All the Feels!


Damon Suede, who made the Call and presented me with my finalist certificate ❤

It’s 5 am the day of the Golden Heart awards, and I’m wide wake. I arrived with my fellow London GH® Finalist Scarlett Peckham on Tuesday evening, and it’s been a whirlwind of Golden Heart events and getting to know our attending 2017 GH class.


Me & Scarlett Peckham

I meant to write a post long before today about what it means for me to be a GH Finalist, but life had other plans for my time. My 101 year old Grandma passed (peacefully surrounded by family), we moved house (twice), school holidays kicked in, and our kitchen decided to have a pool party under the floorboards which resulted in emergency excavation/demolition. So between momming and project managing and family commitments, I’ve been woefully behind in my writing life.


Kitchen madness

But this morning jet lag has delivered the gift of time and I thought I’d take the opportunity to ruminate on this Golden Heart® ride.

As most of my Rebelle sisters mention, writing can be a lonely endeavour. And being in London without a local RWA chapter made me feel even more removed from my writing community. Most of the classes I take are online, based in the US. And most of my writing colleagues are based stateside, too. Through the IGO contest, I met my wonderful paranormal writing buddy, Jilly Wood who’s just won the Daphne Award for her fabulous paranormal story The Transformation of Alexis Doe. (Congrats Jilly!!) We meet up for coffee and talk craft. She’s the one who suggested I enter in the first place and I will be forever grateful to Jilly for encouraging me to jump down the GH rabbit hole.

I almost didn’t come to Nationals, but boy oh boy I am so glad I did. For me, the GH nomination was most about the people–about connecting with fellow finalists and being here in person, meeting the women I’d been chatting with online almost every day for the past few months, has been the treat of a lifetime.


At GH rehearsal

Our group is protective of each other, supportive, kind, generous. Talented, ambitious, empathetic, encouraging. Seriously, I couldn’t ask for more. Everyday I learn something from these clever, funny, and belly-laugh inducing Rebelles. Melonie Faith Johnson inspires me to never break the chain! Jo Anne Banker and Heather Leonard–amazing wingmen! Kim, Christy, and Chris–you guys have been the crux of my sanity over the past few months. Kim especially who ALWAYS has time for my writing related panics. Tracy Brody for pulling us all together to begin with, and making sure we’re loved up with brownies. ❤ Katie my fellow London homie (innit?), and my Bonnet Creek roomies.


Paranormal peeps from L to R: Janet Halpin, Grace Adams, moi, Kari W Cole

An added bonus has been the RWA new format for the GH this year. I have to say that has also exceeded every expectation. We had an agent/editor meet and greet which was great fun, we got to meet the wonderful RWA board who make the GH possible (including the dashing and super lovely Damon Suede who Called me to tell me I was a GH Finalist), and we’ve had plenty of opportunity to hang out and get to know not just fellow Rebelles, but GH nominees and winners from years past as well as Rita nominees!


Me, Nicole Hohmann, Scarlett Peckham and Kari W Cole

I fully expect the ups and downs of the query trenches to make me nauseous (I can’t ride teacups much less a rollercoaster), and I’m pretty sure I’ll have many an opportunity to weep and wallow in tubs of Lupo’s gelato (or Jeni’s ice cream. Her stuff is the bomb!).  But knowing I can count on the Rebelles to hold my hair while I puke, or take up spoons and gelato-wallow with me makes all the difference. For me the GH is all about the feels, And our class has it in spades. ❤


Marathon Rebelle

I can’t believe it’s almost that time. The Golden Heart® awards luncheon is just around the corner. Thank you for reading all the Rebelles from the Heart guest posts. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey and insights as much as I have! Susannah Erwin is our last guest Rebelle. Her manuscript Job Opening: Billionaire’s Wife is a 2017 Golden Heart® finalist for Contemporary Romance: Short, and here she is to share with you what it means to her to be a Golden Heart® finalist.

It’s almost here. Less than a week from today, the Golden Heart luncheon will take place and this crazy ride that started with hitting “submit” on the RWA website in January will come to its first stop – but only the first one.

