Thank you so much to the Seekers for giving me this fabulous opportunity to be their guest blogger today.
I’ll start by saying everyone’s writing journey is unique. It has to be. Otherwise, there would be no distinction between authors’ voices. No special energy or emotion only that specific writer can infuse into a character that makes them become real to the reader. Stories are as varied and special as the people who write them. If not, then every book would be the same.
Last year after I was laid off from my job, I made a list of writing goals to achieve within the next six months. The fourth goal on that list was to enter the Golden Heart.
Just after that, my father-in-law became ill and after ten days in the hospital, he was transferred to a rehab unit. Suddenly I was the only one home during the day to help with getting my mother-in-law to the rehab center for visits and running the gazillion errands that crop up for three households (mine, my in-laws, and my mom).
While I worked outside the home, I wrote at night. That was when I was the most productive. But suddenly, my writing time at night swas getting shorter and shorter. I wasn’t checking goals off my writing list, I was scratching through them because the deadlines had come and gone. And I was getting angry with myself. So I stopped and claimed a block of time during the day when no one else was around and I talked it over with God.
I won’t say it was a prayer because I was not on my knees and I didn’t have my eyes closed. I was pacing my living room, gesticulating with my hands, telling Him what I didn’t understand, pouring out all my frustrations and asking Him why I couldn’t do these things that I truly believed He wanted me to do. And I asked Him if He really wanted me to write, would He please help me get it together.
I found my index card with the list of writing goals. The first three items had big fat x’s through them. I looked at the next one. Oh no. This is the big one. My friend entered last year and she didn’t final. She’d since sold the manuscript, but it didn’t final last year. How could I expect to final if she didn’t?
But I printed out the requirements for entering the contest and I paid my entry fee. There was no way I would forfeit my entry fee. I was determined. I did all my family duties by day and very late at night, I edited, and polished and tweaked that manuscript until I was so deep into the story, I couldn’t see past the words. Then I sent it to my two wonderful critique partners and they gave me their comments.
I stood in line at the post office with my big box addressed to RWA headquarters in Texas. The postal worker told me I was in luck. That day was the last day they were offering guaranteed overnight delivery. I smiled, taking that as confirmation that I was being obedient to God. It had nothing to do with finaling or winning the contest. I had already won because I had met a goal that had to do with my writing and it felt wonderful. I marked the block on my calendar for March 26, 2012 with, “GH Finalists announced.” And I didn’t think about it again.
My phone rang at 9:14 am on March 26th. I looked at the area code on the display. We have family in Texas. I have all their phone numbers coded into my phone. It wasn’t one of them. Maggi Landry introduced herself and I think I forgot to breathe for the rest of the phone call. I don’t think I screamed in her ear—if I did, I am soooo sorry. I tried not to cry until we hung up.
I was dazed. Stunned. I looked up and said, “Oh, I hope You know what You’re doing, because this is all You.” I called my husband. After I said hello he asked if I’d already booked my airfare. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t shocked. I was. My hands shook while I typed the email to my chapter letting them know I’d finaled. And the cyber Snoopy dancing began. An hour later my friend and critique partner, Carol, sent an email that said she was a finalist too—in the same category, with the story that she had sold a few months before. Oh, boy.
I had never been to Nationals and I had never entered the Golden Heart. I was in the deep end of the pool. Carol already had a hotel room booked and offered to let me bunk with her. Our other CP, Dixie, emailed and said if we were going, she had to be there too so she could cheer us on. Did I mention how much I love my CP’s? I researched airfare and booked our flights. We decided it would be easier for Carol to stay overnight with me the night before our flight and we’d ride together. It was thrilling to final, but to share it with my friend made it extra special. People were surprised that we were so supportive of each other when we were each other's direct competition. We just shrugged and said we would squeal and clap the loudest no matter which one of us walked across that stage.
One of the most amazing things about finaling happened only days after the finalists were announced. We were all invited to join an email loop created for us by a former finalist class as their gift to us. We spent four months preparing for nationals by getting to know one another and sharing our struggles and the heartaches that had shaped us and brought us to this moment. Not even one of us was focused on winning. We counted ourselves blessed to be in our group. We call ourselves The Firebirds. We have a website, with a blog and some fun content and we are sisters in writing bonded together forever through our trials and triumphs.
Nationals gave us a chance to trade in all the cyber hugs for real ones. We set up meet times, tagged tables during keynote luncheons, and spent free time out by the pool trading info and insights on what we had learned so far. The photographer for the awards reception where each finalist received her certificate didn’t arrive until we were halfway through. One of our Firebirds, Diana Belchase, was so thoughtful and wonderful that when we got started she had each person pose with their certificate while she snapped their photo. She posted them all on her Facebook page so each GH and Rita finalist could claim theirs.
All the repeating GH finalists from the year before had prepared us newbies for what to expect at the luncheons, workshops, the reception, and even the awards ceremony. There was a rehearsal. We had to walk across the stage and stop at the podium to say our name into the microphone. They plastered our pictures up on four huge screens.
