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Five Questions with Louise Knott Ahern

Louise Ahern

Louise Knott Ahern is an award-winning journalist, fiction writer and writing coach/editor with more than 20 years of experience. Her journalism career has spanned both coasts and some of the biggest news markets in the country and has earned her many awards, including a 2014 Sigma Delta Chi -- one of the most prestigious journalism awards in the country. She founded CCWA in 2013 to help writers find the resources, motivation, and support necessary for navigating professional writing careers. Her debut novel, Seventh Inning Heat, was released in March 2016 under her pen name, Lyssa Kay Adams. You can find her at LKAPublishing.com and LyssaKayAdams.com

Louise is teaching our workshop this month on high stakes conflict. You're not gonna want to miss it. She gives great workshop!

 

What is your favorite part about writing? What is the most challenging part?

My favorite part? That’s easy. It’s when someone writes a review gushing over my book. It will never get old to see that someone loved something I wrote! But I also love that amazing part in the writing process when it all starts to come together and the million different threads in the novel start to weave together into something cohesive. It’s a great feeling to shut your computer down for the day and think, “Wow, I might actually pull this off again.”

The most challenging part? For me, that would be discipline. Writing is now my full-time job, which is a dream come true. But writing from home brings challenges that I didn't have when I was balancing it with a “day job.” When I sit down at 8:30 a.m., the day stretches before me and seems like SO MUCH TIME to write, so distractions more easily creep in. When I allow too many distractions, the day goes by pretty quickly. I have some tactics I use to stay focused (like using an old-fashioned kitchen timer and scheduling specific blocks of time in my planner for email), but it’s still really easy to talk myself into abandoning a particularly tough scene because there is laundry calling my name.

 

What’s the worst writing advice you ever received, and how did you overcome it?

I was told by a published author I admired when I was new to fiction writing that you have to write every day. No excuses. No exceptions. If you couldn’t carve out time every single day to devote to the craft, then it wasn’t really important to you, and you weren’t a real writer. It took years for me to realize that was complete and utter BS. And those were some tough years, because I tortured myself with my inability to live up to the credo. I was a full-time newspaper reporter, so I was writing every day—just not fiction. That meant my brain was dead by the time I got home at night (which was hard to predict, because the news laughs hysterically at your silly little plans). But I couldn’t see those realities of my life. All I could see was that I wasn’t living up to the “write every day” rule.

I overcame the bad advice because I was forced to: I had a baby. Balancing motherhood with everything else in my life taught me that I needed to develop a schedule that worked for me and to stop trying to force myself into someone else’s ideal. Being free of that arbitrary requirement actually made it more enjoyable for me to write, which made me more productive.

Having said that, I will advise writers that if you regularly find yourself going more than two weeks without writing, you might need to reevaluate how you’re spending your time or whether you’re working on the right project. Going that long without writing can pull you so far out of your fictional world that any time you finally carve out to write will be spent reacquainting yourself, not progressing in the manuscript. But write everyday? Nope. Don’t sweat it if you can’t.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you become an author?

I’m still a work in progress, so take this with a grain of salt…

From the start (as in, when I first made the decision that I was going to seriously pursue fiction publishing), I treated it as a career—not just a creative pursuit. I invested time, money, and energy into learning everything I could in both the craft and business sides of publishing. I attended conferences, joined writing organizations, networked, entered (and won) contests. I was also brutal with my own work. I detached myself emotionally as much as possible from books that were simply going nowhere so I could move onto something else. I knew that if one idea wasn’t working, there were a hundred others I could jump into.

Anyway, the career-focused approach paid off, because when I published my first book a year ago, I had 15 years of education and industry connections to draw upon. My book had a built-in audience of published romance authors who were eager and excited to share it with their own readers. I had tons of resources for marketing the book and friends who could guide me and cheer me on. And because of that, the book has sold well for a debut indie novel. I was able to qualify for Romance Writers of America’s official published author status in less than two months of publishing—which is unusual for a first-time indie author. And I’d like to think the dedication to craft worked, as well, because my second book (Wild in Rio) was recently nominated for a RITA Award by RWA!!! I am still in shock over that.

What would you change or do differently when it comes to your writing career?

Not much, to be honest. Would I have liked to be published sooner? Maybe, but the opportunities were different even just five years ago, so my career would have looked different. And, frankly, I don’t know if I would have been truly ready for an indie career if I’d started earlier.  I have a wish list for my career, to be sure, but the only thing I would truly change about how I got here would be to never have discovered the distraction of the Internet. I shudder to think how many writing hours have been wasted because I get stuck in a scene and somehow sought the solution in recipes on Pinterest.

What are you working on now?

I’m madly working to get my third book out to the world. It’s the second in the Vegas Aces series, called Seventh Inning Hero. Then I will have six weeks to finish my next project – a New Adult novella called The Prospect. It will be the first book of my second (related) baseball series called The Long Ball Boys. (The series follows a summer baseball league where Major League hopefuls play in the hopes of catching the attention of a scout. It is a ton of fun to write, because there is a lot of crossover with my Vegas Aces world.) Anyway, by the end of the summer, I will have both series out in the world, and I’m already tired thinking about it.

Can we get an overview of your workshop?

