2013 Golden Heart® Finalists: Where Are They Now?

Golden HeartsIt’s been nearly a year since eight of us embarked on a wonderful journey: The Contemporary Single Title Finalists in the 2013 Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® Contest. We’ve grown individually and professionally, and thought it would be fun to do a year-end recap. One thing is clear: These women are focused, willing to work, and eager to take on challenges. Each one is a success, and each one defines success in her own unique way.

So, where are they now? Read on and find out!

(*Disclaimer: I apologize if some of the contributions to this post overlap; WordPress and I have done battle for several hours. The material is all here, and links work. With any luck, it will read correctly when you arrive!)

Sheila Athens

Athens cropped 8200

We’ve each been asked to write about what we’ve been doing in the year since reaching the finals of the RWA® Golden Heart Award® – Contemporary Single Title category.

I’ve been getting what I equate to a Master’s Degree in storytelling.  I’d studied our craft for several years, had great critique partners who are published romance authors, and had a fair amount of success on the contest circuit, but my agent’s input helped get my Golden Heart® manuscript ready for submission to publishers.  I probably thought it was ready for submission before, but my agent pointed out places where I needed to show stronger motivation or where a character’s arc needed to be more fully developed.  The end result:  a better story.  I will forever be grateful to Jill Marsal of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency for taking me on as a new client and for letting me learn from her.

We’re currently out on submission and have had some positive feedback from at least one publishing house that’s on my “A” list of publishers.

While I wait to hear something, I’m doing what we writers are taught—or rather, drawn—to do.  I’m writing the next manuscript.  Yes, I have older manuscripts that I could revise, but I feel like we become stronger writers with each new work, so I’ve embarked on a new story.

I’ve also discovered a newfound love for romance novels in audio book form.  Since non-fiction normally puts me to sleep, my “rule” before was to listen to non-fiction in my car, but actually read those page-turning romance novels that kept me up too late at night.  A series of long drives had me trying my first audio book of a romance (Terri Osburn’s Meant To Be) and now I’m hooked.  I listen to romance novels on the way to and from work every day.  I’ve learned in a new way how there’s no better way to ease the worries of the day than to escape inside a great love story . . . but you’re reading this blog.  You knew that already, didn’t you?

Sonali Dev

Sonali Dev 2014

Has it really been a year since our GH® finals were announced? Feels like it was just yesterday that I was out in the backyard potty training the puppy when my husband took the call from RWA®. On the other hand it seems like it was ages ago because it feels like I’ve known my Lucky 13 sisters forever.

To say 2013 was an amazing year is putting it mildly. For me it was right up there with having my babies and leg-shackling the hubby in terms of sheer momentousness. I had sold two Bollywood books to Kensington just before the results were announced, so this was also the year I received my first edit letter, saw my first cover concepts, received my first blurbs, and tried to pin down my first book title. It’s going to be A Bollywood Affair, by the way, instead of the original The Bollywood Bad Boy, although the Bad Boy himself has stayed much the same, dark damaged and oh so worthy of redemption.

While I could spend hours squealing about firsts, the real highlight of the year had to have been the RWA® National conference in Atlanta. Starting from the fact that almost all my closest writer friends were there to celebrate with me, to meeting some of my writing idols and gurus, to hanging out with my agent, to having my husband fly in for the Awards ceremony, to generally spinning around on cloud nine as a finalist, it was an experience I will carry with me forever.

On a less bouncy note this was a year of learning.  For one, I learned that selling your book doesn’t make the process of writing any smoother. You still have to battle the paralyzing self doubt and inadequacy and force yourself into the chair and through blocks and self defeating behaviors.

Second, the world of marketing your book is an inexplicably complex universe that everyone’s bumbling about in and no one can tell you what does and does not work, so it makes sense to stick with what you enjoy.

Third, learning to manage your stress and your time and living in the moment is the single most useful skill you can learn, except it is so much easier said than done.

And lastly, the community of Romance writers comprises some of the kindest most generous women and asking for assistance and learning from example makes the journey so much more fun.

I know that sounds like I’m trying to be all wise and enlightened but in truth this year has only taught me how very little I know and how much more there is to learn. Which is actually great! I hope the rest of you had a successful and happy year too and that the next year brings even greater things.

A Bollywood Affair will hit the shelves in November. If you’d like more information make sure you go to sonalidev.com and poke around and maybe sign up for my newsletter. Oh and like me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/sonalidevfanpage and follow me on Twitter @Sonali_Dev. And see you all next year.

Nan Dixon

Nan Dixon

Hard to believe it has been almost a year.  Thanks Leslie for having the single Title Finalists back!

I’ve been plugging away at drafting and revisions while my agent works at selling my books.  I am still looking at traditional publishing as my way to get my books in front of readers.

