Sunday, March 9, 2008

Of Golden Hearts, Golden Ladies, and Grungy Guys

by Nancy Northcott

This is a big month for some people in RWA. The calls go out in late March to the finalists in the Golden Heart ("GH") and RITA contests. The people who're most relaxed on the designated calling day are the ones who don't have a horse in either race. Those who do cope with it in various ways--sitting by the phone, avoiding the phone, watching hungrily for posts online, checking occasionally, or avoiding RWA email loops altogether. Or eating chocolate. When all is said and done, though, some people are going to be very, very happy while others are going to be very, very disappointed, with a bunch in between.

Having a little perspective helps us deal with any exciting success or stinging disappointment. When it comes to contests, I like to remember the wise and gifted writer, J. R. R. Tolkien (which may clue you in to which grungy guy we're going to be discussing). In The Fellowship of the Ring, the hobbits meet Strider at the Sign of the Prancing Pony in Bree. He then takes them into the wild, protecting them from the black riders. Tolkien includes, later, a poem about Strider that starts, "All that is gold does not glitter." And so it is with manuscripts and books.

Finaling in the GH will not, contrary to what some entrants think, sell a book. It gives the author exposure, which she (or he) needs to be ready to use to advantage. Finaling in the RITA will not catapult an author up the publishing house ladder. As Joan comments, finaling in the GH is an honor that helps "validate and nourish the frustrated writer's soul." The same would go for the RITA. Neither is, however, the secret elixir. Ask any bandita. Anyone who judges these contests can tell you that fabulous books, every year, don't make that final few. It doesn't take much to keep one out, and a lot depends on how the book strikes its randomly allotted judges. So a book that finals really wowed its judges. We should all celebrate that.

The RITA, of course, is a golden statue of a woman seated and writing. It's gorgeous. I think it's safe to say we all want one someday. Several banditas have the Golden Heart pendant (not shown at right, but this resembles the pins RWA gives finalists for their name badges). They're also gorgeous. And the nice thing about the GH is that while only one person can win, more than one can have a manuscript requested by an editor or agent judge. And everybody has the option to dress up for the ceremony.

Which brings me, at last, to the grungy guy. Tolkien's Strider appears to be a woodsman. He doesn't look much like what he is, Aragorn, Dunedin and rightful King of the West. The poem speaks, in beautiful word images, about strength not withering and about the fact that wandering doesn't mean you're lost. So it is with the quest for success in any creative endeavor. Success requires the strength to persevere. Wandering, which is often signposted with rejection, is an opportunity to develop the skills that make grasping success possible.

Good luck to everyone with a horse in the March RWA races!

How do you deal with waiting for contest results? In what endeavor have you had to persevere? Have you ever felt that you're wandering in the wilderness while others find the success you seek? How do you keep going?

Soon-to-be-published bandita and bibliophile mystery author Kate Carlisle shares this photo from the night Gemma Halliday presented her with the Golden Heart for the Novel With Strong Romantic Elements category. Congratulations and thanks for sharing, Kate!


Helen said...

Is he coming to Australia for a visit

Have Fun

Nancy said...

I guess he is. *g* Congratulations!

Of course, if I misunderstand and you actually mean Strider, hmm, I dunno. One can hope!

Helen said...

Nancy wonderful post and Strider is more than welcome to come visit as well.

Firstly good luck to all that have entries in these contests I have everything crossed for you.

When I enter contests I am always checking the email my Hubby and children are always saying why are you checking again I just answer I want to I always read a book if I need to relax and turn off to things that are happening around me so that is what I do. I tell myself that I have done the best I can and what will be will be and keep everything crossed.
Again good luck to everyone
Have Fun

jo robertson said...

Ah, Nancy, such an encouraging and heart-warming post. I think we writers don't appreciate ourselves enough. Or give ourselves credit for our achievements and our sheer ability to just hang in there.

I love the Tolkien quote and I'm going to post it on my computer because I really need to remind myself of the golden moments of my life that don't necessarily glitter for the rest of the world to see.

I was totally clueless for my GH finalling call in 2006. I had dial-up and couldn't be reached as I blithely sat at my computer reading emails and noticing the buzz about the GH finalists. Finally, I got an email asking how I could be reached because my phone line was busy. Duh! I hadn't realized it was the calling day.

We have so many RITA and GH entrants this year from among the Banditas that I know we'll have a lot of celebration going on several weeks from now.

Good luck to you all!

Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Helen, CONGRATS on getting the GR back DownUnder! And if you DO lure Strider to your house, be prepared for a Bandit Raid! More than a few of us are LOTR fans. ;-)

Interesting post as always, Nancy! It is very true (and something I think people sometimes lose sight of) that winning the GH or Rita is NO GUARANTEE of anything. However, I think what makes both awards so special are that they are recognition from your peers. Other writers determine the finalists in both contests. For another writer to give your work that kind of validation is very satisfying!


flchen1 said...

Thanks for the lovely post today, Nancy! Best wishes to all the Banditas awaiting contest results this month! So glad to be a part of the journey vicariously here :)

And congrats on the GR, Helen! I'm sure he's enjoying a change of scene!

Nancy said...

Helen--glad you liked the post. As Aunty says, be prepared for a bandita raid if Strider shows up at your place. I know everyone appreciates the good luck wishes. Thanks so much.

I'm a non-checker when I'm waiting to hear, but I read to escape, too. Books have always been gateways to adventure for me. Except math texts--more like gateways to agony. Good luck with your contest entries!

Jo, thanks. I just love that poem, as you could probably tell. It also has the virtue of making sense to me, which much modern poetry doesn't. Modern poems paint beautiful word pictures, some of them, but without rhyme or meter. Although I enjoy them, I don't understand them as poetry.

We still live on Planet Dial-Up, too, but I'm hoping we can get our act in gear and accelerate to escape velocity soon.

Aunty Cindy--I so agree with you. Peer recognition means a lot, and I do think that's part of what makes these RWA contests special. Glad you liked the post.

Flchen1, thanks for the kind words and good wishes. We enjoy having you along for the ride, too!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Lovely post, Nancy, and anything that lets us look at Aragorn is delicious!

Since the GH/Rita calls go out on a Friday, I usually schedule myself to work Thursday night in the hopes that I sleep through not getting a call. Joan says I can't hide, but I do try.

In '06 I'd just gotten off the phone with my CP and was about to head to bed, when the phone rang. It was the first of TWO fabulous calls I got that morning. I did manage NOT to scream into the callers' ears. But I did scream into the phone at my CP when I called to tell her!

Christie Kelley said...

Great post, Nancy.

I also must apologize for not being around much the past few days. Work was a little busy but the real problem is my hard drive crashed. I'm using my husband's laptop until Dell sends me a new hard drive tomorrow or Tuesday. Thank God for flashdrives. I will only lose a some of my real estate stuff that isn't a big deal and my iTunes songs (kind of a big deal). My writing is all safely stored on my flash drive. I'm also going to buy another flash drive.

Back to the post. I have to admit, it's nice not to be wondering about the GH or Rita this year. I couldn't enter either one.

In 2006, I really didn't expect ENIY to final because it hadn't done well in other contests. At 9:00 exactly, one of the board members I know (she's a chapter mate) called me. As soon as I heard her voice, I knew I'd finaled. She was just as excited to call me as I was to hear her voice.

Funny thing is with other contests, it seems like the ones I forget about are always the contest I final in.

Anonymous said...

When I finaled in '06, I had no idea how big a deal the GH was. That morning, I got a call first from my CP Susan, telling me she'd finaled. That was all the excitement I needed to make my day! I certainly had no expectation of finaling!

I had noticed I had a couple of missed calls on my caller ID, but no biggie. I figured whoever it was would call back.

I biked into work and when I arrived I checked my phone and saw I had a message. It was the RWA office and they wanted me to call. To tell me I needed to renew my dues? Wow, that seemed awfully personal. LOL.

When I finally heard the news I was pretty darn excited, but still had no idea what I'd done. They had email loops for finalists? Really? And you were supposed to write someone and tell them you'd finaled because someone made an unofficial list? And my local chapter would care? Who knew!

Then in 2007 when I didn't final, I did understand what a big deal it was. I cried. I played in the Pit of Despair with Susan for a little while. But we both made our way out and got back to writing.

This year, I had just screwed up the courage to enter again when I got The Call. So I had to withdraw my entries. And I was disappointed. Can you believe that? Disappointed not to have the excitement AND heartbreak that is the GH.

Good luck to all our Banditas and Bandita Buddies as you wait for your phone calls. Like Nancy said, finaling is a sure sign your manuscript has something special, but NOT finaling does not mean the converse. Let yourself play in the Pit of Despair for a little while, and then call up for a rope.

We'll pull you out. There's more writing to be done.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Nancy, have you heard the story about how Tolkein wrote that scene with no idea who that grungy woodsman would turn out to be? Talk about a pantser!

