Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Emily Sullivan!

Today we’re welcoming the second of our fabulous Rebelle guests, 2017 Golden Heart Finalist in Historical Romance, Emily Sullivan!

Emily lives in West Hartford, Connecticut with her pizza man boyfriend and works as a college-level writing instructor and tutor. When she isn’t writing or reading, she is very slowly learning to play the piano. Her goal is to one day be able to play the theme from Murder, She Wrote.

Her nominated manuscript, The Price of Desire, is a late-Victorian historical romance. Here’s a blurb:

It has been three long years since the unconnected, unfashionable, and all together unremarkable Charlotte Alwyn was last a guest at Heathway, ancestral home of the powerful Winterfield family and her best friend, Lily Winterfield, when she escaped in the middle of the night to avoid her guardian’s ruthless scheme to marry her off. Now she is older, wiser, and determined to stop Lily from marrying the notorious Lord Eliot. But she didn’t count on Lord Eliot turning his much lauded charms on her instead, threatening to ruin her only friendship and her already tenuous place in society.

When she confronts his aloof cousin Edward about his lordship’s true intensions, a stolen moment with the man who has done nothing but glare at her since they met reveals an attraction she has never experienced, and she suspects that beneath his steely demeanor beats a lonely heart that could rival her own. However, Edward is not interested in hearts—hers, his, nor anyone else’s. What he needs is to secure a wealthy wife for his rakish, spendthrift cousin before they both go broke, and with her vast inheritance and lack of connections, Charlotte is the perfect target. Edward should be ecstatic, except he can’t stop thinking about or arguing with the headstrong, captivating, and wildly arousing young woman. But Edward is determined to let neither his growing desire nor his pesky conscience intervene with his cousin’s seduction. That is until fate throws a most tempting wrench into Edward’s best laid plans.

But as Charlotte delves deeper into her own mysterious past, the truth she has spent her life trying to uncover could ruin her chance at the love she has always wanted.

Ooh, doesn’t that sound like fun!! I love steely men who glare…and then slowly melt (siiiiigh). I’m looking forward to seeing The Price of Desire on bookshelves!!

Happily, Emily’s sitting down with us today for a lovely bit of drawing-room conversation. So grab your prettiest frock, ladies, find yourself a seat on one of our Ruby velvet divans, and help yourselves to some cucumber sandwiches and scones. I’ll start pouring the tea!


 Thanks so much for joining us today, Emily! And what a charming frock you’re wearing! Those who’ve joined us for these Finalist interviews in past years know my FAVORITE FAVORITE question is this: What was it like getting that phone call telling you you were a finalist?

I actually thought the finalist notifications went out on March 22nd, not the 21st. That morning I was on my way to work when I kept getting calls from an unknown number. I figured it was a telemarketer and ignored them. Then I went on Twitter and saw all the posts about the Golden Heart and that’s when I began to hope. I answered the phone the next time it rang and got the news! So far the best part about finaling has been connecting with the Rebelles. Writing can be a lonely pursuit at times, so it’s been lovely to be a part of such a supportive group.

Amen to that! Hold tight to your new Golden Heart sisters; trust me when I say those friendships will get you through a lot!! This is your first Golden Heart final, yes? Have you been writing long?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I started writing when I was a kid, but I didn’t get “serious” about my writing until college. I’ve mostly had articles and essays published and was very excited when my first short story was published in The Southampton Review this past winter. I would say I mostly write contemporary short stories that I guess would be categorized as literary fiction. In addition to my GH manuscript, I’ve also completed a couple of television pilots, but otherwise my documents folder is a graveyard of beginnings—short stories, a couple novels, screenplays—and for a long, long time the manuscript that would eventually become my GH manuscript was among them.

The Southhampton Review! That’s impressive! So you’re bringing a literary bent to your romance writing. Tell us a little more about your Golden Heart book and the process of writing it.

I got the initial idea many years ago while I was still in high school. I’ve always been interested in the Victorian period and love lush, romantic dramas, but the idea of actually writing one felt beyond me. Even still, I would write scraps of scenes over the years until sometime around 2009 I started working on the manuscript more regularly and it began to have a semblance of a plot. I would write a little, then set it aside for months and months and months. Mostly I worked on it when I didn’t want to work on other writing projects. I felt very intimidated by the Victorian setting as well as the love scenes, but to be honest I didn’t put much effort into getting better either.

