Local store owner writes book on local legend


Someday has arrived for Carla Ketner.

“I’ve always been interested in writing,” she said. “It was always someday.”

Ketner’s someday will be official in November when her debut book, “Ted Kooser: More Than a Local Wonder,” reaches bookstore shelves.

“I want the book to do justice to him,” she said.

When her parents died in 2010, Ketner realized if she was going to write, it needed to happen.

“Someday can’t be too far out,” she said.

Reading a diary from her late aunt in which she wrote about regretting not writing was the push Ketner needed.

“I decided to get serious,” she said. “How hard can it be? I wrote a dissertation.”

She and some friends created a critique group to share their works. Ketner saw hers begin to improve.

Her early attempts were young adult fiction. She decided to try a picture book to practice plotting her stories.

“I really liked the smaller format,” she said.

She took classes in picture book writing and kept honing her skills. Then came the “a-ha” moment.

“It was 2016. I vividly remember it,” Ketner said. “I was looking up famous Nebraskans. I wanted to write a picture book biography of one. Joel (her son) suggested Ted Kooser. Why not?”

She immediately thought of all the reasons not to write about Kooser. She decided to ask his opinion.

“He didn’t seem opposed,” she said.

She spent time interviewing Kooser to learn more about his life. One challenge, Ketner said, was to make sure the book was presentable to Kooser.

Picture books usually have fewer than 1,000 words, she said.

“You have to make every word count,” she said.

She chose to focus on Kooser’s childhood and how he started writing. The book ends when Kooser was named Poet Laureate of the United States in 2004.

“As a child, he didn’t feel he fit in,” Ketner said. “He was able to follow his passion and find his place. It’s something everyone can relate to.”

She was able to include a handful of Kooser’s poems about the midwest.

Both Kooser and his wife Kathleen Rutledge gave the book their blessing, Ketner said.

“I hope it reflects who he is,” she said.

She couldn’t leave out Kooser’s connection to Ketner and Chapters.

“My first encounter with him was one of his books, ‘Local Wonders,’” Ketner said.

Kooser was the featured guest at Chapters’ grand opening, which came after he’d been named poet laureate.

Ketner also enjoys Kooser’s poetry.

“The more you read it, the more you appreciate the skill that goes into it,” she said.

Her critique partners were the first audience for “More Than a Local Wonder.”

“My goal was for them to say that’s good,” Ketner said. “I read it out loud to them, and they said it was good. I feel like my vision came through on paper.”

As she worked on drafts of the book, she also pitched it to publishers.

“I didn’t want to self-publish. It had to be good quality. I wanted to make sure it was as good as it could be,” she said.

She sent it to the University of Nebraska Press in June of 2020. In October, UNP representatives told her they were interested, but they’d never published picture books.

Ketner met with an editor in January 2021. The next step was to find an illustrator.

“Usually the publisher chooses the artist with no input from the writer,” Ketner said.

She wanted to help find the perfect artist for her book and wanted them to be from Nebraska. She went to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators website and came across Paula Wallace.

The two had met before, and Wallace’s watercolors seemed to match Ketner’s idea. Wallace was also interested, Ketner said.

Once all the contracts were signed, Wallace created the illustrations for the book, which were exactly what Ketner had hoped for.

“I cried when I saw the cover,” Ketner said.

“It’s a long process,” Ketner said of getting a book published. “So much of it was out of my control.:

As a bookseller (Ketner owns Chapters Books and Gifts in Seward), she hadn’t been on the other side of the book cover.

She worked with an acquisitions editor, a project editor, a publicist and a designer. She was surprised to see how many people actually invest in one picture book.

A cover reveal event unveiled the cover March 31. Page proofs are supposed to be done in early April.

As an author, Ketner said she will do book signings and hopes to be able to do events around the area.

She said everyone who has heard about the book has been supportive and excited to see it.

“It’s nice to see the support for me and Ted,” Ketner said.

“More Than a Local Wonder” will be officially released Nov. 1. Ketner said Chapters will host a release party in October.

Copies of the book can be preordered at Chapters or through Ketner’s website, carlaketner.com.