Golden Heart Finalist Gwynne Jackson: “Yet She Persisted!”

Today I’m delighted to introduce 2018 Golden Heart Finalist Gwynne Jackson, another of the fabulous Persisters. She’s been nominated in the Best Contemporary Romance Category for her manuscript DUET.

I was first ‘introduced’ to Gwynne when I was named as her GH mentor through THE GOLDEN NETWORK, an RWA chapter of past Golden Heart finalists. After a few emails, her talent, confidence, and generous spirit were quickly apparent, and my role morphed from mentor to cheerleader and fan.

Gwynne was born in New York City and raised in Connecticut. After earning a degree in English Literature, she went on to a promising career in fast food, advertising, educational support, typesetting, and technology, where she wrote plenty of How-To manuals and tested buggy code before giving it all up for massage therapy. Along the way, she spent far too many hours of her life hauling amps and equipment from vans and trucks to rock venue stages large and small, where she also mixed sound and lights.

These days she lives in the Seattle area with her family and pets. Her focus is primarily on writing contemporary rock & roll romance from the inside out, featuring strong, outspoken heroines who know what they want and aren’t afraid to reach for it. She does her best to bust at least a few tropes per book. Banter is her guilty pleasure. When she’s not writing, she’s either taking photographs, doing artwork of some kind, or critiquing manuscripts for writing partners.

Her nominated manuscript DUET is a look at life behind the scenes on the road with a major rock tour, where appearances are deceptive, privacy is nonexistent, no one is who or what they seem, and taking what doesn’t belong to you is par for the course.

Here’s a blurb:

Whatever it takes to succeed is guitarist Lila’s mantra. When her band is invited to fill in as opening act for Johnny Blue and the Lightning Bolts, they leap headfirst. There’s only one problem: the Bolts’ frontman is a head-up-his-ass sellout pop star with zero integrity. The rest of the musical world might be worshiping at his feet, but hell’s going to have to freeze over twice before Lila will ever stoop to that level.

The only thing openly bisexual rock star Johnny ever wanted to be was everything. What he never anticipated was that being everything would mean losing the people most important to him. The hole that puts in his heart shuts him down, leaving him to consider the unthinkable: success in music might not be the life goal he’s truly looking for.

 When Lila approaches Johnny and asks for private lessons in Rock Star 101, neither of them expects the rhythm of their own personal song to turn into something beautiful…and Johnny certainly doesn’t expect Lila to steal his best lyrics right out from under him.

Trope busting, indeed! I can’t wait to get my hands on this unique perspective of the world of rock rooted in Gwynne’s real-life experiences.

As with most of us, her pursuit of a writing career has been filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, and even a few potholes, putting her persistence to the test. In her own words, she’s going to fill us on the challenges she’s faced and how she persevered.

Tell us all about it, Gwynne:



We writers are a notoriously fractious bunch. Everyone’s got their own opinion on the best way to write (plotter! no, pantser!) or the best time of day for creativity (first thing in the morning! no, deep into the night!). We like to wax poetic about the best subgenre of romance, or about writing styles, or about favorite authors. But one thing we all seem to be able to agree on is that to make it in this business, you have to stick with it. You have to be persistent.

The first time I saw a writer friend declare publicly that she was quitting writing forever, I panicked. How could someone do that? I understand getting to a point where you think you don’t have it in you, or you feel like a giant imposter, or you’ve received your fifteenth rejection letter that week and wonder what the point is in continuing. But to see someone else make a public announcement about broke my heart. My first reaction was no, no, no, you can’t quit writing forever! Because what if you get a plot bunny tomorrow? Do you just cast it aside and say sorry, too bad, I’m not a writer anymore? Inconceivable.

Of course, she didn’t quit writing forever any more than I stopped querying after rejection #75 on manuscript #3. There have been many times when I wondered if this authorship game was actually for me. Writing fiction for publication seems to be the one profession where there are no guidelines. There are no measurable steps you can take to ensure your success, no prescribed series of courses that graduate you automatically to the next level. Even innate ability is no sort of guarantee. It takes luck, skill, timing, innovation, education, practice, and yeah, persistence.

I grew up a middle child. My parents enforced a sort of loose non-compete clause: they wanted us to each do our own thing. Not what another sister was doing, but something that was uniquely our own. I love that in theory, but I didn’t love it so much in practice. My older sister is a writer (and a damned good one). Because of the no-competition rule, I was steered in other directions when I told them I wanted to write as well. By the time my younger sister was old enough to make her own demands I think my parents were too fatigued to care what we did any more, so I started writing little bits of things here and there. See, I didn’t want to give up on it. I believed then what I believe now, which is that there are writers for every story and readers for every story, and I can never write the way you write, but you can never write the way I write either. I was good with that, and with the stories springing from my own imagination.

