Katie Oliver is the best selling author of the romantic comedy, Prada & Prejudice, the first book in her Dating Mr. Darcy series. She has also written another three book series Marrying Mr. Darcy. Her most recent series, Jane Austen Factor, is being released this year What Would Lizzie Bennet Do? was released in January, Trouble with Emma was released in February, and Who Needs Mr Willoughby? will be released on March 24.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I think about writing. Seriously! I start plotting the next book the minute the last one is finished.
Aside from that…I love to cook, and recently fell in love with spiralizing (turning veggies into ‘noodles’) after trying Japchae (Korean street food) at a gluten-free bloggers’ retreat last summer. It was so good that I went out and bought a spiralizer. Creating healthy veggie ‘pasta’ is a fun and healthy way to eat, whether you’re gluten-free or not. Spiralized sweet potatoes are a revelation and my new favorite thing.
What book are you reading now?
I’ve got two books on the go – one on my Kindle (It Had to be You by Lynda Renham) and one on my nightstand (Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne). They’re equal parts (1) funny and (2) romantic – a winning combination.
What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I like to read British writers…Sophie Kinsella, Katie Fforde, Jane Fallon, Phillipa Ashley, P.G. Wodehouse, and P.D. James to name a few. And I love anything by Mary Kay Andrews or Fannie Flagg – their books are pure, southern-fried fun. Rick Bragg is amazing. James Lee Burke is a master of the atmospheric crime novel. His descriptions of the bayou country of Louisiana are poetic and haunting.
Katie Fforde and Sophie Kinsella both inspired me to try writing a romantic comedy of my own. I love a romance but I also like a good laugh, and their books deliver on both counts. Rosamond Pilcher was also an inspiration and a huge favorite back in the day…I think I read ALL of her books.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It started from a love of reading, probably. My dad was a voracious reader and he instilled a love of books in me that remains today. I imagine at some point, when I was immersed in a Nancy Drew mystery or a Little House on the Prairie book, I must’ve thought, ‘someday I want to write stories like this.’ And…eventually, I did.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
The first book I wrote was in seventh grade. It was a ghost story about a sea captain. It was heavily influenced by The Turn of the Screw, a spooky novella by Henry James. Of course, James’s book – about a governess who undertakes the care of two children and who may (or may not) be mentally ill – was a supernatural masterpiece. Mine was not. It was pretty awful.
But it was writing practice, and it was fun. I wrote a couple of chapters and brought them to Algebra class and ended up passing the pages around to two of my friends. The teacher caught us and nearly confiscated the pages. Needless to say, I never did that again. I wish I still had the manuscript – I’m sure I’d howl with laughter reading it now. The only line I remember was this, uttered by the (slightly overdramatic) sea captain: “Damn the ocean, damn this ship!”
Damn, I had a lot to learn about writing…
I started my first ‘serious’ book back in 2011. My kids were grown, I was between contracts at work, and there wasn’t a lot for me to do, so I decided to try writing the book I’d always wanted to write but never had time for. I jotted down some ideas on a yellow legal pad, toyed with a few character names, gave it some thought, and ended up with Prada and Prejudice about a year later.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
Originally I wrote a Regency, but I decided to shelve it. I’d always liked romantic comedies…ahem, films with Hugh Grant, basically…so I decided to try writing one. And it felt right. It didn’t require tons of research, like a historical, which was a definite plus since I worked full time and wrote in my (nearly nonexistent) spare time.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
No matter how careful I am, no matter that each book is meticulously edited and copy edited, there’s always SOMETHING I miss. It might be a typo or a misspelled name that I don’t notice until the book is gone to the printer…when it suddenly leaps out at me and I think, ‘how in holy spell-check did I miss that??’ But it happens. I think as a writer, you get so close to your work and become so enmeshed in it, you don’t always ‘see’ it. That’s why an editor and copy editor are invaluable.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you overcome it?
Oh, definitely. Sometimes I run out of ideas. Or my writing starts to feel stale. Or I can’t figure out how to add a twist to the plot / end the story / make a character more interesting. When that happens, it’s time for a break. I take the dog for a long walk, or get on the treadmill, or bake cookies, or watch a movie. Sometimes just watching a film or TV show (“Fixer Upper” and “Garage Sale Mysteries” are two current favorites) inspires an idea or gives me insight into a character’s motivation. (I got the idea for my first book, Prada and Prejudice, after watching an episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” with Gordon Ramsey. Thank you, Gordon.)
Failing those things, a hot shower usually does the trick. I’ve had more great plot ideas in the shower than anywhere else. Go figure…
Are you a plotter? Or a pantser? Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I’m a plotter in that I write a (very general) outline of the book, detailing the conflict, the main characters, and the overall story arc before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). But once I start writing, I’m more of a pantser, going where the characters take me…as long as things end up where and how I need them to end. Because your characters will often take you places you don’t expect…and the story is often much the better for it.
Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
This is a great question!
I really miss Natalie Dashwood and Rhys Gordon from my first series of books, “Dating Mr Darcy.” I had such a blast writing their scenes. I’d love to go back and write more adventures for them, maybe involving a mystery…
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
As a writer, I know that each successive book I write has to be better than the last one. And knowing that can be daunting at times. Each time I finish a book I ask myself, Will my new book be good enough? Long enough? Too long? Is it well paced? Is it derivative or boring?
I heard those last two criticisms on the first draft of one of my books…and although it hurt to hear, and made me want to throw my laptop out of the window and jump out after it, I knew deep down that it was true. I could do better – and with some changes and some serious rewriting, I turned it around into a book I could be proud of.
The best compliment? When snow recently closed northern Virginia schools for a week, my friend’s sister-in-law (a teacher) read the entire Dating Mr Darcy series and said she wished the schools would stay closed longer so she could keep reading more.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Just two things. Read everything you can. And don’t just read it; study it. Take it apart to evaluate how the author created conflict, suspense, pacing. What kept you turning the pages? What made the characters unique or memorable? Do the same thing when you watch a film or television program. I learned how to construct plots after watching a soap opera, “General Hospital,” every day. I’d always had trouble with plotting…but after seeing the intertwining and parallel storylines play out visually on screen, it suddenly clicked. I got it.
Secondly, don’t ‘write what you know.’ That’s the worst advice ever. Write what you love. Your passion will come through on the page. What you don’t know you can always research. If authors only ‘wrote what they knew,’ we wouldn’t have Harry Potter, or Alice in Wonderland, or Mary Poppins. And what a shame that would be.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I truly appreciate each and every reader for buying my books and for taking the time to Tweet, email, or Facebook me to tell me how much they enjoyed reading my stories. It’s a wonderful, humbling thing to know that someone has read and liked my books. It never gets old and I’ll always be grateful. So many beta readers, readers, and bloggers have generously supported me right from the start, and you know what?
It really doesn’t get any better than that.