Interviewed by Brooke Hargett
I was lucky enough to be in Josi Kilpack’s Publication Primer group this year at the Storymakers Conference. I had heard fabulous things about her writing knowledge, not to mention her kindness. She definitely lived up to all the hype! Josi is the author of the Culinary Masterpiece Series, featuring super-sleuth Sadie Hoffmiller in twelve mysteries! She topped off the series with Sadie’s Little Black Recipe Book. Josi also wrote Daisy, Shannon’s Hope and Tying the Knot as part of The Newport Ladies’ Book Club, which is a parallel series by four authors with viewpoints from four different book club members. She’s written two books for the Timeless Regency Anthology Series as well. Josi has been a Whitney Award winner in both 2007 and 2014 and Best of State winner in 2012.
Her most recent book is A Heart Revealed about Amber Marie Sterlington in Regency-era London.
Amber Marie Sterlington, the Rage of the Season in Regency-era London, has her pick of men, and she knows what she wants most in a husband: a title and a fortune. Why would she ever marry for something as fickle as love? And why would she ever look twice at Thomas Richards, a third son of a country lord?
But when Amber’s social standing is threatened, the character of her future husband becomes far more important that his position. After a public humiliation, she finds herself exiled to Yorkshire. Alone except for her maid, Amber is faced with a future she never expected in a circumstance far below what she has known all her life. Humbled and lonely, Amber begins to wonder if isolation is for the best. Who could ever love her now?
This book will be followed up by a spin-off, Fenton’s Folly, which is scheduled for release this fall!
Brooke: Thanks so much for being a part of our Author Interview Series, Josi! You have a lot of fans out there in the writing community and we’re excited to get to know you better. Let’s start with how you decided you wanted to become an author. Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? Tell us about those early years of your writing career.
When I started writing I didn’t expect to make a career of it—I was on bedrest and had an idea for a story that grew bigger than expected. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was tenacious and eventually had an offer, which required me to pay a portion of the publishing costs on my first book. It made sense to me at the time, but that book did very poorly and my overall experience was not a positive one. I had loved writing, though, and kept at it until I had written a book I could take pride in. It did much better and by then I had realized a few things—First, that what I didn’t know how to do could be learned, Second, that success or failure at this would be up to me, and, third, that I loved writing! It was something I felt sure I was meant to do so I kept writing and kept improving.
Brooke: Walk us through your writing process. How has it evolved over the years? Are you more of an outliner or ‘pantser?’ Do you write on a schedule, by word count etc.? Do you have certain things that help inspire your creativity? Do you write in a certain program that helps you keep everything organized?
I am naturally a ‘pantser’ and therefore I’m a very sloppy writer. I go off on tangents, I cut things out, put them back in, rewrite over and over again. I have had to get better at outlining and writing proposals in the last few years, which has been a good challenge for me, and so now a days I do a bit more of a hybrid. I’m still sloppy, though. I don’t write on a schedule unless I’m on a deadline (like I am right now) I have just started using Scrivener and am loving it—it keeps all my info organized in one place and since I’m a sloppy writing, it’s been really nice to have everything together.
Brooke: How has it been switching from your mystery Sadie series to the Regency styled books? It must be quite different! Do you feel like your target audience is the same or not necessarily? Has it been easier or harder to come up with material?
When I finished the culinary mysteries, I had another mystery series I was developing but I just couldn’t make it work. It sounded too much like my Sadie books. I didn’t want to lose the momentum from that series and so I thought of the Proper Romance line through Shadow Mountain, my publisher. Mystery readers are often romance readers too so I thought a good portion of my existing readership would follow me into that genre, and I was impressed with the other books in that line and thought those readers would find me there too. It was SO much fun to write the Regency! I had been writing mystery for a long time and it was like going on vacation to do something new. As to easier or harder, it’s been both. Starting with fresh characters was easier than writing an already developed one, but I had to do a lot of research to get the setting and time period right. I have no regrets, though, and am so glad to be able to write a variety of genres. It’s been a fun transition. I’m hoping to get back to my mystery idea in time, but right now I’m really happy here.
