I entered New Voices to get past the heartbreak of receiving a form rejection letter in late July in response to a query I sent to Harlequin Intrigue. I am no stranger to rejection, but this one stung -- I loved that story. Nevertheless, I've learned that the only way to handle rejection is to keep moving, kind of like a romance writing shark.
My rebound story, The Seven Day Target, is about an ambitious prosecutor named Libby and her former fiance, Nick. I have always taken an interest in writing about the complexities of broken relationships, and the deeper the connection between two people, the greater the possibilities for exploration. And so, Nick and Libby are childhood sweethearts with a deep connection that somehow became muddled. They are reunited when Libby's life is threatened by a serial killer whom they thought died in prison years ago, and this crisis presents them with an opportunity to grow as individuals and to heal the rift between them.
I know that last year's New Voices winner, Leah Ashton, famously submitted her chapter late in the competition. That impresses me to no end because I am SUCH a planner. I had my chapter ready to go well in advance of the start of the competition, and I entered within the first few days. I wrote my second chapter in the weeks preceding the announcement of the top 20 (which was really the top 21), and I wrote my pivotal moment before the top 4 were announced. It's a big challenge for me to produce a manuscript quickly after being declared the winner. I am not only a romance writing shark, but also a bit of a romance writing turtle…let's say sea turtle, for consistency.
(And yes, that's right: my manuscript is in the process of being written. I never thought I'd advance to the top 20 + 1, let alone the top 4. To be the winner? Crazy talk!)
I will share that the week leading up the announcement was unforgettably awful. A freak storm in New England knocked out all power and Internet two days before I had to upload the pivotal moment. Cell towers were down. I had visions of driving eight hours to find a wi-fi connection in a coffee shop somewhere near the Canadian border. I was incredibly lucky that my husband managed to find enough of a signal on his cell phone to activate a wireless hotspot that allowed me to use the remaining minutes on my (of course barely charged!) laptop to upload my pivotal moment. Up it went, 30 hours early, without the extra revisions I wanted to make. To say that I was in a cold sweat all week is an understatement. Most of my family and friends couldn't even vote for my entry since almost no one had Internet.
Which leads me to my Call story. Because of this storm, we didn't have phone service at home for 10 days. We didn't have Internet, either, so once again we relied on my husband's phone. On November 4, five minutes after the scheduled time for the New Voices winner announcement, Mills and Boon sent an email telling me that they were trying to reach me and asking me to please call. I called immediately, my stomach in knots, and they said congratulations and told me I had won New Voices. Hearing those words was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. I will never forget watching my elbow shake as I held the phone to my ear. I screamed, I cried, I kept thanking them. I went to work minutes after I hung up and I tried to go about my day as usual, but it was surreal. I felt like my life was exactly the same and suddenly very, very different. I was going to be a Mills and Boon author! The many years I've spent working on my writing were well worth that incredible moment.
Now, I am very excited about the challenges ahead as I write and revise a novel (in case you're interested, I will be blogging about the process). I am also extremely hopeful that other New Voices entrants will be receiving their own Call, and I will be watching for those announcements. More than anything, I am grateful that my rebound turned into a kind of happily ever after. And if you've been kind enough to read to this point, I'm grateful for that, too.
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Please visit Natalie's blog at www.nataliecharles.blogspot.com for an inside look at her New Voices journey, and to follow her progress. We Minxes certainly will be following Natalie's story with eager anticipation. And once again from all of us: Well done, Natalie!