My Life as a 2009 Golden Heart Finalist

Guest blogger: Vanessa Barneveld

Beth Miller and me minutes before the ceremony (and hours before my wardrobe malfunction.)

November 2008, four days before the Golden Heart entry deadline – I had just discovered the manuscript I’d sent weeks earlier hadn’t made it to RWA’s Texas office. Cue panic attack. My dad, who lives in Los Angeles, suggested I email the ms to him and he’d print and send it. It was the only time I’ve ever been glad he lives so far away. After draining his stationery supply and enduring paper cuts, Dad FedExed the entry, which arrived with hours to spare. “You’d better get somewhere in this contest,” he grumbled over the phone when his good deed was done.

Cut to July 2009 – I am indeed “somewhere.” Washington, DC. As a Golden Heart finalist in the Young Adult category. Last year’s Aussie finalist, Tracy O’hara, insisted I would feel like a princess at the conference. She was right. Photographers and autograph hunters hounded me. (Alright, I signed and posed for one or two friends.) Strangers made this little nobody feel like a big somebody when they approached and said, “You’re Vanessa Barneveld. You write YA, right?” (The latter was not on my name tag, I swear.) One person told me how much they loved my books, but I soon realised she’d mistaken me for someone else. No matter. It was still nice to be accosted by a fan, even though technically she wasn’t my fan.

The day of the awards, I tried not to surrender to nerves. They’d hit during rehearsal when the director talked us through the proceedings. (“Make sure you have a two-minute acceptance speech ready!” “Try not to fall down!” “Don’t freak out when you see your ginormous face on those ginormous screens!”) But as soon as I walked into the auditorium for the ceremony that night, I got that weird out-of-body feeling and just absorbed the atmosphere. People have said the GH/RITA awards night is the Oscars of the writing world and that’s no exaggeration. To me, this was one big party to celebrate being a finalist in arguably the world’s most prestigious romance writing contest. I had Beth Miller, my agent’s assistant, as my date, a glittery Linda Howard in the seat before me, a ballroom full of new friends, and five days of jet lag had finally dissipated. I pinched myself the whole time.

Winning would have been a nice little bonus, but the fact is the GH puts a bright spotlight on all finalists. Many of us in the class of 2009 (aka the Ruby Slippered Sisters—we click our heels madly if ever a sistah needs extra help in making a wish come true) have landed publishing contracts, agents and full manuscript requests as a result of the GH. Each of us in the YA group received requests from an executive editor at a major New York house.

Tina Ferraro & Vanessa

Tina Ferraro & Vanessa

The only thing I regret about not winning is that I didn’t have the opportunity to publicly thank those who have helped me get this far. So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to grab that chance now. Promise I won’t go on for more than two minutes.

Simone Elkeles, who presented the GH in the YA category, and Tina Ferraro--women of exceedingly good taste. What you don't see is a third woman in the same dress standing behind them.

Simone Elkeles, who presented the GH in the YA category, and Tina Ferraro--women of exceedingly good taste. What you don't see is a third woman in the same dress standing behind them.

Thank you to RWA and the contest judges. Big hugs to my fellow YA nominees–Amanda Brice, Addison Fox, Elizabeth Langston and Shoshana ‘2009 Winner!’ Brown. Finalling is really just the beginning for us.

For their faith in my work, I thank my agent, Robin Rue, her assistant Beth Miller who rescued me from slushdom, and all at Writers House.

Anna Campbell and Annie West, thank you for pushing me whenever I’m slack and pulling me up whenever I’m down. I love you both even when you’re tough on me! I’m ever grateful also to my CPs—Stephanie Kuehnert, Janette Hankinson, Kandy Shepherd, Cathleen Ross, Cheryl Sallick, Joanna Challis, my two Claires—and to my cheerleaders, Tina Ferraro, Kerri Lane, Christine Wells, Sharon Archer, Tracey O’hara, Trish Milburn, Fiona Lowe, CC Coburn, the We Love YA blog and the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood. To all the Romance Bandits, thank you so much for awarding me your scholarship to attend the conference.

Thank you to my husband, Frank. The night of the GH was our 14th anniversary and I would’ve given anything—except maybe a Golden Heart ;)—for him to be there with me. And finally, a huge thankyou to my dad. I truly couldn’t have made the finals without him.

Kandy Shepherd and Cheryl Sallick.

Kandy Shepherd and Cheryl Sallick.

