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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Author Chat: An Interview with Josi S. Kilpack

Today, I'm welcoming Josi S. Kilpack to BBB. She's the author of a number of LDS mystery/suspense novels as well as a
series of culinary mysteries written for general audiences (as in, no mention whatsover of those pesky Mormons). She's currently on tour with Julie Wright. If you live in Arizona and you'd like to hear Josi and Julie speak, they will be appearing on Tuesday, November 17, at 7 p.m. in the Relief Society room of the LDS church building on McDowell and 78th St. in Mesa. You can also check here for local book-signing events. If you have any questions about Tuesday night, feel free to email me.

Welcome to BBB, Josi!

Me: I know you didn't start writing in earnest until just 10 years or so ago. So, did you ever dream that you would be a published author? As a child, did you like to read and write? If yes, what were your favorite books?

JSK: I didn’t begin to enjoy reading until I was 13—until then reading a book was pretty much like weeding the garden; to be avoided at all costs and suffered through if it became unavoidable. At 13 I read “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” and fell in love with stories. I enjoyed writing in school, but never had a teacher tell me I was particularly good at it and I never did more than I had to do for school. For me, my writing really was a dormant gift that stayed quiet and hidden for a long time; until I found myself in circumstances that allowed me time to explore myself a little bit. It’s been a completely unexpected journey.

Me: You've published a number of LDS mystery/suspense novels. What made you decide to write for the LDS market, especially in the mystery/suspense genre? How does writing for an LDS audience differ from writing for a more general one?

JSK: I write for the LDS market because I find the balance between in the world and of it to be a fascinating one. I have enjoyed exploring the Mormon experience very much and like writing about ‘my people’ to ‘my people’. I write mystery/suspense because that’s what I love. I like to read fast-paced stories about characters I care about, so I try to write the same type of story. The differences between an LDS audience and a general one is mostly in expectation. LDS readers, for the most part, expect the bedroom door to stay closed and the violence to not get out of hand. I’m very comfortable with this and it makes the LDS market a good fit for me.

Me: I generally shy away from LDS fiction because it never seems to address "real issues," but you've tackled topics like infertility, Internet predators, inactivity in the church, etc. How do you write clean books about offensive/touchy subjects? Why do you think it's important that LDS books reflect the "real issues?"

JSK: While we, as Mormons, live in the world, not of it, we are IN it and I think we do a disservice when we believe that modern issues don’t affect us. If we manage to escape some of the pitfalls of our society, our loved ones might not. My books address many issues of Mormon culture that are not quite as ‘celestial’ as they ought to be and while I don’t mean to pass judgment on any of us, I think that it’s important for us to be aware, so that we can be compassionate and charitable. Ignorance is just that, ignorance. I love books that make me stretch; books that teach me something I didn’t know. I really hope that my ‘issue’ books do that for my readers, and I hope to get back to them again one day.

Me: You've said that you don't enjoy reading culinary mysteries, so what in the world inspired you to write not just one, but a whole series of them? And how do you think your series differs from others on the shelves?

JSK: When I first started Lemon Tart, it was just a mystery novel with a quirky, domestic ‘sleuth’ - it wasn’t until after it was accepted that one of us (either my publisher or myself) suggested putting recipes in. I had heard of culinary mysteries, but never read any. After that I picked some up and never even finished them. Die hard culinary mystery readers assure me I just got the wrong ones, and maybe they're right, but the ones I got just didn’t resonate with me. They were too gourmet, or they were about characters I didn’t care about. I think my books are different because Sadie is an average woman. She doesn’t cook super fancy stuff, but it’s good, and she genuinely loves to feed the people around her. There are very few recipes that require special ingredients or knowledge, which I think makes her more relatable to those people that read about her.

As for the series, I originally thought that Sadie would make a great repeat character. Once Deseret Book read Lemon Tart, they agreed. We originally planned on three books in the series, but we’ve extended that to five. From there, we’ll see where it goes. I’m not sure I can keep Sadie clever and alive much longer, but we’ll see.

Me: Do you enjoy cooking as well as baking? How did you learn to bake? What's your favorite thing to bake?

