[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 
skills.

          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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