Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear

Welcome to our guest author, Diane Stuckart

Diane’s mysteries and romances have been published in Italy, Romania, Germany, Poland, Japan, and the Netherlands, in addition to the US and the UK. A native Texan with a Journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma, Diane finally left the plains of North Texas for the beaches of South Florida, where she now resides with her husband and a small menagerie. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and the South Florida Chapter of MWA. When she’s not writing or at her day job, she enjoys yoga, gardening, and belly dancing. Visit her website to keep up with all her doings.

Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear

One of the perks of getting older is finally being able to use those four little words beloved of codgers everywhere…back in my day. It’s a phrase guaranteed to elicit eye rolls from the youngsters and knowing nods from your peers. Not that I actually qualify for geezer-dom, given that I’m barely into my fifth decade (oops, did I say that out loud?). But I am amazed to realize that it has been almost 22 years since I was a 1988 RWA Golden Heart Award finalist in the historical romance category.

Twenty-two years. In the interim, a new generation was born and raised, numerous wars were waged, several presidents were voted in and out, countless inventions were invented, and a new century even came to pass. Yet, it seems just a blink ago since I attended that special RWA conference one July in the late 1980s. I’ve learned over the years that when it comes to memories, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. But that’s just for me. The question for you is, how have things changed over the years for finalists in the Golden Heart competition?

Back in my day, we didn’t have email and the internet. Only some of us writers had made the jump from our trusty electric typewriters to those newfangled computers with word processing software. Social networking consisted of stopping in at the local bar with one’s writer friends for a few drinks. (OK, in some quarters it still consists of that today.) A support group like the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood could easily have existed, but its members would have gotten together in person, or else communicated by letter or telephone. And that is how correspondence worked between writer and editor or agent, too. Queries required a formal letter, and manuscripts were submitted on paper instead of via electronic files. I still have a few leftover stationery boxes–just the right size to hold a 400-page novel–sitting on one of my supply shelves. In another year or so, I’ll probably break down and use them to wrap birthday gifts, since I can’t see ever mailing a hard copy of a manuscript ever again.

But much remains the same. The stomach-churning anticipation of wondering whether or not you made the cut in the Golden Heart competition never changes, nor does the exhilaration when you find out you were one of the top entries. The camaraderie of your fellow finalists is always sweet, and the support of your other writing friends is to be cherished. And nothing can match the thrill of running around the annual RWA conference with a Finalist ribbon hanging from your badge, unless it’s adding a First Sale ribbon to it.

You’re likely wondering if being a finalist in the Golden Heart competition had any impact on my writing career. Certainly, it did. It was a boost to the ego, and validation that I was on the right path. It opened publishing doors and was likely the reason I sold that finalist manuscript soon after. In fact, on the front cover of the novel that was eventually titled MASQUERADE, it says Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award Finalist. I did go on to sell four more historical romances before that market bottomed out in the 90s. Since I wasn’t interested in making the switch to contemporary romance, I went on hiatus of a sort for a long while, contributing short stories to various anthologies in several genres. It was about four years ago that I reinvented myself as a writer of historical mysteries. Mystery remains my genre of choice, although I am equally proud of the romance novels that I wrote back in my day.

Did my finalist award guarantee me a multi-book contract and a spot on the bestseller list? Um, no. It was only the door opener. I had to walk in the rest of the way, myself, by writing a decent book, and another one after that. Because, after selling that first novel, it didn’t really matter anymore that I’d been a GH finalist. Remember that it is an unpublished writer’s award. Now, my competition was no longer merely other wanna-be authors–talented as they might be–but also multi-selling pros. I had to ramp up my game, or be left behind.

And that is where the danger lies for many contest finalists. Your first three chapters and synopsis have that new penny shine because of the hours you’ve lavished perfecting them for the competition. The rest of your manuscript, maybe not so much. Over the years, I saw more than a few Golden Heart finalists–even some winners–who either never did sell their placing manuscript, or else never made it past the sophomore slump to sell a second one. And I know for some of them, the fact they’d been a Golden Heart finalist became a painful memory instead of a happy remembrance of their early writing days.