Before this journey began, I was sure I understood what being a Golden Heart finalist would entail. Over the years, I’ve cheered for many friends as their faces flashed on the screen and their names were read by bestselling romance authors (or not read, in the case of Christine Merrill, who went on to win her category anyway. It’s a great story. If you see her in Orlando, ask her about it). I’ve even roomed with Golden Heart finalists, so I’ve seen up close the excited preparations for the reception and the rehearsal and the ceremony itself. Yep, I knew it all.

I was wrong.

Being a Golden Heart finalist is so much more than I ever imagined. Not because of the pin and the ribbon I will wear on my conference badge, or even the thrill of seeing my name on the RWA website. And while the validation of knowing my manuscript connected with the first round judges in my category is heartening, pun intended, there are many steps still be taken before it might reach a greater audience. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. While this is a very nice water station – to draw out the running metaphor – it’s far from the finish line.

No, what I didn’t foresee is that being a 2017 Golden Heart finalist means I am a Rebelle. And what’s more, I am surrounded by Rebelles.

My fellow Rebelles are smart. They are strong. They are fearless. And they are generous. They inspire me in so many ways, from putting words down on paper every day (Alexis and Sarah, you are writing powerhouses!) to getting myself to the gym (thanks, Melonie!). I am in awe of their boundless creativity, not only as romance authors but also as artists and graphic designers and writers of blog posts – and especially at brainstorming group names.

Writing tends to be a solitary occupation, just you and the voices in your head, and it can become even more isolating when the voices stop belonging to your characters and start channeling your insecurities. Being a Rebelle doesn’t make insecurity go away, but it does help to banish the isolation. The community is quick to commiserate or to suggest possible solutions to problems, plotwise or other. This is the greatest gift being a Golden Heart finalist will ever give me: access to a group of talented, intelligent women whose wide-ranging experiences and backgrounds provide a bottomless wealth of knowledge and support.

In five short days the Golden Heart ceremony will be held, and then before we know it the 2018 contest will be open for entries. But this isn’t the terminus of our journey. It’s only the beginning. And I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for my Rebelle sisters. I know it’s going to be as amazing as they are.

S Erwin headshot.jpegAn eager lover of storytelling in any and all forms, Susannah Erwin has a bachelor’s degree in film and an MBA in entertainment management. Her employers include major Hollywood studios, and she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and a very spoiled cat.

Her manuscript Job Opening: Billionaire’s Wife is a 2017 Golden Heart® nominee for Contemporary Romance: Short. Susannah’s chapter “Grounded” was selected as the winner of the fourth round of the 2015 Avon FanLit competition and can be found in the novella A Duke to Remember. Her short story “The Santa Shack Up” is available in the anthology Holiday Ever After, published by LARA RWA.


Facebook: SusannahErwinAuthor

Tweet: @SusannahErwin

Driving Out the Lies

Please welcome my fellow Rebelle, the amazing Dianna Shuford for today’s Rebelles from the Heart. Her manuscript DANGEROUS EXPOSURE is a finalist the the GH inspirational category. She’s also just completed a Master’s degree in Education (go Dianna!). Can’t wait to meet this talented lady in Orlando. 

Thank you, Alice, for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings about being a 2017 Golden Heart® Finalist. I also want to thank every reader who takes the time out of their day to read my words, translated from feelings that are not always easily identified. I hope what I share touches each of you in some way.

Being a finalist in this year’s Golden Heart® Award has made me realize how far I have come from the newbie writer that started a little over ten years ago, and it has made me reflect on the reasons I write. You see, writing is HARD! Most writers don’t get to write full time, but must divide their time between careers (income driven), families, and writing (and like a goofball, I added graduate school to the mix). This is not an easy thing to do, and it demands that writers compartmentalize their life and schedules. It requires strict scheduling of priorities to fit writing in wherever you can, and writing through the fatigue that makes being creative even more challenging. This is made even harder when all you want to do is write, write, write. Others often ask “Why would anyone do it if it’s this hard?” Now, I could quote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own when he says, “It’s the hard that makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.” I question myself daily as to why I continue, but the truth is I must write. An obstacle I often have to deal with in this journey (and it is a journey) is believing in myself and in my abilities to craft a story that will affect my readers.

