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2019 Golden Heart Finalist Sheri Taylor-Emery on The Surprises That Come Along the Way

Hard to believe that RWA Nationals starts one week from today!!

We’ve still got a few Omega guests left to introduce before we all gather in New York, and today we’ve got the lovely Sheri Taylor-Emery, a 2019 Golden Heart Finalist for Best Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance with her book THE SODA FOUNTAIN SISTER AND THE FLOWER LADY.

Sheri Taylor-Emery is an art director in Atlanta, Georgia, who found out far too late in life that what she really loves to do is write. She also loves her husband, kids, dog, three cats, her volunteer work at a dog rescue, her critique partner and her various and sundry friends in the U.K. She is an unabashed anglophile and a hopeless romantic who doesn’t like pina coladas but who rides her bike whenever she can pry her butt out of the chair at her computer. She is repped by Carly Watters at P.S. Literary, who Sheri feels sure would love this book to be the one she can sell. Quirky fact: Member of Mensa

Let’s learn a little more about THE SODA FOUNTAIN SISTER AND THE FLOWER LADY:

In the 1930s my grandmother and her sister were abandoned by their mom at a soda fountain in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve never forgotten that story and it’s the genesis of my book. The rest, however is fiction.

In the novel, two sisters are abandoned by their mother in an Atlanta soda fountain in 1963. The younger of the sisters, Bea, goes on to become a successful Hollywood actress. The older sister, Dee, has led a life defined by bad choices in men and booze. Twenty-five years after their abandonment, the local newspaper does a “where are they now” retrospective on the sisters. Edna Mason, a dying British ex-pat reads the article and for reasons known only to her, decides to leave her flower shop to Dee. But there’s a catch. Over the course of a year, Dee has to make an honest effort to learn the business, then she can keep it or sell it. She has to do this under the watchful eye of the woman’s nephew, Liam. Handsome, British, a pain in Dee’s ass.

Wow, Sheri! What a piece of family history! And what a great way to explore the emotional ramifications through fiction!! (I’m dying to find out why Edna left Dee the flower shop!!)

Folks, Sheri’s here today to talk about the element of surprise…in a writer’s life.

Take it away, Sheri!

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The Surprises That Come Along the Way

To say I was gobsmacked to get a phone call from a RWA board member telling me I was a finalist in this year’s Golden Heart Contest would be a gross case of understatment. I nearly ran off the road. Not a good idea on busy I-285, the circular highway that surrounds Atlanta.

Honestly, I’d forgotten I’d entered, which only upped the shock factor.

Equally astonishing is to be blogging on the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood website. I’m still trying to convince myself that what I write in my novels is worth someone taking the time to read, so you can imagine the head games I’m playing at the moment.

This recent unexpectedness seemed like a perfect raison d’être for a blog post.

Surprise.

We’re told it’s a critical element in our writing, but I believe it’s crucial to our writer’s journey — that we must remain open to and embrace the element of surprise.

Wallow in the wonder of the idea that comes to you in a dream, the “what if” that hits you in the shower, the characters that demand you listen to them. Find magic in the scene that seems to flow out of you, the sentence you reread two days later and has you asking in amazement, “did I write that?”

On my path, I’ve had more than my fair share of surprise. When I first started writing I was a thirty-something, working as a newspaper designer, who decided to take a class. I piddled at writing. I started a book. I had 17,000 words and I entered three chapters and a synopsis in a contest at my first-ever writer’s retreat. It won best novel. $75 and a plaque. THAT was unexpected.

I got married, then pregnant and put that beginning of a book on a shelf for 18 years. When my daughter graduated high school I dusted it off and finished CRAZY QUILT in three months. I joined an online writer’s community run by Harper Collins UK (authonomy.com). I made great friends, got tremendous support and feedback and over the course of the year the editors on the site picked my book as a Wednesday One to Watch (surprise!) and it moved up to the “editor’s desk” on the site which meant I got a review by a HC editor (surprise!)

Later, I attended a large writer’s conference. I met agents and editors. It was terrifying, and by the end of the day I was beaten down. I left before the awards were handed out. Two days later I received a surprise I’d missed by leaving early — a certificate from an editor at St. Martins Press for the best manuscript she’d received for critique.

When one of my UK friends encouraged me to stop working on my second book and focus on an idea that was burning a hole in my brain, I listened. Another friend encouraged me to join WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers Association). I finished the burning-brain book, THE FIFTY-WEEK WIFE, and on a whim, submitted it to the WFWA Rising Star Contest for unpublished works. What’s to lose, right?

