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Posts tagged with: the Omegas

Meet 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Alexis De Girolami!!

We’ve got another Omega on the blog today: 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Alexis De Girolami, whose manuscript PAGE SIX is nominated for Best Contemporary Romance!

Alexis De Girolami is a video game developer by day and a romance writer by… later in the day. At night, she sleeps. She’s penned romance since writing some impressively gratuitous fanfiction in middle school and has never looked back. When she’s not writing or making games, Alexis can usually be found in Seattle, singing overly-enthusiastic karaoke or cuddling her objectively perfect pup Pepper. She likes to write about funny, badass heroines who might not have it all figured out and the complicated men who love them.

Here’s a blurb for PAGE SIX:

Fresh off the high of her first Academy Award win, screenwriter Daniela Hendrix feels like an imposter. Unable to write a word of dialogue that she doesn’t want to instantly light on fire, her manager encourages her to pursue a project with lower expectations—and less risk of arson. So when A-List action star Damian Rivers approaches her with a secret film proposal, Dani is relieved to feel inspiration for the first time in months. But faced with the actor’s high-profile lifestyle and their budding attraction, Dani finds her quiet existence—and her professional reputation—at risk.

Damian is through working on action films. Stuck in an airtight studio contract but eager to shed his stuntman persona, he’s on the hunt for a screenwriter who can bring his new drama to life. But when he meets quirky writer Dani, he finds himself intrigued by more than her fresh perspective. When she agrees to discuss his film, gossip about their relationship reaches the studio and a fake romance becomes the most plausible story to keep their partnership under wraps. With pressure from the studio looming, and the paparazzi hot on their tails, the line between real and fake starts to blur—and one slip up could cost them both their careers.

Oh, this set-up is just luscious!!! The “fake romance” is such a great trope, and pairing it with creative types trying to break out of restrictive boxes to find an authentic voice (together!!)…I want it now!! Yum!!!

Folks, we’re thrilled to have Alexis De Girolami here for a visit!! Let’s dash into a local café to escape the paparazzi (everybody have your oversize designer sunglasses? Put ‘em on and they’ll never recognize us!!). I hear the sushi here is delicious!!

Ready, Alexis? I’ve got questions!!

Welcome 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Valen Cox!

I hope you’re all counting down to RWA like we are! And I hope you’re ready to welcome another of our Omega’s – the delightful Valen Cox.

Valen is a 2019 Golden Heart Finalist for Best Paranormal Romance with her book TOUCH 3.3.

Valen Cox is an Army Brat whose vagabond life took her from exotic locales in the Orient to the lush historical venues of Europe where she attended proms in ancient castles and graduated from high school in a medieval cathedral. When her husband, Terry, earned a direct commission into the military, she blissfully spent another 20 years exploring Buddhist temples, climbing through Roman ruins, and experiencing life in the walled city of Berlin as the wife of a US Army officer.

She holds a BS in English and American Literature from BYU, served as president/director over a dozen volunteer organizations supporting children, youth, and women, and has served as president of the RWA Desert Rose Chapter in Arizona as well as the group’s Desert Dreams Contest Chair, Programs Chair, and Vice-President. In the course of adopting her five children, she became an expert on the critical elements of touch.

Valen writes intense, provocative, driving futuristic suspense. Touch 3.3and its world explores the inevitable progression of the human race as it evolves into the telepathic, telekinetic beings they were always meant to be, and where touch is life and death.

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.

Meet 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Sharon M. Peterson!!!

Today we’re welcoming Sharon M. Peterson, another of the fabulous Omegas, whose book THE LEARNING CURVE has been nominated for a 2019 Golden Heart in the Mainstream Fiction with Romantic Elements category.

Sharon M. Peterson grew up in Oregon, just a few minutes away from Multnomah Falls. (Google it and be awed.) As a child, she was a voracious reader, using books to escape her real life and discover new friends. Every Mother’s Day, she thanks her mother for letting her read when she should have been cleaning her room. As a result, she’s a terrible housekeeper but a pretty dang good writer. Now, Sharon lives Texas with her husband and four children, including two autistic sons. She complains loudly and often about the heat. For several years, she taught middle school English and has the personality to prove it. She has one cat, one dog, one tattoo, an iced tea addiction, and an intense fear of poodles (don’t ask).

When she’s not hiding from her kids in the closet or writing, she is on the leadership board of a local non-profit, Write/Create, where she helps mentor young writers and encourage creativity in her community. She is also a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the West Houston RWA chapter, and a founding member of the Every Damn Day Writers (an accountability and support group for women writers). When not writing, Sharon is active at her church, occasionally singing on the worship team and in the car where her car-dancing game is strong. At home, Sharon constantly, and bravely, answers the call of, “Look at me, Mommy,” feeds her starving children, and dreams of the day she might sleep eight straight hours in a row.

One of Sharon’s favorite quotes is from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, “It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.” She endeavors to tackle life that way and create characters who do the same. Sharon writes women’s fiction with heart and humor and always a bit of romance. She has completed one novel, is working on her second, and dreaming of many, many more. Her first novel was a finalist in the 2018 North Houston RWA Lone Star Writing Competition and a 2019 RWA Golden Heart finalist. Sharon is represented by Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill Associates.

