[Un]Common Ground co-author Pol Robinson shares about the life and laugh of late co-author Erica Abbott.
I met Erica Abbott at her first Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) Conference in 2012, the year I won a Goldie for Debut Author for Open Water. Erica had quickly become part of the Bella family after her first novel, Fragmentary Blue, was published just a few months earlier and it was clear from the start that Erica had a mad sense of humor and a sly, dry, and biting wit. Within moments of meeting her during setup of the Bella Books table, she had us all in stitches. Added to that was our shared love of musical theatre, though she far outstripped me in talent, performance chops, and overall knowledge.
To understand what happened next you have to know that I’ve been with GCLS since its beginnings (and really, since before then, back in the BardCon days), so the whole event (sessions, awards event, dance) was kind of old hat to me. However, I’d never particularly focused on the order of the awards presented. As much as I plan and organize in my “real life” of teaching, I sort of take things as they come with GCLS and off-campus life.
Fast-forward to the night of the Goldies, 2012, and we’re all seated around one of the tables as the awards are about to begin. Erica is quite fidgety and finally she leans close and says, “Good God, Pol. Aren’t you the least bit nervous?” I responded honestly with a ‘no,’ since I really had no real belief that Open Water would win. Add to that my utter cluelessness about the Debut award being the very first given (in the old program format). I somehow had missed Karin Kallmaker leaving our table, so missed that cue, too. When Karin announced the first winner, with her signature giggle, as “Open Water by Pol Robinson,” Erica’s Oklahoma “WHOOP!” filled my ears. I’ll never forget that, not just because she was loud, but because she was so excited for someone she’d just met.
Two years later we began to room together at GCLS. Erica was retired, her partner was unable to join her for conferences, and she didn’t mind sharing the room. Her generosity allowed me to continue to attend GCLS. As an Adjunct faculty member teaching six classes per semester on five campuses, with no summer income in very expensive southern California, I could not have afforded to attend every year, despite needing that annual connection with my friends and peers.
It was EXTREMELY late one night when [Un]Common Ground began as a late-night conversation first about people who do not use their first names (going by middle names or some other name) and then about opposites attracting. We’d been joking for days about her ability to plot and what she called my “ability to set a scene,” and that between us we made one amazing author. And then we thought . . . well? Why not?
Before finally giving in to sleep, we’d outlined an entire book, character sketches, names, reasons for the names, and various other important bits about the book.
Neither of us had written with a partner before, so the entire process was new. We decided we’d each take a character and write her, which was really interesting. We messaged through Facebook all the time, with “official” meetings scheduled for three times a week if we both could make it. During those meetings, one of us would ask the other, “Would Sara do . . . “, or “What would Margaret say about . . . ” It was fun.
One of the more curious things to happen during the long writing of the book was that we set the book in Seattle nearly two years before I accepted a tenured professorship in Tacoma, WA. That move enabled me to research first-hand some of the locations we used in the book. My current Dean got involved and had me out to Vashon Island so I could pick a home for Sara’s parents. Other elements of the book came from real life experiences either Erica and her partner experienced or that my partner and I had. (Artisan goat cheese signs still make me shudder.)
Erica’s acknowledgement and dedication in [Un]Common Ground were texted to me from the hospital by her partner, and if I know anything about Erica, I know she is mad as hell that she’s missing the launch of this book. She was so enthusiastic about its launch, had plans to take out ads in Albuquerque during the GCLS Con, and have us serve goat cheese and crackers at the author signing.
I don’t believe Erica ever met a stranger, and she never lost her sense of humor despite facing down some of the most despicable people society can produce in a courtroom. If you ever asked her about her work, she’d respond obliquely, then quickly turn the conversation to musical theatre, often breaking into song or sending you to the floor laughing at one story or another. We, as a lesbian community, lost so much when Erica passed so suddenly, and that’s nothing to what her partner of 40+ years is living through now. I lost a co-author, a confidant, a co-conspirator, and most of all, a very good friend.
[Un]Common Ground is just one of the many books by Erica Abbott. Her terrific Alex and CJ stories, as well as other stand-alones, can be found at BellaBooks.com. We (and I can speak for Erica here) really hope you take the time to sit back and read our joint effort. Let me know what you think and I’ll be sure to pass on good words to her partner.