My friend, Brian Thomsen: In Memoriam

Editor and author Brian M. Thomsen, 49, died September 21, 2008 of a sudden heart attack at home in Brooklyn, New York. Thomsen was a founding editor for the Questar line at Warner beginning in late ’80s, where he edited many important books, notably C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen

(1988). In the early ’90s he went to work for roleplaying-game company TSR, where he ran the fantasy fiction line. When TSR was acquired by Wizards of the Coast in 1997 he moved on to freelance editing and writing, and working as a consulting editor for Tor.

Thomsen was also a fiction writer, producing around 30 stories for various anthologies and a pair of Forgotten Realms tie-in novels in 1995 and 1996. He edited many anthologies, including The Reel Stuff (1998, revised 2008) and Alternate Gettysburgs (2002) with Martin H. Greenberg; World Fantasy Award nominated critical anthology The American Fantasy Tradition (2002); and Novel Ideas: Fantasy and Novel Ideas: Science Fiction (both 2006).

Thomsen helped Julius Schwartz write his autobiography Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics (2000), and wrote books of non-fiction in various fields, including history.

He was a Hugo finalist in the Best Professional Editor category in 1987, and a judge for the 1993 World Fantasy Awards.

(Adapted from a comprehensive obituary to be published in the October issue of Locus Magazine. Locus will publish tributes to Brian Thomsen in its November issue.)

Damn it, Brian.

I sit here in Virginia, light years away from the Bronx, opening a beer to my friend. The times spent with Brian were too short and too far between. Some are just a blur. Some I will always remember, because his kindness had that much impact on me.

My wife is the nice one. Remember this. I took her to a science fiction convention “on the Fort,” Brian would often remember, cackling with unholy glee. It was a small, local con, held at the Hotel Chamberlin on Fort Monroe, in Hampton, VA. 1986. I wanted to go specifically because I’d read that a Warner editor would be there, and I wanted to hear what he had to say about breaking into the market.

The editor was Brian, and we attended his panel. Later, we decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant, and we saw Brian alone at a table. Maria, the nice one, said, told me to go invite him over. So I did, and he came, and we ate and drank, and we became friends.

Over the years we’d see each other all too briefly at conventions, where he would always get Maria and me into the best publishers’ parties, first hugging her like there would be no tomorrow. He regaled us with stats about the colors used on most sf book covers, and why; the cocaine-snorting habits of Stephen King’s then-agent; he’d send me the latest books from Warner almost every month, including advance copies; we’d talk about his friends, and bondage movies based on the Steed and Peel Avengers series. I attended a SFWA Author’s banquet in NYC one year, and he invited me to spend the night at his home, where we stayed up late talking books and movies, where he slipped Captain Kronos and The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires into the VCR — movies I had wanted to see for a decade, but where in Hampton, Virginia could I get them? His lovely mother fed me, and it was there that I fell in love with something I’m sure they took for granted: Ba-Tampte Mustard. Magnificent. He took me drinking for the first time in a real NYC bar — alcohol only, no food, not like Virginia. My only regret is that he never told me the whole story of Julie Schwartz, and the real reason why the women in Clark Kent’s life were all initialed LL…

We met his wife, Donna, only twice, and too briefly both times. After Brian left Warner and went to TSR, I made arrangements to meet him at the World Con in Orlando in fall 1991. There he surprised the hell out of me and asked me to write my first novel for him — I mean, he had that much faith in me? — based on a D&D game I’d never heard of, and about which I could not have cared less. It sounded completely ridiculous: a fantasy city, on the back of a big spaceship shaped like a manta ray, and the guy with the magic cloak becomes the captain.

Of course, I said yes.

I’m not stupid.

That book was Spelljammer: The Ultimate Helm, published early in 1993. That one led to two more: Castle of the Undead and Dungeon of Fear, both in TSR’s Endless Quest series, in ’93 and ’94. All were published under pseudonyms.

After that, I lost touch with Brian. I somehow learned he left TSR and went back to NY, and I eventually tracked him down and spoke with him a few years ago, at the time when Christian Fiction was peaking. He laughed madly and tried to convince me to write a Christian novel for him. I said that I couldn’t — I just didn’t believe. He never stopped laughing as he said, “You don’t have to believe! You’re a whore just like me! You just write the damn thing!”

Well, damn it, Brian, now you’ve gone and had a heart attack. You’re missing everything. All the comments from people who love you. Like these, and these, and these.

Maria and I send our love out to Donna and his family. More people on this planet owe him for his kindnesses, his knowledge, and his love than anyone could possibly imagine. Just look at that photo at the top of this blog: look at the wicked, impish, boyish joy flashing in his eyes.

Brian, you better be at those gates when I cross over. And the beer better be cold.

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