A Writer’s Cabin, Scotch, and Tribe

Please welcome Kelli Newby, our second REBELLES FROM THE HEART guest who shares with us what being a Golden Heart® Finalist means for her. 

In the world of LitFic, the writer is a solitary creature, struggling alone (probably in a cabin, definitely with scotch). In the world of romance, the writer is a member of a boisterous and supportive community. I discovered this in 2014 when I stumbled from my (hypothetical) cabin into the world of romance (definitely with scotch) upon meeting a group of romance writers through #PitchWars, an online contest run by Brenda Drake. They were incredibly cool, and I wanted to stay in romance-land. Or at least visit a lot. That meant writing a romance novel.
While I never looked askance at genre or bragged I could write a romance novel in a weekend, I’ll admit that I didn’t think writing romance would be any harder than writing a novel in general. In fact, I hoped the guidelines—central love relationship, emotionally satisfying ending—would keep my pantser-self focused. I soon discovered, though, that like sonnets, the romance genre has a familiar frame, but requires mastery of hundreds of tiny moving parts you don’t realize are there until you try to get them all working together. On top of that, you have to keep apart two people who are irresistibly drawn to each other and meant to be together forever in a believable and entertaining way. For 80,000 words.

When I got to the end of the first draft of Mounting the Marquis, I knew I needed to start completely over, so I did. Second draft, I sent to one of the awesome romance writers I met through #PitchWars (and a fellow GH finalist). She said it was a perfectly fine book, but not a romance novel, and she gave me a list of reasons why. I revised. Third draft went to a different romance friend who said the same thing, only the problems were far more subtle this time. Fourth draft got sent to a team of romance writers in a different writing contest (#TeamFrance of #FicFest), and they gave me a new list of adjustments to make. Sometime in there, I joined the Capital Region RWA chapter and found even more revisions to make on my own, as well as an incredible group of welcoming writers.

Fifth draft, well, it’s a Golden Heart® finalist.

And what does finaling mean to me? Community. I’ve made a lot of friends working on this book that I would not have made otherwise, from the #PitchWars people who became my CPs to the folks in CR-RWA to the community of 2017 GH finalists bonding right now. And community, more than anything else, keeps a writer going. (Even more than scotch, as it turns out.) Sure, I still like to sneak off to my solitary writer’s cabin, but now I do it with the knowledge that I’m never alone.

 

Newby Headshot 1Kelli Newby is an adjunct English professor of composition, drama, and fantasy by day, and a novelist, playwright, and actor by night. She’s repped by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency and is the secretary of the Capital Region chapter of RWA.

From the Heart

Every year the class of Golden Heart ® Finalists chooses a name for themselves. I’ve heard this ritual can be a struggle. But with the class of 2017, it was anything but. We had a hoot. We had inappropriate names, funny names, ridiculous names. We threw out ideas, imagined ourselves in strange frocks, dowdy aprons, and outrageous hats. We laughed. We honked. Cause that’s how we roll.

Thirty-nine women. Honking. Laughing. Snorting. We threw in some Ooooows! here and there. We wanted a name that embodied princesses who kicked ass. Graceful, strong, determined, and scary as heck when protecting our own.

Taking inspiration from our Disney venue this year, we started with Belle, moved on to Merida’s BRAVE, and explored the wonderful spectrum of women who threw off the yoke of tradition, defied expectation, and created their own Happy Ever Afters. With a nod to Belle, to the French title of Disney’s BRAVE, and finally to Leia, the ultimate rebel princess, we had our name: THE REBELLES! 

Over the past two months I have had the great privilege of getting to know my GH sisters, and I’d like you to get to know these amazing ladies, too. Every week until the 21 July, a Rebelle will share with you what it means for her to be a Golden Heart® Finalist. The series is called Rebelles from the Heart

Without further ado, please welcome our first Rebelles from the Heart guest, Sarah Morgenthaler, a finalist in Romantic Suspense with her novel THE GUIDE.

Kyle Rock Pic

It’s Mother’s Day in the United States, and I’m typing a blog post about being a 2017 Golden Heart® finalist. A “Rebelle”, as our class of finalists have named ourselves. I asked Alice to let me write my post this week, because being a mother relates directly to how I became a Rebelle.

You see, my son and I are both writers. My son is also gone.

When I married a single father with a young child, I never realized how difficult being a stepmother was going to be. But more importantly, I never realized how much I was going to love that kid. I loved him more than I knew was humanely possible…a full throttle adoration that never wavered, not even with the daily frustrations that any mother (or stepmother) has to contend with.

