Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson

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One More Golden Heart

No politics, I promise.

2019 will be the last year Romance Writers of America runs the Golden Heart® contest for unpublished authors. Until I was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2016, I didn’t even know about the Golden Heart or whether I was eligible. It’s not advertised widely outside RWA circles (or even within RWA circles, honestly). It’s one of those things you either pay attention to or you don’t. One of those things that’s on your radar, or it isn’t.

It should be. In case you’re new here, I am a 2018 Golden Heart finalist.

On the surface, it looks like another bigger chapter contest. I’ve entered a lot of those, with varying results. This past year, when my manuscript Duet became a GH finalist, I was blessed or cursed with the most mixed results from all the other chapter contests I entered. I didn’t final in any of these. In fact, one piece of feedback I got was the worst (and rudest) judging I’ve ever received. Regardless, I still got the call early one morning late in March telling me that I was a Golden Heart finalist.

None of the rest of my contest feedback stuck with me after that. I had entered the Golden Heart on a whim–more or less oh, yeah, it’s GH time, I might as well. Then I promptly forgot about it until the morning finalists were announced and I started seeing social media blow up with excitement for a few of my friends. When I got my call, I assumed it was a telemarketer. But I answered the phone anyway, and all I remember are the words “Your novel Duet is a Golden Heart finalist. Congratulations!”

The rest of the phone call is a total blur.

That first rush of excitement, followed quickly by this can’t be right, surely someone made a mistake and they’re going to let me know they were only kidding, set my heart racing. All I really knew was that I was in the running for an award in the Contemporary Romance category for the Golden Hearts, which is really like the Oscars for unpublished romance writers (the RITA® is RWA’s equivalent for published romance writers). I had no real idea what else it meant, because while I knew other Golden Heart finalists from the previous year, I didn’t really get the low-down on what went along with being named a finalist.

It’s not a secret. That’s why I’m here to spill the beans on it all. So drum roll, please…

What You Get as a Golden Heart® Finalist

  1. You get a phone call from an RWA board member congratulating you. Don’t be like me. Listen carefully when you answer the phone and pay attention to who’s calling you. It could be a NYT bestselling author!
  2. Did you know there’s an RWA chapter for Golden Heart finalists? It’s called The Golden Network, and it’s one of the most positive, uplifting, and wonderful chapters I’ve ever joined. Imagine all the combined wisdom of previous finalists at your fingertips, managed with healthy doses of love, excitement, and unbridled enthusiasm.
  3. If the RWA National hotel is sold out or rooms restricted, as an GH finalist, you’ll get help getting those rooms for the dates you want.
  4. You are immediately part of a sisterhood. The beauty of this can’t be overstated. Face it, writing is a lonely task. We don’t always (or often) have people at the same stage in writing careers to meet, greet, talk to, share experiences with.
  5. If you’re querying, you get to nudge everyone and let them know you’re a GH finalist. (This might have been my first favorite part of the whole deal.)
  6. The Golden Heart award is a big deal. It’s peer-judged, so the novels that final are a fairly decent reflection of what readers want. Agents and publishers like Golden Heart novels, because they’ve been vetted and given approval. Speaking of agents and publishers, there was a reception this year with agents, publishers, editors, and Golden Heart finalists. Network, network, network.
  7. Whether or not you win your category, you get a finalist’s certificate at a special private soiree at RWA National. Bonus: you don’t have to make a speech.
  8. You get to sit up front at the Golden Heart luncheon, and get priority seating for the RITA reception. It might not seem like much, but it is a perk!
  9. You will be congratulated by friends and strangers alike, because you get a special Golden Heart Finalist ribbon for your RWA badge. Oh, and bling. There will be bling.

I’m sure I’ve left out about half the perks. I will tell you that suddenly your experience at RWA National will make you feel a little like a celebrity, which is really fun. So since 2019 is the final year for the Golden Heart® contest, I personally think you should enter. There’s so much to love about this award. I’m sad that the RWA board decided the Golden Heart no longer served its members the way they wanted, but with your help (and entry), we can make 2019 the most fabulous year yet for this esteemed award. After that, we can look forward to whatever replacement contest the board puts into place.

One more thing–past Golden Heart finalists are the most selfless group of writers, I swear! In addition to holding our hands this past year through the process, a number of previous finalists are offering critiques on your Golden Heart submission.

