S.J. Tilly, like all her books, resides in the glorious state of Minnesota, US, where she was born and raised. To avoid the freezing cold winters, S.J. enjoys burying her head in books, whether to read them or write them or listen to them. When she’s not busy writing her contemporary smut, she can be found lounging with her husband and their herd of rescue boxers. And when the weather permits she loves putting her compost to use in the garden, pretending to know what she’s doing. The neighbors may not like the flowery mayhem of her yard, but the bees sure do. And really, that’s more important.
Let’s get started with a quick rapid fire.
Q1. If you could be transformed into one mythological creature, which one would you choose?
Dragon, hands down. Flying, fire-breathing, crushing things when I sit on them…
Q2. What is one thing you wish you enjoyed more?
Baking. I can watching baking shows until my eyes fall out, but ask me to bake a cake and I’ll pretend to be asleep.
Q3. What are the least-likely three words someone would use to describe you?
Good with directions.
Q4. Where did you go on your last vacation?
Chattanooga, TN, for an event at The Book & Cover bookstore.
Q5. Would you rather find your dream job or win the lottery? You can’t do both.
I’m gonna be that asshole… I’m living my dream job, writing smut and being my own boss. Better than the lottery.
Q6. What is one thing you regret spending money on?
Q7. What object do you misplace or lose the most?
My glasses. Recently left them on the plane after my last trip.
Q8. If you were a spy, what would be your codename?
Q9. What secret about the universe would you most want to learn?
What’s the next galaxy with intelligent life? It’s gotta be out there!
Q10. Favorite Holiday Destination.
We always did Christmas Eve at my grandparents house. Some of my favorite holiday memories were there.
Q11. What was one “before” and “after” in your life?
Joining Bookstagram. I found my people there.
Q12. What do you think people misunderstand about you?
That I have my shit together. I promise you, I do not.
It’s time for a more detailed conversation, S.J..
You’ve answered our rapid fire brilliantly, S.J.. Now, it’s time for our readers to know more about the person behind the book.
Q. Tell us something about yourself that’s going to keep us wanting more.
I’m here to provide pleasure. Seriously though, the romance genre is the largest selling genre worldwide, twice over, but somehow society still tries to tell us that it’s trash. That it’s less than because it’s “dirty” and “easy to read”. Reading doesn’t have to be hard. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying what you’re reading. And so what if there’s hot, steamy, sex in my books with filthy-talking heros? I’m here for it. And so is the world.
Q. Well, that’s just…memorable for sure. So, what books have you read more than once in your life?
This is a LONG list. I am a huge re-reader and have several favorites. (Including re-listens on Audible.) Anything and everything by Alice Coldbreath. Same goes for Mariana Zapata, with my favs Luna and the Lie, Kulti, Wait for it… Arrogant Devil by R.S. Grey is one of my comfort reads. And Naked in Death by J.D. Robb is the book that started me down the romance rabbit hole.
Q. Interesting. Who has been the biggest supporter of your writing?
I’m super lucky that this list is also very long. But if I had to pick, I’d say my mom. Every night when I finish writing, I send her an email with whatever I wrote that day (usually by the chapter but sometimes more or less) and then she starts her morning with coffee and texts me the list of edits/thoughts. She also shamelessly promotes my books to anyone and everyone she comes across. And I have a whole slew of fans in Ladysmith, Wisconsin all thanks to her.
Q. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few die-hard fans will find?
Yes! So I have 3 series, 8 books, and one novella. And they are all interconnected standalones, meaning there’s a different couple for each book, no cliffhangers, everyone gets a HEA (happily ever after) and they can be read in any order. (Though if you’re gonna read them all you might as well start at the beginning.) But they also all take place in the same world. So I have a coffeeshop and a particular barista that has appeared in all 3 series. The ladies in the Darling books both like to watch Second Bite, a baking competition TV show (think GBBO), and my holiday novella IS that baking show, hence the title, Second Bite. There are also more subtle hints… Like in Latte Darling Axel mentions that his uncle lived next to the Enno Estate, “the one that sometimes has the seaplane tied to the dock”. Enno is the last name of Tye, who will be the main character for Sin Book 4, and the sea plane belongs to the mafia man in the book that I’m currently writing.
Q. For an author, what do you think is worse – negative reviews or zero reviews?
Zero reviews. It took me a moment to accept this, because reading negative reviews SUCKS. But a negative feeling is still a feeling and ultimately, as a writer, I’m here to inspire reactions. And I’d love for those reactions to culminate in an overall positive feeling for my stories, but hey, we can’t win them all. And even if they didn’t like it, they still read it.
Q. What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?
Yes. Jk but for real, the answer is both/neither/it depends. Most of my stories start with a single scene. For Sleet Kitten it was the Kiss Cam Scene (search #sleetkitten on tiktok and you’ll know what I’m talking about). I knew I wanted the characters to do X and then the story grew around that. But then there are other times when I’m writing the first book in the series and then one of the characters just speaks to me, and they end up needing their own book. Like John for Miss Sin. He was never supposed to be a main character. But once I met him… *swoon*
Q. How do you plan your plot and characters?
I am absolutely a plotter and I don’t start writing a book until the plot is mostly done. I do this in a super fancy way… in my notes app on my phone. It’s super easy for me to do it this way because sometimes things change in the story as I plot or I want to move a scene from the middle to the beginning and I can just copy/paste as I go. Some of the scenes are super detailed in my outline, sometimes I have an actual line I know I want to put into that scene so I’ll add it – like “you can call me Darling in public but it’s Daddy in the bedroom” – and sometimes the outline will just say “they go to lunch” and then I fill it in as I write it.
