I was going to write about something else this week, but when I went down to our basement a short while ago to see what books were on the shelves there that I might use as giveaways, I discovered a few copies of the old anthology (1995), Dashing and Dangerous. And when I looked at the names of the other writers who had contributed to it, Edith Layton, Melinda McRae, Anita Mills, and Mary Jo Putney, I was flooded by memories. It’s strange how life seems to go by so fast and yet at the same time segments of the past can seem as if they must have belonged to another lifetime.
When I wrote and submitted my first Regency romance to NAL Signet books in 1984 (it was published in 1985), I had no idea that I was joining a welcoming, close-knit community of writers and other associated people who would fill a void in my life for years to come–for writing is a solitary business even though not necessarily a lonely one and there was no internet in those days. I won a Romantic Times award for that first book and went off to New York to receive it. The convention was held at the hotel between the Twin Towers. There was actually a banquet held up in the Windows on the World restaurant. I have very poignant, bitter/sweet memories of that first book convention and my first meeting with some of my fellow Regency authors! One memory I used to tell as a funny story was of my husband and me strolling all alone into the deserted, echoing hallway at the bottom of one of the towers until we became aware of an alarming wall of people bearing down upon us like a tidal wave and flowing past us until we were all alone again. They were the hundreds, even thousands, of workers from the tower leaving work for the day. That story didn’t seem as funny after 9/11.
But it was at that convention I met the very witty Edith Layton and the motherly Barbara Hazard and the good-natured Joan Wolf, all of them idols of mine who accepted me as one of their own without any condescension. I remember them being horrified when they knew my husband and I had taken the subway to the Empire State Building one day. You never EVER take the subway in New York, Barbara told us–that was what all those yellow cabs were for. Obviously times have changed on the subway. Over the years I met other Regency authors and welcomed new ones as they came along–Mary Jo Putney. Anne Barbour, Emily Hendrickson, Barbara Allister, to mention just a few. We were a community of friends. We used to exchange long letters in the days when people still wrote them. One by one we left the fold, though, in order to write for the larger (but in many ways less satisfying) market of the historical romance. And finally those of us who wanted to keep writing had no choice. The Regency romance market, though steady and immensely loyal, was just not big enough for the burgeoning world of romance publishing. I was one of the last to go, and for a time I kept a foot in each camp. But one by one the separate Regency romance lines closed down to be replaced by the flood of Regency historicals we have now.
It is not just my fellow Regency authors who are part of my memories of that time, though. There was Hilary Ross, our editor at NAL. She loved the Regency era and knew a great deal about it. She kept us honest, and we adored her. It was Hilary who made me rewrite some of the heroines in my early books because they were not strong enough. “Mary,” she famously said on one occasion, sounding a bit exasperated, as she often did, and I have never forgotten her advice, “when creating your heroines, think unwimpy!” And there was Melinda Helfer, the late beloved reviewer at Romantic Times, who reviewed several sub-genres but had a special passion for Regencies. She used to gather us together at conventions and take us all out to dinner and regale us with conversation and monologues. She was ferociously intelligent and knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects. She was one of the rare people who could dominate a conversation and no one resented it. We hung upon every word, And she loved us all. It was a sad day when she passed away suddenly at far too young an age. And now I have held forth long enough!
To one person who leaves a comment here before the end of next Tuesday, September 24, I will send signed copies of two anthologies–DASHING AND DANGEROUS with the authors named above, my novella being “Precious Rogue,” and BESPELLING JANE AUSTEN with Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard, and Janet Mullany, my novella being “Almost Persuaded.” Last week’s winner of the large-print edition of A MASKED DECEPTION was Mary (last name not known yet, but I think she lives in the Pacific north-west). It was a hotly contested item. Thank you all for your comments.