Guest Blog: 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Janet Walden-West

Today we’re delighted to welcome Janet Walden-West, another of the Omegas, the 2019 Golden Heart Finalists. Janet is a finalist in the Contemporary Romance with her manuscript Salt + Stilettos.

Janet is also a long-time friend of the Rubies and a hard-core participant in our yearly Winter Writing Festival, and we’re already huge fans of her fabulous writing voice! Regular Ruby readers know about our annual Make It Golden Contest, in which competitors submit 50-word book openings, Rubies select ten finalists from all the entries, and then finalists submit a longer 250-word version to compete for the top prizes. The entries are always AMAZING, so competition is incredibly fierce. Well, the very talented Miz Walden-West has finaled EVERY YEAR FOR THE PAST FOUR YEARS, and has been one of our final winners TWICE.

Janet lives in the southeast with a pack of show dogs, a couple of kids, and a husband who didn’t read the fine print. A card carrying Crazy Dog Show Lady, she’s easily distracted by great cars and bad coffee. A founding member of the East Tennessee Creative Writers Alliance and The Million Words craft blog, she is also a member of Romance Writers of America. She pens Urban Fantasy that escapes the neat confines of the city limits in favor of map-dot hillbilly towns, and inclusive Romantic Suspense and Contemporary Romance.A #PitchWars alum and Golden Heart® finalist, her first short story, “Road Trip,” is included in the CHASING THE LIGHT anthology. She is represented by Eva Scalzo of Speilburg Literary Agency.

Here’s a blurb for Salt + Stilettos:

Growing up red-dirt poor, Brett Fontaine learned image matters, you can’t count on family, and marriage is another word for misery. Leaving that past in her rear-view, her new reality is the best Jimmy Choo collection in Miami and a position as the go-to image consultant in South Beach. With a strict CYA policy of never mixing business with pleasure, she’s good with uncomplicated hookups who can see themselves out the door. Unfortunately, her latest client—the muscled chef with the intriguing tataus—is making it difficult to stick to her no-complications rule.

Will Te’o expected plenty of challenges establishing a fine dining restaurant in Miami’s chic foodie scene. However, falling for the fierce consultant with the power to make or break his career wasn’t one of them. He’s already learned mainland women prefer manscaped and unencumbered, not hulking and rough around the edges. But he wants the same kind of Happily Ever After his parents had and is determined to cook his way past Brett’s relationship reservations.

While their kitchen heats to scorching, Will’s traditional Samoan family obligations crash into their modern Miami life, leaving Brett questioning whether she’s repeating her parents’ mistakes, all while a smear campaign led by ghosts from her past threatens both their careers and their chance at love.

Oh, man!!! I know this going to be FANTASTIC!! I’ve loved all of Janet’s 250-word openings for the Make It Golden Contest, and adore her sassy, fresh, funny contemporary voice. I can’t wait to read A WHOLE DANGED BOOK!!!

Instead of choosing the the interview option today, Janet volunteered to pen a guest post.

And it’s on a topic very dear to the Rubies’ hearts: the ways writers don’t have to go it alone. 

Take it away, Janet!!!


Does It Really Take A Community To Raise A Writer?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged…that writing is a lonely, solitary occupation. Hours, days, weeks of toiling alone in our isolated tower, with only the characters in our heads keeping us company.



Yeah. No.

I’m not buying that, guys.

Okay, writers may type out the words alone. Ya’know, unless you’re sitting at a writer’s retreat or a chapter event or downtime during a signing/conference or the kids’ soccer game or chauffeuring someone to an appointment…clearly, the architect of the lone writer concept was neither a woman nor anyone with kids or extended family obligations.

Anyway. I maintain that we, as writers, and our stories, are participants and products of a much larger, interconnected web.

I wouldn’t be sitting here with a salted caramel latte and ear-buds, in a partially successful bid to drown out the lunch crowd descending on my fave coffee shop, pecking away on my “Welcome the Golden Heart Class of 2019” post, without the greater writing community.

