Grappling With Success: finaling in the RITA®, part 1

So ... I’ve been a little slow to share, but I got a call this week. The kind that every published romance author dreams of getting.

No, it wasn’t “The Call” from an agent or editor—the, “I want to sign you as a client” or “I want to publish your book”—but “your work is a finalist in our contest!”

This wasn’t just any old contest, but the RITA, sponsored by Romance Writers of America®. It’s considered the premier contest for published romance fiction, nationwide.

Yep, my little bitty story. :-) I scored at least a 90%, and this in the novella category with entries ranging from sweet romance (romantic tension but no sexual detail) to erotic (no-holds-barred explicit). Most of you know I write from an unashamedly Christian worldview, and Defending Truth was no exception.

I am floored. I was, as I described it to one, shocked silly. Maybe shocked stupid would be a better descriptor, since after getting the call, I couldn’t seem to focus on anything, to save my life.

Others have told their stories, so in case anyone is interested ...

Wednesday, March 26. Troy woke up feeling terrible, so he called in sick and we got an extra hour or so of sleep before Freya, our 10-week-old German Shepherd pup, decided it was time to get up. About, oh, an hour and a half later (my cell phone call log says 9:17 AM), I was in my bedroom preparing to get dressed, when my youngest daughter comes running up the stairs (our room is on the third floor), saying, “Mommy! Phone!”

I took my cell from her and said “hello,” expecting my mom or another family member. Instead it was—I think Alyssa Day?—from Romance Writers of America.

I didn’t know it was the day they announced the finalists, but instantly everything in me went on alert.

“Okaaaaaay,” I answered.

She went on to tell me that my novella, Defending Truth, finaled in the RITA, in the categories of romance novella, and Best First Book. I couldn’t remember whether the RITA was one of those in which I entered the debut novel category, but I went with it.

I can’t remember what I said. Pretty sure it was ... Omigosh. Seriously??

I didn’t scream, I didn’t cry, I didn’t jump for joy ... honestly I’ve been numb to the whole writing thing lately, except for the moments when I melt before the Lord and ask Him for some kind of direction, some kind of confirmation that I’m still supposed to be pursuing publication, that it felt very unreal.

Except that I kept repeating, “Omigosh,” so I’m sure it was registering at some level. And I did get teary eyed and said I might cry, and Alyssa laughed and said it was definitely cry-worthy. She asked if I was registered for the conference yet. I told her no, I’d been considering coming, and she said, “Oh, please do!”

When I hung up, two minutes and some seconds later, all I could do was stare at Troy and say, “Holy flipping cow. I just finaled in the RITA.” And fall into the bed.

Life pretty much picked up and continued as normal for the rest of the day—my family was excited for me, but then came the usual, “What’s for dinner?” Sigh. Yes. :-) I called my mom to tell her, then received another call from an unknown number and switched over to take it. This time it was the RITA coordinator herself, calling to say she was so sorry, but the debut novel category final was a mistake on her part, that only full length novels were eligible. Ahh, see? I’d wondered. I thanked her and basically said oh well, it’s an honor to final in my category and that’s what was important. She thanked me for being so nice about it. :-) What was I going to do? And besides, this IS my debut novel, so—in my heart, it counts.

In the meantime one of my close writing friends called and left an ecstatic voicemail, so I called her back.

After a bit of time, as I watched the finalist list near completion online, I was horrified to see that only two  inspirational entries—the category for specifically Christian novels—made the finals. My email lists exploded with discussion—what happened? Was it the fault of the scoring, or the judging, or the finalist criteria? It’s my opinion that the greatest fault lies with the organization’s distribution of entries—judges being given books in categories they really don’t prefer or understand—but I can’t be sure.

Regardless, this was huge, whether or not I go on to win. I’m talking, STINKING HUGE. The biggest romance fiction contest in the country. A category across all boundaries, inspirational as well as general market. Five judges—five! and the criteria of at least 45 out of 50 points.

Stinking huge.

And I. Do. Not. Feel. Worthy.

As the weekend approached, I found myself reduced to tears over people’s congratulations. An odd fear seeped in that this was just a fluke, and people would soon find out what a nobody I am—what a fraud I am—

Gracious. I know where that comes from, but still! It can be hard to deal with.

To be continued ... in the interests of reasonable length, and all that ...


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