Then, in high school, I had an AP English teacher who graded me badly on a paper and said: your sister is such a good writer. Why can’t you write like she does?

I didn’t tell anyone I was going to stop writing. No big public drama, no declarations. Just a sad and glum feeling that settled into my heart, telling me that of course I couldn’t write like my sister. I would never be that good, so maybe Mom and Dad were right with their insistence we each do something different. For years I fell back on other pursuits: art, music, critical analysis. I went off to college to become a teacher, then a psychiatrist, then a lawyer, then a fashion marketing major before I finally rounded back on pursuing a degree in English Literature. But not creative writing. It wasn’t until years after graduation that I started writing fiction again because it was clear I would never be able to write like my sister, my teacher had told me so. What I wrote then wasn’t good, but there was something in my heart, something right there in its core that wouldn’t let me quit writing. I figured it out and tried doing it my own way, flopped and failed miserably, but that shining stone of persistence was already a part of me and wouldn’t let me give it up for good.

The stories I came up with were god-awful, but I kept going. Through relationships starting and dissolving, through cross-country moves, through dealing with aging parents, through raising my own child, I kept going. I learned that I was a happier person when I was writing. I learned to write with my own voice, and to nurture and cultivate that voice until it shone.

That’s when writing got weird. I’d entered writing contests off and on, never winning anything, never being accepted into that elite circle. I tried writing middle grade and young adult stories, but always, I was more interested in what the grownups were doing than with what the kids were doing. Plus, everything I wrote ended up with people in love, and that’s not really the best for middle graders. When I finally decided to get serious about writing romance, I started studying the craft of it. Queried, got rejected. Queried more, got rejected some more. Wrote other books, got on the query bandwagon again…we all know what that carousel ride is like. You go in circles and the golden ring stays tantalizingly out of reach.

But still, I kept going. I entered Pitch Wars and didn’t make it. I rewrote my favorite manuscript three or four times, entered Pitch Wars again, and got in on the second try. I learned so much from my mentor, I wanted to cry. Finally, I figured I knew what I was doing and that I was in the right place. The agent round came and went, and I got a healthy number of requests. I entered the Golden Heart.

Every single agent who’d been excited and delighted during Pitch Wars rejected my manuscript.

I didn’t give up. I kept querying, kept writing.

I didn’t become a Golden Heart finalist. I still didn’t get an agent. Requests started drying up. Finally, only one agent still had my Pitch Wars manuscript. When months passed and I didn’t hear back, I figured I would start querying the romance I’d written after Pitch Wars. I started with all the agents who’d passed on the Pitch Wars book but asked me to please consider them with my next project.

None of them wanted the next project.

It would have been so easy to give up then. To throw up my hands and say forget it, I’m really done this time. Rejections always sting, even on those days when we smile and say yeah, I didn’t really want to work with that person anyway or oh, I was expecting a rejection from that agent, I’m definitely not in her league. But those are all just Band-Aids we put on the wound to cover it up and hide it away. When it came time to enter the Golden Heart again, I almost didn’t do it. I thought, well, this manuscript is garnering even fewer requests than the Pitch Wars one. It’s got a bisexual male main character and a prickly young female main character with a mouth so foul she puts entire navies to shame. I’m better off self-rejecting on this one and besides, no one is interested in rock star romance. That’s what all the agents keep telling me.

That would have been the moment to give up. But I didn’t. I said what the hell aloud to myself and entered my manuscript in the Golden Heart, told myself it didn’t stand a chance at becoming a finalist but nothing ventured, nothing gained, and went on my merry way. Sent out query after query after query.

Then a funny thing started happening. I started getting full manuscript requests. Some were from cold queries while others were from pitch contests like PitMad or KissPitch. Sure, I got rejections on some of those fulls, but I kept getting more requests. In my vivid mind’s eye I signed with each requesting agent and together we proved all those naysayers wrong. That is, until the “this is not for me” emails started arriving.

So when my phone rang on GH/RITA morning, I figured it was that annoying tree pruning company again. I’ve never been so glad to be wrong—and I’ve never been so pleased with myself for not giving up. It turns out the words Golden Heart Finalist open a lot of doors. It turns out that when you say those words to agents, you get emails in response.