For more information, click here. The giveaway opens October 1.



Why I Write Romance

Romance writers get a bad rap. We’re like the suspected drug dealers of the writing world–people talk about what we do in hushed voices. Pull us aside to ask if we really write romance. Ask when we’re going to give that up and do something serious, something of merit.

Other people, often those writing different genres, look at romance and romance sales, and see dollar signs. If I only wrote romance, I could share a piece of that pie, they say. Romance is so formulaic. That means it’s easy, they say. Romance is just fluff! Anyone can write that, they say.

Keep telling yourselves that. Writing good romance is hard, y’all.

I read a lot of books all across the genre spectrum. I love the variety, but I tell you that the one thing that keeps me interested is when there’s a strong emotional component to a story, whether it’s romance, mystery, young adult, fantasy…you get the picture. Emotions are key to me as a reader. Someone may have written the best plot in the world, but if I don’t care about the characters and their hearts, I won’t really give a good goddamn about that best plot in the world. Why did I spend a summer years ago devouring every Hercule Poirot mystery? Not because of the mysteries themselves (although I was and am a huge fan of Agatha Christie’s writing), but because of the nuances in Poirot’s character. Surely someone so tightly restrained was boiling over on the inside with emotion. Poirot was so controlled that he rarely if ever let anyone get a glimpse into his inner workings–and yet Dame Agatha managed to convey to the readers that he had a lot more going on inside that egg-shaped head of his than simple little grey cells.

For me, every Poirot mystery is a romance between the detective and murder (if you’ve read Curtain I dare you to disagree, and if you haven’t, go read it). I realized early on as a fledgling writer that all my stories had an element of love in them, whether they be YA, westerns, literary, mystery. As a writer, feeling that intensity of emotion and trying to convey it to readers is what made and makes writing a challenge I keep craving.

As a reader, I know when I feel what’s on the page. We talk about show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell. I used to not really know what that meant, but as I keep writing, keep reading, and get more experience in this craft, I realize that simple directive really means “make me feel what the characters are feeling.”

That’s why I write romance. There’s nothing I’d rather explore more than the depth of passion that is love. I don’t just mean exploring the physical choreography–that’s its own challenge. I mean the emotional depth of passion. The one that makes readers cry and laugh along. The one that makes the typical romance arc so satisfying: we get it all. The blush of new love, the uncertainty of relationships, the rush of passion, the heartbreak of separation, and the relief when the characters prove their worthiness to each other and ride off into the sunset of a Happily Ever After.

And if I can put a little more love and happiness out there into the world, well…I’m all for that.

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The night was hazy. Too hazy.

Here in the Pacific northwest, the skies have been filled with smoke from the fires raging up and down the west coast. The worst of it where I live near Seattle has been coming down from British Columbia. Many of the people I know have been affected by the pollutants in the air. If you’re wondering what it looks like…

(You should be able to see the Seattle skyline, clear as day across the water.)

That aside, I have a little bit of news! I’m officially a part of the Pitch Wars blog team. Will you see a ton of posts by me? No, I’m primarily working behind the scenes to make sure everything looks right before the posts go live. I’m working with this fabulous group: Brenda Drake, Lisa Leoni, and Jaime Dill.

This is in addition to the work I’m doing with All The Kissing. Hey, the busier we are, the more productive we get, right?

As far as writing goes, I’ve sent off edits and am taking a tiny breather to read a bit before delving into finishing not one but two books. Where is my clone? Of course I can only physically work on one at a time, but I love them both and have been like a ping pong ball, going back and forth. Spoiler: one of them is not a romance! But it is a novel I love and am passionately eager to finish. So we’ll see what happens, and which one gets done first.

If you haven’t yet joined us on Twitter for #FridayKiss, please do! These Twitter hashtag games displaying lines from a work in progress serve more purposes than just showing off in front of thousands of your best friends. When I work with the weekly theme, I’ve found it helps me notice trends and over-use in my own writing, first and foremost. If I use the theme word the same way more than twice, I’ll go back and do some editing. Then, when I read the feed, I can see what the most common uses are for the theme word. It’s both fascinating and insightful. Maybe I’m looking at it from the perspective of someone who did technical editing for a lot of years, but I know it’s made me keenly aware of the way I use words and terms in my fiction. Of course, your mileage may vary, and no analysis is required.

