In just three short days, calls will be going out to a select group of 2011 Golden Heart and RITA entrants that will change their lives.
That sounds like a cliche, doesn’t it? Can one simple phone call really have that much impact?
I finaled in 2008 (shout out to the Pixie Chicks!) and again in 2009. I clearly remember getting both those calls from RWA Board member Trish Milburn, and probably always will.
In 2008, she really sent me on a wild roller coaster ride in a matter of the 10 longest seconds of my life at exactly 9:01 am. When she first introduced herself, immediately my heart started racing. A call from an RWA Board member on March 25! OMG, I FINALED! But then she started asking me about a short story I’d published a few months before the entry deadline.
Crash and BURN! That’s why she was calling? Seriously?! To ask about a story? Why would she call me on that day, of all days? How could she get my hopes up like that? So cruel.
But no worries. I’m a romance writer, and we love our happy endings. Apparently someone in the RWA Office thought that my published short story might have been a novella, which would have disqualified me. So Trish needed to verify the wordcount first, and if it turned out that it was novella-length, then they would offer the finalist status to the next person on the list.
You could actually hear the relief in Trish’s voice when I confirmed that it was just 7,000 words. Then she said those lovely, lovely words, “Congratulations! Your manuscript finaled in the Young Adult category of the Golden Heart!”
When I met her in person at Nationals that year, Trish and I had a nice big laugh over it. And she was actually worried for me, too. She thought she was going to have to tell me I’d been disqualified. Thank goodness that wasn’t what happened. Not exactly the happy ending she wanted to convey.
When I decided to write this post, I thought it would be fun to ask some past Golden Heart finalists to tell us about their own call experiences and to pass along some advice for this year’s class.
I was struck by the number of past finalists who’d missed their calls, and went through the entire day (or even several days!) thinking they hadn’t finaled:
Denise Meinstad, one of my fellow 2008 Pixies, had been calling her voice mail all day “and all I kept hearing was ‘No new messages….’ At 4:30 I called once more and gave up, thinking it was too late. Everyone had been called. But when I got home I had a message from Terri Reed and I almost had a spaz attack. I called her back and left a message. She got back to me in two minutes and said she’d been calling me ALL DAY!!! She didn’t want to leave a message, but at 5:30 she finally did. That was a half hour after I left work, thinking it was over. I was crying so much I could hardly talk to her. I had to write it all down so I would remember what she said.”
2002 winner and author of 10 novels — including most recently “The Duke’s Night of Sin” — Kathryn Caskie, was on vacation in Disney World when the calls went out. “I kept checking my cell phone for any GH messages–but for two days there was nothing…Then the hotel phone rang. To my shocked delight it was one of my Washington Romance Writers buddies who had somehow tracked me down. She wanted to congratulate me for being a finalist in the Long Historical category and was shocked when I told her I hadn’t heard a word. After jumping on the bed, then remaking it, I ran down the hotel hallway screaming ‘yes!’ and doing odd ninja-like kicks. Suddenly Disney WAS the happiest place on earth!”
2007 and 2010 finalist Maureen McGowan, author of the upcoming YAs “Cinderella: Ninja Warrior” and “Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer”, writes: “In 2007, I got home very late to three voice mail messages, the last of which revealed the good news, but not which manuscript had made the cut. I’d entered two. I didn’t find out which manuscript it was until the next day.”
Double 2008 Inspirational finalist Christine Johnson, author of “Soaring Home”, was away from home and passed along her vacation number to RWA, but apparently the new number didn’t make it into her file. “I waited and waited by my phone and didn’t check email, which was dial-up, because I didn’t want to tie up the phone. When no call came for the umpteenth year in a row, I cried myself to sleep and once again questioned why on earth I put myself through the pain. The next day, I logged onto email and saw the message that I was a Golden Heart finalist. The elation doubled when moments later one of my writer friends informed me I was a double-finalist.”
Evidently some finalists were caught unaware, not even expecting a call:
Nancy Holland, one of the 2010 finalists, said, “When my phone rang, I thought it was my CP (who eventually won the GH) calling to tell me that she’d finaled. I never knew who actually was on the other end, because by the time the reality sunk in, she was already way past introducing herself. I couldn’t scream or anything because DH was still asleep, but he took me out to celebrate that night to make up for it.”
