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We’ve both been involved in the Golden Heart® contest for unpublished writers several times over the past few years.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.”

 

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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.

 

Golden Heart Calling!

Wednesday, March 21, was a Big Day in the romance world, the morning calls went out to notify the finalists in Romance Writers of America’s® two big national contests, the RITA® (for published works) and the Golden Heart® (for unpublished writers). The calls go out fairly early in the morning: the RWA board members who make the calls love doing it, and the writers who have entered one of the contests are on pins and needles. (The Golden Heart takes up to 1200 entries; the RITA is capped at 2000.)

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I got very spoiled when my manuscripts made the Golden Heart finals in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Spoiled, but not sold, so I kept on entering, without success, in the following years. Last year I swore I’d never enter again, but when the time came I couldn’t resist. 2018 will be the last time, I said to myself. I’d rewritten the beginning of Jinn on the Rocks after getting some constructive criticism from the judges in the Emily contest last year. Good to go.

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By Wednesday morning, I was almost wishing I hadn’t entered, sure my poor Jinn wouldn’t final yet again. Humor is too subjective; it would never find five judges who thought it was funny. Then my phone started chiming—with text messages. My friend Leslie Marshman was a finalist in romantic suspense. Then my friend Sara Neiss got her call, a finalist in short contemporary. But no phone call for me.

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So a little after 9 I left for my Tuesday through Thursday job at the Scorekeeper, a thirty-mile commute, most of it on the freeway. Surely the calls had all gone out. Bummer. I’d never enter again. My phone kept chiming, and I pulled over into a restaurant parking lot to read the rest of the text messages, and to text Jo Anne that I was on my way in, no call, done with the Golden Heart. Loyal friend (and three-time Golden Heart finalist herself), she texted back, “Maybe later.” “Not holding my breath,” I replied, and got back on the road.

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For the next twenty minutes I ran through all the reasons I didn’t really want to be a finalist this year. Too much pressure. All those emails and Facebook posts. So many events to juggle at the National Conference in Denver in July. Finding a decent photo to send to RWA. The list went on.

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And then my purse rang.

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Congratulations balloonNormally I do not answer my cell phone while driving. Especially not while driving into Houston on I45. But this was Golden Heart day, so I pulled my phone out to look. “Restricted,” said the Caller ID. No phone number.

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I answered it anyway.

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And it was Donna Alward, an RWA Board Member, calling from Nova Scotia to tell me that Jinn on the Rocks is a finalist in the paranormal category of the Golden Heart.

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I managed to stay safely in my lane on the freeway, but it wasn’t easy. Probably a good thing the call only lasted two minutes (thanks to Donna, who knew I was driving). I broke another rule before I put the phone away, and texted “Me too” to the morning texters, confusing most of them.

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And suddenly all those reasons why I’d rather not final disappeared. I’m welcoming all the emails and Facebook posts, almost 50 new Golden Heart sisters, a giant ego boost. Golden Heart finals for all three of my Jinn stories. I am, once again, thrilled. (The balloon is from Jo Anne.)

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Contest judging is always subjective. No more than ten percent of Golden Heart entries make the finals; many excellent manuscripts don’t. I judged eight (in another category, of course), and I would have been happy to see two of them on the finalist list, but they didn’t make it. After all, ninety percent don’t final. We chalk it up to experience and move on.

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But, oh, what a thrill to make that list!

 

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Last week my Starcatcher & Lucky 13s sister Nan Dixon tagged me to carry on the Writing Process Blog Hop. Nan is a five-time Golden Heart finalist and has recently made her first sale to Harlequin SuperRomance. Southern Comforts will be published in December 2014.

So on with the blog hop questions:

What Am I Working On?

Jinn on the Rocks is the third book in my Jinn series, following Jinn & Tonic and Bathtub Jinn. Zee, the heroine of this installment, is a changeling, a jinn left in the mortal world as a baby a century or so ago. Curran, the hero, is a jinn cast into the mortal world by the breaking of his bottle—and not, it would seem, by accident. Together with a smart-mouthed goblin and a dog who probably isn’t really a dog, they are trying to figure out how Curran can return to the world of the jinn, who Zee really is, and, of course, the route to a Happy Ending.