Sure! We’re going to talk about “High Stakes Conflict.” I like to use the analogy of a road trip to describe writing. You are the driver. Readers are your passengers. Conflict is the fuel that keeps your engine running. Without conflict, there is no tension. Without tension, there is no reason for readers to keep reading. But there are different kinds of conflict, so we’re first going to go over those. Then we’ll examine how to layer those levels of conflict to make your story a page-turner. And finally, we’ll have some timed writing exercises to help you brainstorm ways to increase the conflict in your current work-in-progress. There will also be a giveaway at the end!

***

Thanks, Louise!

Be sure to stop by Schuler on Wednesday, April 5th at 7pm for a fabulous workshop!

Meet the Agents: Carrie Pestritto

Louise Ahern

This year, at the Write on the Red Cedar conference, we tried something new. Instead of flying one or two agents in for our attendees to pitch to, we compiled a list of awesome agents that were willing to take a look at queries from our attendees. Over the next few months, we'll be posting interviews with some of these agents. Carrie Pestritto is our first interview!

Carrie joined Prospect Agency in 2011 after working as an assistant at Writers House. With a B.A. in English from Amherst College, she has experienced all sides of the publishing industry, having worked as a ghostwriter, freelance writer, and as an intern in the editorial acquisitions department of the Greenwood Publishing Group. As an agent, she loves the thrill of finding new authors with strong, unique voices and working closely with her clients to develop their ideas and manuscripts.

 

How and why did you become an agent?

My first introduction to the agenting world was via an internship I did at Writers House during college, and after that, I realized that it was my dream job!  I worked there as an assistant after graduation and then became an agent at Prospect Agency.

What's the best query you've ever received and what made it stand out?

It's hard to say what the single best query I've ever received is, but what makes a query really stand out for me is having sharp, compelling writing (similar to something you would see on the back of a book jacket) that draws me in and makes me eager to read more.  Of course, having a great story that matches my interests is a big part of that, so making sure that you research the agent you're writing to and personalize your letter to them is also a good way to make sure that you don't earn an automatic rejection.

Can you tell us about something that's recently sold for one of your clients?

I recently sold the next books in a middle grade series my author, Erin Peabody, is writing for Little Bee, called Behind the Legend.

Are you also a writer or do you just love books?

When I was younger, I tried my hand at writing (I remember a gigantic manuscript that basically ripped off Cassandra Clare's fan fiction), but quickly realized that I am a much better reader, editor, and champion of books than I am a writer!

What are dying to see in your inbox? What are you tired of seeing?

So many things!  For a more complete list of my interests, check out my bio or my #MSWL tweets, but right now, I would love a selkie/fae fantasy or a really lush Asian fantasy for YA, a quirky adventure that features diverse characters for MG, and fun cozy mysteries or chick lit.  

I enjoy memoirs and mystery/thrillers as well, but I'm tired of seeing predictable stories in those genres, e.g. memoirs about people going on their own EAT, PRAY, LOVE journeys or thrillers about ex-CIA operatives who discover a secret conspiracy from within the government.

 

Thanks, Carrie! 

***

Do you think you have what Carrie is looking for? click on her links for more details on what she reps and how to submit to her!

Five Questions with Barbara Stark-Nemon

Louise Ahern

Barbara Stark-Nemon is the award-winning author of short stories, essays, and the historical novel, Even in Darkness.  Barbara has degrees from the University of Michigan in English, Art History and Speech-language Pathology. She lives, writes, swims, cycles and does fiber art in Ann Arbor and Northport, MI. You can learn more about her at www.barbarastarknemon.com, or follow her at Facebook- starknemon, twitter @bstarknemon or Instagram bannstark

 

Barbara was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for us. We don't know about you, but we're definitely looking forward to her workshop this Wednesday!
 

 

1.     What is your favorite part about writing? The most challenging part?

I love the opportunity to immerse myself in other places and times and people and then, the inspiring part that’s also torturous is narrating it back for the reader- getting the words and the scenes and the dialog just right.

2.     What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? How did you overcome it?

I’ve been pretty lucky to have gotten good writing advice for the most part. I do take some exception to the old adage ‘Write what you know,’ which is good advice to start with. But if you only write what you know, you never get to push yourself to take risks and go deeper as a writer. I’ve developed the habit of checking in with myself when I’m feeling too comfortable to see if I’m avoiding some aspect of a story- glossing over a hard part or letting something go that doesn’t feel quite right.

3.     Looking back, what did you do right that helped you become an author?

I took that first big risk that the story that was burning inside me to get out would be interesting enough to others- and that I could be a good enough writer to bring it successfully to readers.

4.     What would you change or do differently when it comes to your writing career?

I had a wonderful, fulfilling career as a teacher and speech and language therapist, and I raised three kids, but I wish I’d started writing seriously earlier in my life. I feel so lucky to have found a second career to passionately love!

5.     What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished a manuscript for a second novel about a woman of a certain age who wants to start a hard apple cider business on the Leelanau Peninsula, and whose life is upended by a family mystery. Also, this summer, I will travel to Portugal and Spain to research a third novel, about a 14 year-old embroideress who emigrates to Germany at the beginning of the 17th century!!

And, finally, can we get an overview of your upcoming workshop?

A good book starts with a good story. Have one?  In this workshop, we will be considering the important elements of memoir, and where a writer’s decisions diverge from memoir into fiction. I will share some resources, and why I decided to write my family story of Even in Darkness as a novelWe’ll have time for questions, discussion and hey, maybe even some writing!

 

Don't forget: Barbara will be teaching a workshop THIS Wednesday, March 1st, at the Okemos location of Schuler Books! We hope to see you there!