Here’s a blurb for THE LEARNING CURVE:

Twenty-seven-year-old Tess Monaghan is stuck. Living at home, working in the family business, and definitely not dating, she isn’t sure what she wants out of life. Then her best friend dies, leaving Tess to raise her children. She is completely unprepared to become an insta-mom to five-year-old Charley, who refuses to believe her parents are dead, and three-year-old Dustin, diagnosed with autism and living in a world of his own. Overwhelmed with the stress of her instant family, the overflowing laundry baskets, and the sleep deprivation, Tess finds comfort in “conversations” with her dead best friend.

Then there’s Joe St. Clair, who stares too much and says too little. While the kids love their Uncle JoJo, Tess has avoided him since a disastrous first date years ago. Still, he quietly insists on helping her at every turn and his special connection with Dustin is impossible to ignore. Tess has to admit it—she needs him. A lot. When the children’s grandfather threatens to take the kids away, Tess realizes this might not be the life she expected, but it’s one worth fighting for. With a bit of hope, humor, and an unexpected friendship that turns into something more, she may just be able to do it.

I’m already a little teary just reading that! I’m so glad Mainstream Fiction with Romantic Elements is back as a category! (And my heart squeezed a little at “stares too much and says too little”! Sigh.)

Folks, I’m eager to have a sit-down with Sharon and learn more about her life and her writing. To help Tess out a little, maybe we can grab seats in her living room while she’s not looking and fold some of those overflowing baskets of laundry for her… I’ll bring the iced tea!

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Welcome, Sharon! Congrats again on your Golden Heart final, and with finding such a great agent—all on your very first book!! This is your first completed Romance, but have you been writing a long time?

 I’ve always been a closet writer. I started but never finished a few novels over the years but I never told anyone, even my husband, about my desire to write—it seemed like such an impractical dream.

Life happened and somehow I had four children—the boys are 13, 11, and 9, and The Girl is 5 now. While I was pregnant with my third son, my first son was diagnosed with autism and by the time my third son was eighteen months, I knew he was also autistic. My life became one of ruthless practicality, insurance companies, and therapy appointments.

About five years ago, friends encouraged me to start a blog. One day, I screwed up the courage to do it and I began telling stories of my life. With each post I wrote, I fell more in love with the storytelling aspect. Through the two years I blogged consistently, a writing friend invited me to her writing group, but I never took her up on the offer. I wasn’t a serious writer, why waste everyone’s time?

Then my laptop died. Between four kids and medical bills, it wasn’t in the budget to get another, and I learned very quickly how much I’d come to rely on writing as a lifeline to my sanity and you know, free therapy. I missed it. A lot. 

One day, my friend Maria called and asked me to meet her. I had no idea that when I arrived, she’d have a new laptop for me. She and a group of local moms had pooled their money together to purchase it for me, to make sure I kept writing. I have no idea how to explain it except that moment changed things for me, it gave me courage to write. I attended my first writing group even though I had nothing to show them. But they encouraged me to start.  

So I did. In between homeschooling three kids, an idea began to form, one that I’d spent the last ten years training to write, about a woman who inherits two kids, one of whom is autistic. Then, on a laptop gifted to me by a bunch of moms, in my spare moments and the quiet of the late, late nights, fueled by caffeine, stubbornness, prayer, and a passion for writing I’d finally claimed, I started to write.

And this time I didn’t stop.

Oh, what an amazing story!! I’m passing the tissue box, since I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs to wipe away a few tears right now. The power of women supporting women!! It’s the best!! (Sob!!) How wonderful that they kept you writing, and that it got you to this amazing point in your career! And I love the heartfelt book you were able to write as a result. Are parts of Tess’s story based on elements of your own real life?

 Short answer: YES!

Long answer: One of the characters is Dustin. He’s three and autistic. Parts of him are certainly inspired by my two autistic sons as well as other children I know on the spectrum. There’s a saying, “You meet one person with autism, and you’ve met one person with autism.” Because autism is a spectrum, the symptoms, severity, and quirks of an autistic person vary widely. For instance, in my house alone, my oldest is 13, walks himself to and from school, is in many general education classes with support and will talk your ear off when he’s nervous. On the other hand, my 9-year-old is very limited verbal and needs constant supervision.

In LEARNING CURVE, Dustin takes on some characteristics of my sons—he’s very limited verbally, has echolalia (meaningless repetition of words spoken by another person…or heard on television or the radio or on YouTube), rarely sleeps, and has poor eye contact. He also carts a fidget toy, a tiny stuffed monkey, everywhere. That little monkey is based on one my oldest still carries with him in his pocket or backpack. It’s in pretty gnarly shape but he loves that thing.

Another of my characters, Steven, is not so much based on one real person, but a conglomeration of all the judgment we special needs parents get lobbed at us. Early in querying, a published author friend gave me feedback and one thing she said was to make him the worst, focus all the anger I’d ever felt toward anyone whose ignorance and thoughtlessness was aimed at our family. I have to say, it was very cathartic and it definitely made Steven a badder-bad guy.

A vengeance character!! Excellent therapy indeed. (And just BTW, I wanted share an article about how to understand the phrase “the spectrum” that I came across the other day—as a teacher at a school with many kids on the spectrum, I found it really clear and good to share. The more everybody understands, the more every kid can thrive!)

