[LMB] Jim Baen 1943 - 2006
Lois McMaster Bujold
lbujold at myinfmail.com
Thu Jun 29 21:52:28 BST 2006
The similarities of Jim Baen's passing last night from a stroke with
that of my mother three years ago stirs up memories that mostly make me
mute, but this stuff has been running through my head all afternoon, so
I think it's time to get it out on paper.
I always though Jim was about ten years older than me, but it turns out
to only be six. Huh. He was one of those prematurely-white-haired
people like Anne McCaffrey whose actual age is very hard to judge.
Jim Baen Remembered
It was twenty years ago last October that Jim Baen called me
up in my grubby little kitchen in Marion, Ohio, and bought my first
three completed novels, two of which he had not yet read. At that point
I knew almost nothing about Baen Books, except that my friend and first
reader Lillian Stewart Carl had met then-senior-editor Betsy Mitchell at
a convention, thought she might give my book a fair read, and suggested
I try them. When /The Warrior's Apprentice/ came back from its third or
fourth rejection that summer, I did. My notions about publishers and
publishing were terribly vague and -- I think "imaginative" might be a
good word, here -- back then, and I really had no idea who or what this
person was on the other end of my phone line, except that he was
offering me the stars. Which I grabbed.
Baen Books actually started at nearly the same moment I first
set pencil to paper on my first novel, and were still new in 1985, so I
may perhaps be forgiven for having barely heard of them. I had no idea
how long or if the company would last, but hey, they wanted my books.
Through a succession of phone conversations -- me bewildered and
slightly paranoid, Jim very patient -- I gradually learned the ins and
outs of how editing was done, how royalty reports were done, how books
were marketed, how cover art happened, and a host of other professional
I first met Jim face-to-face in an elevator crush in the lobby
of the Atlanta Marriott at the '86 Worldcon. I recognized him from his
photo in /Locus/, and from his trademark white beard and jacket that
made him look like a sort of SF-nal Colonel Sanders. I rather
frantically introduced myself, and as he was borne away into the
elevator with the fannish mob he called back something like, "If you can
write three books a year for seven years, I can put you on the map!" To
which my plaintive reply was -- and I can't now remember if I voiced it
or not -- "Can't I write one book a year for twenty-one years?" I don't
know if he ever knew how much he alarmed me with that.
This was also the con where I was first introduced to the
custom of meals with one's editor/publisher -- breakfast, in this case
-- the first of many memorable feeds with Jim and Toni. I believe our
next meal together was the Nebula banquet in New York, where the same
book we'd been discussing in Atlanta was now up for best novel. We were
all very nervous, or at least I was; I don't know how refined and
intellectual the conversation was at other tables, but we devolved to
telling light bulb jokes. I was so excited when /Falling Free/ won that
I hugged him, and he looked wonderfully smug. Worldcon that fall
brought the first of a long string of memorable post-Hugo-Ceremony Baen
parties, to some of which I brought back wins and others losses but to
all of which I was warmly welcomed.
Jim had a lot of ideas about promoting writers that I think
would have been a wrong turn for me, had I taken them -- collaboration
with a better-selling writer, world-sharing, and so on -- but he
certainly proved later that they could work with the right combination
of writers and projects. I'd like to think that the lively and
successful promotion via the Baen website of _A Civil Campaign_ back in
1999 helped inspire his ideas for web-based promotion and publishing,
although I know other colleagues had more practical input on that. He
always made it very clear that the last word in any editorial
discussion, and we did have a few, was mine. And he put up with a great
deal of dithering from me over the years on various subjects, including
of course covers -- I will say, if any of my Baen covers didn't work, it
certainly wasn't for any lack of trying on everyone's parts.
Between geographic distance and the busyness of our respective
and intertwined careers, Jim and I never become close social friends,
but quantity has a quality all its own, and twenty years is a long time
to work together, even if it is generally a thousand or so miles apart.
And he always loved the hyperactive little git. Last fall on the 20th
anniversary of that life-changing phone call, I sent Jim a card with a
photo of the Mississippi River (which I now live near, and representing,
I suppose, a lot of water over the dam) more or less thanking him for my
career. He e-mailed back to say he was touched -- and, being Jim, to
angle for another Miles book. For once in my life it seemed I was not
too late in saying the thanks you wish like hell you'd said to the
people who've mattered most, because Toni, when she called me this
morning to tell me he'd passed away last night, said he'd still had the
card on his desk. So that's something.
Lois McMaster Bujold, 6/29/06
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