Hooboy, another F-word…

Kari Cole is one of my special Rebelle peeps–she’s also a finalist in the Paranormal category (YAY PARANORMAL!), and here she shares what being a Golden Heart® finalists means to her, and how to firmly deal with another kind of F-word. ❤ 

Last week on this blog, C.R. Grissom wrote about thinking it was some sort of fluke that her YA story, Mouthful, had earned a spot among the other finalists. I totally get that feeling, and would like to add another F-word: Fraud.

Merriam-Webster defines a fraud as: a person who is not what he or she pretends to be. You know, a scammer. A con artist. A sham. Cue the huge, blinking arrow pointing right at me.

This is my second ride on the Golden Heart Tilt-a-Whirl. Constant Craving, was a finalist last year, too. (It didn’t win.) Now, I should probably fess up that Constant Craving has made the rounds of the contest circuit. I think I submitted its first iteration as a short story to Writer’s Digest way back in December 2013. Oh, all right, it was probably more like in 2003 to The Buffalo News, but I had a kid who didn’t sleep for more than two hours at a time and I don’t really remember what I did back then. Okay? Jeez!

Any who, while iron butterflies dive-bombed in my stomach, I sent my book out to agents and editors, and waited. Responses trickled in, all playing some version of the Thanks, but… song. See? That proved it. Constant Craving stink, stank, stunk. That’s why it didn’t win, and didn’t sell. And therefore, I am a big, fat, effing phony. A fraud. It didn’t matter that Constant Craving and another story I wrote had already finaled in more contests than not. I was an imposter.

Hmm… Hadn’t I heard that somewhere before? Oh, yeah, right at the 2016 RWA national conference in San Diego, where the Golden Heart awards ceremony was. As the luncheon keynote speaker, Dr. Valerie Young, told us about Imposter Syndrome. How it zaps your confidence. How even the most accomplished women will chalk their successes up to luck rather than skill. Cue that damn blinking arrow again.

I remember sitting there, with my mouth hanging open, as I looked around the packed ballroom and saw several hundred women—many of them New York Times bestselling authors—all nodding their heads, too. How is this possible?

It took me a few weeks to process Dr. Young’s message, and figure out what it meant for my own writing. What did I learn? That like many women, my subconscious is full of mean, nasty, self-critical bulls**t. And what did I do about it? The same thing I’d do if a real person told me the things my own subconscious did—I flipped it the bird and told it to go covfefe itself.

Then, I edited my book. Again. With love in my heart for the characters who had become my friends. And I sent it out. Again. To the Golden Heart contest. But wait, my tale of self-doubt isn’t done. I liked my book. My critique partners liked my book. Hell, even my teenage son like it. But I knew that the judges wouldn’t. (Stupid, jerk-face inner voice.) So, the morning the Golden Heart calls were being made, I dillydallied getting started for the day and hopped in the shower. I had time after all. No one was going to call me. I had a nice lather going in my hair when my phone rang. Farrah Rochon is lucky she didn’t try to FaceTime with me.

Something clicked in my goofy brain as I ran around the house in nothing but a towel, screaming, and dripping shampoo suds all over the place: I’m not a fraud. I’m a writer. The only way I could be an imposter is if I don’t write. That’s what becoming a finalist this year has meant for me. Call it validation if you want, or even justification for not getting a “real” job. But me, I’m going to call it being a Rebelle.


Kari is a two-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® finalist, winner of both the 2015 Daphne du Maurier award and the Toronto Romance Writers’ Catherine. She lives in Upstate New York with her college-sweetheart, two way-too-smart-for-their-own-good sons, and a ridiculous labradoodle named for the bravest of Star Wars heroes, Artoo. She has a MBA from the State University of New York at Buffalo and has worked in sales, marketing, and human resources.

Kari writes paranormal romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance. She is a member of several RWA chapters, including: Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal; Kiss of Death; the Golden Network; and the Capital Region Romance Writers, where she serves as Treasurer.




Today our Rebelles from the Heart comes from Melonie Faith Johnson, whose manuscript Sometimes You Need a Sexy Scot is a contemporary romance category finalist. Melonie has some great tips for achieving your goals, so read on!

Over the last year or so I’ve become “that person” – the one who posts about her workouts every ten seconds on social media. Okay, not every ten seconds. But daily…or at least most days. And if those posts make you roll your eyes, I get it. I used to hate them too. But the gym I go to participates in charity hashtag campaigns, so if kids in need can get books, coats, food (this month it’s shoes) all from a simple check-in hashtag…then yeah, I’ll risk being annoying. And now it’s become routine for me to post, as much a part of my day as hitting the gym in the morninghas become a habit. And that’s what I’m here to chat about today: habits.


