Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, March 05, 2007

Josi Kilpack

How can you not like an author whose family sings “Another One Bites the Dust” for the closing song of Family Home Evening? The same person who says, "sucks" in a Relief Society presentation. Josi is one of my favorite authors and a good friend. Since I will be out of town all day Monday, I asked my wife to repost this interview with Josi with I originally did for my website.

Josi Kilpack is a mother of four and author of five. She is published by Cedar Fort Publishing and has also contributed articles to Publishing Secrets and Writing Secrets. My wife and I just finished Josi’s most recent novel To Have or To Hold. We both enjoyed it very much and found it to have an edge not found in most LDS novels.

Jeff—Josi, in a recent radio interview you talked about how you decided to write your first LDS novel because of dissatisfaction with what was available in the LDS market at the time. Can you elaborate?

Josi—I first started reading LDS fiction because I felt I could relate to it so much better than national market novels. It's difficult for me to understand a woman that doesn’t revere her family, or that has much lower morality standards than my own. But LDS fiction presented me with characters that felt like me, believed in the same things I believed in, and made choices based on the same principles I would base my own choices on.

Jeff—So you were better able to empathize with the characters, because they were more like you?

Josi—Right. But as I got older, and read more, I found that the opposite was beginning to happen. Rather than relating so well to the characters as I once had, I found myself not relating quite so well. Many of the storylines seemed fanciful, based on everything working out because a character had faith, or prayed. Things were too perfect and it made me look at my own life, my own trials and wonder what I was doing wrong that my solutions were so different.

Jeff—That’s when you realized there was an opportunity for you to write the very books you were looking for.

Josi—I was on bed rest with my 3rd child—with little more to do than read and watch TV—when I put down the book I was in the middle of and thought, I think I could do better than this. So I set out to write about a woman who wasn't perfect, who ended up being confronted with overwhelming challenges that weren't solved the way she prayed for them to be.

In fact at one point she feels that none of her prayers have been answered, that nothing she's done has worked out the way she thought it would. And from there she learns that life isn't about perfect solutions to our problems or reaching the point in life where everything is okay. Rather, it's learning to trust the Lord, being willing to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others that affect us, and continuing forward despite the setbacks we encounter. That story became my first novel, Earning Eternity.

Jeff—And that’s really defined your books ever since then hasn’t it?

Josi—I've continued the same kind of story with my subsequent books--writing about imperfect women with issues that through faith find a way to live with the imperfections of life and find joy in it. To me, I feel these types of stories are a more realistic reflection of the lives most of us live, thus the characters are people we really can relate to, that we can even learn from. And if nothing else, the fact that my books are so issue-driven and deal with so many trials and imperfections, when you put it down you can think about just how good you have it. (Laughs)

Jeff—How do keep your books different than the typical LDS romance?

Josi—I purposely try to confront issues and storylines I haven't seen done before. If they have been done, I try and approach them from a different perspective. I've written about sexual abuse, prescription drug abuse, divorce, death of a child, career women, kidnapping—very original themes in this market. I want my stories to be grittier, I want them to be edgy, I want them to make people think about what they would do if they were in that situation.

I also want my readers to look at someone in their neighborhood or family that may have those same issues and find a little more compassion. I try hard not to villianize anyone in particular, but to show that we all have challenges, some more destructive and encompassing than others, but we all have to deal with them somehow. Few of my novels are only about two people falling in love, it's about them coming to grips with who they are and who they want to be and falling in love with someone willing to accept those things. People aren't perfect, and paperbacks shouldn't be.

Jeff—Those are some pretty tough issues. How do you keep your stories from becoming depressing?

Josi—My personality tends to veer toward the dark side of life. I enjoy criminal justice shows and I like the psychology behind the motivations of people. Because of that, I not only have an understanding of dark issues more clearly than someone that shies away from the more cynical aspects of life, it's also a journey of my own, a challenge if you will, to write about an issue in a way that is ultimately positive.
For instance in my book Tempest Tossed I write about a woman that has a prescription drug addiction that leads to her abusing her child, attempting suicide, and nearly losing everything. The challenge was to write the story in a way that in the end she almost develops a gratitude that things got so out of hand.
Not that she's glad she did what she did, but through hitting bottom she comes to realize parts of her personality that were unwilling to deal with reality, that then found sanctuary in prescription medication. Once she learns that, she can train herself to live a fuller life than she lived before, because she is confronting challenges as they come, rather than numbing herself so as not to be hurt by them.

Jeff—Why do you think there aren’t more of these types of books in the LDS market?

Josi—I don't think many romance writers challenge themselves in quite that way and I don't know that many of them would choose Law & Order over The Gilmore Girls (though I like both) and it gives me a different pool of knowledge to draw from and a different view of life in general. Not necessarily a better view, but a different one.

When I'm writing, I make a lot of changes, do a lot of revisions, and I end up getting stuck frequently because it takes a lot of thought and consideration for me to figure out how to make the transitions between horrible terrible situations to people the reader can have compassion for. But the result, I feel, is a story that is deeper than the average LDS romance.

Jeff—In what ways has the LDS market changed since you wrote your first book and in what ways has it remained the same?

Josi—I certainly am not alone in the frustration I felt. There are many authors doing the same thing I'm doing, trying to make it real. There was a day when an avid reader, like I am, would read anything published in the LDS market. Now those same readers, myself included, are much more careful. We are looking for more substance than ever and more and more authors are giving it to us through their books.
I think the LDS market presents more variety and depth than ever before; it's also more available than ever before thanks to online bookstores and more availability for LDS titles. There are still what I call the 'fluff' novels, that are more fairy tale than dramatic story, and many people like those, but that isn't all that's there. The LDS market is more competitive than it has ever been which means the writing is better, the stories are better and yet it is still centered on the gospel in one form or another which is the whole reason LDS fiction ever came to be.