The second benefit is really the one I was flippant about above. If you’re writing and want to be published, you need to get used to sharing your words. Is it scary? Absolutely. Does it get easier with time? Absolutely. But look at this as a proving ground for yourself. If you don’t put yourself out there now, will you be able to do it later? Will you gather the courage to submit to contests? Will you be brave enough to query agents, editors, or publishers if you’re too shy about your writing? So come along and practice with us. You can find the prompt posted every Thursday evening at 7pm Pacific time at @yourfridaykiss. And to make it a little bit more entertaining, there are quotes. About each prompt. Each week. And no spoiler here: I have a lot of fun finding those.


RWA 2018

I want to bend your ear for a minute or two about RWA, the National Conference, and the RWA writing awards.

Each finalist for the Golden Heart® and the RITA® awards got a certificate of appreciation from the RWA board. This happened the night before the ceremonies where the winners were announced (spoiler alert: I didn’t win my category, at least not as far as RWA was concerned). The certificate event was a really nice way for everyone to feel special, appreciated, and worthwhile.

The day did not start out that way. At the Annual General Meeting, the board announced that they were doing away with the Golden Heart award for unpublished writers. Due to prior obligations I wasn’t at the meeting, but people who attended said that more than a few people spoke out against the board’s decision. I’ve written in other places about the Golden Heart, what it means, and why it shouldn’t be discontinued. Most of my reasons have to do with RWA’s commitment to unpublished authors. They reasoned that with so many people seeking alternate routes beyond traditional, the Golden Heart no longer applies. However, it’s an award for unpublished authors. That means they haven’t decided to go either hybrid or self-published or traditional. Unpublished. I believe that RWA owes as much support to unpublished authors as they do to the published ones. So if they’re going to use different paths to publication as a reason for cutting out the Golden Heart, they need to take a long look at the RITA awards too. Most of the RITA winners this year were self-published.

So let’s don’t be hypocritical. You can’t fault an unpublished author for thinking about self-publishing when the top dog awards are going to self-published authors, can you?

That aside, there have been a lot of rumblings this year about RWA not being inclusive enough of writers who are not your standard CIS white writers. I mean, a lot of rumbling, and rightly so. Not a single African-American author won a RITA, although the video interviews interspersed between awards featured primarily women of color. The Golden Heart did marginally better in this category.

This has been a year for RWA being called out.

It’s a good time to show you the badge I wore at this year’s national convention.

If you look beyond the name and the bling at the ribbons I put on in rainbow-hued order, you can probably make out the words on the light blue one. In case you can’t, it reads LBGTQ+ ROMANCE. As I listened to lifetime achievement award winner Suzanne Brockmann’s RITA speech, my heart swelled about six sizes. You see, my Golden Heart novel, Duet, features an openly bisexual male main character. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined it stood a snowball’s chance in hell of making it into the Golden Heart finals. Once I found out it had, I kept expecting to get a phone call or email saying sorry, we made a mistake. That never happened, despite a general reaction of “oh, how interesting” from a great many people when I told them about Duet’s male lead.

My novel made the finals, but I knew its chances of winning were even slimmer. Winning in my category would have been lovely. It wasn’t my top priority, however, and I’ll tell you why:

A few months ago, I got a call from a dear friend. She was delighted to tell me that she had a new girlfriend. Of course, I was so happy for her, congratulated her. Then she told me that it was Duet’s bisexual male main character—someone openly out, someone who owns what he is and what he does, someone perfectly confident in his own skin and with his own sexuality—that enabled her to realize she was bisexual, and that it was okay.

Representation matters. That’s not just an idle phrase.

As writers, we aim to touch the lives and hearts of our readers. As romance writers, we aim to show them there is always the possibility of a happily ever after. In this case, I was lucky enough to hear that the life of someone I love dearly was positively influenced by my book and characters.

After that, who needs a necklace? I’m already a winner.


RWA National is exhausting, exhilarating, mind-numbingly busy. It can be fantastic; it can be a crushing experience. Now that you all know I wasn’t remotely crushed at not winning in my category, I’ll tell you that I came away from this conference more determined than ever to keep writing my own stories my own way. To never underplay or hide the queer characters who are part of the population of my books, and have been for as long as I’ve been writing.

I met a lot of people this year. I made a lot of new writing friends. I have so many ideas for things I can do personally to pay it forward to new writers, established writers, and to readers. Watch this space.