Like many of you, while I was a voracious reader, I didn’t envision writing as a career. Authors were these mythical heroes and heroines on far-off pedestals. I certainly never saw myself as imaginative enough to write—pretty sure my thesis advisor took up day-drinking long before I was able to come up with a viable dissertation idea.

The Great Thesis Crisis of 2001 one-hundred-percent solidified my certainty that I was no writer.

At least, until a new baby and sleep deprivation-induced cray-cray ended in 100,000+ words. A real, live story. Except I had zero idea of what came after writing The End. But there had to be something, right?

So I started searching for information, and found my then-local RWA chapter and their contest. Hmm. Feedback was included as part of entering. Feedback sounded good. Why not go for it?

Bless their hearts, those judges were superhumanly kind and encouraging to a painfully clueless newbie, whose story was really an Urban Fantasy with romantic elements. Their welcome, the helpful comments, and euphoria of placing led me to look for other contests, which led to a post on contest secrets by Ruby Sister Darynda Jones. I was lucky enough to stumble on the Rubies group close to the beginning of the Winter Writing Festival. Thanks to the chat room sprints, I found my first crit partner, and over the years connected with other writers, Rubies who generously provided first chapter, pitch, and plot critiques, and whose enthusiasm and support helped me finish three more manuscripts (spoiler alert—one ms became my GH entry).

Eventually, someone in one of the Ruby sprints mentioned conventions. Huh. A whole hotel full of genre writers? How cool is that? I found a semi-local one that one of my favorite writers was a guest at, AND that listed a writer’s tract with classes. Score. Sign me up! Because of that decision, I met a handful of like-minded writers, and over the course of a three-day weekend, a handful of strangers morphed into The Roaring Writers, a yearly writer’s retreat, a group craft blog, and collaboration on an anthology.

Our anthology opened new doors, with a real, live editor asking if I’d submit to an anthology they had in the works.

The convention circuit also hooked me into author-Twitter, where I discovered a whole new world of pitch contests. Again, not knowing better, I jumped right into one (my M.O. for life, basically) called Pitch Wars.

That entry led to working with some incredibly generous mentors, and later, to meeting three other amazing writers. Those writers are now my ride-or-die/we-talk-daily CPs. We’re comfortable enough to read each others manuscripts, pitches, and blurbs, tear them apart, then help put them back together into something stronger, shinier, and better. We’ve brainstormed whole new worlds into being. Their trust allowed all of our writing to jump to another level. As of this month, all of us are now agented and revising/on submission/contracted.

As my community grew, so did my skills, and the opportunities available. None of my success—the mentorships, the contest wins, the group blog, the agent, the publishing offers—would have happened without my ever-expanding community of writers and publishing professionals. These people are pure gold, and I cherish them all just as highly.

So, are writing communities necessary? Maybe not. But do they make a writer’s journey faster and far, far less painful? Definitely.

What about you guys? Do you have crit partners or groups that keep you motivated and on track? Where did you find your writing-soul mates?

Find Janet Walden-West on Social Media:

​Twitter: @JanetWaldenWest
Instagram: janetwaldenwest
Amazon: Janet Walden-West
The Million Words Blog

50 responses to “Guest Blog: 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Janet Walden-West”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    So delighted to have you with us, Janet!!

    I feel a tiny bit like we helped discover you!!

    And, yes, it’s definitely been my experience that the Romance community is amazing and so supportive, and nobody has to go it alone.

    My Rubies are of course my rock, and I’ve gained so much from being part of my other GH classes as well, the Firebirds and the Unsinkables.

    And I’d never get anything done without the inspiration and inspired criticism of my wonderful CP, Eileen Emerson.

    • You ladies DID discover me, and helped me discover my romance voice. Between your cheerleading and Hope, Autumn,and Tamara and the Sprint Crew, you guys have helped me fine-tune plot, fix pacing, write pitches, and finish four manuscripts.
      The Rubies are my heroes.

      • Elisa Beatty says:


        So looking forward to actually MEETING you at Nationals!

        I’ll be wearing my pen name, Lara Archer, on my badge…but I’m sure Eileen will introduce me around to the Omegas.