Jeff—On your website you talk about how your first attempt at an LDS novel was rejected by several publishers. I think any writer worth his or her salt has experienced the pain of getting rejections. But you used it to your advantage. Can you explain what you learned and how you benefited from it?

Josi—When I finished my first book I had no doubt that it was absolute brilliance. It was the great Mormon novel and it was going to change people’s lives. I sent it out to three houses (which is a no-no by the way—don't do multiple submissions) and waited, every day, really, for the phone to ring.

Jeff—That sounds familiar. I take it the phone call didn’t come?

Josi—I was rejected by the first two houses within a month and I was truly stunned. I had no idea how this could have happened to me. Their rejections were form letters, telling me they enjoyed the book but that it didn't fit what they were currently looking to publish. I figured that maybe the big Kahoona's of all three houses all got together and talked about this great book they all had, and that they had to draw lots to see who won. Obviously, the first two houses had been on the losing end. I need only wait for the winner to contact me.

That winning house, in my mind, Covenant communications, sent me a rejection letter a few looooooooooooong months later. But theirs was a little different. Rather than the basic form letter of the other two houses, they included a paragraph of my weaknesses.

Jeff—How did you react to that?

Josi—At first I was offended, and then I was reminded that though I felt inspired to write the story I wrote and despite my confidence that I was the best thing that had ever happened to LDS fiction, I had very little writing education. Their letter, however, pointed out specifics. For instance they pointed out that most of my story was told in dialogue. So I found some writing books, looked up dialogue and sure enough it said that too much dialogue weakens the characterization and structure of a story. Who knew?
Well, Covenant did, and they took the time to tell me so. I then took the time to research the points they made, which were several, and I went back to my novel a better and a more humble writer. I made the changes I had learned were necessary and then submitted the manuscript to another publisher who accepted it.

That was a very powerful lesson to me. Because I was able to see how much better my book was because of their feedback, I solicit a lot of feedback on my novels now. I take very serious consideration of what people tell me. As the author, I am far too objective to truly see the flaws in my own stories and I rely heavily on the feedback from others. If not for that letter from Covenant I wouldn't have that.

Jeff—You ended up publishing with Cedar Fort. Unlike Deseret Book and Covenant who benefit from their affiliation with large bookstore chains, Cedar Fort is an independent publisher. Does that mean you have to work harder to get your name out there?

Josi—I feel that as a CFI author I do have to work harder and be more actively involved in the promotion of my books. I am competing with authors that are supported by publishers that not only own their own retail stores, but also have marketing budgets, catalogues and an overall larger presence in the market. The only way to compete is to write as least as well, if not better, than they do and promote at least as well, if not more.

Jeff—What have you done to accomplish that?

Josi—I do numerous speaking events, signings, presentations, and make a point to stop in to as many bookstores as I possibly can. I solicit my own articles, interviews, and reviews. I teach at writing conferences, have an active e-mail list and mail out postcards to a snail-mail list when I have events. I spend nearly as much time promoting a book as I do writing it in the first place. I've worked hard to try and get my name out there and in the process I've learned a lot of very valuable marketing skills that will continue to be a blessing to my career.

Publishers want authors, regardless of which publisher, to be willing to promote themselves. If a writer, even from the big houses, isn't willing to that their success will be affected by that lack of promotion.

Visit Josi's Website at www.josiskilpack.com


10 Comments:

At 3/06/2007 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So she's cynical and gritty and...arrogant? Just what I want to read.

 
At 3/06/2007 11:17 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

She writes very real in characters in very real situations better than anyone in the LDS market. Everyone who I have talked to who has read her books has been very impressed.

It's no suprise that DB loved the first book she offered them and has also snapped up the second.

Is it your cup of tea? Couldn't say, but I can tell you that LDS readers have been asking for characters with real flaws and real growing opportunities for a long time, and Josi has gone a long way toward filling that void.

 
At 3/06/2007 11:39 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Fascinating interview, Jeff. I enjoyed learning more about Josi and her books.

 
At 3/06/2007 12:30 PM, Blogger Josi said...

Thanks Jeff, you made my day! What I write isn't for everyone, I'm the first to say so, but Like Jennie's article said more readers are looking for a different read than the same old same old. And, well, some aren't. No worries on my end, I'm just glad to be here!

 
At 3/06/2007 1:40 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

It's perfectly fine to say 'sucks' in relief society, as long as you do it properly.

For example, "Satan really sucks, man."

 
At 3/06/2007 2:01 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Regarding the "sucks" comment:

The other day in Elders Quorum our teacher quoted Revelation 3:15-16: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."

After reading the verse, our teacher thoughtfully turned to the class and asked: "So, brethren, what makes you hot?"

 
At 3/07/2007 11:58 AM, Anonymous kerry blair said...

Here's a heartfelt second to Jeff's comment. Not only do I own and love all of Josi's books, but they're among the few I've shared with one of my best friends -- a nonmember. The fact that my friend appreciates them as much as I do is a testament to Josi's gift of characterization and mastery of the written word. She's truly a light on the hill of LDS fiction.

 
At 3/07/2007 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all of this talk on ROFR on LDS Publisher's blog, how was it possible for Josi to go from Cedar Fort to Deseret Book? Just wondering.

 
At 3/07/2007 5:49 PM, Blogger Josi said...

CFI rejected a work I submitted and their ROFR is worded "Right of First Refusal on your next published work" I self-published the work they rejected before the Deseret Book was published. CFI has a very fair contract in my opinion.

 
At 3/07/2007 9:54 PM, Blogger Marcia Mickelson said...

I love Josi's books and really enjoyed the interview. Thanks for posting it and thanks to Josi for enjoyable and well-written books.

 

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