Kathi Kamen Goldmark (photo borrowed from Amy Tan)
Kathi Kamen Goldmark has died. I have trouble even writing this line. If you knew her, you know that Kathi was--is--about life. Life, laughter, joy and love. As the hundreds of people she affected all over the country find out this devastating news, as tears flow and hearts break, we try to find ways to express what we feel about this remarkable woman whom we love so much. Cry? I'll try not to. I will honor your joy, Kathi. Just give me a minute.
She came to my life as the Queen of the Literary Escorts. You can't imagine how harsh the publishing world can be--especially if you're a first-time author, going on tour with an obscure book. I had been wandering around the country in 1993, facing those famous three person crowds. That is, when the book stores weren't empty. I met Kathi in San Francisco. In those days, of long book tours, publishers hired local experts to take you around town, to radio stations and signings. Ironically, since I ended up on his show years later, the client right before me had been Bill Moyers. Kathi was drop-dead gorgeous. Her pals will all agree. Sexy as hell with her thick red hair and her rock & roll dress and her zebra-stripe shades. She gave me Mr. Moyers' snack bars and water. I was made.
We trudged from dismal reading to dismal reading, and she cheered me on. Often, she was the only one cheering. She coached me, too. She told me, "No matter what happens, no matter how bad the event, be a gentleman. Always be a gentleman. They'll remember."
Yep, I was in love. Why deny it? Sam Barry, her beloved husband, knows this. So don't get excited. I certainly wasn't the only one.
Anyway, that year, at the Miami Book festival, I watched Kathi and her band, The Rock Bottom Remainders, play. You might not know them. This writer rock band of hers--Stephen King, Dave Marsh, Matt Groenig, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver. Folks like that. I was with my publicist, Paola from Anchor Books. She said, "Next year, you'll be onstage with them." Yeah, right.
The next year, tour was even worse. It was a first novel nobody cared about, and I had the flu, and Mama Kathi rescued me and hugged me and drove me around and took me to music gigs and introduced me to authors and basically smelled awesome. When you walked into a place with Kathi, you immediately looked cooler by degrees. I had hair almost to my butt in those days, so I fancied us a real juke-joint sensation wherever we went.
And in LA that year, Kathi added me to the Remainders line-up. Yes. How many ways can a woman change your life just because she loves you? I claim no special credit, by the way. Take a look at her Facebook, or Amy Tan's. Kathi loved everybody--that was her genius. And they all loved her back. Love her back. Will forever love her. So I met Steve King. I met Ken Follett--we rehearsed our dance moves in his suite, for God's sake. But Kathi also introduced me to Bruce Springsteen. I got to sing "Gloria" between Kathi and Bruce. Um. What???
She meant the world to me. I stayed at the house with her and Sam. I was often dragged onstage to be flogged by Amy at Remainders gigs. Kathi took me to have supper with Maya Angelou. She never stopped. Once, at a later Miami fair, we all went to supper at a Palm Beach restaurant. John Connoly was with us. And there was a lovely Latina laboring over a little keyboard, warbling pop hits to a crowded house where nobody was listening. And it was Kathi who decided to force us all to cough up money for this woman. Greg Iles, Scott Turow, Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, John, me. Kathi ended up with a massive stack of bills--hundreds of dollars. And she walked over to this woman's tip-snifter on the organ and dropped it in. I could not stop laughing. And weeping just a little bit.
I will always remember this as the perfect Kathi moment.
Kathi and Sam were kind enought to invite us to their wedding. It was joyous. What else could it be? And as she got sicker with cancer, I tried to bolster her spirits. I made her a book of cartoons. I wrote in it, "I know you're not feeling well. This is my way of holding your hand." We traded sweet emails and messages as she fought on. And this last time in Miami, I was with our beloved friend Mark Childress. Mark and I were going to be the back-up singers for the Remainders gig. Kathi was already fighting this terrible disease with all she had. And as she got off the plane, her hip broke. And they found bad things in her at the hospital. Everyone was terrified and jangled, and although Mark and I were ready to sing, the band forgot we were there and just bashed through their set. It is evidence of what a true gent Dave Barry is that he came and found us the next day to apologize.
And Kathi called me to talk about her hip and what was happening in the hospital. I told her I loved her. The rest is just sorrow.
But I'm telling her now--I love you, Kathi. I wish everybody had known you. But we will all see you again soon enough. Wait for us. XXX
Book club members have been some of my most enthusiastic and careful readers. I’m thrilled to share my work with you, answer your questions and tell you some of the stories behind the stories. This is our spot, just for us. Here, we can chat: If I’m nearby, I’ll come and visit your club. Otherwise, we can Skype, talk over the phone or email. Sometimes, I’ll send surprises or hold contests.
Happy to return to the madness that is Tin House. Details here.
Details to come.