Monday, December 10, 2012

Farewell to a Publishing Pioneer

The months of November and December are the height of the holidays.  They fill people with hope and joy sprinkled with a smattering of nostalgia for a time gone by.  They make us think of loved ones near and far.  It’s a warm fuzzy time.

It’s also a time when you think of those who did not make it to see the holidays: the people who touched your lives whether they are friends, family, acquaintances, or colleagues.  Today I’d like to remember one such person: Monica Harris Mindolovich.

I, like many people whose lives she touched have never met her face to face.  We’ve had phone conversations and exchanged emails, but though I never met her, she opened the door of authorship to me.  If you write in the romance genre, especially if you are an African American author, you have certainly felt the effect of her life’s work.  If you’re an Indie author, chances are you have felt the impact of her work.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, African American romance books was few and far between.  There were few romances where the hero and heroine were people of color.  Now, you can find them in every bookstore.  In 1994 Monica Harris recruited and aggressively marketed authors for Kensington’s imprint, Arabesque, one of the first, (if not the first) imprint dedicated to African American romance.  That was just the beginning of putting AA romance on the radar, making it a legitimate genre and in the process giving AA authors an avenue for publication.  Since then she has opened up the doors to many authors with many of her ventures including Double Day’s Black Expressions book club and her own editorial company, MHM Editorial Services, used by many Indie authors.  She has won many awards and accolades for her work, but it is her patience, perseverance pioneering spirit and willingness to take a chance on the untried that sticks with me.

I first came in contact with Monica in 2008 when I received a simple one line letter expressing interest in a book I didn’t even recall submitting to Dorchester Publishing, six months before.  When I spoke to her, I didn’t even remember what version of the book I had submitted because it had been through so much editing since.  She gave me the file date and I submitted the manuscript.  A few weeks later we went through the editing phase.  It was slash and burn.  My first ten chapters (of which only three had been submitted originally) had to be slashed.

She worked with me, sometimes going over the manuscript line-by-line on the phone, often times having to pause to quiet her kids, or me to quiet mine… until we got a publishable book.  I can’t say the manuscript that I gave her was a diamond in the rough.  It was more like a lump of coal or graphite that needed not just a little polishing, but a whole metamorphosis.  Monica somehow saw the gem beneath the wasted words and gave me my first opportunity.  In 2009 A Marriage of Convenience was published by Leisure books and she recruited me once again to work on an anthology, Holiday Brides.

When almost year went by and Dorchester still hadn’t paid my advance, I turned to the only contact I knew: Monica.  She immediately gave me contact information and went the extra and contacted Dorchester herself.  Within a few weeks, I received the advance.

I know I’m not the only Novelnaut past or present whose life and work Monica had touched or molded.  As I stare at my copy of Holiday Brides, I remember the conversation we had about the novella after she told me about writing it.  I wanted to set it in St. Kitts during Christmas, but was uncertain that it would be in keeping with the theme.  I asked her if setting it in a tropical Island was okay.  Her response was “Let your imagination take you wherever you want to go.” (or something like that).

Monica was a true pioneer, opening doors in walls for so many authors. Her family, her friends, and the writing community lost a gem when she passed on November 10th, 2012, just twelve days before Thanksgiving.  My heart goes out to her family.  She will definitely be missed.

Written by Jewel Amethyst


Anonymous said...

I admire people who reach beyond themselves to help others and who are gutsy enough to pave the way for others. She sounds like an amazing woman and friend. I'm sorry for your loss.

Lynn Emery said...

Wonderful post, Jewel!

I met Monica in 1993 when I nervously pitched my first novel (ever) to her at a small writers conference. Five weeks later she called and became my first editor. I didn't know it then, but Monica was creating the ground breaking Arabesque line of African-American romances, a first for a major publishing house. She worked long hours and it paid off. For the first time, major publishers had to take notice that black writers not only could write romance, but black readers snapped up the books. Sounds strange, but it was generally accepted that black writers couldn't write romance. And even if we did, not even black women would buy it (because they preferred white romance writers). Monica Harris, petite and soft spoken, kicked that myth in the... ahem. The commercial success of Arabesque made their eyes pop. No joke. I was there. I really believe that other genre books by black authors started to be bought in greater numbers because of Monica's stellar success. She proved there was indeed a market for commercial fiction by and about people of color. The publishers/editors just had to know what they were doing. Monica definitely knew what she was doing.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Thanks Lynn. I was really shocked when I heard that we (the literary world) had lost such a stalwart. I'm really happy I had the opportunity to come in contact with her.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like an awesome person.

Liane Spicer said...

I read an article in a local (Trinidad) newspaper in 1996 that mentioned Monica and her pioneering AA romance line from Kensington. That was when I decided that my first novel would be romance. I wrote it and submitted it two years later, but she had moved on by then. When my agent submitted it to Leisure years later, she bought it.

She was my first editor, too, Jewel. Extremely pleasant to work with. She didn't change much on my manuscript and was not at all dictatorial about the changes she suggested.

Monica was also our guest here on Novel Spaces a few times, always responded graciously to requests for a contribution, and wrote a brilliant recommendation for me a couple years ago when I wanted to start an MFA program. I'm glad that our paths crossed, however briefly. Publishing has lost a great lady.

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

Very sad to read about Monica's passing and warmest wishes to her family.

Eugenia O'Neal said...

She sounds like she would have been an awesome lady to work with.