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September 21, 2008

Brian Thomsen
Posted by Patrick at 12:26 PM * 68 comments

On Martha’s Vineyard to teach the twelfth Viable Paradise, Teresa and I are shocked to hear of the sudden death of longtime SF and fantasy editor Brian Thomsen. We were young in the industry with him—he was the junior SF editor at Warner Books in 1984 when Teresa worked a long-term temp job in their promo department. He gave us both a lot of freelance work, most notably the job of writing a “readers’ guide” to Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. Later he ran the fantasy line at TSR, and more recently was one of Tor’s many consulting editors. He was a genuinely good egg, an enthusiast for his authors, and startlingly creative in the collegial give-and-take of figuring out how to sell particular books—I treasure his description of one of my projects, Jo Walton’s Farthing and its sequels, as “dark cozies.” He was also a passionate political liberal; for the last several years, whenever he visited Tor, we would converse hilariously about the latest outrages of the right.

He evidently died today of a sudden heart attack. Good God.

Comments on Brian Thomsen:
#1 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:16 PM:

I am more startled and saddened than I can possibly convey.

No one seems to know how old he was. Younger than me, I'm pretty sure.

#2 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:57 PM:

I'm home from a long day/weekend at the KC Renaissance Festival and coming home to this.

Even though I only got meet him as a convention guest here, this news is shocking.

Oh. My. Ghod.

#3 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:59 PM:

I'm so sorry.

All of them too soon.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:16 PM:

Beth, I'm sorry about that. We tried to get in touch with you.

I think Brian was a little older than I am.

#5 ::: Robert J. Sawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:39 PM:

Very sorry to hear this. Brian was my first book editor, back at Warner Questar.

#6 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:39 PM:

More damn Year of the Jackpot.
He was one of those people who were quiet, with a very deep knowledge and interest in the field. He didn't have the visibility that a number of other editors have had, in some ways I think because he wasn't flamboyant and/or inflammational. There's a much bigger hole in the field now with him gone, than I suspect most people are likely to realize.

#7 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:47 PM:


#8 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:50 PM:

I didn't know him, as far as I know. I'm sorry for your loss, you all who did. He sounds like a great guy and a valuable person to have around.

Damn. This sucks.

#9 ::: Walter H. Hunt ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:53 PM:

This is a terrible shock. Brian was my editor at Tor for all of my books; in a dedication I said that changes he made to any of my work always made it better.

He was all that is said above and more. He'll be missed.

#10 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:54 PM:

T @4 -- Patrick did get me on IM. I'm still shocked and saddened.

#11 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:56 PM:

Oh my god, what a shock.

#12 ::: Kristin Sevick ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 12:02 AM:

I track(ed) for Brian at Tor, and I could never have asked for a sweeter, more thoughtful, and more knowledgeable editor to work for and learn from. He had more publishing know-how in one pinkie finger than I can hope to gather in a lifetime.

He will be dearly missed.

#13 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 12:30 AM:

I knew him less than half so well as he deserved, and liked what I knew. Condolences all around.

#14 ::: Yvonne Navarro ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:25 AM:

I'm so sorry to hear this.

#15 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:21 AM:

Oh no. :(

My sincere condolences.

#16 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:22 AM:

Oh, no. Deepest sympathies.

#17 ::: Steve Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:58 AM:

I was at TSR when Brian was there, and he was always very nice to me. I ws sad to hear about this.

#18 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 06:22 AM:

My deepest sympathies to everyone who knew him.

#19 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 06:22 AM:

My deepest sympathies to everyone who knew him.

#20 ::: arkessian ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 06:30 AM:

My deepest sympathies to those who knew him well. He was (briefly) my editor at Warner Questar -- the brevity was my fault, none of his. He was unfailingly kind and helpful, and a joy to work with.

#21 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 06:50 AM:

My sympathies to all who knew him.

#22 ::: Colin McComb ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 07:25 AM:

Like Steve, I was at TSR during a part of Brian's tenure. I never knew him as well as I should have, and I regret that. I always found him to be open, warm, giving, and wickedly hilarious.

I hope his passing was easy.

#23 ::: Mel Odom ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 07:44 AM:

Brian was only 48.

#24 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 07:45 AM:

My sympathies to all who knew him as well.

#25 ::: Bob Eggleton ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:27 AM:

Stunned. Jeeebus. Brian was always a good guy, and VERY funny, from way back when he was at Warner. It was always a joy to speak to him. 48. Wow. He was my age. My condolences to his family and all his friends.

#26 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:35 AM:

I'm so sorry for your loss.

There has been too much lately.

#27 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 09:10 AM:

My condolences on your loss.

