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Whitney Awards, Conference, and Good Stuff

I have never been speechless in my entire life. Never. Not once that I can recall. I think I was born talking. My dad used to take me to his business stuff and military stuff when I was incredibly small because I had a huge vocabulary and absolutely no fear of using it. He liked showing off the baby who spoke in full sentences even before she had enough hair to qualify her as a girl. Seriously. Never. Speechless.

Until Saturday night.

I had not allowed myself to prepare any kind of acceptance speech if Cross My Heart should win the Whitney Award. Any time my mind wandered in that direction, I immediately yanked it back. After my freakish month of feeling wretched, I wasn’t emotionally up to disappointment. I’d read the other finalists. They were good. I closed one in particular and thought to myself, “She is definitely going to win.” But it didn’t really bother me to think I’d lost. I attributed it to their excellence, rather than my mediocrity. Good books should win. And that was okay with me.

So I went to the conference feeling surprisingly normal. A lot of that normal feeling stemmed from the fact that I FINALLY finished Hazzardous Universe Book 2 and got it turned in to my illustrious editor, Kirk Shaw. Getting the book done and in, and feeling good about the end result of that product, went a long way toward feeling normal. The conference went well, meeting up with friends, and making a few new ones, went a long way toward normal as well.

And then Saturday night happened. I wore black . . .  because that’s what I do, found my seat with wonderful online friends that I pretty much only see once a year, picked at my food, and listened to the opening statements. It started so quickly. The romance category was announced first, and it seems I had barely enough time to blink as I wrenched my cloth napkin in my hands and felt my legs turn to water.

Then they were announcing my name . . . the title of MY book. My brain froze. I couldn’t process the words, yet my emotions experienced no such freezing as I immediately melted into a snotty, sodden mess of waterfall. Had they really called *my* name? I knew I had to go up there, but my legs wouldn’t move. Mr. Wright had to tap me and remind me to walk to the stage.

People talk about slow motion where every breath inhaled and exhaled feels as though they mark the passing of minutes rather than fractions of seconds. Where the time in which every step forward seems monitored by hours. I can’t really remember the walk to the platform and the microphone, but it felt like it took forever. I remember the hugs from the people who announced the award for the 2010 Romance category. Sheila, Shanda, and Mindy were hugging on me and crying right along with me.

And then I turned and faced the podium, stepped up to the microphone, and experienced the impossible.

I was speechless. It wasn’t just about having nothing to say. I literally could not get the air to flow past my pipes to create sound. I made some odd orangutan movements, squawked like some mental bird, and looked pretty silly in general before the words finally came.

Granted, the words were rendered difficult to understand through the blubbering and squawking. And, granted, they weren’t all that brilliant, or poignant, or entertaining, or even well thought out.

But at least they did show up.

It was a humbling experience, and I still feel a little weepy (absurd . . . I know), and I still feel a little giddy. And that beautiful award shaped like a book that really opens and closes and has my name and title etched into its perfect acrylic face looks absolutely stunning on my bookshelf.

My daughter reminded me today that when I first bought that particular bookcase, I remarked how well a Whitney Award would look on it.

I love being right.

Thank you, Kirk, for being such an amazing editor. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first three winners were your authors. Thank you, Josi, for the incredible work you put into the awards this year and the work you’ll have to put in next year. Last weekend Josi Kilpack, Heather Moore, Annette Lyon, and I spent the weekend in a hotel together so we could work on a series we’re writing together. Heather, Annette, and I were finalists. Josi knew the results. And she didn’t say a thing. She didn’t so much as breathe a clue in our direction as to how things had turned out.  She should get an award for THAT. It’s pretty amazing that each of the four of us have one of these awards now. What an amazing group of friends I am so lucky to have in my life. Thank you, Covenant, for being such a great publisher, for standing behind me in all the things I write, and for being so amazing to work with.

Thank you to the academy of bookstore owners, reviewers, publishers, and storymakers who voted. My smile muscles obviously need more exercise because they still hurt, and my eyes still feel a bit blurry from all the camera flashbulbs, and I still feel genuinely loved from all those hugs. Thank you, everyone. Thank you.

Here is the list of award winners:

Outstanding Achievement Award
Rick Walton

Lifetime Achievement Award
Susan Evans McCloud

Best General

Best Historical

Best Mystery/Suspense

Best Romance

Best Speculative

Best Youth—General

Best Youth—Speculative

Best by New Author

Novel of the Year (Tie)

Congratulations to all the winners!

