Author Interview: The Literary Spotlight with Author Kirsten Oliphant
Get ready to meet Kirsten Oliphant, a writer whose lifelong love affair with storytelling began in her childhood. From as early as the third grade, Kirsten was already penning her first novel with her best friend, laying the foundation for her future as a wordsmith. While she often struggled with finishing what she started, her determination to nurture her talent led her to pursue an MFA in Fiction at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
However, life took a delightful turn as she became a mother of five children in just nine years, temporarily diverting her focus. Nonetheless, her creative spirit endured, and when her youngest turned two, Kirsten ventured into a new genre, romantic comedy, reigniting her passion for writing and storytelling.
Join me as I delve into Kirsten Oliphant’s unique journey, from her early days of collaborative storytelling to her academic pursuits and the joys of motherhood. Discover how these experiences have shaped her into the accomplished author she is today, bringing warmth and humor to the world of romantic comedy.
Cyra: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your writing background? What inspired you to become a writer, and how did your writing journey begin?
Kirsten: I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I tried writing my first novel (by hand) when I was in third grade and my best friend would also write with me. I guess we were like early critique partners? I was always good at starting (still a problem I have) but didn’t finish a lot.
After I got married, I still wanted to pursue writing, so I got my MFA in Fiction from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. But then… we had five kids in nine years, so I couldn’t work on novels. I did blogging and social media as a creative outlet, and when my youngest was about two, I started writing in a new genre: romance. I switched to romantic comedy and have been really loving my job!!!
Cyra: Could you share a glimpse into your creative process? How do you approach developing ideas and turning them into stories? Do you have any specific rituals or habits that help you get into the writing zone?
Kirsten: I’m an ideas person. I have tons, all the time. Starting is super easy for me, but it’s hard not to jump from project to project. I think the fact that I’m our family’s primary income helps. I HAVE to finish. Usually, I write best in the morning (which is a switch, as I used to do most work at night) and I love writing on the elliptical machine.
I type with my thumbs into Google Docs on my phone. This wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for me! Every so often, I have to leave the house and stay in a hotel or somewhere totally alone to really focus. My least favorite part is editing.
Cyra: Who are some of your favorite authors or literary influences, and how have they shaped your own writing style? Are there any books or works that have had a profound impact on your writing career?
Kirsten: I think the writers I love reading most shaped my desire to write. Gordon Korman is the funniest author I’ve read, and I love and reread his Bruno and Boots books when I need to remember how to write humor. I also love JD Salinger and think his dialogue is epic.
I read tons of Stephen King as a kid, and while he writes in a totally different genre, I learned a lot from his storytelling.
Cyra: What challenges have you faced as a writer, and how did you overcome them? How do you handle writer’s block or periods of self-doubt?
Kirsten: The biggest challenge is time. It can be so hard to prioritize writing. But in addition to that, writing is so public. We put our creative work out there and are immediately met with feedback, both good and bad. So, it’s always a challenge for authors to be able to be brave enough to do this and also tough enough to handle the negativity.
I don’t really struggle with writer’s block, but when I get down, I often start a new project or take a break and do something outside of writing, like painting or just watching shows I love. Taking walks really helps my thinking process, so I try to take a walk a day with my Great Dane, Vader.
Cyra: How do you approach developing compelling and relatable characters in your stories? Are there any strategies or exercises you use to ensure your characters feel authentic and three-dimensional?
Kirsten: For me, the best characters sort of just come to life in my head. I don’t have great tips on this, as I feel like this is really pretty organic for me. When I start thinking about a book, often I’ll hear snatches of dialogue or internal narrative. I learn about the characters as I write them. I do love to embrace quirkiness, which I think keeps my books feeling fresh and can make characters not seem like the same characters in every other book.
Cyra: Where do you find inspiration for your stories? Are there any specific themes or topics you enjoy exploring in your writing?
Kirsten: Usually, the inspiration comes from just being in the world. Sometimes reading, but more often going to a concert or live event. Seeing people DOING creative things helps me. I especially love to explore the theme of found family and friendships. And while I write light romcoms, I also want to keep it real that people have real struggles.
Cyra: Is there a particular book or project you are most proud of? Could you share the story behind it? What is the most rewarding aspect of being a writer for you?
Kirsten: I’m really proud of my book ‘Just Don’t Fall’ and the ‘Sweater Weather’ multi-author series that I was a part of. Another author and I spearheaded the marketing and planning efforts for this seven-book series with fall romcoms set in the same town. It was a lot of work, but the books were all of our best launches and really garnered a lot of excitement from readers.
I love strategy, so it was really fun to plan something that actually worked out the way I hoped–actually, better than I hoped. I also love that readers have loved my book in that series. The most rewarding aspect of writing is just that: knowing readers connect with my stories.
Editing and Revision:
Cyra: How important do you think the editing and revision process is for a writer? Could you share your approach to editing your own work? Do you have any suggestions for writers on how to improve their editing skills?
Kirsten: Editing is vitally important, but I get bogged down. I can be hypercritical and a perfectionist. I try to write as clean a first draft as I can, so there aren’t tons of revisions needed later. I think writers need to find what works for them, both in writing and in editing.
This may mean using a critique partner (mine is Jenny Proctor, and I think we’ve helped each other really be better, hiring an editor, or taking an editing class. I think most writers, especially those just starting out, would do well hiring a developmental editor to help make sure they understand the story.
Publishing and Marketing:
Cyra: What has been your experience with the publishing industry? Any advice for aspiring authors on finding agents or publishers? How do you navigate the world of book marketing and promotion? Any tips for authors looking to build their audience?
Kirsten: I love the control that comes with indie publishing, and unlike a lot of authors, I LOVE promotion. For me, it’s less about trying to be salesy and more about presenting the book in ways that will make readers hungry for the story. That is fun for me! I think when it comes to figuring out the publishing journey, it can help to find a few authors with the kind of career you want to have. Watch them. See how they work and what they do. See what things might work similarly for you.
For me, I think audience building happens best when it’s organic. I offer free novellas or bonus scenes to grow my list. It’s all about the stories and continuing to show up. And I don’t count my followers or obsess over that growth. I do what I feel like I should be doing and assume the growth will naturally follow.
Advice for Budding Writers:
Cyra: What advice would you give to aspiring authors who are just starting their writing journey? How do you handle rejection and criticism in the publishing world?
Kirsten: I think I’d say don’t give up! But also… make sure you’re not just in an echo chamber. What I mean is that I see a lot of authors trying to make it and wondering why their books aren’t selling. Sometimes it’s the cover or blurb or just a lack of exposure. More often … it’s the story. It doesn’t connect with readers.
This is the hardest thing to hear, so I think many authors avoid thinking that this is an issue, and they don’t work on the craft or invite critique partners or editors to look at their work and help them get better. It can be SO hard to deal with criticism. But it absolutely is a part of this job and it’s never going away. I don’t really believe in the whole “develop a think skin” suggestion.
My skin is still very thin, and I’ve been doing this for a while. I’m just not sure that’s a reality. But learning how to handle the hard words and the bad reviews or the low points is a necessary part, so every author should find what helps them recharge and recover.
Cyra: Could you give us a sneak peek into any upcoming projects or books you’re currently working on? Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers and aspiring writers?
Kirsten: I have several series I’m finishing up (two more books in the Sheet Cake series and one more in my Oakley Island series with Jenny Proctor), but I’m always working on secret projects! There’s nothing I love more than teasing a project and then surprising readers!
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