Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ed Thomas

I learned today that Ed Thomas has passed away.

I can't tell you how hard it was to type those words. I knew he had been ill, knew that he was not expected to survive, but still it's hard. Even as I would not wish a moment's suffering on my beloved friend, it is so hard.

In 1992, many months before my first book was published, I received a call from a bookseller in Orange, California. Ed Thomas, the owner of Book Carnival, had read an advanced readers copy of Goodnight, Irene, and invited me to sign at his store when it was published. He was kindness itself, and I accepted his invitation.

So my first book signing was held at Book Carnival, and I came away from it with a false impression that every signing at any store might include a huge turnout. My humility was soon returned to me. But after that, I tried hard to arrange matters so that Book Carnival would always be my first signing date. Although I wasn't always able to prevail over plans my publisher's marketing department made, every time I published a book I signed there as soon as I could. It wasn't the turnout, although they always managed a good one for me, but I would have been happy to return in any case — because that 1992 phone call was the beginning of two treasured friendships — Ed and Pat Thomas were unfailingly kind to me over the next 18 years.

Ed had already been in the book business a long time when I met him. The number of authors who felt a family-like loyalty to him is legion, and by the time I met him already included Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais and scores of others. For me, each visit to that store was like a visit home. Pat and I would talk about Texas and family and friends; Ed would tell jokes and stories; they would always treat you right. I would come to a friend's signing and still be in the store over an hour after it ended, talking to Ed and Pat.

Ed would tell me a joke (he had my number early on re judging how earthy they could be) and Pat would blush and wave a dismissive hand at him and say "Oh, Ed!" even as she laughed with us.

The Book Carnival is one of the oldest stores of its kind in the country. In 2003, Ed and Pat Thomas traveled to New York for the Edgars, where they were presented with the Raven. They were richly deserving of the acknowledgement.One of my favorite photos was taken of the three of us that night, and you can see it here.

Jokes and stories were part of each of my visits to the store, but nothing excited Ed like discovering a good read. I never walked out of Book Carnival only carrying the book I came in for. That was okay — I happily anticipated discovering a new (to me) writer with each visit. It was what every writer knew when they were at the store — Ed loved the books he sold. He knew mystery and dark fantasy (the store's specialty). He was extremely well-read in the genres, and also read beyond them. He knew book collecting, but he was not one of those folks with an untouched library. He learned what his customers liked and remembered that, so that even if a book could be bought cheaper somewhere else, they came to his small store for all that he offered them beyond a buck off. And what he offered was a great deal of knowledge and personal service. He was a man who wouldn't tell you he liked something he didn't. He wouldn't tell you a rare book was worth more than it was. The buyer didn't have to beware at the Book Carnival.

I always loved to exchange stories about some of our wackier encounters with the public. Ed once told me a story about getting a call from a man who asked him where the store was.
Ed told him the address.
The man said, "No, it's not."
"Yes, it is," Ed said.
Ed listened with growing incredulity as the guy started to argue with him about it. "Look, whether you believe it or not," Ed said, "I'm standing right here in it."

How I wish he was standing right there now, that I could drive there tonight and visit one more time, and let him know how very much I'll miss him.