I had dinner last night with a great friend, Malle Vallik. When I started writing, Avon of Canada was one of the publishers I plagued with manuscripts…three which were admittedly pretty bad before the fourth landed on the desk of the then-assistant editor, Malle. She apparently grabbed it off the top of the unsolicited slush pile and took it with her when she went to the show that night, and while waiting for the feature to begin, started reading, and by morning had finished it and shown it to the editor, Margaret McLaren with a recommendation to buy. The book was China Rose and the rest, as they say in all the best of cliches, is history. I stayed with Avon for two books and met another relatively unknown author, Virginia Henley, who was also a Canuck and had been signed along with myself to launch the Avon Ribbon Romances line. Virginia already looked like “an author” with her silk suits and fur coats. I was a blue jeans T shirt kinda gal…and still am…so I was a little in awe of Mzzz Henley. Of the entire publishing world, for that matter. Me. I’d written a book. The book was going to be published. It would be in a book store. People would buy it. People would actually READ it.
When Maggie and Malle parted ways with Avon, I went with them…loyal to the editor who had taken an unknown and was now enticing her away from one publisher to go with another. I wrote The Wind and the Sea and The Pride of Lions, but just around the time the sequel, The Blood of Roses, was to be released, the publishing house declared bankruptcy and that was that. The backlist was sold, along with the company assets, to a company in California, Knightsbridge, which barely lasted long enough to print a few thousand copies of BOR before it, too, when belly up like a dead ant at a picnic.
After that came a relatively long and happy career with Dell, where I once again reunited with Virginia (she had stayed with Avon) I found myself touching toes with some of the best romance authors in the business, many of whom have stayed in touch and stayed friends all these long years. As for Maggie, she married the publisher at PaperJacks and when it went belly up, she retired and moved out to God’s country. Malle? She landed squarely on her feet and got a job at Harlequin, first as an assistant editor, then a *real* editor (who talked me into writing my one and only contemp), and now, *muffled number* years later, she heads up the ebook division, specifically Carina Press. Both Maggie and Malle have remained friends through the years. Last week I spent a few days at Maggie’s cottage. Last night I had dinner and many many laughs with Malle.
The wench flies all over the place to attend conferences, representing Carina Press, and had just come back from RWA in NY, and before that, Milan Italy. Rough life *snort*. But during the course of the meal, yakking up a storm as usual, we talked about Maggie and Jim and the infamous 9 hour lunch. Then the convo veered back to how I got started writing.
My son was about 4 at the time and we lived in a townhouse complex. One of the neighbours used to devour Harlequins. I had honestly never read one, so she picked through her vast collection and brought one over to me and said it was “cute”. My reading habits at the time leaned toward Thomas Costain and Alastair McLean, Mickey Spillane, Leon Uris, Higgins and Follet etc. But I thought wtf, I’ll see what Harlequins are all about.
So here was the premise: Heroine is driving along a lonely stretch of highway in some western state, probably Texas. She has to stop the car to avoid whacking into a baby calf standing in the middle of the road. Calf won’t move. She looks around, doesn’t see the mother cow in the miles and miles of vast flat land and desert, so what does she do? What would any other normal city slicker do? She loads the calf into her car and keeps driving. Few miles down the road she sees a motel/gas station so she pulls in. It’s late, she’s tired, and she has this calf in the car. I can’t for the life of me remember what she was intending to actually DO with the calf, but since the hero of the story was the owner/manager of the motel, it didn’t really matter. She tried to check in and of course he spotted the calf in the car, peering out the window, and there was some discussion about her mental state, driving around with a cow in the back seat, and he said no way was the calf spending the night in the motel room. She got all huffy and said the calf was her *pet* and pointed to the sign on the desk that said all pets were welcome…and that’s when I threw the book with great gusto against a wall and never did finish it to find out what happened. I suspect they fell madly in love cuz she was such a madcap and he was so stoically macho, and in the end they named the cow Gertrude and lived happily ever after. When I gave the bashed remains of the book back to my neighbour, amidst much laughter and scoffing, she looked at me quite calmly, offended no doubt by my opinion of her reading habits, and said: “If you think you can do better, why don’t you write one.”
Which brings us forward all these years to where I sit now, with 17 books in print, great friends in the business, great readers who prop up the old ego with emails from around the world.
What I would dearly love now, for nostalgia sake, is to get my hands on a copy of that cow book. I have NO idea what the title was, no idea the author’s name. It would have been written some time before 1978, at a time when Harlequin was releasing 20 or so books a month LOL. If someone recognizes the plot from my sketchy memory, and can help me find the actual book, I will give that person the complete set of my ebooks, including all future releases before anyone else gets to read them. How’s that for incentive?