Memories of BK Reeves

My dear friend and writing mentor, Barbara Reeves Kolaski, passed away a week ago today. Although she had been ill for some time, she had a long, eventful, and happy life, but there’s an empty space in my world now that she’s gone.

BK ReevesBarbara published several romance novels under the name Barbara Reeves, and raised a family as Barbara Kolaski, but to her writing students and RWA friends she was always BK Reeves.

I met BK about twenty years ago through the Bay Area Writers League, which met here in Seabrook, southeast of Houston. We became friends working on BAWL’s annual writers conference, and BK read some of my work through its contest. She invited me to weekend retreats at her boat house in Surfside, where I met writers with wide ranging interests. In 1996 I went to a workshop sponsored by the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter, because BK was one of the speakers, and immediately joined the National RWA and the HBA chapter. I still didn’t know what I was writing, more science fiction than anything else, but I’d begun reading futuristic romance, and that seemed like it might be a good fit.

BK taught Creative Writing classes for the Continuing Education division of San Jacinto College, and I signed up for one. And then another. And then another. I have no idea how many of those eight to twelve week courses I took over the next few years. It wasn’t that the subject matter really changed much from one class to the next (I still have a fat binder full of the handouts), but the opportunity to spend one evening a week with other writers, and to have BK critique my work as it progressed was irresistible. I became fast friends with several other perennial students, as we fought our way through writing projects and hashed them out at the nearest IHOP with BK after class. I wrote the first draft of Tempting Fate in those classes, and the beginning of Paper Hearts.

When my late husband could no longer bear to stay home alone at night, I signed him up, too, and BK welcomed him. Jack and BK were about the same age, and I remember going across Houston to a writers conference with the two of them happily singing songs from the 1930s and 40s as I drove.

When BK no longer felt safe driving, she gave up the San Jacinto classes, but a group of us continued to meet at her house a couple of evenings a month; now and then we’d even have sleep-over weekends in the big house where she’d raised her three children. We called ourselves BK’s groupies: me, Kay Sakaris (we still call one another “Other Kay”), Kathy Gresham, Terri Richison, Ann Peake, and BK’s daughter Anne-Marie Novark.  Over the years Terri and Kathy moved out of the Houston area, Other Kay, Ann and I had full time jobs, life got in the way, and BK’s health worsened, until getting together became a sadly rare event, but BK’s inspiration remained.

BK (center) and the Groupies: (from left) Kathy Gresham, Terri Richison, Kay Hudson, Kay Sakaris, Ann Peake (Anne-Marie Novark took the picture)

BK (center) and the Groupies: (from left) Kathy Gresham, Terri Richison, Kay Hudson, Kay Sakaris, Ann Peake (Anne-Marie Novark took the picture)

I have so many wonderful memories of BK: her encouragement, her insistence that I have a “writer’s brain,” her faith in me as an editor, her kindness to Jack as he slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s. She introduced me to the writing community, and through her classes, BAWL, and RWA I have met so many of my friends. I look at my bookshelves and see reminders of her: her books, of course; a little ceramic newspaper office she gave me because much of Paper Hearts revolves around a newspaper; my place card from a table she sponsored at a charity luncheon; a photo of BK, Kathy Gresham, Jack and me at another luncheon; a plaque from BAWL, because she made sure I was at an event I hadn’t planned to attend, so I would receive it first hand.

BK’s books are out of print now, alas. She wrote all her life, from the time she was a little girl in West Texas, but she didn’t pull out her manuscripts and begin rewriting them for publication until her husband, Stosh, passed away in the late 80s. She used to tell us that she bought her first computer on the way home from Stosh’s funeral—this may have been a slight exaggeration, but not by much. She published several traditional Regency romances in the early 90s, with plenty of sexual tension but no explicit sex. But she could, and did, write hot sex with the best, as she showed when she rewrote an early western story into an interracial historical romance called My Buffalo Soldier. She often made remarks that wildly contradicted her sweet, grandmotherly appearance, and (most) people loved her for them.

It wouldn’t surprise BK to know that one of my first reactions to hearing of her passing (from one of the Groupies) was, “Well, I have to write about BK.” Life was research to her, meant to be both enjoyed and recycled as material for the next writing project. It might surprise her to know it’s taken me a week, but I’ve written this in my head too many times to count. There are just too many memories to include (although we agreed that neither one of us could say “Hello” in less than five hundred words).

Barbara Reeves Kolaski was laid to rest on Saturday with her favorite pen in her hands. I have no doubt she’s using it today at some afterlife Writer’s Retreat. After all, it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl Bolen
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 17:03:02

    From one who loved BK, I thank you for this lovely tribute to her.