#28 ::: Ed Greenwood ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:03 AM:

Brian and I were close "phone friends," talking at least weekly, firing books back and forth to each other constantly, and endlessly conniving as gleeful conspirators on book ideas, short story ideas, publicity ideas, and talking about life, the universe, and everything. We had tossed e-mails back and forth just hours before his passing, and agreed that he'd call me "tomorrow" to hone our latest scheme.
That call will never come, now.
Leaving me staring at the empty silence, and feeling pain not only for his wife and kin, and his publishing colleagues, and for me and his other friends, but for the entire d**ned publishing field.
The man was a tireless powerhouse of mining ideas and forgotten books from the past, neglected audiences and stories that could be done better; ALL readers are the poorer for this loss.
I dedicated several of my books to him, and the one that's just appeared in DARK VENGEANCE is very fitting:
"To Brian
Who deserves much, much more than this."
Farewell, friend.

#29 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:13 AM:

48? Good grief.

#30 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:26 AM:

I'm so sorry for your loss. He sounds like a fantastic person, and it certainly sounds like the world is poorer without him.

#31 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:42 AM:

I'm very sorry to learn that Brian's passed.

I didn't know him well, but all my sympathies to those of you all for whom he was a friend as well as colleague.

Love, C.

#32 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:48 AM:

Learned of this this morning, on coming to work. I think I'm still processing.

Brian was truly one of the nicest people I have ever met. Outside of politics, I've never heard him say a mean or nasty word about anyone, and he was always willing--eager--to help a writer or a fellow editor in any was possible.

He had a special kind of gallantry.

His visits to Tor were always a pleasure.

What a tremendous hole he leaves in the world.

#33 ::: Jen Hill ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 11:21 AM:

I learned about this when I got to work today. And I still haven't processed it. I didn't know Brian well, but from what I did know he was a genuinely nice guy. When he was in the Tor office, I always paid extra attention since at times he brought a little slice of the gaming world with him...

He will be missed.

#34 ::: Alan Dean Foster ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 11:38 AM:

Another sucker punch from a cowardly Fate. Brian was one of my best friends in the field and edited several of my books when he was at Warner. We were friends since he entered the field, and encountering him at a con led to hours of deep discussion on everything from the state of the genre to the state of the world. A gentle man of strong opinions, with a ready laugh usually directed at the foibles of the species, it was a fucking persistent crime that he did not spend his last years as editor-in-chief at a major publishing house. But Brian wasn't pushy enough, didn't kowtow sufficiently to the flavor of the moment, and wouldn't kiss adequate corporate butt. The field will miss him, and I'll miss him more.

#35 ::: Patrick LoBrutto ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 12:09 PM:

What a shame. Brian was fun, smart and creative. And he knew from good baking. I will MISS that goofy laugh.

#36 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 12:21 PM:

My condolences to all who knew him.

#37 ::: Dennis L. McKiernan ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:08 PM:

Oh, man. What a shame. I first met Brian at some World Fantasy Convention way back when. Godspeed, Brian.

#38 ::: Nina A ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:26 PM:

My condolences to those who knew him.

#39 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:48 PM:

Like many others here, I'm so sorry to hear this news. May those who miss him find comfort.

#40 ::: Rus Wornom ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:24 PM:

Brian and I became friends at a small science fiction convention in Virginia 22 years ago, and six years later he asked me to write my first three books for him at TSR. I will never forget his kindnesses and his humor; my heart goes out to his family in Rockaway.

#41 ::: Tom Meserole ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:44 PM:

I met Brian back in 1984 when I chaired Conquest. He came to KC and met all of the authors, including C.J. Cherryh, who definitely wanted to meet. He eventually published 18 books from those introductions. He became a good friend and we would chat about once a week. He returned for many years until he moved to TSR. At one point he confided to me that his two favorite conventions were Conquest and Archon because the fans were so easy going. He used to send me and another friend Joan so many books, that we refered to him as the "uncle Brian" book club. He will be severly missed. He was a very good person.

#42 ::: Tom Easton ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:59 PM:

Sad news, indeed.

#43 ::: Melinda Snodgrass ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 04:03 PM:

I'm heartbroken. Brian bought a couple of my books, and was a boisterous presence in my life. Fun, funny, thoughtful and very smart. He studied to become a Jesuit priest, but left after a superior confronted him about his evident lack of belief. He loved to tell that story and end it with that laugh.

#44 ::: Moshe Feder ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 04:12 PM:

It's late on Monday afternoon and I've only just heard this terrible news.

Brian was a joy to know. He had a bottomless fund of publishing knowledge, a creative imagination, brilliant editorial instincts, and a generosity to his colleagues which I (as a fellow Tor consulting editor) was always grateful for.

To say that we will miss him is truly an understatement.

#45 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:09 PM:

Auch ein Klagelied zu sein im Mund der Geliebten ist herrlich;
Denn das Gemeine geht klanglos zum Orkus hinab.