Again, forgetting I’d entered, on the day the five finalists were announced my name was on the list. Big surprise!

That fall, while half dead with bronchitis, and watching the live stream of the awards presentation from home, I was brought to tears when I was announced the winner.

Even more surprising was that one of the judges asked for my full manuscript. She read it in a day and called me. When she offered me representation the surprise-o-meter was off the scale.

These surprises seem to jump out and grab me when I need them most, when I allow that self-doubt monster to wrestle control. These little stepping stones encourage me to put one foot in front of the other and push me along to the next chapter in the journey.

What I shouldn’t be surprised by, but am grateful for beyond measure, is the support of this year’s other Golden Heart finalists. It’s a sisterhood I never expected to be a part of but can’t imagine not having in my life.

I’m still here in the trenches, writing, struggling, trusting my heart and hoping that the next book will be “the one.”

I remain open to possibility and the surprise it brings and I hope you will, too.

 

A question for all of you today:

The main character in my GH finalist book was surprised that Edna left the flower shop to her. Dee called it a gift of grace from a stranger, to the motherless child that lived inside a grown woman.

What has been the biggest surprise on your writing journey?

 

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Connect with Sheri Taylor-Emery on social media:

Writeonsister.net

writeonsister on facebook

 

 

 

30 responses to “2019 Golden Heart Finalist Sheri Taylor-Emery on The Surprises That Come Along the Way”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Sheri!! You’ve definitely had some amazing and wonderful surprises come you’re way, but it’s clear lots of hard work went into making those successes happen. THREE novels, and all getting award attention! Wow!!

    I hope to see your books on the shelf soon, and I’m looking forward to meeting you in New York!

    Hmm…and what has been my biggest surprise?

    Maybe that you can jump on and off the writing train (as life and kids and the day job intervene), and still jump back on again. The muse is always there waiting, and you’re never “done.”

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    • Thank you for your kind words and this amazing opportunity. You are so right about the writing train, Elisa! I’m just so happy to be back on it at the moment, even if it is chugging along slowly.

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    • Elisa,you are totally correct about that “train”! Got to keep chugging along though. Thanks for you kind words and this opportunity. Can’t wait to meet you in NY!

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  2. Sammi Spizziri says:

    Sheri, the story about your grandma is fascinating! What a great starting point for your story. And I totally relate to writing surprises coming when you’re doubting the most (or maybe we’re just always doubting so it’s bound to happen lol).

    The biggest surprise for me is how critique and rejection can push you to be better. It probably seems obvious but it’s something I was afraid of for so long so seeing the benefits of it seems impossible!

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Sammi. I’m like you … early on my skin was much thinner and I was crushed by rejection. Once I realized how tough this industry is, how there was often good feedback hidden in the “no” and that a miracle of all this is how we lift each other up even when the process is knocking us down, it became easier to accept.

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  3. Becke Turner says:

    Sheri,

    Your writing journey fascinated me. Your work seemed to blossom with every step in a progressive upward trajectory. My learning curve looks more like arrhythmia on an EKG–steep peaks and troughs. Also, your perspective about surprised intrigued me.

    I was surprised at my inability to gauge my writing. One would think I could ‘get it’ after a time. Nope. So far, it isn’t happening. Therefore, I’m surprised at positive outcomes–no matter the number of reinforcements.

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    • Becke! Thanks for stopping by. Are you part of a critique group? I know at some point I an not be an objective reader of my own writing. I almost threw this last one against the wall :-). Wishing you more and more positive outcomes and can’t wait to see you in New York.

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  4. Apologies but my replies to comments don’t seem to be showing up. 🙁

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  5. Tracy Brody says:

    WOW! Love that family history kicked off your story. Congrats on all the kudos and affirmations that you are doing what you were meant to do with your writing. I think you’ll be published soon. One way or the other. 😉

    Biggest surprise for me was winning the Golden Heart in 2015. My first time as a finalist and that in itself was the win, but I did not expect to be the winner in Romantic Suspense – not at all! Three of the other finalists had finalled before. One had two books final and this was like her 7th and 8th final. The other gal had a journalism degree or MFA, had published non-fiction and already sold her GH MS to HQN in hardback. Then there was me. My roomie kept patting my leg and saying I was going to win. I was like “No way and I don’t care. Quit touching me!” She was the one who started cheering and waving her arms when they called my title. I didn’t even hear the first three words. Surprised/shocked/dumbfounded. That was me. 😉

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    • I was nearly weeping (the laughing kind) because I could SOOOO visualize the you and your roomie at the awards. That is a great story. Crossing fingers this happens for you again. You’ve been a great “den mother” and cheerleader for all us newbies!!