Every writer has to deal with those little voices whispering in their ears. Voices that say things like: “What makes you a writer?”, “You’re a writer fraud.”, and “No one will like this.” I call these thoughts the lies we believe. You see, when we entertain thoughts like this, inadvertently we begin to believe them even as we state the opposite. The lie I tend to return to is believing that myself, my story, my words aren’t “good enough.” Yet, each time I fall back into this rut, God puts a timely reminder in my path of the lie I’m allowing myself to believe. The Golden Heart® final was one of those reminders.

Do you know that I almost didn’t enter the Golden Heart® this year? I hadn’t finished my revisions. The story wasn’t clean enough. I hadn’t upped the conflict and the romance enough. Then, I finaled, and I was astounded because it wasn’t good enough. I had to step back and realize that my perception of ‘not good enough’ is that same lie I was allowing myself to believe without realizing it. That is what writing does. It makes you face your insecurities and beliefs, exposing them to the light of the truth so you can be a better person, a better writer.

Leaving that lie behind, I made a list of all the things that being a finalist in this year’s Golden Heart means to me. I hope some of it resonates with you when you reach a success of some type.

It means Encouragement. Being recognized through a national writing competition that many enter means I’m becoming a better writer. This puts me one-step closer to achieving my dreams of publication.

It means Courage. In spite of set-backs I’ve received over the years, I’m still able to push forward and get my work out there. It’s been tough. It’s been challenging. But, I remind myself each time I’m faced with negative feedback or rejection that I’m stronger than the criticism. As a result, I use the criticism to make my writing better, whether it’s through edits to make my writing more clear or through strengthening characterization and conflict to give my writing more…just more.

It means Creativity. I don’t think most aspiring writers give themselves as much credit as they should. Every writer invents characters, plotlines, settings, and conflicts out of a simple idea. Every writer starts a new story in different ways, but the result is always a new creation based on imagination. That is hard, especially after a long workday. Those who craft a compelling novel out of a simple idea are my heroes.

It means Determination. No matter what comes against me, I’ve made a promise to my God, my family, and myself. I will succeed. The publication world is hard to break into, and it’s hard to learn what makes a story good, even great. Only those who are the most determined succeed in getting their stories on the market, no matter the publication road taken.

It means Optimism. Looking at the bright side after receiving multiple rejections is not easy. I’m not always the most optimistic person so I have to keep reminding myself there are more doors to knock on, and perhaps, one of those untried doors is the one for my story, my work, my outlet. My advice to new writers is to be optimistic about that next unopened door of opportunity and never to give up.

It means Passion. Writing is the dream that drives me forward on this journey. The interplay of words to establish mood, tension, and emotion fascinates me. I often tell others that I am a wordsmith, finding the right words to combine to evoke emotion and interest in others. My passion…to have a reader irrevocably changed by the story I’ve told and the words I’ve used. To have a reader find hope and love at the end of the story when they question if it is possible. This should be every writer’s passion.

It means Versatility. The landscape of the writing profession changes almost daily. It is a challenge to remain up to date and informed on the newest trends. Those who become locked into one way of writing and marketing will continue to struggle without success. I want to make sure I remain versatile and able to push forward in this evolving new world of publication.

It means Good Enough. I have proof and can say to myself, “You are good enough.” And that, my friends, is an amazing discovery.

What discoveries about yourself do you make through your writing? Do you find yourself confronting lies you’ve been believing? Do you use your discoveries to make your characters stronger and more believable?

Dianna Shuford.pngDianna Shuford writes Inspirational Romantic-Suspense and Contemporary Romance. She’s a multi-finalist for the prestigious Maggie Award, 2012 Laurie Award winner, and a 2012 Finally A Bride Award finalist. She was also a 2010 ACFW Genesis Award finalist: Romantic Suspense Category. Her current work, Dangerous Exposure, is a 2017 Golden Heart Finalist.

Dianna is a high school teacher/department chair who lives in Georgia with her husband, three children, and grandson. She loves nothing better than to curl up with a good book and ignore the housework. That is, when she is not writing.


