This isn’t going to be a post on Toni’s life and accomplishments, directly. First of all, I’m not nosy enough to have asked her for that, although I’d love to interview her sometime formally. What it is, is a story of friendship and generosity.
Toni is the editor in Chief at Baen Books. Baen is extraordinary for many reasons, something Jim Baen set up in his time. When we sadly lost the man, Toni stepped into very big shoes, and filled them seamlessly. She kept it all going: the business, the policies that made Baen special, and she did it with a gentle hand that never felt like it was there. But it was a guiding light. Eh. My metaphors are mixing. She’s going to tease me about glowing fingers next time I see her.
But that’s the thing. She pays attention. And she adopted all of us. The strange mixed crew of Baen’s Barflies, the realm of outcasts and geeks who came to Baen’s Bar because it was a safe place. Sure, there was a forum where you could talk Politics. But if you didn’t want to? You didn’t have to. And the moderators made sure of that. If you pushed, you got sent to Blazes (another forum). In the lifetime of the Bar, only a handful got so obnoxious they had to be banned entirely. Most of the Barflies lived by Jim Baen’s mandate: don’t be a butthead. Baen’s Bar wasn’t about the politics. Baen, the publishing house, was and is the last major House who didn’t apply a sociopolitical litmus test to it’s authors. It doesn’t discriminate. Have you any idea how powerful that is? It’s so powerful a concept, it’s led to the attacks that have shut down the Bar, and gotten a WorldCon to disinvite Toni as GoH, and is pushing to do away with Baen entirely.
I asked Toni yesterday if there was anything I could do. She suggested “Spreading the love that is the Baen Free Library–would love to see that positive contribution be known far and wide.”
So, let me tell you about the Free Library. It saved my life.
No, I’m not joking or indulging in hyperbole. I’m absolutely serious now. I found Baen’s Bar in 2000. I was a very young mother (my daughter was an infant, and I was pregnant again) in an abusive marriage. I was being isolated from friends and family by my now-ex. I was stuck at home, not allowed to drive (no license, only one car anyway), and my outlets were watching television (golf works for SAD, by the way. Sunshine and green grass) and reading. I ran out of books. Also, nursing an infant and wrangling a paper book isn’t so easy. I had discovered public domain ebooks, and for funsies, I went looking for more free books… and that’s when I found the Baen Free Library. This isn’t what saved my life, although maybe my sanity at that time! Finding the Free Library led to finding the Baen’s Bar. It was…
It was like coming home to a home I didn’t know was even possible. I found kindred spirits. I found people I could talk to, who grokked me, and I got them right back. It was incredible. I don’t have the words for the emotions I’m having now, remembering those bleak days where I almost couldn’t go on. And finally, the Free Library brought me, through the Bar, to a quote in a Lois McMaster Bujold book about resetting one’s personal honor. That was like flipping a switch, and the light banished the shadows in my life, that were extinguishing me, and enabled me to see the way out. And through it all, I had unseen friends encouraging me and giving me support, on the Bar and later the facebook communities when the Bar had software issues and we all migrated.
I was out of that, but still struggling to stand on my own two feet, when I met Toni in person for the first time. It was a kaffeeklatch at Boskone. She knew me, even before I was properly introduced, and when another person at the table asked a question about the Bar, referred him to me, as I’d been part of that community for more than a decade at that point. I was surprised, then. Now? I know better. She is gracious, generous to a fault with her time, and wise. She knew what she was doing.
There were other cons. I asked her questions about publishing, writing, editing. She knew I was becoming an Indie publisher, but never treated me like I was competition. She gave me shrewd business insights, and gentle encouragement. I think I’ll always come back to that. Gentility – that’s Toni. She is gracious, kind, gentle, and very wise.
It hurts me to see her disrespected and rejected by the SFF cons. But then again, Baen has been under attack for a long time, for failing to fit into the correct mold. Baen won’t take sides. Toni’s letter about why – about free speech – is characteristic of this refusal to bend the knee to those who want to make it all about identity politics. Baen is about the story, not the identity of the author. If you can write a good story, a solid plot people want to read, Toni doesn’t care if you have purple polka dots and one horn and fly. She’s going to publish you.
So I’ll leave you with this. Instead of dwelling in anger, let’s go do two things. Spread the word about the Baen Free Library. Let’s make it about the books, not the scum who are attacking what we love best about Baen. Secondly, if you have a Toni story, tell it in the comments. Let’s give her some love!
(Header image: Toni Weisskopf, Larry Correia, and Mike Kupari at LTUE about 6 years ago)