Don’t be scared—simply write. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. Don’t worry about agents or publishers. Don’t worry about marketing. Just let the words pour out of you.
NLK: How did you start writing?
ES: I have always enjoyed writing, but didn’t take the idea of being published seriously until I was almost thirty. That is when I connected with others (like you!) who had the same passion, and suddenly, it was what I wanted more than anything. I wrote, and re-wrote, and re-re-wrote. I attended seminars and read books and just really dove in head first.
NLK: How did you first get published?
ES: My first novel, Blackbird Summer, was actually favored in a pitch contest on twitter. At the time, I had three fulls out (meaning that three different publishers were considering my MS). When I sent it to the editor at City Owl, I thought it would be a long while before I heard back, as that is typically the case. However, Heather flew through the story, and emailed me right away asking if we could chat. We talked on the phone and discussed what she liked about the book and what she’d suggest changing. We were very much on the same level, and her excitement was contagious. After we hung up, I did my homework researching the press as well as Heather. It turned out that she was an award-winning romance author with more than a few books under her belt. I signed with them the next week. It has been a great experience.
NLK: In your book Blackbird Summer (which I’ve read and loved by the way) one of the issues you tackle is the differences of Tallulah and her family in the community within which they live. How important was it for you that you tackle prejudice in your book?
ES: It is definitely one of the main themes in the book, and when I started outlining Blackbird Summer, I knew it was something I wanted to address. I hoped to do it in a way that didn’t feel preachy. It seems absurd that the people who live in Brooklyn Mississippi would look down on the Caibre family because of their magical Gifts. The Caibres have so much to offer, so much goodness to them that could enrich the town as a whole, but town’s people are blind to this and only see their differences and mistreat the family. The absurdity is easy to spot in a fictional story, but it is even more absurd in real life that people are mistreated for not fitting into the mold of the majority.
NLK: Do you have any tips for tackling a novel?
ES: There is so much advice out there that it is easy to get bogged down. I would say the very first thing you have to do is actually get the story out. Don’t be scared—simply write. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. Don’t worry about agents or publishers. Don’t worry about marketing. Just let the words pour out of you. Once you have it all down, then you can re-write and edit and really make it shine. Another tip that really helped me was to set a certain time that is your work time. During this hour or half hour or however many minutes you can spare, you are not allowed to check social media or surf the internet or text or anything else. Until the time is up, the only thing you are allowed to do is write. If you get 1 word or 1000 words, it doesn’t matter. The point is giving yourself a set time where writing is the priority.
NLK: How has your past shaped your writing?
ES: Oh goodness! My younger years weren’t typical, to say the least. I moved schools over eleven times, starting in grade five. I got very good at meeting people and putting myself out there. I got good at listening and observing, which helps with creating fleshed out characters.
And I have lived the ultimate angsty teen romance novel-slash-Nicholas Sparks novel. My senior year of high school, when I was set to have the best school year ever, my family decided to move again. I was crushed. Once we moved, however, I met a boy and it wasn’t quite so bad. Then, two weeks after we started dating, I was diagnosed with cancer. We have been together ever since. That was a real emotional time in my life, and those memories and feelings help me to dive deep when I need to get emotion on the page. Maybe that isn’t the healthiest way to write, but it works for me.
NLK: What advice would you give to new and emerging writers?
ES: Develop a good support system. There is a lot of rejection in this business, and it really helps if you have other writers to lean on. Also, having critique partners, beta readers, and people to kick around ideas with, is always helpful. Join organizations and groups. Some of my best writer friends are people I have met online.
NLK: Can you tell us about your next book?
ES: I have a lot going on, lol. I have a novella coming out which takes place in the same universe as Blackbird Summer. I am donating my portion of the proceeds to the Wounded Warrior project. I really love this story. It takes place in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War and is, at its heart, a love story.
The next full length novel I have scheduled for release, is the sequel to Blackbird Summer. I don’t have a title yet. I know—that’s terrible—but titles are kind of hard for me, lol. This story takes place a year after the events in Blackbird and are from Delia’s (the main character of Blackbird Summer’s sister) point of view. She is a lot more cunning than her sister and is a lot of fun to write!
I am also in the process of querying a women’s fiction project which I truly adore. Fingers crossed an agent loves it as much as I do!
Excerpt from Blackbird Summer
Just thinking his name sent a rush of dangerous bliss through me, making me feel things that I had never allowed myself to imagine possible. Romance. Lust. Those were just words on the pages of the paperbacks I read to fill my days working at the produce stand. The married couples in my family loved each other, sure. But their love grew to be. There was no locking eyes and intense feelings. It was all very proper. Planned. Analytical, even. Inquiries sent from one family to another. That’s how it has always been. That is how it has to be, the familiar lecture ran through my mind.
My emotions tore at each other, at war inside of me. Fear that I’d somehow made things harder for my family. Hatred and anger at Myrtle. Unexplainable desire and excitement over Logan. Sadness because nothing could ever come from those feelings. And if I am honest, maybe the tiniest bit of relief that it was out of my hands.
Most of all the unfairness of everything settled over me.
It was just too much.
About Em Shotwell
Em Shotwell is a cancer survivor, foster care advocate, white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and casual geek. Sometimes she writes books about misfits and the people who love them. When she’s not frowning at her computer screen, Em enjoys spending time outdoors hiking, or indoors daydreaming and wishing she could play the banjo.
Visit her website to claim your free ebook copy of THE CHANS.