Enjoying the Ride

Today Jo Anne Banker is our Rebelle from the Heart guest. She’s a finalist in this year’s Golden Heart® for her contemporary romance manuscript THIS CHILD IS MINE. She’s got a generous heart and a taste for good whisky. I can’t wait to meet her in Orlando and do a whisky tasting tour at the bar! 😀

Thanks to A Y Chao for hosting our Rebelle sisters as we share this 2017 Golden Heart® Rebelle experience. Good to be here with you, Alice!

I have the dubious honor of being the oldest Rebelle, and although I haven’t taken a formal inventory, I’m probably the Rebelle who’s been working toward a writing contract longer than any of my 2017 Golden Heart® sisters. With these questionable distinctions, I may also come across as the most jaded Rebelle, but at the same time, I hope to interject a bit of inspiration.

This is my third Golden Heart® final, and when I got the call, I was naked and dripping wet from my shower, so my happy dance must have been quite a show for my kitties. Priscilla Kissinger, who is a 2015 Dragonfly sister, called me, which made the call that much more special. After a heartfelt thank you to my Maker and to the writer judges who deemed my work worthy of this honor, I thought, what fun!

My goal this trip is to enjoy the ride.

I’ve read from a young age, devouring children’s stories, Readers Digest abbreviated fiction, and everything age appropriate at the local library. Pre-teen years brought my first romance, a National Velvet sort of story called Copper’s Chance. It was perfect for me: thoroughbred horses, a wealthy stud muffin hero, and a scrappy, colorful heroine who brought man and beast around to her way of thinking. Sigh…

So when, at the age of 46, I found myself bored with my bookkeeping business and wanting a new challenge, I decided to try my hand at writing romance for publication.

Ha! I had no concept of craft. I had no concept of story. I had no concept of how to create interesting and likable characters. And don’t even get me started on the inequity and foibles of this whacky business.

I learned that writing a book is the easiest part of the business, and that it ain’t easy. I learned that I have some talent, some story-telling ability, that the study of craft is never-ending, and that understanding people and the human condition is vital. I learned that to experience the myriad of all emotions, to live them, be them, and be able to express them is required to write the simplest novel. Just open a vein and bleed into the computer, please. Oh yes – this creative endeavor is a breeze– just write a book.

Two things surfaced and stayed with me. First, as a business owner, it’s my nature to assess the bottom line. It didn’t take long to figure that unless I was in the top 1 or 2%, I wasn’t going to pay the bills writing books. By this time, I was in the midst of a divorce. No one was contributing to my retirement but me, so the bookkeeping service had to remain intact. I was gaining on middle age, working as both a bookkeeper and a writer, and volunteering for local chapters on top of that.

The second thing I realized was that RWA, both on a local and national level, offers contest opportunities that can get one in front of an agent or an editor. No other genre has the submission ops that we have.

Over the years, I’ve entered seven works (six novels and one short story) in a total of 48 contests, 36 at the chapter level, and have garnered 21 finals, five wins, and thirteen editor or agent requests. I’ve entered the Golden Heart® twelve times, with three finals, and so far, one win and three requests.

No book contract as yet.

In 1994, I entered my first contest, the Emily, one of my home chapters’ contests (West Houston RWA). I did so poorly that I quit writing for a year. But I was hooked. It took me five years to finish that first book.

I spent a couple of years writing my second book, the book I on which I learned craft.
Then I spent another five or so years trying to sell to Harlequin. I rewrote three books several times for several different editors without the benefit of a contract. Won’t do that again.

During that time, I won the 2011 Golden Heart in short contemporary (while the entry was submitted to Harlequin). I’m stubborn, so it took me a while to figure out I’m evidently not a Harlequin author.

Had a little health hiccup a couple of years ago, so I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the fun of my 2015 Golden Heart® final.

Friends suggested I self-publish. Sorry, I’ve already had a business. Don’t want to work that hard again.

I write because I must. I would love to publish, to entertain, to maybe touch a reader’s heart, but if not, I’ll still enjoy putting stories on the page.

So, when I got the call that This Child is Mine was a 2017 Golden Heart finalist, my heartfelt goal was to enjoy the journey.

And that’s what I’m doing.

