Mormon Artist

Josi S. Kilpack

Josi S. Kilpack hated to read until her mother handed her a copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond when she was thirteen. From that day forward, she read everything she could get her hands on and accredits her writing “education” to the many novels she has “studied” since then. She began writing her first novel in 1998 and never stopped. Her novel Sheep’s Clothing won the 2007 Whitney Award for Mystery/Suspense. Lemon Tart, the first book in the Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery series, was a finalist in 2009. Josi currently lives in Willard, Utah, with her husband, children, and super-cute cat. Website
Photo courtesy Josi S. Kilpack

When did you realize that you wanted to become an author?

About the time I finished writing my first book. :-) I had been on bed rest when I got an idea for what I thought would be a short story. I was on bed rest for a long time and the story grew into a book. I had never considered writing a novel, therefore never considered what I would do if I did. I ended up trying to learn what it took to get published once the book was complete, and through some stumbles and groans, I found my way.

You have written a pretty broad spectrum of novels, ranging from your fun Sadie Hoffmiller murder mysteries to your heavier, issue-driven novels like Sheep's Clothing. Do you prefer to write one genre over another?

What I prefer is being able to move between genres. A lot of authors get pigeonholed into a specific type of book. I was lucky to have written a variety in the beginning, which has made it easier for me to maintain that spectrum. Because I keep growing as a person and a writer, I’m glad to have multiple places to use what I learn. I truly have no preference amid the genres I’ve written.

Image courtesy Josi S. Kilpack

Have you always aspired to publish solely for the LDS market, or would you want to break out into the mainstream if an opportunity presented itself?

My culinary mysteries are for a mainstream audience—there are no LDS-specific religious references in the stories. While I enjoyed writing my LDS-character-based stories, I also enjoyed writing with a broader brush—maintaining the standards of LDS fiction but not feeling the need to expound on religious themes. Because of that, I can see the possibility of breaking into the mainstream market—I think I have the stories for it.

That said, I am really happy right where I am and doing well. I have some decisions to make in that regard as my culinary series comes to a close, but it’s nice to feel as though I would be happy regardless of what direction I go.

Having published with both Cedar Fort and Deseret Book, what were your experiences like working with the two different-sized houses?

Cedar Fort gave me my start and I will always be grateful for that. I worked with some excellent people and because I was responsible for the majority of my own marketing, I learned a lot about putting myself out there and the publishing industry as a whole. That experience was priceless.

Moving on to Deseret Book put me in a very different environment, where I no longer carried the bulk of marketing responsibility and there was much broader distribution. Deseret Book has created opportunities for me that I could never have created for myself; they have supported and advocated for me in numerous ways. When I look back, I feel that I learned to be an author with Cedar Fort and made writing a career with Deseret Book.

What do you feel are the advantages of writing an LDS character? What about disadvantages?

When you create a character, you’re building a person with “characteristics.” Those characteristics include history, physical appearance, intellect, careers, relationships, goals, etc. From a writer’s point of view, being LDS is yet one more characteristic and like every other characteristic it needs to have purpose. If there is a purpose for a character to be LDS, as it was in my earlier novels where characters were facing contemporary issues that were resolved through matters of religion, then it’s an important aspect. If, however, there is no purpose for it—as it has been in my culinary mysteries—then there is no need for it to be there. As to advantages and disadvantages, it really depends on the story and the character.

Photo courtesy Josi S. Kilpack

How do you deal with adversity when it comes to writing and publishing? Do you have anything you feel will never be good enough to put out there?

The adversity of my writing is that no matter where I am, no matter what I have accomplished, I am always certain that what I’m working on now is garbage. I battle with my own confidence, I battle with figuring out my storylines, I battle to find time, I battle against the dismay of bad reviews. I question myself continually and while I don’t mean to overdramatize it, there are times when it’s paralyzing to confront expectations and deadlines. I have at least half a dozen stories I have started that have fizzled up and died. Every time I start something new I worry it will become another one. There are people in the industry I don’t get along with and practices I don’t agree with as well, which adds another layer of difficulty. The only way I have found to deal with it is to keep going. Try hard to do my best work, make sure I put the words on the page, honor my promises, and continually try to strike the balance between creativity and business.

How do you balance your writing time with family responsibilities, church obligations, and other interests?

