The kids back in 1994.

The kids back in 1994.

The first time I went to a RITA ceremony (and an RWA conference), we had four young children (ages 7, 6, 5, & 4) and were living from paycheck to paycheck. It was 1994 and only way I could go was if I shared a hotel room with three people I’d never met (but who were also attending the conference) and if I packed Graham Crackers and peanut butter in my suitcase for all my meals since I couldn't afford to eat out.

The culmination of that conference was the RITA awards ceremony. The RITA is named for founding RWA member Rita Clay Estrada and the ceremony is the equivalent of the Academy Awards for my industry. As a matter of fact, the entire ceremony was like attending the Oscars. The stage was lavishly decorated. The ballroom was packed. Famous authors bedecked in glamorous gowns announced the nominees as the nominees' books and photos flashed up on the screens. Finally, the presenter opened her envelope and said, “And the winner is …”

 Founder of RWA, Rita Clay Estrada, whom the RITA is named for.

Founder of RWA, Rita Clay Estrada, whom the RITA is named for.

Once the winner was announced, screams of elation were heard above thunderous applause. A live band played music while the winner made her way up to the podium, a camera following her every move on two giant jumbotrons. A gorgeous blond handed the presenter a stunning 24k statuette which had been made by the same company who makes the Oscars. The presenter then awarded the statue to the winner, who gave her acceptance speech.

During that first ceremony, I was sitting way at the back beside people I'd never met and in a gown I’d borrowed from my sister-in-law. I was so inspired by those authors and thought, “Someday, I want to be the one making my way up to the stage for one of those gorgeous statues.” That night, I wrote my goal down in my journal, packed my bags and headed back home. In the 20-plus years that followed, I was nominated five times (which in and of itself is crazy-exciting), but I'd never brought the girl home … until last Saturday.

I was totally stunned when they called Tiffany Girl along with my name. I know everyone says that, but I truly was. I’d read every book in my category and they were so well written and very representative of the Historical category. But the music started, the presenter awaited, and my husband gave me a huge smile, a quick kiss, and a little nudge when I stared at him in shock.

Even after all the times I'd secretly imagined what it would be like, the reality was even better. Well, except for when I fell off the stage on my way out. I had on black velvet shoes with big bows across the instep. The stiletto of one shoe inadvertently slipped into the bow of the other shoe. I lost my footing, started to pitch forward, and screamed at the top of my lungs. I clung to the railing with one hand and my statue with the other. By some miracle, I gained back my footing.

 Jennifer Lawrence falls at the Oscars. At least Deeanne Gist is in good company!  Source

Jennifer Lawrence falls at the Oscars. At least Deeanne Gist is in good company! Source

It had to be angels. I mean, how else could my stiletto have gotten out of the bow and onto the next step? A true, live miracle. No lie. And thank goodness because if those quick-thinking angels hadn't untangled me, I’d have done a face-plant and broken my nose. No WAY was I letting go of that RITA statue!!

 Deeanne Gist and her husband, Greg.

Deeanne Gist and her husband, Greg.

When I finally reached the landing, I was so discombobulated, that I sat down on the stage right in front of everyone, threw back my head and gave a belly laugh out of sheer joy, relief, and embarrassment. The staff rushed over, assured themselves I was unharmed, then quickly whisked me back stage.

When my husband observed all of this from our seats, he turned to the man beside him and said, "My wife isn't very coordinated." Hahahaha. That's the understatement of the year! But it didn't dampen my joy or our celebration afterwards.

When the lights came back up, my dear friend, Kristan Higgins, swept Greg and I into a hug and then into her company. We celebrated with her; the recipient of RWA's Lifetime Achievement Award, Robyn Carr; Robyn's family; and Dianne Moggy of Harlequin. Meanwhile, a plethora of colleagues came by with hugs and words of congratulations—even people I’d never even met before.

 Deeanne Gist and Author Kristan Higgins

Deeanne Gist and Author Kristan Higgins

It was a night dreams were made of and one I’ll never forget. Now, the RITA sits in a place of honor in my office. I get a tiny thrill every time I look at her and am so appreciative of RWA and of you, my readers, without whom I’d never have been able to experience this amazing night and so many others that have come along since I sat at the very back of that ballroom and made a wish upon a star.

Deeanne Gist accepts RITA Award for Best Historical: Long. (Presenter: NY Times Bestselling Author Elizabeth Hoyt.)

In Need of a Book?

Deeanne's TIFFANY GIRL is a RITA Award winner and rated as a *MUST READ* by USA Today!