Taking the Bronze!
It's been a year since my book baby, Heart of the Matter, was published on Hot Ink Press. In twelve months time you've all become acquainted with my writing and my characters. This book started out telling the story of one couple. Four books later, there are so many couples involved, I can hardly keep them straight (okay, I know how many couples are involved, but do you?).
Twenty years ago I sat down at the brand new computer my mother had given to me for Christmas and prepared to write a romance novel. I sat down and began thinking about what story I would tell next.
I thought about it, and a question came to my mind. What would happen if there were a woman who was a cop that served her community, touched people's lives for the better, but couldn't bear physical touch herself? How would her inability to withstand touch impact her life, and affect the way the world perceived her and the way she perceived herself?
In my quest to answer that question, Heart "Mac" MacKenzie was born. She took shape, she talked to me, and she whispered her cares, concerns, and fears in my ear. She asked me a question that still resonates with me today. "Who would love a woman like me?"
Heart meant that as a self-deprecating edict, I took it on as a challenge. Find him, build him, this man that would love her even when she thought love was an impossibility in her life. Kenneth stepped into my mind's eye bold, beautiful, and broken. He wanted love, but his world of money and power reinforced the idea that no one could be trusted with his heart. But when he and Heart finally met on my page, he knew instantly that the lieutenant was something special.
In my head, Heart and Kenneth have always been this exceptional couple whose story needed to be told. However, the truth was I wasn't certain if I was the author who could accurately tell it. Allowing my fear to control the situation, I did what all aspiring authors do when they are afraid they're not equipped with the tools they need to properly execute the intricate twists and turns of the story they want to tell. I saved the document, and walked away.
Over the next nineteen years I would periodically open that document and look at it, and smile whenever Heart, Kenneth, and I would reacquaint ourselves with one another. Each time I'd walk away with the idea that someone really needed to tell their story, but again...I wasn't sure that person was me.
My husband encouraged me to take one last look at it and submit it to a publisher. He was convinced something could be done with the story. After all, I'd spent years in college and graduate school supposedly learning how to be a better creative writer. Certainly after nineteen years of being buried in the crypt that was my WIP folder, the story deserved another chance.
I'm not certain if it was because I really believed I could do the story justice, or whether it was because I was tired of hearing my husband's mouth, I finally decided to give in and give it another try. I opened it, and read it, and realized it smelled and read as if it had been dead and buried for nineteen years. However, even though it was unpublishable at that point, I recognized something I hadn't bothered to acknowledge before. The story, even in its very rough state had good bone structure. The story's frame was built to last, I just needed to get in there and rework the rotted parts to bring it to life.
Four months I reworked, and rewrote that story. It was hard, it was exhausting, but it was one of the most satisfying experiences in my life. I could finally see Heart and Kenneth on the page the way I knew them in my mind.
I gave that story my all, and submitted it to Hot Ink Press. I never in a million years thought that book would do anything more than sit in the publisher's inbox. Fortunately its success wasn't limited by my shortsightedness. Three weeks later I had a contract. Two months after that I had an Amazon bestseller. A year later the book earned more than 125 positive reviews. After all that, I was happy, I mean genuinely happy. Why? The answer is simple; I'd never expected anyone to love Heart and Kenneth other than me. I'd soon learn, however, that more than a handful of people embraced the two of them.
This summer, Heart of the Matter was nominated for two prestigious awards: The Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award for Excellence in Erotic Romance, and The Swirl Award for Romantic Suspense. Shocked, happy, excited, yeah, I was all of those things. Not only were people enjoying this book, but they were also taking my work seriously.
It's now a few months after those nominations. I didn't bring home the gold on either award, but I won the bronze in Romantic Suspense for The Swirl Awards. How does it make me feel to come in third place? Like I hung the damn moon!
I am so amazed, so proud of that ranking. This book was my first foray into the interracial romance genre, my first commercial success. I'm beginning to build a name for myself as an author. As a newbie, my work was held in consideration against some amazingly talented, well-established authors in this genre (of whom I am a dedicated fangirl, btw), and it came in third.
What do I take from all this? Is the bronze win about bragging rights? No, it's about me finally realizing I'm doing what God intended for me to do: write. This win tells me I've got a calling, one I need to refine and work on, one I need to push beyond my comfort zone. It ultimately tells me that I'm close, and if I work harder at developing my craft, there are no limits to what I can do.