Portraits by T.K. Sheffield
Being raised on a 10-acre former dairy farm in Wisconsin was a perfect fit for Kerri Lukasavitz—it allowed her to pursue her natural love of horses. “I’m sure the first word out of my mouth was horse,” she said. “I was born passionate about them.” Kerri had her first pony before fourth grade, rode long days with friends and competed casually in 4-H and local hunter shows in high school. After graduation, she worked in the hunter-jumper world from stable hand to instructor, farm manager and rider, then helped ride and train Arabians and Quarter Horses as she earned her undergraduate degree in art and design. “As much as I wanted to continue life around horses, it wasn’t in the cards for me.”
For nearly 18 years, Kerri specialized in kitchen and bath remodeling as well as historic period design as an interior architecture designer—before finally heeding the call to write. “I should have known I was headed toward a writing career,” she said. “I spent many happy hours creating ‘project scopes’ for each design—highly detailed lists of everything that was and wasn’t to be included in the project. The other designers disliked writing them, but I was delighted to sit in front of my computer and type away all afternoon.”
Kerri returned to her experiences in the hunter-jumper world to write the Oak Lane Stable novel series, four books following 12-year-old horse loving girls as they ride and show horses. “The books are more than just horse stories,” Kerri said. “There are friendship challenges, rival issues, bullying, jealousy, confronting internal fears, family dynamics, budding romantic crushes, dealing with loss and many other trials coming-of-age kids go through.”
Though Kerri and her husband live on the historic Hartford, Wisconsin, farm Kerri was raised on, they don’t currently have any animals—but Kerri has been rekindling her equestrian side after experiencing the power of equine-assisted therapy. “The first day I was there, I burst into tears when one of the horses nickered and reached out his beautiful face to me as I approached him—a sure sign I had been away from horses for too long!” she said.
What inspired you to write middle-grade books?
I’ve always enjoyed children’s literature, even as an adult. When I first worked on my undergraduate degree, I pursued illustration, with an eye on writing children’s books. When I entered a graduate writing program a few years later, I followed their track in writing novels for middle grade and young adult readers. I started “Mystery Horse at Oak Lane Stable (Book 1)” in my first semester there. It started out as a 20-page homework assignment. I only handed in 12 pages because I had no clue as to how to write a novel at that time.
What’s it like writing for that age group?
Writing for middle-grade readers is fun. The characters are usually sassy and still child-like despite trying to be “grown up.” The challenges they face as they experience life are wonderful to write about. Writing for children is more difficult than writing for adults—I have to be very careful of the language I use and that the characters’ actions are not too adult. The stories have to be realistic and believable, too, otherwise young readers will put the book down and not finish it. The books can’t be full of didactic lessons, either. Young readers are far too smart for that.
How did writing your books impact your life?
The books have sent me down an entirely new career path, one I never expected to follow professionally when I was younger. They’ve given me the opportunity to meet some wonderful people, whether that’s a class of fifth graders and their teacher, fans of the books or other writers working hard at their craft.
What are you doing in the horse world now and what are your goals?
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go on an impromptu trail ride with some friends. It was the first time I had ridden in nearly 13 years. The desire to ride and be around horses regularly again was rekindled instantly. I will continue to trail ride for fun, but I’ve been looking for a stable to ride at and possibly lease or even buy a horse of my own in the future. Although I’ve mostly ridden hunt seat, I would like to learn more about dressage. And, as odd as this might sound, I think it would be fun to show again—not to be super intense or anything but to enjoy the comradery of the other riders and be around a show environment again.
I’d also like to travel to some of the better-known equestrian places, like the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event; Middleburg, Virginia, for its history and foxhunting; ride in Ireland and attend the Dublin Horse Show; and see the Devon Horse Show, to name a few.
What are your goals in the writing world?
I have two picture book manuscripts written—one needing some minor edits before sending out to an agent and the other one is a rough draft. I thought when I finished “Ghost Horse at Oak Lane Stable (Book 4)” that the series was complete; however, there is still room to add another book or two (fans of the series will love this sentence). As an artist, though, I feel the need to challenge myself and work in a new direction for now. I’ve had an idea about a young adult novel with a 16-year-old boy as the main character who is around horses. Writing from the perspective of the opposite sex is not always convincing, but this novel is starting to take shape so it’s time for me to start working on it and see where it goes.
What’s the best thing about your life?
Being comfortable in my own skin—something I always had a hard time understanding when I was younger—and having deep gratitude for where I am now. I enjoy having the opportunity to write full-time and offer new books to my readers when they’re published. I love our beautiful home. I have incredible writing friends who keep me moving forward with my work. And I’m delighted to be able to ride again and be around horses, which makes my inner horse-crazy girl very happy. My life is rich and full of daily, beautiful experiences.
What’s the best-kept secret about what you do?
I didn’t know where any of the novels were going to go. That’s right, zero. I might have had an idea for each one, but I never knew how the novels would progress, which characters were going to appear or disappear from the story lines, or what would happen overall. I know this sounds crazy, but I write very much from the seat of my pants—as it’s referred to. Some writers create a detailed outline, a synopsis, and track every little thing about their novel in spreadsheets before starting. I don’t. I sit down, get out of the way and let the story come through me and onto the page. If I try to control the story and make it “my” way, it will behave very much like a stubborn pony, refusing to budge until I stop pulling on the lead rope. It took a few years of practice to understand this about my writing process. You have to give the story room to blossom on its own.
For more information, visit kerrilukasavitz.com or Instagram @kerri_lukasavitz
Photos by T.K. Sheffield. Thanks to Becky Milne for her horses and Maple Lane Farm for the location used in the photo shoot.