Lonnie Hull DuPont: May her memory be for a blessing

November 2018: Lonnie and me when we met for lunch in Michigan

November 2018: Lonnie and me when we met for lunch in Michigan

My good friend Lonnie Hull DuPont died today. She was a mentor, a cheerleader, an animal-lover, a poet and an inspiration.

I met Lonnie several years ago, when she served on a publishing panel I was moderating, back in the days when our conference was held in collaboration with BlogPaws. Me, moderating a panel of accomplished, published writers. I was “merely” a blogger. A blogger who wanted so much to be traditionally published. I wanted a book, on a shelf, in a bookstore with my name as author on the cover. I knew there were so many steps from blogging to book, and I was still just learning to walk in the writing field. 

Back then, I had the beginnings of a memoir, and Lonnie kindly offered to look at it and to give me advice. At the time, I mostly just wanted to know if I could do it, if I had what it took. She told me then—quite clearly—that I had talent. That I could write, and write well. She sent me a more than 1200-word email filled with advice and guidance and industry savvy.  And she asked me if I wanted to submit a story for an anthology she was pulling together under her pen name, Callie Smith Grant. Nervous that I wouldn’t make the cut, I sent her two. And she published both in the book Second-Chance Dogs: True Stories of the Dogs We Rescue and the Dogs Who Rescue Us. That was just the beginning. 

I have since learned—from Lonnie and many others—that talent is not all you need to be successful as a writer. She was a mentor and guide as I tried to navigate the publishing world. Lonnie encouraged me as I searched for an agent, receiving rejection after rejection, or worse yet, crickets. She kept reminding me that I had talent, and that I will eventually be published. When I finally signed with an agent but was discouraged that it was taking so long to make progress, she reminded me that publishing was most often a slow business. 

Lonnie was a sounding board for me, for ideas and direction. She was my reality check. She continued to build my confidence as I struggled with Depression. With the success of Second-Chance Dogs, Lonnie asked me to submit for a new anthology: Second-Chance Cats. For this book—and the dog version—Lonnie reached out and connected with many members of the Cat Writers’ Association and Dog Writers Association of America, and she accepted and included their stories, offering some the chance to see their work in books for the first time. She encouraged me to submit for two more books—both Christmas themed—asking this Jewish writer to stretch herself to write for them. She accepted my stories for both The Dog Who Came to Christmas and The Cat in the Christmas Tree.

Lonnie subscribed to my blog and always read my entries, often sending me supportive comments via email—many about my haiku. Funny thing: I’ve won several CWA Muse and DWAA Maxwell awards for my poetry, but I never considered myself a poet. Lonnie, she was a real poet, a published poet. My haiku are humorous, and irreverent, and I didn’t think they counted. Lonnie disagreed. She called me a poet, and gave me the confidence to actually own that part of me, to speak it out loud and to describe myself that way. This led to me writing more poems, which were published in Cat Talk magazine.

Because of Lonnie’s support, guidance and mentorship, I felt confident enough to try submitting to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. I now have stories published in four of their books—and not all are cat- or dog-themed. She cheered me on when my stories were accepted—even though she herself had submitted and her stories didn’t get in. 

Lonnie was more than a mentor, though. She was a caring friend. We’d email now and again, and check in with each other every via phone every few months or so, and we’d talk for hours. When I visited relatives in Michigan, she found a way to travel down to meet me for lunch. We talked, we laughed, we lingered; we never ran out of things to say. We had so much to share; it was never a one-way relationship. We learned from each other, like the time I taught her the meaning of the Yiddish word “kvell”—to be exceedingly pleased or proud, usually about an accomplishment. 

Two years ago, I nominated Lonnie for the Cat Writers’ Association Shojai Mentor Award. Judged by the CWA Council of Directors, the award recognizes a CWA member who “has offered guidance, encouraging counsel, support, or other help that has had a direct and positive influence on another’s writing/publishing success” and who exemplifies “the highest ideals of the CWA vision, that is, to promote communal support, networking, and mutual respect between colleagues.” Back then I wrote that I could think of nobody more deserving of the title “mentor” than Lonnie Hull DuPont. And when she won, I was so thrilled—particularly because we were both able to kvell together over this well-deserved honor. 

