April 21 2010

Soon after I joined Romance Writers of America, I read about contests hosted by RWA chapters all across the country. All I had to do was spiff up ten to fifteen pages of my work in progress and mail the pages along with a check and a self-addressed stamped envelope.  

In a few weeks, I would receive the judges’ grades and comments, letting me know where I had done well and where I needed to improve.  

I might even win, I whispered to myself.

The first contest I chose was sponsored by a group out west.  

For a long time, I had been writing mysteries, submitting them to various magazines and publishers and being rejected, or worse, ignored.  

My critique partners had similar ego-shattering experiences. We sat around bemoaning the fact that although we each enjoyed the others’ work, no one else seemed to.

The next time we met Marion took a bite of her chicken salad on flat bread and announced to Marjorie and me that she had a plan. Since we couldn’t get published without a literary agent, and we couldn’t seem to get a literary agent’s attention unless we were already published, we should write romance novels.

Why? Because Marion had read that some romance publishers accepted, read and actually published stories submitted by authors themselves.  

I drove home grumbling, my salad undigested in my alimentary canal.  

I liked writing mysteries. I enjoyed setting the scene of the crime, figuring out how to bump off bad guys, propelling my heroine through a maze of deceit, so she could discover that the son born to Mr. Smith’s ex-wife, conceived in an affair with Mr. Smith’s best friend, was innocent. I got vicarious thrills showing how my heroine proved her powers to the world (or at least to her husband and a police detective), by unmasking the true villain.  

I didn’t write romances.

That night after hearing Marion’s crazy idea, my husband and I attended the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

My sophomore year in college was the highlight of my four years as an English major. Three times a week I sat in Professor Mace’s class while we discussed, studied, wrote essays about, quoted and read the works of William Shakespeare.  

On the way home after the Rep play, I got to thinking how much I had enjoyed a mistaken-identity love story titled Twelfth Night. Was the plot believable? No. Was the love story satisfying? Yes.  

Ignoring the fact that Willy S. could write love couplets like no one else who had lived in the last three centuries, I thought, heck, I could write romance too.   


My entry in that very first RWA contest was a modern day version of Twelfth Night, with cross-dressing, mistaken identity AND a bit of suspense as well.  

I was delighted when I heard my entry came in third! I am certain my chest puffed out. This was easy! I was on my way! Surely one of the editors judging the final winners would request my manuscript.  

Obviously, I still had lots to learn. That first romance was rejected by countless agents and editors. (Countless, because I have a policy against tabulating bad news.)  

I continued to submit entries in RWA Chapter contests, and each time I learned a lot about the craft.  

Two years ago one of my entries was listed as a finalist again. Again I tasted the sort of triumph a writer needs now and then to recommit to an elusive goal.  

I pictured a donkey plodding along behind a dangling carrot attached to a stick that is harnessed to the animal’s collar.  

Would I ever get a bite?

When I finally did get published, that carrot tasted great. Of course, now I want more.

Early this year I entered by debut novel, Buried Heart, in a contest for published fiction, The Write Touch. Last week I received a thrilling phone call, announcing my book was listed among the finalists!  

Imagine me as a donkey doing cartwheels.