  2. Hear, hear,

    Janet’s got it absolutely right. We could go it alone as writers, but I doubt we would get very far. It’s both encouraging and humbling that so many author paths follow a similar trajectory: the solitary work, then the sharing with, learning from, and giving back to the community.
    There’s no way I’d have signed with an agent without my beautiful CPs, the support of the writer’s community, and the wisdom of Romancelandia in particular.
    And beyond the actual writing, it’s important to have someone in your corner, who fully understands the madness of this roller coaster of an endeavor.

    • No joke, my writing leveled up dramatically after we all meet and began sharing manuscripts and pitching ideas and solutions around.
      Our chats help keep me balanced out on bad days, and give me sisters to celebrate with on good days.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I don’t know how anyone ever finishes a book without a tribe.

      And you’re absolutely right: step three in the process is reaching out and giving back to people just getting started on the path!

  3. Anne Raven says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this entire post!

    Writing is a tough road to walk, and I would never have survived this long without the community, but especially my CPs. “Ride-or-die/talk-every-day” writers who totally *get* you are priceless. It’s amazing what kind of bonds you can form with fellow writers, even when you’ve never met in person. Or when they live all the way on the other side of the world. For me, having those relationships, where you can trust your CP to always, always have your back, either by offering unbreakable encouragement, or telling you when something’s not working, is absolutely vital.

    As Janet is my CP-bestie, I’m adding how incredibly proud I am of her and everything she’s achieved! She’s going to have a long and successful career, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her future.

    • If I was ever going to believe in miracles, the impulsive decision to toss my name into a CP Match on Twitter, and then getting matched with you would be my gold standard.
      That fateful match led to polishing Salt+Stilettos so that it was chosen for Pitch Wars, which led to finding Regina and Mega, the last two cornerstones of our Writing Power Couple (Power Menage?) 🙂

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Sweeeet!! How awesome that you two have each other’s backs!!

  4. Becke Turner says:


    You make an excellent point about our writing community. No writer is an island. So many writers have paid it forward to me in a million small ways from personal support to writing tips. I wrote for fifteen years without support because there was no Internet. And then I found RWA–instant friends. More important I met hundreds of talented, supporting women. I had no idea!

    There I found my CP. We encourage, commiserate, and have fun. You’ve got to keep the fun in it. That’s the element that makes our work and our life shine.

    Looking forward to our meet up in NYC.

    • Becke,
      Paying it forward is so true. I’ve never been involved with any other group, professional or hobby, that was as welcoming and supportive as the writing community. Romancelandia is especially warm and giving.
      I’m looking forward to meeting as many Rubies as possible next month.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      “I wrote for fifteen years without support because there was no Internet.”


      I don’t think anyone who grew up taking the internet for granted can imagine how isolating the world used to be.

      Amen for the internet!!

  5. Elizabeth Langston says:

    Welcome to the blog, Janet!

    I think romance writers have to be the luckiest writers in the world. We are so supportive. Whether someone needs a large group or small group or one other fellow writer who “gets you”–there is a community for everyone.

    I have people I can brainstorm with–but I’ve never had a CP. That’s why the Rubies are so important for me; they’re the sisterhood who keeps me from feeling alone. And this is our 10th anniversary year, still going strong.

  6. Janet! I’m so excited to see you on the blog today and CONGRATULATIONS on your final – I’ll be cheering for you in NYC!

    I loved this look into your writing journey and I have to agree 100%. Was I writing long before I found RWA & contests & conferences? Yep. But my skill absolutely leapt forward when I got some writing buddies in my corner. It was a game changer for me. My career has totally been shaped by the people I’ve met along the way.

    Good luck in NYC!

    • Janet Walden-West says:

      “But my skill absolutely leapt forward when I got some writing buddies in my corner. It was a game changer for me. My career has totally been shaped by the people I’ve met along the way.”

      Yes. This. All this.
      I have no doubt that my writing style and career goals would be much different if I hadn’t found this support early on in my journey.

  7. Jennifer Bray-Weber says:

    Wow, oh WOW! First I’d like to say that I LOVE the Salt + Stilettos blurb. Sounds like a real winner!