So you’ve had a powerful life as a writer already. What about your life as a reader? You attribute your writing skill to a rich reading habit as a child. And you were a middle school English teacher, too!! (God bless you!! I teach high school kids, who are easy by comparison.) What kinds of books do you most love to read?

I read a lot and I love talking about books. I’ve always loved love stories and distinctly remember reading my first “adult” romance when I was twelve—The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. Way too young for scandalous secret love affairs with priest but that did not stop me.

For years, I was a romance junkie but nowadays, I try to read widely because I think being exposed to all kinds of writing helps me to be a better writer. My favorite genres are romance and women’s fiction, but I will read anything if the writing catches my attention (and bonus if there’s at least a hint of romance). I am a huge Kristan Higgins fan and also really enjoy Sophie Kinsella. I discovered Maggie Osborne (historical romance) years ago and fell in love with her quirky heroines and unusual storylines. If you haven’t read her book Silver Lining, stop what you’re doing and go read it now.

Some recent 5-star reads for me: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld, My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan, Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan, The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir, and Dear Dwayne, With Love by Eliza Gordon, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owns, (I could talk about books all day long so I’ll stop there before I bore you.)

My favorite movie of all-time is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Sure, it’s mostly about kidnapping and Stockholm Syndrome but there’s singing and dancing and barn-building and very handsome brothers. In terms of television, I’m a bit behind schedule but I loved The Middle, Ugly Betty, and Little House on the Prairie. I tend to be a bit of a reality show junkie too, especially cooking shows like Top Chef.

That’s quite the list! (And you inspired me to go buy a copy of Silver Linings! On its way from Barnes and Noble as we speak!) What about more books from you? You’re working on your second novel—care to share what it’s about?

I am currently on the second draft of a still untitled WIP.

The blurb:

Perci Mayfield has never quite lived up to her mother’s expectations. In fact, she’s pretty sure she’s a Grade-A Failure. She works at a job she hates. The forty pounds she was supposed to lose last year are still right where she left them. Then five days before Christmas her boyfriend dumps her. On the radio.

Under the influence of jalapeño poppers and wine, Perci makes anti-New Year’s resolutions, things she can’t possibly fail at. I will NOT try to lose weight. I will NOT work harder at my job. I will NOT get a new hobby. I will NOT date. I will NOT be a better daughter and sister.

Those resolutions set Perci on a track she never expected. A new job she loves? A new un-handsome, and totally hot, neighbor? A better friendship with her sister? Yes, yes, and yes.

Perci has never been able to keep a New Year’s resolution but this year, failing might not be so bad.

Oh, that’s perfection!!! I would bring that puppy to the cash register in a heartbeat!! (Can you write faster? Pretty please??? Or…maybe make a resolution to NOT write faster, if that works better???)

It’s been a joy talking with you, Sharon! But I need to give our readers a chance to chime in. Do you have a question to get our conversation rolling today?

 What was the first romance novel you read?

 

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Connect with Sharon M. Peterson on social media:

Website: http://sharonmpeterson.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SharonMPetersonAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/stone4031

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stone4031/

2019 Golden Heart Sara Whitney on What She’s Learned from Doing It Scared!!

Today’s Omega guest is Sara Whitney, a 2019 Golden Heart Finalist whose manuscript TEMPTING TALK is nominated in the category of Best Contemporary Romance!

Sara Whitney writes witty, sexy contemporary romance novels packed with breezy charm, crackling dialogue, and want-to-root-for-them characters. Sara worked as a radio deejay, a newspaper reporter, and a film critic before she earned her Ph.D. and landed in academia, where she teaches courses on communication theory and media/race/gender. Under her “day job” name, she freelances as a TV writer for the Entertainment Weekly website and hosts a podcast about live-action DC TV television, so definitely hit her up with your hot takes about nerdy shows.

Sara lives in Central Illinois with her divorce attorney husband—she likes to believe that the happy endings she writes help balance their karmic scale— in a house full of books, cats, and pinball machines.

Tempting Talk is the third book in her Tempt Me series, which will be available beginning in early 2020. Here’s the blurb:

The first time Mabel Bowen takes Jake Carey’s hand, their chemistry’s so explosive that she’d bet her mother heard the gong of imminent grandchildren from two states away. But Mabel doesn’t mix work and pleasure, which is a shame since Jake’s the accountant overseeing the sale of the rock radio station where she’s one of the deejays.

Jake’s only goal for the past decade has been landing a partnership at his firm, and he was fine putting his personal relationships on hold to achieve it—until he met the glib and gorgeous Mabel. But when they finally decide to stop fighting the inevitable, a professional betrayal shatters their burgeoning relationship, leaving Mabel struggling with forgiveness and Jake questioning the toll his work-first lifestyle has taken on his heart.

You sold me on the book with the line “her mother heard the gong of imminent grandchildren from two states away”!! I’m thrilled to know this will be out soon!!

Folks, Sara’s here today to talk about facing her fears—and what finding the courage has taught her. Take it away, Sara!!

