I'm what they call a veteran contest judge. I've been judging romanace writing contests for ...oh...about eight years now. I've co-ordinated writing contests, I was on RWA's committee for judge training a few years back, and I've certainly entered my share of contests - including the Golden Heart. I mention all this because I'm judging some contests entries now, and that make me pause and think about how far we've come.
I'm sure you all know - it's not easy entering a writing contest. It's hard to put your soul out there and wait for someone to tell you all the places it's lacking. I just wanted to remind you that it's not easy being a judge either. Often, it's just as hard to award a low score as it is to receive one. I remember when I was the contest co-ordinator, one of the judges asked if it was okay to just not give a score on certain questions because she didn't want to hurt the writer's feelings with a low score. Of course, I said, "No. That wouldn't be fair to the author as anything is better than a 0."
It's hard as well to suggest through the scores that an entry is average. That, for whatever reason, there's no spark, no magic. How do you offer constructive suggestions on capturing stardust? You try. You offer suggestions, considerations, but you know that sometimes whatever you say will be taken as criticism. And unjust criticism at that.
So here's to all the Golden Heart finalists who triumphed through many, many contests. Who managed to combine excitement, action, and characterization - all within the first couple of pages. Who managed to use dialogue to move the story forward and not to tell backstory. Who incorporated enough plot twists and complications to make the judge disappointed that the entry has ended and she can't read more. Who learned how to capture magic and transform it into prose that takes on a life of its own. It can be done. It's not easy. It takes a lot of skill, a lot of craft, but it can be done.
So here's to the Golden Heart finalists - who by rising to this level have shown that they are all ready winners all. Congratulations, Ladies. You've come a long way.