-- Friedrich Schiller, Naenie
Set to sublime music by Brahms. My condolences.

#46 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:46 PM:

This is very sad. I just recalled that while at Warner, he had nearly bought a novel of mine, a few years before I was published by Tor. I spoke to him a couple of times and always found him to be funny, intelligent, and a pleasure to talk to.

My deepest sympathies go to all those who are close to him. This is a real shock.

#47 ::: Tom Dupree ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:09 PM:

It's too much for me right now. This was an exemplary human being who knew more about the sf field -- and who could better tell good from bad -- than most of us. I'm shattered.

#48 ::: JANE YOLEN ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:14 PM:

I hadn't really spent any time with him in years, but always liked (and respected) him. Too...damn... young. God, I hate this.


#49 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:34 PM:

My sympathies to those who knew and cared for him.

#50 ::: lucyp ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 11:29 PM:

Many apologies for an off-topic post in this thread, but I know people here will care, and I don't know where else to ask: seems to have vanished again. When I try to connect to the main page or to the forums, I just get a generic domain registry page. Does anyone know what has happened?

Again, apologies for the off topic post, and please delete if this is not appropriate.

#51 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 12:57 AM:

Coincidence is a strange thing. I'm entering my mystery collection into LibraryThing while boxing them up for storage while the bedroom is repaired, and among them was More Whatdunits... which proved to contain not only a story by Brian Thomsen, but also one by Janet Kagan. Double whammy.

#52 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:25 AM:

I first read about this earlier on LWE's LJ. My sympathies to the many friends and family.

#53 ::: Jim Fallone ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 07:37 AM:

Brian was the work. He ate, drank, breathed, and crapped the work. Brian Thomsen was the work.

He knew the who, what, where, when and (even if you thought otherwise) the why of its publishing.

He relished Machiavelian strategy and never stop working a plot.

He found joy and value in every printed word from New York Times sales success to remaindered noble failure.

He was what he wrote, Falstaffian in stature armed with the worse puns imaginable and even worse wardrobe (In Tim Gunn's dreams Brian Thomsen was Cthulhu). And like his words he was always full of light and humor.

He collected friends like an anthologist collects ephemera. He was more connected than Kevin Bacon and with less degrees.

He lived like he edited. He found that his manuscript ran long, so rather than add pages he edited it down to end a signature early to lower his COG. Though it may have ended abruptly and lacked a little elagance the magnificent bastard made it work. The surprise ending had impact and he will last with all of us that went along for the ride.

Somewhere in heaven Julie Shwartz is showing Brian the cover of a comic with God on his knees holding a lifeless Jesus in his arms. "What do you think Brian... too much?"

#54 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 08:13 AM:

Jim, that was moving, funny, and tells us so much about Brian in so few words. Thanks for sharing it.

When I go, I hope to have a friend as gifted and loving as you to write my eulogy.

#55 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:16 PM:

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks to everyone who is sharing such wonderful memories.

#56 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:51 PM:

Details on services:

Ralph Aievoli Funeral Home
1275 65th St
Brooklyn, NY 11219
(corner of 13th and 65th)

Wed 2-4:40 7-9:30
Thurs 2-4:40 7-9:30

Mass will likely be 10:15 on Friday. This is not finalized, details will be available at the wake.

#57 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 04:01 PM:

Saw the news on "Nina Harper"'s lj yesterday. He worked with her on Succubus in the City. My condolences to all who knew him, and I repeat her exhortation: take care of your heart, eat healthy and get exercise, we're losing far too many people too soon.

#58 ::: Pamela Dean ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 04:55 PM:

I was very sorry to hear this. I met Brian a few times at conventions when I was a very new writer, and he had an absolutely boundless enthusiasm for fantasy in all its manifestations.

My sympathies to those who knew him better.


#59 ::: Kathi ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 07:46 PM:

I met Brian at the Texas NasFic in the mid-80s. My book was sitting on Jim Frost's desk somewhere in the pile. There was that stupid thing about Brian supposedly saying something cruel about Questar authors (quoted in the SFWA mag, I think? And supposed to be from PW? Dear G-d that was a lifetime ago) which Brian swore to me he had not said. I was able to tell him that I'd gone back through every PW in the last year, looking for that thing that was "quoted". It didn't exist; I'd made sure of that.

We were instant friends, and saw each other several times while at the convention. He told me that of course he couldn't promise he would buy the book, but he promised me he'd retrieve it from Jim's pile and read it, and if he couldn't buy it, he'd give me feedback.

Well, back at the ranch, the next week, I came home to find on my answering machine a quick call from Brian, telling me he had the book and would get back to me as soon as he could. Of course, I figured if I heard by Christmas I'd be lucky.

