Monday, March 28, 2011

Golden Hearts in Bloom

Ah, it's that season again. Last week RWA announced this year's crop of Golden Heart finalists. Gosh, what a flood of memories that brought back. Shall we wander down that lane again?

I almost didn't get the call telling me my manuscript (titled, at that time, MISTAKEN BY MOONLIGHT) had finaled in the 2008 Golden Heart. My family was literally walking out the door to head away for vacation. We had the suitcases loaded up, the bags of food for the long car ride packed, both kids were dragging the obligatory piles of games, stuffed animals, pillows and favorite blankies, and my husband was wrestling our two anxious dogs who were not looking forward to being dropped off at the kennel/doggy resort.

When the phone rang I stood in the doorway, debating whether to go answer it or to just let it roll over to the answering machine. After all, anyone I probably wanted to talk to already knew we were leaving town; this was most likely just a telemarketer. But by the fourth ring, my curiosity got the best of me and I put down my purse and my laptop case and the dog dishes and my husband's headache medication and ran to answer the phone.

Wow, was I glad that I did! I'm sure I was a blathering idiot. I know I said "Really?" about a hundred times. I hope I said "Thank you" at least once. I remembered feeling, in that moment, as if my life had changed.

As it turned out, I was right. From that day on it was a whirlwind of preparations to go to Nationals (my first!) and to get my manuscript ready for all the attention it was suddenly getting. I had to build a website, answer hundreds of emails, and begin to view my writing as more than just a hobby. I realized I'd somehow gotten into the big leagues and wasn't about to let this truly Golden opportunity pass me by. There would be parties and receptions and photo ops at National and I was determined not to miss any of it. I couldn't find a gown that was glitzy and glamorous enough for the big GH/RITA ceremony so I made one. There weren't enough hours in the day to meet with everyone I wanted to meet with at Nationals, so I skipped sleeping a couple days. As far as I was concerned, this was my one shot. It was terrifying, energizing, and blissful all at the same time.

That year I won the Golden Heart in my category. Two days later, I signed with a wonderful agent, and a few days after that we negotiated a two-book contract with Berkley Publishing. I guess they liked what they got because a few months later I signed another one.

I was asked to change my manuscript's title, but little else. In December, 2009, MISTRESS BY MISTAKE was released. DAMSEL IN DISGUISE followed it in the summer of 2010. My third book with Berkley, TEMPTRESS IN TRAINING, comes out this July and my fourth book is scheduled for April, 2012. Life has changed a lot since I answered that Golden Heart phone call. I'm glad our family vacation had to wait a couple minutes.

But the biggest lesson I've learned from my Golden Heart experience (and from my wonderful Pixie Chicks sisters who were also finalists that year) is that whether you final or don't, whether you take home a necklace or not, whether you sell right away or are eligible to enter again next year, life does go on after the Golden Heart. I could put my family vacation on hold for a little while to do a happy dance after that phone call, but eventually I had to come down from Cloud Nine and get in the minivan. I could go to National and dress like a princess, drink martinis and rub elbows with Who's Who, but at the end of the week I had to come home and catch up on laundry. And then, after all that, I still had to write. Even when I was tired, or uninspired, or too busy polishing my little heart-shaped necklace.

Golden Hearts and martinis with editors really and truly mean nothing unless we write. My advice to this year's finalists is to keep that in mind. Yes, by all means go to National if you can afford it. Enjoy the fun and the opportunities. Take advantage of everything you can, but don't lose sight of what's really important. Keep on living your life and being who you are and, most importantly, remember what that is. You are a Writer. And writers write.