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.

Huh?

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.

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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! ❤ 

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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

 

PamelaFerguson

 

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.

 

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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.

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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/

A Writer’s Cabin, Scotch, and Tribe

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

From the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I promise, kid.

Morgenthaler Author Photo

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

 

 

 

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

2017 Golden Heart® Finalist!

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SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! My manuscript SOUL AFFINITY is a 2017 Golden Heart® Finalist in the Paranormal Category!!! Yup I’m doing that little yellow sweater girl happy dance right now!

USA Today has a special blog dedicated to the Romance genre–and there is an article on the RITA® and Golden Heart finalists. My name is in there. *swoon* It’s not the NYT but a girl’s gotta start somewhere, right?

The best bit of being a GH Finalist is that each year of finalists form a group to support, cajole, and encourage each other in our careers. I’m beyond honoured and feel like I need to really up my game to keep pace with the writers in my group.

I don’t know what to expect in the months to come, apart from a wild and fun rollercoaster ride. I’m looking forward to it. Watch out for me–I’ll be the one waving my arms in the air, screaming and whooping and laughing like a loon. ❤️

Scrivathon: 51,649 words $3115 in 24 hours for Syria Relief

24 hours to write as many words as possible and fundraise for Syria Relief-that was our goal. We finished sprinting, and as a team we raised $3115 for Syria Relief and wrote 40,349 words. A fantastic result all around. Everyone who made this happen should be very proud of their efforts. The wonderful sponsors who generously donated amazing prizes. All those who donated their time and money to help support the event. And our wonderful team members who fundraised. These are:

  • Adele Buck
  • Alexandria Sturtz
  • Christina Dwivedi
  • Dante Medema
  • Erin Cosyn
  • Kim Cohen
  • Lyla Lawless
  • Maria Guglielmo
  • Morgan Hazelwood
  • Nola Sarina
  • Racquel Kechagias
  • Sara Mortensen
  • The Winged Pen

Our two top fundraisers were Maria Guglielmo and Morgan Hazelwood raising a whopping $725 and $700 respectively.

I cafe hopped as I wrote, visiting 5 different cafes and restaurants over 14 hours, heading home for the final stretch. A fun caffeine fuelled day.

And here are the winners of our raffle prizes!

  • Query and first five pages critique from literary agent Beth Phelan won by Jay Perin
  • A spot at Story Masters, a 4 day workshop with Donald Maas, Christopher Vogler, and James Scott Bell from Free-Expressions (travel and accommodation and other costs not included) won by Brooke Hartman.
  • 3 chapter edit from editor Katelyn Uplinger won by Maria Guglielmo
  • 50 page edit from editor Kellie Doherty won by Joseph Layden
  • 50 page edit from author Dana Alison Levy won by Ben Langhinrichs
  • One month’s book coaching with author and editor Tiffany Hoffman won by Sara Mikulic
  • Ten page critique from author Maria Guglielmo won by Matt Mutshnick
  • Five page critique from author Brenda Drake won by Candace Davenport
  • Scrivener Mac won by Barbara Penner
  • Scrivener Windows won by Vicki Weevil
  • Five page critique from author Suzanne Purvis won by Lori Fulton
  • 3 three chapter edit from Author Accelerator won by Candace Davenport, Matt Mutshnick, and Marsha Wallace
  • Plot Consultation with Rebecca Petruck won by Christina Dwivedi
  • Query and first page critique from The Winged Pen won by Matt Mutshnick

All winners have been notified by email. If you haven’t received your prize details, please get in touch!

Milestones Matter!

I read this wonderful thread on Twitter from Julia Brandt. She’s inspired me to live a little more in the moment. I tend to downplay achievements, and hold off on celebrations. I am queen of delayed reaction. Because life and adulting get in the way, often the celebration gets left by wayside. So these are things I’m celebrating!

I was a finalist in the Colorado Gold contest, and while I was pretty disappointed not to place in the top three, I am pretty chuffed I made it to the top 5 in a category that wasn’t a perfect fit (Speculative Fiction for my Urban Fantasy).

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The sting of not placing the Colorado Gold contest was soothed by winning first place in the RWA Indiana Golden Opportunities contest. WHOOHOOO!! A nice grown up dinner out on Thursday will be the perfect celebration.

I’m also almost finished rewrites on my MS–I completely reworked the plot thanks to some invaluable insight from Rebecca Petruck. Half is already with my editor… next half coming up this week. I’m excited and stoked.

Celebrating the little wins feels really good. 🙂 My new motto: Milestones matter!