I’m pretty much bonkers most of the time. Writing is flexible, which is great except when it’s horrible because you can never punch out and go home. Whenever I have down time I feel like I should write, but trying to write on demand is tricky, too. I try hard to keep my priorities in check, meaning I don’t ask my family to sacrifice for me too often, but sometimes it’s inevitable and then I try to make it up by being their cheerleader when they need me to. I have given up on the idea of balance. Instead, I continually look at what’s suffering the most and try to deal with that—giving extra time to my family as often as I can. It’s not a perfect situation. I don’t think it will ever feel comfortable to try to fit so much into the same twenty-four hours each of us has, but I’m not sure it’s that much different from anyone else. My “extra” is a writing career, but some people have more children or other career paths or are trying to go to school or managing their health. I like to think that part of becoming our best selves is the continual day-to-day refinement of trying to keep up.

Image courtesy Josi S. Kilpack

What is your writing routine?

I find it changes every six months or so—more often when my children were small. Right now, I write three to four days a week. My husband and I own a business about twenty miles from our home and I go to our office during the day when my kids are at school so that I can write without being distracted by everything I have to do at home. I have some friends who also write and often join me, creating a great energy and keeping me from feeling like a hermit.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Learn your craft! There are many people who feel the spark to write, who just have that innate desire and drive, but many of them get caught up in the passion and skip over the skill set it takes to create a good work. With self-publishing such an easy step to make, more and more writers are skipping the editorial process entirely and putting out works that would benefit from more education. My advice is to write—find reasons to write anything you can. Take classes, attend conferences, read critically. Do not put your confidence in passion alone. It’s important—no doubt about it—but if you learn your craft you will have more cause for confidence and a better chance of success.

Do you have any regrets when it comes to your writing career?

Not really. That’s not to say I look back and see a perfect path full of decisions I’m proud of and am certain were the best I could have done, but even my missteps have taught me something valuable, and in the end, my writing is most important in the way it influences my journey. Writing has become my university—the place I’m learning to become a better me. There’s nothing to regret about that kind of growth, even if sometimes I wish I could rewrite it. :-)

Photo courtesy Josi S. Kilpack

Do you feel that writing for the LDS market helps you live your faith better?

I believe in the law of consecration: in all of us sharing our time and talents to the betterment of everyone around us, and in that regard, I believe my writing is one of those things I share. I love that I write books that people feel safe reading, that people enjoy, and that perhaps give them a fresh perspective. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t feel the same way if I wrote for the mainstream market—I don’t see my content or themes changing much. I pray for help with my writing just as I pray for help in other areas of my life, and I’ve felt direction and support that has increased my faith and testimony. It’s all very interwoven.

How does the gospel influence your writing?

The gospel influences every part of my life—my health, my family, my home, my view of the world around me, and, therefore, the books I write. I don’t want to glorify bad behavior, I don’t want to show gratuitous details that are uncomfortable for me to read, and much of that comes from my belief in the gospel and the standards I’ve learned there.

That said, it’s a very subjective thing. I have heard from other Mormons about their being offended by things in my books, questioning my faith, degrading the way I’ve reflected things, and so while I am working hard to live in accordance with my heart, I may be very different from someone else. It can be a tricky place sometimes; Mormons can be cruel in their judgement of each other. I do try to do my best and write things I can be proud of.

Image courtesy Josi S. Kilpack

What future projects do you have in the works?

There will be two more books in the Sadie Hoffmiller series (a total of twelve) as well as a cumulative cookbook, all of which will be published in 2014.

After that … I don’t really know. I have an idea I’m trying to develop, but it’s not coming out the way I envisioned it, which means I’m scared to death that I’ve run out of good ideas and my last book was really my LAST book. I’m in the phase of trying to fight through that but I’m hoping to make some progress and undo the knots I feel tied in about my future right now. So, I suppose, we’ll all find out in time what comes next. Right this minute, I’m not sure. :-)

How do you see novels written by Latter-day Saints helping build the kingdom?

I love reading about people like me—people who make decisions within the same framework I do. I love reading books written by people within that same framework as well. I think when each of us are bettering ourselves and sharing what we’ve been given with those around us, we all benefit. Writing is my own way of sharing that goodness and, hopefully, blessing others. The artist, musician, nurse, teacher, doctor, accountant, cook, Relief Society president, missionary, and every other person developing themselves then blesses me in the same way. Together, we are creating a kingdom. There’s great beauty in that. ❧

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