Ever put your heart and soul into your work only to have naysayers circle the wagons and say no one's buying your genre at present?
Thankfully, Elaine Levine 2007 Golden Heart winner for Sager's Passion, Best Long Historical, doesn't listen to naysayers. She believes in her story and found a major industry professional who believes in it as well.
D.B. Welcome to The Five Scribes, Elaine!
E.L. Hi Donnell! I'm excited to be here! I love the premise of your group blog!
D.B. Thank you! I think it's going to be fun. Your cover is fantastic and exemplifies a western novel in my mind. Some fantastic things are happening in your world. Would you share what's happening?
E.L. My Golden Heart winning manuscript has been sold to Kensington and is due out in January '09. The next in the series (working title, McCAID'S WOMAN) will follow in the summer. And I'm hard at work on the third one, tentatively titled LEAH AND THE AVENGER!
D.B. So Sager's Passion is now...?
E.L. RACHEL AND THE HIRED GUN! I love that title. It quickly identifies the book as a western historical. When Kate Duffy made me the 2-book offer, one of the things she mentioned was that titling the stories they buy was Kensington's responsibility. Frankly, that was a relief. Titles are an important marketing tool, and I knew my story's working title wasn't as strong as it could be.
D.B. Sounds like you’re learning the business and handling it like a pro. I wanted you to be here today because during 2007 RWA National, even though it was an exciting time, you were on a roller coaster mentally. To some, being a Golden Heart finalist is all glamor and lights. What was going through your mind at the time?
E.L. One of my many fears is public speaking. I was terrified I would win my category of the Golden Heart competition and then have to make a speech. I wouldn't have entered if I'd known that was part of the whole deal! I didn't need to win--finaling was all the affirmation for my work that I needed. I seriously contemplated not attending the conference because vomiting in public is rarely enjoyable. But something within me said I needed to suck it up and go. Face it, whatever it was.
Turns out, I had a blast. National was a hoot. There had to be a million people there. And with just two elevators working at any given time, there were plenty of opportunities to network, which was so easy for an introvert like me.
But every day of the conference, every hour, my fear grew. My internal chatter sounded something like, "Pleasedontletmewin. Pleasedontletmewin. Pleasedontletmewin."
D.B. LOL I have this image now of every GH finalist from here on out slipping into elevators chanting, "Pleasedontletmewin." Glad your roller coaster came to a stop safely. Tell us about the week before, Saturday evening and then the surprise that came afterward.
E.L. Well, it did come in for a smooth landing, but not before my elevated blood pressure shaved a few years off my life. I still had to get through my editor appointment. RITA and Golden Heart finalists get first pick when RWA opens its editor and agent slots for the annual conference. I figured what the heck--I picked the queen of NY publishing, Kate Duffy. Why not start at the top?
The morning of my appointment, I practiced my pitch for two hours out loud in my hotel room. My voice was raw by the time I had to meet with Kate. Finally, I was escorted to her table for my ten minutes. The first thing she said to me was that she was asking everyone who had an appointment with her to submit a full, so I didn't have to be nervous about the outcome of our session. I asked if she even wanted to hear my pitch. Pokerfaced, she said it was up to me. Well, you can imagine what went through my head. Do it! Don't do it! Run! Sit!
Standing in front of her, I had an epiphany. I hadn't worked as hard or as long as I had to quit out of fear. I gave her my pitch. She was an avid listener. She leaned forward and asked questions and got into the story. She put me at ease. I left her table knowing I had conquered a fear. And that was worth everything.
One hurdle down, one to go--I still had to face the awards ceremony. By now, my internal commentary was a roar, "DONTLETMEWIN. DONTLETMEWIN. DONTLETMEWIN." You sat on one side of me, our CRW sister, Laura Stephens, sat on my other. I gripped your hands so tightly I'm sure I left bruises. You probably couldn't hear the ceremony for the screaming in my head. I couldn't, but I saw the slide behind the announcer showing my book as the winner. It was horrible. It was wonderful. And I cried for hours afterwards.
So, now the funny part of the story. I left the auditorium to call my husband. While I was outside, Kate passed me. She congratulated me, which was totally cool. Then she said, "But it's Sager! Sager!" giving my hero's name the hard "g", not the soft "g" as the announcer had said it. Kate remembered my protagonist's name from my pitch the day before and sounded indignant that the announcer had gotten it wrong. Amazing.
D.B. The fact that she made a mental note of your hero’s name says lot about Kate Duffy AND your story, Elaine. As we bring this interview to a close, if you could give advice to an aspiring author what would it be?
E.L. Don't adhere to rules--break them if it frees your creativity. Don't believe in limitations. Be fearless, in your work and in networking. Come to National so that I can meet you. I'm a whole lot braver--I'll be the one on stage with a goofy grin as I award the 2008 Golden Heart winner in the Historical category.
D.B. And we'll be cheering you on. Congratulations on RACHEL AND THE HIRED GUN, first in your series for the Zebra debut program. Oh, I almost forgot! Will you give us a blurb?
E.L. Fleeing from a brutal past to the father she's never met, Rachel Douglas must rely on the survival skills of the hard-edged gunman her father sends to guide her across the rugged terrain of the Dakota Territory. But Sager's got another plan...and a blood debt to settle. Time doesn't always heal old wounds. Sometimes it takes a little vengeance!
Thanks for having me here today, Donnell!
D.B. It's been my pleasure. I'm particularly happy to reinforce westerns “are” selling, believe in your story, and, like Elaine, make it happen. I hope you'll check out her new website http://www.elainelevine.com. I'll wager January '09 feels like a gestational period. I, for one, can't wait.