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, and we better get the news FIRST when someone gets the call!! I may not have my own entry in there, but I will be anxious as all get out for the rest of you who do!

Gillian Layne said...

I'm dreadfully excited to hear the results, GH and Rita, because for the first time I'll know several "someones" who final!

I don't expect to hear my name, because it somehow doesn't seem possible that I would final with my first entry, but I was really excited to actually enter for the first time! So I was very happy in December. It's like that next big step I was finally able to take. And as long as the entire process of publication is, we'd better enjoy the journey as well as the destination! :)

Gillian Layne said...

Oh, and hurray for Helen! GR must love your home :)

Anonymous said...

Gillian, those are very wise words! :-)

What category did you enter?

Joan said...

Nancy, what a great analogy and throwing in pics of Viggo aka Strider didn't hurt either.

The morning of my notification that I'd finaled in the '06 GH came as I was lounging in my chair, barely out of bed and watching Regis and Kelley. I had already calculated with time difference that I didn't need to start worrying until 10 am.

At 9:05 the phone rang and my caller ID showed an out of state number. I figured it was Bell South calling to annoy me and answered "Hello" in a clipped tone.

Dear, God. It was one of the Board members calling to tell me I'd finaled. Me! In the GH! With my Roman story!

I was in a slap silly stunned state for the rest of the day. My one CP had just gotten home from a procedure and I raced to her house, slapped her out of her Versed induced coma and we jumped up and down with her dog Buckarudi jumping in joy with us.

And more significantly? It put me in touch with the Banditas.

I did not final last year but I made sure at conference that every GH finalist I met...especially the first timers...heard nothing but praise and congrats and a proclamation to enjoy every special moment!

Now, Suz.....I need you to be there for me on that day....WAKE UP! :-)

Kim Howe said...

Great post, Nancy!

The GH and RITA calls are such a nail-biting, but fun time. I was lucky to final twice last year and my lovely RWA caller had a blast talking to me about the first final before she asked me if I had entered another novel--and then proceeded to tell me that I had finaled twice. What a day! Huge validation and a kick in the butt to keep at it. I love writing more than anything, and it meant so much to me that someone out there enjoyed what I had written.

Thanks for bringing back those lovely memories.

Good luck to everyone who entered both contests this year!!!


Kate Carlisle said...

Congrats, Helen! The GR does love visiting you!

Nancy, what a lovely, encouraging post. I wish all those who've entered the GH/Rita this year lots of luck. My fingers are crossed for you all!

And...uh, didn't anyone else send Nancy a photo of their GH night? Must I be the only one standing on stage with that ridiculous 'deer in the headlights' look on her face? LOL

I must admit I'm relieved NOT to be expecting a call this year. But strangely enough, I think I'll be even more nervous waiting to hear from our Banditas and friends that they're finalists (that goes for you too, Gillian!). I can't wait to celebrate with everyone!!

Very funny story of your GH call, Jo! And welcome back to the Lair! We missed you. :-)

Nancy said...

Thanks to everyone for the kind words on the post and for sharing GH call stories. As a late-to-the-party bandita, I missed those the first time around.

Glad everyone liked the Viggo/Aragorn picture. Viggo really parlayed that role into something. He'd been knocking around Hollywood with featured roles and small parts for a long time. After Aragorn, he made Hidalgo (for Disney?), which was well received, then two movies too violent for me, A History of Violence, ironically named from my perspective, and Eastern Promises, which led to an Academy Award nomination. I saw him on the red carpet. It just goes to show that you should never give up.

Suz, I'm sort of a hider, too. I try not to think about it when I'm waiting for something, so I usually leave the house on call day. I'm not entirely sure when it is this year, so I plan to keep it that way. The only reason they caught me in '06 was because I'd gone back to bed after the family left, and I'd just gotten up at 8:30.

I didn't think that book had a hope--it's an "off" time period, Restoration. It had won a couple of chapter contests but had gotten a lot of flack in others from judges who didn't know the period and thought it should be more medieval. Considering that you need to please 5 judges to final, I figured it was the longest of shots. I just put it in because I was trying to get my writing back in gear after my mother's illness and death, and putting something in the GH is a benchmark I set for myself. You just never know.

Nancy said...

Kirsten, I also had a huge letdown the year after my first GH final. I had sort of a charmed start on the contest circuit, culiminating in a GH final. I though I was on my way. A year later, though, I couldn't get arrested on the contest circuit and hadn't sold a book. Not finaling in the GH was the low point of that year. It did make me develop some perspective though. So when the call came in '06, I think I had a better idea what it meant.

