Why You Should Write the Book in Your Heart

323794a2d55f46110eccf3a82887785fMy friend Holly Gilliatt passed away yesterday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was a fellow author, incredibly smart, spirited like a house on fire, and hilariously funny. She was a mother, a wife, a daughter, beloved. She was a good friend. She never took herself too seriously, but she also never gave up. She was as tenacious and determined as a person can be. I only knew her as someone living with cancer. If she was ever feeling sorry for herself, she never showed it.

I was never lucky enough to meet Holly in person, but she and I became about as close as you can over email and gmail chat. We mostly talked about writing, but we also discussed our kids, husbands, balancing everything, and the business of being an author, including the ginormous loads of bullshit that come with it. Holly would want me to be clear with everyone that writing is awesome, but the business of writing can be shitty. It’s the truth.

Holly and I were brought together by our books–hers, ‘Till St. Patrick’s Day, and mine, Bring Me Back. We both had other books, but those were the stories that told us we were members of the same club, each of a similar voice. BMB is the first book I wrote. It was the book that lived in my heart until I finally just had to let it out. I think Holly felt the same way about TSPD and thank heavens she had the courage to write it. For those of us who are missing her, we can spend time with those pages and be reminded of her singular voice.

For me, writing that first book was an unbelievable catharsis. I sat at my desk and wrote like crazy every day for months. I wept. I laughed. I thought harder than I have ever thought in my entire life. I wrote about love and family and parenthood and the ways in which we disappoint each other and the things we have to do to fight back from that. If I were facing a terminal illness, I could point to Bring Me Back and say, “Look, people. This book is ME on a plate.” I think the same could be said of Holly and ‘Till St. Patrick’s Day–it holds her humor and point of view. It tells a love story while keeping an edge. The Holly I knew was exactly that–full of love, still with an edge.

Both Holly and I put ourselves in the purgatory known as “romantic women’s fiction” with our books. We laughed about it, because it basically means that no agent will represent you, conventional wisdom says that no one will buy it, no publisher will want it, blah blah blah. Writing stories about women’s lives and their loves doesn’t give you a pigeon hole to live in. It’s not the smart thing to do, especially not with your first book. You should write something that’s easy to market, that follows genre guidelines, a book that you can describe as “The Mindy Project meets Knotting Hill” or whatever, in an elevator. But some times, the smart thing isn’t the best thing you can do. Smart doesn’t equal real. Smart doesn’t make soulful. And I’m not saying that my book is soulful. I’m only saying that my soul is in the words. It’s right there, on the page.

So, screw the smart thing. Holly and I did. Write what’s in your heart. It’s more important than selling a zillion copies or making the New York Times list, or at least it is to me. I’d much prefer that a few people know the real me than the world know something I made up because I was guessing it would be popular. Holly felt the same way, although she would not have been the slightest bit upset if TSPD or any of her soulful, genuine books had made the NYT list. I’m guessing she would’ve thrown a hell of a party.

Last October, Holly came to me with a request–would I be willing to finish the book she was working on if she didn’t have enough time to finish it? I was floored. Wait. Hold on. I was FLOORED. I was humbled and stunned, too. Was she kidding with that question? Or course I would, I answered. Whatever you want, just give me marching orders, tell me where the checks should go when it’s finished. She would get me the plot outline, she said. It was the best idea she’d ever had, she said.

The outline never came. And I’ll probably never know what she wanted from me. And that’s okay. In a long line of things we’re all missing right now, it’s pretty insignificant, but it will haunt me. Possibly forever. I will always wonder what was in that beautiful head and heart of hers that she wanted to get out. But at least she wrote ‘Till St. Patrick’s Day. At least she wrote an amazing book that helped to spawn our friendship.

Holly reminded me, and those who love her, just how short life is. Don’t die with the book of your heart still inside you. Don’t leave this earth without getting out the stuff you’re longing to say–whether it’s a poem or a recipe or an opera or just telling your mother that you love her, but you never liked her beef stroganoff, and you’re sorry, but you just won’t eat it again. Let out what’s in your heart while you have the time. God knows I wish Holly still had time to share more of what was in hers.

9630bda14ddcec4769ca8446576c3327_0h8nHolly Gilliatt penned three marvelous books in her too-short time on earth. If you’re inclined to read one, please do so. You can find the pertinent links at hollygilliatt.com. I’m certain the money will go to benefit her children.

To read Holly’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School post on my blog from last year, you can find it here.

To read author Linda Retstatt’s blog post about Holly, you can find it here.

To read author Jennifer Anderson’s blog post about Holly, you can find it here.



16 Comments on “Why You Should Write the Book in Your Heart

  1. Perfection. You captured the essence of Holly’s story to perfection.

  2. Bring Me Back may have been your soul in a book, Karen…but this post is your heart. It is what you really think and feel, and are probably among the most honest words you’ve ever written. Absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. I am so sorry. Sorry that you lost a friend, sorry that you never met in person, and especially sorry that with those we love, no amount of time is ever enough.

    • thank you, Rhonda. I really appreciate that. Selfishly, I have to admit that writing this post helped me process some things. It certainly let me get out some more tears.

  3. Thank you for sharing, Karen. I think those that knew her, loved her. She was my signing buddy. My TV buddy! We talked kids, life and books. A friend yesterday told me she was sorry for my loss. I told her that I was sorry for the world, because they (we) lost a good one.

    • Jen, it’s so funny that you say that, because that has been my reaction when someone says that they’re sorry for my loss. It’s not my loss alone, it’s everyone’s.

  4. Karen, as someone said above your post is both breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreakingly sad. I edited Holly’s books, and when I gave up editing to concentrate on my own work, she was the only author I wanted to stay with. I know she really wanted her works-in-progress to see life. One that she struggled with was about a second chance at love and how stubbornness holds us back. And she wanted to tell Claudia’s story and bring her trilogy full circle. I have bits and snippets of both projects still on my computer. She was a fine writer (okay, we disagreed from time to time and you’re right–she could hold the line) but I admired her enthusiasm, courage, and humor in an awful situation. She will always live on in my memory.

  5. Karen, what a beautiful tribute to Holly. I didn’t get to know her nearly as well as you, but she taught me so much. To never take anything for granted. To forge ahead with what’s most important. She was a talented and generous woman an will be very much missed.

  6. This is such a beautiful post and tribute to an incredibly brave and inspiring woman. I lost a dear friend who was in the process of penning her first novel, one she hoped to publish someday. I often find myself thinking about her and those words we lost right along with her. Holly was so lucky to have met you, Karen. She will be missed greatly. xoxo

    • aww, Jules. I am so sorry to hear about your friend. I mean, on one hand, we should probably all go out with some project of some sort in mid-stream. It’s not like we get to type “THE END” and then be done. Life is never that perfect. So yes, we have to be thankful for the words we got from Holly and celebrate every last one.

  7. What a beautiful and heartfelt tribute, Karen. I wish I’d gotten to know Holly better. I do know she leaves behind a piece of herself in her books and that is a gift for all of us.

  8. Karen, what a lovely and heartbreaking post in memoriam of your good friend. I’m sorry you’re missing her and I’m so sorry for her family. It really does sound like the world lost quite a special lady. Your post truly honored her. <3 Piper

  9. Thanks for writing this. I grew up with Holly and everything you said about her reminds me what a great friend she was. She was an amazing person. Whatever next story was in her heart and soul, it would have been a best seller in my book.

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