I was on a cruise ship at sea when my close friend Beverly Barton died suddenly on Thursday. By the time I got word, it was too late to say a proper goodbye; her funeral was underway in Alabama when I reached the mainland in New York. Thus, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of heartbroken grief and a fierce need to somehow pay fitting tribute to one of the dearest friends and greatest women I’ve ever known.
I had the honor of first meeting Beverly more than 20 years ago, when I was an Associate Editor at Harlequin/Silhouette in New York and she was an about-to-be-published author from Alabama. It was my privilege to be the editor of her first novel, YANKEE LOVER, and to go on to edit her half dozen subsequent releases before I became an author myself and left my editorial career behind.
But of course, I never left Beverly behind. We had forged a fast, close friendship in those couple of years we worked together; a treasured friendship that would strengthen to see us both through two decades’ worth of milestones.
Some were in our personal lives: the marriages of her children, the births of her grandchildren, the loss of her daddy, and the retirement of her husband; various health issues; my own marriage, the births of my two sons, my mother’s battle with breast cancer and her death (an ordeal throughout which Beverly tirelessly and lovingly lent an ear, a shoulder, and sympathetic maternal guidance).
There were professional milestones, too, of course, as we rose together through the ranks of the newly published to mainstream bestsellerdom, reaching our mutual pinnacle--#3 on the New York Times list—with a novel we co-authored along with our friend Lisa Jackson.
The very last time I saw Beverly, this past summer, I—with my ruddy, freckled Mediterranean skin—enviously complimented her on the delicate china doll complexion that made her look twenty years younger than she was. She told me her secret: although she’d spent her entire life in the Deep South, she’d religiously kept out of the sun. Those of you who don’t know her might picture a genteel southern belle shying away beneath a frilly parasol. Yes, she was a true southern belle, but Beverly never shied away from anything in her life (perhaps other than the mean streets of New York whenever business brought her here—she white-knuckled my hand through many a cab ride, and I never did get her on the subway).
She had the bawdiest sense of humor I’ve ever known. I can hear her lilting Alabama accent in my ear, saying, “Listen, Honey” (drawing those two words out into about six syllables)—and that throaty laugh of hers will forever echo in my soul.
Ah, Beverly was such fun, and so wickedly funny, both on paper and in person. It’s an understatement to say that she had a huge heart and a huge talent, and that her passing has left an aching void for so many of us—but most of all, for her family.
Those of us who knew her well, and pretty much anyone who ever spent five minutes in her company, grasped that Beverly loved her husband Billy, daughter Badiema and son Brant, son-in-law Roger and daughter-in-law Jana, and three grandchildren, Braden, Bryce and Becca--more than anything in this world. She doted on all of them, and I pray they will find comfort in the many memories they made together and the knowledge that her loving spirit will be with them always.
Beverly was a gifted author, and my editorial instincts told me from very early on that she was destined for a bestselling career. Clearly, she had the rare combination of talent, ambition, and discipline that it takes to make it big in this challenging industry. Many writers are challenged when it comes to combining art with business. Not Beverly. She was a professional from that very first novel—a highly instinctive businesswoman with meticulous attention to detail. She was an editor’s pleasure: she turned in polished manuscripts, always met her deadlines, and was perpetually one step ahead of the game throughout the editorial process.
We frequently talked about her desire to take the next step as she built a solid career as a category romance author. About 10 years ago, I introduced her to my own terrific editor, John Scognamiglio, at Kensington, sensing they’d prove a good match and that John would see in her work what I had seen, and break her into mainstream, which was where she deserved to be. They hit it off famously, and the rest is history.
In 2007, thanks to John, Beverly and I got to collaborate on the aforementioned romantic suspense novel. MOST LIKELY TO DIE debuted at #3 on the New York Times List, and she and I shared a memorable hysterically laughing, crying, screaming phone call the night we found out.
In fact, whenever one of us had a book coming out, the other waited with bated breath, crossed fingers, and of course, pre-ordered personal copies to boost those all-important first-week sales.