I hadn't heard that story about Aragorn. I did hear that the saga was born while Tolkien was grading papers and absently scribbed "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit," only to wonder later where that had come form. Have you heard that?

Christie, maybe finaling is like the watched pot never boiling? I'm sorry about your hard drive. I love my thumb drive. It's more like saving to a disk used to be. I find CDs cumbersome for saving documents. Good luck ironing everything out!

Gillian--congratulations on entering the GH! I wish you luck. As we used to say when I worked as a weight loss consultant, "It's not the destination; it's the journey." You've taken a big step.

Joan, I also see the banditas as one of my biggest benefits. I'm glad I had the sense to jump aboard, at slot #19, before the train left the station.

Kate and Christie, your time will come again. It's an odd limbo for the sold, but not yet published, author, though.

I'll be gone for a while. We're doing a birthday party, and it helps if Mom focuses.

Gillian Layne said...

Oh, Kate. :)

Kirsten, I entered Historical-Regency. But I judged YA. So much talent out there! It was a blast.

doglady said...

Congrats, Helen. It is obviously too cold Stateside for him!

What a terrific post, Nancy. Definitely puts it all in perspective. And those pictures of Stryder will certainly be a great consolation when I don't get a call on my GH entry. I am like my buddy, Gillian, I don't expect to final my first time out. I do, however, feel like I have taken a HUGE and very real step by entering.

Frankly I have been stunned every time I have made the finals in a contest (yeah right all three times!) Ask poor Deb Marlowe who called me to tell my about my Royal Ascot final. I kept saying "Are you sure?" I know she thought I was some kind of idiot.

Once I enter a contest I try hard not to think about it again. Silly, I know, but it makes it easier to get on with my writing.

I am used to persevering. In my singing career I auditioned and entered contests for years in the States. I usually did well, but did not win. Sometimes, I was slashed to ribbons. Then I sent a tape to the Mozart Academy at my voice teacher's insistence, I might add. They invited over a hundred singers from the thousands of tapes they got to audition to get into the academy. The night after the last singers auditioned we all milled around in the basement lounge waiting for them to post the names of those who had been accepted. At 2 AM the doorman came down and pinned the list to the bulletin board. There were twelve names on it. We all just stood there waiting for someone to go and look. Then there was a stampede. I am only 5 feet tall so I couldn't see over all of the others. Finally this nice Austrian kid (20 to my 28)good looking and 6"6 leaned over and said "Wie heissen Sie?" So I told him my name and he looked and said "I heard your audition so I am not surprised. You made it." Sopranos should not be allowed to scream in crowds. I am sure several of the people around me lost their hearing.

So, I don't expect to get a call this year, but I think the important thing for me to set my sights on is ONE DAY. And then all I have to do is work my butt off to reel ONE DAY in.

Aunty Cindy said...

a slap silly stunned state PERFECT description, Joanie! That was ME all right! Of course, everyone knows Aunty is NOT a morning person, so when my phone rang at 7:05 AM West Coast time, I snatched it up, CERTAIN there had been some terrible family tragedy. When Connie Newman told me I was a GH finalist, I just kept saying, "You. Are. Kidding. ME!"

And Gillian and Pam, this was my very first GH entry with my first completed romantic suspense, so Yes, it is very possible.

I didn't enter in 07 because I knew the book I had ready was not the one, and I felt very deflated and depressed on call day. :-( And, like Kirsten I was girding my loins to enter this year when I got THE CALL! So I wasn't eligible to enter either the GH or Rita, but I feel like I have "horses" in the race with all out Banditas and Bandita buddies, so I can't wait to hear all the WONDERFUL NEWS on call day!

Joan said...

Expect the unexpected ladies.

It was TPD's third trip to the GH contest before he finaled. Then in '07 he didn't. (came close...came WAY close).

No contest final/win/entry should ever have so much significance attached to it that it makes or breaks a writer's journey. Adds a few bumps or better yet points you in the right direction for moving forward, yes but not a "be all, end all."

And good luck Gillian and Doglady. Which category did you enter?

doglady said...

Gillian and I are both entered in the historical category. I was watching the movie Mr. Magorium's Magic Emporium and he says something very profound and true "Your life is an occasion." How true is that!! I tend to forget that from time to time, but talking about writing and the ups and downs of it, the journey, I realize I need to look at all of it in that way. And have fun!

Donna MacMeans said...

Fun post, Nancy! Can't blame the rooster for hightailing it to Helen's house downunder - it's bloody cold here!