Fellow 2008 Pixie Chick Connie Gillam writes, “In my naivete, I didn’t know when the calls would go out. I was away from home in the morning and went to work at 3pm without checking my home phone. I checked my email from work about 6pm. There was an email from Julie Hurwutz (Region 6 director at that time) asking me to call her about the GH contest. When she informed me that I’d finaled, I asked her to repeat what she’d just said. I was ecstatic. After getting off the phone, I hugged the first person who ventured into the lab, a pathologist who didn’t know me very well and who isn’t exactly a touchy, feely person. I didn’t care. I was over the moon!”
You know the old romance mantra…emotion, emotion, emotion! Same thing applies to getting the Golden Heart call:
One of last year’s finalists Keely Thrall’scall came as an email because National didn’t have her work or cell numbers for some reason. “I remember staring at the screen for a minute – I had to ask a coworker to read the words again for me because I just didn’t believe it. Then I shot out of my chair and sped around Church House (my workplace) like I’d won the lottery. And I guess I did in a way! I remember putting on a gold blouse for specifically that morning for a little extra dose of luck. I *think* it worked. LOL!”
Jane Sevier from last year’s class writes, “Cinnamon toast had just gone in the oven when I heard my phone. Jeanne Adams was on the line telling me that I was a finalist in Romantic Elements. When I realized that I was going to cry, I struggled so hard not to go all Sally Fields on her that I couldn’t utter a word. Jeanne asked if I was all right, and then the dam burst. She said I was the first weeper she’d had that morning. Thank goodness I smelled the toast before it was completely incinerated.”
2008 finalist Cindy Nord had just put away her groceries and was starting to chop onions for dinner when she saw the light on the answering machine blinking. “My hands were shaking as I darted back to the machine and hit replay again…to make sure she’d said MY NAME. Six times later, I finally decided they hadn’t made a mistake and called the wrong person….they meant to call ME. When my husband walked in ten minutes later, I was sitting at the kitchen table holding the onion and…sobbing. He dropped his coat and dashed over, falling to one knee beside me. ‘My God, honey, what’s wrong?’ ‘L..listen to th..this….’ I said. Leaning sideways, I pressed the button on the answering machine. Needless to say, we had dinner out that night.”
Almost everyone chose to celebrate in some way:
Five time finalist (2007, 2008, 2009, and twice in 2010) Shelley Coriell, author of the upcoming YA “Welcome Caller, This is Chloe,” is a former food magazine editor. “When I got each of my Golden Heart calls, I celebrated by heading to the kitchen and treating myself and the fam to a ‘splurge’ dessert. You know the kind: high-calorie-high-fat-melt-in-your-mouth-stick-to-your-thighs delish. My favorite was the 2010 Oreo Cookie Cheesecake.”
Author of the sexy paranormal “Taste Me” and 2009 finalist Tamara Hogan celebrated the old-fashioned way. Shopping! “Soon after we came up with our Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog name, I went to my happy place — Nordstrom shoe department — and bought a pair of kickin’ red boots. “
For 2005 winner Gemma Halliday, author of 8 novels including the recent “Perfect Shot,” the biggest celebration was once she got to the RWA National Conference. “My family was happy for me when I got the call, and I was totally excited, but beyond jumping up and down, squealing, and wearing a huge grin all day, I didn’t really do a lot to celebrate. But that year was my first conference – and the first time I’d spent any time with romance writers in person – so I didn’t really get the full impact of what it meant to be a Golden Heart finalist until I was there, surrounded by other writers who knew exactly what a Golden Heart was and totally “got it”. I suddenly felt like a rock star! LOL!”
Speaking of the conference, try to go if you can:
2010 Historical winner Jacqui Nelson hadn’t planned to go to Nationals. “After the call, I still wasn’t certain because my finances were pretty tight. But finally I decided that I’d better go, and I used my tax refund to pay for the trip. It was the best decision I ever made. My advice? If you final, go to Nationals!”
