Mystery writer Kathleen Ernst returns to Write On this month and will lead a free afternoon workshop, Food Traditions: Remembering and Writing, on Friday, February 8, 1-4 pm. I had the chance to talk with Kathleen about her mystery series and her time at Write On.
Jerod Santek (JS): The 10th novel in the Chloe Ellefson mystery series will be released this September by Midnight Ink. This will be the last one published by Midnight Ink, as the press is closing. Can you talk about why you are drawn to writing a series, and what lies ahead for you (and Chloe) given the closing of Midnight Ink?
Kathleen Ernst (KE): I have loved having the opportunity to write the first 10 Chloe Ellefson books. Most importantly, the series has allowed me to delve deeper into Chloe’s character with each volume, exploring different facets of her complex personality, letting her grow and change. In addition to each story arc, I’ve been able to create a series arc.
Also, I made some choices when conceptualizing the project that work well with the series format. One goal was to celebrate some of Wisconsin’s and the Upper Midwest’s special historic sites and museums. Chloe, a curator, visits different places in different books–and I get the fun of doing the same thing. Many of the books also feature different ethnic groups, so I’m always learning something new.
To be on the safe side, I plan to end the 10th Chloe Ellefson mystery in a way that I think will please long-time readers. No cliff-hangers! But I do hope to find a new home for the series.
JS: Your recent newsletter mentioned that your agent is working on finding a new publisher for the series. Write On will hold a two-day conference in April on how to get published. One of the sessions will be with a literary agent. Can you talk about your experience working with an agent, and why it’s important for your career as a writer?
KE: After doing a lot of unagented submissions when I was getting started, I’ve worked with several great agents. Agents know the mercurial and sometimes volatile publishing industry–who’s looking for what, when and how to submit, what terms are fair. My agent is a warm, cheerful person who also excels at cutting through nonsense and navigating the business end of things on my behalf. She thinks not just about selling my next book but about my career. That leaves me free to focus on the writing itself.
JS: You’ve had several residencies at Write On, all of them in winter. Why do you like to return to Write On and what is it about winter here that attracts you?
KE: Although I’d like to write in the Coop one day, I do love visiting Write On in the winter! The peaceful solitude provides the perfect setting for writing. I usually work in the morning, walk the beautiful loop trail sometime mid-day, and then get back to work.
JS: On Friday, February 8, you’ll offer Food Traditions: Remember and Writing. Why did you choose this topic and what might participants expect?
KE: Food traditions often persist from generation to generation, so it’s a fun topic to explore. Just about everyone has a cherished family recipe, or memories of special childhood meals or treats. During the workshop participants will engage in some short writing activities that help summon memories. We’ll also explore a variety of different ways to write about food traditions. I hope that everyone leaves excited and eager to keep writing!
JS: What advice would you offer to aspiring writers?
KE: Just wade in! Write what calls to you. Give yourself permission to write wretched first drafts. Take the time to hone your craft before worrying too much about publication. Enjoy the process.