Murder, she wrote ... and 'proper' romance, too

Wednesday , July 08, 2015 - 12:00 AM

WILLARD — Once upon a time, Josi Kilpack wrote novels with positively scrumptious titles like “Lemon Tart,” “Blackberry Crumble” and “Pumpkin Roll.”

No, they weren’t cookbooks — they were culinary murder mysteries, centered around the amateur sleuthing antics of a widowed busybody named Sadie Hoffmiller.

But Kilpack recently shut the oven door on Sadie’s adventures and dived like a plunging neckline into historical romance novels. Except these are “proper” romances, intentionally lacking in bared bosoms, steamy encounters and explicit sex.

Proper romances are a “safe comfortable read for a more conservative reading audience,” says the Willard author during a recent interview at her home.

With “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Harlequin romances crowding today’s bookstore shelves, Kilpack says some readers end up wondering, “Where do I find a different type of sexual tension? Where do I find a different type of story?”

Kilpack offers readers that new twist on love in “A Heart Revealed,” a Shadow Mountain publication released in April that centers on a spoiled debutante living in Regency-era London. The 336-page novel has “all the emotion and chemistry” of a traditional romance, Kilpack says, but none of the full-on sex scenes typically associated with that genre.

“Erotica is about sex; romance is supposed to be about relationships,” the author explains. In a proper romance, she adds, “The bedroom isn’t an aspect of the story they’re telling.”

So is there any sex going on between these lovebirds?

“We don’t know,” Kilpack says with a smile, “or we know that they aren’t.”

Ending strong

Kilpack has a list of more than 20 novels to her credit, ranging from her new proper romance line to LDS fiction to the 12-volume Sadie Hoffmiller series.

Her final book in the culinary series, “Wedding Cake,” just netted her a 2014 Whitney Award for best mystery/suspense writing. The Whitneys are given annually to top novels penned by LDS authors; Kilpack also received one in 2007 in the same category for “Sheep’s Clothing.”

However, even though she has written LDS-themed books in the past, Kilpack’s new romances and culinary mysteries fit into the nonreligious, family-friendly emphasis of Shadow Mountain Publishing, an imprint of Deseret Book.

Saying goodbye to Sadie Hoffmiller — a character who is “spunky and fun and smart” — was bittersweet, Kilpack says.

“It was good to end it when it was strong,” she says. “It is good that people were sad to see her go rather than applauding to see her get off the stage.”

Over the years, Kilpack says she’s discovered many readers assume she must be just like Sadie.

“They are surprised I’m not her age,” she says of her older, age 50-something protagonist. Or that the two don’t act alike.

“No, I don’t peek in anybody’s window,” she quips. “I’m not that kind of neighbor.”

Tale of folly

Nowadays, it’s exciting to be working on new things in her writing, Kilpack says. Her heroine in “A Heart Revealed” is unusual in that she suffers from alopecia areata, a type of hair loss. In the Regency era of the early 1800s, when women were judged on their looks, Amber is banished to live in the country, away from her high-society world.

“She ends up finding herself and she ends up finding a man who she never would have had in her former life,” Kilpack says.

Next up from Kilpack will be “Lord Fenton’s Folly,” a novel due out this October.

Fenton, a secondary character in “A Heart Revealed,” is a dandy who enters a marriage of convenience to keep his inheritance, Kilpack says. His betrothed, however, is in love with him and hurt to discover why he really proposed.

“It’s kind of (a story of) them falling in love after they are married and resolving their differences,” the author says.

And this graduate of Salt Lake City’s Olympus High School recently finished writing her first proper romance based on real people: poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his wife, Fanny.

Longfellow pursued Fanny for seven years before she accepted him, Kilpack says, but the two ended up in a happy marriage. Although no one knows all the ins and outs of the couple’s relationship, Kilpack says she tried to piece together in “Forever and Forever” — to be published this spring — what may have motivated the two.

“I think I was able to capture a pretty good essence of their personalities,” she says.

Escape from dishes

Mandated bed rest during one of her pregnancies gave birth to Kilpack’s first book. It began as an LDS fiction story but eventually grew into a full-length novel.

The mother of four children, ages 13 to 21, Kilpack says she used to write at home in small snatches of time, like waiting in the car for her kids or while she was boiling pasta.

Now, she enjoys writing three days a week in an office of an Ogden business that she and her husband own.

“At home there’s laundry and there’s dishes and there’s phone calls and Dr. Phil — and at the office there isn’t,” she says.

During her literary career, Kilpack says she’s worked hard at bettering her writing as well as figuring out how the publishing industry works. She has written for Shadow Mountain Publishing since 2006.

“It’s exciting to be able to write well and be able to tell a story on paper the way I’m seeing it in my head,” says Kilpack, president of Teen Writer’s, Inc., a  summer youth program at Weber State University.

“A Heart Revealed” is Kilpack’s first book to be launched nationally and reviewed by the likes of Publisher’s Weekly — which called it “haunting and mesmerizing” — and Kirkus, which praised its compelling tale and “unusually well-crafted prose.”

“Readers of this gentle story won’t miss the steamy scenes it lacks,” the Kirkus reviewer also noted.

True to life

Lisa Mangum, Kilpack’s editor at Shadow Mountain, says the historical romances may be new ground but they still capitalize on what the Willard author does best.

“She really has a talent for writing strong female characters that you instantly connect with and instinctively root for,” Mangum says in a phone interview from Salt Lake City. “It’s a slightly different playground,” she adds, “but all the equipment is the same.”

Kilpack also excels at advancing the plot of her stories through the action and dialogue, Mangum says, explaining, “Josi is one of the masters at showing the story and not just telling us what happened.”

Ogden author Nancy Campbell Allen says the writing of her friend and fellow critique group member is “very crisp and witty; she always has a good turn of phrase.”

And romance story or not, Kilpack isn’t afraid to tackle real challenges that face women, Allen says, like the alopecia afflicting the central character in “A Heart Revealed.”

“She tells a great story but still makes it very true and real to life,” Allen says.

Kilpack says she was turned on to reading at the age of 13 when her mother handed her a copy of “The Witch of Blackbird Pond.” But these days, she admits she is picky about what she reads and won’t stick with a book that doesn’t have a strong plot or characters.

“There’s so much to fill a day with,” she says, “I’m not going to waste it on a book that doesn’t pull me in.”

Contact reporter Becky Cairns at 801-625-4276 or bcairns@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @bccairns or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SEbeckycairns.

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