Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Writer's Best Friend

I first heard from David Thompson about 20 years ago when he sent me a hand-scrawled fan letter telling me how much he loved my work.  My third Hoagy and Lulu mystery, The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald, had just won an Edgar Allen Poe Award, which for you civilians out there is a moderately big deal in the mystery world.  David told me he worked part-time at a mystery bookstore down in Houston called Murder By the Book.  He was writing to not only congratulate me but to tell me how much he wished he could get his hands on some copies of the first two books in the series, The Man Who Died Laughing and The Man Who Lived By Night.  My publisher, Bantam, had let them go out of print.  He asked me if I knew when they'd be coming back into print.  Soon, I said.

Well, they did come back into print.  But it wasn't soon.

I didn't actually meet David face to face until a couple of years later at a Bouchercon in...I don't know where.  Seattle? St. Paul? He turned out to be a gawky, toothy kid with glasses who looked about 13.  For all I know he may still have been in his teens.  We had lunch together.  Or I had lunch.  He talked.  And talked.  And talked. I had never met anyone who loved to talk about mysteries and mystery writers as much as David did.  He was the most enthusiastic guy I'd ever met.  And it wasn't just mysteries that he loved. It so happened that I was still a sitcom writer in those days and, believe me, he loved sitcoms almost as much as he did crime fiction.  When he found out I'd written for Charles In Charge he got so excited I thought he was going to pee in his pants right there in the hotel coffee shop.  He peppered me with a million questions.  He was still asking them when the elevator door closed in his face.  He almost lost his nose.

He also asked me if those first two Hoagy and Lulu novels were ever coming back into print.  Soon, I said.

We stayed in constant touch over the years, especially with the advent of e-mail.  He became the kid brother I never had.  He was an incredibly sweet guy.  He was always writing to tell me how much he was enjoying my work and other people's work.  He was always peppering me with questions.  Had I ever heard of this new writer named Laura Lippman?  Yes, I said. I just met her at the Lake Mohonk Mystery Weekend.  She's very talented and nice.  Do I like Seinfeld? I didn't at first, I said.  But now I'm hooked.  Were my first two Hoagy and Lulu novels ever coming back into print? Soon, I said.

Constantly, he was begging me to come down to Houston for a signing.  I was able to make it down to Murder By The Book on several occasions.  I love mystery bookstores.  Hell, I became a mystery writer because my first apartment in New York was right down West 87th Street from Murder Ink.  But I'd never been in a mystery bookstore like MBTB.  That's because it's not a store.  It's a community center.  A place where people hang out and never leave.  Why would they? Everything, everybody they need is right there.  Dean was still managing the store the first time I went down there.  This was about ten years ago, if memory serves me right.  I'd just launched my Berger-Mitry series.  The next time I went down there David was managing the store.  And there was an uber-cool young woman who'd started working there named McKenna.  They were a couple, it turned out, and would get married a few years later.

After my signing they took me out to dinner and the first thing David wanted to know was -- you guessed it -- were my first two Hoagy and Lulu novels ever coming back into print.  I had to admit to him that I honestly didn't think they ever were.  That was when David started talking.  I swear, he didn't come up for air for 45 minutes.  He told me that he intended to bring those novels back into print himself.  He told me he was going to launch his own little publishing company that would be devoted to paperback reprints of books like mine that deserved to be back in print.  He was going to call it Busted Flush Press in honor of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee.  The first title he intended to bring out would be an omnibus of my long-lost first two Hoagy novels.  Would it be okay with me, he asked, if he contacted my agent Dominick Abel in New York to inquire as to how to purchase the reprint rights and so forth? I said sure.  Then I got on a plane and never thought about it again.

Until the crazy son of a bitch actually did it.  All of it.  He launched Busted Flush Press just like he said he would.  And he brought out my first two Hoagy and Lulu novels in 2006 just like he said he would.  Quickly, he brought out another Hoagy and Lulu omnibus.  And, believe me, he didn't stop with me.  Before long he was publishing writers like Ace Atkins, Ken Bruen, Reed Farrel Coleman and A.E. Maxwell.  He was assembling mystery anthologies.   He was commissioning original novels.  The guy was a total juggernaut.  Truly, I didn't know how he did it.