#girlswithgoals is a hashtag I often use on my annoying gym posts – and it’s true – I’ve got goals. Big goals and little goals. Baby-step goals I know I’ll probably be able to nail in a month and pie-in-the-sky goals I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve. Both are important. Both are useful. Both give me something to strive for each day I get up and put on my workout clothes and head out the door. Setting goals for myself provides the motivation I need, but going after those goals day in and day out can be a little harder…this is where habit comes in.

There are mornings when I don’t feel like going to the gym, where I’m sore or cranky or bloated or all of the above. On those days, I still go, because it has become such a part of my day that not going actually feels worse. I crave checking off that box for the day. Literally. Inspired by Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity tracker (http://lifehacker.com/281626/jerry-seinfelds-productivity-secret), in addition to my annoying hashtag loaded check-ins, I check off each day I exercise on a calendar. And I don’t want to break the chain—I must not break the chain!


But productivity charts aren’t just for workouts, as this Lifehacker blogger describes (http://lifehacker.com/5886128/how-seinfelds-productivity-secret-fixed-my-procrastination-problem), using the “Don’t Break the Chain” method can help track and achieve all kinds of goals…from learning a new skill to decluttering closets to WRITING A BOOK (see, there was a point to all that).

Like working out, writing requires discipline. Sure, there are days I’m motivated by a great idea or a new scene and can’t wait to dive in to the story. But there are plenty of days that I’d rather do anything but write, and will create all kinds of obstacles to sabotage my writing time. Again, this is where habit becomes important. Doesn’t matter if I want to write, doesn’t matter if I feel inspired, I need to get my butt in the chair, put my hands on the keyboard and earn my checkmark for the day. As the great Nora has infamously said, the key to writing is putting your “ass in the chair.” Anyone who has tried this knows it’s easier said than done. And even when I do manage to get my booty in the chair, I end up tumbling down a social media rabbit hole.

That’s where the Golden Heart and my Rebelle sisters come in. As an unpublished writer, the deadlines created are often self-imposed, and easy to ignore. To enter the Golden Heart contest, a manuscript MUST be complete, which is great motivation to finish the darn book. As for my fellow Rebelles, they share when they are writing and set up word sprints and plan writing times and keep tabs on each other’s progress. Knowing they are putting in the time on their stories makes me want to do the same. Like one of my trainers coaching me to lift a little heavier or do a few more reps, seeing Rebelle writing posts pushes me to get moving on my manuscript. So while my workout check-ins may or may not motivate others to exercise, I know my fellow Rebelle wordcount check-ins encourage me to get my ass in that chair and actually write. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some checkmarks to earn.



Melonie Johnson is a Star Wars junkie and Shakespeare groupie who quotes both Yoda and the Bard with equal aplomb. She loves dark coffee, cheap wine, and expensive beer. She met her future husband in that most romantic of places—the mall—when they were teenagers working in stores across the hall from each other. After earning her Bachelor of Arts from Loyola University Chicago, Melonie taught high school English and Theatre for several years. Now that her two redhead daughters are old enough to use the microwave (they only lit it on fire once), she devotes her time to writing and moonlights as an audiobook narrator under the pseudonym, Evelyn Eibhlin. A two-time Golden Heart® finalist, Melonie is represented by Pamela Harty of the Knight Agency. Visit her at meloniejohnson.com and find her on Twitter and Instagram at @MelonieJohnson.

Not the “F” Word.

One of my favourite people is my Rebelles from the Heart guest today. I’m going to let her do the introductions, since she starts her blog with her bio! Take it away Chris! 

C.R. Grissom lives in San Jose, California—in the heart of Silicon Valley. She works for a high-tech company by day, and writes sports romance featuring college freshman at night. She has two sons in their teens who keep her busy screaming from the bleachers year-round at sporting events. Married for 23 years, she’s found her own HEA.

Mouthful, a 2017 Golden Heart® Finalist in the Young Adult category, is also a finalist in the 2017 Great Expectations and 2017 Stiletto Contests.

I write in first person, therefore composing a bio in third gave me a strange sense of déjà vu. Years ago, I briefly dated a man who referred to himself in the third person, much like Elmo does on Sesame Street. Which is adorable for a precocious red Muppet, not quite as charming for a full-grown adult, but I digress.