Brooke: You’ve collaborated with other authors for a few of your books. How did you, Annette Lyon, Julie Wright and Heather Moore come up with the idea for your Newport Ladies Book Club? Was it tricky to work out the structure of the overall story to make sure each person could create a whole book from each of the book club member’s perspectives?
Years ago I read a book about 12 women who attended the same church. Each chapter was from a different woman, but it often showed the same scenes in each new POV. I found it fascinating how each woman thought she had these other women figured out, but then we’d read that woman’s POV and realize that her motivations were totally different than the other characters had thought. It felt so real to me, and so powerful, that I knew I wanted to write something like that one day. In 2009 Julie Wright and I did a Western US book tour that stuck us in a car together for two weeks. At some point I started telling Julie about this idea but as we talked it got bigger and bigger. Instead of chapters for each woman, what if it were full length books? Instead of one author writing each character, what if there were four of us? We knew and loved Annette Lyon and Heather Moore and knew they could write on a deadline and handle the necessary critique aspects of a collaborative project so when we got back home we pitched the idea to them. They were on board and we were on our way. The first set we wrote together—we would go to a hotel for a weekend and write and brainstorm all the stories at once. It was so much fun. We then edited each other’s books to make sure that our stories weaved together appropriately. It was a remarkable experience and one of the funnest writing I have ever done.
Brooke: You’ve been a presenter at several writing conferences and always bring great advice. What are the top three things in your opinion that will help aspiring authors?
1) Learn your craft. So many writers get caught up in the excitement of their story and feel like it’s perfect just the way it is. It usually isn’t and yet so many authors see studying the craft of writing as taking away from their writing time. It’s not true. Just like a doctor needs med school and a plumber needs to apprentice, writers need to learn the skill set of good writing. Invest the time to be your best and never stop that growth cycle.
2) Find cheerleaders. Maybe it’s friends you already have, maybe it’s family, or maybe you need to find some new friends (other writers make great cheerleaders) but identify those people who will celebrate with you, that will not be threatened by your doing something so BIG and will believe in you on the days you don’t. Make sure you’re being a cheerleader for them too, whether they write or not, but seek a safe and supportive community.
3) Remember that writing is a journey. No matter where you are, there is another level to climb too. No matter where you are, it’s going to have hard things. No matter where your writing takes you, the overall goal is that you become a better you in the process. If you become a better you, your writing will get better too (that rhymed!) but it isn’t only about the stories you write. YOU are a story too and be worthy of the leading role by keeping your priorities straight, working hard, and overcoming the obstacles with grace.
Brooke: Who is your favorite character that you’ve written and why?
My favorite character to write has been Shawn Hoffmiller, the son of the main character in the culinary mystery series. I patterned him after my own son, Chris, and absolutely loved it every time he came on stage.
Brooke: I did an interview with the Managing Editor for Shadow Mountain, Lisa Mangum a few months ago. Lisa was so engaging and had great advice. You’ve probably worked with her since Shadow Mountain is your publisher. Can you tell us a little about what the editing/publishing/marketing process has been like with them? What advice do you have for aspiring authors who are trying to decide if they should go with a publisher, agent or self publish?
I love Lisa. She was my editor for all the mystery books and is still working with me on the romances despite her promotion. I love working with Shadow Mountain. With them, you are assigned a production manger (Heidi Taylor for the romance line) who coordinates all the behind the scenes elements of the process. You also get an editor—in my case that’s Lisa. I work closely with both of them as the book is coming together and then interact with the marketing department and other individuals here and there. I love that I have a manager I can go to with any question I might have. She knows me, she knows my book and knows what I’ve done before. I love that I can also communicate directly with my editor, and that she doesn’t pull punches. People ask me all the time if it’s hard having an editor, they assume that I get bossed around or forced to make changes. It’s never been like that. Lisa gives me suggestions, we will sometimes brainstorm out solutions, and then I make the fixes. I have a great deal of trust in her skill and ability—she makes me better. When there are things we disagree on, we talk it out and find a place to come together. I have never felt like I lost control of my story, but I have always felt that the editorial process has improved it. I have only traditionally published my books and because of that I have a hard time imagining how the author can do all the jobs that a production team does. Self publishing is certainly a viable option and I’m not against it in any way but when I look at what I submit—thinking it’s perfect—and what the final product becomes I’m overwhelmed by how much I would miss without that process.
