Most days, I’m happy to wear my “proud to love obscure genres” badge, but there are times when I’m itching for some of them to break out. Or at least take a baby step toward some mainstream lovin’. To that end, I’m excited about the opportunity to report on one such event.
First, some background. The goal of the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart contest is “…to promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding romance manuscripts.” The Golden Heart is the contest for aspiring authors (as opposed to the RITA, which is for published authors).
This year, three science fiction romance manuscripts finaled in the Golden Heart contest. They are:
* The Outer Planets by Laurie A. Green
* P2PC by Laurie A. Green
In the romance community, the Golden Heart is the premier award for aspiring authors. It’s basically the equivalent of winning an Oscar/Golden Globe/Emmy. In fact, according to RWA, “The final round of the contest is judged by acquiring editors from romance publishing houses. Many Golden Heart finalists sell their manuscripts to publishers as a result of the exposure from the contest.”
Science fiction romance is pretty niche, even in the juggernaut that is the romance genre, so for it to take three of the eight slots is a significant milestone. In recent years, sci-fi romance has repeatedly faced off against this other subgenre that goes by the name of—maybe you’ve heard of it—paranormal romance. To muddy the waters further, sci-fi romance isn’t big enough to warrant its own category, so contestants must submit their sci-fi romances in the paranormal category.
Honestly, it’s like pitting Lars von Trier against James Cameron.
Therefore, recognition such as multiple science fiction romances being nominated in the Golden Heart is an important validation for me as a reader because it promises a possibility that more people will be interested in the subgenre. Hence, more stories will be released and I can read them.
Well, that’s my dream and I’m sticking to it. We skiffy rommers take our (small) victories as they come.
In light of this squee-worthy development, I seized the chance to interview authors Laurie A. Green and Sharon Lynn Fisher about their auspicious news. Ms. Green is the busy blogger behind the science fiction romance blogs Spacefreighters Lounge and SFR Brigade. Ms. Fisher is a debut author who recently sold her sci-fi romance GHOST PLANET to Tor in a 2-book deal.
I asked them to share their insights regarding their Golden Heart experiences, and now I’d like to share them with you:
Why did you decide to enter your manuscript(s) for the Golden Heart Awards? Is this your first time entering?
Laurie A. Green: For a romance writer of any ilk, theRWA® Golden Heart® is like the fairy godmother of all contests. It grants wishes andturns pumpkins into gilded coaches and opens palace doors in a way no other competition does. I entered in 2010 for the first time and came up short. So Irevised and polished and submitted two manuscripts for the 2011 GH. (Ha. Take that!) When the first call came into tell me The Outer Planets had finaled, I think my whole world reversed the spin on its axis. When the second call came in for P2PC, I was utterly stunned. I was a double finalist!
Sharon Lynn Fisher: My agent had my first novel [GHOST PLANET] out for submission, so I knew there was a possibility I would not be eligible to enter the Golden Heart in fall 2011. Also, in the event we were not able to place my first novel, I thought it made good sense to start generating some interest in the second [ECHO 8], and what better way than a Golden Heart final? This was my third time to enter. GHOST PLANET was a finalist in 2009 and 2010.
Laurie (friend, critique partner, therapist) woke me at 7 AM with news of her first final, and I was so thrilled (though not surprised). I was only about half-coherent, and could hardly make my voice work due to a cold. But I immediately hopped on the blogs that were following the action. Then Laurie texted me that both of her manuscripts had made the finalist list, and just after that my own call came. A very exciting morning!
Please describe your nominated story(ies) in one or two sentences.
Laurie: The Outer Planets is a Near Future SFR set aboard a planetary research vessel bound for Jupiter and Saturn. A female video reporter with a damning secret and a new identity encounters three of the most powerful forces in the universe—gravity, extremists...and love.
P2PC is a SFR Adventure set 1500 years in the future. A man with a price on his head seeks refuge via a female courier and her legendary cargo ship, but with his bounty soaring can he trust a beautiful smuggler with his life—and his heart—or does she have dangerous plans of her own?
Sharon (ECHO 8): The fate of two worlds hangs in the balance as three lives entangle: Jake, a man shifted to an alternate Earth, where he must drain energy from others to survive. Tess, the parapsychologist trying to save him. Ross, the FBI agent torn between duty and his love for Tess.
What’s your take on science fiction romance stories nabbing a third of the slots?
So hard to read anything into contest results, but I do have a theory or two. As with anything speculative, SFR is almost always included in the paranormal category for RWA contests. While my finalist manuscript has paranormal elements, the premise is definitely sci-fi. Both of Laurie’s are strongly skiffy. It may be that folks judging paranormal haven’t seen a lot of that (yet!), so it could make these stories stand out, or feel fresh. I also wonder if it might have to do with what seems (to me) to be a deluge of SFR plots coming out of Hollywood these days.
But Laurie and I like to think they’re just damn good stories.
Laurie: When I realized SFRs held almost half of the eight available final slots, I was ecstatic. I immediately scouted the other titles hoping there might be one or two more. The Soldier by Anna Richland, possibly? Or Assassin’s Gambit by Amy Raby? No joy. But that’s okay. It’s a big step up from last year when there was just one SFR finalist (Sharon’s GHOST PLANET which will be coming from Tor in the near future). I truly believe the audience is out there, and three manuscripts getting the nod from the Golden Heart judges may be an indicator of rising interest in the subgenre.*crosses fingers and toes*
What’s expected of a Golden Heart finalist at this stage?
