It was neither the best day, nor the most beautiful. But no amount of rain could dampen my mood.

I sat across from a writing friend I’d known for years and drank my iced tea. (A little sweet for this girl from New Jersey who now lives in Virginia, but I’ve adapted.) Despite the drenching, we’d met for lunch at my favorite cafe. She’d just received another stellar review, I’d just received the GH call announcing my double final, so we were celebrating.

We’d even planned on splitting dessert. A huge double chocolate brownie with ice cream.

“So,” my friend said with a self-satisfied half-smile. “How does it feel to have eight Golden Heart finals in six years and still not be published?”



I choked on my tea and my heart skipped around, searching for a rhythm somewhere between shock, anger, and ripping out her hair.

Finally I responded with a weak, “What’s wrong with eight Golden Hearts?”

Great. Now I was on the defensive. Not a familiar place for this particular Jersey girl. So I added, “I’m proud of them.”

“You have eight Golden Hearts and you’re not published yet. You’re not even self-published.” She might as well as added the word loser as a stand-alone emphasis sentence.

I didn’t understand.  She was my friend. We were supposed to support each other on our journeys, regardless of how long it took to reach our goals. She’d published her first manuscript almost immediately after finishing it and had a bright publishing future. I’d been truly happy for her.

And now I was under attack.

To read more, please join me today at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog or click here to continue reading. 

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Aaannnd,” she drew out the word while her perfectly-painted nails held her straw so she could sip her tea, “all of your critique partners are published. Everyone you started writing with is a PAN member. You’ve been left behind.”

Then she reached over to squeeze my hand in fake concern, as if I didn’t see through her what is wrong with you? putdown. “I’m worried that at this rate, you’ll never have a future in publishing.”

I pulled away and sat up until my aching S-curved spine straightened against the chairback. I’m not very good at a lot of things, but for some reason I’ve been blessed with the Jersey girl comeback gene. Despite the fact I’m a huge introvert and quiet in public, I never regret not having the perfect retort until hours after an event because I’ve usually said it, made my point, and moved on.

Except, for some reason, this was different.

This hurt.

My words–my reliable verbal defense–disappeared. All I wanted to do was run and hide.

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But since Jersey girls don’t run away, I borrowed someone else’s words. “Every artist was once an amateur. There’s no shame in that.”

She scoffed. “You’re quoting Whitman?”

“No.” I took a long, slow sip of my too-sweet tea and scored my first hit. “Emerson.”

The waitress came by and I waved off the dessert menu. I wasn’t about to cry, but the back of my throat itched and my hands felt hot.

When my friend didn’t respond, I shattered the silence. “Since when did this writing thing become a race?”

Lame, but I’m not Emerson.

“First of all, it’s a publishing thing, not a writing thing.” She tapped a red-tipped finger against slayer lips. “Maybe that’s your problem.”

We’d entered full-on combat mode? “So much for using “I” statements.”

She shrugged. “People are talking. It’s embarrassing.”

Embarrassing? “For me or you?”

She looked down and away. To the left.

Betrayal burned, not unlike the night before when I’d burned my fingers pulling a burnt marshmallow off a stick so my son could make s’mores over our backyard bonfire. Except last night I’d been able to lick off the sweet residue and make another.

Today’s scorching could empower my self-doubts, incite my internal editor, and encourage my muse take off.

Today’s scorching could derail my career before it even starts.

Today’s scorching could leave a scar.

Today’s scorching could destroy me.



As I drank my tea and watched her squirm, unable to admit that she was embarrassed by my apparent lack of talent, ambition, or self-awarenss, I realized a few things.

The first is I have never asked for, nor needed, her validation.

I have always been a storyteller, but I came to the actual writing gig late. I wish that wasn’t the case, but since it is, there’s no use regretting it.