And Congratulations to all those eating “loser pie” and snapping silly pictures. A part of me hated not being able to join in on those pictures. You are all amazing writers and there is nothing loser about that group . . . not even remotely. Though I still love the joke of the pie 🙂

Who Is Romania Brown?

I have been asked this question a LOT over the last several months. I’ve received more fan mail for Romania Brown’s quotes in the book CROSS MY HEART than I have for the actual book.

People have Googled her, quoted her, and laughed out loud at her. And they want to know who she is. So I’m telling all. I will meta-tag this post so it comes up in a Google search. I want the world to know.

She’s my grandma.

Her full name is Julia Romania Brown Peterson. She is the person who I was named for. She was my very best friend growing up. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears mentioning again–she was everything awesome in my life. I miss her sometimes more than I can stand. I hide bits and pieces of her in pretty much everything I write. It’s my way of keeping her with me. It takes away some of the ache, and I know she’d love the joke of it all. Grandma loved a good joke.

Now, the confession part is that Grandma didn’t write all those quotes. A couple of them are things she told me, but most of them are things I made up. I couldn’t credit myself because . . . well, it looks tacky to credit a quote to yourself. I tried using quotes from real people, but had to rely on things my friends would let me quote them in a book saying, or things that are over a hundred (or whatever) years old so I didn’t accidentally break any copyright laws. After using up my friends and classic works, I still needed a few quotes. It was then that I turned to my journal–my memories of grandma and my snarky personal commentary on love in general while I was in my dating years. I drew from that to come up with the quotes and the poem about love at the beginning of the book CROSS MY HEART.

So now you know.

Julia Romania Brown Peterson was hilarious. She loved to laugh. She was brilliant. Even without formal higher education, she never ceased to learn, to expand her mind, to grow her knowledge. She loved archaeology, which might be the reason I had such a fixation with Indiana Jones and that blasted hat of his. She planted all the seeds that created the person I am today.

And I do miss her . . . every day. But every day, I am also filled with gratitude that she existed, and she was *my* grandma. I am grateful that she was such a huge part of my life, and glad to share her with all of you even in this small part.

So now you know. Isn’t she wonderful?

Julia Romania Brown Peterson as a Baby

Cross My Heart

Cross My Heart!

That’s the title to my new book and I really like it. It goes along with a bitter piece of poetry I wrote back in college when I’d determined all men were evil minions of Satan. I think the title works great for the story and am excited for the release!

It’s coming out in October, and if you couldn’t tell from the title, it’s a romance novel–romantic comedy to be exact. My previous two books were a wee bit emotionally draining, so I needed a pick-me-up and wrote Cross My Heart. I laughed pretty much the whole time I wrote it and loved every minute of that story. I was able to go back to Boston a couple of years ago on a research trip which helped me write both Cross My Heart, and the novel I just turned into my agent, Spell Check. It was a whirlwind trip of filming locations, taking pictures, figuring out plots, and romancing Mr. Wright  in the city that lies at the space between my childhood and growing up.

I lived in Boston for a short while when I was eighteen. I loved going back. I loved going back with him. And I’m excited to share the fruits of that trip with my readers. Seriously guys. You are going to love this one.

And how weird is this, I was doing genealogy and came across some things that belonged to my great grandma. Turns out she was a writer. Turns out she was published in several little magazines and such. What I came across were several suspense/mystery short stories. The stories were fun to find and read, but what was really fun?

She had a rejection letter from Ladies Home Journal attached to one of those stories, and along with that, she had the actual magazine where the story finally found publication. It was an odd sort of kinship I felt, reading this letter sent to my great grandmother in 1952. I love that she saved the letter, the original story and the magazine. All those things together paint a vivid picture about my great grandmother. She believed in herself, and she didn’t give up.

It must run in our blood. I have rejection letters to books I’ve later held in my hands as published works.  Giving up is never an option. As I sit here with my fifth book about to be published and several more completed and awaiting their turn in print, I wonder what would have happened if I’d quit with that first letter? What would I have lost? What friendships and associations would I have never known?

It makes me physically ill to think of all I would have missed.

Thanks Grandma. May whatever’s flowing in our DNA never die.