 

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WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM DOING IT SCARED

My romance-writing journey began on an “I bet I can do that!” whim during NaNoWriMo 2013, and since then, my three constant companions have been my MacBook, my Wonder Woman coffee mug, and my fear. The first two have been nothing but helpful, while the third is daunting enough that I refer daily to the wooden sign that sits on my desk and reminds me of one thing: If you can’t beat fear, then do it scared. Yet when I think back on the things that used to frighten me, I see that over and over again, doing it scared has been just as helpful to my writing career as caffeine and my keyboard.

To wit, a partial list of fears I’ve faced and lessons I’ve learned:

Fear No. 1: Saying the words “I’m an author” out loud to another person. How pretentious, to claim I’m an author when I have no publications to my name! I demurred and deflected too many times in the early years. Thankfully, a friend at my local RWA chapter urged me to spank my inner moppet and own the fact that I take this pursuit seriously. The first time I looked another human in the face and introduced myself as an author, I realized that I’d just said something true.

Doing it scared reminded me of my goals.

Fear No. 2: Announcing my romance-writing plans to acquaintances. We’ve all been there. “Oh. Those books.” “Are you gonna have Fabio on the cover?” “Don’t you want to write a real book?” We understand our genre, and we love our genre. Unfortunately, the rest of the world does not always seek to understand or to love our genre. But I stopped worrying about the judgment of others once I embraced this opportunity to educate the uninformed. I now ask the skeptical people in my life to examine what’s behind their kneejerk mockery of a powerhouse literary genre that’s primarily written by women, for women, and that focuses on traditionally feminized concerns like emotions, relationships, and sexual satisfaction. Almost every time, it leads to an eye-opening conversation.

Doing it scared allowed me to advocate for the books we love.

2019 Golden Heart Finalist Claire DeWolf on the Book That Surprised Her

Today we’re welcoming another Omega, Claire DeWolf, a 2019 Golden Heart Finalist whose book LOLITA’S MUSE is a finalist in the Mainstream with Romantic Elements category.

Claire DeWolf (seen below in her role of Golden Heart Finalist and Hollywood wife) is a former actress turned editorial writer and community organizer. The mother of a grown son, she lives in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu with her husband, a forty-year Hollywood veteran. When she’s not attending Hollywood functions or traveling with her husband, you will find her in her home office working on her next book.

The real Claire DeWolf behind the scenes wears braids and walks her dog around the neighborhood in her writer’s uniform—t-shirts and zany yoga pants. She is a consummate foodie and believes that crafting a debut novel is like making fine jam. Use the best ingredients, craft it carefully, and then cook it down to its essence without too much sugar.

Claire and her husband of 33 years just adopted a two-month-old mini red poodle puppy named Bingley. (Named after Mr. Charles Bingley of Netherfield Hall.) Young Bingley, like the man for whom he was named, is an affable gentleman with a true heart. He loves to play with toys, give everyone kisses and cuddles, and is a good boy until he pees in the house. Mr. DeWolf will be very grateful if his wife would potty train Mr. Bingley before she goes to RWA Nationals. Claire is making no promises.

Here’s the awesome Elevator Pitch for LOLITA’S MUSE:

Lolita’s Muse is an over-fifty ménage à trois that explains why #metoo had to happen in Hollywood. With Tantric sex.

And here’s the full back-cover blurb:

Blacklisted as a young screenwriter, Liz Attwood hid behind pen names and her husband’s legend to become Hollywood’s top script doctor, only to lose it all when he died. Grieving, near bankrupt, and unable to write the romance novels that pay her bills, she goes to the sensual yoga retreat that had sparked her spicy Lolita Yardley novels to find inspiration. Instead, she finds two muses who spark her inner Lolita.

 Together, Jake Daggett and Marcus Faraday embody everything she wants in a lover and a muse, and she wants to keep them both. But when scandal threatens everything, Liz must choose between hiding behind another man, or facing her crippling fears and step out from behind her husband’s legend to claim her rightful place in the spotlight.

When life gives you two choices, take both.

Now there’s a spicy mantra you can live by—“take both!”!! LOLITA’S MUSE sounds terrific, and I love that it’s “an over-fifty ménage à trois!” Can’t wait for this to be out!!

 Folks, Claire DeWolf is here today with a guest blog about the surprising origins of her Golden Heart book, and how a book she never meant to write came to be far more meaningful than she expected.

 Take it away, Claire!

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The Surprise Book

Once upon a time, I swore I’d never live in LA. Later, after I’d had a child and became an avid romance reader, I swore I’d never write a romance novel. Writing romance was hard. I didn’t understand the beats and my dream was to write historical fiction. (Yeah, I know. I can be boneheaded.) Once I learned a lot more and I started writing romance, I swore I’d never write about the film industry. Especially not the ugly side I knew too well.

But in 1985, I moved to LA and met and married the love of my life. In 1995, I joined the Orange County Chapter of RWA and found my tribe. And in 2014, out of my fingers came a book about the film business. That book became Lolita’s Muse, my Golden Heart Finalist.

The first two swear-breakers happened because of rational decisions. I came to LA after earning my SAG and AFTRA cards. I’d never spent any time in New York City and I had family here. I still didn’t have an Actors Equity card and I figured that it was better to starve than freeze and starve.

Meet 2019 Golden Heart Finalist A.Y. Chao!!

