HOW THE QUEEN OF FICTION CHANGED MY LIFE

REMEMBERING THE GREAT JACKIE COLLINS (1937-2015)

Clockwise: The superstar novelist with her many bestsellers; in a stunning publicity photo; on the set of the NBC mini-series LADY BOSS with actors Jack Scalia and Kim Delaney.

Clockwise: The superstar novelist with her many bestsellers; in a stunning publicity photo; on the set of the NBC mini-series LADY BOSS with actors Jack Scalia and Kim Delaney.

JACKIE COLLINS was my hero for 34 years. The first hardcover I ever purchased was Hollywood Wives. I remember putting it on layaway at Gateway Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and riding my bike to the mall to make small payments until the 510-page opus with the lavender cover was finally mine.

AUTHOR AS CELEBRITY

Jackie's star quality dazzled me. I followed her press junkets obsessively and missed school to catch her appearances on Good Morning America, The Merv Griffin Show, anywhere she appeared. She was larger than life—big hair, flashy diamonds, always ready with a piece of behind-the-scenes Hollywood gossip. I tracked every interview, hyper alert for any little nugget of writing advice.

L-R: The original US cover for HOLLYWOOD WIVES; Jackie in all her 80s-era glory; Suzanne Somers as sex siren Gina Germaine in the ratings smash ABC mini-series; the mass market paperback cover for Jackie's biggest selling novel.

L-R: The original US cover for HOLLYWOOD WIVES; Jackie in all her 80s-era glory; Suzanne Somers as sex siren Gina Germaine in the ratings smash ABC mini-series; the mass market paperback cover for Jackie's biggest selling novel.

A JACKIE STRIVER

At 15 I crafted a short story called “Tempt Me” for an English assignment. The plot focused on a promiscuous party girl who ends up murdered by a psychopath obsessed with a provocative perfume. Confidentially, my teacher informed me that the effort was a knockout story worthy of the statewide student writing contest, but the adult content precluded her from submitting it. Being barred from entry was thrilling. It made me feel like a true Jackie Collins in training.

My passion for Jackie's work stayed with me through high school, college and graduate school. I admired her prolific work ethic and the fact that she wrote for herself first, then for readers, giving little thought to critics. Her influence was profound. On the first day of my senior seminar in management at the University of Alabama School of Business, the professor asked each student to stand up and reveal the book that had impacted our lives the most. The Bible and To Kill a Mockingbird were among the more popular titles cited. I rose up to declare Hollywood Wives. Everybody laughed. I shrugged off the reaction with good humor. But I was serious.

BEST PIECE OF MAIL EVER

I spent several years honing my craft in genre fiction, publishing everything from suspense, romance, teen fiction and chick-lit to ghostwriting for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. I was polishing my first real attempt at a Jackie Collins-ish novel when I met her for the first time at a book signing in Atlanta. The encounter was sublime. Jackie was warm, gracious and even encouraged me to seek out her new publisher (St. Martin's Press) as a possible home. That's where I landed 18 months later—at the same publishing house, and with the same editor, too. A blurb from Jackie graced the cover of Tan Lines. In pure career idolatry terms, it was a gorgeous full circle.

COLLEAGUES AT LAST

Getting to know Jackie was a true life blessing. The opportunity for one-on-one time with great achievers who inspire us is quite rare. And for those heroes to be greater people than we ever could imagine is rarer still. It's fortifying for the soul. When my father died suddenly in 2012, Jackie reached out to me with this advice: "Stay strong and remember the good times." Those simple words pulled me out of a dark place and back to the business of creativity.

There is much to admire, learn and emulate from Jackie's example.  She was genuinely kind, fiercely funny, generous, full of grace and wisdom. But for anyone with dreams and goals, Jackie Collins was a living master class for being passionate about your pursuits. She possessed the work ethic of a true warrior. Her last weeks on earth were spent promoting The Santangelos in the same she had always whipped up fan frenzy for new titles, tirelessly and with great humor. She was always an optimist, a forward marcher and not one to wallow. A true original indeed.  My most positive thoughts and prayers go out to her family . . .

ALL HAIL JACKIE COLLINS, THE QUEEN OF FICTION

I've curated a list of what I consider absolutely MUST read titles from Jackie's incredible career. Please share it with family and friends and get in touch to let me know what your favorite titles are.