On March 25, 2008 I got a phone call that changed my life. No. It wasn’t the Publishers Clearing House telling me I’d won millions, or even the California lottery board informing me of a lesser prize. It was far better news. Terri Reed from Romance Writers of America® had called to tell me that two of the manuscripts I’d entered in the Golden Heart® were finalists. Was I shocked? Totally. Excited? You betcha.
Months before, when I submitted my four manuscripts to the GH, I told my husband the national conference would be held in San Francisco, which is only three hours from our hometown. I said that in the off chance I actually finaled, I’d love to go. Since the manuscript I’d entered the year before placed in the bottom half of the entries, I wasn’t holding out hope. My supportive husband said I should go if I was a finalist.
When I hung up that day in March, I danced around the house, sending our two cats running for cover. Since I was also singing at the top of my lungs, I understood their need for speed. My performance of the impromptu ditty set to the tune of “California, Here I Come” left much to be desired. Can’t recall the exact words I chose that day, but it was something about San Francisco and my upcoming visit. A songwriter, I’m not.
I sit here now in my sadly neglected office doing my best to ignore the chaos surrounding me. Conference has come and gone. Real life awaits. After four months living in The Land of Utter Disbelief, I now face piles of laundry, dishes and bills.
But I have many memories. Special ones I’ll treasure for years to come. I’d like to share a few.
• Meeting the other Golden Heart finalists was tops. What an amazing group of women they are. I’m honored to be one of the Pixie Chicks, as we call ourselves. Here are just a couple of the special women I got to know.
Here I am with two of my new friends. On the left I’m with one of the wittiest women I’ve ever met. Above I’m with Anne Barton, a classy lady who writes fresh, provocative regency romance.
• Kicking off the week at the Faith, Hope and Love chapter’s mini conference. This is the online RWA chapter for inspirational romance writers. We enjoyed several good speakers and an agent and editor panel. I met many wonderful inspirational writers as well as two of the other inspirational Golden Heart finalists. Denise Meinstad is in the middle; Kit Wilkinson is on the right. Both are warm, caring women, and I’m glad to know them.
• Attending the reception held by my local chapter, the Sacramento Valley Rose, where those awesome women totally surprised me. Both my chapter mate Theresa Ragan and I doubled finaled, and the “Roses” gave us each a beautiful pewter angel holding a heart with an engraved nameplate commemorating our accomplishment. I was moved to tears. I haven’t been a member very long and have only attended the last two meetings, and yet they treated me like royalty.
• Hanging out with other Golden Heart finalists at The Golden Network reception. This online chapter of RWA limits membership to those who’ve finaled in the GH. Members who go on to sell are “booted out.” An entertaining skit leads up to the booting out ceremony. I participated in the skit, assuming the role of editor #3. I stepped outside my comfort zone, put my Toastmaster skills to work, and had a blast.
• Going out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with a number of the Pixie Chicks. We proudly sported our new t-shirts. Thanks again, Kristina McMorris, for all you did to get them for us. We had to wait over an hour for our tables, so a group of us buzzed through Macy’s. Most wanted to see the shoes. Not me. My weakness is the handbag section. I wasn’t alone. Another Pixie actually wanted to buy a purse for the awards ceremony. I was happy to join her and give my opinions. She got a cute black evening bag.
• Surviving my first ever agent and editor appointments. Both of them offered helpful suggestions when it became clear that what I’d written was not a fit. I admire these publishing professionals who sit for hours on end listening to one pitch after another and are still supportive and encouraging.
• Drooling my way through the literacy signing, first as I helped with the set up and later as I visited my favorite authors. I must’ve licked my lips in anticipation because, I kid you not, they were chapped afterward. I was glad I’d taken my sturdy “True Romance” canvas tote bag, because I had to lug a huge stack of books back to my hotel, which was a ten minute walk uphill.
• Visiting the Borders store set up in the hotel. No matter how many books on craft I get, it seems I’m forever discovering new ones. This conference was no exception. I found five. I reminded myself that since I wasn’t flying, I could get all I wanted because I didn’t have to pay the airlines to ship them home. Rationalization? Maybe, but it eased the guilt.
• Talking with published authors in my genre who were incredibly generous and supportive. One I’d met online even invited me up to her room, listened as I gushed about her books and then asked about my manuscripts. So gracious. I left encouraged and appreciative.
• Walking into the Yerba Buena Ballroom for the Awards Ceremony with my friend Kathryn, who drove down to join me for the gala event. The room was buzzing with excitement as the finalists of the Golden Heart filed in, along with those up for the RITA®, the award for published romance authors. Because we were early, Kathryn and I got seats in the front row directly in front of the podium the award winners used. The noise level grew as the hour drew near and the rest of the guests were admitted.
At eight o’clock conversation ceased as the mistress of ceremonies, Suzanne Brockmann, took the stage. The Golden Heart winners were announced first. A different presenter took the stage for each category. She read each finalist’s name and book title as the same information appeared on four Jumbo-tron screens beneath her photo. We applauded for each finalist in turn. The envelope was delivered, the winner’s name was called, and a thrilled and shocked writer headed to the stage, her journey broadcast on the massive screens.
Tears filled my eyes when Carla Capshaw, last year’s inspirational winner seen in the photo to the left, read my name and those of my two manuscripts. I watched as my picture flashed on the screen twice. After four months of disbelief mingled with anticipation, the moment had arrived. It was real. No one made a mistake. I was truly a Golden Heart finalist who had just spent four of the most incredible months of her life as a minor celebrity.
As Carla took the envelope and tore it open, I waited, sure I’d picked the winner. Yup! I was right. Talented and humble Kit Wilkinson made her way to the front, the camera trained on her. She did us proud, representing our category with grace and style. Her speech was lovely, as was she. I couldn’t be happier for her. It’s her time, and I expect news of her first contract any day.
There are those who wonder why we finalists didn’t care who climbed the stairs that night and stood in the glare of the bright lights. Ask any one of us, and you’d likely hear the same answer. We all felt like winners just because we were finalists. RWA and our peers treated us like princesses of prose. Yes, those who took home a new Golden Heart necklace are thrilled, just as the rest of us are thrilled for them. But the win was icing on some pretty tasty cake, which we all shared.
And so ends an incredible chapter in my life. I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco. Instead I returned home with it filled to overflowing with gratitude. I’m moving on, excited about writing my next story and about all the wonderful new friends I’ve made.
Did you attend Nationals? If so, I’d love to hear some of your highlights.
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