Today’s Omega guest is A.Y. Chao, a 2019 Golden Heart Finalist for Best Young Adult Romance with her manuscript SONG OF THE SOPHOS.

A.Y. Chao (aka Alice) is a recovering lawyer, expat Canadian, adopted Londoner, lapsed knitter, runner, hobonichiplannerphile, procrasti-online-shopper, foodie, and coffee addict. Her Victorian terraced house in London, UK is chaotic HQ for her family, affectionately known as her “circus of monkeys”—a ginger-haired hubby, Hong Kong rescue mutt, imperious elderly pug, and 7-going-on-16 year old daughter (oh my the sass!)–but she wouldn’t trade her crew of cheeky monkeys for the world. 

She’s a two-time Golden Heart® finalist. In addition to the Golden Heart®, SONG OF THE SOPHOS is a 2019 finalist in the Valley Forge Romance Writers’ Sheila and Kiss of Death’s Daphne du Maurier contests. 

Here’s a blurb for SONG OF THE SOPHOS: YA Fantasy — Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Romeo and Juliet

Set in lush landscapes inspired by East Asia, SONG OF THE SOPHOS explores the effect of colliding cultures and divided loyalties on identity and sense of belonging.

A deathbed prophecy. A dangerous journey.
A daring alliance.

On Erthos where four elemental clans live in centuries’ old enmity, fugitive Fyrclan son Jorkka Draekkeson races north to stop a deadly prophecy. His uncle Roake plans to depose Jorkka’s father and kill all those loyal to the beloved chief. Jorkka must reach his ancestral lands before first snow if he is to save the only family he has left—a father he never knew and a clan he’s never met.

A chance meeting with Denaiya Fen, an orphaned girl fostered by the Waterclan, sets his journey careening off-course. His compelling connection with the girl clashes with his Fyrclan oaths of duty and loyalty. When tragedy strikes, Jorkka extricates Denaiya from forced betrothal by hand-fasting with her himself. 

Instead of reconciling the Fyr and Waterclans, their unorthodox alliance only foments the clans’ mutual mistrust. A mistrust Roake distills into a weapon of fear that cripples his enemies. With first snow looming, Jorkka and Denaiya must unite the hostile clans and reconcile duty with hearts-need if they are to stop Roake from destroying everything and everyone they love.

That sounds fascinating and intense! I love Avatar (the animated TV show, definitely not to be confused with the Avatar movies with the blue cat people), so this sounds right up my alley! I’m getting a bit of Philip Pullman vibe with the names and some Game of Thronesy elements. Yay!! Smart, complex fantasy!!

We’re delighted to have A.Y. Chao with us today. I’ve got some questions to ask her, so grab a seat and a hot toddy to fend off the cold wind from the coming snow! (I know it’s probably boiling where most of you are…a little imagination will help!)

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Welcome, Alice! Lovely to have you with us again, after your first visit during your Rebelle year! This sounds like a very different book from your first Golden Heart book, SOUL AFFINITY, in terms of genre, though I’m seeing some deep thematic connections. Tell us a little more about your 2019 Golden Heart book SONG OF THE SOPHOS and the process of writing it.

SONG OF THE SOPHOS is my second manuscript. The first one was adult urban fantasy and took me five years. A lot of that time was spent learning craft, reading books, taking classes, and revising. SONG OF THE SOPHOS took me three weeks to write and then another nine months to polish. I pantsed my first book and deconstructing it for revision was the most painful, time consuming exercise ever. I learned a lot from my first book (and am still learning!).  For my second manuscript, I started with a basic outline—plotted my major turning points and then pantsed from turning point to turning point. Much much better process for me.

Wow! You really made use of that learning curve! I love the idea of deconstructing the first book to learn how to write the second, and how awesome that you found an approach that worked well enough to score another Golden Heart final! What was it like this time when you got the phone call telling you you were a finalist again?

I used to think I was very laid back, but have recently realised I am actually an extremely anxious person. My coping mechanism is a bad memory. I simply forget when big things are supposed to happen so I don’t have all the anxious build-up. The first time I finaled I had of course forgotten about the announcement date, so was blissfully unprepared when Damon Suede called me that first time. I thought it was a phishing call. 

This time, thanks to the Rebelles chat, I knew early on that it was call day. I spent a good few hours feeling extremely antsy and texting my friend Chris trying to stay sane. When the New York area code showed up on my phone, my heart swelled! It was the call! I might have screeched into Damon’s ear (sorry!). I danced around screaming Oh! My! God! for a little while. I was flying so high. Then I was glued to Twitter watching the names and was thrilled when so many I knew were announced, especially Jilly Wood, who is a fellow Londoner and now Omega, and the whole reason I knew about the GH in the first place. I screamed when I saw her name! I did a lot of screaming that day. LOL.

How wonderful that you and Jilly got to final together!! We’ll have a London contingent at Nationals! As I recall from our conversation two years ago, you’ve lived in lots of different places and cultural contexts, and London is not your hometown. Where did you start out, and how has that shaped you as a person and a writer?