If you’ve ever seen the film Galaxy Quest, the phrase “Never give up! Never surrender!” might be familiar to you. Throughout my writing journey, it’s certainly been in the back of my mind. There were many more opportunities to quit than there were for success, yet here I am.

Just one more thing. Remember that lone agent who still had my Pitch Wars novel? She believed in that story long after I’d given up on it. Although my Golden Heart novel is a standalone, it’s the sequel to the Pitch Wars one. When she offered representation based on that first book, I realized all the waiting, all the anguish over rejection, all the self-doubt, all the inner voices telling me maybe this writing thing wasn’t for me after all—they’d all been worth it.

All because I was stubborn enough to persist.

So, my question for you is: What is it that keeps you going when the whole writing thing just seems like it’s too hard, or too subjective, or too unfair? 



Connect with Gwynne on social media:

Twitter: @gwynnejackson



All The Kissing:

Instagram: gj.writes

45 responses to “Golden Heart Finalist Gwynne Jackson: “Yet She Persisted!””

  1. Brenda Lowder says:

    Congratulations on your final, Gwynne! I can’t wait to read your book! I love a rock star romance.

    You pose an interesting question. Sometimes I don’t know what keeps me writing. Or what keeps me trying. I don’t remember who said it, but I read once that writing is really hard and writers do it because they must. I think I do it because I must.

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thanks, Brenda! I think we all do it because we must, but the breakdown on what “we must” means to each person fascinates me. I know my brain gets awfully crowded with people, with ideas, with stories, and if I don’t get them out of there and down on the page it makes me cranky.

  2. Julia Day says:

    My family keeps me going. DH said recently that “if it makes you happy, that’s all the success you need.”

    Author-friends help too. They understand the extremes you can ping-pong between. I think writing is one of those careers you can’t do alone. It’s good that most authors are so generous with their support.

    • Jacie Floyd says:

      What a wise husband you have, Julia!

      And writer friends are the best supporters! They truly ‘get’ what you’re going through, don’t they?

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Exactly, Julia! While writing is a solitary sport, we still can’t do it alone. We all need to have our community around us. I love the attitude your husband’s got. Mine is much the same way.

  3. Jennifer Bray-Weber says:

    Wonderful blog post, Gwynn. Love the “what the hell” and “Never give up. Never Surrender” attitude. I, myself, am the type to just dive in with both feet. I also had a stint in the rock music industry waaaaay back in the early 90’s—band managing, a camera operator for a weekly rock concert at a popular club, booking gigs at another popular club, running lights during shows. None of which I was paid much for (if at all). Learned quickly it wasn’t the scene for me.

    I’m so excited for you. Duet sounds like a blast!
    Good luck in Denver!


    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thanks, Jennifer! We rock-biz sisters need to stick together. Share stories. Pave the way for other women in the industry. In some ways it’s like writing, isn’t it? There’s a camaraderie to it, or was when I did it, because women actually working in that industry were a rarity. (Can you tell I can talk about this all day?)

      Thanks for the congrats.

  4. ‘Never give up! Never surrender!’ is so perfect. What a ride you’ve had so far! And it’s only getting more exciting!

    I’ve wanted to give up a number of times, but then a perfect scene tweak or fresh idea would come along, or my husband would encourage me, and I’d be right back to typing away.

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Alexia, I think of Galaxy Quest far more since I started pursuing writing seriously than I ever did before! It’s the perfect mantra for me.

      I always love how the moment my ideas dry up and I start complaining about it to my writing friends, a whole bunch of new ideas spring up. It’s like the blahs have to be purged to make room for more exciting and better ideas. And there’s nothing that beats friendly encouragement in this writing gig!

  5. Jacie Floyd says:

    Hi Gwynne!
    Congratulations on your final and sharing your story with us. I love the authenticity you bring to your writing. It’s so good to see someone utilizing their background to enhance the story rather than propping it up as a backdrop.

    And honestly, I despise your AP English teacher sight unseen! What a terrible message to convey to a student! Comparisons are so often the death of creativity–especially to teenagers.

    As others have said, my family and friends keep me going in my journey, particularly my husband, my daughter, my sister, and all of my RWA groups and loops. But frankly, I would keep writing my stories no matter whether anyone encouraged me or not. Sometimes I need to take a breather to get my mojo back after a bad stumble, but those voices in my head are more persistent than the negativity.

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thanks for getting me here, Jacie. 🙂 It took me a long time to understand how “write what you know” applied to me, and finally turning it into a series of stories was so much more fun than I could have imagined. But the number of years it took me to stop being dismayed by the teacher’s comparison was ridiculous. I doubt he realized the impact his words would have. I still think about them to this day.