I started writing down my stories nine years ago when my father was diagnosed with cancer and I had to move, with my four-year old twins, to another state to care for him while my husband held everything together at home. The writing became a desperate kind of therapy. Then, after my dad died and the grief kicked in, writing became life-saving.

Since his death, I have written eight and half manuscripts, garnered eight Golden Heart finals in six years, and somehow snagged the agent of my dreams (probably because she got tired of me pestering her every year with a new manuscript).

For the past nine years, I have written my way out of too many griefs, through two lay-offs, and around children who grew from preschoolers into teenagers.

For the past nine years, I studied craft, wrote over a million words, and thought I’d made trusted friendships.

But as the woman across from me refused to meet my gaze, I knew that while I had made many wonderful friends, she wasn’t one of them.

She was talking about me behind my back.

She pitied me.


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And that truth made me sad. I’d shared my words with her and she’d shown her jagged edges.

I bit my tongue until I tasted blood. Then I waved over the waitress. “I’ll have a hazelnut latte and the double chocolate brownie with ice cream.” I glanced at the friend I didn’t recognize anymore and smiled. “One fork.”

Her eyes widened in spite of the heavy mascara weighing down her eyelashes. “I don’t understand.”

“You’re jealous.”

Her palms hit the table and she leaned forward, almost out of her chair. Anger pinched her face until she resembled a feral ferret. “Of you?”

You see, my second realization was this: She envied my Golden Hearts. Not for the shiny pins or the champagne receptions at Nationals. She envied them because she’d discovered the truth.

There is nothing more powerful in this difficult business than the sisterhood and brotherhood of the Golden Heart. And I am blessed to have six classes of sisters and one brother who care about my journey, who would never mock me behind my back, who would never be embarrassed to sit next to me at lunch because my badge says PRO instead of PAN.

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The third thing I discovered? She knew that those of us, both unpublished and published, who don’t push when we should pull, who struggle to hold on and don’t let go, who persevere through the hard because we know the only things that matter are the present and future readers, are the ones who will ultimately succeed.

In our own way.

In our own time.

On our own terms.

Always holding hands with the Golden Heart sisters and brother who’ve gone before, and those after.

“I am an Unsinkable, Starcatcher, Firebird, Lucky 13, Dreamweaver Dragonfly,” I said. “One of my classes even has an unofficial victory song. Do you have a victory song?”

She grew fish lips. She knew, in that moment, that she would never have that kind of support and love. She was swimming in this ocean of sharks completely on her own. Whereas I had six classes of sisters and a brother to help balance the boat and sharpen the harpoons.

Seven classes if the Rubies adopt me.

So am I embarrassed? Or sad? Or scared?

(expletive deleted) No.


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The waitress brought the dessert, placed it in front of me, and left. One fork glinted in the emerging sunlight.

“You’ll never succeed.” My ex-friend grabbed her purse and stood. “You’ll never be known. Never be seen.”

She tossed her hair and left the cafe, letting the door slam behind her.

The waitress hurried over with my latte and the check. “What was that all about?”

Of course my ex-friend left without paying. But I didn’t care. I had a dessert I didn’t have to share.

“She’s just mad because she inadvertently paid me a compliment.” I took a sip of my latte, then picked up my fork. “Did you know that the best and most beautiful things in the world can’t be seen or even touched?”

She picked up my friend’s empty dishes and finished Helen Keller’s quote. “They must be felt with the heart.”

We laughed together until she nodded toward the window. “Look. The sun is out. We’re going to have a good day after all.”

“Not just a good day,” I said around a forkful of melting ice cream and chocolate. “We’re going to have the best future. And it’s going to be beautiful.”

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While you listen to the Firebirds’ unofficial victory song, I’d love to know how you handle people who hide their attacks behind thoughtful and caring demeanors. (Or does that only happen to me? I hope not!)

All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray.

