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.