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.

And Happy New Year

Well, I’ve eaten my New Year’s Eve herring (a family tradition–I don’t think I’ve missed a year since I was a little girl) and I’ve watched the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day concert (that was a tradition with Jack, and I’ve kept it up).  I’ve started new notebooks and hung new calendars.  I don’t really make resolutions, and I try to keep the goal setting to things I can actually control, but I do find myself thinking over what I’ve accomplished in the last year.

Writing:  In 2013 I’m afraid I did more editing than new writing.  Jinn & Tonic finalled in the Golden Heart contest and I spent some considerable time editing that.  The Golden Heart is quite a rollercoaster ride, but I’m hooked, so in the fall I pulled out Tempting Fate, a story I’ve always loved, rewrote much of the beginning, moved some scene and chapter breaks, and sent that off to the 2014 Golden Heart.  Now I’m finally back on my current project, currently 62 pages long.  I know where my characters are going, but I’m having a little trouble getting them there.

Meanwhile I went to a wonderful regional writers’ conference in Shreveport, put on by the NOLA STARS, the North Louisiana chapter of RWA.  And I flew to Atlanta in July for the RWA National conference, with my friends Cheryl Bolen and Colleen Thompson, and had a great time meeting up with old and new friends.  I also finished my two years as president of the West Houston RWA chapter.  I’m pulling the plug on volunteering, at least for a while.  I need to get back to writing.

Reading:  I continue to buy books faster than I can read them (a life-long habit).  In 2013 I managed to read 38 of them, mostly novels, mostly romances and mysteries.  Between my local writer friends and my Golden Heart sisters, my bookshelves and my Kindle are well stocked.

Work:  In October Jo Anne and I cut our work week back to three days, and we love it.  More time for writing, reading, and sleeping.

Around the house:  Two big projects got done this year.  I had the large dead pine tree in the front yard removed before it could fall on a passing car, along with a couple of smaller ones, and the rest of the trees trimmed.  And I had the swimming pool I’d been ignoring for five years demolished.  Now I’m slowly working on the rest of the yard.  Maybe this year I’ll attack the big indoor projects (the bathrooms need remodeling, and the floors need work), but for the time being I’m picking away at smaller clean-and-toss jobs.  Apparently I am incapable of throwing out pens, address labels, or memo pads, all of which keep turning up in the mail.    I started with my writing nook, but there are plenty of other excavations to look forward to.

Life in general:  I’m catching up on my sleep.  I’ve put on another five pounds or so, a trend I definitely need to reverse.  I admire my friends who go to the gym or their fitness class every morning, but I think I’ll stick with walks around the neighborhood.

Thanks for stopping by now and then.  I hope you enjoy reading these little essays as much as I enjoy writing them.  And I wish you all a wonderful, rewarding, and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2014

Rails & Romance: Passion’s Prize

One day last July at the RWA Conference in Atlanta, I wandered into the very crowded room where two thousand (mostly) women had gathered for lunch and a keynote address.  I found a table with a couple of empty chairs and found myself sitting next to a writer called E.E. Burke.  I’d never met Elisabeth Burke before, but we soon discovered a shared love of Hell on Wheels and American historical romance.  Elisabeth told me that she and two other writers (all three of them Golden Heart finalists), Jacqui Nelson and Jennifer Jakes, would soon release an ebook, Passion’s Prize, Passion's Prizecontaining three related short novels set during the post-Civil War construction of the Katy Railroad.  I downloaded it as soon as it was available (the three parts are also available separately, but if you are interested, you’ll enjoy them all).

Adella’s Enemy, by Jacqui Nelson, opens the collection with the story of Adella Willows, photographer and one-time Rebel spy, who has come West seeking vengeance for the death of her brother in a Yankee POW camp.  She blames the man behind the Katy, and if she can derail the Katy, figuratively or literally, she’ll have her revenge.  But she didn’t figure on falling for the Irish railroad foreman, Cormac McGrady.

In Eden’s Sin, by Jennifer Jakes, we meet Eden Gabrielli, a brothel owner in the railroad town, and U.S. Army Major Sinclair Bradford.  The investigation of a rape committed by a railroad worker brings them together, but the secrets of their pasts, blackmail in the present, and the future of the railroad may drive them apart.

E.E. Burke wraps up the book with Kate’s Outlaw.  Kate Parsons is the daughter, and only heir, of the Katy’s owner, but she has yet to prove her worth to her father as more than someone to be married off to a male successor.  When she is accidentally kidnapped by Jake Colson, a Cherokee bent on stopping the railroad’s path through the Indian Territory, she finds unexpected passion for both her captor and his cause.  But can she save both the railroad and Jake?

A brief epilog reconnects our three heroines, who each appear in the others’ stories, and sets the stage for the next volume, E.E. Burke’s Her Bodyguard.  That one’s waiting on my Kindle, and I’ll be looking forward to more books in the Steam: Romance and Rails series.

Passion's Prize 3

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