And thank you to Vanessa for sharing your Golden Heart story with us.

Leave a comment


  1. Anita Joy

     /  August 19, 2009

    What an emotional rollacoaster Vanessa.

    Congratulations on making it to the finals and all the ‘stardom’ that went with it.

  2. Isn’t she talented? Now we just need a major (great) publishing deal and a really really wycked cover and things will be just perfect! So glad you got your manuscript in on time.

  3. Sounds like a fantastic experience, V.

    Congrats on your result, and thanks for sharing all those pics with us (you look gorgeous in them). As Nat said, next for you is a BIG FAT publishing contract!!!

  4. Vanessa, I was thrilled to be the one sitting beside you (and dare I say, holding your hand) when your category was called. Not to mention the fact that I’d had the pleasure of reading your GH-nominated first chapter in another contest, and love/love/loved it. But the one thing that I found MISSING from this blog (since you “outed” Simone and me in our matching dresses) was the fact that while it might have been your 14th anniversary, that in a way, you did celebrate by wearing your wedding dress! (And so lovely you were!)

    Also, next time you take a piccie (and I’m speaking Aussie there) of me? Hold the camera up a little, darling, so we don’t get all that under-the-chin action. 🙂

  5. Tina, you’re right about mentioning the dress. It’s such a romantic idea (apart from the wardrobe malfunction part. Lol).

  6. Hey, Miss V! How cool! Thank you so much for mentioning me – you’re such a pleasure to know so anything I’ve done hasn’t felt like much of a favour, frankly! Congratulations again on the Golden Heart final – well deserved. Fingers crossed for more good news soon!

  7. Great write up Vanessa. Your enthusiasm for your writing and genre shine through and I predict it won’t be long before we’re reading your CALL STORY!!!

  8. Whoa, Vanessa! I’m breaking out in a cold sweat just reading about that close call getting your GH manuscript into the RWA office! I can only imagine the anxiety you must have felt! Yay for your dad coming to the rescue. And Yay, you, Vanessa. You deserve your success and I look forward to hearing of more! It’s a pleasure being on your cheer squad!

  9. Diane, thanks so much for having me here at the fab new RWA blog!

    Hi, Anita. It’s a good thing I love rollercoasters! Thanks for the good wishes.

    Nat and Mon, yes, a publishing deal would definitely be *most* welcome at this time. Funny thing is I can’t visualise what my cover would look like if the GH book were ever published. No imagination, I suppose!

    Tina, I am the Worst Photographer Ever. Diane might let me change the photo… Actually, it’s hard for shorties like me to take flattering photos of people. I was just as thrilled to be sitting beside you, my RITA-nominated friend. It was fabulous to hang out with you–you’re just as cool in the flesh as you are in print. As for my dress, someone later told me that it’s bad luck to wear one’s wedding gown again. Hmm… I am the superstitious type, but I don’t think that’s why I missed out on the GH this year!

    My dear Anna Campbell, how could I *not* mention you? You’ve played a huge role in my writing life (and then some!) for the last eight years. Couldn’t have done it without you. I shudder to think of where I’d be if you hadn’t steered me on the right path after my disastrous first novel. Mwah!

  10. Hi, Rach! I so hope your prediction comes true. You are psychic, aren’t you? Thanks for checking out the blog. Congrats on your VPA result!

    Sharon, you’ve always been one of my loudest cheerleaders. There was a time when you and I had a weird synchronicity happening–whenever you got good contest news, I got good contest news and it was so much fun to share that. Now that you’re a debut HM&B Medical author, I’m hoping we stay in sync. 😉

  11. Vanessa, Great post! You said it all so well. I wish you luck.

    Oh, BTW, I didn’t get your autograpgh so I will take it on your first book.

    (((hugs))) AJ

  12. Hi, Autumn. Thanks for the good wishes. It was fabulous to meet you! There’s always next time for autographs, though I’ll be chasing *you* for yours.

  13. Beth Miller

     /  August 19, 2009

    Hey Vanessa,
    I had SUCH fun hanging with you at the GH/RITAs (and at the Harlequin party!). It was so lovely to finally meet you face to face, and I just know that the future will bring all good things for you and your wonderful manuscripts! And hey, that’s not a half bad picture of us… we look very glamorous!

  14. It’s a heck of ride, isn’t it? I’m sure your “Call” will happen soon, Sister.


  15. Hi, Vanessa,

    sounds like a wonderful time! How terrific of your dad, what a sweetheart! Hope to meet you and the fellow RS2’s soon!