Two-time finalist (2005 and 2007) Kristen Painter, author of the upcoming “Blood Rights” urban fantasy trilogy, says “Nationals as a Golden Heart Finalist is always fun because people want to talk to you about your book and congratulate you. Capitalize on the moment right now. Send queries stating your finalist status. Let anyone who has the book know. Get the word out to the industry people who matter.”
2005 finalist and author of “About a Baby” Ann Yost suggests researching agents and publishers with whom you want to interview. “Its a great opportunity to get your work in front of the right person. Don’t sweat the pitch too much — they are all pleasant and kind and will ask for chapters and a synopsis at least.”
2008 double finalist and winner Kris Kennedy, author of three medievals including the upcoming “Defiant,” was full of practical advice. “Do write a little speech and practice it. I know, I know, you’ll never need it. It’s just…someone will. And you’ll enjoy the ceremony more if you’re prepared. Remember who called you—you can say thanks when you meet face to face one day, and tell them how much it meant to you. The dress: When buying, remember it has to fit in a suitcase, unless you’re going to wear it while traveling. They let me hang mine in the front of the plane, but that was back in ‘08, before you had to pay for the air you inhale.”
2004 winner and author of 7 novels, including 2011 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence finalist “Meltdown,” Gail Barrett got right to the point. “Shop for your dress early. Wear comfortable shoes. Enjoy every minute of the glorious ride!”
Several finalists stressed that while the Golden Heart may be validation, it’s not the secret to success. Perseverence is.
Author of “Fair Game” Susan Andrews said, “I was an incredibly naive and new writer when I won the Golden Heart in 1986. I did publish the next year, but my relationship with my editor was combative to say the least, and I put writing aside for a very long time in 1991. I’m only getting back to it now! So, please blog that all writers need to write what they love and really love writing it, and remember that an editor does not necessarily know or understand what you love to write, especially not at the beginning. If I’d been able to put this all together in 1991, I’d be a multi-published author today. Instead, I’m back in the crowd with the rest of the newbies!”
Author of 5 Regency paranormals, including the recent “Earl of Darkness,” Alix Rickloff’s2007 final was when her husband finally realized she was serious “about this whole ‘writing as a career’ idea. It was also when I stopped feeling guilty about my writing because the house wasn’t clean or the laundry wasn’t done. OK–maybe I still feel an eensy bit guilty. 🙂 Even better, while I didn’t win the GH that year and the manuscript’s sat on my hard drive for the past four years, it just sold to Carina Press for release this fall. So I finally get to see those characters and that story come to life.”
Author of 15 Regencies (writing also under the name Diane Perkins), including the recent “Chivalrous Captain, Rebel Mistress,” Diane Gaston was a Golden Heart finalist twice, both times with the same manuscript. “After the call in 2001, I ‘floated’ for days. It was the most exciting thing that had happened to me since having my children. I didn’t win that year, but I did win in 2003—and the manuscript sold to the editors who judged it in the GH.”
Four-time finalist (2005, twice in 2006, 2008) and author of the recent “Taken by Desire” Lavinia Kentadded “Writing is a hard business and we all need to develop a strong shell for the criticism and rejection that will come our way. No matter how high you climb it never gets easy. I’ve published four hot, sensual novels with Avon and am working hard on a set of sexy, fun novellas for this summer and I live in fear of reviews, contract negotiations, sales numbers, and my critique group (there is nothing as difficult as the opinion of those you trust). So, revel in every joyous moment you get!”
But 2008 winner Susan Gee Heino, author of 3 Regencies including the upcoming “Damsel in Disguise,” had perhaps the best advice of all. “Golden Hearts and martinis with editors really and truly mean nothing unless we write. My advice to this year’s finalists is to keep that in mind. Yes, by all means go to National if you can afford it. Take advantage of all the Golden Heart Finalist perks, but don’t lose sight of what’s really important. You are a Writer. Writers write. After all the hoopla has died down, after all the contracts are signed and the happy dancing is over, it really doesn’t matter who won or who finaled or who didn’t. All that matters is that you Write. That, after all, is really what we are celebrating.”
She’s right, you know. So how much did you write today?
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