The Rebelles are fabulous, a great bunch of smart and supportive woman. Orlando is going to be busy and fun. We’ll meet. We’ll raise a glass. We’ll make lifelong friends.

There’s one other truth that I’ve learned through the years of contest finals and editor and agent requests (and rejections).

It only takes one person. One agent who thinks he or she can sell your manuscript. One editor who loves your voice and your story and is willing to get behind it.

Last Friday, I got an email from the RWA contest coordinator, with an editor request for my full manuscript.

Sunday, I received a request for a full from an agent who’d read my pitch from the drop box set up for Golden Heart® finalists through Nationals. What a great perk that is!

Who knows? This could be the year, the month…or tomorrow might be the day that changes the face of my writing career.

And until then, along with the rest of my lovely Rebelle sisters, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy the journey!

Jo Anne_2017
Jo Anne Banker writes about the secrets that families guard and the love that heals them. She is a past Golden Heart® winner, with two additional Golden Heart® finals to her credit. She has volunteered with her local RWA chapters, serving as President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer and contest coordinator. She owns a bookkeeping service, and finds balance in the creativity of her writing. Jo Anne lives in Houston, Texas with three overly-pampered cats. She enjoys the theatre, an eclectic mix of foods, good friends, and family.


Rebelle Summit

I can’t believe we are fast approaching the Nationals. Only 15 more days to go before I hop on a plane and finally get to meet my Rebelle sisters in person! What with moving house, end of the school term, and all the other balls that get juggled during regular family life, I’m looking forward to letting my writer side out to play! Today’s guest is another Paranormal sister, Janet Halpin. Take it away, Janet! ❤

Thanks, Alice for having me here, and for giving all of us Rebelles a chance to crow! Now it’s my turn to ’fess up on what it means to be a Golden Heart contest finalist

Well, first it means I’m giddy, and glad, gleeful, grateful, giggly, gurgling, and all kinds of other adjectives starting with ‘G.’ How could I not be with all the exciting things planned at the RWA conference in Orlando, receptions and photos and meet-and-greets and the luncheon ceremony. It also means desperately trying to find something besides sweatpants to wear to all the receptions and photos and etc., etc. Meaning, shopping, something I loathe. But it also means doing something I love, spending time with my sister, bargain-hunter extraordinaire.

Being a Golden Heart finalist means the end of a particularly long journey. My finalling manuscript, BERYL BLUE, TIME COP, took 5 or so years to write, and even then it was still pretty messy when finished. That meant sending my manuscript to my critique partners and beta readers, and entering a bunch of RWA chapter contests, looking for feedback from people who don’t know me, who read in the paranormal genre, and who would give me their honest opinion. It was a great experience, despite a few blips of negativity from what I call “bad judges” (I mean, an 8-page thesis on what’s wrong with my 15-page first-meet entry? Really?).

Being a finalist also means, yeah, I’m good enough. I’m totally one of those people who lets perfect be the enemy of the good, never satisfied with my work, never thinking it is good enough. I tinkered with Beryl, polishing, re-polishing, and polishing some more each time I entered a contest. Though Beryl’s trip on the contest circuit racked up finals and wins and requests for partials and fulls from editors and agents, I STILL didn’t think my manuscript was Golden Heart material. It was only after signing with an agent who loves Beryl and her hunky redheaded hero as much as I do that I had the confidence to enter RWA’s top contest.

So now, here I am. A Golden Heart finalist. It seems fitting the first contest I ever entered was the Golden Rose (Beryl placed 2nd), and now I’m standing at the top of the (unpub) contest mountain. I hope I win, but it won’t bother me too much if I don’t. I’m just thrilled to be here at the summit with all of you, my lovely and talented Rebelles sisters, the Golden Heart class of 2017. And that means a lot.Janet tea service 1

Meet Janet Halpin–kidder, complainer, tea-drinker, mom, reader, teller of hilarious and sometimes totally true tales, sock-folder, and author. Inspired by the genre fiction that enthralled her as a kid, Janet writes YA, mystery, light Sci-Fi, and WWII-set paranormal and time travel, all with a dash of humor and romance. Janet lives in New England with her husband, two sons, a hyper Border Collie and a gigantic Maine coon cat with a terrible disposition.