Profile: Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese

Joe and Denise

This profile interview is part of a series where we highlight the many interesting, talented people who use Hoban Cards in their everyday lives.

Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese are a dynamic couple from North Carolina – both successful authors and journalists with an impressive number of books and publications to their names. Denise's latest book, The Last Castle, was an instant New York Times bestseller in both hardcover and paperback. Her previous title, The Girls of Atomic City, is a New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and NPR Bestseller and has been published in seven languages. Among other honors, Joseph's picture book for children on the Fibonacci sequence won a Mathical Honor Book. Joseph is also known for his books about the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Signing Their Lives Away, and personal finance for freelancers, The Money Book for Freelancers.

I had fun asking Denise and Joseph some specific questions that piqued my interest as well as how their letterpress cards have played a role in their lives.

You both seem to be very prolific writers with a huge range of interests and genres. As a married couple, do you have input on the direction of each other's work? Do you edit or have any other direct influence on each other's writing?

We are both each other‘s first readers and a part of each other‘s larger writing community. One of the challenges of being in a couple and doing the work that we do, is that it is difficult for us to not talk about work. So we often discuss story ideas, approaches, narrative arcs, etc.… In a way, we are able to separate the marriage from the writerly relationship. At the same time, however, we trust each other and know that we each have the other's best interest and best work in mind and our intentions are to bring out the best in each other.

Joe – I couldn't help but chuckle when you listed your other interests as "obsessions" on your website bio. I feel like I relate to that sentiment (hence, owning a letterpress shop). Would you say the subject matter of your writing comes out of these obsessions?

I don’t write about those particular obsessions really, so no—I think it’s sort of the opposite. I’m obsessed with stuff like fonts and pens and stationery because I’m a writer. My interest in those things began in early childhood. I loved going into the old crappy stationery stores in my hometown and looking at various pens and notebooks. The journalism school I went to had one of the last movable type labs, and we had to take a couple of classes where we hand-set some type and printed with it. (In my senior year, all the equipment in that lab was transferred to the art school, and the space was filled with ugly IBM computers, seemingly cementing the future of our industry.) Because I work with computers every single day, I look for ways to inject beautiful objects like nice pens and notebooks into my surroundings.

A collection of Joseph D'Agnese's fiction.

Denise – I enjoyed watching your interview with Jon Stewart for your book "The Girls of Atomic City." Can you give us some insight on how an appearance like this impacts a book tour? Can these appearances significantly widen the potential audience for your book?

I was so thrilled and nervous for that interview! I also felt incredibly fortunate to have had that opportunity. Honestly, the book had already made the New York Times bestseller list before my appearance and book tours are scheduled so far in advance that by the time you do an appearance like that it doesn’t have a direct effect on the tour, per se. However, the impact on sales for an outlet like Amazon was immediately discernible. That was the first time one of my books was ranked in the single digits on Amazon. There is no doubt in my mind that it was because of Jon Stewart, who I was happy to learn is a very lovely individual in person. Newspaper and radio coverage still go a long way as well.

Denise Kiernan's New York Times Bestselling books.

I find with letterpress printing, folks are wanting to reach back to a simpler time and touch something physical that's well made – a sort of antidote to our digital age. Do you think this has a parallel with long-form writing? What are your senses for the climate of physical books – specifically in younger generations?

Great question! Actually, the most recent statistics we’ve read indicate that younger people still do enjoy print books. I think the initial fear with e-books was that they would annihilate print, but they have not. Denise recently ordered stationery from Crane, the oldest stationer in the United States. We both love touching beautiful papers and cards, which is of course why we enjoy Hoban. It’s also one of the joys of researching. We love being in archives and picking up a letter written long ago and seeing the postmarks, the handwriting, embossing..all of it. It’s so viscerally satisfying.

Between the two of you, you've been back for different calling cards several times (very grateful!). I'm curious if you could express why you connect with these cards and what makes them effective for you?

Joe: I remember one time handing our business cards to some woman at a book conference, and she just kept saying, “Wow, letterpress! Cool, letterpress!” But most people don’t know how to describe what you’ve just handed them. In a way, it’s indescribable. They know that they’ve been handed something that feels different, even if they don’t know why. Nice cards project a level of professionalism that goes beyond words.

Denise: I have three different Hoban cards now. Two versions include social media handles and one doesn’t (because while a lot of people are into social media, many still aren’t). I find the square format card (i.e., The Stoic) to be quite unique and I usually save those for people who I consider to be "Hoban-worthy.” The cards have so much personality, I choose the card I will hand to someone based on what I think suits them best. It’s like a litmus test of sorts, my own nerdy letterpress Myers-Briggs assessment.

Are there any upcoming books or projects you two are working on that you can tell us about? Are there any subjects that are currently piquing your interest?

We don’t share what we are working on until we are well along in the process. Too many things are still up in the air, too many things can change, and we are, frankly, not very good at discussing works in progress. However, here’s one for you and your readers to run with: How about a book about a guy who wakes up one morning and discovers that all of his business cards now have someone else’s name on them. He spends the rest of the book on the run trying to find this other man…or is he trying to find himself? The movie version will definitely feature a scene shot in the Hoban letterpress shop.


Denise and Joe

Support Denise & Joseph

Over the years, Denise and Joseph have been a great support to me and I'd encourage you to check out their work, visit their websites and buy their books! Denise is best found at denisekiernan.com and Joe is best found at josephdagnese.com. Their instagram accounts are @iamdenisekiernan and @josephdagnese.