January 2006

Well, I can’t tell you what I’m reading. The reason for that is that right after Christmas I received a box of books from Romance Writers of America to read for the preliminary round of their prestigious Rita Award.

Maybe some of you have never heard of the Rita Award, but to most of us who write romance it is the equivalent of winning – or even being nominated for – an Oscar. Many of your favorite writers have been winners. Nora Roberts has a bunch of them. So do Kathleen Korbel, Jo Beverly, Laura Kinsale, Susan Carroll, Mary Jo Putney… The list is long and the list of nominees is even longer. (I’d even be on it.) It is our organization’s way of recognizing the best and brightest authors writing in romance today, and if you’d like to see if your favorite author has ever won a Rita, check the Romance Writers of America website.

The contest is judged by volunteer judges in two rounds. The Rita judges are all published authors (a jury of our peers, so to speak) and members of RWA. Each judge gets between seven and nine or ten books in the preliminary round boxes, along with a score sheet. These last two years judges receive things from a variety of contest categories. This year I’ reading two books from the Short Contemporary category, two from Long Contemporary, one Short Historical and two Long Historical. Five of us are reading each of the books and our scores will be tabulated at the RWA headquarters in March and the finalists will be announced toward the end of the month.

And believe me, everyone who entered will be holding their breath until then. If you’re interested in who the 2006 finalists (for books published in 2005) are, check the RWA website then.

In the final round, the books in each category are judged against each other by a panel of judges, usually Rita winners and finalists in that category from previous years. No one knows who won until the RWA convention, this year to be held in July in Atlanta. RWA puts on a big, splashy awards ceremony at the national conference. Everyone dresses up in their fancies, both those who’re up for awards and those who aren’t. For a lot of people who work in their nighties, we clean up pretty well.

The Golden Hearts, the unpublished branch of the RWA awards, are presented first and you can’t help but share the joy of the people who’ve won, some of whom have been writing for years. Their hard work and enthusiasm has brought them this highest form of recognition for their writing – and sometimes even a book contract.

The Ritas are presented as the culmination of the glittering evening. Since these are published books, most of them have been read by a good percentage of the membership on their own. You can tell when the finalists are read which books have the popular vote. When one of those really popular books wins, people hoot and holler. And the winners, no matter how many published books they have under their belts, are always a little awe struck and tremendously excited.

So that’s how the Rita Contest works, and why I’m reading things I can’t talk to you about. Next time I will, I’m sure, have things I’ve been reading to share with you. So keep turning those pages until then, and if you have comments you’d like to share or books to recommend to me, feel free to email.

Until next time…

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