When I finaled in 1998 (and Gillian, it was my first manuscript, first time entering as well - don't discount your fresh voice) the finalist announcements were made on April 1st - otherwise known as April Fools Day. Hmmm...wonder why they changed it?
Anyway, I was the chapter treasurer. One of my chapter mates called asking how to document some expenses and then said - BTW - Your entry is a finalist in the GH. (Back then the category coordinator, who was a volunteer, made the calls. The coordinator for Suspense happened to be in my chapter).

In 2006, Connie Newman called me as well, AC. As the calls go out during tax season, I'm usually grousing at the interruption (no caller ID). That kind of interruption I can take, though.

I rather missed all the GH anxiety last year as I was ineligible. I had to sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else play. It's an angsty time, but a fun one. I missed it.

Gillian - good for you on the judging. I think that's one of the best ways to learn how to improve - read other unpublished manuscripts.

Kate, one of the benefits of being on digest is you get the requests for things like photos after the deadline *g*. I just saw Nancy's request today, otherwise I would have sent my Nora Roberts GH pic. But that's another story...

Cassondra said...

Hi Nancy,

Great post. Looking at Viggo never hurts--That's the way to get popular girlie, posting pics like that one! ;0)

I love that poem.

When I finaled in 06 I'd forgotten it was call day. Nobody could get hold of me.

My critique partner called while I was driving into town and my husband answered and I heard, "uh-huh..yeah..uh-huh...well, we've been out all day and away from the phone so that's probably why Cassondra doesn't know she finaled in the Golden Heart."

Me: "What? What? WHAT?????"

Husband, holding out phone: "Pull over, you're weaving."

That's the best way for me.

Last year I remembered it and did not final, and that was way too angsty and disappointing. I don't know for certain when call day is, so don't tell me. I don't wanna know.

Kate Carlisle said...

Hmm...note to self: Go on Digest like Donna and avoid future humiliation.

Naaaah, that wouldn't help, I'd still manage to make a fool of myself somehow. *g*

Doglady, it's good to remember to have fun with the whole process. A boss of mind had a sign on the wall of his office: "If it ain't fun, don't do it." I try very hard to remember that when I'm bogged down and feeling neurotic and out of control and whiny. :-)

Nancy said...

Doglady and Gillian, my first GH final was also my first entry, though not my first ms. You both took a big step by diving in, which is something some people never do.

Doglady, it sounds as if your singing experience has given you a solid grounding in dealing with subjective processes. Me, I can't carry a tune in a bucket, as the old saying goes, but I admire those who can.

AC, your time also will come again. Meanwhile, we'll all party hearty in San Francisco.

Joan, you're so right. Nothing about a contest should ever attain "make or break" importance. I think the GH sometimes does because there's such a buzz around it.

Cassondra--LOL! What a cool call story. It sounds as if your dh was just so cavalier about it. Poor guy probably didn't realize it would affect your driving.

Kate, it's a great picture! I appreciate your putting it in. A celebration photo was perfect for ending this post.

Christine Wells said...

Nancy, great post! I can identify with wandering in the wilderness. My two closest writing buddies both sold in the same year and there I was, thinking it would never happen to me. Then I finaled in the GH and sold and then won. It all happened like lightning and just when I'd almost decided to take a break from writing for a while. I only wish I'd been there in '06 to meet you all and enjoy the hype;)

Anyway, the absolute best thing to come out of the GH has been the Banditas. Wouldn't trade that for anything.

Congrats on the GH, Helen!

Caren Crane said...

Helen, congrats on nabbing the GR! I'm sure he is ready for some warmth and sunshine. It is far too cold in the USA!

As for the GH, I used to have no clue when the calls are going out. In '06, I was in Charlotte visiting my mother for the weekend. On Sunday morning, Deb Marlowe called my cell phone. When I answered, she said, "Is this the Golden Heart finalist, Caren Crane?" I think I said something erudite like, "What? Are you serious? I finalled?"

Stephanie Feagan had called my home several times and sent me e-mail to see if there was another number where they could reach me. I never got to talk to her, but I still have the message on my answering machine and have threatened my family with bodily harm if anyone erases it. *g* I play it when I need validation.

Of course, now I am all too aware of when the calls go out. I have also given RWA my cell phone number. The phone stayed silent in 2007, but there's always hope.

Best of luck, everyone!

Btw, I also judged YA and some of the entries were FANTASTIC. Lots of competition in YA this year!

Keira Soleore said...

All the best to an amazing group of writers for the GH and RITA.