On Wednesday morning, March 26th, I received a voice mail from Claudia Dain, asking me to call her back. I know who Claudia Dain is—a fabulous writer of historical romance—but I’ve never met her in person and she certainly wouldn’t call me out of the blue.
Then I remembered that it was the day the RITA™ finalists were notified. You may not have heard of the RITA awards, but to a romance writer, they are the equivalent of the Oscars. There’s a huge ceremony at the national Romance Writers of America™ conference in July, attended by over a thousand people. The nominees get dressed up in long elegant evening gowns and are treated like visiting royalty. Your editor sits at the table with you while your head shot and book cover are flashed up on giant screens as they read the nominations. If you win, you make an acceptance speech and receive a gleaming golden statuette.
Claudia’s message lit a little flicker of excitement in my chest, although I told myself her call had to be about something else. I had just signed up for a new marketing program sponsored by RWA™. Perhaps they wanted to discuss some aspect of that.
However, I ran downstairs and told my husband about the message. It was a delaying tactic because I was afraid to call Claudia back, afraid it would douse that tiny flame of thrilling anticipation. Of course, my husband told me to call her back immediately!
I did and that tiny flame of hope turned into a raging bonfire of stunned joy as Claudia, in her role as an RWA board member, told me that my second Whisper Horse novel, Country Roads, had been nominated for a RITA award in contemporary romance. She patiently listened to me hyperventilate in her ear before she congratulated me and told me I’d be getting more details soon.
As soon as I hung up, I raced back downstairs to my waiting husband where I shrieked, kissed him, and began dancing around the room like a lunatic.
I’ve been dancing off and on ever since.
As soon as the list of RITA finalists was made public, a flood of congratulations poured into my email inbox, onto my Facebook page, and into my voice mail. My publisher sent me a beautiful bouquet of red roses. In fact, I was stunned by how much attention and good wishes came my way. It warmed the cockles of my heart.
Next was a mad scramble to secure hotel and airplane reservations to San Antonio, Texas, for the conference and ceremony. My proud husband decided I should travel like a movie star, so he used all our frequent flier miles to upgrade me to first class.
Then there was the shopping. Being Queen for a Day means you have to attempt to look like one. My daughter and I set off on a tour of all the bridal salons in the area—and this is northern New Jersey, so there are a lot of them—and found the perfect evening dress, one that makes me feel like a star of the silver screen. We added sparkly shoes and glittering rhinestone jewels to make the ensemble even more glamorous. (I considered a tiara but decided that was a little too over-the-top.) Nothing is more fun than shopping for a fancy outfit with your daughter!
A few weeks before the conference, the mailman delivered a little white box from RWA. I opened it to find my RITA finalist pin, a small silver replica of the figurine the winner receives, as well as the official invitation to the RITA reception. The dancing commenced again, because this was the first physical manifestation of my nomination.
Of course, winning an award is not what drives me to write. I do it for the joy of putting my stories into words and sharing them with readers. I find happiness sitting in my attic room in front of the word processor, conjuring up vibrant characters, taut dialogue, and gut-wrenching conflicts. Nothing gives me more pleasure than hearing from a reader that my books have touched her heart in some way. But it’s fun to have an unexpected reason to put on a pretty dress and high heels.
The RWA conference was a blast. So many people wished me luck with the RITA nomination. There was a special champagne reception for RITA nominees where we got fancy certificates.
And then, finally, it was RITA night!
My RITA “date” Sally MacKenzie and me. Sally writes fabulous Regency romances and was nominated for a RITA last year, so she showed me the ropes.
I did not win the RITA, but–honestly and truly!–I’m totally fine with that. Just being nominated was such an amazing honor and validation. It means my peers consider Country Roads among the absolute best of the best when it comes to a romance novel. Knowing this is more than enough to send me twirling into a pirouette whenever I think about it.