Celebration and Sorrow

The Buried Pyramid and Smoke and Mirrors

Last week, I learned that my literary agent and long-time friend, Kay McCauley, had died.  Apparently, her death was “sudden.” I haven’t asked for details because her family has enough to deal with.  After all, details don’t matter.  Kay is gone, and I’m never going to pick up the phone again to hear her distinctive, movie-star husky voice say, “Well, dearheart…” and then launch into whatever triggered the call.

I met Kay first when I was twenty-six years old, at Lunacon in Tarrytown, New York. I was there to meet a writer who’d been kind enough to enter into a correspondence with me: one Roger Zelazny.  We all know the sequel to that story, so I’m going to skip it here.

Kay wasn’t really into the convention scene but, since Roger was the Guest of Honor, she’d arranged to host a private party for him.  Roger invited me and my then husband to attend, and of course we went.  I very much remember meeting Kay: a striking, petite, dark-haired woman, then in her mid-fifties, elegantly and fashionably attired.  I was a newly-minted Ph.D., doubtless casually dressed, because I hadn’t had any idea I would be invited to a major literary gala.

Kay and I didn’t talk much then, but we made up for it in the over thirty years to come.  She became my agent in, I think, 1992.  We met the next time at the World Fantasy Convention that year, once again at one of her literary galas.  We did talk for a bit, but she also encouraged me to talk with other people, including Avon editor John Douglas, who would eventually buy my first published novel, Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls.

But there was a lot more to Kay than fancy parties, elegant clothes, and book contracts.  She could be incredibly supportive as a friend and, for all many people might have thought her a gossip, she never ever revealed anything sensitive about any of her clients.

When Roger was diagnosed with cancer, Kay became one of our (because by then Roger and I were a couple) greatest supports, not only keeping business coming in, but checking on his progress and giving me someone to talk with because, since Roger didn’t want it let out he was ill, I felt very isolated.

After Roger died, when I was learning who had been nice to me because they liked me, and who had been nice to me because they wanted the connection to Roger, Kay stuck by me, even when she would have had a good excuse to ditch me.  (Conflict of interest with the Zelazny estate, which she and her brother also handled.)  Not only did Kay manage to carry out Roger’s wish that I complete his two unfinished works, Donnerjack and Lord Demon, she got me work under my own name.

Over the years, even a “brief” chat with Kay was a feast.  Probably because she bothered to get to know me as a person, she was able to connect, to get excited about even my odder ideas.  If you have loved any of my books—whether Changer or the Firekeeper books or quirky novels like Smoke and Mirrors and The Buried Pyramid—you owe Kay thanks, because she’s the one who got them out there.  You also owe her for books like Child of a Rainless Year, because she got me a few contracts that were for one Firekeeper book, one “to be named later.”  She also, at a time when everyone was saying it was “impossible” to get publishers to revert rights of novels, got me back the rights to all my works.  So, she’s indirectly responsible for Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul.

Despite our initial link having been through Roger, when I started seeing Jim, Kay was thrilled.  When Jim and I got engaged after a seriously whirlwind courtship, she sent us a lovely English tea set.  When we got married not long after, she sent us a silver candelabra.  When I protested that she’d already sent us a present, her response was purest Kay:

“Dearheart, lots of people get engaged.  Not all of them get married.”

Oddly, for most of our long friendship, Kay and I didn’t meet in person; our contact was over the phone.   We’d talk for hours about everything and anything: business, sure, but also life and values, and the odd inter-relationships of people.  When Kay learned that I didn’t gossip, I became one of her confidants. I’d like to think that just as she helped me through some of the hardest times in my life, I might have helped her, too.

Eventually, Kay acquired enough clients in New Mexico that she started making an annual trip out here.  On her first one, Jim and I arranged to pick her up at her hotel soon after her arrival.  At that point, I hadn’t seen her for probably decades, and I wasn’t sure I’d recognize her, but I knew I’d know her voice.

So we waited at the hotel, near the reception desk where we could see and not be seen.  When the airport shuttle arrived, a lady not terribly unlike the one I’d met so long before came trotting up to the reception desk.  She gave her name, and as I was walking over to meet her, I heard her tell the clerk:

“I’m meeting a friend here.  We haven’t seen each other for years but…”

And, as her face was lighting up with recognition, I said “Hi, Kay.”  We chatted for a moment, then she dropped off her luggage and hurried down so we could spend some time together. That’s when something funny happened.  We discovered we didn’t know how to talk in person!  After so many years of being only voices, we both stalled.

This awkwardness vanished as soon as we were in the car, her in the back, me in the front, just voices again.  By the time we stopped for a meal, all awkwardness had vanished and never returned. 

I have so many, many memories.  Am I greedy for wanting more?  Well, for all I’m glad that Kay didn’t go through what my dad did with ALS, or Roger with cancer, I’m still going to miss her.  If that’s greedy, I’ll be greedy, because Kay was the sort of friend who never staled, never dulled, and always remained vital, I hope right up to the end.

7 Responses to “Celebration and Sorrow”

  1. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Not greedy at all. Just human. Believe me, I know the feeling all too well.

  2. Beverly Martin Says:

    This is a wonderful tribute to someone who must have been an exceptional person! I don’t think you are greedy; just appreciative of each of those special moments.

  3. anevergreen Says:

    Sorry for your loss! 😦 *hugs*

  4. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    What a lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing your memories. She sounds like a wonderful person who will be missed by many. My condolences.🕯

  5. janelindskold Says:

    Thank you all for your kind words…

  6. Harried Harry Says:

    Jane, I’m truly sorry you have lost a treasured friend of many years. Your tribute to her made me think of a great treasure a lot of us have not found –yet. Your characters seem to have gathered together the snippets of life from people you know. She may be gone from our presence but she is not gone, since she will live on in your memories (and Jim’s, I daresay) for the rest of your lives.

    Thank you for sharing. Be safe and enjoy your Thanksgiving.

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