One of my Golden Heart® finalist manuscripts for 2013, Southern Comforts, has garnered some interest from an editor.  I am on my second Revise and Resubmit letter.  As always, it seems to be the conflict that needs to be strengthened in my books.  Sigh.  I thought I had finally nailed that concept.

I’ve also begun revising a book that has never seen the light of day.  It was one of my hot mess early novels.  It is the opening of a set of three books that are about four college friends.  The second and third books are in good shape, and actually the third book is the one that got my agent to offer representation.

In 2012, I re-drafted the hot mess 1st book during NaNoWriMo.  At least getting the scenes so they had some semblance of structure and getting rid of the head-hopping.  (I should never have read so many Nora Roberts books before I started writing!)  But even I can recognize that I need to amp up the conflict if I want to sell this book.

I am still the President of my local chapter.  I’ve been trying to see if we can up our visibility.  Just this morning I talked to the director of a library in Red Wing Minnesota, about an hour away from Minneapolis/St Paul.  The library was awarded a grant from RWA® and we are trying to figure out how to work together.  Possibly author visits, or getting out Speaker’s Bureau to design a basic writing course.

Life is busy!

Website:  www.nandixon.com

Twitter: @nancyevertz

Facebook nan.dixon.7@facebook.com


Jackie Floyd

Jacqueline Floyd

Impossible to believe a year has passed since the announcement of the 2013 Golden Heart® Finalists. The months from March to July flew by in a whirlwind of excitement and anticipation. The highlights of the conference in Atlanta included meeting and bonding with the other finalists, renewing friendships with finalists from previous years, and attending inspiring workshops about the brave new world of ePublishing.

I came home from Atlanta fired up with the intention of self-publishing my GH® manuscript, Everybody Knows, along with the five manuscripts that had previously finalled, and a few other completed manuscripts that I believe deserve to see the light of day. I’m not as far along on the self-publishing path as I’d like, but I am making steady progress. Working with a freelance editor has been an eye-opening experience. And I’ve learned that selecting a cover is not only fun and challenging, but also brings out some of my worst OCD tendencies.

Moving toward self-publication at my own erratic pace, I’m enthralled with the process of producing an actual ‘book,’ not just a completed manuscript. I envision a day in the very near future when I will achieve one of my major life goals and have actual books published and available for readers to read. Please watch for my romantic comedy, Meet Your Mate, available soon at all of the usual e-book outlets.

While waiting on the announcements of the next batch of Golden Heart® finalists, I want to express my pleasure at sharing the ups and downs of the past twelve months with my amazing Lucky 13 Single Title sisters. I expect to enjoy witnessing their continuing success and reading their wonderful books for years to come.  And kudos, once again, to the magnificent Leslie Lynch for corralling us into a somewhat cohesive group.


Facebook: Jackie.Floyd.359

Twitter: @Jackie_M_Floyd

Katie Graykowski

Katie Graykowski

The last year has been a dream come true!  I’ve published three books, Place Your Betts (2013 GH® finalist), Perfect Summer (2009 GH® finalist), and Getting Lucky (not a GH® finalist).  I’ve sold close to 15,000 books in the last four months and have quit my day job to be a full time writer.  I get fan mail almost everyday…including one from prison.  Life is good!

In the coming year, I will publish 4 more books, Sorry Charlie, Saving Grace, Changing Lanes, and Rumor Has It.   Crap!  That sounds like A LOT of books.

Should anyone like to check out my books, follow me on twitter, drop by my Facebook page, comment on the fabulousness of my website, or send me an email explaining why we need daylight savings time, here is my contact info:







Katie Graykowski Perfect Summer cover

Katie Graykowski Getting Lucky coverClick on book covers for links to Amazon.

Click on book cover for link to Amazon.













J.K. O’Hanlon


Epilogue Bungees

A great epilogue ties a book together like a big bow on a perfectly wrapped package.

My personal epilogue…the one year after getting “the call” aboutthe Golden Heart®, reminds me more of a reunion show of a favorite TV sit-com. It’s entertaining and fast-paced, but one cast member is conspicuously missing, probably in rehab. And the fancy bow is more like a very functional bungee cord.

I sold my Golden Heart® manuscript to Loose Id and spent last spring revising, often substantially. The process hurt as much as the last three miles of a marathon. Miles 23 to 26.2 challenge every runner physically and mentally more than all the previous miles combined. Same goes with final edits on any book.

My bungee cord stretched tight even before summer hit.

Then the summer of socializing began. This is where you get out the tiny violins. I logged at least five trips over the summer, including Nationals. Objection Overruled won the Golden Heart® and hit the bookstores the next week. Happy dances ensued.