First person storytelling is as natural to me as drinking whisky poured neat. I enjoy it straight out of the bottle—being a low maintenance type of gal—at least in terms of alcohol consumption. I defy you to discover a method that requires less effort. One might remove the cap or cork and guzzle directly thereby omitting the need for a glass, but that kind of uncivilized behavior should only occur in desperation or extreme times of stress—like this morning whilst drafting this blog.

My road to the Golden Heart was paved with slippery curves, potholes and missing guardrails. I’m not wholly convinced my story, Mouthful, is a finalist in the Young Adult category of the Golden Heart. When I stop to contemplate its meaning for me, the f-word floats to the forefront of my brain. Not the naughty curse word, rather, the nasty one being drummed into my sub-conscious: fluke.

My evil self-critic whispered that word in my ear ad-nauseam following my Golden Heart call from Adrienne Mishel, of RWA Board fame. The main character of my Golden Heart entry suffers from negative body image. She has to overcome years of bullying in order to see herself as she really is, and stop using the perception of others to color her opinion of self. Like my character, I struggle to drown the ugly voice of self-doubt—rise above the negative noise—and continue to improve my craft. All in anticipation of the next roadblock or vista point along this crazy journey toward publication.

Receiving the call from Adrienne Mishel, will be a moment I’ll never forget. Seana Kelly, my friend and critique partner, who happens to be a two-time Golden Heart finalist from 2015-2016, explained that calls are made at nine a.m. from the Central time zone. Left Coast people don’t have to wait very long to know they’re not a contender.

Sometime after seven a.m., another good friend of mine, Christina Hovland, got the call. A Colorado resident, her time zone is one hour off from my own. When an hour had passed and my phone remained silent—at half-past eight, I killed all hope of being a finalist.

At eleven minutes before nine on March 21st, my cell phone rang. Adrienne Mishel had to listen to me babble about the fact I was dead certain it was too late for me to get the call, and that I’d already started crying in my beer. She laughed, and graciously repeated her name until I could type it out due to experiencing extreme shakes.

After the call, I was inducted into the most amazing band of Rebelles. We offer support and encourage each other regardless of the fact the markers along our writing journeys differ. No amount of chirping from my inner critic will chip away at this achievement. I take the time to remind myself that perhaps my final wasn’t a fluke after all.

I haven’t been able to completely silence the noise—but now I simply yell STFU (scaring the ever-living-crap out of all in my near vicinity). I should wear a warning sign that states, “Writer at work, please ignore any random screaming, swearing, hand gestures and/or caterwauling.”


Blink-Valley-Fair-color-2017-03-25-19-19-12-980-1547354-fullFollow C.R. Grissom: http://twitter.com/CRGRISSOMbooks or visit her website: http://crgrissombooks.com and sign up for her newsletter.

Letting Go

Today’s Rebelles from the Heart guest is Penelope Leas. Her story NO MAN LEFT BEHIND is a Contemporary Romance finalist in this year’s Golden Heart®. 

Finaling in the Golden Heart reminds me of when my oldest daughter went to college.


Bear with me.

I was a wreck the day we took her to Appalachian State. I held it together until we said our final goodbyes and drove away, leaving her standing in the doorway of her dorm building. I bawled inconsolably all the way home. I’d loved her and nurtured her every second of her life, and then I had to let her go to make her own way in the world. It gutted me.

But I got over it. She wasn’t being held prisoner in a foreign country. She was only four hours away and, for some unknown reason, my washing machine was the only one in the world capable of doing her dirty laundry.

Writing “No Man Left Behind” was akin to birthing and raising a baby. I labored to give life to a story that was in my heart. There were days when the words came easy and days when I couldn’t string enough words together to form one, single sentence. The story kept me up at night, disturbing my sleep with its needs. Sometimes the story cooperated, and we zipped along in lockstep. Other times, the story rebelled, exerting its independence and not wanting to go where I thought it should. I loved the story enough to withstand its growing pains. There were some missteps along the way, some necessary course corrections, and some deletions that made my soul bleed.

I didn’t give any thought to agents, editors, publishers, or my social media presence. Those things weren’t important to me. The idea that my story would ever be published was as farfetched to me as my cat giving a damn that her white hair is permanently embedded in my black pants. I wasn’t writing the story for anybody else. I was writing it for me.

Enter my inspirational Rebelle sisters.

