People Index

My Memories of Cynthia

In 1994 when I queried Caitlin Press about a book I was writing chronicling our family's experiences with my son's schizophrenia, Cynthia Wilson assured me that she was intrigued by the story and would be interested in reading the completed manuscript. Five years later she remained supportive but with reservations. The subject matter was not one that everyone would read, she realized. But after sitting on the manuscript for over a year Cynthia made the decision to publish it anyway. She confided later that she'd encountered students with schizophrenia during her years of teaching and had understood very little about their symptoms. She felt that my story was significant one that needed to be told.

Cynthia had been of two minds that January afternoon when I called to assure her that a number of mental health advocacy groups and individuals in British Columbia were supportive of my efforts to find a publisher. One other thing she was concerned about was that I might be uncomfortable communicating before an audience. I had mentioned that the public speaking confidence I'd developed during Toastmasters had more than likely worn off. Cynthia admitted that she too was nervous in front of a crowd. "But if it is something we believe in, it is much easier," she advised.

It was during our telephone conversation that Cynthia made the decision to take a chance on a brand new author with a book that very likely would never make the best seller list. She had decided she liked me and our relationship would go well, she said later. There were times during the editing process when it became shaky though from my point of view anyway. Particularly after I learned that a few of my most brilliant paragraphs were to be deleted and the entire manuscript needed to be changed and rearranged. And then there were problems with my punctuation. To this day I am fearful of inserting too many commas into a script. Cynthia had explicitly directed me to forget everything I'd ever learned in school about commas. If it was up to her, she emphasized, there would be very few commas used at all!

Cynthia and her assistant Melanie Callahan were a wonderful team of editors. I soon realized the revisions they demanded of me improved the book tremendously. Cynthia always used a pencil when making corrections, rather than the red ink I would have expected and abhorred. The final editing process came as a series of directives received by fax machine. Each was prefaced with a friendly rejoinder such as an inquiry about my health before bloodied swords were once again unsheathed to slash at my carefully crafted pages.

I finally met Cynthia Wilson in person while attending a doctor's appointment in Prince George after having recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. My daughter had formatted the final version of the entire manuscript onto a computer disk. Cynthia met me at the doctor's office to retrieve the seemingly insignificant but important plastic wafer.

Any preconceptions I may have had about Cynthia being merely a hard-nosed businesswoman vanished as I chatted with this friendly, attractive woman who was about ten years younger than myself. Cynthia was a picture of glowing health, but she appeared to empathize with my predicament. Months later she confided that someone near and dear to her had died as a result of breast cancer.

Cynthia must have experienced some trepidation about my upcoming book tour particularly if the disease happened to be fatal, or even if chemotherapy with all its adverse side-effects were to be prescribed as a part of my treatment. Luckily neither of these scenarios came to pass.

I will never forget that frosty October morning when I waited impatiently in a state of rising panic outside the doors of the Prince George bus depot for Cynthia to pick me up for an early morning interview with Mark at CBC Radio. We were already late for that appointment and I itched to contact her but the unlisted number for Caitlin Press had completely disappeared from my mind. Thankfully I finally heard my name being called over the loudspeaker. Cynthia apologized saying she'd attempted to contact me at home in Fraser Lake regarding changes in our schedule, not realizing that I'd already left for Prince George. Our first interview was to be with Bruce Strachan at an entirely different radio station. The CBC appointment had been changed to a later time.

I fell into panic mode once again when Cynthia failed to appear at the time she'd said she would. As it turned out she had been delayed on the wrong side of a road construction project a short distance from her home on the Blackwater Road. Despite picking me up literally on the fly and wheeling her powerful little sports car at breakneck speeds through the streets of Prince George, we ended up being a minute or two late for the interview. Bruce and Cynthia remained as calm as cucumbers but I was stressed to the roof. My armpits had perspired to the point where I was thankful that I was on the radio and not television!

The following morning was my television debut with Bob Harkins whose voice I had listened to for years on our local radio station. He had reported regularly from where he then lived north of Fort St James describing interesting happenings from the bush-country. Bob was a warm, encouraging gentleman. He and Cynthia were communicating in a friendly jocular manner and my stress levels had finally bottomed out. The interview went rather well, I thought.

A year later when my book received the "BC 2000 Book Award" Cynthia was even more pleased and excited than I was. "It is quite an honor," she said enthusiastically when she called.

I am now a senior citizen an entire decade older than Cynthia Wilson was and a cancer survivor. I have trouble believing that such a youthful and energetic woman as Cynthia Wilson could possibly have passed from our earthly existence before it became my turn!