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.

8 comments:

Marlyn said...

I haven't lived in Southern California all that long, but I love Book Carnival. It had the same kind of Character as Kate's in Cambridge.
How very sad.

LMWebb said...

This is a lovely tribute. I wish the same thing.

Jeff Mariotte said...

Ed and Pat are two of the great ones, the kind of people even other booksellers wish all booksellers were. I haven't seen Ed in a few years but will miss him terribly.

Maryelizabeth Hart said...

Ed and Pat are the booksellers Jeff and I always have aspired to be like.

Silenka said...

Ed Thomas...my friend, my mentor. He used to joke that I paid his rent at times. I would save for months because I knew that when I was there, listening to his stories
(he told me about the phone call too) and laughing and learning, I didn't always pick up just the book(s) I had ordered. His shop was a wonderland with so many surprises and treasures everywhere I looked. I remember asking to buy one of the posters signed and standing all around the table and his saying, "You have to ask Pat, those belong to her." Asking Pat, no - pleading with Pat I could see her wavering because we were friends and I knew she really wanted to let me buy one but finally, with a great sigh she said, "Oh Cathi, I would...but they're mine." And I understood perfectly. Ed, Pat, their employee Tim were Book Carnival. If I had the money I would buy that shop in a heartbeat and do my utmost to keep everything the same. But I am not Ed. I am not Pat. I am just one of many lucky people who can honestly say we all were great friends. The last day Ed spent at the shop was because he knew I was coming in. I had had another surgery and he had called to check on me and I promised to come that Saturday. As I walked in he told me gruffly that he was dying of cancer and to leave him be, refusing the hug we always shared. He sent me to the back with Tim to get my ordered books and called Tim back twice to bring me autographed first editions of short stories that were published years ago, knowing I would be thrilled to have them, knowing I couldn't possibly afford them. But he cut the prices over half and they are now mine. I believe it was his farewell gift to me. He kept loudly complaining that he had to leave for the hospital but never did. After a bit, Tim took my last boxload to the desk and Ed rang me up for what was to be the last time. I kinda lit into him and told him the things he didn't like to be told. That he had mentored me for over 20 years, allowing me to be comfortable in my choice of reading when others couldn't understand. He told me I wasn't a collector but a lover of the written word, I called him friend and reminded him it took years to get him to drop his curmudgeonly attitude and realize that I was his friend. With tears in his eyes, he gave me his hug and whispered in my ear that I was indeed a good friend and that he would miss me. Then in a loud voice told me to leave because he HAD to get to the hospital. I didn't realize I was the reason he hadn't left. We walked out together, one more quick hug and we climbed into our cars and part of my life will always be there as it was our last goodbye. Thank you Jan Burke, for your amazing words.
Cathleen Kalbreier

chefcareyacc said...

Thank You Jan for your beautiful tribute to my Dad, Mom and Book Carnival. It is true you can not mention either names without the other . A true Trinity!
Though we have never met I knew of the depth of your friendship and respect. Just picking up a Jan Burke Novel in My Dad's personal collection at home and reading the wonderful inscriptions- one could feel the love and adoration. Thank You for that.These books as all the great Author's/Friend's works that line my Parent's walls are sacred pieces of my Father's legacy.
I just want all to know how comforting it has been to read, hear,and feel all the love that has been showered on my Dad and family.We grieve together now and will celebrate together soon this life well lived!
Love
Carey Thomas

Carolee said...

I was late getting to read Jan Burke's books but once I found her, I read every Irene Kelly book straight through in order. Each one got better and, by far, my favorite is "Bloodlines." The history of Corrigan, O'Connor and Kelly kept me anxiously turning pages. I have just finished "Kidnapped" and can hardly wait for the new Irene Kelly novel. Keep them coming!

LMWebb said...

I knew the LA Magazine dedicated to Ed was coming, but on Sunday, when I opened the cover & there was Ed, my breath caught. Walking in to Book Carnival was like coming home to me. I missed Pat's humor, her hugs and her constant devotion to me. Seeing Ed gave me comfort that good, honest, strong, funny, smart and huge hearted people still walked this earth. I miss his voicemails, "LAURA?! ED THOMAS, call me." on my phone. I want to celebrate his life but right now, I just mourn his loss.