As many of you know by now, the legendary Kate Duffy passed away this weekend. For those of you who read my blog but don’t follow publishing, I hope you’ll take a few moments to read about Kate. Her obituary is here, and if you have even a casual acquaintance with romance, you’ll recognize many of the authors she edited.
Kate’s passing is…devastating and her presence in the publishing industry is going to be missed. While I was not as close to her as many, many people out there, she was a champion of mine, a mentor, and I’ve had a hard time thinking to put into words what she meant to me. She did what so many authors and editors aspire to do: she left her mark on the romance industry and the people in it. Reading the tributes and memories of her left in various places, it’s clear that she did something amazing. She touched peoples’ lives in a number of tangible and intangible ways. An editor who has done that is an editor who’s succeeded at being brilliant at her job. I’ve always joked that I want to be Kate Duffy when I grow up. Reading the memories of those left behind hasn’t changed that. I can only dream of being as influential as she on so many lives across the industry. Even the readers who will never know she’s the one who brought them the astounding author talent she found. Kate Duffy was irreplaceable.
I know that there were people out there who didn’t like her: she was brusque, tough, critical, didn’t pull any punches and if you got on her bad side, look out. But many of us loved her for who she was, how she said it, her humor, her sarcasm, her practicality and her innate kindness when she sensed you were floundering or needed a boost up. She had a genuine enjoyment of romance and books, and never seemed to lose sight of what was most important: the readers. I’ve regretted her illness and her absence from conferences and most communication these past months, both for my own selfish reasons and for the publishing world in general. I especially missed her with all that’s happened in my professional life lately, because she was so pragmatic and gave great advice. As I write this, I still can’t believe that chapter is closed.
The first time I met Kate was several years ago at an RT conference. I was asked to do a panel for Judy McCoy’s beginning writer’s pre-conference. I walked in and discovered Kate was also on the panel. I had never before met her but knew of her and my first thought was “Oh my God I’m sitting next to Kate Duffy.” Next, “Oh my God, I’m going to sound like a blithering, inexperienced idiot next to her. Please don’t let me say anything stupid.” I was, quite frankly, as terrified as if I’d been pitching a novel to her. But Kate, being Kate, was awesome. She didn’t make me feel as though I had any less right to be sitting there than she, she agreed with, and highlighted much of what I said, and she gave me the “the Kate” look when, during the course of that panel, she revealed she’d been in publishing since 1975 and I ribbed her about the fact that was the year I was born. Our friendship started there and continued over the course of these past few years. I still quote her on certain things about writing and editing she shared with me. I’ll continue to quote her because, well, she was right then and she’ll still be right ten years from now.
At a later RT, I was sitting with her (laughing hysterically) when she filmed this video. If you never had the opportunity to meet her, it’s classic Kate. She was thrilled that her badge said “reader” because she said readers were the most important people in the industry and she was glad to be someone important at that conference, in the form of a reader.
Last February, she took me to lunch and we gabbed for way longer than lunch is supposed to last. We talked about my job, her job, and the possibilities of both. Those possibilities will never be realized now. The reality of this still escapes me.
At that same lunch, she told me I HAD to attend the Washington Romance Writers yearly retreat. “I will kick your butt at Romance Jeopardy and I won’t show you any mercy just because I like you.” Unfortunately, by the time WRW rolled around, she was ill. I was there, participating in Romance Jeopardy and thinking the whole time how much I wished she were there, because she was right–it was great and I did love it. I know that particular chapter will feel her absence keenly, which is a tribute to just how much she gave to authors.
2 years ago, we were at a party at RWA. She had introduced me to author Zoe Archer, whose work she was extremely excited about, and whose work she was still talking about a year later, at our lunch. At that party, Zoe and I riffed on the idea of insperoticals. “Jesus porn”. Mostly we did it because Kate was horrified, and anything that could horrify Kate, while still amusing her, was something to be gleeful about. Kate told us she was glad she was sitting on the other side of the table, as lightning was sure to strike us down at any moment. I’ve thought of that conversation many times these past two days.
Kate, lightning did strike us, in the form of your loss. You will be missed.