In the publishing industry, Wednesday afternoons are nail-biters—that’s when the New York Times releases its upcoming list. There have been countless Wednesdays over the past several years when Beverly and I shared antsy late-afternoon calls and emails—“Any news yet?” “Nope, not yet…” “Call me the second you hear!” Whenever I made a list (or failed to make a list)—my first two calls were to my husband, and to Beverly. She always snatched up the phone ready to celebrate with me, or give me a much-needed, sweetly drawled, “there’s always next time, Honey” pep talk.
There were many pep talks and heart-to-heart chats over the years. I got married not long after I met Beverly, and she was almost as excited for me as my own mom was. You see, she didn’t just write romance…she lived it. She and Billy were the epitome of Happily Ever After. By the time I met her, they were raising teenagers and settling into mid-life, yet she often talked about him with the stomach-fluttering affection of giddy bride-to-be. That never waned. Beverly and Billy’s marriage was a rare gift, and one she never took for granted.
After we lost both our moms in their early 60s to breast cancer, my own husband left his day job so that we would never have to look back and wish we’d had more time together, as both our fathers had. Beverly and I talked at length about this decision and the ramifications, as she and Billy had the same dream. I’m so grateful that it finally came true, and they were able to share these last few precious years together. She and I had a couple of good laughs over the trials and tribulations of writing full time with a husband rattling around the house.
Beverly, whose own mother had died before she ever knew her, was acutely aware of the void my mother’s passing had left not just in my own life, but in the lives of my children. Her two grandsons who were about the same ages as my sons, and she often made it a point to acknowledge my boys with a dose of maternal affection that touched us all deeply. She always thought of me on Mother’s Day, and she always sent a Valentine, too—inevitably, an old-fashioned, lovely card simply signed Love, Beverly in her ladylike script. She always signed her emails with the same signature line: Hugs, BB.
When my oldest son was in first grade, he sent “Flat Stanley” winging her way, and Beverly responded not just with a lovely, lengthy report about Alabama, but with a book about Helen Keller, who had been born and raised in her hometown, Tuscumbia. (In fact, she once shared that one of her daughter’s closest friends was a descendent whose first name was actually Keller—a fact that impressed us all!)
Having met Mark and the boys in person on a few occasions, she so wanted us all to visit her, and we couldn’t wait to do so. This summer, at long last, it was finally going to happen. I was about to plan our upcoming trip to Alabama around her schedule, knowing that the most cherished, sacred time of year for her was her family’s annual summer getaway to the mountains. And I had just told my husband last week that I planned to have her over to our house for lunch while she's here in New York in June for RWA. Part of the reason I enjoy those annual conferences is because it gives me an opportunity to spend time with Beverly.
Last July, in Orlando for RWA National, she and I gladly ditched our evening conference obligations and went to dinner together. We sat for hours talking, as we always did, about our two most fervently shared passions—our families and our careers.
Very few people in this world know the intimate details of certain aspects of my career. Beverly was one of the few confidantes I trusted for feedback and advice in very a small circle that includes my agent, my editor, and my husband. I knew she would never betray a confidence and that in this cutthroat and ultra-competitive industry, she was rooting for me one hundred percent. That, of course, was mutual. We always had each other’s back, always.
Beverly’s latest book, DEAD BY MORNING will be released tomorrow, less than a week after her death. She had such high hopes and jittery nerves for this one—well, for every one, really. I don’t know an author who doesn’t count off the days until the next pub date with the same anxious anticipation of a pregnant woman approaching her due date. That Beverly didn’t live to see her final novel hit the shelves makes this a bittersweet day indeed.
Among the last words Beverly ever wrote to me, in a recent email, were these, cut & pasted: Wouldn't it be great to be one of those authors who always hits The Lists in the Top 10. Dream, dream, dream.
I will pray that Beverly’s dream comes true for this book…and am spreading the word to all her readers, who can help see it through by ordering a copy here today: DEAD BY MORNING
I know that regardless of where her final book lands on the lists, Beverly Barton will forever be a shining star whose literary legacy will bring joy to generations of readers. But this world has lost a true heroine, and I have lost a cherished friend.
I’d been struggling all weekend to find the words to honor Beverly until the floodgates opened today, in more ways than one. Awash in a tide of sorrow now blurring my vision, I will leave you with simply this:
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love.” --Washington Irving
Rest in peace, sweet Beverly, until we meet again.