    Second, great post, Janet!

    It’s true, we write alone, but, well, not. I started out on an online critique group, made four amazing connections. While we eventually went separate ways, those early days were our bedrock. We absolutely supported one another as we each grew. At the same time, I connected with a few people at my local RWA chapter. The support, advice, growing pains, and such with these writers have brought me unparalleled friendship and personal growth. They have been a huge part of my life and career. And of course, I have my Ruby sisters. They have been just as invaluable to me. I am truly blessed to have so many amazing friends. They are my tribe and I love them all!

    Good luck in NYC!

    • Jennifer,
      Thank you! I can’t believe my story and I are going to NYC. It wouldn’t have happened without you guys, and all the positive feedback from the Post-A-Snippet and Make It Golden days. Those gave me the boost to keep writing, even when that inner critic was snarking in my ear.

  8. Fenley Grant says:

    Hi, Janet!

    So happy to share our Omega experience with you.

    Your post struck a chord. One of my critique groups held a ‘good bye’ dinner last evening for a member moving to California.

    Of course it’s possible to stay in touch and e-mail with each other, but it isn’t the same as a face-to-face get together filled with laughter and camaraderie and excellent suggestions to improve your work. We laughed A LOT last night.

    So here’s to the fellow authors who help us and lift us up and keep us sane.

    Can’t wait to see you in NYC!

    • “So here’s to the fellow authors who help us and lift us up and keep us sane.”

      I don’t think non-writers, no matter how supportive, can ever understand the ups and downs of this industry. Community truly does help keep us sane.

      I can’t wait for our GH meetup next month.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I love the idea of critique groups who actually get together face to face and eat and drink and laugh and really get to connect that way!!!

      Maybe when my kids are grown I can find one of those…

      Which part of California is your friend moving to? I’m a member of SFARWA (San Francisco Area) and while I rarely make it to meetings myself, I know there’s a strong and committed core of folks who get together at least once a month on Saturday mornings.

  9. Rosie Danan says:

    Janet, I LOVE your writing voice. It’s so delightful. Can’t wait to read more.

    I found my writing community primarily through PitchWars. I have close relationships with my class as well as mentors and alumni. Have you stayed in contact with many PW pals?

    • Rosie,
      Thank you!

      I lucked up with both my mentors, JC Nelson in ’14 and the ever-fabulous Brighton Walsh in ’17. They are both always available for questions, advice, and hand-holding.

      I got equally lucky with both classes of PW alums. The 2014 class was my first experience with a larger group of writers committed to getting published, and we are still a tight Facebook family, cheering each other on five years later.

  10. Wonderful post darling… got me in the feels. Heart to chest, everyday I am so grateful for my CP. Met her in a now defunct, online writing community. When I found out one of her books was set in Baltimore, but she’d never been there, BUT I had lived there … well, I drug her butt to Charm City. She’s thirty years younger than me, but smart and sassy and we lift each other up. I’ve made so many great friends over the last few years in this supportive writing community, and some new one since the GH announcement. Can’t wait to meet you and them! Thanks again for your inspiring post.

  11. Claire DeWolf says:

    Great post, Janet.

    I found my CP when I asked her if I could get a manuscript copy of one of her short stories so I could break it down and see how she built the sexual tension. She agreed but asked if she could do it with me. We printed it out, marked it up Margie Lawson style, and spread it down my hallway. Both of us learned a lot and after that, we became office mates.

    Can’t wait to meet you at Nationals. xo

  12. Tracy Brody says:

    So glad you found your tribe of peeps and your ride-of-die CPs, Janet. Congrats on being a Golden Heart finalist! Elise has already raved about your work and with the blurb, I’m looking forward to reading this – hopefully soon. 🙂

    I first joined a crit group outside of RWA but the one that was most helpful was one through my local chapter. While life has interrupted the writing journey of several of those ladies, I’m still crit partners and do writing getaways with one who has read my stuff multiple times. Sometimes (okay often) I initially buck her advice, but come to see she was right. 😉 I’ve also been blessed to work with some of my Golden Heart sisters to get feedback but am kind of missing out on formal, motivating me to put my hiney in a chair CPs. I’m not sure why I’m a bit hesitant of finding them, but do need some who I click with. Anyone else looking hit me up.

