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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. She sounds like an awesome, awesome lady. Thanks for sharing, Robin.

  3. She'll always be there for you, Robin. Keep listening.


  4. I remember that retreat! It's hard to believe Kate was only 56. It seemed like she'd been around forever. Thanks for sharing your memories, and that awesome cover mock-up!

  5. Hi Gail~

    Thanks for stopping by this morning. I would think everyone in attendance (pretty much everyone at that retreat) remembers the spittle manuscript. I thought it worked. I got more laughs during and after the reading of the first page than anyone else. With Kate's help, of course.

    Kate had been an editor since 1974. She literally grew up in romance and changed the genre. She started both the Silhouette and Brava lines. She was a lion in the industry.


    She was a talented amazing woman from a fabulously talented family. Her uncle was Peter Boyle, He played the father in Everybody Loves Raymond and her mother, Alice is an actress and is making her broadway debut in November (I think but don't quote me). I'm sure Kate will be watching that show. She was so proud of Alice.


    Thanks so much.

  6. What a beautiful tribute, Robin.

  7. So sorry you are sad, Robin. Kate sounds like a hell of a gal. I'm sorry I never got to meet her.

  8. Sounds like you lost a good friend, Robin--and so did a lot of other people. I'm sure she'll be missed.

  9. Dang it, Robin, you just made me cry in my coffee. I've been so sad and shocked all week. I don't think anyone really thought that cancer would slow Kate down-- she was such a force, I expected cancer to step back and say, "Gee, sorry for bothering you, ma'am." It's hard to wrap my brain around the idea that she won't be at the retreat, making us laugh as she points out our weaknesses as writers. The romance community is so much poorer for her loss.


  10. Libby, Marie, and Cheryl- Thanks.


    It's going to be a difficult retreat this year. Kate was almost a fixture, Romance Jeopardy and American Author just won't be the same without her.

  11. Hey Robin! What a FAB cover mock up!! I love that.

    As to your words and reaction, I couldn't have said it better. I will miss her so much. I have had the privledge of knowing her for nearly 10 years and of having her as an editor for three books now. The fourth will have to go without her and its killing me.

    I too hear that voice in my head. In my case, it comes from an American Author session at that selfsame Hilltop House.

    She was playing the role of Simon Cowell or "Simon-Kate" for American Author. The piece before mine was read. "Hmmmmm ....what is it with you people?" she said to the audience, who then sat in shocked silence waiting for the ax to fall. "WHAT is will all the reverie? That's the fifth one. Reverie, reverie, reverie!! Get to the action! These people need to stop doing so much thinking and start acting out." They read mine and she said, "NOW, we get some action. Still too much reverie but at least there's some action!"

    I still edit out "reveries" in that first chapter, for sure. Thanks Kate. I'll miss you always.

  12. Laura GB said: I expected cancer to step back and say, "Gee, sorry for bothering you, ma'am."

    Hahahahah!! Okay, I was crying, now you made me laugh. Yep. This would have been what I expected too.

  13. Jeanne~ I expected the cancer to get one look at Kate giving him the evil eye and go running off crying for his mama! I remember reading once that she wondered why she had the reputation of being scary. She said she wouldn't change it, of course, she just wondered why. She once asked the owner of Kensington, Walter Zacharius, why her colleagues thought she was difficult on occasion when she was such a pixie. He reportedly laughed and said, “Yeah, a pixie with a machete.”

  14. Well, Robin, you made me cry, too. I never had Kate as an editor or as a personal friend, but she helped me when I needed some publishing-related advice and after that, our relationship became more personal. I'll always treasure knowing her and I am really devastated that she is gone.
    But you lost a friend and my heart goes out to you. Big Hugs.

  15. Thank you for your tender, heartfelt post, Robin.

    Cancer is stronger than even the most formidable but lovable editor. Kate Duffy will be sorely missed.


  16. Robin, there isn't much I can say that hasn't already been said. So here's a cyber hug.

  17. Tears. I met her once, heard her speak several times, and there are tears. I guess that says plenty about Kate, Force of Nature (certainly of Romance!), Duffy.

    Big Hugs, my friend.

  18. What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing some of your memories. The thought of not seeing her at conference is still unbelievable. Still, if you stop for a moment and look around the busy and sometimes overcrowded lobby, or the appointment room where no dares to speak above a whisper, I think you'll hear her telling all of us to keep going, keep writing, and keep giving the readers the HEA's.

  19. Wow, what a shock!

    Thank you Robin, for a wonderful tribute to such a great lady.

    I heard Kate speak at several conferences and had the opportunity to pitch to her in 06 in Atlanta. I would have loved to work with her...

    She will be sorely missed but as others have said, she will never really leave us.


  20. What a lovely tribute. She sounds a wonderful lady.

  21. What a beautiful tribute, Robin. It made me tear up. Kate gave me fantastic encouragement a few years ago when I sorely needed it, calling to personally reject projects and give me advice. Her caring for authors was very evident. I'd always heard she was intimidating, but that wasn't my experience at all.

    She will be missed.

    I'm sorry you lost a friend.

  22. Wonderful post, Robin.

    Kate was the first editor I pitched to and the first one who requested my MS (back in the Kismet days). She was an honest, tell-it-like-it-was kind of person and took no crap from anyone. And yet, she was kind, generous with her help, compassionate and knew the meaning of friendship.

    An RWA conference just wasn't worth attending without a little time spent with Kate. She was fun, had a great sense of humor, a fantastic laugh and was widely respected and loved.

    She was recognized by RWA as one of the industries top professionals and when her name was announced at that years conference - she received a standing ovation. I was in the audience - proudly clapping for her.

    In an industry that's constantly changing, Kate always had her finger on the pulse beat of what the next trend would be. If she didn't like something, she told you. With Kate, you always knew where you stood.

    Kate and I fondly referred to each other as "the slutty sisters of the American Tourister…" After several drinks at the bar - during one conference - we learned that we'd been given those suitcases as graduation gifts. Her set was blue and mine was white - and YES! we still had them tucked away in some closet. We laughed about that little tid-bit of sisterhood each time we met…

    The romance industry has lost a great editor and many of us have lost a wonderfully caring friend.

    In my head though - I can still hear Kate's voice, see the infamous "Kate stare" directed at me as she says, "Oh! for God's sake, Linda, I'm gone. Get over it - now go write…!!"

    That thought alone keeps me pounding the keys....and living up to Kate's belief in me.

    Go with God in peace, Kate - I'll miss you.

    Linda Hill(the purple one - aka - Slutty Sister of the American Tourister…).

  23. Hi everyone, I've fallen so far behind in answering.

    Linda, I'm so sorry for your loss. I know you've had a long friendship with Kate and you're right, she'd definitely be telling us to get over it. It's easier said than done.

    Sue Grimshaw is having a cyber-wake for Kate on Sunday. I'm sure there will be more stories to make us laugh and cry.

  24. You're right, Robin. She was fantastic.

    Kate was editor in chief of Silhouette Romances when I sold my first two books back in 1979. I loved to tease her it was her fault I was in this crazy business and she told me it was meant to be.

    She is sorely missed.


  25. Linda~

    Kate actually started both Silhouette and Brava. She truly changed the face of Romance. And as usual, Kate was right. You were in this crazy business because it was meant to be.