There are a number of people I consider pioneers in the LDS fiction field, but one in particular stands out in my mind this week. She wasn't the first LDS fiction editor, but she was among the first to make an impact on the quality of today's LDS fiction. She played a large role in raising the bar for the quality of LDS novels and encouraging writers to be professional, take pride in our work, and go beyond the trite and mediocre to create quality products. I'm speaking of Valerie Holladay who was one of my first editors and who mentored and taught so manyof us. She died last week, way too soon. I posted a tribute earlier on the V-Formation (She was part of our group there) and I'll repeat it here.
It was a painful shock to learn Valerie Holladay passed away this past holiday weekend. Her last email was so upbeat and positive, filled with faith and hope, I'd begun to believe she was going to beat some pretty daunting odds.
When Val went to work for Covenant Communications, I was one of the first authors assigned to her. She was my editor longer than any other editor I've ever worked with. We developed a relationship that went beyond author/editor. We became friends and our friendship endured through all the years since she left Covenant and went on to other things.
Having been a newspaper reporter and editor, I thought I knew a lot about writing and editing, but from Val I learned fiction and journalism are two different things. We laughed so many times about my tendency to change a character's name in the middle of a manuscript and other little idiosyncrasies. Every writer makes unintended puns, uses a word or phrase that can be taken more ways than one, and Val kept a little notebook of those unintended humorous accidents. I discovered from her that my editor was as fiercely determined as I to make each of my books the best it could possibly be. Sometimes I'd look at a suggested change and I couldn't tell her words from my own. Other times she'd suggest a change I didn't like, but I knew if my version didn't work for her, it wouldn't work for my readers either, so something had to be fixed. Often it would be something entirely different from what either of us first wrote or suggested. Valerie was always patient and generous with her time as she made opportunities to teach as well as edit.
Valerie was more than an editor to me. She was a dear friend who supported me through my own and my family's bouts with cancer. I was someone she could talk to as she wrestled with her mother's illness and the various problems she faced. We laughed together, we cried together, went to lunch together, and loved cats.
Where Val is now there surely must be a plethora of cats or it would hardly be heaven to her. She nursed back to health so many abandoned cats. She loved and worried over her many kitties as though they were her children. Sometimes, when money was tight, she scrimped on her own groceries to feed her precious pets. I and the other writers on the V-Formation often sent her cute or funny pictures of cats, teased her a little about her darlings, but understood that her gentle soul thrived not only on helping writers, but on the love her feline babies showered on her.
Val's life included her work for several publishers, co-editing the AML publication and serving a term as treasurer. She taught English and creative writing at BYU and UVU, worked for the Church, co-authored a book about Provo, worked as a freelance editor, mentored many promising writers, and the list could go on and on. She spent a good share of her life promoting literary works for the LDS community and working to improve the quality of writing by LDS authors.
Val's faith in God was strong and her understanding of not only her own religion, but many others, touched not only me, but strengthened those around her. Though she never married, she loved her nieces and nephews as though they were her own sons and daughters, and she made great sacrifices to always be there for her family. In her last weeks, she often remarked on her sister's kindness through this ordeal, and the thoughtfulness of her brothers, their families, and her ward.
I'd like to finish this tribute to a special lady with a few of her own words:
"Kerry, I read your book in one sitting (with the Easter chocolates and my diet Dr. Pepper in one hand, the book in the other, the kitten wrapped up in a blanket on my cheek). My only breaks from the book were to hydrate the kitty and take him to the litter box. What a lovely, lovely book."
"I remember how I felt when my mother died. While part of me envies someone who has finished this mortal test, the other part of me just feels the sadness of being separated from someone who has been such an important part of my life."
"I think you do a terrific job with reviews, Jennie and the balance seems just right to me. And to paraphrase Cheri (and I'm a teacher so I agree 100%), If my students all loved me all the time, I'd worry that I wasn't doing my job right. I don't know who told you that you were a meanie, but even not knowing the source, I'd have to say, consider the source on this one."
"I was at a convenience/gas store the other day and talked to a woman who was driving with her sister to Montana, along with 4 dogs, about that many kids, and 10 cats - which was why they needed two SUVs - really, no lie. I must say it warmed the cockles of my heart to hear of someone else with cats in the double digits :-)"
"Now off to school to meet with students who are revising papers and getting ready for our final (which was a cakewalk, so they could focus on revising their papers, which isn't a cakewalk for many of them). Oh well, at least they're now familiar with the concept of revision, even if it's a somewhat foreign concept. Does anyone here remember a day when you whipped out a piece of writing and thought it was actually as good as it could get and didn't need anything more?"
"Writers have to live with marketing, not a fun thing. Some writers are more marketers than writers - I'm sure we can think of lots of examples - and some are more writers than marketers. But regardless, if you have a good product, you want to get it into people's hands and that means speaking up."
Just imagine a world, or say, a group of friends, where no whining ever occurs. Sheesh, it pains me to even consider it. Whining is not only therapeutic, it's what bonds people together since we're sharing honest fears and feelings. IMHO whining only becomes detrimental when it becomes threatening and those words are put into actions, for instance, ... "I'm so depressed, I'm going to kill him/her/them etc. and out comes the knife/rope/poison... But if we all took a vow of not whining - not that it isn't a noble gesture and a vow against "public" whining might be worth doing since we have to be selective about our whining - after all, not everyone understands... For example, writers who have yet to publish might not understand that getting a book accepted and into print doesn't mean Nirvana and eternal bliss."
"More later, my friends, thanks for prayers. This is a strange experience but there are many, many beautiful and amazing blessings." -- This last was sent just a couple of weeks ago.
So long for now, my friend. You're leaving a big hole in my heart, but one day we'll be together again in that cul-de-sac in heaven we goosies have long joked about and dreamed of.
Other tributes to Valerie Holliday can be found here: