A couple weeks ago, a book was published on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords that I’d waited for for years. No, not the latest installment in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. It wasn’t by a big name author – in fact, until a few months ago, I didn’t even know the author’s name!
Every winter, I judge in the Golden Heart®, the Romance Writers of America’s annual contest for unpublished romance. In this contest, the first three chapters and a synopsis are judged – up to 55 pages total. There’s no commenting – each entry gets a single, numeric score ranging from 1 to 9, with 9 being the highest. Little direction is given beyond that we’re supposed to be choosing “the best in unpublished romance fiction,” and that each entry should be judged on its own merits, not against the others in our packet of 5 – 7 entries.
I’ve been a member of RWA since 2000, and probably have judged the Golden Heart for ten years. Based on the 1-9 scale, I’d consider a 5 to be “average” unpublished romance fiction, a 1 to be unreadable, and a 9 to be can’t-stop-thinking-about-it, want to read the rest NOW. The lowest score I’ve ever given was a 2.5. I’ve given several in the 8′s, but only one 9 in my ten years of judging. That entry was a paranormal romance called Ashes in the Wind.
The story was about a young noblewoman in the Roman empire who found herself inexplicably drawn to a gladiator slave and begged her father to spare the man’s life. For the next two chapters, she bargained her jewelry and other valuables for a few stolen moments with her gladiator here and there, unaware she and her love interest were under the care of a pair of guardian angels who’d been tasked with getting them together. But the bumbling angels didn’t count on one thing: Mount Vesuvius, and their charges die a horrible death in each other’s arms while trying to escape.
And that was where the entry ended. I was choked up (something that doesn’t happen to me easily!), and even though I had the synopsis and knew how the story ended, I thought about this book for days afterward. I judged it in 2005 or 2006, I think. I was astonished when it didn’t make the finals (what were the other judges thinking???). Some entrants put their names on their entries, but most don’t, and RWA doesn’t release names of judges or entrants, nor will they forward emails. I hoped this book would be published, and that I’d hear about it, because that was the only way I’d get to read the rest. Even years later, I remembered it, especially each year when I received my GH packet and wondered if I’d get anything that good.
After I decided to take the independent route with my books, I joined a Yahoo Group for indie romance authors. New people joined every day, and often answered the invitation to introduce themselves. A few months after I joined, an author named Lori Dillon joined and described her book, a reincarnation romance set in Pompeii. It was that book! I couldn’t believe it, and I emailed her. We have something else in common in that we’re both graphic artists-turned-web designers. She also read my book Time’s Enemy and gave it a wonderful review.
The book was released as Out of the Ashes earlier this month, and I bought it right away. It didn’t disappoint! You can read my review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. The book is also available on Smashwords. If you enjoy an emotionally-rich romance with a paranormal element that’s not the same-ol, same-ol, Out of the Ashes is a must-read!
Have you ever picked up a book that for whatever reason, you didn’t finish – only to find it again years later? Did it meet your expectations?