I’m what you call a CBC—Canadian-born Chinese. I was lucky and had the best of both worlds—I had Christmases and Thanksgivings just like my friends. Big blinged-up tree, roast turkey, presents wrapped with pretty bows. All the fun stuff. But I also got to celebrate traditional Chinese holidays like Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival and indulge in my favourite Chinese foods—the stuff you could only get home-made back then. My mixed tapes had a slew of Taiwanese pop stars as well as a-ha and Madonna. I read Judy Blume and manga novels (my first introduction to romance!). My lunches were like my mixed tapes—peanut butter and banana sandwiches, dumplings, spaghetti-Os, and meat floss in a bun. Meat floss is basically cooked meat (I used to have fish or pork) which is seasoned, fried, then very finely shredded so the finished product is a bit like crunchy cotton candy. Here’s a link if you’d like pictures (https://www.chinasichuanfood.com/homemade-meat-floss/ ).

I had to check that out….and I’m including a picture from that sight. Wow, it really DOES look like meat cotton candy. Yummy!! I want to try it!

I had a teacher who sometimes made what-the-heck-is-that faces when I offered her stuff to try (her reaction to meat floss still makes me giggle), but as I had family who were just as weird about non-Chinese food it never occurred to me to be offended. Food is comfort and not everyone wants to go outside that comfort zone.

Because I went to schools where speaking a different language at home was commonplace–Finnish, Norwegian, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Cantonese, French, Danish, German, Japanese, Hindi, Ukrainian, Tagalog, Punjabi—I was never embarrassed by my Chinese heritage. For the most part, being more than what you saw was a given, and I grew up in a community which embraced that as the norm. 

I learned early on that beneath the surface are many facets which inform our sense of identity—the nurture part of nature—and sometimes the divided loyalties cause conflict. When you think about it, divided loyalties are in the very fabric of being Canadian. We swear allegiance to England—the Queen is our symbolic leader. I even sang “God Save the Queen” at school alongside the Canadian national anthem (in French of course). And yet, the majority of us in grade school had never been to England. The Queen was a far away and irrelevant figure when it came to our day-to-day life. 

I noticed the same with the older generation of Chinese families I knew. The parents were very patriotic to their concept of home… which was a complicated place. Most were born in China, but were part of the diaspora that fled to Taiwan with the Nationalists pre-1949 when Mao’s communists won the civil war. They grew up in Taiwan, and then emigrated to Canada where they set down roots. They had families and built their careers in Canada. And yet their patriotism and nostalgia was for a home that no longer existed, and which they had no desire to return to. When China reopened her doors and family friends went to visit, they felt like, and were treated as, foreigners. In the early days, there was a lot of hostility to Chinese with ties to Taiwan. I remember when I lived in Beijing and my mom visited me, a random guy on the street called her nasty names because he knew by her accent she’d grown up in Taiwan. China was no longer home. The country and its people had changed irrevocably from the China they left all those years ago. 

And when family friends visited Taiwan, they encountered a similar problem—they felt as if they didn’t quite fit. They couldn’t eat the things they used to at the night markets, because their tummies weren’t used to the bacteria anymore, they couldn’t always understand the slang, the crowds were too much. But this time, it wasn’t Taiwan that was different. It was them. They had changed. Their internal identities made into something new by their experiences.

How we deal with that space of colliding beliefs and cultures, and the resulting different iterations of self, fascinates me, and is something I like to explore in my writing. Both my manuscripts have at their core the concept of belonging. And both have characters who are caught between worlds and have to learn to embrace all parts of themselves—the dark and the light—in order to reach their full potential. 

Ah, yes!! There’s the thematic connection I was seeing! You’ve already found your Core Story, and it’s an awesome one that will continue to yield rich stories for a long, long time. What about you a reader? What are you drawn to?

I love reading fantasy, especially urban fantasy. J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Charlaine Harris, Deb Harkness, N.K. Jemisin, Philip Pullman are all favourites.

I knew I sensed Philip Pullman in there! (He’s one of my favorites…and there’s a new HBO production of His Dark Materials coming soon that looks WAY better than the movie version from a few years ago.) What’s your biggest source of inspiration? Where do your story ideas come from?

SONG OF THE SOPHOS was inspired by the Gyptians in Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, and my first manuscript SOUL AFFINITY—where a bunch of immortals set up a law firm as a cover for a kind of afterlife border control–was inspired by my time as a corporate lawyer. 

Amazing connections!! What about the people in your life? Who are your biggest supporters? And what are your biggest challenges?

My Rebelles are the best cheerleaders, and I know the Omegas will be the same. I’m lucky in that my husband and one of my best friends have read everything I’ve written and give invaluable insight. My biggest challenge? Not enough hours in the day!

I hear you on that one! (I’m getting this post up late tonight because my puppy had a UTI and I had to spend three hours at the emergency vet….sigh….but, luckily, she’ll be fine.) But hopefully you’re finding the time to go to Nationals, even though you’ll have to cross the pond!

Yes! This year is my second time going to Nationals. I can’t wait! I’m going to be much more organized about my time. My first time I was in a daze and missed out on a lot of things. This time I have my schedule sorted, with classes highlighted, and socials pre-arranged. I’m so excited. Plus of course NEW YORK! Yeah baby!

Woot!! It’s going to be a blast!! Do you have a new Work-In-Progress? Care to share what it’s about?

I’ve just begun the querying process for Song of the Sophos so am excited about hitting that milestone, because it means I can get writing on my next story! The idea in my head is darker, sadder than my previous stories. Loss, guilt, shame, and hopefully redemption. It will be a challenge but I’m looking forward to it.