      Of course, as you said, the voices in our heads are stronger than all that, and for writers, they always win out. You write yours beautifully! p

      • Jacie Floyd says:

        Thank you for allowing me to introduce you here today! Getting to know you in the past couple of months has been a delight. I’ll enjoy rooting for you in Denver and watching you turn all your dreams into great success stories.

  6. Tracy Brody says:

    Congratulations on your GH, Gwynne. So glad you followed your heart rather than let that teacher crush your dream. Funny thing is I was a business major (with an overactive imagination) and it was my youngest sister who got the English degree and did work writing but has never followed her dream to write a book. It takes lots of factors to make it happen and you’re darn right that it takes persistance and faith in yourself.

    Like you touched on, even when it’s hard, writing makes me happy. That and the positive reader/judge comments keep me going. And, like you, I’m stubborn enough to not give up until I’ve shown them I can do it. 😉

    Glad you found the agent who gets you and best wishes on your stories finding the right home. Look forward to meeting you soon!

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thanks, Tracy! Can’t wait to meet you in Denver.

      It’s funny that stubborn and persistent are partners in this whole endeavor. Whenever people say “oh, I can’t believe you did xyz for so long!” I always just tell them I was too stubborn to give up. So there’s something to it.

      I thought about all those intelligent choice careers, but writing and music kept pulling me back. I’m really glad I was that stubborn, and I’m really glad you’re writing instead of off doing spreadsheets somewhere.

  7. What a great lesson and a great story! Love reading about other authors’ paths to getting an agent or deal. Good luck and congrats!

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thanks so much, Laura! It was a pleasure to be able to share my story, both the good and the less good parts. But it all leads us to where we are today, so I can’t complain too much about any of it.

  8. Congratulations on your final and your agent, Gwynne! I hope things start popping for you because I selfishly REALLY want to read your book. It sounds like AMAZING.

    I was nodding along with everything you said here. This business can wear on a person. I’ve been trying to quash some review angst the last couple days and lately the best thing for me to overcome that writer anxiety is to throw myself into writing a book with no expectations. Write what I need to write even if no one will buy it. There are some days the self-doubt makes it hard to write, but if I can just lose myself in the book, those doubts fade away.

    Congrats on your persistence! And good luck in Denver!

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thank you kindly!

      When people ask me about reviews, I always tell them about my favorite one, where the reviewer said my story (in an anthology) was probably good, but it gave him a headache. 😀 It’s the strangest review, but it taught me to laugh at all of them (and certainly made it easier to get form rejections from agents. At least none of them said my writing gave them headaches!).

  9. Tamara Hogan says:

    Congrats on your GH final, Gwynne! Your story sounds amazing. So glad you persisted!

    –> What is it that keeps you going when the whole writing thing just seems like it’s too hard, or too subjective, or too unfair?

    What an awesome question. When this happens to me – I’m trad-pubbed-turned-indie – I give myself permission to crawl into my writing cave and focus on writing rather than publishing. To please myself, and no one else.

    It’s a common paradox: once writing becomes a career, it can be challenging to stay connected with the joy, the reasons we started doing this in the first place. I swear, most of my mental energy these days is spent keeping writing on the front burner and publishing on the back. It’s the only way I can stay even minimally productive. Each writer has to find this balance for themselves, and for some of us, it’s a perpetual challenge.

    Best of luck in Denver!

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thank you, Tamara! I’d love to hear about your journey from traditional to indie sometime! I’m fascinated by the paths writing careers take for different people. Trad pub has been the ideal for so many of us for so long.

      I’ve been watching a friend go through her first book debut, and I confess that the business side of writing is much less fascinating to me than the creative side. I’m not the type of person who generally has trouble balancing things out in her life, but it’s because I’m old and crusty and don’t like seesaws that much any more. 🙂 But the paradox is real! Thanks for sharing your tips on staying focused on the creative side.

  10. Addison Fox says:

    Gwynne – congrats on your GH final. So glad you’ve joined us for the day!


  11. Welcome and congrats, Gwynne! I love your story so much. I’m very glad you didn’t give up. It just takes that one person who believes in us.

    Thank you for joining us and good luck in Denver!

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thank you so much, Darynda! I can’t say the path I took is better or worse than anyone else’s, but if it inspires at least one person to hang in there and not give up, then it’s worth telling.

  12. C.R. Grissom says:

    WOW!! Can’t wait to your book. And your author journey resonated with me so much.

    Can’t wait to meet you in Denver! Persisters rock!

  13. suzanne says:

    I want to beat up your English teacher! Who provides that kind of crap commentary?