Another wrap of the bungee around the package.

Because I like to keep the adrenalin up, I then wrote andJ K O'Hanlon bannerjpg published my second cocktail book, Twelve Happy Hours, which included two full weeks of all-day photos shoots on locations. For a month, my family at nothing but appetizers left over from the photo shoots. They will never eat another meatball or brie cheese wheel again and banned cream cheese from the home.

Does anyone have a spare bungee?

Fall and winter collapsed into one long cold Midwestern blur spent working on my next romance book, promoting my first romance book and first two cocktail books and publishing a fantasy trilogy I bought last year from an amazing author (who happens to be my sister and another Golden Heart® finalist – excuse the pimp, but Book I of Anna Steffl’s Solace trilogy is available at your favorite bookstore now!).

Probably the Code-blue moment of the year was getting Objection Overruled printed and put into the Fed Ex box on the very last day possible in order to make it to Texas to enter the RITA®.  Now that waiting begins.

It’s been a glorious year. I wouldn’t trade a big sparkly bow for the colorful string of bungee cords stretching and contracting and keeping the script I call my life together for another twelve months.

Cheers to my Lucky 13 sisters and all of their amazing accomplishments over the past year. I only wish I was a faster reader to get through all the books they’ve published!

Talia Quinn


Has it been a year already? Wow.

Then again, yeah, I guess it has. In the past year, I’ve finished and polished my young adult novel and recently started sending it out to agents. I also wrote a contemporary romance novella and got my 2012 GH® winner and 2013 GH® finalist manuscripts ready for publication. I spent a lot of time working on the covers. It was far too much fun. I have the heart of an artist but the mind of a writer. Two identities, as it were.

I self-published the two novels and the novella in early December with zero fanfare (I called it a soft launch) and watched in wonder as my 2013 GH® book, What’s Yours is Mine, took off two weeks later, as if by magic. I’m now at the point where I have to goose things to keep it visible, but that sure was a good run. Incredibly validating, plus it qualified me for PAN®.  (*Published Authors Network, a specialty group within RWA®)

To be honest, I never really tried to pursue traditional publishing with this particular book. I’m one of those oddballs (maybe less odd these days) who wants full control over the process, at least for the romances. Young adult fiction is a different matter, I think, partly because of the way teenagers find books. But with the romance genre, people find books online or through word of mouth. And more and more, we all read ebooks, not print. Publishers are phasing out their print lines and increasing their digital-first lines, particularly when it comes to debut authors. Knowing this, I thought, “What can they do for me that I can’t do for myself?” So I did.

I’ve been happy with my decision, but I admit, there sure is a lot to learn–and a lot to finesse. You have to be a sponge and soak up all the knowledge you can about what’s working and not working for everyone else. I find it all absolutely fascinating, though it can turn dangerously into a time suck. The writing has to stay paramount, or what’s the point?

To that end, I’m currently finishing a short novel with the aim of publishing it in late April or early May.  I hope to have another book out in June or July.

To sum up: I’m learning tons, I sold a bunch of books and plan to sell many bunches more, and I’m figuring out what it all means and how to keep doing it. Oh, and I’m having a blast–when I’m not dazed and confused.

My books:

Talia Quinn Hold Me Tight coverMy 2012 winner, No Peeking, now has a new title, Hold Me Tight, and is Book One in the Greenpoint Artists series. (Yes, about artists. No, I have no idea how I stumbled on that line of work. Me? Artists? No clue.)

Click on the book cover for a link to Amazon.

Talia Quinn What's Yours is Mine coverMy 2013 finalist, What’s Yours is Mine, is not in the same series, though there will be some crossover down the line. It takes place in Southern California.

Click on the book cover for a link to Amazon.


Talia Quinn Draw Me In Cover

And the novella, Draw Me In, is a prequel to Hold Me Tight.

Click on the book cover for a link to Amazon.

They’re all on my website, with excerpts and such: http://taliaquinn.com. I’ve even started a blog.





Leslie Lynch

Lynch30I, too, have been busy. I began the year focused on traditional publishing, and explored many options. I entered Hijacked and Opal’s Jubilee in the 2014 Golden Heart®, then, over a period of months, decided that indie publishing would be a more logical home for my stories.

To that end, I have been working with Pam Berehulke of Bulletproof Editing and Marion Sipe of Dreamspring Design (covers) and am making strides toward publication readiness.

Release dates will depend on whether or not either of my manuscripts final in this year’s GH®. Either May/June or August/September, as I don’t want to withdraw from the contest if I do, indeed, final.

When the time comes, Hijacked, Unholy Bonds, and Opal’s Jubilee will be available within weeks of each other. I have a Christmas novella rolling around in my brain, and will get that one up toward the end of the year.