Meet Me in Denver

Will any of you be in Denver in July for the RWA National Conference? If so, please find me and say hello! I’ll be the one with the short hair [subtext: look for my badge] staying at the hotel.

Seriously, though, I would love to meet up with people. Those of us from All The Kissing are having an event (that makes it sound so formal! It’s a drop-in-and-say-hello thing) on Friday, July 20 at 8pm at 16Mix inside the downtown Denver Sheraton. There…um…might be some swag to give away too, if that’s a motivating factor for you. Here, have some details.

If you can’t be there, stop by and say hello at the Golden Heart® Ceremony luncheon on Thursday afternoon! The vegan option last year was very tasty, but I might be too filled with nerves to eat my lunch this time.

One thing is certain: I will be so delighted to put names with faces, faces with names, faces with voices and Twitter handles, share a few laughs, and enjoy every last moment.


Good News!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m now represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary.

As with most every writer I know, getting here has been an uphill climb. I’m nowhere near the top of the mountain yet, but at least I’ve reached the first way station. Thank you, Pitch Wars, for teaching me how to rewrite yet again and thank you, years of querying, for teaching me not to quit and thank you, Romance Writers of America®, for propelling me into the finals for the 2018 Golden Heart® award. Without those three things I might have given up long ago.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program. In my case, that means revising and editing. Onward!

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Be Brave With Me

Photo on VisualHunt.com

Being brave means to know something is scary, difficult, and dangerous, and doing it anyway, because the possibility of winning the fight is worth the chance of losing it. –Emilie Autumn

Every author knows there are millions of reasons not to share our writing with the world. It’s not polished enough. Some people won’t like it. No one’s reading this kind of thing right now. I’m not sure I’m ready to share it. I might want to change it.

The list goes on and on.

When I first started writing, the very thought of letting other people actually read my words was chilling. In a way, it’s like opening your soul and letting others in. I think it’s the same for most creative pursuits, but since I’m a writer that’s the one I can best speak to. We really do pour our hearts out on the page. With romance in general and steamy scenes in particular, there’s always this moment where I have to disassociate the words on the page from the author doing the writing. I’m sure everyone wonders, especially at first, how much (or little) others will think of them when they read the intimacy between characters. How much does the author draw from their own lives? Where does the line between fiction and reality get drawn?

Just like everything else, we make up the reality of those steamy scenes. Just like everything else, there’s undoubtedly a basis in reality. Or at least a basis in imagination. That’s the key, that last bit: we imagine what it is like for our characters. We’re not transcribing our own lives on the pages any more than JK Rowling transcribed her own school experiences into Harry Potter or Robert Ludlum underwent secret government manipulation to write about Jason Bourne. We’re authors. We make things up.

But making things up still provides a window into our souls, even though it might be shuttered rather than wide open. And that means that one of the hardest things for most writers to do, especially in the early stages of their writing, is to share their work.

Writing is an isolationist sport. We do it alone. We even have the term “writing cave,” as if we need to prove that it’s a solitary pursuit. We spend so much time living in our minds, pouring thoughts out onto the paper or screen. The thought of inviting someone else in to share what we’ve created can be so scary.

As Emilie Autumn says, it’s scary but we do it anyway. We have to: if we want to succeed in the world of publishing, people will be reading our words. The sooner we get used to the idea that others, sometimes countless others, will read our words is a good thing. Does that make it any less frightening?

No. But we have to suck it up and share, because a novel sitting on a hard drive where no one can see it is one less novel out there in the world. It might be the best thing ever written, but if no one reads it, no one will ever know.

Lucille Ball said I’m not funny. What I am is brave. She also said ability is of little account without opportunity.

All I can say is take the opportunities as they come by. If I hadn’t taken the opportunity to enter Pitch Wars back in 2016, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If I hadn’t taken a leap of faith and entered the Golden Heart® contest this year, I wouldn’t be a finalist. Does it get easier? Of course. We writers have to have thick skins. Suits of armor sometime. Still, I hope I never get to the point where I read something I wrote, sit back and rub my hands together, and say yeah, that’s great. I want to always hold onto a modicum of humility, because I’d be nowhere without the people who were kind enough to read for me once I finally got brave enough to start putting my words out there. They’re the ones who encourage me. They’re the ones who give me the confidence to reach for the stars. And they’re the same ones who are there to pick me up and dust me off every time I fall.