And I just have to ask: As a serious fan of fantasy, what’d you think about that Game of Thrones finale?

I have dragons in my story, the oldest and most powerful being the Venerable Dowager who is the dignity’s matriarch. Imagine a cocktail of Michelle Yeoh’s haughty Eleanor from Crazy Rich Asians, the caustic Professor McGonagall, and Dame Judi Dench’s suffer-no-fools Queen Elizabeth, and you’ve got the Dowager. She’d have just one thing to say about the ending: Dracarys!

DRACARYS!! YES! I think we should all start saying that more in real life. Okay, time to give our readers a chance to get in on the fun. What question would you like to ask to get the conversation going today?

If you could live in any TV show… which would it be?

 

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Connect with A.Y. Chao on social media:

www.aychao.com 
instagram.com/ay_chao 
facebook.com/aychao.author

2019 Golden Heart Finalist Kellie Parker on What She’s Packing for Nationals!!

Today we’re joined by another lovely Omega, Kellie Parker, a 2019 Golden Heart Finalist whose manuscript THE INN AT MILL CREEK has been nominated as Best Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements.

Kellie Parker writes inspirational romance and young adult fantasy novels about flawed characters finding courage to face hardship, love in unexpected places, and a dash of danger. In her quest for adventure, she earned college degrees in biology and nautical archaeology before figuring out what she really wanted to do was write novels. Kellie lives in west Michigan, where she homeschools her four kids, helps her husband with DIY projects, and looks for new ways to eat local. When she’s not writing, she enjoys baking, gardening, and camping.

You can connect with Kellie online at www.kelliemichelleparker.com, where she blogs about the writing life, and on Twitter at @KellieMParker. Her inspirational romance Fatal Flashback debuts with Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense in December of 2019.

Here’s a blurb for THE INN AT MILL CREEK:

Katie Morris has spent the last six years caring for her sick father and struggling to keep the family bed and breakfast afloat. When news breaks that a major resort will be built in her tiny town of Mill Creek, Maryland, Katie is determined not to let it affect her life or her business. But when the resort owner’s handsome son arrives with an offer to buy her property, Katie discovers that following her own heart may be the most complicated business of all.

 Nick Reynolds will be the next CEO of Reynolds Resorts, if he can convince the board he has what it takes to fill his father’s shoes. The task should be easy enough—all he has to do is get stubborn B&B owner Katie to sign on the dotted line. Between his charm and his father’s unethical tactics, the sale should be easy…until his heart gets involved.

 It isn’t long before Katie becomes painfully aware of her growing feelings for Nick, but is his interest in her purely an act? And will Nick’s increasing respect for Katie and her faith be enough to change his heart?

That’s a fabulous set-up!! (Future Lifetime Channel Christmas movie????) I feel happy just reading the blurb!!

Kellie’s here today to share her plan for what she’s bringing with her to Nationals. Kellie’s a conference newbie, but I think we all could learn a thing or two from her approach!!

Take it away, Kellie!!

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What I’m Packing for My First RWA National Conference

Thank you, Rubies, for having me as a guest on your blog! What a thrill it is to be an Omega and join so many amazing writers as a Golden Heart finalist! I have a confession to make: I’ve never been to a national writing conference before, especially not one as big as RWA. As you might imagine, my head has been in the clouds for the past three months ever since I got “the call” and decided I had to go to New York.

I’ve spent way too many hours shopping for dresses, thinking about shoes, and reading blog posts on what to pack for RWA National. But today I want to add a few of my own ideas to the packing list. Some of them are a little unconventional for a list like this (don’t worry, I won’t forget the basics like my toothbrush and business cards), but hopefully they’ll help you get to know me a bit.

CourageI’m a homeschool mom to four kids ranging in age from toddler up to thirteen. My imagination is a whole lot bigger than my actual day-to-day world. So the prospect of traveling alone into New York City to a hotel right on Times Square, to a conference where I’ll hardly know anyone and be expected to mingle with industry professionals, is just a bit daunting. While I know it’ll make a great adventure in hindsight, I’m going to need my courage to get me there and back again in one piece.

My phone – My courage needs a sidekick, so I’m coming prepared with Google Maps (hey, a girl’s gotta eat, and that means finding restaurants!), the RWA app (where am I supposed to be?), and pictures of my kids (free warm fuzzies).

My Extrovert Hat – Sadly, it’s not a literal hat, though I bet something hot pink with ostrich feathers would make a great conversation piece. Since I’m a tried-and-true introvert, who almost always prefers a book to large social gatherings, I’ll be bringing along my extrovert hat. Pop that little puppy on my head, and I can smile, make pleasant conversation, and try to set others at ease for as long as need be. But you can be sure as soon as I reach my hotel room, I’ll hang it back up, throw on my cozy jammies, and curl up with a book to recharge.

Tea bags and snacks – Speaking of recharging, a scalding hot cup of tea is like a mini-getaway in every sip. I might not be in my room very often to make a cup, but when I am, I’ll have my tea bags on hand. And snacks. Maybe some Larabars, apples, and chocolate. Which I won’t have to share with any kids. Bonus!