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  2. Nina Bangs
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 18:35:03

    What a wonderful way to honor BK. This is a worthy tribute, Kay. I remember BK from when I first moved to Houston and decided to join HBA. Back then the HBA meetings were held in Sharon’s store. Ah, those were the good old days.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Feb 24, 2014 @ 19:58:25

      Thank you, Nina. By the time I joined the chapter we were meeting in the first MUD building, but I remember lots of book signings and luncheon committee meetings at Sharon’s store. And just hanging out there–miss that place. But it’s good we outgrew it–it was very small.

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  3. Anne-Marie Kolaski Novark
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 20:30:06

    What a wonderful tribute, Kay. Mother loved all of her students, but BK’s Groupies held a very special place in her heart.

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  4. Gene Novark
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 21:46:44

    Thank you for the memories. I’ve always heard so much from my grandmother about her students. I can remember going to a meeting, probably BAWL, with her when I was very young. It’s a blessing to be reminded of how deeply she touched so many others.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Feb 24, 2014 @ 22:05:08

      Hello, Gene! BK was SO proud of you. She talked about you and Carrie so much, told us all about your accomplishments in school. She did indeed mean a great deal to so many students. We were all lucky to know her.

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  5. Lynda Chance
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 07:47:39

    Thank you so much for this, Kay. Your words made me cry and I know my mother would have loved this. (They also made me laugh. The computer on the way home from the funeral was brilliant!) She loved all of you so very much.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Feb 25, 2014 @ 07:55:13

      She loved that story, Lynda, exaggeration or not. Her “on with life” attitude was an inspiration to me when my own husband passed, too. I’m so glad you all like this.

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  6. K.P.Gresham
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 12:51:17

    Absolutely beautiful, Kay. Thank you for putting your experience and BK, herself, into words. I am so grateful to BK, to BK’s family for sharing her with us, to all of you whom I met and came to love and respect because of BK. She changed my life. At some point in time I may be able to put words to my experience with BK, but at this point I am grateful to you for doing so with your experience so beautifully.

    Best to leave it at that right now, I think, before I use my middle finger to hit the delete key (one of the favorite lessons taught to me by BK) on this reply. Love to all, especially you, BK.

    Sent from Windows Mail

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    • Kay Hudson
      Feb 25, 2014 @ 22:20:21

      She made a big difference in all our lives, Kathy, and brought the Groupies together. So many funny memories from her classes. Some day I’ll figure out how many I actually took.

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  7. gerrybartlett
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 14:23:58

    A beautiful tribute, Kay. Your eloquence would have made BK proud. I remember her laugh and the twinkle in her eyes. A friend and I went to one of the BAWL retreats at her bay house. BK was generous with her time and her home. But especially with her writing knowledge. I last saw her at an HBA Christmas party and she had a great time being surrounded by writers. She was an inspiration to anyone who starts a writing career later in life. Like you said, she’s got her pen and is telling stories right now. I’m sure everyone is in stitches up there.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Feb 25, 2014 @ 22:22:22

      Thanks, Gerry. Those weekends in Surfside were my introduction to writers’ retreats, and to some very interesting people. And BK did enjoy holding court at the HBA parties, didn’t she?

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  8. Carrie Novark
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 14:40:39

    Thank you for writing this. I know my grandmother would have appreciated it as much as we all do. Have you read the stuff on her website recently? There’s a story about the “writer’s brain” intruding at Stosh’s funeral. Your using the phrase made me think of it 🙂

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    • Kay Hudson
      Feb 25, 2014 @ 22:37:25

      I’m so glad you like the piece, Carrie. And I thought your tribute at the service was wonderful. I went to BK’s website and read the piece you mentioned–I remember her telling that story. I also remember her getting teary when a song she associated with Stosh played on the jukebox at the boat house.

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  9. J L Brackett (aka Sm1ley)
    Oct 18, 2014 @ 23:03:20

    Hello Kay. I know you likely don’t remember me, but we met and conversed many times at BAWL conferences and at one of BK’s retreats. I only went to the one, as you say, life does intrude. But I always considered BK a mentor. I fell out of contact and for whatever reason decided tonight to look her up online to see what she was up to. When I came across your tribute to her, it saddened me to know that she had passed, and that it had been so many years since I last spoke to her. But it also pleases me to know that there are so many who remember her stories, her smiles, and her giving nature.

    I was honored to have known her.

    –Jeff Brackett

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    • Kay Hudson
      Oct 18, 2014 @ 23:12:24

      I do remember you, Jeff–nice to hear from you after so long. BK meant so much to so many of us. There’s definitely a little hole in the universe with her gone.

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