Another year, another novel


Author Emily Beck Cogburn says the cover of her new book, “Ava’s Place,” depicts the area around Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. During the editing process, she was asked to switch the location of one of the cafés in her book to reflect the scene on the cover, though in the end she felt the changes made the location in the text more vivid. Submitted artwork

Former resident meets success with second published book

 

Emily Beck Cogburn, a former resident of both North St. Paul and Lake Elmo, recently released a second novel, which received three and four star reviews on Amazon and the Barns and Nobel websites. Like her debut novel, Beck Cogburn’s writing style in “Ava’s Place” is fun and easy to read by design, making it a perfect book for a trip to the beach.

“Ava’s Place” is a romance between two single parents living and working in Louisiana. However, problems arise when protagonist Ava moves 80 miles away from the fictional St. Jude to New Orleans in pursuit of a journalism career. 

Although the characters are fictional, the plot straddles the first big layoff at New Orlean’s The Times-Picayune newspaper in 2012 when it switched from publishing daily to publishing three days a week, another signal of the newspaper industry’s slow demise.

Though she grew up locally, where her grandfather was the town doctor and her father — a local attorney — served as a school board member, Beck Cogburn now lives in Louisiana with her husband and two children. When she’s not reclining in her yard hard at work on her next fiction projects, she’s writing freelance for a community newspaper or leading fitness classes.

 

Weaving fiction with reality

Beck Cogburn is known for taking inspiration from reality. In her first novel, “Louisiana Saves the Library,” the main character was similar to Beck Cogburn herself, though she explains this is not the case in “Ava’s Place.”

She released her new 280-page novel about a year after her debut novel, and Beck Cogburn says she made a point to mix it up, where her characters are concerned. Although the female protagonist, Ava, is more confident and gregarious than the main character of her first book, both characters are the same age and both books begin in the same area.

Beck Cogburn’s idea for “Ava’s Place” came when she dropped her children off at daycare, and a man left his big truck running in front of the playground spewing exhaust fumes all over the play area. She says she thought he was a jerk at the time, but after she met him he turned out to be really nice.

The novel begins with this scenario, although Beck Cogburn says the male protagonist, Ford, is not based on any real person.

“I really like to write about food a lot, and so it was fun to make him a café owner,” she adds, explaining the café he works at is inspired by Louis’s Café located near Louisana State University. 

The Times-Picayune

At the start of the book, Ava works at a community newspaper that is feeling the industry pinch of the computer age. However, the creeping signs that manifested in the office of the small publication all seemed more ominous after The Times-Picayune, a large and important daily newspaper, scaled back to publishing only three days a week.

This real-life event was devastating for those in the field, according to Beck Cogburn who, herself, worked compiling the calendar at a community newspaper when news of The Times-Picayune hit the presses.

“I only went into the office a few days a week at that time ... but I happened to be there that day and it was a big deal. People were really upset,” Beck Cogburn remembers. “For the South [The Times-Picayune] is a pretty well-known paper.”

She explains that she and her coworkers did not feel like they had lost a competitor. She says it felt like a “real shift in the industry,” and a shift for the prospects of area journalists.

“They didn’t know what that would mean for them,” she says, adding that it was a day when nobody got any work done.

“It was the sort of day where I felt like I had seen something that most people didn’t see, and that it meant something for where the world was going or where the industry was going,” says, noting she is glad she was able to work the event into “Ava’s Place.”

 

A writing life

Beck Cogburn says she learned to be a good writer by practicing and learning from her successes and failures as she went.

“Everything you write makes you a better writer, hopefully,” she says, explaining that between her two published books she specifically improved her pacing.

“I spent so much time on [“Louisiana Saves the Library”] rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, and I think I did a little bit less of that with “Ava’s Place” because I just had a better feeling for how things should go by the time I got to that one,” she says.

Beck Cogburn adds that even though her writing improved between her novels, “Ava’s Place” still changed somewhat during the editing process. She says that the funniest thing about the final product is the cover, which lead to last minute changes in the text.

“People that are from here look at the cover and see something different than what you might if you don’t know the area well,” Beck Cogburn explains.

She says that despite the riverboat, the cover does not depict the Mississippi River, nor does it depict the strip mall area where she originally had the book’s second café located. 

When she brought this to her editor, she was asked to change the location to match the cover, so she rewrote the café descriptions to reflect the area around Lake Pontchartrain, and in the end she says the changes improved the sense of place she strives to include.

“Book publishing is really, really slow, so they are way behind wherever I am all the time,” Beck Cogburn says, adding that she has several books finished, although she is not sure which one she will have published next. 

One, she notes, is set in Minnesota, though another one she has in mind is set in Texas. She explains that because a rich setting is so important to her, she likes to write about places she is familiar with. Her time living in North St. Paul and Laker Elmo as a child provide her the insight to write about Minnesota, but her in-laws live in Texas, so she is also familiar with that area.

Regardless of what she publishes next, Beck Cogburn says “persistence is the most important quality for a writer.”

She explains that it took her a long time to get her first book published, but she takes every rejection as an opportunity to make her writing better. Although her first book established her as a writer with Kensington Books, she says it did not mean that the publishing process got any easier.

“For me, it required just a lot of patience — [and] wanting it more than anybody else,” Beck Cogburn says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it to me.”

 

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

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