Saturday, August 15, 2009

Our Guest Today Kelly Ann Riley talks about the Golden Heart and How She keeps going ...

Please welcome our special guest today, three time finalist and 2009 winner of this years Golden Heart(c) for the Inspirational Category, Kelly Ann Riley. Kelly and I have been friends for over a decade. She is a great writing partner and an even better friend.

#1. Welcome Kelly. Let's just get right into the questions I have lined up for you. You have been entering the GH for years, been a finalist three times and a winner this year in 2009. What has been the drive behind entering? The editor, the chance with an agent? What keeps you coming back year after year?

I have to admit I'm a contest junkie and have entered many contests over the years. I've used contests for feedback, motivation to finish manuscripts and proposals, and most importantly to get work in front of agents and editors. There are a lot of excellent contests out there, but I've always considered the Golden Heart and Rita on par of the Academy Awards for romance. The chances of finaling in the Golden Heart are slimmer due to the volume of entrants, but there's always hope that this will be the year to make the top cut.

#2. And year after year had been a wonderful experience for you. I have heard you say on more than one occasion how wonderful RWA treats their GH finalists. As a winner -- and now presenter at the 2010 awards -- will entering still be on your list of things to do in October 2009?

Going to the RWA conference as a finalists adds sparkle to the whole experience. RWA provides a special reception to honor the finalists, and finalists get first pick of agents and editor appointments. And then of course the Golden Heart and Rita ceremony is an awesome event. I'd love to get a contract and be ineligible for the Golden Heart this year, but if that doesn't happen, I most likely will enter again.

#3. Two part question: That first call, what raced through your mind as you got it? Was it the same as the 2nd and 3rd time? And in your case, I know that you were not able to attend the awards in 2009 due to another obligation so hearing that you w

on -- that was even a fourth call?

The first Golden Heart call was in 2007, and I almost didn't answer the phone. I'd forgotten that finalist calls were supposed to go out that weekend. When the phone rang, I didn't recognize the number on the Caller I.D. and thinking it was probably a telemarketer, I ignored it. My husband finally asked, "Aren't you expecting a call about a contest?" I was hoping for a call, but wasn't really expecting one, but he answered the phone.

Turned out to be a wonderful call!! My manuscript, Tread Softly: A Want Ad Mystery, had finaled in the Romantic Suspense Category. I think my screams of joy could've been picked up by satellite. I was thrilled and excited. I'd been entering the Golden Heart for many years, and had a hard time believing I'd actually finaled. I'd placed in other contests at this point, and even won a couple, but finaling in the Golden Heart was a dream come true. Then next two years the finalist calls were thrilling too, and yes, I answered the phone for those calls. With the excitement, there also came a sense of relief and amazement that'd I'd been lucky enough to have done it again. In 2008 my inspirational Romantic Suspense, Kitty's Fire, finaled in the new category "Contemporary Series Romance Suspense/Adventure." This year, Kitty's Fire finaled in the Inspirational Category.

I've been attending RWA National for years and love it, but the earlier dates of the 2009 conference collided with our conference's annual Teen Mission Trip. My husband and I started volunteering 5 years ago when my son wanted to take the trip to Alberta, Canada. This year we

were going to Monument Valley, Utah to work with the Navajo children and do work projects for the community. My husband was the trip's co-director, my son (now staff age) was the music director, and my daughter attended as one of the 35 teen

participants. I tried to figure out a way to do both the trip and the conference, but as the VacationBible School Coordinator, I'd miss out about half of VBS program. My family was very supportive and urged me to go to DC, but in the end, I felt God wanted me to stick with trip.

The night of the Golden Heart Ceremony, I'd gone downstairs to have supper with the teens. We were in a different time zone, so I mistaken thought the GH announcements would be later.My phone, which I usually keep with me, was upstairs in our sleeping area. When I got back up there, what a surprise! There were a string of text messages from my good friend and critique partner, Caroline "Cee" Dunsheath telling me they were announcing the winners. The one message I zeroed in on immediately was "YOU WON!" I was so stunned, I had to read it several times and call her before it sunk in. Then I started jumping around with excitement. People started congratulating me, although they weren't sure what for. My family knew the significance of the news, but I had to explain what the Golden Heart was to the others. It was really cool, and I kept smiling during the long bus trip back home to Alabama.

I wish I could've been in DC, but I'm happy the way things turned out. I feel truly blessed by the mission trip

and by winning the Golden Heart.

#4. Would you recommend the Golden Heart contest to writers just starting out, mid way or even "almost there?" For what reasons?

Contests can be costly but if you can afford it, I'd recommend entering them as soon as you have completed and edited a manuscript. The Golden Heart Contest provides only numbers (1 to 9) as feedback, but it can give you an idea for how those judges perceived your entry. Ideally, it would be great to enter some other contests that can provide more extensive feedback before you send your entry to the Golden Heart. This will give you time to correct any problems and polish rough areas.

