Where Are They Now – Golden Heart Finalists from 2003 and Earlier

Welcome to Week Four of our eight week series: The Golden Heart Finalists, Where Are They Now?  This week we have a two-fer! In the past few weeks, we’ve been catching up with the more recent Golden Heart classes of 2010, 2014 & 2015, but this week we’re taking it Old School, y’all.  On Thursday Beth Langston will host the Golden Heart classes of 2005 & 2007, but today it’s our chance to take a look at the Golden Heart Back in the Day as we welcome the finalists from 2003 (Welcome, Wet Noodle Posse!) as well as finalists from as far back as 1988!  (Confession: this was the week I was looking forward to the most!)

Back in the days before ebooks and indie publishing, before digital entries were even an idea, when all the aspiring authors would lovingly box up five copies of their entries and mail them to Houston every fall, the Golden Heart was the gold standard and these authors got the Call.

(All of the information was voluntarily provided by the finalists themselves – and if you are a Golden Heart finalist from 2003 or earlier and you missed our call to arms, please post your own update in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!)

The Early Years of the Golden Heart Finalists, Where Are They Now…

1988 –  Amelia Grey (also writing as Gloria Dale Skinner & Charla Cameron) no longer writes in the subgenre she finaled in, but she is still writing full time and is now a NYT & USA Today bestseller.  “I won the Golden Heart with the contemporary book Diamond Days,” she explains.  “It is the only contemporary book I’ve published. I have published 27 historicals. One nonfiction book, and two novellas.”  She says of the Golden Heart “That it was the start of my publishing career and I am still writing and getting my books published by a major publishing house.”  Nearly thirty years later.  (Can I get an amen?)  She plans “To stay with St. Martin’s Publishing until I retire from writing.”

In 1993, Lori Handeland (also writing as Lori Austin) got the call, after which, “Editors called me and asked to see my book. I felt that I was on the right track.” Since then she has written many novels, novellas and short stories in multiple genres–historical, contemporary, series, paranormal romance, urban fantasy and historical fantasy–and been nominated five times for the RITA, winning twice.  This USA Today and New York Times bestselling author is currently trying something new, “I have written an upmarket women’s fiction novel which I am trying to sell to the Big 6. I am uncertain where I’ll go from here.”

In 1997, when hybrid author Gabi Stevens (also writing as Gabi Anderson) finaled, her experience was different.  She said of the Golden Heart, “It did very little for me, except prove that I am capable of writing a good story. I wasn’t published in the genre I finaled in until much later in my career.” Now she looks forward to a “new novel coming soon from Boroughs.”

Sarah Greene Hamer finaled in 1999 & 2003 and is now a full-time free-lance editor, writing teacher, and book coach.  She said of her Golden Heart experience that “It gave me confidence to keep going. It has also opened multiple doors, giving me opportunities to teach (, blog (, and edit. It gives me credibility.”  Now she says, “I’m in the ‘retired’ stage of my life but I will always write and teach and edit, because it is my passion.”

In 2000, when Jennifer Ashley (also writing as Allyson James & Ashley Gardner) finaled she said, “It encouraged me. I did not get any bites from agents or editors because I finaled, but it helped me know I was on the right track–the fact that many finalists get published (whether or not that publication is directly caused by the finaling book), made me think my dream was within reach. I was published 2 years later!”  Now a best-selling hybrid author, she plans “to continue writing romance as well as mysteries and mainstream fiction.”  As she explained, “I was published within two years of finaling in the Golden Heart. The ms I finaled with? In the drawer. It’s never been published. But I learned from writing that book and worked on my craft until I was able to sell to a NY publisher. I’ve had about 80 books published since then!”  Can I just say wow?

Beth Cornelison finaled in 2000 and 2004, also winning the Golden Heart in 2001.  Now a full-time hybrid author, she said, “Finaling and winning the Golden Heart definitely helped me catch the attention of agents and editors but even with the finals and a win, it took a while to find THE book that got me published with Harlequin. But the finals also gave me more confidence as I approached this business so full of rejection!” Now she plans to “continue to write for Harlequin and want to branch out with Love Inspired as well.” She also has “an upcoming three book series with Harlequin Romantic Suspense that I’ve been working on which will come out next Fall about an Adventure Ranch in Colorado.”

In 2001 & 2002, Mary Strand‘s finals gave her “the confidence (whether or not misguided) to become a full-time writer.” Now a full-time hybrid authors, her current goals are to “Keep writing, make money.” (Amen, sister.)  She also had these words of encouragement: “My 2001 GH winner, Cooper’s Folly, was my first manuscript and ultimately my first published book, but it wasn’t published until 2014. Never give up!”

Louise Bergin, 2002 finalist, said “After finaling in the Golden Heart, I was published by Signet Regencies (part of NAL/Penguin Putnam) for three books. When the line closed, I focused on my family for several years. Now that they are grown, I am back at my writing and hoping to self-publish new work.” She says of the Golden Heart, “I would not be published without it. I’d been trying to attract the Signet editor’s attention through unsuccessful query letters. When I changed the letter so the first sentence read “I am a Golden Heart finalist,” I heard back in five days (the time it took snail mail to reach New York.)” Now she plans “To finish putting up my previously published traditional Regencies and write more self-published books.”

