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.


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.


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

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




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.