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  6. Fenley Grant says:

    Sheri,

    I love how many surprise finalist notifications you’ve received! And I’m so glad to join you in this last Omega Golden Heart round of finalists.

    I’m a contest junkie. I typically forget when the first round notification of finalists occurs, so if I make the final round, it’s a happy surprise.

    My biggest surprise on my writing journey was a win in the first contest I ever entered (the now-defunct GDRWA ‘Between the Sheets’ Contest.) The first place award gave me an unrealistic expectation for all other contests I entered. It took three years before I made the finalist cut again! (I don’t want to think about those manuscripts. They will forever languish in the land of dust bunnies beneath the bed, never to see the light of day.)

    Your book sounds amazing, definitely a story I want to read. Congrats on your final in the Golden Heart. Here’s to happy futures for all our finalist entries.

    See you in NYC!

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    • Right back at you, Fenley! That’s a pretty great feeling isn’t it … when you get that surprise that you finaled. I’m thin skinned by nature so I don’t enter often but another surprise has been a couple of amazing women who were judges and reached out to me after the contest. One of them is published by Lake Union and I devour her books. See you in a week!

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  7. Sheri, What a wonderful story seed. I love when family history sparks the muse.

    I’m honored to be your Omega sister. Can’t wait to meet you in NYC.

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  8. Valen Cox says:

    Hi Sheri! Great blog and wonderful take on “surprises!” So uplifting and thought provoking. My surprise? I had to step away from writing for 15 years or so, and when I came back the whole indie publishing world had exploded. Whoa! I was so far behind what was happening int he pusblishing world I’ve been two-stepping ever since to catch up! Thank you for sharing!

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    • And you got quite the other surprise, Valen … being the Avon scholarship winner. So wonderful. Can’t wait to hear how your Avon meet and greet goes. Do let me know if you meet Carrie Feron at WM/Avon. She did me a real solid a few years back and helped me with my first query.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I don’t think the publishing industry ever stops changing…

      Luckily, good stories can always find their way into the world somehow!

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  9. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks for being with us today, Sheri!

    See you in the Big Apple!

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  10. Sheri!

    I can SO relate to the surprises writing holds for us. I’m still surprised when people seem to like what I write. I am a basketcase every time a critique partner or beta reader has my pages in their hands.

    I cannot wait to meet you in New York in just a few days. I should really find a suitcase, huh?

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    • Sharon, I’m sooo excited and feel so lucky we’re sharing this adventure together. My son borrowed my suitcase to take to NY (he’ll be back tomorrow) … hope my suitcase makes it back or I’ll be using hefty trash bags like the character in my book. 🙂

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  11. Welcome, Sheri, and congratulations on your final! Your book sounds so fascinating and I love that the idea had a personal story behind the genesis. My biggest surprise… I think it was my first RITA call. I couldn’t believe I could be held up beside some of the incredible authors who got that call. The validation at a point in my career when I was clinging by my fingernails and feeling like a failure was incredibly heady. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how blown away I was by that honor. Wishing you lots of happy surprises like that in your career!

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  12. Janet Raye Stevens says:

    Hi Sheri! What an amazing ride you’ve been on writing-wise. Your story sounds so rich and emotional. Love that a family event inspired it.

    I’d say my biggest writing career surprise was not only finaling in the GH but winning. No, actually, the real surprise was managing to get through my speech without barfing on the podium! LOL… May YOUR next surprise be hearing your name called next Thursday!

    See you soon, Omega sister!

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    • Hi Janet! I actually saw the video of your speech and you were poised and gracious. I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like to hear your name called and make that walk up to the stage. I’m in such a remarkable group of women, I am keeping my expectations low. The win has been in being an Omega. Can’t wait to meet you.

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  13. Hi, Vivi! Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by. That you’ve had more than ONE RITA call is amazing. I so relate to feeling like a failure. I know loads of folks don’t sell their first book, but it’s still a bitter pill. You’re and inspiration and thank you for your kind words.

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  14. Lisa Heartman says:

    Sheri,
    It is so cool that you used your family history to start this story. I love the blurb, and I can’t wait to read the book. My biggest surprise? I guess switching genres from contemporary romance to romantic suspense.

    I look forward to getting to know you better in NYC!

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