How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

I write Funny. Well, I hope I do. I mean to. But of course humor is a terribly subjective thing, and not everyone will agree on what exactly is funny. If I tried to write vampires, they’d probably be allergic to hemoglobin, and my werewolves would likely have fleas. I can’t help it. I used to slip jokes into environmental impact reports for the Corps of Engineers. But just look around you—love is funny. Every romance needs a generous helping of humor if it’s going to last beyond infatuation.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

I write humor because, well, that’s who I am. I love to make my critique group chuckle. I love to read humor in almost any genre. I have written historical Wizard of Ozand time travel romances because I have some academic and practical background knowledge of nineteenth-century Texas. But mostly I write paranormal, and when I look back I realize that my favorite childhood books included the Oz series, Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Doolittle books, and Edward Eager’s Half Magic series. I started reading science fiction when I was about ten years old, and still love the genre. Am I escaping from “reality?” Maybe, but it’s always been a fun trip.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

Mechanically: all over the place. I’ve written longhand in spiral notebooks, on typewriters, gone through at least half a dozen word processing programs before settling on Word, and tried too many writing accessory programs to count. About a year and a half ago I fell in love with Scrivener, and now I useScrivener it for nearly everything (including blog posts).

Creatively: I’m more on the pantser end of the scale than the plotter, but that’s not really intentional. I usually have at least two or three chapters ahead plotted, maybe more. I plotted the second half of Bathtub Jinn in order to enter a contest that required a synopsis, and that synopsis allowed me to finish the book (just barely) in time to enter the Golden Heart—and final. But I’m not usually that disciplined. I tend to be a very linear writer (I keep hoping Scrivener will help me loosen up on that a bit), and I find it hard to predict what will happen a hundred pages or more ahead until I get there.

I don’t do character interviews or biographies, and I often have to write several chapters before I have any real idea who my characters are. Sometime I have to write, and throw away, several chapters before I know what my story is, or more to the point, where it starts.

A note on titles: My 2011 historical Golden Heart finalist, Paper Hearts, was simply “the newspaper story” for a long time, until the title popped into my head one day. But the Jinn books have all started with their titles—if you think of any good gin puns, I’d love to hear them. My next Jinn book may be hiding behind one of them.

The Dress ThiefNow I’ll pass the Writing Process baton on to my Firebird sister Natalie Meg Evans, who has promised to post her version next Monday. Natalie’s first novel, The Dress Thief, has just been published in the UK by Quercus Books, and is available from the Book Depository.

 

Sticking to My Story

Recently when the editor of the West Houston RWA newsletter asked me if I had an article to contribute to the January newsletter, I found this piece on my computer.  The file date told me that I wrote it in June 2012, but I couldn’t remember why I’d written it.  It wasn’t anywhere here on the blog, it hadn’t been printed in either of my chapter newsletters, and it wasn’t on the Firebirds blog.  Took me about a week to remember that it was written for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood (the 2009 Golden Heart finalists) when I was a guest on their blog.  Reading it over I see that nothing much has changed, so I’m sharing it again here.

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When Bathtub Jinn, my 2012 Golden Heart finalist, got hosed in yet another chapter contest, I found myself whining about it.  “This manuscript has missed the finals in so many contests,” I said, “that if it weren’t for the Golden Pen and the Golden Heart I might have kicked it under the bed.”

I didn’t say, “I might have quit writing.”  I know that more than a few writers have closed their laptops after too many punishing contests or nasty reviews, but not me.  I always come back.  Glutton for punishment?  Adrenalin junkie?   No.  Well, maybe yes, but that’s not the reason.  I just can’t stop writing, not for long.  It’s what I do.

I wasn’t really born with a book in my hand.  My mother would have mentioned that, although it probably wouldn’t have surprised her.  I’m sure she spent her pregnancy with a book in hers.  She swore that I taught myself to read as a very small child, and complained loudly if she changed a word when she read aloud to me.

I switched from directing my playmates in acting out stories at recess to writing the stories down when I was ten or eleven.  There I was, writing fan fiction for long-forgotten TV shows, decades before the Internet turned that into a sort of massive multi-player online game.  Reading everything I could get my hands on and carrying a book with me everywhere (these days I carry a Kindle in my purse).  Taking high school courses in creative writing—but having much more fun writing satire for (decidedly unofficial) school publications.

That may be where I went astray, venturing into humor.  It wasn’t easy to inject a bit of laughter into years of high school, college, and grad school research papers, but I did my best.  Over years of writing Environmental Impact Statements (the historical and archeological backgrounds, not the bugs and bunnies stuff) I even made a few people in the Corps of Engineers laugh.  Well, crack a smile, anyway.  And wow, did those chuckles make me happy!

