About two weeks later, I got an e-mail from an editor there who I knew personally. We'd crossed paths many times, at League of Utah Writers meetings, conferences, and so on. She was one of the most helpful and sweet people ever.
Her name was Valerie Holladay.
In her email, she said that she'd seen my work cross her desk over the years, and she knew I had the chops, but for whatever reason hadn't quite crossed the line into acceptance. Long-time readers of my blog will remember the story (HERE and HERE) about how Valerie invited me to lunch so we could discuss my writing and figure out how to fine-tune my work so it was more marketable.
I spent days frantically writing synopses of my novels so Valerie could read them in advance and give me feedback on the stories when we met for lunch. I remember the table we sat at when the light bulb went off over my head and I realized what ingredients my stories were missing. I remember talking to her in the parking lot, where she told me that if we could just get me in the door I'd "be an asset to the company."
She gave me permission to submit to her electronically, which wasn't the norm back then. But by the time that day came, I learned that she was leaving the company. At first I felt like the brass ring had been taken away from me; my advocate at Covenant was gone.
Sure, Valerie had left, but she'd taught me what I needed. That fall, I submitted what became Lost Without You, and by the one-year anniversary of our lunch, I had a novel on bookstore shelves with my name on it.
In the years since, we've corresponded here and there as friends and colleagues about topics ranging from cat training to typesetting. Most of my friends who are fellow Covenant authors came aboard after I did and never knew her.
In many ways, I owe a lot to Valerie for helping me and guiding me. She took me under her wing when I needed it the most.
I know I'm not unique in that respect. I've heard many other writers express gratitude for the friendship and help they received from Valerie.
Which is why the world lost something special on Sunday when Valerie passed away after a short bout of cancer. I didn't even know she was ill. When I heard, my heart ached.
I'm quite sure I'm not alone in saying that she will be missed.
Thanks for everything, Valerie.