Yeah, I’m saying there has to be something higher than Cloud Nine, and I’m on it. I am a 2011 Golden Heart finalist. I’ve been fielding congratulatory calls, tweets and e-mails all day — and I’m glad to get them.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought to myself “OMG, OMG, OMG” today. Good thing they just added that phrase to the dictionary, eh?

The GH final wasn’t the only piece of good news I received today. I also found out that “Beauty and the Ballplayer” won the Beacon contest, too. And the final judge/agent requested a full MS. I’ll be getting right on that, contacting her Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See? I’m not imagining all this good fortune. It’s really happening!

I’ve been writing off and on since I finished my first draft of my first MS back in 1995 or 96, but I’ve gotten serious about it in the past two years. I entered the GH for the first time in 2010; my entry earned solidly mediocre scores. This year I entered two (in series contemporary and single title contemporary) and finaled once.

You can find a full list of Golden Heart® and RITA® finalists here. (I’m excited to have found the ® symbol I’ve been instructed to use in reference to the GH and RWA.) It was nice to see so many familiar Ruby sisters (from my adopted GH class of 2009) on the lists.

There’s so much to think about, though. The Boyfriend said, “What’s next?” Well, the most immediate concern is getting a flattering headshot by April 8. I also need to find a way to pay the conference registration fee/airfare/hotel, and think about business cards. And I need to update my website … and take a “crafting the perfect pitch” workshop so I’m ready to meet with agents/editors at Nationals.

Simply put, I need to ramp up my writing efforts while remaining grounded enough to hold onto the day job … and start a new diet to lose weight before July.

None of these things are impossible tasks. I’m just thankful to be faced with such dilemmas.

Today just might go down as the highlight of my writing career to-date. It could be the start of something big.

Today, I was one of the lucky 125 entrants selected to submit to the Knight Agency’s Author Speed Date contest. You should have heard the excited whoop I let out when I saw my name on that list. (Everyone in the newsroom sure did. A few people even came over to my desk to see if I was OK.)

Panic quickly supplanted the initial excitement: Which of my novels do I send them? (I have so darn many to pick from — six completed MSs in all.) After some thought, I chose the one with the proven track record, my Beacon finalist, “Beauty and the Ballplayer.”

When I received word a few hours later that “Beauty and the Ballplayer” did not final in the Write Stuff contest, I second-guessed my decision. Big time. Lucky for me, I hadn’t had a chance to ship off my entry yet.)

The score sheets sat in my Gmail inbox, waiting for me to decide: Do I read them now, before I send my entry to the Knight Agency, so I can try to “fix” it?

A coworker convinced me to go ahead and look. “If they make any suggestions for the first three pages, use them if you think they have merit.”

So I took a peek. I couldn’t believe my eyes: Two perfect scores! The last judge gave me a 66 of 100, though. (Hope I didn’t get that judge for the Golden Heart. 😉  ) None of them wanted to make substantial alterations to pages 1-3.

I literally just shipped off my entry (the first three pages). Now, I wait … just like I’m waiting for the Golden Heart calls. The Speed Date results will come back faster, though. I’ll know by Thursday if I advance to the next round. (Just 25 of 125 will be so lucky.)

Well, I’m dealing with the disappointment of not getting into the first round of “Speed Dating with Deidre.” I didn’t even get the consolation prize, a chance to send in a one-page query.

However, life — and the querying process — will go on. So will the nerve-wracking process of entering contests.

None is more nerve-wracking — for me, at least — than the Golden Heart. But I cleared another hurdle in that process: I mailed in my entries … all 654 pages of them, plus a disc with each full MS, a week ago Monday.

That's a lot of paper!

That’s what they looked like stacked together. Singly, they looked like this:

Two entries, complete with synopses.

Still pretty impressive, eh? Nothing like requiring a couple of trees to make the supreme sacrifice to the Golden gods. 😉

Anyway, I checked with the Post Office today, and delivery confirmation said my entries were delivered on Nov. 24.

Delivery confirmed!

Now, the wait begins.

Since I volunteered to judge this year, I suspect at least some of my fretting time will be usurped. I’m not complaining!

It’s been more than 24 hours and I’m still not over the excitement of learning I’m a finalist in the First Coast Romance Writers Beacon Contest for unpublished writers. (You can see the proof here, in the list of finalists.)

