A very dark year got even darker a few days ago, when I learned of the death of Kay McCauley in New York City.
Kay had been my literary agent for many many years, and a big part of my life for even longer. I have been trying to recall the first time I met her, but the memories are blurry. I suspect the first time we spoke was by phone. I had signed on with Kay’s brother, Kirby McCauley, along about the mid 70s, when I was a struggling young writer and he was a struggling young agent. Kirby had come out of Minnesota to set up shop in the Big Apple, and in the early days he flew solo, working out of his apartment, representing the estates of a few giants and a lot of upstarts and neopros like me. But he climbed, he climbed. His client list grew, and some of his clients became stars… in no small part due to Kirby. To the best of my recollection, Kay came out from Minnesota to join him in the early/ mid 80s, to help him manage a business that had become ever larger and more chaotic. She soon became an indispensable part of the agency that was variously known as Kirby McCauley Ltd, then the Pimlico Agency, then Aurous.
Kirby died in September 0f 2014. Hard to believe that it has been six years. The years go by so very swiftly now. I made a long post about Kirby and all he did for me shortly after his death on my old LiveJournal version of Not A Blog. It is still up, so I won’t repeat myself here, beyond posting a link to:
The agency carried on after Kirby’s death, and so did Kay. She had been pretty much running things for a decade or more in any case, with Kirby advising from the sidelines, semi-retired. And if Kirby had been the King of Agents at his height, his sister was indisputably the queen.
I have been trying to write this tribute to Kay for two days now, but the words come hard. She was such a big part of my life… and the life of all her clients, I think. Hers was an old fashioned sort of literary agency. She did not have a long list of clients, and… indeed… was not eager to take on anyone new, though from time to time she made exceptions. She took on Gardner Dozois when he finally left the agency he had been with for decades, and did great things for him. (Gardner, love him, was such an Eeyore that he tried to argue when Kay got him MUCH bigger advances than he had been getting previously, protesting “No, that’s too much,” but Kay was having none of that). She took on Vic Milan when so one else would touch him and made him the biggest and best sale he had ever gotten. She did amazing stuff for many of her other clients too… but I will let them tell you about that. And of course she and Kirby did great things for me.
Being one of Kay’s clients was not an ordinary writer/agent relationship. To Kay, we were all family. She loved her clients, and her clients loved her back. There is no one like her.
(Mind you, Kay could be fierce as well. She did not forget, and she did not easily forgive anyone who she felt had screwed her, her brother, or any of her clients. You messed with Kay McCauley at your own peril).
The news of Kay’s death came as a total shock to me, and… I suspect… to most of her clients. Kay was older than Kirby, and a decade or so older than me, but you would never have known it. Her energy was prodigious. She seemed like a force of nature, indestructible, tireless; I figured she would go on for decades. I think all of us did. She was working hard for her clients right up until the end. In fact, she had just closed a deal for three more Wild Cards anthologies for us. The contract is sitting on my desk as I type, awaiting my review and signature. Kay would probably have phoned or texted in another day or two to scold me for not dealing with it more quickly.
She always loved Wild Cards; the books, yes, the characters… and all the writers as well. For a number of years, she would fly out to Santa Fe on or about September 15 (Wild Cards Day) and throw a big party for all the Wild Carders. We had one at my theatre, and several of them at Meow Wolf. None this year, alas, thanks to Covid… but I know Kay would have made up for that next year. Though she did not often come to worldcon, she was planning to attend CoNZealand and throw a party there. Covid put an end to that as well, sad to say. (FWIW, I do not believe she died from Covid).
Of course, dinner with Kay was always on the schedule whenever I visited New York. The last one — the last time I saw her — was a year ago in October, when Kay and me and Tom Doherty and Diana Pho and my assistant Sid had a marvelous steak feast at Keen’s Steakhouse in NYC. Tom and Kay had secretly arranged for the restaurant to present to present me with one of the clay pipes that have decorated the walls and ceiling of Keen’s since colonial days. A rare honor. I have never smoked, but I was thrilled all the same.
SID & KAY at KEEN’s, October 2019
I have so many other memories of Kay… she has been a huge part of my life and career for so many years. I remember when she went to Ashford Castle in Ireland with me and Parris, the meals we shared together, the day the three of us went hawking. I wish I had a photograph of Kay with her hawk. We had such a great time there, we often talked of going back. Being Irish, Kay often talked of wanting to retire and move to a cottage in Ireland… a fond dream, but I knew she would never do it. She might have started as a Minnesota gal, but Manhattan was in her blood. I remember the times we visited City Island with Kirby, to feast on seafood at one of the waterside restaurants there. So many toasts… great bottles of wine, champagne, and of course prosecco. And great meals. Which she always insisted on buying… unless there was an editor along she could give the check to. I think I only managed to pay for her dinner once, during a visit to Santa Fe, and to do that I had to get to the restaurant twenty minutes ahead of her and speak to our waiter, make special arrangements so the check next came to the table… elsewise she would have ripped it from my hands.
I remember how we wept together, on the phone, when Roger Zelazny died.
And again, decades later, for Gardner.
She was a great agent too. And unlike many literary agents of her generation, she was not afraid of new media. Kay never played a role-playing game in her life, but the first time I was offered an RPG deal, she learned all she could about gaming, plunged in, and got me a terrific contract.
Ah… I hardly knew how to start this, and now I do not know how to stop…
It is going to take me a long long time to get over her passing. Years from now, I suspect, part of me will still find myself wanting to text her, or pick up the phone and call her. She was always just a phone call away.
And I damn well better get that Wild Cards contract signed soon, or I know that Kay will haunt me.
If there is an afterlife, Kay McCauley is with her brother Kirby right now, and the two of them are negotiating better places in heaven for their clients.
((I will leave comments open on this one, but ONLY for comments about Kay. Those of you who knew her, and have memories and tributes to share, please do. I would like to read them)).
Current Mood: sad