It’s been an education, one that won’t end with publication! I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important the community of writers is to my growth, and hopefully, to my success. I am truly grateful to be on this journey, and for the privilege of getting to know the women highlighted in this blog.

My best wishes to each of you in your careers! Thank you for joining me to celebrate this roller coaster of a year.

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19 Responses to 2013 Golden Heart® Finalists: Where Are They Now?

  1. Leslie Lynch says:

    Yay!!! The formatting loads pretty much as I’d hoped! I’m happy about that, but after yesterday’s (epic) struggles, I’m not about to go back and remove the disclaimer and apology. That might mess the whole thing up again!

    One thing I failed to mention in the intro is that the new Golden Heart finalists will be announced on March 26th. Of our group, I’m the only one who entered again; we’ll see what happens there. Again, I’d like to congratulate everyone on their journeys and wish each the very best. Thanks for participating in our interviews last year and our year-end round up today!

  2. Sonali Dev says:

    So wonderful to catch up with everyone! Although, to let the rest of you in on a secret, we’ve been keeping in touch and rooting for each other through the year and that’s been the best part. Nine books out between us, girls, I feel like a proud mama! And so many more coming! Thanks so much Leslie, for this!

  3. Nan Dixon says:

    Thank you Leslie for pulling us all together again!
    It is so much fun to see the journeys we are taking. What a wonderful group of women. I am honored to be a part of this group and watch your wonderful successes!
    The Golden Heart has been such a wonderful way to build friendships. (And even get together for coffee when I’m traveling!) Can’t wait to see Sonali in Chicago — but perhaps that beverage will be Prosecco!
    Back to my revisions!

  4. Talia Quinn says:

    I’ll echo Sonali and Nan: thanks for putting this together, Leslie! Even though we’ve never completely drifted apart, it’s such fun to get a concentrated glimpse into everyone’s writing life. I find it particularly fascinating that a year later, the 2012 finalists had one self-published author and one who intended to do so but hadn’t yet (me). This year, it’s two and two, as the path has become a more viable choice. Good luck to everyone and may all our journeys unfold with splendid surprises yet to come!

  5. Leslie Lynch says:

    Sonali, Nan, and Talia – Thanks for stopping by! Talia, that’s an interesting point you make about indie pub being a more viable option for authors now. It’s certainly been a major factor in my decision. I also think it’s of interest that two of our 2013 group are traditionally pubbed, and the other two are repped by top-notch agents and actively searching for that perfect fit with a traditional publisher. There are truly more options available now than there ever have been. But one thing will never change: The support we give and receive to/from each other! It is priceless!

  6. Terri Osburn says:

    What a fun summary. You all have been busy! (And thank you Sheila for the mention. Glad you enjoyed it!) This is the perfect blog to demonstrate how many options are out there for authors these days. Congrats to all and here’s to long, fabulous careers ahead.

    • Leslie Lynch says:

      Terri, it was great fun to read each of the contributor’s recap as they came in, and marveling at how success is possible via so many different routes. It is truly a wonderful time to be an author. 🙂

  7. Sandra Owens says:

    Oh, it gives me warm fuzzies to see you all together again. Sure hope each and every one of you will be in San Antonio so we can get together for dinner and catch up on all our news.

  8. This is so awesome. Love to see how hard working and busy everyone is. I’m so proud of all my Lucky 13 Sisters. Looking forward to all your releases and wishing you all much success. And Leslie, I’ll be rooting for you on the 26th!

  9. Leslie Lynch says:

    Thanks, Miranda! I suspect that most of our Lucky 13 Sisters are as busy and as successful as this small group, even the ones who don’t often post on our loop. Like I said in my intro, these women are focused, willing to work, and eager to take on challenges. I am blessed and honored to know all of you and to count you as friends. 🙂

  10. How wonderful to read your stories and discover how much has happened in each ones personal writing journey. What a lovely idea to run this blog, Leslie. xx

  11. Congrats on all your amazing successes, my Lucky 13 sisters – Sheila, Sonali, Nan, Jackie, Katie, J.K., Talia & Leslie! Had the best time being a 2013 Golden Heart finalist with you! Looking forward to hearing continued good news from all of you…and hopeful seeing you at this summer’s RWA national conference in San Antonio.

  12. Joanna Shupe says:

    Such a wonderful recap! You ladies have been BUSY. It’s been so much fun getting to know all of you and watching your careers take off. Consider me fans for life!!!

  13. Leslie Lynch says:

    As we are yours, Joanna! Thanks for stopping by and cheering us on! 🙂

  14. Michelle says:

    Prayers for your writing to flourish, your patience to hold out, and your publishing efforts to be much blessed. 🙂

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