Then in Fall of 2015 I had a breakthrough. I was teaching English 101 and it was the end of a particularly difficult semester, so I started binge-reading historical romance novels as an escape. I hadn’t touched my manuscript for the better part of a year, but while I was reading I began to have a better sense of what was missing from it. I started conducting more research on the time period and began to revise my draft. I also realized that if I was serious about trying to write an historical romance novel, I needed to read a lot more historical romance. So, I hunkered down and got to it, making sure to read like a writer, not just a reader. After a lot of trial and error the draft really started to get somewhere. I stuck to a consistent writing schedule and after a couple of months I hit my groove. I did a little writing during the week, but Saturdays became my big writing day and I became very protective over my time. It was an obsession really, and a part of my brain was always thinking about the draft.

I remember thinking that even if nothing ever happened with this manuscript, this was still the most satisfying creative experience of my life, and I actually felt a little sad when I realized I was getting close to the end. It had been my main focus for months and months, and I wasn’t ready to let it go. I finished the full draft sometime in August and have basically been doing line edits ever since.

Awesome!! I’m an English teacher myself, and I think there’s nothing more important for a writer than to READ READ READ….and then to fight for that regular, uninterrupted writing time so you can put what you’ve learned to work! And just look where it got you! What other tips to you have for other writers?

I considered myself a pretty experienced writer before I started working on this novel, but I learned so much along the way. Read everything. Read widely and read with purpose. Become obsessed with language. I have pages full of just verbs and adverbs. Reread your favorite scenes and consider why you love them so much. There’s a great book on this by Francine Prose called Reading Like A Writer. I read it years ago and still find it so helpful.

In my professional life I often work with beginning writers, but a lot of the same advice I give applies to writers of all levels: You can’t be too precious about your writing or your practice, especially if your goal is to get better or earn that ‘A’. You don’t have to accept every criticism, but you should at least be open to hearing about what works and what doesn’t. There really are no short cuts and you can’t wait around to feel ‘inspired’. I never would have finished my GH manuscript if I hadn’t stuck to a consistent writing schedule. Whether you’re writing a paper or a novel, it takes time, dedication, and a willingness to revise like mad.

Reading Like a Writer is a fabulous book! And words are such a fabulous obsession! We’re definitely agreed that well-defended alone time is vital to getting those much-obsessed-about words on the page, but we can’t really go it all alone. Aside from your Rebelle sisters, who are your biggest supporters?

Writing invariably involves a lot of rejection, which can lead to self-doubt, but I’ve always been able to count on the support of my family and friends. When I was a kid my parents encouraged my writing and would take the time to read my stories. My mom even used to bring my stories into work with her and show them to her friends. She still does that, actually. (Thanks Mom!) I think this was a really formative experience for me because they took my writing seriously even before I did. I’ve also been lucky enough to have a partner who has enthusiastically encouraged my writing since we met nine years ago. I once read an interview with Richard Ford where he said, “Marry someone you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea” and that has always stuck with me. My boyfriend, James, has believed in me even when I haven’t, and it has been a great comfort to have him in my corner through the rejections. So now it’s nice to have something to celebrate!

Aww!! I love your support system!!! Great mom, and great pizza man boyfriend!! And the Richard Ford quote is spot on!! Thanks so much for answering all my questions, Emily! Now’s your chance to turn the tables: is there anything you’d like to ask our readers today to get the conversation going?

 Yes! This will be my first trip to Nationals. Any tips for making the most out of this experience, particularly as a GH finalist?



Connect with Emily Sullivan on Social Media:

Twitter: @paperbacklady






42 responses to “Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Emily Sullivan!”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Emily! It’s lovely to have you with us!

    By chance, there’s a question (from another first-timer going to Nationals) about how to handle the conference. She says she looked at the schedule and couldn’t make hide nor hair of it. Someone else chimed in that there’s a special session for first-timers on the first day to help you get oriented! Check it out!

    Also, as I’m sure other veteran finalists will tell you, having that “FINALIST” ribbon on your badge will get you lots of friendly attention, and you’ll feel like you belong very fast.

  2. C.R. Grissom says:

    Hi Emily,

    Your story sounds amazing! I know I’ll be able to buy it soon.