Q. You got 100 points. You need to divide them on the basis of how relevant and important they are to you as a reader and a writer for your book or someone else’s as a reader. Your options are Plot/Story, Book Cover, Marketing, and, Reviews.
Gee, thanks for an easy question. But I’m an author so you’re getting a long convoluted answer. The plot/story is hugely important and encompasses the characters. If it sucks, I don’t care about the rest of the categories, I’m out. Within that is dialogue. I think that dialogue will make or break a book because it’s the detail that will take you from good to great. But I would argue that plot/story/characters/dialogue are all in one. I can read a 600 page book about basically nothing if the characters and dialogue are amazing. But then they become the plot/story… do you see what I mean? (I’ve had this argument before lol) And book covers are also huge. As much as we don’t want to judge a book by it’s cover, we do. And with SO MANY books to choose from, we have to. Then marketing and review go hand in hand, and for me they are HUGE. The success I’ve had in the past year is wildly attributed to the amazing readers on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook, reading and sharing my stories.
Q. So, now, about your book. Talk to us about it. No major spoilers.
Hmmm… which book?! Let’s go with Second Bite, since it’s my newest. Second Bite released on Nov 1st, it’s a holiday novella and a perfect little sample of my writing style if you want a taste before diving all the way in.
All of my books are dual POV (point of view) first person, so the chapters bounce between Michael, the grumpy famous pastry chef who’s a judge on the baking competition show Second Bite. And Alice, the plus-size, sweet, a little shy, contestant who’s been in-love with Michael from a far for years.
Michael is sick of the lime light and just wants to settle down, so when the cameras start rolling and he lays eyes on Alice, it’s love at first sight. But he’s the judge and has to act indifferent, even if it kills him, while Alice is just trying her best not to embarrass herself (too much).
Since this is a novella (about 120 pages) it’s INSTA everything. Insta-love. Insta-lust. Insta-I just have to have you and can’t wait even though I know I should… Which I know isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But you can consume it in one sitting, laugh over the Christmas puns, swoon over Chef Michael’s possessiveness, and smile when it’s over.
Q. What is your kryptonite as a writer?
Patience. I’m garbage at waiting. So when I have a book done, I need someone to chain me to the couch so I don’t hit publish before all the launch details are squared away and ready to go!
Q. What part of the entire book publishing process, starting from the plot idea to the book anniversary, do you find tough or tricky?
I force myself to stay really focused on the RIGHT NOW. If I take time to step back and look at what I’ve done and what I still have to do… it’s overwhelming. I’ve published 9 books already. What?! Who does that?! (other than a ton of other authors) And when I look at all the outlines I have, ranging from ready-to-be-written to here’s-a-single-sentence-that-will-turn-into-a-book… it kinda makes me want to cry. In a good way, mostly. But I have 9 more stories that I know I’m going to write. And I know those 9 will turn into another 9… Which will allow me to keep living this dream, but opening that blank Word doc I always think to myself “Really? You’re going to do this again?”
Q. What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off?
Sticking to my guns. And mostly this pertains to the sexy scenes! There’s a chapter in Smoky Darling that turns up the heat, and when I wrote it, I thought to myself “this might be too much for my readers”. But I left it, and I was right to leave it. Same happened for Latte Darling, me thinking “am I sure I want to use this kink?” I did. And I’m glad I did.
Q. Let’s talk about the process of writing. Do you do research while writing a book to add more authenticity? What kind and how far do you go – ever travelled to a foreign place or learned some skill, just for the sake of your book?
If I call what I do research, people who actually research would probably slap me. So let’s say, I google. My books are very much centered on the characters and their interactions with each other, so there’s some things that I need to know, but I kinda go with the whole “don’t look too closely at how the sausage is made” idea. Plus, I use a lot of my own experiences to guide my stories. I’ve worked in offices before (Mr. Sin). I worked for an insurance company before (Miss Sin). I grew up around hockey and ask my hockey-loving mom and step-dad to fact check my game scenes for me (Sleet series). I’ve been in coffeeshops (Latte Darling) and on camping trips (Smoky Darling) and I’ve watched every episode of The Great British Bake Off (Second Bite). But there are times I need to look something up. Like, can humans use dog antibiotics and where to you slice someone on the arm to make their hands useless (Miss Sin)… and for those sort of things, I turn my private search on.
Q. What was your hardest scene to write?
Maybe not hardest as in trickiest, but hardest as in “I was sobbing and had a pile of Kleenex next to me on the counter” – the interrogation scene in Miss Sin. If you know, you know. If you don’t, I ripped my own heart out right along with Nora’s when it all came crashing down around her.
Q. What is the best money you’ve ever spent with regard to your writing?
All of it. There hasn’t been a dollar I regretted spending, and I KNOW I come from a place of privilege that has allowed me to do so. But my first year of publishing (2021) I basically put every cent I earned from book sales back into guerilla marketing. I didn’t have an assistant, I didn’t have a PR company, I didn’t know anyone in the community, but I spent that money sending copies of books to readers on every social media platform in the hopes that someone, anyone, would read them. It was a lot of time and effort and stress… and it was the best decision I ever made.
Q. Well, this has been great. Now, before we wrap this up, do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Find your people. Go onto the different platforms, search #bookstagram #booktok and join groups. Comment, like, share, interact. Build a community. Yes, I think my books are amazing. But there are a lot of amazing books. And if it weren’t for the support of the book community, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today.