Harper College

Harper College student wins Soon to Be Famous statewide author contest

Kate Guerrero, who won a statewide author contest, stands on the Harper College campus.

Harper College student Kate Guerrero recently won the 2023 Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Manuscript Project Contest. Her winning manuscript involves the early era of motherhood.

When Kate Guerrero’s children were little, she rotated among side hustles. Like other stay-at-home moms that she knew, Guerrero tried her hand at small businesses, starting an Etsy shop and selling craft kits.

Little did she know that her experience in the “momfluencer” world of essential oils and online crafts would inspire her first novel – and help her become an award-winning author.

That’s what happened when the Harper College student recently won the 2023 Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Manuscript Project Contest for Burn and Balm. Her manuscript involves the early era of motherhood, along with the specific experiences that come with this period of parenting, tenuous friendships and plenty of stress.

“It’s a fragile time where a lot of women can be taken advantage of,” said Guerrero, 39, of Schaumburg. “A lot of what the book is about is looking for self-fulfillment and there are nefarious people who seek to prey on that.”

Before starting Burn and Balm, Guerrero had a background in writing. She’d taught middle and high school English, worked as a tutor and dabbled in fiction. But in the middle of getting her elementary school-age children through the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she sought a creative outlet in the form of Harper’s NaNoWriMo Challenge course. Formally known as the Write a Novel in 30 Days Workshop, the class is offered through Community Education every fall.

According to course instructor Laura Ehrke, the goal of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Challenge isn’t to finish with a perfectly completed novel, but to get authors’ ideas out of their heads and onto the page. Guerrero said that the rigorous word count benchmarks, along with the support of Ehrke and her classmates, served as crucial, external motivation.

“This was a lot harder than I expected and Laura is so overwhelmingly encouraging to everyone,” she said. “At first, it’s like when your mom says that kind of stuff. But then you realize she’s right – you can keep going.”

Harper student Kate Guerrero and faculty member Laura Ehrke stand on Harper's campus.

Guerrero (left) has enrolled in multiple courses taught by Harper instructor Laura Ehrke. Guerrero said that Ehrke's encouragement and the support of a cohort formed in the classes are crucial to her writing success.

Although Guerrero hit her NaNoWriMo word count goals, Burn and Balm wasn’t finished in a month and she wasn’t done with Harper either. She continued to enroll in Ehrke’s other classes in 2021-23, including recently introduced courses designed to assist authors like Guerrero as they develop and refine their works (such as 180 Day Novel Intensive and Novel Workshop Intensive). Over a couple of years, she worked on multitudes of revisions and even began a second novel when Ehrke introduced her to the statewide manuscript contest earlier this year.

With her instructor’s encouragement, Guerrero submitted to the manuscript contest, which involves all of the libraries in Illinois. Ehrke was confident Burn and Balm would do well; Guerrero wasn’t as sure. But she got a shot in the arm when she was named one of the contest’s three semifinalists this summer.

“Before that point, I was discouraged, because I thought, ‘Maybe I need to move on from this…,’” Guerrero said. “It was a nice boost and a reminder that I do want to do this!”

That validation of Guerrero’s talent and perspective was only solidified when she won the contest for unpublished Illinois authors in September. Prizes include a professional line edit and a professionally designed book cover.

Guerrero expressed gratitude for Harper’s courses and Ehrke’s counsel, as well as the enthusiasm and dedication of the cohort that formed among a handful of Harper writing students. She said that she would have never finished the manuscript without check-ins during classes (held online) and the feedback from her fellow authors. Ehrke agreed that something “magical” happens among her students and she is proud of their success.

“You feel this incredible creative energy generated during class. Ideas are sparked for both the student’s own manuscript and for their cohort’s works,” she said. “Writing is such a solitary road and it’s easy to veer off course, so this engagement keeps you committed to your projects.”

Guerrero now has multiple projects of her own. A freelance copywriter by day, she estimates that she’s more than 70% done with writing her second novel, about a married mother whose high school crush reappears in her life in a way that threatens her future and livelihood. After winning the Soon to Be Famous contest, she plans to explore her options to become published – something that seemed unattainable before took her first Harper course three years ago.

“It’s been a great experience. I never considered doing anything like this before the pandemic, but I’m so glad I did,” Guerrero said. “These courses are just a really great way to get a boost and have support.”

Last Updated: 3/14/24