This is a sorta-kinda-almost Cinderella story. Mine. Only it’s a stew-like mishmash because there’s no evil stepmother, or ugly stepsisters, or a King and Queen trying to marry off their Prince (hmmm, yummy plot, though). In the story I am rescued from scrubbing floors and doing laundry—but since I’m not actually forced to do those things normally, it’s not a big plot point. No pumpkins turn into carriages (although I turn into a pumpkin at midnight with enough Sex on the Beach. Hey now, clean up those minds—it’s just a drink), and no mice turn into horses, but
My story does have a grand ball, but there are eight fairy godmothers (five writing peers and three editors who will forever be faceless and nameless). There’s no glass slipper—but there is a pretty golden necklace.
There’s also a shameless back story—forgive me for not weaving it in, but this isn’t a saleable manuscript anyway. In November I entered a contest—a fairly big one called the Golden Heart. In March I got a call telling me I was a finalist. I hadn’t been planning to go to the fancy ball where they celebrate the GH even though everyone else in town was going. But after March I knew I had to join them.
The ball began with a week of amazing preparations and events. If you’ve never been to an RWA convention (the official name of The Ball) it is an occasion of amazing energy and excitement. Over the course of several days, two thousand writers converge and start to mingle, network and meet new friends. It sounds cliché but—it’s dead easy to make friends at an RWA convention. All you need to do is lift your eyes and say ‘hello,’ in the elevator, at the registration desk, at a bar, or around a fountain. I walked up to one woman out of the blue and said, “I love your name, it’s perfect for a book.” We struck up a great conversation, exchanged cards and I hope to contact her when I get to contacting people (which is a completely different subject).
Aside from random writers, there are also celebrities. I saw, to name drop a few: Cherry Adair, Susan Anderson, Christina Dodd, Eloisa James, Kristan Higgins, Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Jayne Ann Krentz … Mind you, these were mostly fangirl moments—Susan, Christina and Eloisa aren’t my new BFFs—but they are our Michael Jordans and seeing them, especially to say ‘hi,’ is awfully cool.
Workshops abound at the RWA conference, as do parties. If you want to know about a certain publishing house—there’s a spotlight for that. If you want to know about women of faith writing in the secular market—there’s a workshop for that. If you want to know how to make your urban fantasy more attractive to agents—there’s a speaker for that. And, if you belong to any group – there’s probably a party for that. The Beau Monde ball for regency writers; the Steam Punk ball for fantasy, futuristic & paranormal writers; the Harlequin pajama party for category lovers; Death by Chocolate for Kiss of Death members. Join a group—have a party!
My partying centered around that Golden Heart contest final. Sixty-six talented writers finaled in ten categories and we all joined an online chapter called The Golden Network exclusively for GH finalists. The group holds its annual meeting and “boot out” ceremony, where they kick out all members who’ve published and make them alumni. They also held a workshop featuring an exclusive editor/agent panel. RWA held an official Rita/Golden Heart reception full of great desserts and a chance to really meet all the finalists and mingle with roving editors and agents.
On that note, I think the most important skill I honed this year was how to schmooze an editor or agent. There are funny stories (my best being the agent who approached me, asked for my pitch, excused herself in the middle of it with an apology, promised to come back, came back but didn’t ask for any more of the pitch. Either the Mickey ears I forgot I was wearing were a REALLY bad idea—or she was friends with an ugly stepsister I don’t know about). Anyway, let me share my personal list of opening lines. (Look at this as a really bad bar scene):
- I loved what you said in your panel discussion
- I love your agency’s website
- I love your philosophy of the publishing industry
- We have a mutual friend
- How do you do this all day? I’m very impressed
- How is your own writing coming?
- It’s a pleasure to meet you
- I put a big star by your name in my notebook after the panel discussion
- May I look up your guidelines on your website?
- Thanks for the rejection
I honestly used every one of those lines. And, BTW, the ‘thanks for the rejection’ actually got me a request for my
Finally, the week culminated with The Actual Ball, aka the Rita/Golden Heart Award Ceremony. It’s not a secret that I won my category, and I’m still in shock. But just for the record, this event is a must-do if you go to conference, whether you’re up for an award or not. Wanna see RWA’s version of Oscar night? This is it.
To end my Cinderella Stew story, I’d like to share what it was like to actually win the Golden Heart. All kidding and silliness aside, this is one of the biggest honors of my life so far and, darn it, it was fun. I remember most of it—but it’s kind of like a slideshow in my brain that goes like this:
*People asking all day if I’m getting nervous and me saying unequivocally ‘no.’ *Sitting at the banquet table with a note card, writing a list of people I should thank should the unbelievable happen. *Deciding writing any kind of note is a jinx. *Tucking the half-finished list away in my purse. *Not caring at all if I won because it’s an honor to be a finalist. *Deciding, after seven winners are announced that, no, I really, really want one of those necklaces. *Sitting stock still except for my ping-ponging heart and my knuckles bracing white against my teeth while they announce my category’s finalists. *A crazy, far-away voice saying, “And the Golden Heart goes to --- “Songbird” by Lizbluth blub blulb mumble mumble …..” *Finding the unfinished list in my purse. *My mouth hanging open as I stand up and walk to the stage. *A very cute cameraman grinning at me as he points the lens at my face. *Holding up my dress hem and not tripping on the stage steps. *Catching a glimpse of myself on the Jumbotron—totally surreal. *Realizing they were right at the rehearsal when they said we wouldn’t be able to see the audience. *Saying “Wow.” *Seeing exactly one face in the middle of the front row: Vicki Lewis Thompson—her gorgeous white-blonde hair glowing like a guardian angel’s. *Realizing that with her beaming at me, I had nothing to be nervous about.
Applause and a huge hug from my presenter, Roxanne St. Clair surrounded me—it felt like a hug from a big sister! A small but mighty ‘whoop’ from Jenny, Boone and Lizzie when I said, “Alaskan sisters” carried all across the ballroom. And then I had the necklace in my hand and was floating back to my table. A constantly streaming prayer in my head went, “ThankyouThankyouThankyouThankyou…” In fact, that’s still going on.
Okay—enough already. Cinderella ended up with a way-better equivalent to the glass slipper. She got home well after midnight without the gown turning into rags, and Prince Charming was waiting at home—but he was waiting. And when he hugged her a day later he said, “Well, I guess going to THAT party was worth it.”
Oh yeah, it was. And while my experience this year happened to be golden—don’t wait for something like that to send you to the RWA Ball. Friendships, schmoozing, classes and parties can turn anyone’s trip into Cinderella stew. And that’s a mighty fine-tasting treat!!
Happy Fairy Tales Everyone!