Respect – With all the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion swirling through RWA right now, it’s a given that I’ll meet people from different walks of life, with views and ideas unlike my own. I feel very strongly that the foundation of every conversation should be respect for others. We’re all unique, beautiful in our own way, and have something to contribute.

Ribbon to decorate my RWA tote – Because nothing says respect like not mixing your stuff up with everyone else’s. 😉

Humility – I’ve been writing seriously for about five years now, which is long enough to know that there’s a lot I don’t know. Being teachable is a good first step, and I look forward to soaking up writing wisdom from my fellow Omegas, other writers I’ll meet, industry professionals, and the amazing workshops. And I hope to be able to share a bit of what I’ve learned already with writers coming after me on the journey.

Notepad and pens – I’m very picky about my pens. My favorites are Pilot EasyTouch (black for notes, blue for revising/editing, red for grading kids’ schoolwork), and my kids almost always swipe them off my desk. Maybe I’ll treat myself to a new pack for the conference, because I suspect I will want to take a lot of notes!

Excitement – This one’s kind of a given, considering I haven’t stopped being excited in nearly four months! I never expected to be chosen as a GH finalist, and I had no idea what it entailed before I finaled. Considering how amazing this experience has been so far, I can only imagine what it will be like to meet so many of my Omega sisters in person and be part of the conference!

So, if you see me wheeling my little suitcase along the sidewalk, looking lost and confused in the neon lights of Times Square, be sure to remind me to pull out my courage. My extrovert hat will already be on. See you in New York!

Now it’s your turn! What have I forgotten? What are your must-have items for RWA National?

2019 Golden Heart Finalist Denise Williams on Life Lessons Writing Has Taught Her!

Today we’re welcoming Denise Williams, another of the fabulous Omegas, a 2019 Golden Heart Finalist in the Best Contemporary Romance category with her book THE OPPOSITE OF ORDINARY.

Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD in education, briefly setting fiction writing aside to write about her research on Military-Connected College Students. She never let go of happily-ever-afters, though.

​In her day job, she helps college students of color find success, is a diversity trainer, and the co-creator of a women’s empowerment group. She is dedicated to developing flawed, multidimensional characters who struggle with those issues impacting real women in complex and nuanced ways. The Opposite of Ordinary is her first novel. After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise now lives in Iowa with her supportive husband, wildly manipulative but loving toddler, and two ornery shih-tzus. Like her characters, she enjoys bad puns, frosting-laden corner pieces, and the company of good friends.

Here’s a blurb for THE OPPOSITE OF ORDINARY (Formerly, The To-Do List), which will be available from Berkley/PRH in Winter 2020 (yay!!):

With her flailing department on the university’s chopping block and her last relationship a disaster in the rearview mirror, Professor Naya Turner lets her friends convince her to work on something other than her tenure application. Her new to-do list has a few additions to her ordinary life, like flirt with a stranger, let a man buy her a drink, and have a one-night stand. Jake, a friendly, charming guy in town for work, offers the perfect opportunity to check items off her list. Except nothing can be that easy—Jake makes her laugh, rebuilds her confidence, and soon Naya doesn’t want him to be a one-night-stand at all. Turns out there’s just one problem. That chopping block? Jake’s the one wielding the axe.

 To make matters worse, Naya’s abusive ex—and former coworker—returns to campus threatening to ruin her professional reputation by revealing some of her darkest secrets. With everything she’s ever worked for at stake, Naya must figure out if there’s a way to save her career while staying open to the guy who makes her feel like she’s finally living again. Sexy, poignant, and funny, this rom-com will have you laughing, swooning, and then reaching for a tissue, all while cheering for the heroine who needs to cross “Figure It Out” off her to-do list.

Oh, I adore every word of this!!! I’m so thrilled that I know it’s coming out next winter!!! You have a terrific, warm, witty voice, and I will definitely be watching for this book!

Folks, Denise is here today to share some Life Lessons that being a writer has taught her, and she’s got some great things to say.

Take it away, Denise!!

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The Four Life Lessons Learned from Writing (Plus One Bonus Lesson)

Like Naya, my main character, I’m a list-maker. When it came time to craft a blog post, it seemed only natural to make a list. Below are the five most important life lessons I’ve learned from writing. 

Life Lesson #1: Growth mindset is key—I don’t do better because I am great, I do better because I can do better.

Here’s a tightly held secret about academics.

Are you ready? Clutch your pearls, because it’s shocking.

Meet 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Courtney Maguire!

We’re excited to welcome another newly minted Omega to the blog, Courtney Maguire. Her manuscript, WOUNDED MARTYR, is a 2019 Golden Heart Finalist in the Contemporary Romance: Short category.

Courtney Maguire is a University of Texas graduate from Corpus Christi, Texas. Drawn to Austin by a voracious appetite for music, she spent most of her young adult life in dark, divey venues nursing a love for the sublimely weird. A self-proclaimed fangirl with a press pass, she combined her love of music and writing as the primary contributor for Japanese music and culture blog, Project: Lixx, interviewing Japanese rock and roll icons and providing live event coverage for appearances across the country.

Her debut novel, WOUNDED MARTYR, is a 2019 RWA Golden Heart Finalist and a CRW Stiletto Contest Finalist in the Contemporary Romance: Short category.

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