Then it was time to get ready and go down to the ballroom. I was nervous. Not because I expected to win, I didn’t. There were only four finalists in the inspirational category. The other three had already sold their stories and had a release date. I would have been thrilled for any one of them to have the honor.
In my defense, I had queries out to agents who had requested partials, but I had not sent anything to an editor. My father-in-law’s illness had progressed and by then he was home with partial hospice care and the rest provided by family, which claimed a lot of my time, so I had not been very aggressive in seeking publication. But I was trusting God to guide me with my queries and connections and He was doing that. Coming to Nationals was part of that plan to move me forward.
Joni, another chapter friend, came as Carol’s guest and I had Dixie as my guest all sitting at the reserved table. Inspirational category was fourth up. I was still turning my head around taking in the glitz and glamor of the ceremony and then it was our turn. As they called the finalists names and our pictures flashed up on the screen, I sat between Dixie and Carol and we were holding hands. Joni snapped our picture. I had my eyes closed with my head bowed. I asked God’s blessing for whoever it was, and then I couldn’t breathe. Joni said she thought I didn’t hear them say my name. I heard. I just couldn’t believe it was me.
One of the other finalists had insisted we write a speech—just in case. So all the Firebirds made a pact that we would thank her during our speech if we won. I was crying so hard when I got on stage, I thought I wouldn’t be able to speak. I took a deep breath and suddenly I felt a warm peace wrap around me and I looked out over that crowd of 2,000 people and I thanked God, Rachel, my critique partners, my family, my husband, and my chapter in a clear and strong voice. I later found out, at the exact moment I was calmed; Carol had said a prayer for me.
I don’t recommend holding out to go to Nationals until you’re a Golden Heart finalist because there is so much to learn and use to advance your goals as a writer available to you whether you are a finalist or not. But I have to say, for firsts, this was THE BOMB. I wear my GH necklace every day.
Advice and suggestions to the writers out there. Enter contests that offer you feedback, so you can see what is working and what isn’t. Don’t stay stuck on one manuscript. When you’ve done all you can do, “bless and release” as one of our Firebirds taught us. Send it where it needs to go and start working on the next story. I said I have 4.5 manuscripts completed. I have blurbs for six others. I can have a synopsis and the first three chapters ready within two weeks of request. You don’t have to have a degree in English to be a good writer. You must have an open mind and willing heart with the ability to learn. And lots of patience. Some people will love your writing, some won’t. Every one has an opinion. But if two or more people make the same comment about something in your story, be willing to look at it from a different angle. Maybe you didn’t convey what you meant to as clearly as you thought you did.
And finally, keep the faith. Not every experience I’ve had writing has been pleasant. But I have learned something that I could use to move forward. And those things that weren’t as pleasant, they were usually because I got ahead of God in the plan. I pray God’s best for you in your writing.
Love’s Advocate by Karen Fleming
Katherine Harper, a child’s advocate and former foster kid working in family court, uses her job and countless hours of volunteer work as an escape from her fear of being alone. Until Nick Delaney, corporate attorney and city council hopeful, gets cited for contempt of court and is sentenced to two months working opposite her in family court.
His reappearance in her life dredges up all the old hurts she tried so hard to leave behind. But when she’s named Citizen of the Year, she finds herself thrust into the limelight and suddenly a women’s group declares her the perfect candidate to go against Nick for the council seat. Their differences of opinion within the courtroom are nothing compared to the varied long-term ideals each has for the city of Pemberly, Georgia.
Is a man trying to give back a portion of what he’s been blessed with the best choice for teaching a woman with a battered heart how to forgive the trespasses against her when he and his father are to blame? If he can’t, he’ll not only fail God, he could cost Katherine and himself the love and sense of belonging God has waiting for them.
Karen Fleming started writing in February of 2009 because a friend asked her to write her a story. After much cajoling she did, and discovered herlove for creating a world where good always wins and the guy always gets the girl.
She loves HEA’s and her husband accuses her of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. By writing inspirational romances, she don’t have to take them off. Nothing is more rewarding than knowing that because the guy and girl have put their trust in God, their lives together will be blessed. With that assurance, their faith will get them through whatever life throws their way.
The theme she infuses into each of her stories is “using stories of faith to share hope.”
Once again this year Seekerville will be reimbursing one person their Golden Heart Entry fee. This opportunity is open from November 15 through to the Golden Heart deadline of January 2, 2013. Send proof of entry to the Seekerville email address. Winner will be announced on January 7, 2013.
Please note the deadlines for the Golden Heart have changed.
November 15, 2012, the 2013 Golden Heart Contest opens to entries.
Entries must be submitted to RWA's contest site no later than 5 p.m. CT, January 2, 2013. Entrants who fail to meet this deadline will be disqualified, and the entry fee will be forfeited.
The Golden Heart contest is limited to 1,200 paid entries.
More information on the 2013 Golden Heart Awards is available here.
Are you entering the 2013 Golden Heart? For you published authors...have you ever entered the GH? Comment today for a chance to win a Seeker book of choice as available. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.