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Interview with Hillary Manton Lodge

A graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism, Hillary Manton Lodge discovered the world of cuisine during her internship at Northwest Palate magazine. After publishing two well-received Amish novels, she now writes "Women's Fiction with a Foodies Twist." Her latest novel, Reservations for Two, released last week combines the contemporary with historical and, as with all of her books, contains a couple of recipes. Welcome, Hillary!

This is the second book in your Two Blue Doors series, with the first being A Table by the Window. Where did the idea for the series come from? Do the books stand alone or should they be read in sequence?

I first began working with the idea of doing a foodie book when I was working as an intern for Northwest Palate Magazine here in Portland. While the magazine has sadly folded, the idea lived on, and when I wrote my first two novels, Plaine Jayne and Simply Sara, I wrote the secondary character of Gemma as a food writer who came from a restaurant family. The plan was to do a follow-up book about Gemma and her adventures in online dating and restaurant opening.

That project grew and changed, eventually finding a home with WaterBrook Multnomah. Gemma became Juliette, and other characters were streamlined even while the premise remained. Once we added the historical plotline with Juliette’s grandmother, that’s when doing a trilogy made the most sense.

The books are sequential, but I wrote them to stand alone, too. It’s okay if you pick it up mid-series.

Your blog announcement said you and your agent call this series "Women's Fiction with a Foodie Twist" and you are a self-described "kitchen tinkerer." Tell us about that.
Like I mentioned above, I worked as an intern for the food magazine. And until then, while I came from a home where home-cooked meals were the norm, I didn’t much cook myself. So that experience really changed my perspective and approach in the kitchen. I started trying new techniques and practicing with new ingredients. And when I started researching this series, French and Italian cookery became a place to explore.

With every new book, I like to learn something new. With Jayne I learned to ride a motorcycle. With Sara I learned to sew. With this series, I’ve learned to roast a chicken, make caramels, and make pasta from scratch. The kitchen is such a wonderful place for creativity, and like anything, the more you know, the more you can play!

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
Keep calm and make good food. So much of the book is about perseverance and faith even when things are very, very difficult. And Juliette deals with life by cooking for herself and feeding others. There’s a lot to be said about nourishing your soul by feeding your body with good foods, prepared with love.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? What is your biggest challenge when writing?
I’m a pantser by nature, but I’ve found that the pantsing life is not practical when under contract – for me, it’s a one-way ticket to writer’s block. So I’ve had to get really good about writing synopses and creating a road map. It’s never set in stone – I’ve made major structural changes in a book during editorial rewrites – but I think that plotting and planning ahead of time is more efficient than not.

You have a degree in journalism. What led you to write fiction? What has your publication journey looked like?
Well, I knew from a young age that I wanted to write books. And if I was going to do that, then I was looking at either an English or a Journalism degree program. I chose Journalism, which I felt would have a lot of practical applications.

I started attending writer’s conferences with Oregon Christian Writers at the age of 13. I toyed with a lot of different genres, finally completing my first novel at 24. By then, I’d developed the contacts I needed, and I released Plain Jayne with Harvest House in 2010 at the age of 26 – which feels crazy, looking back.

I had a wonderful time writing Amish fiction for Harvest, and I’ve loved my opportunity to write foodie fiction for WaterBrook. It’s been such an adventure!

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I like to see my characters wrestle with faith in their daily lives – in Reservations for Two, Juliette’s family is faced with some very difficult times. And there aren’t easy answers. The question isn’t if their lives will work out how they want or not – the question is how they live out their faith either way.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
I feel like every time I get a box of author copies on my doorstep – that’s the greatest moment. With every book, I’m increasingly proud of the hard work and craft that’s gone into the book – Reservations, for example, was my first crossover historical fiction novel. There are letters that Juliette, the modern protagonist, finds of her grandmother’s, and her story unfolds through the letters. It was super challenging, but also so rewarding.

What has surprised you most about being a published author?
I, ah, I thought it would get easier. I thought I’d get the hang of the whole book-writing thing. And while I feel I get better, more polished with each book, it’s not easier. Each book brings its own challenges.

What is your writing routine? Any quirky habits or must-have snacks?
I write best at night – that’s been true for a long time. I handwrite in a journal when I get stuck (more about that here). And while chocolate is an important piece of the writing process, I do detox on almonds and roasted Brussels sprouts. I really, really love Brussels sprouts.

What literary character is most like you?
Anne Shirley. No question. I wanted red hair so much when I was young!

If you could have coffee with an author, dead or alive, whose work you admire, who would that be? What would you ask him or her?
Anne Lamott. I’d like to sit down and ask her about her process, and just let her wisdom wash over me.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
My writing style is fast-paced, often irreverent, and very character-driven. The prose tends to be spare, but I like to make the most of the words I use. And dialogue’s always been a strength of mine, so sometimes I just like to put two interesting characters together and let them work things out. That’s a tricky question! I guess I write the kinds of books I like to read.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
The writing and the cooking keep me pretty busy, but I also enjoy getting out and taking long walks with my dog, Shiloh, and meeting to knit with friends every other week.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
The books that are physically on my nightstand are Anna Quindlen’s Still Life in Breadcrumbs and Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen, because those are books my husband I and read together. I do most of my reading electronically – recently finished Melissa Tagg’s From the Start. I loved it! So witty and clever, adored the classic film references.

Any parting words?
Sure – readers and fellow writers can find me at to connect about books, writing craft, and recipes! There are links to connect via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest there as well.

Thanks for sharing with us, Hillary!

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