This is especially exciting because it’s my first-ever contest final. Strangely enough, I almost didn’t enter the Beacon. I was already busy thinking about the Golden Heart. But when I saw the deadline had been extended and they were looking for entries in the category I had a manuscript ready in, I decided, “What the heck? Why not?” I had some extra money to pay the entry fee — and I’m glad I did.

The timing couldn’t have been much better: I got the call as I was walking out of the post office, right after shipping off my two GH entries (one of them being “Beauty and the Ballplayer.”)

When my phone started ringing, I almost didn’t answer it because I didn’t recognize the number. (Ah, the wonder of caller ID.) But, being certain it wasn’t a bill collector, I went ahead and picked up the call.

The first thing I did after getting off the phone — and squealing with excitement — was call our chapter president. Then I called another writer friend to share the good news … I also left the Boyfriend a voicemail and posted the news on Twitter and Facebook. I wanted to share it with the world — or at least my little piece of it.

Thanks to everyone who gave me their congratulations so quickly.

What’s next? The Beacon gives finalists a little time to revise before entries are sent to the final judges. I got my judges’ score sheets last night and have had a chance to start digesting the comments. Most were very complimentary … I guess that’s what happens when you’re a finalist! 🙂

I’m having a tough time switching out of NaNo mode to think about revising, though. I’m going to try to do a big push to finish NaNo in the next couple of days, giving me a few extra days to work before the revisions are due on Dec. 3.

I can do it — less than 10,000 words to go! (We’re not going to talk about the fact that I’ve had writer’s block today. That’s only a temporary problem. Heading to the Bux in the morning to get some heavy-duty writing done while the Boyfriend’s at work. I actually think better at Starbucks, I think.)

What do you do when you get great news at 11 p.m., when everyone who cares is sound asleep? I have to share it with someone … I already tried texting the Boyfriend, with no response. I shared it in my Facebook status and got one “like.”

But I’m still too excited to settle down, so now I’m going to shout it to the blogosphere: The gals at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood picked my first line as one of 10 finalists in their “Make It Golden” contest.

I was thrilled — and a little stunned, because I read the competition. There were some fantastic first lines. Many of them made me want to read more.

For the next round, I give them the first 250 words. I was pleased when I discovered my first 240-ish ended on a mini-hook.

The grand prize is my $50 Golden Heart entry fee. Not too shabby!

But even if I don’t win, I’m excited to have finaled. There were 79 entries. Yes, 79. I’m not great with math, but I think that puts my first sentence in the top 12 percent — and that has to be a good place to be.

Again, I say, just because I haven’t been blogging doesn’t mean I’ve been slacking.

No, I’ve been busy. I had to trim a five-page synopsis to a single page for the Harlequin American Editor Pitch contest. (Amazing what becomes important and what you suddenly realize can be left out when you have to tell the story in one tiny page.) The deadline was Monday and I shipped it off late Sunday night — or early Monday morning, depending on where you live.

We had our NARWA board meeting last Friday, then plot group on Saturday. As usual, plot group was inspiring. Of course, I had to head to to day job when it was over, so I lost that charge of momentum our meetings always provide.

After work Saturday night, I stayed up reading through Bree & Mike’s story until daylight started to seep through the blinds. (Then I slept until 3:30 p.m. Sunday, so I didn’t get to put in any writing time at BN before heading to work.)

When Monday rolled around, it hit me: The NARWA newsletter had to be done. So I stayed up into the wee hours putting it together, suddenly thankful the only Diet Dr Pepper in the office vending machine was super-sized. (This was about an hour after I used my Facebook status to complain that no one needed 20 ounces of caffeine at 9 p.m.)

So even though I haven’t been doing much blogging, I’ve been a busy little writer. Today, I finished a rough draft of a query letter for “Beauty and the Ballplayer.” I also spent some time tweaking the beginning — yes, I finally settled on ditching my opening line in favor of putting Meg and Matt in the same room on Page 1.

Now that I’ve brought you up to date, I’m going to get back to Meg & Matt. After I whacked out the first two scenes, it suddenly became 500 words too short to be an American Romance. That must be fixed.

It appears that “Operation Snag Mike Brad” was solidly in the middle of the pack. All but one of my scores was in the 6 range. The last one was a 5.7.