(Fall Out Boy Meet & Greet photos taken at Merriweather Post Pavilion, MD attributed to staff photographers)

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  1. I’m proud and honored to share the name Dragonfly with you, Sharon. Everyone’s journey is there own. There is no right or wrong way. I firmly believe things happen when they’re suppose to happen. Can’t wait to meet you in person in a few weeks!

    1. Thank you, Laurie. I am so glad to be a Dragonfly with you as well and so appreciate your comment. I can’t wait to meet you either!! I less than two weeks!!

  2. Hoo, boy. Hopefully ex-friend was just having a crazy moment because otherwise that’s a lot of nuts to carry through life. Sorry you had to go through this–I’m not a Jersey girl. I would have just cried, probably. Negative vibes like these make me a bit nauseous. The contracts, the sales, the reviews are all other people doing things to us. The writing is the only thing we own, and you’ve got that. Every story you write–ever sentence–is a new creation. A miracle. I know I am always stunned when I finally get to the end of a first draft and realize somehow 90,000 or so words have come out of my mind through my fingers and appeared on the computer screen. And they even sometimes make sense! You go, girl! Hope our paths will cross at RWA–in just 2 weeks! (Gulp–I’ve got another 10,000 words to make magically appear before then!)

    1. Thank you, Sally. I really appreciate your comment and your advice. I, too, am always amazed at how the words stack up and eventually I have a finished novel when I always think I am behind and the story is a mess.
      I can’t wait to see you too. I can’t believe it’s two weeks from now either. So much to do before then! 🙂

      1. LOL–and I have suddenly developed conference brain–new suitcase!–which is NOT helping with the word count.

  3. Hard to believe a “friend” would ever behave like that, Sharon. I’ve “only” been a GH finalist three times, but that’s a been a thrill. Lots of spectacular rejections–just too far off the beaten path for New York, I guess. Thinking about the independent route. thankfully I haven’t run into much of what you describe, but there’ve been a few. And I keep writing because I’ve done it pretty much all my life, no matter where it leads me. Onward! (Your photos, as always, are beautiful!)

    1. I am so glad you haven’t had too many instances of dealing with difficult people, Kay. I am glad you’re still writing. I have no doubt I will hold your books in my hands one day. And I can’t wait!
      And there’s only “only” about three Golden Hearts. Every Golden Heart is awesome!

  4. Terri Osburn says:

    You’re making me regret that I skipped that FOB concert on June 29th. Sigh. This is beautiful and brave and you are an amazing woman. I’d say don’t ever forget that, but it doesn’t look like you need the reminder. 🙂

    I started with a group of writers, most of whom took off years before I did. For a while, I’m sure I was considered to be one of the writers who would never really make it. Everyone has their own path and things happen in their own time. I’m happy to be sharing my time with my GH sisters. 🙂

    1. Terri, if I’d known that you were considering going to the concert on the 29th, I would’ve have made you buy a ticket! We had a great time in spite of the torrential rain.
      I agree with you that things happen in their own time. Sometimes the problem is in remembering that.
      I am so happy to be sharing this time you too! 🙂

  5. I love that you blogged about this! As much as we would like this not to happen, it does and it awful when it does. Everyone’s journey to publish (or the decision not to publish) is different. We can’t copy someone else’s path, because it may not work for us.

    My journey was long and I lost friends along the way. Some because I didn’t publish quick enough and they couldn’t have me drag them down when they now belonged to an elite club. Some I lost because they stopped writing when that elusive contract didn’t show up and when I kept on going they felt I didn’t support them.

    And now that I have that coveted prize of publication, it’s equally weird when people who before couldn’t be bothered learning my name now wants to be best friends.

    We are all writers. We should all support each other as we continue studying the craft of what we love. What we have in common doesn’t change whether we’re published or not. Also, some of the best prose I’ve read are from people who aren’t published or went indie. Having a contract does not make you a better writer.

    You go, Sharon! You rock! Thanks for being brave and posting this beautiful post. Congratulations on the GH nominations–all of them! And I’m so proud and honored to be in the Dreamweaver posse with you!

