“And these are the last words I have to say
It’s always hard to say goodbye
But now it’s time to put this book away” -Billy Joel, “Famous Last Words”
When I was at the lowest point in my career, on food stamps, depressed, suicidal, I got a phone call from my agent. She had a line on some work-for-hire, and she asked if I would be interested in it. It wasn’t going to pay great, but it would pay for Christmas presents, at least. I told her I would talk to the guy looking for a writer, and tried not to get my hopes up.
That guy, Nick Harris, called me a few days later. He sounded like the narrator from those old Paddington Bear shows. He had an idea, and it sounded brilliant. Hamlet and Romeo as ghostbuster-type characters. Once I hung up, I realized how ridiculous that idea sounded, I think his accent just made it sound really smart. But he was enthusiastic about working with me, we seemed to be on the same page in terms of how we developed ideas, and he believed I was capable of bringing his idea to life.
Over the span of a few months, with the input of my agent, Miriam Kriss, we shaped that original idea into the book Such Sweet Sorrow. And over those months, I had one of the worst mental health crashes of my life. And I got a call from Nick, making sure I was okay, telling me not to stress about the project, that my health was more important, and he would still be ready to work with me once I was better.
We did work together more. First, on the sequel to Such Sweet Sorrow, then on a few television ideas. For the first time in a long, long time, someone actually believed in my abilities and didn’t see me as a failure. And I wasn’t the only person he showed this kind of enthusiastic faith to. He believed in all sorts of writers he worked with, and all sorts of projects. He seemed to just love to create, and genuinely admired people who had that in common. Another person who worked with him said she felt he created opportunities where there were obstacles. That might be the best explanation of what it was like to work with Nick.
I found out on Friday that Nick passed away. I knew he had cancer, but every time we communicated at all, he would insist that nothing had changed, he was just going to have some chemo, he would be back in the office in a week. It was always “in a week.” The last time he told me that was in February, when I told him I thought it wasn’t a great idea to start a graphic novel project right now. I didn’t want to create another project when he had other things to worry about. I figured we would just work on it when the whole cancer thing was over. It never once occurred to me that that there was another possible outcome to cancer being “over,” mostly because he was so cheerful about downplaying it. Like he had the flu or something.
It’s a bummer, when someone you’ve worked with building a whole fictional world is gone, and you’re the only person left who really knows it from the inside. Combining our ideas was exciting and fun, even when we disagreed on stuff. Going back to edit the sequel is going to be like going back to an empty room. It’s incredibly hard to believe I’m never going to get another phone call with a borderline insane idea on the other end of the line. Or that I’ll never stay up all night working on something, only to send it to him and have him suggest we scrap the whole thing and work on this other thing instead, and can I get it finished by tomorrow? Or show him something I think is crap, only to have him tell me how amazing it is. He believed in me and my abilities when a lot of people didn’t, and I never told him how much that means to me.
You know, writing is a business, and I say that over and over again, but in this business, we’re all idiots if we think we don’t affect each others’ lives when we develop these connections. Fiction is personal. It takes trust and faith to share your work with someone else, and to believe that they’re going to respect you creatively. So, all of my writer friends, my editors, bloggers I know, readers, everybody who had touched me through writing, I just really appreciate you. And I don’t want to pass up the chance to tell you that. So, since I didn’t get a chance to tell him how much that connection matters to me, I’m telling you, before I have to say goodbye to any other amazing people without having the chance to say it: I appreciate you.
Nick Harris supported the charity The Rape Foundation, so I’m leaving the link here for donation-minded folks.