Friday, October 2, 2009
The Voice in My Head...
By Robin Kaye
My friend Kate Duffy, the Editorial Director for Kensington, died Sunday and I spent Monday and Tuesday before writing this, laughing and crying (sometimes simultaneously) thinking about our time together. Kate was only 56 when she died, but she’d been referring to herself as a crusty old broad since I met her. Kate was wise beyond her years. She had a wicked sense of humor, and was the biggest proponent of the romance genre. In my opinion, she was the most outstanding author advocate God put on this earth. Kate was blunt—she never sugarcoated anything, but she was also one of the most giving and insightful women I ever met. Kate Duffy was a living legend in the world of Romance publishing. But to me, she’ll forever be my favorite crusty old broad.
I met Kate at my first writer’s conference five or six years ago on the patio of Hilltop House, the old hotel that used to house the Washington Romance Writers Retreat. She invited me to sit with her and asked me about my work. Kate Duffy was the first editor I ever met and the first person, besides my husband, who accepted the fact I was a writer. That blew my mind. I had yet to finish a manuscript, but that didn’t seem to matter to Kate. We quickly became conference buddies. I went to five or six conferences a year and always looked forward to seeing her. I found myself blowing off workshops just to hang out with her. I don’t regret it. I know I got much more out of our time together than I would have at a workshop—especially since I always bought the conference CDs to listen to on my iPod. Over the years, we’ve spent countless hours talking about my kids, her family, books we loved, writing, and everything in between.
At my second Washington Romance Writers Retreat, I’d entered the first page of my manuscript in American Author, a take-off of American Idol. Kate always played the part of Simon Cowell and she definitely lived up to the name. My entry was the second or third read. It was a dinner scene during which my heroine, Rosalie, was called a puttana (a whore) by her aunt Rose because Rosalie had been dating the same man for two years and wasn’t engaged. Aunt Rose was elderly and well, let’s just say when Rose spat out the word putanna, there was spittle involved. Kate fixated on the spittle and the result was me turning five shades of red. Just about every entry after that, Kate would say “Well, at least there was no spittle in this one.”
Later that day I had an editor appointment scheduled with Kate. I was outside on the patio as usual, but I made sure I was nowhere near Kate. Not because I was angry, hell, I may have turned red, but I laughed along with everyone else. I stayed away because I didn’t want to look as if I was a brown-noser and wasn’t sure how to handle the fact that I would soon be pitching to my friend. Kate called out to me from across the patio. “Robin? Are you avoiding me?”
I was so busted. “Yes, actually, I am.” I answered. Kate rolled her eyes and asked why. When I told her that I had an appointment with her in less than an hour, she told me to sit down and stop being stupid. I did.
When we finally met for my appointment I sat down, shook her hand, and said that I’d written the manuscript in American Author with the spittle. I asked if I removed the spittle, if she’d look at it. I was such a newbie at the time, I’d written my heroine in first person, and the hero in third. Kate said, “No, you write in third person. Take out the first scene, fix it, and send me the full.” I nodded, thanked her for her time, and got up to leave. She smiled and said “Don’t you want a card?” I said, “No, I know where to find you.” She thrust a card in my hand and said, “Keep this. You never know when you’ll need to phone a friend.”
Since that day, I’ve kept Kate’s card with me. I’ve phoned my friend several times to ask her opinion, once for her help getting a cover quote, and once when she was sick. She’d given me her home number and I remember teasing her about the fact that I could sell her home number for big bucks. She laughed and then threatened my life if I ever did.
I never sent Kate my manuscript, by the time I finished fixing it, I’d won the Golden Heart with the help of her sage advice, and had an offer from Deb Werksman at Sourcebooks. I always thought that someday, I’d work with Kate. That someday never came.
The next time I saw Kate after winning the Golden Heart, we were at the Moonlight and Magnolia’s conference in Georgia. She was in the lobby of the hotel surrounded by at least ten people and was in the middle of a conversation. I waved to her and walked on by, not wanting to interrupt. She stopped the conversation, excused herself, and ran over to me, grabbing me in a big hug and then held me at arms length and said “Robin, I’m so proud of you. Now come here and tell me everything that’s going on.” The fact that Kate was proud of me is, and will forever be, one of the highlights of my life. She was my mentor and my friend and her opinion meant the world to me.
Monday morning when I got the email telling me she’d passed, I called my husband and said the words. “Kate Duffy died.” I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that there was something out there that could take Kate Duffy down. I spent the day in a state of disbelief. I home schooled my daughter, I drove her to dance, and went to Starbucks to work. I had 2,000 words to write but all I could do was think about Kate. I heard her voice in my head saying, “Don’t you dare use me as an excuse not to write!” Just then, my friend and wonderful barista, Jess, came over to my table and asked if I was okay. I guess I’d been quiet which, if you know me, is very out of character. I burst out in tears. I’m not a crier but I cried. I’d like to think I cried for Kate, but I was really crying for myself. I’d just lost a dear, dear friend and I can’t imagine the Romance World without her in it. I wrote 210 words that day, not the two thousand I was scheduled to. I’ll make it up and get my words written for the week, because I wouldn’t want to let Kate down. I didn’t realize it until yesterday, but when I write, it’s Kate’s voice I hear in my head.
Rest in peace, Kate. I love you and will miss you more than you could ever imagine. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and all of Kate’s friends whose lives she touched. I know there are thousands of us mourning her passing.