Byrna Barclay. The editor and publisher of my debut novel died last week. It’s filled my head for the last couple of days since I found out. This is what I contributed to the condolence book online today. Still not sure if I got it right:
“I was so sorry to hear of Byrna’s passing. We worked together so closely on the editing and publication of my debut novel, and I know for certain it wouldn’t have happened without her. She took on a naive fiction writer and helped craft a story I’m very proud of and, although I’m sure I exasperated her to no end (in ways only Ron probably knows), she was always ready with encouragement. When she’d find something in the manuscript that wasn’t right yet, she’d say, “It’s good. But just a little more, just a couple of sentences…” She pushed to make the story, the characters, the setting better, and she did it in a way I felt I could accomplish what she was asking. We butted heads now and then, and threw her hands up about how often a particular character kept showing up. I kept the page with her note scrawled across the top: “Are you in love with this guy? What in the ding dong is Hank doing in this scene???” She pulled 50 pages off the manuscript and said “This will be your second novel” when I wasn’t sure I’d get the first done. She invited me to visit in Palm Desert so we could hammer out what we needed to do to get this first one published. I got horribly lost, showed up nearly two hours late, but she and Ron were both gracious and welcoming. A favourite photo I have is the two of them in the doorway as I left, both adamantly pointing me in the right direction: “Go back the way you came!” I owe Byrna so much and I’m grateful our paths crossed. And that second novel? It’s a sequel and Byrna will be thanked yet again for believing it would happen. My condolences to Ron and the rest of the family.”
A few images from my time with Byrna; at our first meeting at the Parktown Hotel in Saskatoon after she had gone through my original manuscript the first time. She’d made “a few comments” and I was daunted by the number of paperclips alone. We had breakfast and were suddenly joined by Lois Simmie. At Ron and Byrna’s house in Palm Desert where we talked long and hard about what this novel was going to be. Me at work on deciphering her notes at our rented trailer in Indio down the road and trying hard to write “just a couple of sentences.” And finally mailing that revised work to her. It was a go. Thank you, Byrna. This wouldn’t have happened without you. You really made me believe I could write a novel.