JSK: I love, love, love to bake. alright, but baking is awesome! I learned to bake from my mom, who baked everything. The first time I had an Oreo cookies I cringed, it wasn’t nearly as good as a homemade cookie and while I hated homemade bread growing up, I crave it as an adult. As for what’s my favorite thing—cookies. You can go from pulling out the recipe to eating your creation in half an hour. That’s awesome!

Me: How do you choose which recipes to include in your culinary mysteries?

JSK: There’s always the main recipe, which serves as the title of the book, and the others come in a variety of ways. I’ve had readers suggest something, I’ve simply gone through my cookbooks looking for something that would fit, and then I also have a test kitchen: a group of 7 cooks who suggest ideas and then make each of the recipes so that we can get it just right. They have given me many suggestions and it’s very helpful, I don’t know what I’d do without them.

Me: I know you've addressed this on your blog, but how do you juggle marriage, motherhood and other obligations with your writing career?

JSK: I like the word ‘juggle’ better than ‘balance’ because I’ve come to the conclusion that balance—for anyone—is a myth. There is always something up in the air, something plummeting to the earth and something in hand. It becomes a give and take. Sometimes my family sacrifices for my writing (like now, when I’m gone for two weeks) and sometimes my writing sacrifices for my family. Sometimes exercise is sacrificed for school projects, and sometimes reading is put off for yard work. It’s impossible to give 100% to everything, and so I simply try very hard to be objective enough to see what is currently plummeting to the earth so I can catch it before it falls. Sometimes the balls are moving faster than others and things are intense, and sometimes I find a really good rhythm. I try very hard to keep my family from suffering, and yet at the same time I can’t do it without their support. It’s a tricky game, one that doesn’t always work, but one I continue to work at. But I don’t think it’s any different than any other woman. There is simply so much to do in life—if all we did was temple work, our lives would fall apart just as surely as if all we did was bake, or write, or lift weights. It’s all about keeping the ball from hitting the ground—that’s my goal every day. Most of the time it works.

Me: I ask this of every author I interview simply because I find the answers so intriguing: What's your writing routine? Do you write every day or just when the mood strikes? Do you outline or let the ideas flow freely? Where do you write? Is there anything you absolutely HAVE to have by you when you're writing? Can you concentrate if you're wearing your PJ's or do you have to get dressed to feel like you're really "at work?"

JSK: Oh, how I fantasize about a writing schedule! I have tried for ten years to get one. I’ll find a routine that works for a few weeks and then life happens, and it spins into the abyss and I find myself trying to find a new one. The fact is that my life is crazy and the season where I can have a set schedule is not yet here. As it is, I simply do the best I can to carve out time as often as possible. Rather unromantic, I know.

Me: Tell me about your Book Tour '09. How's it going? What has been the best part of it? The worst?

JSK: The Book Tour is doing great. We are exhausted, but in a good way; kind of like after a party when you’ve put so much time into it, your feet are killing you, but you smile when you think about it because everyone had such a good time. We’ve met so many people: readers, bookstore employees, etc. and it’s been a rich experience to come to them and live in their worlds for a little bit. We get to rub elbows with readers who have never heard of us, and some that have followed our careers. That is the best part—the people. The worst part is traffic! Julie lives in a town with a population of 600. I haven’t lived in a ‘city’ for years. Now we are on California freeways, white-knuckling our way through a spaghetti bowl of freeways. The traffic is horrible and we are finding ourselves driving twice as long as we expected. We both hate that so much. But, we’re surviving :-)

Me: Lastly, I grew up near Portland, so it made me laugh when you said that it's your fantasy city. Powell's Books - what more do you have to say, right? Seriously, though (and this may just be the most important question I've asked you so far), what is it about rain that is so appealing to us bookworms?

JSK: I think the rain gives us permission to stay inside—and if we’re inside, well, why not read a book? Or write one? There is no more perfect afternoon than snuggling into the corner of the couch with a good book and a mug of hot cocoa. I think every avid reader can agree that is a perfect day. And I am so jealous of you having lived in Portland. It was honestly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Me: I absolutely agree - just talking about it makes me homesick :( Thanks so much for hanging with us at BBB today, Josi!

(Author photo is from her website.)

1 comment:

  1. I don't usually like LDS fic either, but now I am intrigued! I'll have to pick one of Kilpack's books up sometime.


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