    I can’t help you figure out the GH portion of a conference, but my one tip is to pre-plan your days for the workshops or panels you want to participate in—then allow yourself the flexibility to be spontaneous and give yourself permission to ditch when necessary.

    If you need pool time, take it. Conferences can be overwhelming. Nationals is about learning craft, and editor/agent appointment opportunities, but it’s also about connection.

    A half-hour spent enjoying a mid-afternoon iced coffee with one of your GH sisters or online chapter mates offers a chance to develop your writing network and deepen friendships.

    No one else will write your story. As you mention, writing is solitary. I have made lasting relationships with other writers I’ve met at conferences. These people have helped critique my work, provided encouragement and the occasional kick in the arse, when needed.

    These amazing writers are my circle of friends who understand the highs and lows of this business. Crafting a page-turner isn’t something that happens overnight for most of us. They get you’re not a millionaire with your first sale, or the reality that publication takes time, effort and in many cases—multiple revisions.

    Plans are important. Setting your agenda is a vital step to keep you on track so you don’t miss out on the variety of topics offered at Nationals, but leave room to sneak off or change your mind about a workshop you’d rather attend.

    There is no right or wrong way to go about it. Only your way, and what works best for you.

    Congrats on your GH final and good luck!

    • Emily Sullivan says:

      Thank you!! You make a great point about being flexible and giving oneself permission to ditch. Besides, the pool looks amazing!!

  3. Seana Kelly says:

    Hi, Emily!
    Congratulations on your GH final! Your book sounds fabulous 🙂 I hope you have an amazing time at RWA, wandering around with that pink ribbon and golden heart on your badge! <3

  4. Welcome to the sisterhood, Emily. Wow, we have so much in common; started writing at nine, the mom who brags to everyone, and James the great supporter.

    I love your post. It’s filled with great advice, especially “… I hadn’t stuck to a consistent writing schedule. Whether you’re writing a paper or a novel, it takes time, dedication, and a willingness to revise like mad.” Approaching writing like it’s a job is very important.

    My advice for attending Nationals, make a list of I-don’t-want-to-forgets now, like business cards and cell phone charger. Work on your pitch line now so that you won’t blink or need to look at an index card when asked about your story. And as C.R. said above, plan/or just take down time. I met longtime friends sitting on the patio and having tea. Those connects have paid off over the years. And finally, just have fun and enjoy every minute. Congrats and good luck!

    • Emily Sullivan says:

      Thanks Autumn! Great advice and I love the commonalities 🙂 I should start making a list now!

  5. Liz Talley says:

    Congrats, Emily!

    I think you’re spot on about reading like a writer rather than a reader. Only bad thing about that is that it’s hard to go back to being just a reader. I enjoyed your post and my best advice for Nationals is don’t try to schedule every moment of time. You can buy the CDs and connections with other writers, industry, etc come when you’re open to being yourself (as opposed to the perfect writer girl wearing the perfect thing passing out your perfect business cards). So relax and plan to enjoy yourself.

    I say this because after my first RWA conference, I contemplated quitting because I went to too many workshops, listened to too many people and convinced myself I couldn’t hack it.

    Cheers! See you there!

    • Emily Sullivan says:

      Thanks Liz! That’s so true about it being hard to just be a ‘reader’ again. And I love your point about relaxing and being yourself. Definitely something I will need to keep in mind 🙂

  6. Jacie Floyd says:

    Congratulations on your final, Emily! This is such a special time, embrace it. Conference is a whirlwind of information and opportunities, and being a GH princess just adds to the chaos. If you’re a people person, take every chance you get to mix and mingle, but a lot of first-timers are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the event. Just take a deep breath and absorb what you can. And most important: comfortable shoes!

  7. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Hi Emily,

    The Price of Desire sounds intriguing. Congratulations!

  8. Congratulations, Emily, on your final and much Ruby love! My advice: Go into the week with an open heart and extended hands. While you’ll have hundreds of outstanding educational opportunities — workshops/panels/spotlights — the real “take home value” will be in the relationships you make. <3

  9. Congratulations on the final, Emily! Your book sounds like a decadent read. 🙂 I love what you said about the book always occupying part of your brain while you were writing it – I definitely know that feeling.

