Monday, October 17, 2011

Passion Makes You Do Crazy Things

I hate public speaking.

Ten times out of ten, if I see it coming, I cross to the other side of the street and refuse to make eye contact. (Same goes for other sketchy characters like furniture dusting, laundry and meal planning.)

Now don’t get me wrong. When I’m one-on-one, I can out-speedtalk a telemarketer any day of the week. But put me in front of a group of people expecting me to say something profound, and invisible claws latch onto the back of my neck and send electric prickles of sheer panic shooting across my scalp, down my spine, and out my toenails.

In fact, I only have to imagine myself looking across the sea of faces and whatever scrap of intelligible thought I have vanishes. My heart pounds and my internal thermometer hits about 194 degrees. Celsius.

But I love writing. And I love talking to other people about writing. Ask my poor husband, who has to hear me talk about “book stuff” on a regular basis. But I can’t help it; I have a passion for story and its power to change the lives of those it touches.

And sometimes passion makes you do crazy things.

So when the English teacher at the local Christian school asked if I’d be willing to come and talk about writing with the high school seniors, my crazy story-loving side jumped up and down and squealed Yes, oh yes, I want to do this in the worst way while the rational side of my brain screamed No, you can’t do this! You know you can’t! You’re too young to die!!!

Before Rational Emily realized what was happening, Crazy Story-Loving Emily blurted, “What would I talk to the students about?”

“Whatever you want,” the teacher said.

And suddenly it was a done deal.

Crazy Emily clapped her hands and danced around saying, “Isn’t this awesome?! A captive audience! People who have to stay and listen to me talk about book stuff. This is going to be so much fun!”

Rational Emily went home and threw up.

* * *
The next day I sent a panicky email to a writing buddy and told her what I’d agreed to do.

Sally was supposed to say, “You did what?!”

Instead she said, “That’s great, Emily! The students will love you.”

“They will?”

“Of course.”

Her confidence was so complete and sincere it had me feeling self-assured in an instant. I could do this. I could entertain high-school students. I could talk about writing and make it interesting and fun. I could go toe-to-toe with Se┼ćor Public Speaking and watch that punk back right down.

“How do you know they’ll love me?” I asked Sally.

“Because you’re not their regular teacher. And you won’t assign homework.”

Oh. Right.

So I spent the next week stressing thinking about what to discuss with twelfth graders. I jotted notes and prayed and jotted some more and prayed a whole lot more, and only three times did I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

And I’m here to tell you I did it.

I went in there talked about how much I love writing. I talked about story world and the three-act structure of a plot. I showed how to create empathy for characters, and how to build goal, motivation, and conflict into a novel.

But mostly I talked about the Hero’s Journey—how story is really about a reluctant character who accepts a challenge and, despite the self-doubt and internal flaws, steps through a doorway and embarks on a journey. How that journey will bring him to the brink, challenge the core of who he is, force him to face his demons and in the end leave him changed for the better.

Because he did what he never dreamed possible.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mistletoe & Mischief wins!

Today I found out the second book in my series, Mistletoe & Mischief, won FIRST PLACE in Novel Rocket's Launch Pad contest (formerly Out of the Slush Pile). I had forgotten that I'd entered the contest so I was doubly excited to see that not only had I placed, I'd won! 

For various reasons (legal and otherwise) I can't usually post actual excerpts from my stories, so I have to admit I'm pretty excited that I have this special opportunity to give you all a chance to read and (hopefully) enjoy the first chapter of the novel.   

Here's the short blurb to get you in the mood:
         Erica Marks never dreamed helping a neglected cat would land her in jail . . .

        Now the soft-hearted cafe manager doesn't just want to pull of Maple Grove's first Christmas parade--she needs to. She's made a deal with the courts, and if she doesn't come through, the spirit of Christmas might not be the only thing in police custody.
        But keeping the handsome but aloof police chief from discovering her community service arrangement is the least of her problems. A troubled teen, a rash of vandalism, and continued feline antics threaten to rain on her parade. And as nuisance crimes escalate, Tyler and Erica get dangerously close to each other’s painful secrets. If the truth is exposed, it could cost their chance at love. And facing her fears will resurrect his worst nightmare...

For those of you who'd like to catch a sneak peek, here's the link to the first chapter. I'd love to hear what you think!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Emily in St. Louis

The Arch
It doesn't get much better than hanging with friends, except maybe the chance to hang with friends who share a passion for writing!

I was so blessed to be able to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers' conference in St. Louis last week, where I had a great time reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.

Being surrounded by 650 Christian writers and industry professionals for several days on end was phenomenal. Not only did we have the opportunity to learn more about writing through workshops, spotlights with different publishing houses, and continuing education classes, we got to share in worship and fellowship times.

I arrived a day early so I'd have a day to brainstorm with my good friend and critique partner, Sally. We had a great time plotting our next books, and in between our brainstorming sessions, we took the opportunity to do a little sightseeing. This is us at the Saturday gala, ACFW's annual awards banquet. 

My awesome roommie, Sally, putting up with my antics 
It was very exciting for me to have a chance to meet several of my critique partners for the first time. The picture below is of one of my critique groups, minus Karla, who couldn't attend this year but whose book O Canada!: Her Story is being released shortly. (It's a textbook for gradeschoolers combining a fun mix of Canadian history and biographies of famous Canadians. It can be preordered here: Yes, that was a shameless plug. If you have a child 4-8 years old, you should add this to their reading list!)
Going clockwise from me:
Jessica, author of a Love Inspired Historical releasing this spring
Camille, Genesis award winner & author of a Christmas novella coming this fall
Linda, agent at Hartline & author of a Christmas novella to be released late fall
Cheryl, who just contracted a three-book deal for a YA mystery series
 I'm blessed to be surrounded by such talented writers who constantly push, poke and prod at me to be better and who constantly offer encouragement. And as you may have noticed, they are all publishing their first books in the next few months (woohoo!), so expect more shameless plugs when the time draws nearer.... :)

Camille and I at the Gala Awards Banquet, where she
was named the Genesis winner of the Women's Fiction category! 
I had appointments with a few editors from different publishing houses and am thrilled to have received invitations to submit proposals for my project! I've been busy working with my agent to get these proposals out. Which is why it's taken me a week to get this post out. :)

My wonderful agent, Terry Burns and I at lunch

Camille, me, Karen (a Genesis finalist), and Carla Stewart, author of Chasing Lilacs and Broken Wings

Me with Joyce Hart, owner of Hartline Literary Agency
A view of the Mississippi River from beneath the Arch