And the Golden Heart® Goes to . . .

In mid July my friend Jo Anne Banker and I went off to the national Romance Writers of America conference in Denver planning to see lots of friends we only meet once a year, attend a few workshops, maybe speak to an agent or editor here and there, eat a lot, and sleep not so much.

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We’ve both been involved in the Golden Heart® contest for unpublished writers several times over the past few years. Jo Anne was a finalist in 2011 (that year she won in the Contemporary Series category), 2015, and 2017, and I was a finalist in 2011, 2012, 2013, and now in 2018. Between us we know a lot of GH finalists, which has become quite a sisterhood over the years.

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But having made the finals four times, with four different manuscripts, once (in 2011) in the Historical category and three times in the Paranormal category, I was not expecting to win. I write light, humorous paranormal stories, entertaining, I hope, but not dark or angsty. And humor may be the most subjective of fields. One judge might crack up over my manuscript while another wonders what on earth I’m trying to say.

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So my expectations for the conference revolved around meeting the Persisters (the 2018 “class” of GH finalists) and reconnecting with the women (although a few men have been Persisters PinGH finalists over the years, there have been none in my classes) I’ve met through the contest in previous years. The Golden Network, the RWA chapter for GH finalists, holds a retreat every year at the beginning of the conference, a morning of inspirational pep talks, panel discussions, and socializing, always one of my favorite conference activities. And of course, we planned to attend at least a few of the enormous number of workshops going on nearly nonstop from Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning.

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The presentation of the Golden Heart Awards came at lunch on Thursday. As a finalist I had a seat up front and a ticket for one friend, so Jo Anne and I settled in together to eat and watch the awards. (Two other members of the Houston Bay Area Chapter were also finalists: Leslie Marshman in Romantic Suspense and Sara Neiss in Short Contemporary.)

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“Do you have something written down?” Jo Anne asked me. “An acceptance speech?”

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“Of course not,” I said. “No way I’m going to win. I’ve read blurbs for the other entries. They’re all great, much more serious and inventive than mine.”

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“Eat your lunch,” Jo Anne said. “You don’t want to go up there with food in your teeth.”

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“I’m not going up there, Jo Anne,” I repeated. “Not a chance.”

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By the time Pintip Dunn, the Emcee of the program, reached the Paranormal category (after three industry awards and four GH categories), I had finished lunch and was curious to see what my selfie—I’ve never gotten around to having a professional head shot taken—would look like on the jumbotron (there were about two thousand people at the lunch, and very few of us could actually see the stage).

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Pintip read off the finalist manuscript titles and their authors as they showed on the jumbotron, and then opened an envelope and read, “And the Golden Heart goes to . . . Jinn on the Rocks by Kay Hudson.”

 

.GH capture

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I was stunned. I managed to stand up and make it to the stage without falling off. Someone took pictures of Pintip handing me the little jeweler’s box containing the—my—Golden Heart necklace and the envelope with the announcement—just like the Oscars!—and then I found myself at the podium, looking out at that huge crowd, many of whom were cheering, bless their hearts.

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“I Am Stunned.” I know I started out with that. I know I thanked my local friends who were there (making Gerry Bartlett temporarily famous for nagging me . . . and taking me shopping), my chapters, my GH groups. I think I went on to talk about RWA for a couple of minutes, but I honestly don’t remember that part. I’ll have to watch when RWA posts the recording of the ceremony. Apparently I did all right—at least I didn’t fall off the stage—because friends and total strangers told me so.

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I had intended to go to a workshop after lunch, but somehow I didn’t make it. I managed to get up on the stage again that evening, with the rest of the GH winners, when we were recognized during the RITA® Awards for published books, but fortunately we weren’t expected to say anything.

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The rest of the Conference was anything but a letdown. I went to workshops, met with Necklaceagents, had meals and visits with friends, and even got some sleep. I didn’t need to visit the local pot dispensary to stay high—I was floating. And playing with that necklace, half afraid someone would pop up and say, “Oops, we made a mistake, give it back.” I wore it for a week, and I’ll wear it again, often.

