Emily Beck Cogburn admits that her own stint as a librarian was nothing like Louisiana Richardson’s.
Louisiana — Louise for short — is the heroine in Cogburn’s debut novel, “Louisiana Saves the Library,” released in February by Kensington Books. The story is about a single mom from Minnesota who brings the flailing Alligator Bayou Parish Library into the 21st century.
Louise faces some twists and turns in this journey of Southern characters and politics. Readers will recognize the small-town quirks and antics, but the story is total fiction, and no reflection of Cogburn’s own library experience.
Like Louisiana, Cogburn moved to Baton Rouge from Minnesota and landed a job at a small-town library.
“But it stops there,” she says. “I wasn’t a good librarian. I would have had to take over and make it work, and I didn’t do that. Then I started thinking about Louisiana — what if she’s someone who is motivated to come in and turn it around?”
The novel opens with an introduction to Louise, who feels like a mutt among purebreds while attending one of many perfect baby showers in a perfect home for a perfect mom-to-be. Louise moved to the Louisiana town of St. Jude to become a library science professor at Louisiana A&M.
But when budget cuts force the college to discard its library science program, Louise is convinced by fellow professor and friend Sylvia to take a librarian job at the Alligator Bayou Parish Library. Sylvia also works at the library, which offers no digital or multimedia resources for patrons, whose numbers have dwindled because of it.
Local movers and shakers plan to shut down the library, and Louise joins forces with Sylvia to turn the tide. In the middle of it all, Louise manages to establish a budding romance.
Cogburn moved to Louisiana when her husband was offered a job at LSU. Their daughter was 2 years old when she started writing the book. She’s now 6.
“I really started writing it in 2000, but I put it away, because I didn’t think it was any good,” Cogburn says. “Then I went back to it and took a new angle. LSU was talking about closing its library science program at the time, but rolled it into its education department instead. But I started thinking about what if it did happen at a college, and this Minnesota outsider went there to work.”
Cogburn shopped the novel to agents.
“I kept getting rejected,” she says. “It took me 15 years to get published.”
Cogburn’s second book, “Ava’s Place,” about a Southern reporter, is already set to be published next year.
Readers already are asking Cogburn about Louise’s next adventure, but Cogburn doesn’t foresee continuing the character.
Still, she’s not saying there couldn’t be a series, either.
“It’s just that you have to have a new story for her; you have to come up with a different plot,” Cogburn says. “A character has to change in a novel, and I think everything has happened to make Louise change in this novel. There could be a series if there were something new for Louise, but I just don’t see it.”
Cogburn may not have been a great librarian, but she’s always been a good reader. Books have been a mainstay in her life, an escape from the angst of those middle-school years and constant companions in her adult years.
“I’ve never had any formal creative writing training, but having a book published had always been a dream of mine,” she says. “I had a short story published in 2006, and I won a writing contest, but I had no luck in publishing (a book) until now. And I began to think that I was no good at it, that I was sitting in a room writing for nobody.”
Now Cogburn is receiving favorable reviews on Amazon.com from readers loving Louisiana’s journey to save the Alligator Bayou Parish Library.