Two local authors have recently published books, and we talked to each of them about their inspirations and process. Sarah Ahiers’ first book, Assassin’s Heart, came out last year and was a 2017 Minnesota Book Award finalist. The sequel, Thief’s Cunning, was released in June. Joseph Kuefler’s first book, Beyond the Pond, was published in 2015, his second, Rulers of the Playground, this past spring.
Kuefler, a digital entrepreneur and creative director, went looking for a passion project in 2014. Kuefler has three children (ages 15, 4 and 2) and a creative bent, so kids’ books seemed like a natural fit. “I’m a visual person, so it felt like a marriage of all my passions and one that worked well in my life,” he says.
Between his children, career and marriage, Kuefler says his productivity sometimes means sacrificing sleep. “I’ve built my life around productivity, in a sense. My process has grown to be just about finding productivity in the little minutes between raising kids and a career,” he says.
Kuefler’s illustrations are somehow both vibrant and subdued, and each book has its own aesthetic. Beyond the Pond has a subtle, ethereal palette, fitting the story—a boy discovers his backyard pond is bottomless, and dives through to the magical and frightening world on the other side. Rulers of the Playground has a more everyday setting, telling the story of two kids vying for control; its aesthetic is brighter, leaning toward geometric pops on a white field.
Each book has taken about a year and a half from inception to being publication-ready, and the easiest part for Kuefler is the initial spark of an idea—he has more ideas than he’ll ever get to, he says. After that, “the rest [of the process] is something slightly less painful than torture.” He enjoys the creative outlet, and credits his art teacher, Lou Ferreri, recently retired from White Bear Lake Area High School, with helping him discover the arts, not only as a passion but also a career path.
Ahiers started writing as a high school freshman, creating fan fiction with her friends. “I’ve always been a person who’s really prone to loving stories,” she says. There wasn’t as much literature geared toward young adults then, and she relishes writing for that age group now.
Ahiers has fond childhood memories of her mom reading whatever book was on her own shelf to her and her siblings; this included work by Stephen King, which they really loved, and she says probably served as inspiration for her darker writing now. In fifth grade, she discovered horror, mystery and fantasy genres, and became a voracious reader.
Thief’s Cunning is about how our actions have consequences, even when we do the right thing. And since her first book ended up being about a girl and the men in her life—“it didn’t even pass the Bechdel test” after editing, she jokes—Ahiers wanted to explore relationships between women, including the main character’s relationship with her mother.
Ahiers has a day job at UnitedHealth, but tries to write Monday through Thursday, aiming for 1,500 words per day; since she’s a fast typist, that usually means about an hour. Usually she writes in her home office, with her dogs as company.
“Being an author is so much different than you think it’ll be,” Ahiers says. Publishers expect authors to do a lot of marketing and come up with clever and creative ways to sell their books, she notes. But her childhood enthusiasm for stories hasn’t waned, and she’s having fun creating fiction for readers who are now the age she was when she fell in love with writing.