It’s a sad day. My old boss, Brian M. Thomsen, passed away over the weekend. I have to admit that I haven’t been the best at keeping in touch with Brian. It had been on my mind for a while to give him a call, but now that opportunity has passed. It’s my loss, for sure.
I worked as an editorial assistant to Brian at Warner Books, where he oversaw the Questar science fiction and fantasy imprint, as well as being the primary editor of horror titles there, and the occasional techno-thriller. Under Brian, I worked with such authors as Greg Bear, CJ Cherryh, Octavia Butler, and more. I edited my first novels for him, including the Wizard of 4th St series by Simon Hawke and the Wings Over Nam series by Cat Brannigan a/k/a Kevin Randle.
As a boss, Brian was, to put it mildly, a mess. He was under orders from his boss to keep his office door closed at all times, lest some Warner big shot bigger than she or some best-selling author walk by and see the train wreck inside. I used to compare it to one of those antique shops you’d find in the Hudson Valley, you know, the ones where they’ve converted some old Victorian into a completely overstuffed mess? Now just add giant stacks of books and paper on top of everything and you might get the picture.
The assistant before me was a mess also and I spent a fair amount of time cleaning up. Just when I thought I had everything filed and put away, Brian would come out of his office with a green hanging folder six-inches-thick and hand it to me. It was completely normal to find paperwork that was two-years-old in that folder, which meant it had been sitting on Brian’s desk for two years. That things did not simply turn to compost on Brian’s desk is strictly because of a lack of water and worms, I’m sure.
In his own way, Brian was a bit of a publishing genius. His knowledge of what had been published previously served as both a blessing and a curse. I could bring up a book and he’d tell me that Zebra had published a novel with a similar plot six years prior and it hadn’t done well, so we should pass. Yet he happily ripped off TOP GUN with a series called Wings of Gold.
When I worked with Brian, the office was located at 666 Fifth Avenue, right above the old B. Dalton bookstore. Brian spent time at almost every lunch hour in that bookstore, looking at what was selling. He lived and breathed publishing in many ways, and went on to become a published author of many books. I wish I had been there the day that first book arrived. I’m sure it was one of his proudest moments.
To say that Brian was a know-it-all seems an insufficient description. Though when he moved to Wisconsin to work at TSR, he didn’t know how to drive! Yet, he knew an awful lot, about publishing and about history. In many ways, Brian may have missed his calling. He’d have made a wonderful history professor.
Beyond working as his assistant, when I became an agent, Brian was kind enough to steer Ed Greenwood my way. Ed is, of course, the best-selling creator of the Forgotten Realms™ fantasy world, not to mention the author of many novels set in that world, and also of other novels I’ve had the pleasure to represent including, most recently, DARK LORD. And Brian bought a Civil War novel from me, PROMISE OF GLORY, which has had quite the nice run. I wish I’d sold Brian more books over the years, but he was a man of quirky tastes, not to mention quirky traits.
Brian, you will be much missed. Your huge heart that seems to have failed you physically warmed many a friend’s spirit. And I know that somewhere in the great bookstore in the sky, you and Julie Schwartz are sitting around thoroughly enjoying yourselves. You, no doubt, have a very large coffee in hand and Julie, no doubt, has found himself a cute blonde.