    • “Sometimes (okay often) I initially buck her advice, but come to see she was right.”

      Not gonna lie–there’s some NSFW language sometimes when I open crits.

      After the swearing and stomping wear off, I go incorporate 99% of the suggested changes though, because they are right and I *know* they’re right. I value tough love and I’m incredibly lucky to have crit partners that I can trust, and that hopefully trust me, to be honest.

  13. Ann Chaney says:

    Janet, Love your book title! Salt & Stilettos! That title alone conjures up a great story! Can’t wait to read!

    Your post on writing communities is spot on. One of the best aspects of writing is the people you meet along the way. I’m part of two groups who meet once a year for a week long retreat. One happens in November and one in April. I count down the days until we meet each year. I also meet every Thursday with two writer friends at Panera over bagels and cups of tea. I’m blessed to have so many writers who trust me and I trust them to brainstorm, critique and just listen.They are my safe place.

    • Ann,
      Thank you!

      The concept of CPs as a safe place is just perfect. Having people you can safely meltdown with, and they’ll get you back on your feet again, no judgement, really is priceless.

  14. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Well, phooey…got an error code…did not copy & now have to write from memory…

    So, here goes…I have to say first of all how proud I am of you! Can’t wait to read “Salt & Stilettos”:)!

    I am so lucky that you took me on as my CP…this “painfully clueless newbie”. Braveness, or maybe it was your “jump right in” ‘tude or both that made you take a chance on me. All I do know is that I would be 80K poorer and still saying I would love to write a book. Thanks to a friend who encouraged me to take a look at the WWF, the sprints and the “chatroom ladies” who, though not judges were/are superhumanly kind and encouraging”.

    So this is where found my writing soulmates, my extraordinary & patient CP. Yeppers, I do think it takes a community of like-minded generous & honest folks to raise a writer.

    Thank you, thank you, JW-W!

    • Cyn,
      I am so happy our paths crossed in the sprints. You are an awesome CP and have been an amazing, supportive friend. I can’t wait to see your story in the Scholastic catalog and on the kiddos’ library shelves.

  15. What a great post, Janet! The support of fellow writers and especially my Ruby sisters keeps me sane, smiling and motivated. I’m so glad you found your own writing support.

    Have fun and best of luck in NY. The blurb for Salt and Stilettos made me want more!

  16. Anna Collins says:

    Yes, CPs are invaluable! I think ten years ago, I would have been too introverted and too worried about being judged to seek other writers out, so I credit age with a certain amount of who-gives-a-sh**? You can’t grow trapped inside your own little box.

    Pitch Wars did it for me for sure – I now have a handful of CPs and beta reader to go to when I need, and I fully intend to build on that network. Your tight group sounds inspiring! See you in NY! 😀

    • Right?
      My agent didn’t come as a direct result of Pitch Wars, but the revisions I did with Brighton, all the homework I internalized on how to write a tighter romance, and the CPs that came from it did contribute directly.

      See you in NYC!

  17. Rubies,
    Thank you so much for allowing me to visit today, and for all your support and help over the years.
    You ladies rock!

  18. Lisa Heartman says:

    Such a fun blog, and you are so right. I wouldn’t be where I am today with the writing community. My local RWA chapter mates, contest feedback, conferences, blogs, and the best critique partners this side of the Grand Canyon.

    And don’t forget the book blurb, so great! I can’t wait to read more some day soon.

  19. Sara Whitney says:

    “The Great Thesis Crisis of 2001” made me laugh and laugh. Boy howdy, those long academic documents can lead to some dark nights of the soul, can’t they??

  20. Janet Raye Stevens says:

    Great post, Janet (and great first name!). You’re so right — writers need other writers! This journey is exciting and challenging, but also a twisty, up-and-down roller-coaster. Having writer friends to hold us up and celebrate with is so important. I’m thrilled to be an Omega with you and looking forward to meeting you in NYC!


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