    Best advice for a First Nationals? You won’t be able to do absolutely everything, so my advice is to really focus on enjoying the people you meet. Those connections (especially with your GH class) will build through the years and turn into the best support network you could hope for. The workshops are fabulous (but they record a lot of them), the keynotes are inspiring and pitch sessions can be valuable, but in my experience the best thing to get out of conferences are connections with fellow writers. People who are in the trenches with you and know what it’s like to be where you are. Oh, and HAVE FUN!!!! See you in Orlando!

    • Emily Sullivan says:

      Thank you Vivi! I didn’t realize they record some of the workshops. That’s great to know!

  10. Welcome, Emily, and congratulations!! Hope you enjoy every moment of Nationals. 😀

  11. Tracy Brody says:

    Your book blurb sounds wonderful, Emily. Congrats on your GH final.
    Going to RWA as a GH finalist will make for an awesome experience. You’ll have friends to hang with and you’ll get to enjoy a little extra attention wearing the GH pin and ribbon. My advice would be to wear a smile and comfy shoes. Realize you can’t do it all. As others mentioned, allow yourself some downtime or permission to skip (or even leave) a workshop. Don’t worry about the awards or pitching because you got this. Being a GH Finalist, you’re already a winner.

  12. Darynda says:

    Welcome, Emily, and CONGRATS!!! Your ms sounds amazing! I can’t wait for it to hit the shelves. (Fingers crossed!) My only advice is to enjoy National. From here on out, it’s like a fairy tale.

  13. Jennifer Camiccia says:

    Your manuscript sounds like just my kind of read! I’m a newbie at Nationals so I don’t have any advice. But I hope to meet you in person and we can compare first time notes 🙂

  14. Emily Sullivan says:

    Yes! I’m looking forward to it! 🙂

  15. Jo Anne Banker says:

    Hi, Emily! Congratulations on your GH final! I love historicals, and THE PRICE OF DESIRE sounds like a fun story.

    Practice your pitches for National, so you can throw that elevator pitch out without panic. Schedule what’s really important to you, and leave yourself plenty of play time. Pace yourself. You can’t do everything, and you’ll enjoy what you can do more if you’re not angsting about what you can’t do. 🙂 If a fun opportunity comes up – go for it! Enjoy!!

    • Emily Sullivan says:

      Thank you Jo Anne! That’s a good reminder that I definitely need to work on my pitching!

  16. Congratulations, Emily. Really enjoyed your blurb. Have fun and enjoy making new connections. It’s a busy time with all the workshops, but the people are the very best thing about the conference.

  17. Pamela Ferguson says:

    I love the Victorian era! You novel sounds wonderful. Looking forward to reading it when it gets published. Good luck with pitching at Nations!

  18. What a fascinating time period you chose. Can’t wait to read it when it is published!

    My tip for National: sit with people you don’t know at meals and in the bar. You never know who you might meet, and who might become a good friend.

    I sat next to Merline Lovelace at my very first conference by grabbing the first open seat I saw when I arrived a few minutes late for lunch. She was so kind and encouraging. It made my entire week!

  19. Emily Sullivan says:

    That’s awesome! Thanks Susannah!

  20. Melonie says:

    Hello Rebelle sister! Your story sounds fabulous 🙂

    I love making lists – so my tip is to make lists! Packing lists, obviously. But also a list of goals for the conference. What are you hoping to achieve? Rank them by importance to you – networking, learning about the industry, improving craft, face time with agents/editors, etc; then approach your schedule accordingly – and make a list for that too! What workshops, events, meet-ups you plan to attend, etc – which hit the goals you most want to meet (some may hit ’em all!). And, of course, have fun! Can’t wait to say hi in person in Orlando.

  21. Jennifer Henderson says:

    What you said about being open to criticism but not necessarily agreeing with every comment really resonated with me. We writers tend to be full of doubts, but we should trust our gut instincts.
    Great piece, Rebelle sister!

  22. Emily Sullivan says:

    Thank you Jennifer!

  23. suzanne says:

    Hi Emily–

    I love the Victorian era too. Since you binge-read historical, who is on your desert island list? Is there one book you’d read over and over again?

    Go Rebelle Sister!

  24. Emily Sullivan says:

    Great question Suzanne! Definitely Lisa Kleypas, Sherry Thomas, and Loretta Chase. I’ve reread may of their books over and over, though Devil In Winter probably tops the list 🙂

  25. suzanne says:

    I could read Devil in Winter at least twice every winter.


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