Later, I found out that he'd already read it, and had done the first pitch to the Powers That Be. When he finally could call me, on October 3rd (still a holiday for me) he said: "Hello, future Hugo winner!" You gotta love an editor with that kind of enthusiasm.

He would surprise writers with a box of books and silly stuff (the one I really remember was the alligator squirt gun -- for a Mental Health break). I wasn't his writer until Jim left Warner, but Brian was one of the editors who called when I made the Campbell list my first year.

I'm still working on books I think he'd like. We hadn't crossed paths in years, but for me, Brian was my first proof that among all those editors out there were a couple of real gems, as people and as mentors.

And you know who you are.

Fair skies and smooth water, Brian. Way too soon. Once again -- be with the people you love, folks, because sometimes there won't be any "another time."

(Apologies for typos and other unsightly things...)

#60 ::: Malcolm Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 08:44 PM:

I remember meeting Brian when he first became a keen young editor at Warner, about 25 years ago, I guess.

I'd seen him only intermittently in recent years, but this is a huge and unwelcome shock.

#61 ::: Neil Gaiman ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 12:19 AM:

Whenever I'd visit DC Comics in the Eighties Brian would take me up to his office at Warner books and we'd chat. (We'd met at Worldcon in 87, introduced by Julie Schwartz of course). I would sit with my mouth open at the amazing messiness of Brian's office, trying to figure out how he could find anything in the teetering spires of manuscripts and envelopes, wondering how he could exist in there, how any publishing could ever get done, that it was as if a mad set-decorator had gone way over the top on cramming a warehouse full of paper into an eight-foot by eight foot room, and my admiration for Brian would increase -- it was one thing to have a messy office, but that office was something unique.

I really liked him, was always happy to run into him at conventions (and, occasionally, memorials).

I can't believe he's gone.

#62 ::: Ann Schwartz ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 04:58 PM:

I worked with Brian back when Grand Central/Hachette was Warner Books. All the old hands here are grieving, in shock. (and surprisingly, there are still quite a few of us here who worked with him.)

His paper-piled office was a legend in its time. Under his leadership, we did many books, including Octavia Butler's Imago series in paperback. I remember him explaining to me about the unbaptised babies in Limbo, and something that I always thought of as Brian's rule: only ONE go-around at the food buffet at Bombay Palace Restaurant.

He was funny and fun and smart.

Farewell, BT...

#63 ::: Bradley Denton ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 10:59 PM:

I've just now learned this sad news.

Brian bought my first novel, and he provided friendship, guidance, and encouragement when I sorely needed all three.

I am indebted and grateful to him, and I am heartbroken that he's gone.

#64 ::: Tom Dupree ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2008, 04:13 PM:

I wrote a piece for Locus in :30 the moment I heard, as if it might be somehow purgative. But as is usual in such matters, what I wrote turned out to be more for me than for Brian. What I wrote must wait until next month: as he lived, Brian died on deadline.

He was one of my best friends. I attended the funeral mass, my first one ever. I didn't cry until the priest made us ready to wheel Brian out again, for the last time. Then I boo-hooed all over my suit: this intelligence, this knowledge, this warmheartedness. And he has to leave? Jesus.

#65 ::: Joan Knappenberger ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2008, 12:15 AM:

I met Brian when he was just a Jr. Editor for Warner books. What a bright, funny and inventive guy. When he would come to St. Louis for a visit or we would meet at a con we could really get into any number of great adventures. He cleaned up his office when he got a promotion and sent the sf group here in St. Louis a lot of books, 38 large boxes of them. They were delivered to my house by a very confused postman. This was the start of "Uncle Brian's Book Club" This seemed to please Brian no no end. He gleefully chuckled at the description of what he had caused.
Brian had a wonderful way of teaching you any number of things with humor and style. He knew more off the top of his head about sf, writing and many other subjects in general then most of us could ever hope to know.
Farewell dear friend.

#66 ::: Peter Archer ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 09:57 AM:

I met Brian in 1996 when he hired me as an editor at TSR. He was sitting behind his desk, which was piled high with books, magazines, manuscripts, papers, and miscellany. During the day, he would slowly sink lower in his chair, until those who came to see him in late afternoon could only see the top of his curly hair sticking up from behind the papers.

His mind was amazing. He knew every pop reference, every book on every subject, and had an interest that ranged over time and space to fill all the corners of the universe. I had majored in medieval history in school and had put that fact on my resume. Brian's first comment to me was, "At last, someone I can talk to about William of Malmsbury!"

That was Brian. No matter what your background or experience, he knew something about it and had some perspective on it that was enlightening.

The last time I saw him was in a little hole in the wall restaurant on Fifth Avenue, where he knew the owner, knew the menu, and spent the meal commenting to me on the state of the publishing industry. I wish I could have that meal over again. I wish I could see my friend one more time.

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