Kim Weiss Publishing Services

When an author dies

July 28, 2008 at 8:50 pm

I know. I know.

Sounds maudlin. Is maudlin. But it happens.

I was a few days late in learning that Randy Pausch passed away.  Carnegie Mellon professor and author of the much publicized book, The Last Lecture, Pausch made an impact on a lot of strangers.

Including me.

At the end of the day today,  I watched a videotape on the book site. It was Randy Pausch giving the commencement speech at CMU just this past May. I dug into his publisher’s website, and visited his personal online account of the state of his health, for the second time.

His last journal entry was at the end of May. A lapse in entries until someone blogged on his behalf on July 24th. He was dead on the 25th. I think that’s pretty remarkable. 

On the publisher’s site, there’s a nice tribute to the professor. I can only imagine how they feel there. The editors who made sure the i’s were dotted. The publicists who told his story.  The sales people who told it once more to the buyers of books.

This microcosm of people are feeling the loss of an inspiring man. How he touched their lives is their private matter.

Since joining HCI in 1994, I’ve unfortunately walked in their shoes.  

A tremendous loss happened before I arrived when Janet Woititz died. She shepherded the entire ACOA movement with her bestseller, Adult Children of Alcoholics. Her legacy is obvious but how she touched staff at HCI another story. I’m told that she appears in people’s dreams. Indirectly affected important choices they made. I’m sorry I missed out on meeting her.

There were a few others that were lost during my tenure but none affected me like the loss of Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., psychologist and prolific author. You know how it works. The author “lives” in the domain of the editors for some months and then they deliver them to us in the publicity kingdom.

I was privy to how amazing this author was from the accounts of our editorial director. She was editing, AWE: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion, and experiencing real transformation in her life.  This was one of the most important books she’d ever worked on. I believed her and couldn’t wait to work with Pearsall.

Finally, the day came when I was gathering publicity information via email and I was to have a phone conversation with Dr. Pearsall. That conversation lasted an entire hour. 

He told me that AWE was truly his life’s work. Yet he warned me that he was in fragile health. He was aware that his own personal despair had weakened his immune system. He had some very rare condition that I don’t remember. He attributed his condition to the recent and very tragic loss of his son. It was clear from our conversation that he would never be the same. From this hour with Paul, neither would I.

My take is: AWE is about that emotion that we never name as such. It’s when we’re at the zenith of our senses yet beyond them when we understand the preciousness of life. When we’re feeling our feelings as fully as we can and when our vision is laser sharp. Living our lives at maximum possibility.

In Pearsall’s words: “Feeling suddenly elevated to the limits of indescribable delight, yet teetering on the edge of fear, we experience our rarest, most powerful, and least understood emotion: awe. It’s an overwhelming and life-altering blend of fright and fascination that leaves us in a state of puzzled apprehension and appreciative perplexed wonder. ”

Almost exactly two weeks after our conversation, Paul Pearsall died. And, before his book was released.

This is a dilemma beyond usual proportions. What would we do? Could we do? There was no man to represent his tome. No one to do radio interviews, appear on Montel, autograph copies. No one who good embody and convey the principle of awe like the author.

Everyone at HCI was stunned. Michele, our editor was devastated. 

We would plod on ahead and try to keep Pearsall’s vision alive by selling the book. Of course, it wasn’t easy.

We had the honor of working with a great man and bringing his vision to life. Ironic, isn’t it how he fell away when his most important work was born. 

The eeriest part is that I still get requests from the media for interviews with Janet Woititz and Dr. Pearsall. It’s almost like a divinely designed pause in my day to stop and salute these great people. Cliche as it sounds, there is really no better way to keep their work alive than in books. Books don’t die. (they just go O.P.’d – private joke)

I’ve always kidded that the real pinnacle of our publicity efforts will be when we can channel interviews from the “other side.” 

Hey, I was just kidding.

Hats off to you Randy Pausch and the lesson you taught us to live our lives with passion and love. I think you and Paul Pearsall would have made an awesome duo. 

No pun intended

Comments (2)


    I just read Randy’s book. Very inspiring. I was planning to look at his Web site to get an update on him. So sorry to hear he passed away. His words will help many.

    As an author, death is not in my face, the way it was with Randy, but we never know what our future holds. My late husband and I sold everything and traveled full-time in an RV beginning at age 47. I’m so glad we did. Bill would not have had a chance to do many of the things we were able to do and that he had dreamed of doing. He passed away at age 59.

    Jaimie Hall Bruzenak
    author of Support Your RV Lifestyle! An Insider’s Guide to Working on the Road

    Comment by Jaimie Hall BruzenakJuly 30, 2008 @ 5:45 pm

    A great tribute to humble, generous people who were sincere in their desire to help others.

    I applaud HCI for keeping their books in print, which I know wasn’t a decision based on profitability.

    We now have technology (POD) to give these writers bibliophilic immortality.

    Their work is timeless.
    The audience is out there.
    How do you reach that audience without support from retailers or a marekting budget from the publisher?

    TP, the bookie

    Comment by TPJuly 29, 2008 @ 8:00 am

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