I went through a difficult time recently, when Jasper died in November of last year, then we adopted and had to re-home a puppy, and then Lilah died just this past April. I was grieving hard. Lonnie and I hadn’t talked recently and I missed her, so in June, when I started to crawl out from the depths of my grief, I sent her an email explaining why I had gone to ground. She replied with condolences. “I cannot imagine,” she wrote. “I felt like I knew them. We’ll plan a call, but I’m sick today.  Let’s be in touch in a couple of days, okay?” 

I had no clue she had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer back in January. 

The following day, before I even had a chance to respond, Lonnie sent another email. “Susan, I still can’t believe this loss. I’m so sorry. You are busier than I, so please suggest a time to talk. I’m here.”  

That was so like her. When I later found out about the CaringBridge site she and her husband Joe set up, I read every post, going back to the beginning of the year. That’s when I realized that at that time of those emails, Lonnie had recently learned that her treatment wasn’t working. Yet she reached out to me to show how much she cared. Twice. 

We never did get to talk. Lonnie’s illness progressed too fast, and a fall in early July exacerbated the already dire situation. By then Joe was posting on CaringBridge, and reading the entries to Lonnie. I responded to every one, channeling as much love and good energy as I could squeeze through the ether. I read everyone else’s responses too, and I learned how many other people she touched and helped and cared for and loved. That was not a surprise, as often we had to reschedule our calls because there was someone who needed her. Lonnie was one of those people who give so much of themselves, and there was always more to give.

Until there wasn’t. And all of us on the CaringBridge site, and all the people who were able to visit her in her last days, tried our best to give back.

Now it’s our time to pay it forward, as Lonnie would have us.

The world is a little darker today, the heavens a little brighter.

I will miss you, Lonnie, my dear friend.

5 Comments on "Lonnie Hull DuPont: May her memory be for a blessing"

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  1. Susan, my former agent posted this on his FB wall & I read this beautiful remembrance of my beloved friend & mentor Lonnie with tears streaming down my face. So much of what you said I could relate to. Lonnie & I met at a writer’s conference many years ago & she championed my third book, Thanks for the Mammogram, after 14 male editors rejected it because they were uncomfortable with the idea of b-b-breast cancer & humor. Revell published my book in 2000 thanks to Lonnie. She became the editor of 7 domestic humor books if none (ala Erma Bombeck.) Lonnie became a dear friend, my joyous, irrepressible friend who always encouraged me & believed in me & my writing. During the pandemic when my PTSD went off the charts, she talked me down, loved me, supported me, encouraged me to find a therapist (I did) & so much more. We would have 3-4-hour long phone calls & laugh & laugh. Lonnie’s laugh was so infectious, wasn’t it? So glorious. Like her. Lonnie & I were kindred spirits & she became my dearest friend. My North Star. My person. I posted a tribute to her on my FB page today. (Friend me if you’d like to read it.) I adored her and am broken hearted at losing her. Bereft. I’d love to connect with you Susan about our shared friend & mentor. Feel free to email me if you like. And thank you for this beautiful tribute to Lonnie. The world is so much less without her in it.

  2. Lonnie was my friend too. Everything you wrote is true. I treasure the workshops I took from her at conferences; love all the one-on-one talks we had; savor the lunches and her all-encompassing , infectious laughter. I too elbowed my way into one of her Callie anthologies. Most of all, I love her for the confidence she instilled in new writers. And yes, she was a real poet.
    Jesus, take good care of Lonnie. I miss her already.
    Linda Clare out in Oregon

  3. Well said, Susan. Lonnie gave hope to so many of us writers. This is so hard.

  4. Deb Barnes says:

    What a beautiful post, Susan. You and Lonnie truly shared an incredible friendship and I am so sorry for your loss. Lonnie was kind, helpful, and cheerful to those that knew her. I’m glad she was part of my life, too, thanks to the CWA, and she will be deeply missed.

  5. April says:

    Lonnie had the amazing gift of making us all feel encouraged and heard… And boy, what a tremendous gift. She remembered everything you told her. She cheered, literally, for us all, even if she wasn’t our editor! And so humble in heart. I’m going to miss her so much.

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