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O Captain, my Captain!

October 27, 2014 15 comments

It’s been years since I pulled her books down, but tonight I opened the first and ran my finger over the inscription as if hoping it could conjure the author.

For Jackson, My Sister Amazon! Thanks and be well- Cate Culpepper

It was 2006, I think, and I’d traveled alone to the Golden Crown Literary Society Convention, not knowing a single soul there. But I’d found Cate’s Amazon series on the Internet and somehow tracked her a year before to a yahoo group known as the Kindred Lodge and joined.

The participants role-played characters to write stories together in a fantasy world. My character was a cocky horse whisperer named Rider. Cate was known as the randy sea dog Capt. Klancy. She created the group and attracted a dozen or so talented writers. I was in complete awe of them and sat up very late, many nights to write stories with the group.

So, when I learned she would be at the GCLS, I drove to Atlanta and stalked her. I had the first two of her Tristaine series — the originals published by Justice House — clutched in my hands. She smiled when I held out the books.

“Wow,” she said. “You even have the old copies. I didn’t know any of these were still around.”

I shrugged. “I’ve had’em for a while. They’re great.”  She felt around in her pockets, so I offered my pen.

“Who do I sign it to?” she asked.

I grinned at her. “You can sign it to Rider, a kindred sister.” It was one of those moments, one of those punch lines you live to deliver. She sputtered, then broke into a blazing smile. I don’t remember much of the rest of our conversation. It was short, because the next panel was starting and Cate was on it. And the hasty inscription wasn’t to Rider, but to Jackson. Still, it was the start of an online friendship that landed Rider a bit part in Cate’s fourth and final Tristaine book which was published by Bold Strokes Books.

“Queens of Tristaine” was published in November 2007. Another awesomely talented bard in our group, Gill McKnight, had just signed a contract with Bold Strokes. The manuscript of my first novel was gathering dust because I was too afraid to submit it, but with Cate’s urging and an offer from Gill to beta-read and help me polish it first, I finally submitted it to Bold Strokes. Even before I received the email that it had been accepted for publication, Cate sent me an autographed copy of “Queens.” The inscription read:

To my talented sister-bard, who has a thousand women waiting to hear her voice. Looking forward to holding my first signed Jackson Leigh novel in my hands! Hope you enjoy Queens, Cate

You might say Cate only offered me a few simple words of encouragement. But from my perspective, she gave me the courage to do something that has changed my life.

The Kindred Lodge group closed about a year later, but Cate never stopped referring to me as Rider on facebook and she will forever be my Captain.

Cate’s death on Saturday leaves our world a little empty without her wit, her kind heart and her creative soul.

But after the Kindred light a sailor’s pyre for this gentle Amazon and cry “O Captain, my Captain,” we’ll lay down our grief and shoulder our duty to pay forward what Cate gave to each of us, because a Tristaine Queen — or at least her legacy — is destined to rise again.

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