Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Memories of Valerie

Jennie has already written a wonderful tribute to Val, but I wanted to add my own to the many others out there. After all, she was one of our own - her name is still listed to the right as a contributor to this blog - and her passing has come as a terrible shock to me. I knew she was ill, but her emails were so upbeat about the treatments she was receiving and how well she was enduring and responding to them that I really had no idea her time was so short.

In 1997 I was almost 30 years old and keen to make headway on my lifetime ambition to write a novel. I was also a recent convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (although less-active due to my family situation) and had just discovered that there was a whole genre of Mormon fiction. So, thinking (wrongly) that this was an easy way to get published, I wrote an LDS novel and sent it to Deseret Book, who rejected it, and then to Covenant.

I still have - and treasure - the letter I received from Valerie in response. She said that she had read my book and while it wasn't suitable (and it really wasn't - it was about a sister missionary who falls in love with someone she is teaching) she liked my style and I should try writing something else. I was so thrilled to have such a wonderful endorsement of my efforts, and I still say it's the best rejection letter anyone ever received. Val and I corresponded and together we came up with the idea for Haven which was published by Covenant in 2000. I needed a lot of guidance in those days, and Valerie was a wonderful editor to work with. I still recognise whole passages in that book which were written or rewritten by her. My second book, A World Away, was also a collaboration with Val, but she left Covenant soon afterwards and it was another seven years before I could find another editor who believed in me the way she had.

In the process of working together on those books I got to know a little about Valerie, and we became good friends. So when I visited America I was a little nervous about meeting her. Knowing how capable and intelligent she was, and that she was single, I imagined a poised and intimidating Sheri Dew type figure. I was so relieved to discover that she was lovely, approachable and friendly. I stayed at her home for a couple of nights, we bonded over the cats, and we attended General Conference together in April 2003 sitting in the third row from the front in seats marked "For guests of the First Presidency". (We really were guests of the First Presidency, we weren't just being cheeky. Somewhere I have the photographs to prove it.)

It was through Valerie that I got to know someone else who means a great deal to me - Kerry Blair - and through the two of them that our group, the V-Formation, came into existence. Reading back through Val's posts I'm struck by her insight, her cheerfulness and her ability with words. As far as I know despite helping many writers produce their books she never wrote one herself. That's a pity - she certainly had the skill to do so.

She has probably appeared on the dedication or acknowledgements pages of many books, but she'll be on at least one more. On 4th July I flew to Mallorca for a family holiday. The next day I idly commented to my husband that I'd run out of people to dedicate books to, having resorted, in Honeymoon Heist (Val's review can be read here http://vformation.blogspot.com/2011/01/honeymoon-heist-by-anna-jones-buttimore.html) to dedicating the book to the hotel I stayed in to do the research, and the makers of my favourite TV show. My husband suggested I dedicate it to an editor. That evening I went down to the public pay computer in the hotel lobby where I got ten minutes' internet access for a Euro, and that's when I learned that Valerie had died.

If it hadn't been for Val I wouldn't have got to know the wonderful supportive circle of friends I share this blog with. I wouldn't have had four novels published, and two more in the pipeline. I owe her a great deal, and wish I'd told her that. I may only have met her once, but I counted her a very dear friend, and I will miss her tremendously.


Gale Sears said...

Dear Anna,
Thank you for the tender meomories of Val. She was a very good woman and is fitting in perfectly with the angels in heaven.

Michele Ashman Bell said...

Such a beautiful tribute. I, too, am a product of Val's nurturing. She saw something in me that no one else saw and I will be forever grateful for all she did for me and the great example she was.