Monday, 17 February 2014

Why I'm Rooting for Eddy the Jet in Sochi

I fell in love with short track speed skating in 2002. Four years later, while watching the Torino Olympics, I decided I wanted to write a book about teenage Olympic hopefuls. That book turned out to be Picking up the Pieces, a story about a snowboarder, a skier, an ice dancer, a hockey player, and a short track speed skater. I self-published it right after I graduated high school.

That same year, the short track speed skating national championships were held in St. Louis, just 6 hours from where I live. My mom and I made the drive. While there, I got to meet some of my favorite speed skaters, including Apolo Ohno, Kimberly Derrick, JR Celski, Alison Baver, Ryan Bedford, Jessica Smith, and Katherine Reutter. They were all incredibly friendly and kind. I even gave Katherine a copy of my book. I was so nervous to even talk to her, but she was amazing.

So where does Eddy come in? I never met him. I wish I had (and had gotten his autograph.) Actually, I met his parents--and briefly at that--but I'll never forget it for many reasons.

My mom and I sat in front of Eddy's parents during one of the days of the competition. Eddy's parents saw that I had a brought a few copies of my book and were both excited and impressed that a teen wrote a novel, let alone one with a speed skater as a main character. They bought a copy. I had intended to just give them away to some of the skaters, but his parents insisted on giving me something for it. It was a pretty cool moment. They were as nice as could be.

We continued to talk, and they told me about Eddy, how he liked to play baseball, but also wanted to make the Olympic team someday. My mom's response was "I'm sure he will." Six years later, my mom was right. Eddy was a rock star at the Olympic trials, and though US speed skating has had some tough luck in Sochi thus far, Eddy still has a chance to bring home some Olympic hardware.

Since 2008, Picking up the Pieces has changed immensely. Even though I self-published the book, I dreamed of more. I knew it could be better. During the five years that followed, the book underwent some much needed serious revisions. (The more I learned about creative writing, the more I realized that the book I wrote as a team was a well-intentioned hot mess!)

The book is now called Podium Finish. The 5 main characters were cut down to 2--Harper, the hockey player and Alex the figure skater--but I couldn't cut short track out completely, so Rye, Harper's boyfriend and Olympic short track hopeful is still in the book. It was published in November 2013, and since then, has remained on 3 Amazon top 100 lists. Not bad!

As an athlete myself, I know what it's like to put hours of training in, all the while hoping for your big break. Writers face the same uphill battle. Querying is a daunting process. I had an agent for Podium Finish at one point. I even had publishers who liked the book's premise, but couldn't take it on because it was too similar to a book they'd already signed. Then my agent decided to leave agenting side of the buisness to become an editor, her true passion. I was gutted. I felt like I'd come so close, but hadn't landed a publisher. There was nothing more I could do but revise and keep trying to find an outlet for my novel. There were moments when I had my doubts, when I thought I wasn't a good enough writer, and wondered if it anyone would even like my book.

In these moments, I thought about what inspired the novel in the first place. The Olympics. I thought about how athletes make years of sacrifice for just a few minutes on the world stage, and how I had to keep trying, because after all, that's what the book was about. I thought about short track and how even though my sports, shot put and martial arts, are so different than racing around an ice rink at 35 mph, those athlete were the ones I looked up to. And lastly, I thought about Eddy's parents. It sounds corny, I know, but sometimes a chance meeting can have a big impact. We don't always know the impact our kindness has on other people, and for a shy 18-year-old self-published author, that kindness is a memory I won't forget.

I'm glad I didn't give up on the manuscript. It's success in the past three months has made all the revision worth it. But I don't know that I would have felt it was all worth it if I hadn't met people who were interested in the book's premise in it's earlier form. Before the agents and publishers, before the 5 star reviews and classification of being an Amazon best seller, there was a couple from Florida who thought it was pretty cool I wrote a book, and now their son is representing USA in Sochi.

So, of course I'm cheering for all of Team USA, especially our short track speed skaters, but most of all, I'm rooting for Eddy and want to wish him the best of luck. He deserves it. I just wish I could be sitting there in front of his parents this time around, but alas, I'll be cheering from my couch in Arkansas.

Good luck Eddy!!!!! I hope you have a podium finish of your own!

**In celebration of the Olympics, PODIUM FINISH is on sale for just 99 cents on kindle. You won't find a better deal so get your copy today! (If you don't have a kindle, there are kindle for iPhone and kindle for PC apps that work great.)

***UPDATE: The men's relay won silver! Congrats Eddy, Jordan, JR and Chris! Nice podium choreography by the way :)

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