  16. Hey, Vanessa, I’m so honored to have been mentioned in your thank-yous. I fully expect to hear about a first sale from you very soon. You’re a wonderful writer. And as one of the Romance Bandits, it was our pleasure to have you be our scholarship winner.

  17. Hi Big V! It was great hearing about your Life as a GH Finalist. Was most tickled about your accidental fan. Hey! That sounds like the perfect title for a book – The Accidental Fanatic. 🙂 (excuse me while I go and write it…)
    But before I go, thanks for the mention in dispatches old girl and what was this about a wardrobe malfunction? (probably serves you right for still being able to fit into your wedding dress afer 14 years!)
    hugs, CC

  18. Shoshana Brown

     /  August 20, 2009

    So glad you got that manuscript in on time. Can’t wait until I can buy your book–sounds like it’s just a matter of time. And I love my new nickname. 🙂

  19. Lovely story Vanessa!

    It sounds like you have a lot of support from friends and family. From what I can see, that’s what it truly takes to keep at it in this business. I truly expect to see you, as well as all of the Ruby-Slippered Sisters, on the bestseller lists one day!

  20. Sherri Buerkle

     /  August 20, 2009

    Aww, Vanessa! How great of your dad. Family is too wonderful. And now you have an extended family with the sisterhood. We love ya. — Sherri

  21. Oh, Vanessa, you changed the picture of me!!! You are so sweet…but really, I hope you understood that was just good-natured teasing and the fact I rarely ever like a picture of myself. 😉 And regardless of superstition about rewearing your wedding dress, you looked smashing in it, and all I can say is NEXT TIME for the win!

  22. Hi, Beth! We do scrub up well, don’t we? It was fantastic to hang out with you. Thanks for taking me out to lunch! Everyone, Beth deserves a medal for reading my manuscript drafts over and over and over and over, pushing me to write the best stories I can. Mwah!

    Gwynlyn, Diana, Shoshana, Trish, CC, Sherri, Jeannie, thanks so much for visting. I’m about to start work at my day job now (because that’s what life for *this* GH finalist involves–gotta pay for stationery somehow) but I shall return to comment later today.

  23. Vanessa that manuscript is magic…it managed to just make it to the office, it managed to become a finalist and I am sure it will manage the next step in its own sweet time.
    Fingers and toes crossed

  24. Elisa Beatty

     /  August 20, 2009

    Great post, Vanessa! It really has been an intense experience for all us Ruby Slippered Sisters!

  25. cheryl sallick

     /  August 20, 2009

    Hi V,
    I love the story of your dad coming to the rescue! You are so talented I know it won’t be long before we’re reading about your call story. I’m honoured to be mentioned in your thanks. 🙂 Hoping you hear good news very soon!
    x Cheryl

  26. Vanessa, I was so thrilled to be there on the night cheering you on! Being a finalist in the GH is such a big deal in the commercial fiction world and you got there!
    You know I am such a fan of your writing, it can only be a matter of time (a v. short time I hope) until you get The Call. I can’t wait to be able to buy one of your books for my daughter.
    Ahem, now there is the matter of what Tina so tactfully calls the Under the Chin Action. My photo!! Aack! Can we either photoshop or remove!!!
    You looked divine in your wedding dress – but then you do in whatever you wear!

  27. Kandy, you look lovely, dear, not to worry! (Uh-oh, Vanessa, I’ve started a photo blog revolt! ) And I’m with you that Vanessa looks divine in all attire!

  28. Oh, no! I don’t have a replacement photo of gorgeous Kandy! Thanks so much, everyone, for stopping by. I’m still immersed in the day job but will pop back later to say a proper hello.

  29. I agree with Kandy, that was not a flattering shot of her. (poor baby)
    There’s an actress that’s a dead ringer for her – wears her hair in a long blonde bob (which is what Kandy did when I first met her) perhaps you could insert that into the pic with Cheryl?
    Unfortunately, I can’t remember said actress’s name…
    Am still waiting to hear all about the wardrobe malfunction, V!

  30. Gwynlyn, I’m sure you’ll be getting that Call soon. You were so generous in sharing your expertise on awards night make-up. Please write a non-fiction book about the art of eyeliner application! I need it!

