There are a few important calls that authors hope to get in their career. The first is from an agent. I got that call from the lovely and wise Jennifer Schober of Spencerhill Associates several years ago when she read Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra’s Daughter, told me that she loved it, and that she wanted to represent me. Like a starry-eyed little dreamer, I assumed the next call would come quickly after that. You know, the call from the publisher who loves your book and wants to buy it? But that call didn’t come for a long time. When it did, I was ecstatic, but that’s another story.
The story I want to tell today is about a different kind of call. One that–in its own way–means as much as all the others.
Now, some of you may know that I write romance novels under a pen name; I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America. And I dutifully volunteer to judge for the RITA Awards and the Golden Heart Awards that are the highest honor in the genre. What I do not do, however, is take any notice of the day on which the nominees are to be announced. I know some authors get pretty worked up about such things, but I always assume I’m not going to win anything and that if I ever do, I’d rather it were a happy surprise.
So, when I got a phone call early this morning, I ignored it. I was still getting breakfast together and I always worry that I’m going to answer a business call when I’m not in the right mind-frame or not near my desk and then I won’t sound crisp and professional. If I was dimly aware that the call was from RWA, I assumed it was about my dues being late. Right. So, the point is, I didn’t answer the phone.
I just went on blithely with my day, preparing for a call with my editor. At some point, I went through my email and saw a strangely worded note from RWA about how they wanted to converse with me. It sounded stern. Now I wondered if this might be about the recent complaints I made regarding rules of the published author’s network mailing list. Remembering that I had business calls to make later in the day, I decided not to put it off and quickly returned the call.
What happened next I don’t remember very well because my whole system got a jolt when the very nice woman on the other end of the line told me that one of my books had been nominated for a RITA award. I short circuited. Vibrating with excitement, I think I told her that I loved her! Then I asked her which book, assuming it was one of my romance novels.
She attempted to answer me, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to actually hear anything she said over the thump of my heartbeat in my ears. So I asked her if she would repeat everything from the beginning. She laughed, promised that she wasn’t punking me, then told me that Song of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra’s Daughter had been nominated for the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category.
That’s when my excitement turned into something deeper and more emotional. My eyes flooded with tears because it was the last thing I expected. I’d entered other books in the RITA but not that one–my publisher did it. Of all the books I’ve written, that Song of the Nile should be the one to get me a RITA nomination was gratifying in a way I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to explain.
You see, I had a lot of confidence in my first book. I’d spent years researching it, editing it, polishing it, perfecting it. I was never afraid to show the world that book; I couldn’t wait for people to read it!
Not so for the sequel, Song of the Nile.
An author’s sophomore novel can break a career. It’s an awkward period of an author’s writing development; she’s outgrowing her old skills and replacing them with newer shaky ones. For me, the sophomore novel also represented the first time I was writing historical fiction to a deadline. What if I simply ran out of time to research? What if I got things wrong? (I did.)
I had other fears, too. It isn’t common to write historical fiction trilogies about the same woman, even if she is a queen. It’s even less common to infuse serious historical fiction with touches of magical realism, and I knew there would be a lot of goddess magic in this book. To make matters more difficult, I was injured through most of 2010, and had to write Song of the Nile on scraps of paper and in weird positions because I couldn’t sit upright at a desk.
That would be enough to put me into a blind panic about this novel, but I had bigger problems. I knew that this was going to be a very dark book that would include a shocking rape scene and Ptolemaic incest. In my heart, I knew I had very good reasons for including these things in my novel. But I also knew that the change in tone was going to disappoint and alienate some readers. Reviewers might hate it! I could very well ruin everything by telling a story about women that I didn’t have the talent to tell.
In short, this book laid me bare and left me vulnerable. It’s hard to let the world see you that way. For it to merit the praise of my peers–that rare nod of acknowledgment from the RITA awards–puts my struggle with this book into a new light. The tsunami of congratulations and warm wishes from my friends and other members of the writing community have me floating on air.
Saying it’s an honor just to be nominated is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are also true. There’s no way I’ll win the award. I’ve seen my competition. I’m not even sure I would be rooting for me! But seeing my name on the same page with them is humbling and gratifying and an experience I’ll never forget.
You go, baby! : )
Congratulations Steph! That is amazing!
Congrats! I was an associate member of RWA for a year and attended the Booksellers/Librarians Day when the RWA Conference was in DC 2 years ago. 🙂
Whooohooo! Congrats, Stephanie! Such awesome news for you! I’ll be there cheering for you in Anaheim!
Thanks I will need a few cheerleaders!
Congratulations, what a great post! I adore all things Egypt, have over thirty research books on the subject. Song of the Nile just shot to the top of my TBR pile. 🙂
Oooh, I’m wanting to see your collection now 😉
Congratulations, Stephanie! I’m so very happy for you and THRILLED it was this book you were nominated with. You know how much I love Egypt stuff! And to see it still catching people’s hearts and minds is something special. But then again, without an amazing author it would never have come to fruition! Congratulations again and wave at me from that Cloud #9 as you pass over, and enjoy the ride!
Congratulations & well deserved! Woot!
So frickin\’ awesome!!! I loved Song of the Nile and I think it rocks hard that it was nominated against so many other awesome books. That story took a lot of risks and it\’s so cool to see them paying off.
Jeannie, your support and encouragement and friendship have been a big part of this, so thank you!
Congratulations on the nomination, Stephanie. I totally understand where you are coming from when you take a risk and follow your heart with a book. I’m so happy that it paid off for you.
CONGRATULATIONS! So well deserved!
Many congratulations to you!
I am so excited and deliriously happy that you are nominated for a RITA! And for a book that I think is exceptionally well written and captivating. I couldn’t put it down until I read it cover to cover! The plots, sub plots, the writing the…the everything… is wonderful. I will be in Calif to cheer you on too. Don’t put yourself down. I’ve seen the competition too, and your work is stellar. Let the judges rule, however in my heart you are already a winner.
Terrific work Stephanie, not only on “Song…”, but on all your stories. Wising you every happiness and tons of success..
Stephanie, I’m sooo freaking thrilled and excited for you! Congratulations!!! I just want to give you a big, giant hug!
So…why didn’t you enter this book when you entered others? How bizarre and exciting to find out you finaled w/ a book you didn’t even know was in the running. LOL
Oh, Laurie, I don’t want to give the wrong impression–I did know that Berkley had entered it. I just hadn’t considered that it stood a prayer, so I didn’t enter it myself.
Words can’t express how happy I am for you and Song!
I’m so blessed to have you and my MRW peeps in my life, Jamie.
You know how freaking excited I am for you, Stephanie! Thrilled and ecstatic don’t even begin to describe it! Couldn’t have happened to a better person! I can’t wait to cheer you on at Nationals!
I will crush your hand, no matter what 😛
I need you near me. You’re my good luck charm!
Congrats, Stephanie – loved that this is a special book to you, too!
Thank you! It makes it so sweet.
Congrats Stephanie, I am so so happy for you. And thank you for sharing your story. Can’t wait to cheer you on at the RITA ceremony!!!
I can’t wait to see you there! I was so bummed thinking I was not going to get to see you for a long time.
Huge congrats…This is so great..I hope one day I get the call…
I have my fingers crossed for you.
Congratulations, Stephanie! How very COOL!!!!
Thank you! I can’t wait to see you this week.