Brooke: You spoke at something called “Listen to your Mothers” earlier this year. Can you tell us a little about it and how it’s impacted you?
Listen to your Mother is a nation wide tribute to moms. It’s geographically based, so the people who speak in each state are from that state. You audition a piece and then 12 pieces are chosen for that years presentation which takes place around mother’s day each year. Presenters are usually moms, but there are men and even kids who present as well. I was fortunate enough to be chosen this year, and what an experience it was! I honestly have never heard anything like it. The monologues were funny, poignant, emotional and, mostly, very real. I plan to go as an attendee every year—it was such an affirming evening for me.
Brooke: You’ve talked about how the only way to find time to write is to make trade offs. Can you tell us about how you implement this in your life?
This is the question I get asked more than any other question, and it’s the question I ask of other writers more than any other question too. The fact is that everyone has 24 hours in a day, and each of us gets to choose how we spend it. If we have families, they are going to take time. If we have careers, that’s also going to take time. Writing should not come before either of those on a regular basis, but you are going to have to pick and choose what you do with the time you have left in a day. I would love to develop other hobbies, but I don’t have time. I would love to follow certain TV shows, I don’t do that either. I would love to visit with friends on the back porch, or have a cleaner house, or be more involved in my kid’s school, but I’ve chosen to develop my writing and that takes time that I could spend doing other things. There is no magic pill, there is not perfect time of life that will make writing easier, it’s about finding what works for you and then being dedicated. There were years when I wrote in 15 minute increments between home and kid responsibilities. There were years when I woke up early, or went to bed late—I always write on vacation while the family is sleeping in. I take my computer everywhere. In order to find the time to write, you have to sacrifice something. Only you know what that will be or if it will be worth it.
Brooke: What do you have in the works after Lord Fenton’s Folly? Give us a little teaser!
I haven’t signed contract on it yet, so I better not say but it’s a historical romance novel based on the love story between real people. I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t. Not yet. It was a fabulous experience, a new challenge that stretched me in good directions. I’ve never researched something so much in my life! It will come out in spring 2016.
Brooke: If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice to have throughout your writing career, what would it be?
Be patient and enjoy your kids. I was in such a hurry to write, write, write, and so often my kids felt like a distraction from what I really wanted to do. Half of my kids have left home now and I regret not enjoying my time with them. I was a young mom, impatient and eager to prove myself, but I worry that I lost opportunities that would have enriched my life more than the writing did. I can’t get it back—I am working to do better with the time I have left—but I wish I’d put more limits on my writing time, wish that my kids had always known they were more important than what I was typing on the computer, and wish that I had applied myself as well to being a good mom as I did to being a good writer. As grateful as I am for my success and accomplishment—and I am grateful—not one of those books is as important to me as my kids, but I fear that at times they didn’t feel that way.
I like to finish up these interviews by asking everyone the same questions, known affectionately as the Nitty-Gritty Six . . .
Something about you that will surprise us:
I hate chicken. Gag.
Favorite Movie or TV Show:
Right now it’s “Call the Midwife” a BBC series about 1940’s midwives in East London.
Item you couldn’t live without:
Favorite book you’ve read this year:
“Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick. It’s about North Korea. Fascinating.
Three things you love to do besides write:
Bake, sleep, and eat.
Thank you so much for taking the time to let us get to know you better and for all your good advice! We look forward to seeing you at many writing events in the future and to reading your books!