Remembering Bertrice Small: 1937

Beloved and groundbreaking romance author Bertrice Small died yesterday after a long illness. She was 77. 

Bertrice published her first novel, The Kadin, in 1978, and went on to write more than 50 romances. Fans flocked to her passionate, exciting stories, and many count her beloved raven-haired, hot-tempered Skye O’Malley as an all-time favorite heroine. Bertrice not only hit the bestselling lists of The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, USA Today and more, but she helped found this genre that we love so much, by writing exciting, edgy stories, at a time when no one else was doing so.

We at RT loved Bertrice, and honored her many times at our convention: for lifetime achievement in historical romance, for career achievement in historical fantasy and more. In 2008, she was in our very first class of Pioneers Awardees, for her significant contribution to the genre. RT founder Kathryn Falk shared some of her fond memories of her friend, Bertrice:

I first met Bertrice Small in 1978. She had just moved from Manhattan with her husband George and toddler son, Thomas, to live in Southold, New York, to be near her parents and to open a gift shop. She had spent five years, while recovering from agoraphobia, writing her first novel, The Kadin. The quick sale made her confident that she could make a living as an author.

I had sent a letter to Bertrice in care of her publisher, Avon. My plan at the time was to write a historical romance newsletter and I wanted to interview her.

One day she and George drove to Manhattan to visit her publisher and came by my Dollhouse and Miniature shops to introduce themselves. We went out to lunch and shared our passion for historical romances. It was the beginning of a long friendship. 

With the success of The Kadin, she signed a lucrative contract with Avon and was able to move from a rented house to a beautiful home with a swimming pool.

I remember her charming office, lined with the first of her covers, and the planning that went into turning the Skye O’Malley series into early erotica. She never dreamed it would become a long-running successful series, that would bring not only pleasure to her large audience of readers, but that it would create the unique titillation that became her trademark.

I particularly recall her excitement about a plan to make her heroine a virgin twice. “I am going to give her amnesia,” she said gleefully. That and the ivory dildo endeared her to fans.

I gave her the title “Lust’s Leading Lady,” which made her very happy and she adopted it as her official description forever after. 

The Kadin is still one of the classics in my opinion. I rank it alongside Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers’ first novels, along with Anya Seton’s Katherine and Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber.

Condolences are also pouring in from friends and fans on Facebook. Here is just a sampling:

Cordia Byers: Rip, Bertrice. Your talent will be missed by so many. You gave us wonderful books. I have spent many hours of pleasure.with Skye and all your other wonderful characters. May God give your family peace. I remember our meeting well. You were wonderful to a writer who was in awe of meeting one of her favorite authors. You will be remembered.

Diana Cosby: I am so sorry. She’s an amazing inspiration and will be greatly missed. My deepest sympathies to her family and friends.

Cynthia Wright‎: I am feeling sad about the loss of Historical Romance Queen Bertrice Small (aka “Sunny”). We were friends for 35 years, back to our days at Ballantine Books with Tom Huff (Jennifer Wilde). Bertrice’s books will live on and continue to give hours of pleasure to countless readers… and she is together with her husband, George, again.

Shirlee Busbee: She has been so strong during her illness. Still writing and still just being upbeat, positive Sunny. Will miss her greatly.

Eloisa James: I was so sorry to hear that the wonderful author Bertrice Small passed away. I presented Bertrice with the RWA’s top award last summer, ending my speech by “borrowing from Charles Dickens’s wonderful character, Bob Cratchitt, who toasted his employer as “the founder of our feast.” Bertrice’s trailblazing, sensual, historical novels blazed a trail that has helped many of us—myself included—bring home the bacon. In many, many real ways, Bertrice is the founder of our feast.”

Jo Ann Simon: So sad. I’d met her years ago. Such a pleasant and talented lady. She’ll be missed.

Rachel Lee: It grieves me to hear this. My sincere condolences to all Bertrice’s family and friends.

Susan Johnson: Bertrice will be greatly missed. She was a wonderful writer. How very sad to hear of her passing.

Dalton Diaz: Oh wow. She was already a living legend, and she won’t be forgotten. I hope that gives some comfort to those who knew her personally.

Beth Williamson: I’m so very sorry for your loss – Bertrice was amazing, an inspiration and a talented writer.

Diana Rubino: Bertrice was the inspiration for my very first historical The Jewels of Warwick in 1991. I wrote to her to tell her that. She was a very gifted author and we’ll all miss her.

Christina McKnight: This woman inspired my love of historicals! She will be greatly missed.

RT’s Senior Reviewer Kathe Robin remembers Bertrice and her work fondly:

It’s hard to believe a world without strong-willed Bertrice. The woman who named Kathryn “Madam”  and who was such a great, giving and loving woman. The Kadin changed my life and I wanted to be Skye O’Malley. It’s a sad day for the industry.

Bertrice had her own hero in her husband George, who died in 2012. She is survived by her son, Thomas, and her four grandchildren. She will be greatly missed. Below are some of our favorite photos of Bertrice from the RT archives.

 

 

George and Bertrice at the first RT Convention in New York, 1983

Bertrice on stage with Barbara Cartland (right) at the first RT Convention

Bertrice, George and Kathryn

Kathryn and Bertrice

George and Bertrice

Fabio and Bertrice at the RT offices in the 1990s.

Bertrice, Kathryn, and RT publisher Carol Stacy at Kathryn’s wedding.

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What was your favorite Bertrice Small book? Share your Bertrice memories with us! We’re paying tribute to Bertrice in the upcoming June issue of RT, if you have any fond memories we’d love to hear them — email Carol Stacy at cstacy@rtbookreviews.com.

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