Remember, there is also a huge element of luck to contests. Judging is subjective just as the publishing world is. Sometimes you can have a wonderful manuscript, but it just doesn't connect well with some judges. As for using negative feedback, only change something if it rings true to you. Usually, if I'm not sure about the advice from a judge, I wait to see if several other judges or my critique partners point out the same problem. If you feel ready for the Golden Heart, then go for it. You never know, the first time you enter, you could win. Also if you final in the Golden Heart or other contests, an editor or agent might make a request to see your whole manuscript. This could lead to a sale.

# 5. If you were starting today, writing your first book, what advice would you want to hear from the winner of the Golden Heart award? What one question would you ask them and what answer could they give you that would make you know that you could do it, too?

Some of the useful advice I've heard from other writers is:

a. Keeping writing until you finish the book. Resist the urge to stop and edit. Once you have a rough draft, you have something to mold and rework into something wonderful.

b. Edit, edit, edit until it shines. If you have a writing partner and/or a critique group, get some feedback. I have a critique partner, Cee Dunsheath and a hands-on agent, Kelly Mortimer, who are helping me learn to edit better. So don't be afraid to seek the advice of others, but also remember to stay true to your voice and the vision of the book.

c. If you have time, let the manuscript sit for a while, and then go back and reread it before submission. You'll be surprised what you find that could be made better.

d. Let it go. Some writers tend to think their manuscripts are never good enough. I tend to have trouble with this. If perfectionism is a problem, and you have spent considerable time on editing and polishing, then you need to convince yourself that your manuscript is as good as it can be given your current skills. Then package it up, and send your baby off into the world, whether it be the Golden Heart Contest, another contest, or to an agent or publisher.

What's one answer I'd like to hear from a GH winner, so I'd know I could do it too? That's a tough one. I suppose hearing what keeps other writers motivated to write has been helpful to me. Some of the best advice I've heard is: "No matter how tough the going gets, have faith. God gave you the talent to write, and He expects you to use it. Believe in yourself and dream big."

#6. Can we see the Golden Heart pendant? On? Like you wearing it? Or are you keeping it in a safe place?

Since I

couldn't be at the ceremony, my friend and 07 GH finalist, Donnell Ann Bell, read my speech for me at the Golden Heart Ceremony and accepted the pendant on my behalf. I have to admit I wore the GH pendant day and night for a while after I received it in the mail. Right now, I'm on another kid-club camping trip, so it's home safely tucked in its box.

Thanks for joining us Kelly ... ... and thanks for all the great advice. For those who want to participate, there will be a drawing for a a $15.00 Barnes & Noble card from all those leaving a comment by midnight, August 21st


  1. Is that a great picture of Kelly or what? I still get chills, thinking about that announcement. I'd been working earlier passing out GH announcements, etc. I'd even asked Laura Hayden if she could give me a hint as to who one Inspirational. Sworn to secrecy, as she should be, I didn't know until the last minute -- something I'm not used to thanks to the Daphne....I was sitting next to Anne Marie Becker who also won her genre. I think there was an extra element of joy in my row, what do you think? Kelly, that necklace looks so beautiful. I'm so excited you won, and I know this will be a major stepping stone to career. Jax, great questions!

  2. Congratulations on the win, Kelly. They say three's a charm, and it certainly was for you!

    I've not entered many contests (only 7 since I started writing ages ago), but think you're spot on about their usefulness. The comments I received certainly helped shape the work. Yes, even the not-so-nice ones.

    Congrats again, and here's to you being ineligible for 2010. Hope to see you in Nashville---signing!

  3. Congrats Kelly! And I loved your mention of your kitty. :)

  4. Thank you, Donnell. When I asked if you could fill in for me at the GH ceremony, I didn't really expect that you would have to read my speech--considering the other wonderful writers in the category. I remember how nervous we were at the 07 GH rehearsal at the thought of having to get up on that stage ... but still hoping. LOL! I so appreciate you stepping in. Thanks again. You did a wonderful job. And I'm thrilled that Anne Marie won too! How fun!

  5. Very pretty and congratulations on the win. MAybe the next win will be a Rita. :-)

  6. Thanks Gwynlyn and congratulations on your recent finaling in the NJ Put Your Heart in a Book Contest. Wahoooo! I hope you win the Golden Heart next year, or better yet, be ineligible for it too.

  7. Thanks Jeannie! I wasn't sure if I should have mentioned the kitty, but he did pose for the photo. (grin) Now if I can just keep the cats from sitting on my keyboard....

    Congrats on your Golden Heart win and selling Butterfly Swords to Harlequin Mills & Boon. Wahooo!

  8. Thanks Kathy! I hope the same--the Rita--for you too!

  9. Yay, Kelly! I am so excited you won. I'm hoping your next win is a Rita! And soon!

  10. I am absolutely THRILLED you took home the Golden Heart, Kelly -- not surprised in the least, since I know firsthand how hard you work -- but thrilled all the same!

