In a month filled with awards talk, Mobile author Angela Quarles is likely the biggest winner in town — although, considering her low-profile nature, it shouldn’t be surprising few know.
Was there a secret Nappies literary category? Nope, think bigger — like national — and a couple thousand miles west of Mobile’s Saenger Theatre.
Quarles was in San Diego, California, on July 16 with her invitation to the annual Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Initially tabbed the Golden Heart award at its 1980 start, its name was changed in 1990.
It seemed Quarles’ 2015 work, “Must Love Chainmail,” was nominated in the Paranormal Romance category. She thought it a long shot, a good excuse for a quick summer getaway. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t daunting.
“This was a big deal. There were a couple thousand people there in sparkly ball gowns with skits between the awards, all of that. It’s like the Oscars for us,” Quarles said.
It is rare territory for a Mobilian. Azalea City author Cynthia Eden was a finalist in this same category in 2015 and 2013, and a 2011 finalist in the Romantic Suspense category.
Eden, though, has a history with larger publishers like Avon, Kensington, Grand Central and Harlequin. As a self-published author, Quarles was amidst heavyweights and icons from major publishing houses.
“One of the other finalists in the same category as me was Nora Roberts, and she’s ‘the Queen of Romance.’ In fact, right before my award, they handed out the year’s Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, so that’s how big she is,” Quarles said.
However, when the envelope was opened, it wasn’t the industry giant whose name was called — it was the lady from Mobile who works on Bienville Square.
“I don’t really remember what I did. My friend who was watching the live stream said I put my head on the table. It was like an out-of-body experience,” Quarles said.
Luckily, Quarles’ roommate during the stay suggested she jot down some bullet points in the off chance she won. They proved handy.
Quarles has the pedigree for the field. In an April 2015 Artifice profile, Quarles told of a family legacy with the written word.
“I come from several generations of newspaper people and my great-great-grandfather was one of the owners of the Mobile Register,” Quarles said. “I know my great-grandmother wrote stories that never got published and my grandmother had a popular bookstore in town.”
She said her first cousin was published over a decade ago. She also has an aunt who’s a published romance writer.
That same legacy was in place when she afforded herself and friends a small post-victory get-together on the porch of her Midtown home. That historic abode, Termite Hall, has been a locus of literary gatherings and activity for generations now.
“We had some champagne and just sat around on the porch … well, as long as we could stand it in the heat, anyway,” Quarles joked.
A 2015 Artifice column noted Quarles’ acumen with offbeat territory. She had a 2012 work called “Secret Cravings” she pegged “a contemporary geek romance with some paranormal elements, more of a romantic comedy.”
Her 2014 book “Must Love Breeches” was a time-travel tale set in pre-Victorian England. It was a grand prize winner of the Windy City’s Four Seasons contest, earned praise in USA Today and the New York Times and sold more than 1,800 copies in seven months.
Then came “Steam Me Up, Rawley,” a 2015 steampunk romance set in an alternate version of Mobile more akin to Jules Verne than to the Gilded Age Deep South. It also sold well.
The award-winning book emerged the same year. It was the second in a series with the earlier “Must Love Breeches” and the subsequent “Must Love Kilts.”
What else has happened in the wake of the big night? Her star is rising.
“This is only the second year a self-published author has done this. I’ve had two agents contacting me,” Quarles said.
Though she was elated, the journey home wasn’t technically easy. There was a prized statuette to consider.
“I flew home with one leg over the bag with the gold statue in it. Man, that sucker is heavy,” Quarles laughed.