The following piece was written by long-time friend and fellow author Patricia McLinn for the Novelists Inc., Newsletter. It is the most comprehensive biographical information about Gin that we could find.
For Novelists Inc., Newsletter
“I’ve had what the old Chinese curse would have called ‘an interesting life’ ” – Virginia Ellis, Dear Reader letter
Gin (Virginia) Renfro Ellis died at her home in Woodstock, Ga., in mid-January 2006.
Gin came to writing from the visual arts, having been a professional photographer who counted among her clients the NFL, Contel, and IBM. Throughout her writing career she continued to enjoy creating as a graphic artist, including one-of-a-kind greeting cards.
Once she turned her attention to writing, it was just a matter of time. Her first book, a Harlequin Temptation, DEAR JOHN, won the Maggie Award, the Waldenbooks award for bestselling series book in 1994, and was a finalist in two categories for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA award. For the 12 books she published solo, she earned RITA finalist honors four times. And THE WEDDING DRESS and THE PHOTOGRAPH were voted among RWA members’ top ten books in their respective years.
Taking a new creative tack in her writing, she teamed with Susan Goggins under the pseudonym Raven Hart to start a Southern vampire series. The first, THE VAMPIRE’S SEDUCTION, comes out in April 2006 from Ballantine. They had completed the second book shortly before her death.
Gin didn’t stop at writing. She was among the founding members of the group of authors who created Belle Books, a small press specializing in Southern fiction. She served as art director for Belle Books as well as writing for four “Mossy Creek” books and two “Sweet Tea” collections.
Along with membership in Novelists Inc., Gin was a long-time member of the Georgia Romance Writers and RWA, and a more recent addition to her neighborhood weekly poker game, all of which brought her great pleasure. Especially if she was winning.
She was adamant that our usual senses were not up to the task of taking in all that there is and fascinated by possibilities that lay beyond certainty. A dream brought THE WEDDING DRESS. She was a generous and insightful tarot card reader.
Her “interesting life” suffered an early loss that some people never recover from. Her husband, Alton Ellis, was killed in May 1969 in Vietnam. His name is on the wall in Washington, D.C. He was 21. She was 17.
“It’s one thing to watch the news, hear the body count and see the coffins being shipped home, it’s another to bury a future,” Gin wrote in a letter to readers at www.PatriciaLewin.com, the website of a long-time friend.
Gin had another major hurdle to overcome when an aneurysm on her aorta resulted in open-heart surgery in October 2002. It was terrifying, but she came back from that surgery, writing – and living – even better than before.
As evidenced by her accomplishments as a photographer and author, Gin never gave up on the future. After Alton’s death, she went on to Broward Community College, then the University of Florida in her home state. She traveled extensively, and was more than game to cross New Mexican mountains, even when the road dwindled to gravel, then it started to snow — because she was looking ahead. To where the road was going.
In fact, her looking-ahead stance sometimes made Gin not the best person to whine to about the vagaries of a publishing career, because she was most likely to respond, in her particular clipped drawl, “Well, that’s the way it is. All you can do is get on with it.” Or, more succinctly, “Get over it.”
On second thought, maybe she was the best person to whine to.
Reacting to the news of Gin’s death, Barbara Keiler wrote on the NINClink, “Along with my grief over losing Gin is my sorrow for those of you who never got to know her. She was smart, funny, brilliantly talented, amazingly intuitive and always, always a joy to be around. Oh, and she was beautiful (although I can imagine her laughing and rolling her eyes if she heard me say that.)”
In the end, though, the words to best tell Gin’s story are her own.
“Writing, in some ways, has been my salvation,” she wrote in that website letter to readers. “I began as a journaler – writing page after page of whatever I needed to get out of my thoughts. Somewhere around 1988 I began to write books. I had a hard time at first because I resisted writing about reality. I didn’t want to write about how sad, in my experience, life could be. In other words, I had lost my faith in happy endings. But, a good friend of mine set me on course. She said, ‘In fiction, you’re God. You can write any ending you want. Write your own happy ending.’ ”
Some, trying to absorb the blow of Gin’s loss to us, might argue with her about happy endings, but Gin had an answer for that, too.
In an interview with www.SouthernScribe.com, she was asked what distinguishes Southern fiction. She responded:
“I read somewhere recently, (sorry I can’t remember the exact quote or author who said it) that Southern fiction stands out because it always has God in it. What I think that means is that there is something greater involved than the characters themselves, ‘fate’ if you will. The characters can fight the battle, but God is in charge of the outcome.”
Gin fought a great battle.
She is survived by her mother and two sisters, and by a host of sorrowing friends, admiring fellow authors and grateful readers.