GENOA – How Kerri Cullen Sosnowski wrote her first novel and got it published is almost as good a story as the novel itself.
A native of Chicago, Sosnowski earned her bachelor of science degree in education from St. Xavier University. She was a substitute teacher for five years before becoming a full-time housewife and author.
She and her husband, Kevin, have three children: Katie, 14; Connor, 12 and Caden, 2. They moved to Genoa eight years ago.
“The Mystery of Marek Manor” is a youth novel ghost mystery about a 13-year-old girl, Katie Hartley, who moves to an old farmhouse in Wisconsin that was once a funeral home. One day she discovers a tiny door in an upstairs closet that hides the mystery of what happened to the home’s original owner.
Sosnowski, who writes under her maiden name, says the book is the first in a trilogy.
Sosnowski will talk about both the writing and publishing process, as well as read from and sign copies of “The Mystery of Marek Manor,” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, at the Genoa Public Library. The paperback is 182 pages long and costs $8; the e-book is $2.99. Both can be found on Amazon.com.
The writer sat down with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson to talk about writing and publishing.
MidWeek: What did you like to read when you were growing up?
Kerri Cullen Sosnowski: Anne Rice, Stephen King, things like that.
MW: Did you want to be a writer?
KCS: When I was in high school I wrote for classes and stuff. A lot of what I wrote was very dark. My mind just went there. So the actual book I wrote was a continuation of something I started in high school and I found it.
MW: Were you published in school?
KCS: No. It was just for classes. You’d have English or creative classes. And it was just in high school. When I got to college, I was on the track for teaching, so didn’t even think about writing until like six years ago.
MW: What can you tell me about the story?
KCS: It was geared, when I was a senior in high school, more for adults. I wanted my kids to be able to read it, so I dumbed it down a little bit, so now it’s a middle grade novel. I took the swearing out. Actually, the book is about a picture I saw in a children’s book, “The Mystery of Harris Verdick” by Chris Van Allsburg. Each page has a different illustration from what could be a story onto itself. Each has a caption or a sentence. This one was of a staircase and this little door and I think the caption said, “He could have sworn he saw the doorknob turn.” Or something to that effect. And that’s where the idea for the story came from. I kind of went with it from there.
Between fifth and eighth grade is the ideal range. I’ve also had high schoolers read it who enjoyed it.
MW: How long did it take you to write it?
KCS: About two years to write it and, to actually get the nerve up to self-publish, another three or four years. I did try sending it out to many publishers. I have many rejection letters to go along with it so I gave up with that. You go along with life and kind of get tired of that.
I had the illustration above my fireplace and everytime I would look at it, I would know I didn’t accomplish this. So I decided to put it in e-book format.
MW: Had you ever been published before?KCS: No, I’ve never been in a newspaper or a magazine. I’ve never been a reporter or anything to do with writing.
So I decided I would venture out on my own. I went through Amazon-Nook. I put it in e-book format. Then, in the late fall, I actually went through Amazon’s paperbook publishing firm. It’s called Create Space.
MW: Once you put it out, is it hard to get publicity for it?KCS: Absolutely. There is a webcast on how to advertise your book, how to market your book. I got some pointers from there.
I can go to different schools. That is my next step, maybe to send some emails out to schools. I can either talk about the writing process, detailing about how to get published, where do ideas come from. I can tailor it to whatever the school would need. I can go in and do presentations and hopefully sell some books that way. I’ve been to my mother’s school. She’s a teacher in Oak Lawn.
MW: Without giving anything away, can you tell me what the book is about?KCS: ...It’s all about what’s beyond the door. It leads them on a quest to find out what happens to the original owner of the house, Margie Merek. There are people in the town that don’t want them to find out what happened.
There’s a story behind this. This is based on the house we used to live in in Elgin. It was a funeral home when it was first built.
I thought that would be a great setting for a book. It was a little creepy when we moved in. It had been remodeled several times, but it still had the big wide four-foot door for the casket.
MW: I understand this is the first in a trilogy.KCS: Yes, I’m working on the second one right now. It’s slow going. I am in chapter 10 or 11 right now. This book has about 24 chapters. Having children it’s a little slower going, but I’ll get there. But I do have the storyline in my head. I know where it’s going to end up. I’m having more fun with this one.
MW: Does the first one end with a bit of a cliffhanger?KCS: This story is summed up, it has ended and it kind of begins the next one. There’s a teaser in it, absolutely. You know it’s going to go on, but it’s not one of those books that leaves you hanging mid-story. There’s actually a conclusion and then goes on. And it does go on with the same characters and the same mystery surrounding this woman.
MW: Why did you decide to do it this way rather than just one big, long book?KCS: When I ended it, I thought that was it. But I just wasn’t satisfied. And I liked the characters. When you first start writing, you’re not very sure of yourself and not very sure of the writing process. I was never a writer before. But as I went on, I felt more comfortable and I felt this story needs to go on. I have more to say about it.
There are new characters. I read to my kids as I’m writing to see if I’m using the correct terminology. My older ones are in middle school and it’s based in middle school and they’re giving me pointers.
It’s nice to get my kids’ feedback. And they enjoy the first one, but they say they like the second one 10 times better.
MW: Anything else you’d like to mention?KCS: Karen Griffith is the illustrator for this book. She did the cover. She is in Genoa, a very talented artist. My daughter Katelyn is the model for it. I wanted to mention her. I do not have her in the acknowledgements in the book and I feel very bad about that. Once you have it, it’s hard to change that.
MW: Just out of curiosity, did your friend ever finish her book?KCS: No. Now she’s started on another one.