Laurie: I do feel as if I’ve moved to a new level in terms of my status as an aspiring author, and with that comes certain expectations and responsibilities. I have a number of deadlines and tasks I’m juggling, including providing information to RWA, revising my manuscripts, polishing pitches and query letters, keeping up with the 2011 finalists email loop, shopping for a dress for the awards ceremony, and creating a schedule for all the conference events, activities, and meetings. This is a very exciting time, but there’s also a ramp up of pressure knowing I need to be on my game.
Sharon: I think Laurie’s covered the specifics pretty well! I’ll add that you also want to write an acceptance speech. The 30 seconds you have doesn’t seem like much now, but it seems like an ETERNITY when you’re sitting in the audience waiting and wondering whether they’re going to call your name. It’s better to read something from a card (or an iPhone, as a finalist did in DC a couple years ago) than to stand there stammering in your fancy dress, staring into the bright lights. Also, not a requirement, but it’s a good idea to have a Website, Facebook author page, and Twitter account at the ready, because people are definitely going to Google you.
Will you be submitting your manuscript anywhere? If so, will being a Golden Heart finalist impact your submission strategy in any way?
Laurie: Yes. I’ll begin querying agents with P2PC, followed by The Outer Planets once the revisions are completed. I have a definite game plan and a check list of agents I want to approach. Everyone’s told me to be sure to include “Golden Heart finalist” in the subject line. Several of our fellow finalists received requests for partials or fulls within minutes of sending out their queries. Others have already landed agents since the calls went out. It’s exciting stuff!
Sharon: I have a publisher for my first Golden Heart manuscript, and am currently working on revisions. My agent and I are still deciding about strategy for submission of ECHO 8. She handles my pitches these days, but before I worked with her, my queries absolutely called out my finalist status. A Golden Heart final is no guarantee of representation or publication, but as Laurie points out, it can really get the ball rolling. It is not unusual for an agent to query a writer (instead of the other way around), and I have been approached about my manuscript at nationals.
Will you be attending the awards ceremony?
Laurie: Oh, yes! I’ll be attending the entire RWA conference leading up to the Golden Heart Awards ceremony. Wouldn’t miss it! And my husband, David, is flyingin the night before to be there with me. Originally, I planned to skip the conference this year, but after getting “the call” there are so many things I want to experience—The Golden Network Retreat, the Golden Heart Champagne Reception, the rehearsal—all surrounding the finalists, plus the workshops, agent pitch sessions, special dinners, gatherings and events. It’s nowa “must do.” And the conference hotel is right on Times Square. It should be an amazing good time.
Sharon: Yes, I’ll be there. Like Laurie, I wasn’t sure about this year. As much as I’ve enjoyed the last two conferences, with airfare, hotel, and conference fees, it really gets expensive. But in 2009, I remember Jeannie Lin (one of my finalist classmates) walking around the conference with both her Golden Heart and “first sale” ribbons on her badge. I thought, “I want to do that!” So this year that dream comes true.
Will you be blogging/tweeting about this experience, and if so, where can readers find you?
Laurie: I will be blogging, tweeting and posting on Facebook about the whole experience, but probably not as it’s happening. I’ve learned from the past two years that even with the best intentions things just get too crazy. I’m sure there will be others doing live tweets and posts though, especially on the results from the Golden Heart and RITA Awards. I’ll be blogging after the fact at Spacefreighters Lounge and on Twitter under user name SFRLaurie.
Sharon: I’m thinking I will probably tweet this year: @sharonfisher. Though probably not during the awards ceremony, as the last two years I’ve been a bundle of nerves!
Is there anything else about this experience that you’d like to share with aspiring authors?
Laurie: The Golden Heart® has completely lived up to allthe hype. It’s like no other writing competition in the world, and so are the perks! It’s allowed me to get to know a wonderful group of supportive and encouraging writers who are the GH Class of 2011, and I can’t wait to meet them all in person. I’m also thrilled as heck to be able to share this experience with Sharon, after getting a little taste of what it means to be a finalist these last two years. For anyone who is thinking of entering for 2012, I have two words: Do it! You may not final, but you only have a shot if you enter.
Sharon: I think Laurie has pretty much said it all. And it is another dream come true for me to be sharing this experience with her this year. I’m so pleased and proud about her two finals!
For authors interested in learning more about this contest, reading tips and stories from finalists, and celebrating on Golden Heart announcement day (March 25), I’ll put in a plug for the 2009 finalists’ blog: The Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood. It’s also a fabulous source of general writing advice and encouragement.
So there you have it. Regardless of the Golden Heart contest outcome, the achievements of Laurie A. Green and Sharon Lynn Fisher mean not only a boost for their writing careers, but also more exposure for science fiction romance. I wish both ladies the best of luck!
Do you know about any similar achievements—past or present—for other niche genres? I think it’s fascinating to learn about milestones or events that helped little-known genres reach a wider audience.
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express and covers the subgenre for Germany’s premier romance magazine, LoveLetter.