workbooks.
I missed writing for a newspaper with all its hubbub and those insane deadlines. Being a journalist was the most exhilarating, stressful and adventurous years of my life. But when the kids came my husband insisted I quit. He didn’t want anything to interfere with his career.
After so many years out of the profession and with jobs being scarce, I began blogging and freelancing. Certainly not the excitement I was used to in the newsroom, but it was a start. Hoping to reinvigorate my career, I came to Burlington to write about the annual Jazz Festival.
Back in the car, I resumed my trek up the highway, turning up the music as loud as my ears could handle. In my car all alone, no one cared that I couldn’t carry a tune.
My stomach growled – either to protest my singing, or because it needed food – so I stopped in the small city of Vergennes for lunch. I couldn’t believe how much Vergennes had changed since I’d last been here. As students we always just blew through it.
Once inside Gianni's Italian Specialties, I ordered a number 23 with ketchup from the sandwich board.
“You must be from Jersey! Only people from Jersey put ketchup on a chicken cheese steak,” said the man behind the counter.
I laughed. “Guilty as charged, but is that really true?”
“Trust me, only people from Jersey put ketchup on everything.” He squirted ketchup up and down my sandwich. Still laughing, I walked outside the front door to a small patio with petite cafe tables overlooking the street, putting my plate down on the table closest to the railing.
The sun warmed without burning and beauty seemed to pour out of every flower, plant and building. Vergennes was adorably quaint, with its own New England distinctiveness. In the late 19th century, the small city had once bustled with a Navy shipyard, but all that had remained by my college days was a broken-down remembrance. Now restored, it had regained some of its past charm. I sat back, enjoying the town’s afternoon rhythm.
Savoring my sandwich, ketchup and all, I noticed a shiny black pickup truck with a racecar on a trailer drive by on Main Street. It looked like the truck from the speedway. Idly wondering what the racecar driver looked like, I watched as the truck continued up the road and made a right out of my line of vision.
“Miss Cindy, can we get ice cream?” I turned toward a small squeaky voice to my left where a group of preschool age children were walking up the sidewalk toward the restaurant, all holding hands, with adults in front and at the rear. Some sort of school or daycare outing. The children were cute, and my thoughts flashed back to my own boys at that age. Chris and Jeff, only 13 months apart, were now out in the world making their own memories. I fell into a reverie thinking of my sweet, sweet little boys.
“Excuse me,” said a strong, deep male voice directly behind me.
Startled, my arms flew up and knocked over my soda. God, do I always have to be such a klutz? I bent to retrieve the fallen drink, and when I looked up, a tall man stood before me, dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and a baseball cap. To my utter astonishment, he held my scarf in one hand. A food tray was in the other.
“Sorry for startling you,” he said, his smile mischievous. “Is this scarf yours?”
“Yes, that’s mine. But where did you find it?” I spun around and opened my bag to check. The scarf wasn't there. It had clearly embarked on its own adventure this trip.
“At the track, in the bleachers,” said the stranger.
After a moment, I realized I was staring and quickly reached out to retrieve the scarf from his outstretched hand. His dark brown hair spilled out from under his baseball cap and halfway down his neck. His features were chiseled, with a strong jaw line. When he lifted his head after setting down his lunch at an adjoining table, I noticed deep green eyes that popped against his tan skin. The café tables were so small and close together it was as if he was sitting right next to me.