Sunday, June 12, 2022

RIP: Emma Holly


The above is an image from a Facebook post by author Kate Angell. Photo is of a younger author, Emma Holly. Text reads: A difficult post for me. USA Today Bestselling author and long-time friend Emma Holly has passed away, June 11th. My heart is saddened by her loss. She wrote over seventy erotic romance novels for Black Lace and the Penguin Group. Indie publications too. Both standalone and series titles from shapeshifters, genies, faeries to billionaires. She was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America 2004 RITA award for Best Paranormal Romance. On a personal note, Emma was smart and kind. She spoke her mind and always made me smile. She loved to write and to meet her readers. I admired her talent. She lived in Minneapolis. I don't have a lot of details on her passing. She was 61 years old. She will be missed. The photo is Emma in her late 30's. One of my favorites of her.

This was not the news I wanted to read on a Sunday morning. I gasped. I actually said, out loud, "Oh no!" which elicited an immediate response from My Man who wanted to know what was wrong. No, Emma Holly wasn't a member of my family or a close, personal friend, but my reading life was forever changed when I was randomly assigned to review Beyond Seduction way back in 2002 (eep!) and that was me being late to the party. Holly had written several books for Virgin Publishing's Black Lace line well before she crossed over into the mainstream writing books for Berkley Jove. 

If you're a newer reader to romance, it's hard to fathom this now, but there was a time when it was very hard, damn near impossible almost, to find non-virgin heroines who were confident in their sexuality. Who liked sex, who wanted sex, and weren't punished for it. And most of the time when you did find a non-virgin heroine there was some terrible past trauma that made her "a slut." Like Daddy didn't love her or some such nonsense.  Emma Holly was a frickin' revelation.  And by all accounts it's not like Beyond Seduction was rocking new ground. It's a Victorian-set historical about a woman who wants to ruin herself, decides to pose nude for an artist and ends up having a torrid affair with him. But it was so sexy and passionate it damn near stripped the paint off my walls and it was a romance, so I got a happy ending!  After that experience, an online friend told me I had to find her Black Lace books. So I went on the hunt...

Now, here's the thing. Virgin Publishing is based out of the UK.  Finding Black Lace was nearly impossible here in the States.  If a bookstore was carrying them they were usually in the "Sexuality" section next to How To Find Your G-Spot.  I finally gave up and went to that fledgling little company on the Internet....Amazon. True story.  You know why I started buying books from Amazon? Because I could order any Black Lace book I wanted, it would generally be in stock, and I didn't have to deal with some horn-rimmed glasses professor-wannabe hipster sneering at my purchases.  

I was off to the races at that point, snapping up whatever hadn't already gone out of print - which some of them had.  Then somewhere in the mid-aughts, Virgin started reprinting some Black Lace titles under the Cheek imprint, giving them cartoon covers (sigh) and I finally scored the remaining Holly books I was missing.  Folks, this is what you had to do before digital publishing. You kept a wishlist a mile long, scoured used bookstores, leaned on your online friends who also had your wishlist and scoured their used bookstores, and prayed to the Reprint Gods.

What made Holly's books special, I mean other than the non-virgin, unapologetic heroines and the steamy sex?  Holly got "it." She got what made erotic romance tick - which is to say that she wrote passion.  It wasn't just an endless string of anatomical sex scenes strung together. Her characters yearned. They felt like actual people with actual emotions dealing with all the messy (and pleasurable!) fallout that can come with sexual relationships.  She also wrote damn near everything - contemporary, historical, steampunk, paranormal, billionaires - everything

I met Holly just once, in Dallas at RWA 2007. This is what I blogged prior to my trip:
Emma Holly will be there. Yes, the Emma Holly. I'll be lucky if I can manage any words over two syllables. Those two college degrees I have will immediately go flying right out of my head and I'll start talking like some slack-jawed yokel whose family has been swimming in the same shallow gene pool for six generations. Actually what's more likely to happen is I'll stand there looking like a dumbass and will probably say two words to the poor woman.

I'm pleased to report that I did alright. I think I said "I love your books" just two times! I got a signed copy of All U Can Eat (which I had already read and loved) and picked up some promo/swap for my younger sister.  I wish I had the opportunity to meet her again, but alas, it never happened. I like to think I would have been more confident and self-assured and managed a more thoughtful conversation with her. But who am I kidding? I'm a fan. A blithering, starstruck fan. One who still has some books in my TBR in a break glass in case of emergency event.  Folks, life is short, the time is now, break the damn glass already Wendy!

I hope wherever Ms. Holly is she knew how loved she was by readers, fellow writers she greatly influenced, and that she was a true genre trailblazer. She was a very big deal and the loss feels immeasurable. 


azteclady said...

I was so shocked when I saw your tweet (I said, "Damn no, not her" out loud). I remember reading Beyond Innocence back in the day, and being floored.

Like you, I hope Ms Holly knew what she meant to so many readers, and to the genre itself; may her memory soon be a comfort to all who love her.

S. said...

Hello Wendy...

Oh, I just saw this, it doesn't feel real.
I have loved some of her work too, not everything of what i read, but she was one of the authors who got me into MMF and, from there, I went into MM, back in 2008... it seems like forever.
I loved Beyond Innocence and liked Beyond Seduction as well.

Her voice will be misses.... :(

Lori said...

I've been off the internet the last few days and had missed this sad news. I read a bunch of her Black Lace books back in the day and appreciated the same things about them that you did. She will be missed.

Rosie said...

You know my Emma Holly love…we’ve waxed poetic many times. This was a great tribute to her Wendy thank you for all of us who have loved and enjoyed her books.

Nikki said...

I so loved Emma Holly "back in the day" and remember my delight when I found several of her books at. the. local. library. I think I checked out all of them, read them, and then checked them out again several times that year. Honestly, I think I might have been the only patron who read her books--the library was in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood--but I sure enjoyed them. This is such sad news.

Wendy said...

Thanks for commenting everybody. I'm still so sad about this but thankful for the many wonderful stories she left us.