I am so excited to share this interview with Rochelle Bilow just ahead of Valentine’s Day. I’m relatively new to the romance genre, but I love it. By definition, we know it’s going to end with a happily ever after…but the fun part is seeing how the characters get there. It’s the journey, not the destination.
In this interview, I got the chance to talk with Rochelle about why we love characters who are seeking a fresh start, how to incorporate our past lives into our writing, the all-important meet cute, and so much more.
I hope you enjoy this interview!
About Rochelle Bilow
Rochelle Bilow is a food and romance writer who previously worked as the social media manager at Bon Appétit and Cooking Light magazines. A graduate of The French Culinary Institute, she has also worked as a line cook, a baker, and a wine spokesperson. Her first book, The Call of the Farm, a swoony farming memoir, was published in 2014. Raised in Syracuse, New York, Rochelle now lives in northern Vermont.
You can find her on her website or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
About Ruby Spencer’s Whisky Year
When a thirty-something American food writer moves to a Scottish village for one year to fulfill her dream of writing a cookbook, she finds more than inspiration—she meets a handsome Scotsman she can’t resist.
Ruby Spencer is spending one year living in a small cottage in a tiny town in the Scottish Highlands for three reasons: to write a bestselling cookbook, to drink a barrelful of whisky, and to figure out what comes next. It’s hard to know what to expect after an impulsive decision based on a map of Scotland in her Manhattan apartment—but she knows it’s high time she had an adventure.
The moment she sets foot in Thistlecross, the verdant scenery, cozy cottages, and struggling local pub steal her heart. Between designing pop-up suppers and conversing with the colorful locals, Ruby starts to see a future that stretches beyond her year of adventure. It doesn’t hurt that Brochan, the ruggedly handsome local handyman, keeps coming around to repair things at her cottage. Though Ruby swore off men, she can’t help fantasizing what a roll in the barley might be like with the bearded Scot.
As Ruby grows closer to Brochan and the tightly held traditions of the charming village, she discovers secret plans to turn her beloved pub into an American chain restaurant. Faced with an impossible choice, Ruby must decide between love, loyalty, and the Highlands way of life.
Interview with Rochelle Bilow
Lori Walker: First of all, I’d love to hear more about your journey to becoming a writer. How did you get your start? What was that magical moment you knew?
Rochelle Bilow: I wanted to be a writer—or perhaps I knew I was one—in college. But for a long time, my focus was on food writing. I spent years working as an editor and writer at Bon Appétit and other food magazines.
It wasn’t until I went freelance and felt a bit adrift that I began dreaming about novels. I never thought I was “good enough” to write fiction, but my agent encouraged me to look into the romance genre. She instinctively knew it would be a good fit for me, and she was so right.
LW: What does a typical day of writing look like for you?
RB: When I’m drafting or revising, I prefer to do so in intense, immersive bursts. That’s not to say I don’t write at home or in shorter spurts, but typically I block off week long periods and book myself into a hotel or Airbnb. That way, I can entirely live in my characters’s worlds and work without distraction.
Those days are wild; I roll out of bed and find some way to get coffee into my belly, then begin writing. I like to start each writing day at a proper desk or table, but by noon I’m sprawled on a couch or bed, where I stay until nightfall.
Every once in a while, I may come up for air and take a short walk or do some stretches, but for the most part, it’s all writing, all the time. Then I come home, bonk, and don’t touch the manuscript for another week.
LW: How do you know when a nugget of an idea has the legs to become a full-fledged book or story? What is your process for getting it there?
RB: My agent, Sharon Pelletier, is crucial in this process. She’s so smart, and so good at developing ideas. I’ll share a concept or pitch with her, and she’ll tell me whether it has potential or not, and what it’s lacking to get there. Getting that kind of feedback is like a deep tissue massage; it hurts in the moment, but feels great afterwards.
LW: One of the things I love about Ruby is that she’s sold all of her possessions and moved to Scotland for a fresh start (and to “become the sort of person she wished she was”), which by normal standards is pretty drastic. Yet readers love books like this. Why do you think that is?
RB: It’s a living vicariously thing, I think. Because there’s so much about Ruby that readers can relate to, it’s not hard to imagine themselves taking those big, drastic steps. Reading, especially in the romance genre, can feel like a delicious escape.
LW: You have a past life as a food writer, which you incorporate into your fiction. What’s your advice for writers to bring their past experiences to their writing without writing autobiographical fiction?
RB: I love this question! Use your knowledge to add detail and set the scene, but consider your characters to be outside that sphere of influence.
Because we shared careers, I could write about the logistics of Ruby’s life well, but we’re very different in terms of personality. It was important to me to write a character that had different motivations, fears, and goals than I did.
LW: In every romance, one of the most important scenes is the meet cute because it sets up the whole rest of the story. What are some of the qualities of a good meet cute and how did you use them in your own meet cute between Ruby and Brochan?
RB: I think a great meet cute has to feature physical attraction—even in an enemies-to-lovers story! In Ruby and Brochan’s case, we get to witness her “shaken-to-the-core” attraction to his physical appearance in a way that reveals more about her personality (she can be impulsive and “all in,” to a sometimes-detrimental degree).
I also love a meet cute that has a tinge of awkwardness. In this one, Ruby’s trying and failing to use an electric drill for the first time ever, unaware that Brochan—a handyman—is watching her with amusement.
LW: How did you weave together the emotional and dating history of Ruby so that it was complex, rich, and relatable?
RB: If you’re in your thirties and you’re single, your romantic experiences have run the gamut. I wanted Ruby’s past to reflect the good, the bad, and the indifferent that comes along with dating. So she’s experienced big-time love, shattering heartbreak, and a whole lot of the “meh” stuff that happens in between.
LW: If you could go back to the beginning of your career and give yourself one bit of advice, what would that be?
RB: Stick it out when things get hard. I struggled with living in New York City, and left my full time food writing job before I really felt ready to. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had kept at it, through the challenges. That said, I’ve finally learned the lesson. Now that I’m a novelist, I’m not going anywhere—even if the going gets rough.
LW: A lot of authors are creating playlists to accompany their books, but this being a reading column, I’d like to know what your “reading playlist” is. What three books would you recommend to people who are interested in Ruby Spencer’s Whisky Year?
RB: Much Ado About You by Samantha Young This book has aaaall the cozy UK-centric vibes you could want and more!
The Summer Seaside Kitchen by Jenny Colgan Nobody does charming Scottish small-town like Jenny Colgan.
My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella Another UK-based romcom, this one featuring a fun city vs. country push-pull.
Lori Walker is the Operations Maven at DIY MFA. She is also the producer and co-host of DIY MFA Radio and editor-in-chief of DIYMFA.com, among other roles. Lori is a copyeditor for Amanda Filippelli and collaborating fellow for The Poetry Lab. She writes personal essays and memoir in Tulsa, where she lives with her husband and cat, Joan Didion. You can follow her on Instagram at @LoriTheWriter.