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The only disappointment at the Conference was the RWA Board’s announcement that next year will be the last Golden Heart Contest. The publishing industry is changing faster that anyone can measure, yes, but we don’t understand this decision. RWA has always been supportive of its unpublished members, and those of us who have benefited, made friends, finished manuscripts because of the Golden Heart hate to see it go.

 

Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Pride

In Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Pride, Shannon Calhoun is reeling from the revelations dogging Calhoun Petroleum, not to mention the terms of her father’s will, which have her working in a cubicle in the public relations department of the now-shaky family business. How is she going to tell her contacts in the world of high society fund raising that Calhoun can no longer afford to support their causes?

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Texas PrideThings only get stranger when Shannon walks into her sister’s office to see Billy Pagan, the boyfriend she dumped in college, now a high-powered criminal attorney brought in to help with Calhoun Petroleum’s legal woes. The old sparks are still there, but have Shannon and Billy grown up enough to fan those embers into a lasting fire–without burning each other?

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Texas Pride is full of action, from motorcycle gangs to an airplane crash, moving from high-rise Houston to rough neighborhoods and biker bars, and a cast of characters ranging from Billy’s orange-haired grandma to his Harley-riding investigator. But at the heart of the book are Shannon and Billy, searching for a path through life that they can travel together.

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It’s always fun to read a book set in a familiar place, and those of us in the Houston area will enjoy looking in on the city, the oil industry, and even an East Texas Indian reservation and casino. Gerry Bartlett is a life-long resident of the region, knows it well, and clearly enjoys writing about it.

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More books set in the world of the Calhouns, featuring some characters we’ve met and some we haven’t, will becoming from Kensington next year. I’m looking forward to more Texas suspense.

 

Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Trilogy

With Texas Heat, Gerry Bartlett begins a new contemporary romance series set in the Houston oil industry. Cassidy Calhoun has no idea she’s even distantly related to the owners of Calhoun Petroleum until she’s invited to the reading of Conrad Calhoun’s will. Texas HeatSuddenly she finds herself moving in with the three half-siblings she never knew about, required to work at the oil company for a year before collecting her inheritance, and more attracted than she should be to Mason MacKenzie, the oil field competitor who will be evaluating the performance of the Calhoun siblings. If they don’t perform well, Calhoun Petroleum may go right down the pipeline, or be devoured by Mason’s Texas Star Oil, which is facing its own share of financial problems.

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Cassidy has more to deal with than Mason’s questionable intentions. She has no idea why her mother kept her away from the Calhouns all her life, even though it meant living in near poverty for both of them. She doesn’t know who to trust, either—can her siblings be as welcoming as they seem? And what about the people at Calhoun Petroleum? And then the real danger begins.

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The Calhoun Petroleum story continues in Texas Fire, as Cassidy’s newly discovered sister, Megan Calhoun, sets out to fulfill her assignment in the will, working in theTexas Fire oilfields for a year, a tough call for someone who has changed jobs—and boyfriends—whenever boredom set in. And to make the situation touchier, she’s volunteered to go on the road with engineer Rowdy Baker, the long-time boyfriend Cassidy left behind. Rowdy has about as much love for Calhoun women as Megan does for dust storms, work boots, and cramped travel trailers.

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But Rowdy and Megan make up their minds to soldier on, even while Megan learns to live without credit cards and Rowdy finds himself saddled with an unexpected puppy. Megan’s fake ID, intended to deflect the feelings of people hurt by the downsizing of the oil industry in general and Calhoun Petroleum in particular, doesn’t last long, and she’s thrust into representing the Calhoun interests to everyone from diner waitresses to environmental protesters.

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As if that wasn’t enough, Megan has a guilty secret—she knows something about Rowdy’s past that even he doesn’t know. How in the world will these two share a year in the oilfields without killing each other or bringing another disaster down on Calhoun Petroleum?

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Texas PrideThe story continues in October with Texas Pride, when the action shifts back to company headquarters in Houston. Shannon Calhoun is struggling with her assignment, protecting Calhoun Petroleum’s image with press releases, when her old flame Billy Pagan, now a top drawer lawyer, shows up with yet another threat to the Calhoun family business.

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I’ve really enjoyed Texas Heat and Texas Fire, and I’m looking forward to Texas Pride (available October 3 from your favorite ebook source).

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