Monday, January 11, 2010


This past weekend, I had the privilege to open the UPS box containing Golden Heart entries for 2010. I did say privilege. I could be a bit biased. I conduct judge training for our local writing contest, Great Expectations, and I'm not convinced everyone has it in him/her to judge another's writing. Or, the luster from my two previous Golden Heart finals could be blinding me. Quite possibly, it could be the RWA networks I am part of have been buzzing for weeks speculating on the delay in shipping entries this year. But as I sat down at the kitchen table and slid the five-entry stack from the box, it came to me. The privilege part. For that, we have to go back one year.

Same table. Same favorite chair. Identical box. I had read other entries, maybe three, already. While waiting in my car. At a coffee shop. Between appointments. But for one in particular, I remember that chair, the morning sun slanting across the table's oak rings, steaming mug in hand. I read the title. I couldn't believe I hadn't picked it first. Two words, their complete juxtaposition wholly captivating. I dove in.

I can't say exactly when the writer had me. It might have been the first sentence. It might have been a half-page later when I realized this setting was unlike any in romance I'd ever read. I'm sure on the first page I sensed a kinship with her for writing outside the box, writing from her heart, and I know I admired her courage to commit something thought of in romance industry circles as "unpublishable" to paper, an entire novel to completion.

Soon, however, all of that fell away. I was in her world and didn't want to leave. I devoured her entry in one sitting, seemingly at one breath. My steaming mug grew cold, its contents untouched. When I'd finished reading, I walked to the computer, logged into RWA's site and entered a score of 9, the highest possible for an unpublished manuscript.

In March, when RWA announced the Golden Heart finalists, I looked for that two word title before the title of my manuscript. It's hard to explain how I could have been more excited to see another writer's work held up to prestige before my own, but I'd often wondered in the weeks and months after I typed in that 9 if the other judges who had read it believed in it as I did. Had they rewarded courage? Seeing that title, those two words, meant that what I write might have a chance in the publishing landscape, too.

When the finalists introduced themselves, I hesitated. I wanted to send her a private, unassuming email, but I didn't want it to seem look-what-I-did-to-help-you-final. So I stalked her website and blog for weeks. I wanted to know if she had acquired an agent or had contest wins. Did others get her story as I had? Finally, I wrote her. I wished her good luck on placing first, but told her she didn't need luck. She already had a winning story.

At the national conference, I met her in the afterglow of a publishing offer. Moments before, her agent had called her to say Harlequin had offered her a deal and she would be headed to their international markets. She had tears filling her eyes and gave me the most sincere thank you and a hug overflowing with dreams come true. She explained that finaling in the contest was the beginning domino, her open door. That night at the awards ceremony, she won the Golden Heart for her category and tears filled my eyes. Privilege.

She is now a Ruby Sister alongside me. I can't wait to see her debut take flight and read the rest of her story.

And I can't wait to get back to that box.


Jen FitzGerald said...

What an awesome story, L.A. I hope you find another such gem.

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, always so nice when it comes together like this. A good book, a talented writer. Excellent story. A good pick me up for anyone feeling bad about their chances right now.

Robin said...

How cool. And oh, how you've inspired me to write something that evokes so much feeling from a reader. I hope one day I get there. Thanks for sharing this - I'm pretty sure I know who you're referring to (she was in my LARA chapter before moving and is such a nice, nice person to boot!) and I wish her continued success. I also hope you find another gem! Happy reading.

Todd Wheeler said...

Great story, and surprising for two reasons.

First, that as a contest entrant, you can also serve as a judge. Second, that you can see the names of the authors, that their entries are not anonymous for the judges.

Certainly some potential conflicts there. The fact that it works seems to speak volumes about the collegiality of the RWA and its participants, and an expectation of impartiality that is actually met.

L.A. Mitchell said...

@Jen-thanks :) Me, too.

@Charles-I wish it could happen that way for everyone.

@Robin-I think you're right ;) She is a sweetie. She'll go far.

@Todd-In the Golden Heart, there are 8 or so different subgenres of romance. You cannot judge in the same category as you entered. Also, I didn't know the author's identity until March when the finalists were announced. At that time, first round judging (by the general membership) was finished and all that was left was for publishing house editors to judge the final round.

You are right about the collegiality and generousness of romance writers in general. Most of us are all reaching behind us trying to help those not as far down the road.

Marilyn Brant said...

What a beautiful post, L.A. I have no doubt others reading your GH manuscripts have felt the same way.

the walking man said...

That'll work as encouragement as Charles said, And you have a great writing season too kiddo,