Excited to send their babies out into the world, they’ve embraced the art of letting go. They know it’s time. They’ve spent a good chunk of their lives molding their stories into compelling reads. They’ve typed “The End” and are confident enough with the final result to pitch to editors and agents, to send out query letters, and to engage in self-promotion. In the meantime, they’re working on other books.

I’m a couple of steps behind them, still holding my 90,000 words in a protective embrace. I don’t want to let go. My story has been with me for so long, I won’t know what to do with myself if I’m not working on it. It’s finished, every word as perfect as I can make it, and edited to within an inch of its life. But every time I open the document, I find myself making happy-to-glad changes, fueling my delusion that it still needs me.

Finaling in the Golden Heart is the kick in the pants I need, like the letter of acceptance my daughter received from the college of her choice. It’s the next step on my journey, however reluctant I may be to take it. I’ve watched with awe as my fellow Rebelles have fearlessly embraced this opportunity. They’ve been better for me than a twelve-step program for authors.

My Hero and Heroine have their HEA, and they’re standing on the precipice of their new life. It’s time to let them go.

They’re a part of my heart, and I’ll miss them.

But I swear to you, if they bring me any dirty laundry, I’ll revise the epilogue and exile my Heroine to a convent.


Pennie Leas 2 FinalMarried to a retired Marine, disabled veterans hold a special place in Pennie’s heart. These men and women were proud to serve their country and would do it again in a heartbeat, but they will bear the physical, mental, and psychological scars of their service for the rest of their lives.

Pennie lives in North Carolina, where she can be found on her screened-in back porch writing contemporary romance novels starring disabled vets finding their well-deserved HEAs. Her two cats supervise this endeavor when they’re not in the throes of righteous indignation because of birds in the trees. When you meet her in person, please just ignore the cat hair. It’s impervious to a lint roller brush.

Rest? What laurels?

Please meet today’s Rebelles from the Heart guest Pamela Ferguson, whose novel “Wings of Love,” is a 2017 RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist in the Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements category. I got my dancing shoes on for this one–hope you do too! ❤ 

Rest-What laurels- (2)

Being a 2017 Golden Heart© finalist is a milestone, not a destination. An extra nudge as I scamper along the yellow brick road that is my writing career. Being a finalist doesn’t mean my book will be published. It doesn’t mean I’ll one day be a best-selling author. It’s kind of like graduating from high school or college—you do the work, you get the degree, but there are no guarantees. And let’s not forget about meandering. How many of us start out with one degree in mind when we enter college, but then discover new information—like “I hate accounting”—that makes us question what we’re pursuing and spins us in a different direction? (Hand shoots into air.)

Being a finalist is an important accomplishment because affirmation matters. Encouragement matters. Looking at a framed piece of paper on the wall is sometimes all the reinforcement I need to keep on trying. To not give up. I’m grateful for that.

I don’t know about my Rebelle sisters, but the temptation to mark this moment, to compose an imaginary commencement address for the Golden Heart© Class of 2017—the kind of address I would like to hear—is suddenly irresistible.

Your indulgence, please.

Pretty clever college / university student / girl after graduati

(Famous author approaches the podium, pauses for a moment to clear her throat.)

You, the Rebelles, the Golden Heart© Class of 2017, stand on the brink between not yet and soon to be, between almost ready and ready or not. This is what you’re told: Be authentic. Be vulnerable. Be the best you can be.

Advice abounds, some of it good, most of it well-meaning. Or is that “well meme-ing”? If an idea can’t be communicated in three seconds, is it worth repeating? In the never ending battle for eyes and ears, tweets and earworms reign. Or is that rain, as in a torrential downpour of text, images, and sounds, demanding to be acknowledged? Because being ignored, they tell us, is worse than failing. Failing means people read your book, throw it across the room, and yell, “I can write better than that!” Failing means at least one person hates your book enough to write a one-star review.

Failing is awesome. Being ignored barely merits a yawn. And everyone is tired these days.

Except you. Because Rebelles don’t give up.

This writing thing is not for the faint-hearted. The weak-kneed and thin-skinned don’t fare well either. But you already know that. You’ve pulled all-nighters, missed buses, arrived late, skipped meetings, called out sick, begged off invitations, irritated family members, alienated friends, forgotten appointments, and perfected the art of hiding in plain sight. You write on the sidelines and in the drive-through. You text yourself story ideas in the middle of doctor’s appointments. You accidentally ram your grocery cart into someone else’s while trying to imagine which avocado your heroine would select. Because unlike you, your heroine has time to eat healthy and take care of herself.

