Mound author brings Minnesota flavor to contemporary romances.
Minnesota has never felt steamier than in the hands of S.J. Tilly. The 35-year-old Mound writer burst onto the book scene in March 2021 and has been bringing love (and a bit of heat) to the land of 10,000 lakes ever since.
Tilly (a pen name) has published 10 books so far and says she has several more in the works. Her first book that she wrote, Sleet Kitten, is a rom-com based in the Twin Cities and centered on, what else, but Minnesota’s signature sport—hockey. “I want my books to be in Minnesota,” Tilly says. “I don’t know any place as good as Minnesota.” (Mr. Sin is her first published title.)
Tilly’s Darling series pays homage to the Lake Minnetonka area where she currently lives with her husband and their rescue boxer. “I love lake life, and I knew I wanted this series to be centered on small-town life,” she says.
One Unforgettable Scene
Tilly grew up in Hastings, studied marketing in college and worked in sales before she began writing. “I traveled a ton,” she says. “I’d be daydreaming while sitting in the car for hours on end.”
That daydreaming generated one scene that she just couldn’t get out of her mind. “Every book starts with one scene,” Tilly says. “I decided I might try this and sat down one night and started writing,” she says. Night after night, the words poured out of her, and before she knew it, Tilly had five books completed.
“The problem was, I didn’t know how to publish,” Tilly says. She sent her work to dozens of literary agents to no avail. Then, she won a mini mentorship at a charity auction. Her mentor, impressed that she had a catalog of work ready to go, advised her to self-publish and rapid release one book a month on Amazon, and that’s just what she did.
“I put all the money I made that first year back into the books,” Tilly says. She sent out print editions to influencers and developed a social media plan to promote her writing. Now, years into the adventure, Tilly is a full-time writer.
As readers take to social media to recommend her books, Tilly pinches herself. “To introduce people to my stories has been fun,” she says. And each day, more and more opportunities crop up—from book translations to other languages to audio versions of her books.
To date, Sleet Kitten remains her most popular work—getting as high as number 13 on Amazon’s Top 100 List. And that scene that inspired her writing career—the “kiss cam scene”—has been the one that readers have responded to more than any other she has ever written, Tilly says.
Tilly notes that her books will generally feature curvy or plus-size female leads, alpha males and insta-love. While all of her books are firmly in the romance genre, each series differs in the amount of “heat” generated on the page. Fair warning: These books might not be for the clutch-your-pearls crowd. The Sleet series is sweeter, funnier and more tame. The Sin series is spicier and suspenseful with mafia undertones. The Darling series is Tilly’s boldest and spiciest to date as she explores romance between characters with a sizeable age gap.
Tilly first got into reading romance books in her 20s when her mother (a librarian) introduced her to the genre. And it’s her mother who gets the first glance at everything Tilly writes. “Every morning, she sends me her notes,” Tilly says. “If I don’t want to be annoyed with her, I have to write.” So that’s just what she does—every evening into the wee hours of the morning. “I just want to keep writing,” she says. “With every book, I get better.”
Tilly shares her favorite writers, books and more.
Favorite Authors: Jana Aston, Alice Coldbreath, Raven Kennedy and Mariana Zapata
Favorite Genre: “Always romance, and I love almost all the subgenres, so, besides the type that I write, I really love historical highlander romance, specifically arranged marriage books between an English lass and a gruff Scottish laird,” Tilly says.
Favorite Childhood Books: The Magic School Bus series and anything by Jan Brett
Favorite Romance Novel: Arrogant Devil by R.S. Grey. “It’s a great intro to romance if you’re hesitant to try it,” she says.
Current Read: The final book in the Tasting Madness series by Albany Walker
Favorite Reading Spot: “Literally anywhere, but I do most of my reading in bed—staying up far too late,” Tilly says.
Favorite Writing Spot: “[It’s a] toss-up between my newly renovated office or on the couch with my dog, Bandit, trying to put his 80-pound butt in my lap,” she says.
Current Writing Playlist: “I like to post my writing soundtrack on TikTok because I usually pick one song to set the mood and leave it on repeat. My current obsession is with the artist JVKE, and one of my fav songs is I’m Not Okay,” Tilly says.