    And hats off to your Persistence!

    I wish I could quite writing. I really do. But i think the problem is, we write whether we will ever be published or not. We write because the stories live within us and have to get themselves on paper.

    See you in Denver!

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      So the thing is, Suzanne, that in high school I was so shy and meek that I took that to heart. I didn’t argue. I didn’t even try to defend myself. I just told myself I had to do better. Nowadays I’d respond quite differently, but live and learn, right?

      I love that feeling when stories just have to get out. I don’t feel it every day, but when I do…that’s when writing is like magic, isn’t it?

      Can’t wait to see you in Denver.

  14. Janet Raye Stevens says:

    Hi Gwynne! Great post, and most familiar–my writing journey experience is pretty similar to yours. Even our mottoes are the same, never give up, never surrender, LOL! I’m so happy you found an agent at last and best of luck on the next stage of your journey. See you in Denver!

  15. Oh, I loved this whole story! You really ARE a Persister!

    And I’ll tell you this: I’m 100% convinced that “by Grabthar’s Hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be”… published!

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Eileen, thanks. 😀 You know that saying about good things coming to those who wait? Yeah, that. BY GRABTHAR’S HAMMER!

  16. Paula Huffman says:

    Hi Gwynne,

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! Rock star romance is my favorite, and I can’t wait to read your work.

    As an educator, it breaks my heart to hear about the things your teacher said. It’s our job to build students up and define their talents; help them grow, not tear them down. I hate it happened, and I’m so glad you were able to see past it and overcome the doubt he planted. Boy, was he wrong!

    What keeps me writing? I echo what several others said here. When I think about quitting, it’s the voices in my head that won’t let me stop. The characters, to be specific. There’s always an imaginary somebody tugging on my sleeve, saying, “Hey, let me tell you my story. Let me show you what it’s like to be me. You need to see the world through my eyes for a while so you can bring me to life, so others can know.” And then… I can’t resist. I fall in love with a character and I just have to help him find his happy ending.

    Congratulations on finding an agent who appreciates and “gets” your work, and on your GH final! Best of luck in Denver!

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Hi Paula, thank you! I love that we all have voices in our heads. I love that they get to dictate what we write. To me, that’s such a beautiful thing. We get to live SO many lives as writers, and what a gift. <3

  17. Gwynne, I love your GH story and your life story. I feel your pain on soul crushing teachers. One of my English teachers told us to pick an item in our house and write about how it made us feel. I got an F. Stellar writing but she didn’t agree with my choice of feelings!
    And every poetry assignment was a nightmare for me. I don’t think like a poet apparently.
    But we persist!
    Best wishes to you.

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thank you, Barbara! I guess our experiences with our teachers was all preparation for that “writing is a subjective business” line we hear so much. On the one hand, it’s good to take those lessons to heart. On the other, I always thought teachers were supposed to nurture our creativity.

      I was going to be a teacher. For the longest time, that’s what I wanted to do, and I’ve done it in a variety of ways and places all along. But as far as I know, I’ve gone out of my way to encourage rather than discourage. We can’t get better at anything unless we’re given the tools, and lousy criticism doesn’t come with any tools, right?

  18. Jeanne says:

    I’ve been writing stories for nearly sixty years, off and on. I write because I write, because creating worlds in my head brings me joy.

    I’m incredibly impressed by your persistence in the face of rejection. I found continuing to write much easier than continuing to pitch. I hope it yields your dream contract very soon.

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thanks, Jeanne! If the business side of writing has taught me one thing, it’s patience. Although I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you how happy I am not to be querying any more. A friend told me that was her favorite part about signing with an agent — the realization she could stop checking her query inbox.

      Of course, I’m still getting the odd rejection here and there, even though I noticed everyone with outstanding pages/queries that I had offers. Now I just laugh at them, but there was a time when mirth was in short supply.

      • Gwynne Jackson says:

        “Noticed everyone.” Where did that come from? 🙂 Sent notice to everyone. There, that’s better. (I’m a former editor, I can’t help it.)

  19. Congratulations on your final, Gwynne. I’m so impressed at your persistence and drive. You’re an inspiration!

    I keep writing because my mother insists she wants to hold my published book in her hands. I’ll give it my best shot, via traditional publishing or otherwise, to give her that gift.

    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Thanks, Elizabeth! I’m not sure I’ve been anyone’s inspiration before, but I’ll take it. Let’s make your mom’s dream come true!

  20. Congratulations, Gwynne!!! You know how much I love your writing! I’m so happy you persisted 💕


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