I’m happy with that. At least no one hated it. I was half afraid that I’d get a 2 or 3.

According to the letter that included my scores, I scored an overall 30.5. Anything below 33 was in the bottom half.

I don’t pretend to understand standard deviation (whatever that is!). But I’d rather look at it like this: If a 9 is the top score, and my scores were 6s, I’m not doing all that badly.

So I didn’t final. There’s always next year. With the judge’s comments I’ll be getting back from the Orange Rose contest, I should be able to improve “Blind Date Bride” before the GH judges see it.

I’ll probably revisit this topic again, once I’ve had time to process what happened. Right now, I’m tired. Think I’ll head to bed.

***

I didn’t head to bed. Instead I went home and typed up today’s handwritten pages, then played online. I found this very helpful article on another blog.

Nothing like a little disappointment — or a lot — to make you realize you need to work harder.

Today, I spent some time before work trying to come up with a synopsis for next year’s GH entry, which I want to enter in a contest with an April 10 deadline.

More later.

My heart picked up speed when I checked the caller ID and saw a number I didn’t recognize. It raced a little faster when I flipped open the phone.

“Hello?”

No, it wasn’t someone from the Golden Heart committee calling to tell me I’d finaled. It was Sean, from GoDaddy.com wanting to know what my plans were for my domain name.

On the advice of some of the Ruby Slippered sisters, Golden Heart class of 2009, I registered my domain name — arlenehittle.com — and set up an introductory Web page.

I figured that way, if I was named a finalist, I’d be one step ahead. 😉

Now it’s nearly dinnertime, and I’m pretty sure all the calls have gone out. That means it’s not happening for me this year.

As the Boyfriend pointed out, this is the first year I’ve entered … and although I’ve been writing since I was in second grade (seriously pursuing romantic fiction since 1999), I’ve only started putting myself out there in the past six or so months.

Still, I’m disappointed. I so wanted that phone to ring its “unidentified caller” tone — and hear someone other than Sean on the other end, congratulating me on being a GH finalist.

Last night, the Boyfriend said something to the effect of, “It’s great that you expect to win.”

Sure, logically, I knew it was a long shot. But I also worked hard on that entry, polishing it until (I thought) it was perfect.

And my gut tells me I should have won … After all, I’m a writer. I know how to get my point across and I can tell a great story.

GH finalists’ manuscripts score are the top 10 percent. That’s 90 percent … “A” territory. Every paper I wrote in high school and college earned me an “A.” Why should this be any different?

So yes, I’m disappointed … down in the dumps … wanting to be anywhere but where I am at the moment, warming my chair at work (until midnight tonight. Ugh.)

However, I want to give a hearty congrats to all those of you who did final this year. My own NARWA chapter has a finalist, in the Historical category. Congratulations, Alison Atwater!

And I’m giving all you 2010 finalists fair warning: Next year, I’m coming for you with not one but two GH entries. (I started edits on the first one today, when I was trying not to stare obsessively at the phone, willing it to ring.)

Watch out!

Based on the contest feedback I got on “Operation Snag Mike Brad” today, there’s no way in hell it’s going to final in the Golden Heart.

Guess that means I don’t have to worry about coming up with $425 to pay for Nationals, eh?

I got scores back from a contest I entered right before I sent everything off for the GH. One judge gave me an 80 out of 100. The other two? 60 and 57.

I can buy 60’s assertion that there may not be enough conflict to sustain the story. (She should have seen it BEFORE I beefed up the conflict in one of my rewrites!)

However, I find 57’s comment that I don’t know how to use punctuation insulting. It reminds me of my freshman year of college when my World Cultures prof (who taught art history) tried to tell me I couldn’t write an essay.

I know punctuation, darn it. I’m a freakin’ copy editor for God’s sake. I may not do old-school punctuation, but what I do is perfectly acceptable in journalism. And I should think that if my punctuation was that darn bad, someone else would have pointed it out to me when they were proofing my GH entry for me.

Nary a peep, though. So I’m inclined to write that one off as ravings.

Guess I should be thankful that all my scores were at least a 2 (shows promise but needs improvement).

I’m sure I’ll be able to look back at the scores with more detachment later, so I can get more out of them. Next week … maybe next month … Right now, however, I’m still smarting.