The afternoon that editor Kathryn Lye and I arrived in “Hotlanta”—which turned out to be cooler than Toronto—making our way to the Harlequin hospitality suite 15 minutes before the Heartwarming Open House, I wasn’t sure what to expect. At last year’s gathering, it was standing-room only as we announced that we were acquiring for a new line. I had to climb on a chair and scream a welcome and introductions over everyone’s heads; the food was gone within minutes and the second, impromptu order of food was gone moments after the first. Most gratifying, it seemed as if every writer there took the time to jot down a story idea and drop it in the Heartwarming ideas bag.
This year was a little more manageable—oddly, hardly anyone touched the food!—but the early bird writers clearly interested in writing clean romance began lobbing questions as soon as we walked in. I am so glad Rula Sinara was there since her first book to be published was one of the five ideas we requested to see after the open house last year. She delivered the full manuscript in February, revised it in April and The Promise of Rain comes out January 2014. We’re still going through the idea cards from this year with fingers crossed that we find another gem of a Heartwarming romance—stay tuned!
Close to the end of the hour-long event, I was delighted when Kathryn introduced the gathering—and me—to three Heartwarming authors I felt as if I knew quite well but had actually never met before: Cindi Myers, Karen Rock and Jennifer Snow. The realization that they were actually strangers to me took me aback, but I’m happy to say that by the end of the conference, we’d remedied that situation. I’m sure hoping to get to know even more Heartwarming authors in person next year in San Antonio and put faces to the wonderful writing. (I can’t believe we’ve never met, Muriel Jensen. What’s that about?)
About a week after returning from RWA, I had a similar experience of meeting a stranger who I’d actually known of for many years. And this chance meeting also took me by surprise and touched me deeply.
I’d taken a road trip with my sister for a long-overdue visit with my mom’s extensive and tight-knit family. Because of Atlanta, I’d already been separated from Millie the #editorcat, abandoned at the front door of Harlequin in May, and I wasn’t ready to be separated again so soon. Sap that I am, I took #editorcat with us.
On the last day of the road trip, the kitten got me kicked out of the dining room in the seniors home where we were trying to visit with my Aunt Crystal. While the others stayed put listening to the visiting musician, the nurses redirected me and Millie into the double room of two seniors who hadn’t gone to hear the music. “Emmie-May was a cat lady in Mindemoya,” one of the staff told me as she fairly shoved me into the room.
Armed with a Mento as a cat toy, I found myself on my hands and knees beside the bed, successfully enticing Millie to play with this woman I had never seen before, who clearly had dementia but who also clearly loved cats. I very quickly realized that this was “the cat lady” who had lived kitty corner (no pun intended) from my Aunt Margaret in a quaint, well-kept bungalow in my mother’s hometown. This was the woman whose house my mom and my aunt never failed to discreetly point out when we drove by it, lowering their voices as they explained that “the cat lady” lived there, as recently as five years ago. That was before my mom passed away and then Aunt Margaret a year later—before Emmie-May sold her little bungalow and, hopefully, found new homes for her rumoured 25 cats and moved to the nursing home an hour away.
I was able to keep Millie playing around Emmie-May, the cat lady, for about a half hour, while nursing staff kept opening the door to watch the two of them together. I wanted to tell them that this was my aunt’s cat lady; that my mom had always talked about her to me. #editorcat and I stayed until Emmie-May, this stranger who connected me directly to my mother and my beloved aunt, fell asleep.
In this age of social media, where we make connections over the internet without even thinking about it, we sometimes forget how truly complex and deep these connections can be. I’m glad I had these moments in the past few weeks to remind me not to take anyone for granted.