    You've had success across several sub-genres; do you think "mixing it up" helps keep your writing fresh?

    And - Jax - great questions! I'm lovin' this Writer to Writer series!


  11. Hi, Kelly. I've seen your name as a finalist in many contests and was hoping to meet you this year as a Golden Heart Finalist myself. But it sounds like where you were is where you were meant to be. Thank you for your work. And congratulations on the win. I don't think you'll be a Golden Heart Finalist again. I have a feeling I'll be reading Kitty's Fire soon.

    Best wishes,

    Autumn Jordon

  12. Kelly has all the qualities of a pro author: grace, excellent writing skills and persistence. It's only right she won the Golden Heart this year. You go girl!

  13. Congrats, Kelly! I wish I could have stayed for the ceremony just to cheer... But it's cool to hear about it second-hand, too. And I'm counting on reading Kitty's Fire some day soon. (Is the Kitty in the title any relation to the kitty in your arms? LOL)

  14. Great interview! I've haunted Mortimer's website in the past so I've seen Kelly Ann racking up some contest finals. :-) Congrats on winning! That's so awesome and I hope you get a contract this year. :-)

  15. Jacqui, I liked your questions and the opportunity to learn more about Kelly Ann's big win.

    Kelly Ann, congrats again on your GH win. I expect to hear news of your first sale soon. You are sooo close.

  16. Thank you for the compliment!! If the truth be known, I had an edge. Kelly has been my writing partner for thirteen years!! Which was another reason I knew she had a lot of good advice! And hey, I got mentioned in her acceptance speech!! it was my few seconds of fame ... LOL

  17. Congrats, Kelly! Great interview, and I'm so happy for you. :) Can't wait to hear about your next big win, I'm sure it's just around the bend.

  18. Congratulations on your win, Kelly! Love that author photo. I agree there's an element of luck in finalling in the GH, but in your case I'm sure talent had a lot to do with it, too! Fingers crossed for sale news!

  19. Thanks Melanie! Ditto to you too! I know you're getting close to publication!

  20. Hi Cee, and thank you!

    Do I find that mixing it up with sub-genres keeps my writing fresh?

    I think so. I find it fun to explore different writing styles and voices within the inspirational romantic suspense genre. Jumping back and forth from lighter, more humorous stories to suspenseful, darker books helps me grow and stretch my writing skills. As you know (since you helped), I just finished editing my GH manuscript--a contemporary RS-- for submission, and now I'm writing a historical romantic suspense (that finaled in the Daphne contest). I love the research and the challenge of being in a historical setting. Maybe someday I'll settle into a niche, but right now I'm having fun. :-)

  21. Just wanted to add my congratulations, Kelly! Excellent advice and insights about the value of entering contests.

  22. Funny you bought up historicals, Kelly. Not ten minutes ago I was on the RWA statistic site and historicals are currently the top sellers at 16%, right behind category and right above paranormals. Which is really good ... not only are you working on yours but I know for a fact I will be in Tombstone this weekend and I knew when I planned the day trip I would want to finish my western. So I gave up fighting it and gave myself permission yesterday to go with it next week. It is my next GH entry!!

    So go historicals!!

  23. Thanks Autumn. I wish I could've met you this year too. Congrats on your two books coming at Wild Rose Press. That's awesome!!!

  24. Wow Jana! Thanks so much! You've had great success with contests too, and a huge congratulations on your series sale to St. Martin's Press.

  25. Hi Barbara,

    Thank you for the nice comments. I look forward to your book coming out next Spring. Congrats!

    The kitty in my arms is Victor, and originally there wasn't a cat in the early version of the book, so the title wasn't related. The heroine's name is Kitty. and she's a firefighter--hence the title "Kitty's Fire". However, in my final draft, I did write in a white cat named Max. (grin)

  26. Thanks Jessica. I hope you get a contract soon too!

  27. HI Keli,

    Thank you and I'm looking forward to hearing of your first sale too. I enjoy your blogs on the journey to publication.

  28. Thanks April! And congrats on your contest successes too!

  29. Thanks Vanessa! I love the title of your YA Golden Heart finaling manuscript "Call Me Crazy." Hope to see it on a bookshelf soon.

  30. Thanks Myra, and congrats on your books, "One Imperfect Christmas" and "Autumn Rains" coming out this fall. How exciting!!

  31. Hi Jax!
    Yes, the historical market has been growing, and that's really cool you want to finish your Western. It'd be great to see you final in the GH again and better yet to get a contract! :-)

  32. Hello Again.

    I want to thank Jacqui for having me on her wonderful blog and to everyone who stopped by and left a comment.

    We're going to now have the drawing for the $15 B&N gift certificate. The names have been placed in a bowl, and my daughter, Ashlyn, is going to close her eyes and draw a name.

    And the winner is...... Autumn Jordon! Congratulations!

    If anyone would like to contact me in the future, contact information is on my website or email me at

    God bless you all,

    Kelly Ann Riley