Mine was an existence where Boy Scout meetings, chocolate Pop-Tarts, and Transformers eclipsed everything. While I wrote for fun on a daily basis, there was no serious pursuit of completing a novel. Yet, in between declaring that I wanted to learn to rock climb and be able to perform a legitimate head stand, I told my son of my dream of being a published writer one day.

That’s all it really was…a dream. Something to imagine while real and more important things took up my time. But life happened, and I was always too busy. I never did write the book.

Then a year and a half ago—after the best report card of his life, a summer spent sailing, and just one badge away from his Eagle Scout—my sixteen-year-old committed suicide.

What does this have to do with my being a Rebelle? Remember, my son and I were writers. When you marry a single father with an eight-year-old, you’re not the mother that child wants. So he sits in a house with a stepmother he never asked for, and in between homework and spaghetti dinners, you both try to find something—anything—in common.

For us it was writing. We bonded over characters that we were creating, story lines that we were excited about, surprise endings and evil bad guys. Man, did that kid love an over-powered superhero. We listened to music and talked about which scenes worked with which songs. We signed up for NaNoWriMo and agonized over daily word count. We continued to argue the merits of the over-powered superhero…an argument that I never did win.

And then on September 20th, 2015…it was just…gone.

My husband and I never moved back home. There were a few horrible trips to the house, going through the things he loved, finding his books and his stories and the trinkets that had mattered the most to him. He was young, but he’d been in love. He wrote her poetry that he’d never sent. We found out afterwards that he’d been telling his friends for a year that he was planning to commit suicide. Not a single one thought he’d really do it.

Not a single one broke that silence, the pseudo-sacred secret-keeping of teen friendship.

I spent a year in the kind of fog where you’re merely existing. Not having any clue who I was, now that my child was gone. Replaying every day, every word, every memory. Wondering what I could have done differently.

Knowing at least one of my many, many faults: that I may have taught him how to ride a horse and drive a truck, but I never showed him that we can accomplish our dreams.

I’m not sure why it happened this way. I just know that one day I noticed a Harlequin call for a novel set in Canada. So I sat down, and I wrote my book The Guide. I entered the Golden Heart® contest—the one I’d said year after year that I wanted to enter, but never could. And to my shock, they called me with the news. I was a finalist.

The last two months have been a wild ride. Agents are looking at my manuscript. I’m supposed to pitch to an editor at an actual publishing company. I’m writing for a fellow Rebelle’s blog. I’m preparing to ditch my blue jeans and wear a freaking dress.

I want to tell him all of this. I want to tell him that I finally wrote the darn thing. I want to dance around a living room I no longer have, hugging an awkwardly tall, shaggy-haired kid who still likes chocolate Pop-Tarts. I want to drag him to the finalist dinner in Florida, bore him with all the strangers, and share a grin because he knows I didn’t edit that sucker nearly enough to deserve to belong there.

I want to look at him and tell him, okay kid. You’re next.

This is what being a Rebelle means to me: it means opening my mouth and telling the world—begging the world—to speak up about teen suicide. Teen suicide is savagely real. We all HAVE to speak up.

This is a platform that I never, ever would have had before this award, and I’m going to use it. It’s my chance to say to all the mothers and fathers, stepparents, grandparents…anyone who has a child in their life: don’t wait. If you have a dream, don’t put it off. Grab that bucket list off the shelf and start crossing things off already. Be an example, live your life to your fullest. Don’t just tell your kids that life is full of hope and love and meaning. Show them.

Give them just one more reason to believe that anything is possible. Prove to them that they shouldn’t give up.

For my son, for my family, and for myself, I am deeply proud to be a Rebelle. These are an amazing group of women, and I’m honored to be included among them. I took a chance, and now I’m one step closer to realizing my biggest dream. I like to think that we all are.

And since my second book is almost finished, it looks like I’m going to go climb a really big rock next.

I promise, kid.

Morgenthaler Author Photo

Sarah Morgenthaler is a resident of Tennessee, but spends most of her time traveling the country with her husband and the sweetest little rescue pit bull, Sammy.  She writes clean and Christian romance, and is a 2017 RWA® Golden Heart® finalist in Romantic Suspense with her novel The Guide.  You can follow her on twitter @SEmorgenthaler or reach her through email at s.e.morgenthaler@gmail.com.

 

 

 

The next Rebelles from the Heart guest blog will be the next Wednesday. In the meantime, if you want to read more about the fabulous Rebelles, hop on over to The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood for their annual Golden Heart ® Finalist interviews.