Before I started attending RWA conferences, I went to some writing retreats in Kentucky with an amazing assortment of aspiring authors. (Translation: none of us had sold a book yet.) At the first one, I was lucky enough to meet a woman named Janet Chapman.
We hit it off quickly. We laughed at the same jokes, loved the same books. Janet had a wickedly self-deprecating humor about her that drew me (and all) into her world, making her approachable, welcoming, and just plain fun. Best of all to me, Janet lived in the same corner of Maine as my husband’s folks, so when we traveled to parental visits, I was able to squeeze in a visit with her.
Janet was my first true writing buddy. We called and wrote actual letters, and when I went to Maine, we sat in her living room and swapped stories about our kids and books and lives. We held each other’s hands through those early years when we didn’t have clue as to what we were doing, cheering each other on and holding each other up.
The thing about Janet was that she was always about the story. When we first showed up at that writing retreat, she had ten books already in the proverbial boxes beneath the bed. She had plans and hopes for them, yes, but she also knew that she needed the right one at the right time, and she wasn’t going to let anything push her to send those stories into the world until they were ready.
I happened to be in Maine the day she got The Call. I will never forget standing in my in-laws kitchen while she gave me the news. I screamed. She laughed and said I was happier than she was. When I asked how she’d reacted, she told me that she’d listened through the call, said her polite thanks, and then promptly raced to the bathroom and threw up.
The best part was that the world loved her stories almost as much as she did. She hit the Times list on multiple occasions and was a Rita finalist at least once. I think the reason was that her books were infused with the love she had – for the stories, for her beloved Maine, for the magic and possibility that played such a part in her world. She knew that the world was a miracle in progress, and in everything she did, it showed.
My visits to that part of Maine ended a few years ago, and Janet and I drifted apart. I didn’t know she was ill, and the news of her death last weekend came as a most unwelcome surprise. But there was a part of my life that will always be lightened by her laughter and lit by her smile.
Godspeed, Janet. Rest in joy.