So when I went back to writing fiction, longer ago than I care to contemplate, it was only natural that my characters refused to wallow in angst.  Bad things happen, but my people react with snappy retorts, humor and occasional sarcasm.  My characters get trapped in their own costumes, find baby alligators in their kitchens, or make momentous discoveries when they’re too drunk to remember them.  Over and over again they demonstrate that love is perhaps the funniest of human predicaments.

How did I wander from contest angst to humor?  Well, we all know how subjective humor is.  All too often my contest scores tell me that one judge loved my snarky voice and another either hated it or completely misunderstood it.  Publishing pros tell me that they love my work, but humor isn’t selling.

I started writing this with two adages in mind.  The first, classic advice from the jaded professional to the wide-eyed newbie, says this is a tough, tough business.  If you can stop writing, you should.  Take up some other pursuit, something safer, like sky diving, or rabble rousing.  Scratch that advice, doesn’t work for me.

The other famous line is “Write what you know.”  What fun is that?  I’d rather time travel to the nineteenth century, or cross into the dimension of the jinn, or visit an alternate time line.  But I think what that hoary bit of advice really means is “Write what you are.”  Write what you feel, what you care about, what matters to you.  Write what comes bubbling up inside you, no matter what others say.

Love is funny.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

And Happy New Year

Well, I’ve eaten my New Year’s Eve herring (a family tradition–I don’t think I’ve missed a year since I was a little girl) and I’ve watched the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day concert (that was a tradition with Jack, and I’ve kept it up).  I’ve started new notebooks and hung new calendars.  I don’t really make resolutions, and I try to keep the goal setting to things I can actually control, but I do find myself thinking over what I’ve accomplished in the last year.

Writing:  In 2013 I’m afraid I did more editing than new writing.  Jinn & Tonic finalled in the Golden Heart contest and I spent some considerable time editing that.  The Golden Heart is quite a rollercoaster ride, but I’m hooked, so in the fall I pulled out Tempting Fate, a story I’ve always loved, rewrote much of the beginning, moved some scene and chapter breaks, and sent that off to the 2014 Golden Heart.  Now I’m finally back on my current project, currently 62 pages long.  I know where my characters are going, but I’m having a little trouble getting them there.

Meanwhile I went to a wonderful regional writers’ conference in Shreveport, put on by the NOLA STARS, the North Louisiana chapter of RWA.  And I flew to Atlanta in July for the RWA National conference, with my friends Cheryl Bolen and Colleen Thompson, and had a great time meeting up with old and new friends.  I also finished my two years as president of the West Houston RWA chapter.  I’m pulling the plug on volunteering, at least for a while.  I need to get back to writing.

Reading:  I continue to buy books faster than I can read them (a life-long habit).  In 2013 I managed to read 38 of them, mostly novels, mostly romances and mysteries.  Between my local writer friends and my Golden Heart sisters, my bookshelves and my Kindle are well stocked.

Work:  In October Jo Anne and I cut our work week back to three days, and we love it.  More time for writing, reading, and sleeping.

Around the house:  Two big projects got done this year.  I had the large dead pine tree in the front yard removed before it could fall on a passing car, along with a couple of smaller ones, and the rest of the trees trimmed.  And I had the swimming pool I’d been ignoring for five years demolished.  Now I’m slowly working on the rest of the yard.  Maybe this year I’ll attack the big indoor projects (the bathrooms need remodeling, and the floors need work), but for the time being I’m picking away at smaller clean-and-toss jobs.  Apparently I am incapable of throwing out pens, address labels, or memo pads, all of which keep turning up in the mail.    I started with my writing nook, but there are plenty of other excavations to look forward to.

Life in general:  I’m catching up on my sleep.  I’ve put on another five pounds or so, a trend I definitely need to reverse.  I admire my friends who go to the gym or their fitness class every morning, but I think I’ll stick with walks around the neighborhood.

Thanks for stopping by now and then.  I hope you enjoy reading these little essays as much as I enjoy writing them.  And I wish you all a wonderful, rewarding, and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2014

Rails & Romance: Passion’s Prize

One day last July at the RWA Conference in Atlanta, I wandered into the very crowded room where two thousand (mostly) women had gathered for lunch and a keynote address.  I found a table with a couple of empty chairs and found myself sitting next to a writer called E.E. Burke.  I’d never met Elisabeth Burke before, but we soon discovered a shared love of Hell on Wheels and American historical romance.  Elisabeth told me that she and two other writers (all three of them Golden Heart finalists), Jacqui Nelson and Jennifer Jakes, would soon release an ebook, Passion’s Prize, Passion's Prizecontaining three related short novels set during the post-Civil War construction of the Katy Railroad.  I downloaded it as soon as it was available (the three parts are also available separately, but if you are interested, you’ll enjoy them all).