Of course, that won’t be you. You’ll sell your finalist manuscript, if you haven’t already, and you will go on to sell other books. Maybe you’ll hit the bestseller list or be one of those prolific types who churn out a couple of novels a year. Or maybe you’ll simply write a few good books that both critics and fans praise. No matter your ultimate fate in the publishing world, for now I offer my congratulations and my very best wishes to you. Your accomplishment is not inconsiderable, and you should be proud of your hard work. And, twenty-odd years hence, perhaps you will share your tale with another generation of Golden Heart Award finalists and tell them how things were back in your day.

Hmm, I think I have a pair of red pumps in the back of my closet. Maybe I’ll go ahead and dig them out, just for fun.

28 responses to “Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear”

  1. Elise Hayes says:

    Great blog, Diane! Thanks for joining us today 🙂

    Your “back in the day” reminiscing made me laugh…and remember the 80s, when I wrote everything by hand first and then painfully typed everything on a typewriter (where you’d groan if you made a mistake near the end of the page). My first “book” (paranormal romance) written at age 18, was hand-written. I still have it.

    Now it’s hard to imagine life without the computer or the ability to endlessly tweak and revise!

    • This business is hard enough. And my typing is slow and baaaaad.

    • Actually, my GH ms. started out as a college project, 200 pages…and, yes, about a third was handwritten. My poor prof, LOL!

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I had one of the first “word processors” back in the early eighties. It actually hooked up to a television instead of a dedicated computer screen, and could only show half a page at a time, by which I mean either the LEFT or the RIGHT half, so you had to scroll constantly to see complete sentences.

      The font was an eye-straining white block print against a blue background, and everything had to be saved on floppy disks–the ones that were almost as a big as a slice of bread, and genuinely floppy. I think each one could hold maybe fifty pages max, so you’d need half a dozen to hold a novel.

      And yet I was the envy of all my typewriting friends….

  2. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words, Diane.

  3. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    Ah, I remember the 80s and my first word-processor. Word Star was the program, and my daisy wheel printer printed and amazing two pages a minute with quality to match a typewriter (as opposed to the then popular dot matrix printer.) The 5 1/2 inch double-sided/double density disks held a chapter or two and were easily corrupted (they bent or some foreign matter found it’s way into the plastic disk cover.) It made a major difference (cutting and pasting was no longer a process of scissors and tape!) in the freedom to draft and revise.

    I didn’t know RWA existed until the early 90s, however. What a wonderful revelation, although I couldn’t afford to join at the time. A friend who was a member shared her RWRs at the time. Of course, since I write historicals, the 90s weren’t a good time to be stepping out into the publishing world, but I learned a great deal in that decade.

    No matter my publishing fate, I doubt I will ever look back on my GH finals as anything but wonderful. I consider myself blessed to be a 007 Bond Girl and a Ruby-Slippered Sister. In both cases, I’ve made friends that are beyond compare.

    • Wordstar was the first word processor I learned how to use! The screen was so ugly. LOL. I’m definitely happy that I can work on the more aesthetically pleasing Windows nowadays. 🙂

      • Elisa Beatty says:

        Ah, WordStar! Such memories! (Do I hear a Cyndi Lauper song somewhere in the background?)

        • Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

          I’m surprised you and Cynthia recall Word Star. Thanks for making me feel less like a fossil! LOL

    • I was a journalism major so I did literal cut-and-paste. And WordStar was da bomb! I kind of wish it was still around…I get terrible “mouse hand” with Word.

  4. Dara says:

    Thanks for posting this!

    Reading this also makes me feel very young indeed. I was only 4 in 1988–just learning how to read 🙂

    However, when I started writing my first novel at 12 in the mid 90s, my family didn’t have a computer yet and I remember typing (very slowly…) on an electronic typewriter. At that time though I was faster writing long-hand so I ended up writing most of my first “novel” with pencil on typing paper 😛 I still have it somewhere although it’s hard to read now because the pencil is fading.