You’re a Rebelle. You hang tough. You’re strong for yourself and for others. You encourage your critique partner after her tenth rejection. You offer constructive feedback. You celebrate other authors’ successes. You listen when someone takes the time to point out flaws in your manuscript. Because the gift of time is precious, and someone cared enough to help you make your story better. Because someone didn’t ignore you.

But even if you had been ignored you wouldn’t care. Because you’re a Rebelle.

Because you know that an audience of zero can mean freedom. Freedom from criticism. Freedom from perfection. Freedom to create and explore and write the story only you can tell. You appreciate these quiet moments, cherish them even. Because that’s the time when your story unfurls and embraces and consumes and blossoms and becomes. In the silence, before the audience arrives, when you’re struggling, ignoring naysayers, nurturing an idea.

When did laughing at being ignored become courageous? When did thumbing your nose at rejection become an act of bravery? When did hope become so rebellious?

That’s the key, isn’t it, Rebelles? Beneath your je ne sais quoi exterior, you nurture a flame of hope that fuels your pursuit of the happily ever after—for yourself, your characters, and your readers.

So put down your umbrella and dance in the digital downpour. Send your books into the world. Wish them well but don’t dwell on their fate. Be grateful for the gift of storytelling. Your hard work got you here, Golden Heart© Class of 2017. Now it’s time to leap into the abyss and work on that next incredible story.

College students celebrate graduation and happy jump




Pamela Ferguson’s novel, “Wings of Love,” is a 2017 RWA Golden Heart© Finalist in the Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements category. She is a member of Maryland Romance Writers and the Faith, Hope and Love Chapter of RWA. When she isn’t working on her next book, she can be found chasing after her high-energy German shepherd or negotiating with her dictatorial cat.



Never Alone 💛


Today my Rebelles from the Heart guest is Heather Newsom Leonard, a fellow Paranormal category finalist (whooohooo!!!! Go Paranormal!). Echoing Kelli Newby’s sentiments about finding tribe, I have been so lucky to find myself surrounded by such talented, ambitious, kind, warm-hearted, wise, and generous women.

Heather is not only a paranormal writer, but a lawyer to boot. A woman after my own heart. ❤ I think many of us can identify with Heather’s experience, especially the guilt. 

It was a lonely and sometimes painful endeavor, but I finished the darn thing. It plagued me for months. Guilt in the morning that I should be getting out of bed to write. Guilt when I got home that I should be writing instead of decompressing from work. Guilt when I looked at my computer and did anything other than write. There was a lot of guilt. But it worked. It got me to finish the manuscript and enter the Golden Heart.

Reading has always been my escape. Writing allowed me to be my own tour guide. Unfortunately, I was a tour guide without a destination. Writing without a goal led to a lot of aimless words. Sure, there was the nebulous “one day I’ll be published” goal on the horizon (keeping company my old buddy, the “I’ll’ lose ten pounds” goal), but other than piddling around by starting numerous projects, I wasn’t doing much that was productive.

Enter the Golden Heart. It had an entry deadline. It required me to finish a manuscript. It had a ceremony (like a mosquito to bug zapper, I’m drawn to anything that promises I can get attention).  It had everything I needed to make me finish the darn book. And I did. It wasn’t easy (did I mention all the guilt?), and it required sacrifice. Getting up early when I was tired. Missing out on the television shows everyone loved (what is this Game of Thrones thing everyone has been talking about?). Having my husband block social media on our home network so I couldn’t fall into the time-suck cycle of checking Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (that lather, rinse, repeat cycle has claimed more hours than I want to quantify).

And it was worth it. I’m in the company of some of the most amazing and inspiring ladies I’ve ever met. Their talent and drive leaves me in awe (and truth be told, leaves me wee bit intimidated). What does it mean to me to be a Golden Heart Finalist? At first, it meant I had crossed the finish line and finished my book. But that isn’t the end of my journey. Now it means I need to get up earlier, work harder and write more. I’m a little bit closer to the “I’ll be published” goal (let’s not talk about the lose weight goal). With the help and support of my Rebelle sisters, I’ve realized I’m not alone on my writing adventure, And our adventure will be epic.



Heather, a civil rights lawyer and mediator, writes paranormal romance. If she were a super-hero (because capes are sooo in this year), her superpowers would be the ability to find the best bottle of cheap champagne and dominate in Harry Potter trivia. She also likes to talk about her self in the third person, as this bio indicates.

You can follow Heather on Twitter at @HNLeonard or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HNLeonardAuthor/