Adella’s Enemy, by Jacqui Nelson, opens the collection with the story of Adella Willows, photographer and one-time Rebel spy, who has come West seeking vengeance for the death of her brother in a Yankee POW camp.  She blames the man behind the Katy, and if she can derail the Katy, figuratively or literally, she’ll have her revenge.  But she didn’t figure on falling for the Irish railroad foreman, Cormac McGrady.

In Eden’s Sin, by Jennifer Jakes, we meet Eden Gabrielli, a brothel owner in the railroad town, and U.S. Army Major Sinclair Bradford.  The investigation of a rape committed by a railroad worker brings them together, but the secrets of their pasts, blackmail in the present, and the future of the railroad may drive them apart.

E.E. Burke wraps up the book with Kate’s Outlaw.  Kate Parsons is the daughter, and only heir, of the Katy’s owner, but she has yet to prove her worth to her father as more than someone to be married off to a male successor.  When she is accidentally kidnapped by Jake Colson, a Cherokee bent on stopping the railroad’s path through the Indian Territory, she finds unexpected passion for both her captor and his cause.  But can she save both the railroad and Jake?

A brief epilog reconnects our three heroines, who each appear in the others’ stories, and sets the stage for the next volume, E.E. Burke’s Her Bodyguard.  That one’s waiting on my Kindle, and I’ll be looking forward to more books in the Steam: Romance and Rails series.

Passion's Prize 3

And More Books

When I cut my work schedule back to three days a week a couple of months ago, I was hoping to catch up on reading.  Well, not catch up, really, since I continue to buy books faster than I read them, but at least read more.  It’s been slow.  But I’ve kicked a few other projects off the virtual sticky notes on my computer screen.  I resurrected, edited, and submitted a favorite manuscript to the 2014 Golden Heart contest.  I’ve gotten back to my work-in-progress.  And I’ve just about finished up my term as president of West Houston RWA.  It’s been too cold to do yard work, but my Christmas cards are ready to mail.

The last book I finished reading was Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria, another Tara Holloway novel by Diane Kelly.  Tara Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangriais a gun-toting IRS Special Agent with relationship problems.  She spends much of this book tracking down fraudulent tax preparers and money transfer businesses, trying to break up with her boy friend so she can date the fellow agent she’s been crushing on (since she rescued him from exile in Mexico), and drinking peach Sangria.  Only Tara would declare her intentions to that fellow agent in the middle of a shoot out with a taxidermist/part-time tax preparer.  Diane Kelly writes very funny books, and I highly recommend them.

Now I’m reading the latest adventure of bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich.  Stephanie and her sidekick Lula are hunting for a gangster, but they catch more glimpses of a giraffe running loose in Trenton, New Jersey, than they do of Uncle Sunny.  Stephanie also has two men in her life, Joe Morelli and the mysterious Ranger, constant car trouble, and a loony grandma.  I love the series for the characters, whether they solve a mystery or not.

I’ve been fairly restrained about buying books lately, at least partly because we had no West Houston RWA meeting (with accompanying book signing/sale) to tempt me.  I did go over to Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago for the latest Tara Holloway novel, Death, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream, and The Vanishing Thief, first in a new series of Victorian Bookshop Mysteries by my fellow Golden Heart finalist Kate Parker.  (The women I have met through the Golden Heart are keeping my bookshelves and Kindle full!)

Recent downloads to my Kindle include Tales from the SFR Brigade, a free collection of eight stories.  If you’d like to sample some science fiction romance, this is a good place to start.  Thrown is a new contemporary romance with anThrown equestrian background from Colette Auclair, also a Golden Heart finalist.  And I downloaded Orange Is the New Black, by Piper Kerman.  I haven’t seen the Netflix series based on the book, but I heard an interview with the author on NPR the other day, and it sounded too interesting to pass up.  Who knows, it might even inspire me to subscribe to Netflix.  Just what I need, more TV.

Speaking of Golden Heart finalists, the Firebirds (class of 2012) have restarted our blog.  Today’s post is a very funny interview with Colette Auclair about Thrown.  I’ve promised to post on January 13, so I guess I’d better think of something to say.  Hmmm, maybe I’ll write about . . . books.  And now I think I’ll go read one.

 

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