    • I’ve still got a few old ms’s boxed up in the attic, along with some very awful bits and pieces that I should toss but can’t quite yet bring myself to do so. I do understand now those authors who leave instructions in their wills to burn all their unfinished ms’s, LOL.

  5. Diane, I love love love love (love) your book covers for the Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series. Can you tell us anything about their creation? There must be a talented illustrator on staff at Berkley.

    • Aren’t those covers awesome! They were painted by a talented gentleman named Gary Overacre. If you go to my website, I have a link to his site under LINKS. I call them “fairytale noir” covers, LOL. In fact, the dog on the cover of PORTRAIT OF A LADY is my own dog, Ranger. I sent in pics, and he added my pup to the cover art (BTW, Ranger aka Pio has his own page on my website…he talks about being a cover dog.) My husband was so thrilled to have his dog on the cover that we bought the original art.

      • Oh, I’ve already checked out Ranger/Pio’s page. Leave it to me to find the animal on any site.

        I’m really drawn to Gary’s style. It reminds me of 15th C. Belgian/N. European art, like that done by Jan van Eyck, which I just adore.

        Anyway, I love it, and you’ve just given me a new goal: to write a novel so fabulous that my publisher hires an artist to paint original artwork for its cover.

  6. Vivi Andrews says:

    Fabulous post, Diane. It makes me want to do a time-capsule type thing. Everyone meet back here in twenty-two years and we’ll look back on all the ways the industry has grown and changed (and how we have). 🙂

  7. rita says:

    In your career span, what do you see as the biggest difference in writing style? Also do you think it’s easier or more difficult for new authors to gain representation and get the call from a publisher?

    • Rita, I’m dying here! I’ve replied 3x already and I managed to lose the response each time, grrr! So I will make it short! POV…a lost art that new writers don’t seem to be learning. You need to know the how’s and why’s of viewpoint before you can start (intelligently) breaking the rules. But it’s great that these days voices can be more individual, and authors can be a bit more creative in both the telling of their story, and the way they blend genres while still staying within romance parameters.

      Opportunity…it’s an exciting and scary time to be trying to sell a novel now. Once, if you could slap together 400 pages, you could pretty well get someone to buy them. Now, not so much. But, with all the small presses and POD and ebook opportunities, if you don’t fit the big publishing house niche, you have a better chance of selling today than 20 years ago. (whew, hope this answer finally takes!)

  8. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks for blogging with us today, Diane!

    I was oblivious to the romance market in the 90s, though I was reading romance novels….

    What’s your sense of why historicals went south just then, why at least some historical periods rebounded, and (if you don’t mind getting out your crystal ball) where your instincts tell you the market may be trending in the next few years?

    • You know, I still don’t know why historicals tanked then, save that publishing is always cyclical, and historicals had gone great guns for many years prior. And maybe it was a $$ thing…it cost less to put out a 200pg book than a 350 pg one. Unfortunately, I’m not really seeing the wheel turning back to historicals in any genre today. I think we (generic) are so enamored of modern technology that we don’t want to read about anything that is not echoing our current experience.

      I’m seeing the same problem in mystery…medieval and earlier seems to be doing OK, but my kick-butt western historical mystery series I tried to sell was rejected because the publishers felt the audience was too limited. So I’m moving onto contemporary mystery, for the moment, though I hope to continue the Leonardo series down the road.

  9. Liz Talley says:

    Wow, historical mysteries….very fascinating. Two of my favs and I can’t imagine why I never thought of that. Probably because I’ve come to realize that my voice suits the here and now rather then the there and then.

    Thanks for coming to join us today. I loved reading about your journey and how many different ways a writer can anticipate selling. And I’m so glad I live in the time where I can have this awesome group of women. Of course, I’ll still meet them at the corner bar at Nationals.


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