    1. Asa, I am so sorry you lost friends along this journey — both the ones who continued writing and those that didn’t. But at least we both found a wonderful support group in our beautiful Dreamweavers. I can’t imagine my writing life without them and you. 🙂

  6. This better be some fantasy writing Sharon! What kind of gutless, asshat, floor flushing people are you subjecting yourself to for coffee! She is so not worthy of your time! Your stories (the few you’ve shared) are beautiful, sexy and page turning. Some idiot published Twilight so how in the world is it a mark of excellence and not blind luck for the most part! Keep writing and stop having coffee with losers! I’d be seen with you and count our time together as a rare treat.

    1. Clearly, we’re not spending enough time together. 🙂 I laughed so hard. And my kids absolutely loved the words you used and now they want to use them too. But they can’t, at least not in front of me! LOL.
      And I promise to stop having coffee with losers and hope that maybe we can actually see each other — maybe even go on an outing with the kids — sometime this summer. It would be a miracle but I would love to make it happen. 🙂

  7. Oh Sharon. I’m squeezing my eyes shut for a moment and feeling waves of something I can’t describe.

    Your words always bring me light & insight & they leave me just a little more tender and open. I’m grateful to be one of your Golden Heart sisters.

    1. Thank you so much, Wendy. That is a very sweet of you to say. I’m grateful to be one of your GH sisters as well, and I absolutely love the Writer Wednesdays we’re doing together. Can’t wait to see you in NYC and I hope your DH is feeling better. 🙂

  8. Dear Sharon, I am honored and humbled to be your friend while we muddle through the writing trials, tribulations, successes, and triumphs. You are by far one of the most talented individuals I have ever met. You have always supported me in my journey even when I was a struggling newbie who couldn’t write a synopsis if her life depended on it. Your patience, dedication to the craft, and commitment to other writers are qualities that I admire tremendously. I would not be where I am today if I had not met you and been guided by you throughout the years. I KNOW you will attain the dream because it’s not about money or fame or validation for you. It’s always been about the story. The stories will win in the end. I think of you when I read this quote from Donald Maass because you exemplify it: “I hope that the measure of your success will be not the gratification of getting an agent or seeing your name on the cover, but putting together a novel of real depth–of having something to say and saying it in a story with lasting power.” You do that, Sharon. You are my inspiration. Double fudge chocolate brownie with ice cream on me when I see you again!!! XXOO

    1. Christine, I love you too. I am so grateful to Karen for introducing us because you taught me so much about what true success and perseverance means. I am so happy for you right now. You’ve worked so hard to get where you are and deserve all the success in the world. Thank you for sharing the Donald Maass quote. Telling stories with lasting power is something I aspire to do and I have faith that when the time is right things will fall into place. I can’t wait to see you again and we will definitely share a chocolate brownie with ice cream – but with a split of champagne! 🙂

      1. Celebrate every victory, big or small, and champagne is on me next time we see each other!! So excited for you about this GH double final. Sending Pixie Dust your way 🙂

  9. Oh Sharon, my heart goes out to you. I’ve been there, suffered the arrows and admit to getting discouraged for the first time in my many years of writing. So many my first GH was before support groups started 🙂 But as your Unsinkable and Firebird sister, perseverance counts and success comes in its own time. Our job is to write and send it out there to be read. Yay, YOU!!

    1. Jean, I’m so sorry you’ve suffered under these assaults. But please don’t get discouraged. Perseverance is everything and I know you have the talent to back it up. I won’t let you quit, not when you’re so much closer than you think you are! Sending hugs! 🙂

  10. I’m proud to say I’m one of the many who know you and who are wowed by your spirit and your talent, Sharon. Your strength is inspirational. Your accomplishments are legendary. Sending you hugs, my golden friend.

    1. Thank you so much, Jacqui! I am sending hugs right back to you. 🙂 I hope to see you in NYC!

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