    Diana, fantastic to see you here. I was soooo happy to tell my dad his hard work paid off! I’ve been showering him with gifts ever since.

    A wonderful writer? Right back at ya, Trish! You’re the queen of the Golden Hearts. Really, you were incredibly generous with your critique of my work. I’m pleased to say the “Caution: Writer at Work” mug you gave me has held many hot chocolates on these cold winter nights.

    Hi, CC! Thanks for putting a kind word in the right ears for me. So where were you on the night of the wardrobe malfunction? Why, you were actually sitting right next to me in the bar! I can’t believe you didn’t hear the sound of my spaghetti strap getting wrenched from its moorings. I call this the Bodice Ripping Event. I’d tied the strap tight because it was prone to slipping. It cut into me all night. I was shaking someone’s hand as I sat down and that’s when it happened. It’s a miracle the bodice stayed up.

    Shoshana ‘2009 Winner’ Brown! How lovely to see you here. I wish we got to chat longer at the conference. Talk about a whirlwind, eh? If it weren’t for that fire evacuation, we mightn’t have had a chance to talk at all. Congratulations on the publication of your short story. I’m looking forward to buying and reading all your works.

    Jeannie, SUPER congrats on being one of the first Ruby Slippered Sisters to sell! I remember reading your blog post about your ancient China-set historical and thinking, “I have *got* to read this book.” And soon I’ll be able to do just that! Everyone, look out for ‘Butterfly Swords’ from HM&B–a 2009 GH winner.

    Sherri, it’s truly wonderful to be part of the sisterhood with you. I hope you get some good publishing news soon. I’m clicking my heels for you !

    Tina, I do have another photo of you lurking somewhere. I can unleash it at any moment. Bwah-ha-ha! (But it’s a good one, don’t worry.)

    Hi, Fiona! I like the sound of a magical manuscript! Clearly, this was meant to be. The best thing was being able to tell my dad we’d finalled after all that stress.

    Great to see you here, Elisa. I’m so looking forward to seeing your Regency published! (Clicks heels)

  31. Cheryl, I’m blushing. Thank you for the lovely compliment. Dad to the Rescue–that could be a title for a new book. (CC, hands off that one!)

    Kandy, I’m an even bigger fan of *your* work. ‘Love is a Four-Legged Word’ was just a fabulous read. I’ve already bought an extra copy for a friend who’s a dog and romance lover. I know she’ll love it. I’m sorry you didn’t like the photo! It’s not easy for short people to take good shots of those who are statuesque and elegant. I guess this means won’t be employing me to shoot your next publicity photo, huh?

    Thank you to all the commenters and to RWA for having me here today! It’s been so much fun.

  32. What a story Vanessa. And cheers to your dad for doing such a great job at getting the MS there on time.

    I’m sure soon, you will a published author. And what a great support system you have.

  33. Hi, Eleni! Having a great support system sure keeps me sane. I was certainly lucky to have my dad looking out for me. I’m so glad his efforts weren’t in vain! Oh, dear, I’m starting to rhyme…

  34. Having a great support system keeps me sane,
    I’m so glad their efforts aren’t in vain,
    Oh, dear I’m starting to rhyme,
    I do it all the time!
    My strap lost its mooring!
    Thank god I’m never boring!
    I was shaking someone’s hand,
    And down my arm, it did land,
    Janet Jackson eat your heart out,
    Clicking heels caused it no doubt…
    I’ll never wear my wedding dress again,
    When will this rhyming ever end?

  35. LOL! Thanks, CC. I laughed with glee. Uh-oh…

  36. Hey Cuzzy Ness!

    Loved your story and THE CALL story I’m sure is coming soon!

    Most of all: keep believing in yourself. You are a great, entertaining writer and I love reading your work. Cracking that *whip*!! Keep writing more xxx lise

  37. Hello, Joanna aka Whip-Cracker! Thank you for your kind words. You have also suffered through my early drafts and I appreciated every bit of advice. I’m off to write now… xxx

  38. Congrats again, Vanessa! I’m so honored to be your CP, you don’t even have to thank me 🙂

  39. Kaz Delaney

     /  August 25, 2009

    Hey sweet pea! I’m just getting around to reading this wonderful story and can only say: ‘I told you so’. I’ve been saying it for what? 15 years?? And I’ll be saying it again when you get that magic call.

    You’re a wonderful writer, but better – you’ve never let go of the dream. So proud of you, honey.

    Love Kerri/Kaz


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