Fan Girl

fledgling writer, 1987

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. The other day I was going through some old scrapbooks, looking for photos, etc. I could scan and use on Facebook for #ThrowbackThursday, when I came across a letter written to me by Phyllis A. Whitney. When I reread it, I couldn’t help wishing I’d also saved the letter she was responding to. In this case, my wish was granted, because I’d cleverly folded that first letter in half and tucked it in behind Ms. Whitney’s response.

reissue of the book I was asking her to blurb

A lot has changed since the late 1980s. Back then I was still incredibly naive about the publishing business. I’d had all of two books published, one by a small, scholarly press and one by a regional press. I had yet to venture out to my first writers’ conference or become active in any writers’ organization. I had joined Mystery Writers of America, and probably the Society of Children’s Book Writers, but Sisters in Crime didn’t yet exist, nor did Novelists, Inc. When it came to meeting other writers at local signings, I was still acutely shy and apt to become tongue-tied.

Ms. Whitney, along with Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, was a huge part of the reason why I later wrote several romantic suspense novels. Unfortunately, I was never able to follow her principal piece of writing advice. She advocated producing a long, detailed outline (forty or more pages) before starting to write a book. I frequently have no idea who dunnit or why before I begin to put words on a page.

Anyway, for those who are interested in my past as a newbie, here is our correspondence:

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at and A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.


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6 Responses to Fan Girl

  1. judyalter says:

    I found Whitney’s distinction between being known for adult or y/a mysteries interesting. My first published novel was marketed as a y/a–Wm. Morrow & Co.’s decision and not mine because I simply told the story, not knowing who the audience was. Thereafter I was pigeon-holed as a y/a writer for too long. I wonder if that happened to you too? Did you find it hard to move from one audience to another?

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Good question, Judy. As it happened, that decision was made for me. I’d sold three YA novels to an imprint of a romance publisher when my editor there asked me to try writing for one of their adult lines, which I did. Then she phoned (no Internet yet) to say she had good news and bad news. The bad was that the YA line was being discontinued and none of my three books would be published after all. The good was that my first adult romantic suspense novel was going to be published in Silhouette’s Intimate Moments line. I later resold one of the YA romances to Avon Camelot, where it was published as a middle grades mystery (same book—only minor changes). I eventually self published the second. The third wasn’t really that good so I rewrote it into an adult romance for Bantam Loveswept.

  2. John Clark says:

    Neat that you saved both letters. Beth is currently sorting through her and her mothers items and so much.

  3. Julianne Spreng says:

    Letters! Typed on a typewriter! No visible corrections so I’m assuming maybe a self-correcting? Carbon paper copies. With the advent of email and text fewer and fewer bits of history to find tucked away. How sad for the future.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      I might have had my Tandy 1000 by then and a dot matrix printer. If not, it was typed very carefully on an office model manual typewriter. I never got the hang of an electric typewriter—the keys kept getting tangled up.

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