And then came The Wet Noodle Posse…

The earliest Golden Heart group we have a record of that is still active as a group, the finalists of 2003 dubbed themselves the Wet Noodle Posse and a tradition was born.  They were one of the first (if not the first) Golden Heart class to become a tight knit group that remains strong to this day. The Wet Noodle Posse respondents all reported they were still active as a group.

Bestselling hybrid author MJ Fredrick (2003, 2004, 2006) said of the Golden Heart, “Oh, it definitely focused me and made me feel like a real writer. Because of the GH, I got the interest of a NY editor and eventually landed an agent.” She added that “The Golden Heart brought me some of the closest friends of my life, and despite being a contest, taught me that supporting and being supported by other writers is better than any contract!”  Currently she plans to “Write more, write all the time, write write write!! So many ideas, so little time!”  (My soulmate!)

Merrillee Whren, another bestselling hybrid author, said “I believe winning the Golden Heart brought me to the attention of editors.” And now, moving into the future, “I plan to pursue more indie publishing. I enjoyed my time as a traditionally published author, but I love having the control that an indie author has.”

Tori Scott said the Golden Heart “allowed me to take myself seriously as a writer and also helped my family to take me seriously. It also introduced me to an awesome group of women who helped convince me to self-publish my books, turning my hobby into a career.” Now she says, “I took a break while dealing with some health issues, but I’m ready to get back to work on my second series of contemporary western romance.”  (Welcome back, Tori!)

Trish Milburn, now a full time hybrid author, reported that the Golden Heart “gave me the confidence to keep going in spite of repeated rejections, and it gave me some of my very best friends.” She went on to say,  “The Golden Heart groups also gave me an opportunity for some unique promotional opportunities. The Wet Noodle Posse (2003) did a women’s e-zine for a while (I was the editor), and the Romance Bandits (a portion of the 2006 class) had a successful blog and we still put out a quarterly newsletter (also the editor for this).” About her current plans?   “I’m finishing up a contract with Harlequin for one of the closing lines (Western), in talks with another publisher, and am going to pursue more indie publishing.”

I hope you’ve loved hearing from these past finalists as much as I have – be sure to tune in again on Thursday for the 2005 & 2007 classes with Beth Langston.

And Don’t Forget to Check Out These New Releases!


Thank you to everyone who responded to our survey! And remember, if you’re a Golden Heart finalist from 2003 or before, we’d love to hear more about where you are now in the comments today!

11 responses to “Where Are They Now – Golden Heart Finalists from 2003 and Earlier”

  1. OH, This was the blog I didn’t want to miss. It’s great to see careers that have grown with dedication over the decades. loved reading your responses.

    Congrats ladies on your successes. You are an inspiration to us all.

  2. Rita Henuber says:

    Wow! Just WOW! Thank you ladies for showing us the way. You are our heroes.

  3. Tamara Hogan says:

    How awesome to see so many familiar names! Special shout-out to Mary Strand, who’s a member of my RWA land chapter. 🙂

    Thanks for showing so many of us how it’s done.

  4. Jacie Floyd says:

    This is fun to see so many familiar names that started way back when. My first Golden Heart nominations were in 2001, back before we named ourselves. A lot of us didn’t even have email and definitely didn’t have a dedicated loop– at least, I didn’t hear about it if we did! I was thrilled beyond measure to be a double finalist that year and thought my success was guaranteed. Not true, 50there was still a lot of work to do to make it happen.

    By the time I was a finalist again, in 2004, we knew enough to have a loop and a name ( the Go4s or something like that). We talked about our conference plans and the award ceremony, but didn’t gel much beyond that. I stay in contact with a few of them, mostly because we shared other GH years, too. Still, just sharing the experience with others was a thrill.

  5. Squee! This was the week I couldn’t wait for. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your experiences, ladies, and leading the way!

  6. Addison Fox says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this post!! It’s so wonderful to hear what people have been up to and to see how careers have grown over time.


  7. Waving HI to my fellow Wet Noodle Posse sisters!! I think we were the first to name ourselves, but more importantly to me, my Posse sisters were my first GH class and they’ve been a constant source of support and guidance.

    Sending hugs across the miles to you all!

  8. Gwyn says:

    Loved catching up. So great to see how many have continued to write over the years. Heroines all!

  9. Thanks for paving the way. You ladies are so inspiring!

  10. Elisa Beatty says:

    So lovely to read all of this!!!


Subscribe to the Blog

The Latest Comments

  • Fenley Grant: Hi, Elly! I loved hearing more about you, my fellow Omega, and can’t wait to meet you in NYC! To...
  • Elly Kate: I’m doing my best to get it published, but you know how it is… 🙂 Some day, I hope. I...
  • Elly Kate: Oooo I watch basically zero movies, but I DO want to see that one! I’ve heard only good things about...
  • Elly Kate: Can’t wait to see you there!
  • Elly Kate: Oh, yes – as someone with some chronic health conditions… And I’ll be real here,...