The last time I was down there was right after that big hurricane that flattened Houston.  He and McKenna were married by then and not only was Busted Flush Press roaring along in high gear but they were in the process of buying the store.  Or I should say she was.  Technically, she's the owner of MBTB.  But I couldn't imagine David wouldn't be involved in the day to day operations.  I also couldn't imagine how he found the time and the energy to do everything he was doing all at once.  Well, I found out on that trip.  There were still power outages at a lot of the hotels so I ended up spending the night in their guest room with McKenna's cat, Manolo, parked firmly on my hip for company.  And that was when I found out David's dirty little secret: He never slept.  The guy worked eighteen hours a day seven days a week.  He also seemed to subsist on nothing but fast food and caffeine.

When he took me to the airport I thanked him for all of his support and hard work.  I also gave him some big brotherly advice.  I told him that when I was in my 20s and early 30s I used to work the kind of crazy schedule he was working and I ended up getting deathly ill with pneumonia.  Seriously, I was coughing up blood like Doc Holliday for months.  You can't keep living like a college kid who's cramming for finals, I told him.  I urged him to slow down and take better care of  himself.  Get more sleep.  Eat better food. Exercise.  All of those things.

My advice didn't go in one ear and out the other.  It never went in at all.  He didn't hear me.

He just kept going.  More reprints.  More anthologies.  David never slowed down.  David loved what he was doing too much to slow down.  A couple of months ago, bam, he called me up out of nowhere and asked me if I'd consider writing a brand new Hoagy and Lulu novel for him.  He already had the subject in mind: Baseball.  And then a couple of weeks ago, bam, he told me that he was going to combine forces with Tyrus Books which, like Busted Flush Press, is a small outfit devoted to paperback reprints of long-lost titles.  He was very excited about the merger.   So was I.  "It'll give you a chance to slow down," I said to him.

He didn't slow down.  He just died.  His heart gave out last night.  Did he make it past 40? I'm not sure. If he did it wasn't by much.   I was really shaken by the news when my agent, Dominick, just called me with it.  I went onto Facebook and discovered that everyone in the mystery world is shaken.  Because David Thompson was a friend and supporter and kid brother to dozens of other writers just like me all over the country.  Hell, all over the world.  He loved writers and writers loved him.  This writer certainly did.

Goodbye, David.    


  1. I will miss him every time I go into Murder by the Book.

  2. David,

    I'm so sorry for your loss. What an amazing friend and supporter you have had. And thank you for sharing him with us through this post.


  3. I'm sorry for your loss.

    Thanks for sharing this. He sounds like he was an incredible human being.

  4. Thanks for a lovely eulogy - I just got to know David this year and already miss him.

  5. This is a lovely tribute to my friend David. He wasn't just a friend to writers, you see. He was also a friend to other bookstore owners/managers and he was friends with readers. I've/ been both. I, too, have known David forever, well 15 years. I can't imagine shopping for a new author without his guidance. He did what I loved best, too - he matched people with the perfect book to read.

    David never hit 40. He was 38, and would have hit 39 later this month. I read another blog where his mom posted this information; it seemed very important to her.

    The world is a better place for David's avid participation. I wish he would have taken your advice tho.

  6. We at Seattle Mystery Bookshop spent most of the day looking at each other in shock, stunned into silence punctuated by bursts of disbelief.

    This is one of the best tributes I've read today, and I thank you.

  7. I only ever heard about you, let alone started reading you, was ... David. We knew him forever. We shopped at MBTB almost since they opened and even tho we're 2000+ miles away we still get our books from MBTB. Why? David knew the disparate tastes of my family and could, would and did offer titles and authors, dozens and scores, and mebbe hundreds w/a near 100% success rate.

    I am shocked at his passing, and I am surprised at the tears we are sharing about our David.

    To Life!

  8. I've been grieving along with the whole mystery community ever since I learned the tragic news about David yesterday. I was going to see him after work that day and now wish I had gone sooner. He hand sold your books to me. David was one of the most special people I ever knew, and I'll miss him every time I go into MBTB. Your tribute is so very touching.

  9. This tribute is perfect, David. Thank you so very much.


  10. This post is very nice, Because your post is giving very nice information. So we are very thankful to you.

  11. Your tribute really shows why David's been special to so many for so long.