The Difficult Road
by Annette McCleave on January 6th, 2009

Back in 2005, I naively thought publication was just around the corner. I had finaled in several contests, including the prestigious Golden Heart. My fellow finalists were selling in droves and I honestly thought, ‘this is it’. But 2005 came and went without an agent or a sale. Then 2006 … and 2007. A veritable drought of success.

I began to wonder if publication was a pipe dream for me. But I never stopped writing, and in the fall of 2007, I completed a new manuscript just in time to enter it in the Golden Heart. I actually entered two manuscripts in that contest, firmly believing that my chances were best with my older, more seasoned story, not the new one.

In February of 2008, my father was called back from a vacation in Arizona because medical tests done just before he left proved ‘concerning’. All thoughts about writing contests fell by the wayside as I escorted my dad from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment in an attempt to determine the state of his health. The day the Golden Heart calls went out, I was in the hospital with my dad as he endured a marathon test.

When I returned home and saw the message light on my phone blinking, I confess it never occurred to me it was the RWA calling to say I’d finaled. With the newer manuscript! It was a terrific boost, to say the least.

But going to the RWA National conference was out of the question. More tests finally confirmed what my family had been dreading—my father’s prostate cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and his bones. His diagnosis was terminal. We were devastated, having lost our mom to cancer two years before and having just supported our sister through aggressive treatment for breast cancer.

Needless to say, my final in the 2008 Golden Heart—although a huge personal validation—did not remain top-of-mind. But it didn’t disappear, either. That’s because, to my delight, one of the judges in the GH requested a full. Then, my query letters started to gain me some requests. Then an agent emailed me to say she loved my book and wanted to represent me.

Around the same time, my dad’s health began to worsen. Living next door to him, I naturally became his primary caregiver. By the end of July, he was barely able to walk. It seemed like every piece of good news was accompanied by bad.

On August 3rd, my cell phone rang in the middle of the night, and my heart raced. My first thought was my dad. But to my intense relief and absolute amazement, it was my friend Sylvia Day calling from San Francisco to say I’d won the Golden Heart for Best Paranormal Romance. I cried.

The next day, I broke the news to my dad that I’d won. His face lit up like a candle, his eyes twinkling, a huge grin curving his lips. He jumped out of his chair and gave me the biggest hug ever. He was so proud of me he told everyone he met that day.

As if that weren’t magical enough, six days later my agent called to say we’d sold my Golden Heart winning manuscript in a three-book deal to NAL.

My dad passed away September 11th. It won’t surprise you to know that the look on his face when I told him I’d won the Golden Heart is one of the memories I’ll treasure forever.

24 comments to “The Difficult Road”

  1. 1

    It’s so wonderful that you were able to share that moment with him. I realize parents love their children regardless of book deals or contest wins or number of pages written for the day, but being able to show my family, see, there’s a reason I’m crazy was special for me too.

  2. 2

    Wonderful post, very very emotional. I am so glad that you were able to share that with your dad, even though I am sure he was proud of you no matter what. Have a great day

  3. 3

    Jessa–yes, thank goodness someone still loves us in spite of all those voices in our heads, LOL.

  4. 4

    Thanks, Sara.

    I think one of the reasons he was so happy for me was he wanted to make sure I was set for the future before he left. He was always proud of me for chasing my dreams.

  5. 5

    It must have been an amazing feeling to be able to share your win with your dad.

  6. 6

    What a moving story. It really hits home. My own father died of cancer in 1989 and today he would have been 72.

  7. 7

    Congrats on your win. I’m sorry to hear about your dad but I’m glad he got to see you happy.

  8. 8

    It really was, Jane!

  9. 9

    Sharon, my goodness, your dad was so young–his death must have really hit you hard. I hope you have some terrific memories.

  10. 10

    Thanks, Kimmy!

  11. 11

    Annette, your story inspires me to keep working hard and to be thankful for the success I’ve been able to share with my family. Thank you for sharing!

  12. 12

    Annette, your story brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful gift to share with your Dad. My Dad is eighty and I think about what I would like to share with him before he passes on. I want him to be around when I retire in two years at the age of 55 with 30 years at my place of work.
    I’m sure your Dad is watching over you. What wonderful memory. Thank you for sharing.

  13. 13

    Thank you for sharing such an emotional story.

  14. 14

    Thank you for sharing a very difficult and emotional time. What a wonderful memory to have of you and your Dad when he learned of your terrific news… a precious moment to relive whenever you desire.
    I lost my Dad several years ago and I treasure every wonderful memory I have of him and our times together. We will always have our special moments in our heart and remember them at leisure and often.
    Congratulations on your win and wishing you many years of success ahead.

  15. 15

    What an emotional year Annette. I’m so sorry about your Dad. I’m very happy for you being able to share your success with him before he passed.

  16. 16

    Thanks, everybody!

    I like to think there’s a silver lining in at least a few of those dark clouds. :smile:

  17. 17

    That is a beautiful and encouraging story. I know the feeling of getting published just being a “pipe dream”. I’m still plugging away but it is easy to get discouraged.

  18. 18


    I’m so sorry for your loss, but how wonderful that you were able to share that moment with your dad.


  19. 19

    Wonderful post. I am sorry to hear about your dad. It is good that you got to share your win with him.

  20. 20

    Kerri, I understand. There’s very little real feedback in the beginning and it can be hard to keep your chin up. But keep going!

    The road to publication is bumpy and you’ll end with a few bruises along the way, but sticking with it is very worthwhile, believe me!

  21. 21

    Thanks, Kim!

  22. 22

    Thank you, Crystal!

  23. 23

    My condolences on the loss of your father. Cancer took my dad ten years ago. He too was called home from a trip because of tests, and died on September 24 of that year.

    I love that your dad got to share in the excitement of your win. He must of been very proud of you!

    Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your success! I’ll be looking out for Drawn Into Darkness this fall.

  24. 24

    Thank you, Lara.

    Condolences on the passing of your dad, too, especially under similar circumstances. I’m sure you have many great memories of him.

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