Lee Child (2005) – text of Jon Clinch’s remarks


2005 Bob Kellogg Award – Lee Child

lee child

The Bob Kellogg Good Citizen Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Internet Writing Community was presented to author Lee Child at the banquet following the 2005 Backspace Writers Conference on June 2. Across numerous web sites and message boards, Bob was known for his gracious, gentlemanly demeanor and informative and entertaining posts. He had both aspirations and humility, and was always willing to share with and encourage his fellow writers. Bob’s positive approach toward writing and publishing and his helpful nature embodied the “Writers Helping Writers” spirit that makes Backspace the resource it is, and Backspace is honored to name our main conference award after him.

The following is the text version of presenter Jon Clinch’s remarks:

Do you know what Bob Kellogg’s last post on Backspace was? It was three words long, and it was absolutely emblematic of everything we know about Bob:

“Count me in.”

That was it, posted on October 23, 2004, the very day that Bob passed away during a charity run to which he had also doubtlessly said, “Count me in.”

That was the Bob Kellogg that we knew. The engaged and engaging participant in writing, as in life — eager to give it his all. That last post of his was in response to an invitation by Barry Eisler to an on-line writing workshop. And Bob, ever the avid student, was among the first to throw his hat into the ring. “Why not?” I’m sure he thought. It was a chance to keep learning.

Bob appeared at Backspace and elsewhere, God bless him, without much in the way of ego. Which is not to say that he lacked for opinions or aspirations, or that he was shy about letting them be known. But for the most part he was here — as he expressed many, many times — just to throw himself into a great experiment in learning. “I didn’t make an early enough career choice to learn anything useful about writing in college,” he said, “so the Internet has been my school.”

Which, I might suggest, is a risky business.

But Bob got it, better than many of us. He arrived as a student, and therefore he assumed that each one of us is a student, too. Which, contrary to whatever cockeyed opinions we may have about ourselves and our elevated abilities, is true, true, true.

Bob assumed that we all have something to teach. And he knew that we all have a lot to learn.

Which is pretty much the mission statement at Backspace: “Writers helping writers.” No wonder Karen and Chris decided to invent an award in his name.

You all remember the great outpouring of sadness that happened when word came of Bob’s death. That occurred not only because he was an avid student and teacher, but because he was above all else a true gentleman. Never an unkind word from Bob. Never a hasty or ill-considered judgment. Never an offense taken or given. And in the flattened, affectless, text-only world of the Internet, where a misspoken molehill can spawn a mountain in the space of a heartbeat, that’s quite an achievement.

And by presenting himself to us as clearly and completely as he did in post after post, Bob Kellogg taught us another crucial lesson — a lesson dear to the hearts of writers everywhere, a lesson so obvious that we may well have missed it. He taught us that communication of the truth, word by word and line by line, is indeed possible.

With the exception of his wife, Sally — whom you’ve all gotten to know by now — I think it’s safe to say that not a single individual in this room ever knew Bob face to face. And yet we knew him. We knew him through the very same mysterious mechanism by which we know Holden Caulfield and Huckleberry Finn and Tom Joad and Atticus Finch. The written word.

What a profound reassurance that is! What a gift! And what a gift Bob possessed, to be able to pass it on to us. “Writers helping writers” indeed. That was the Bob Kellogg we knew, and that’s the Bob Kellogg whose presence we continue to miss.

So in his name and in his memory — and with an eye to recognizing the decency and commitment and compassion that Bob personified, Backspace has inaugurated the Bob Kellogg Good Citizen Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Internet Writing Community. This year’s recipient — the first recipient — is our guest tonight, Lee Child.

Lee was among the first guest speakers to visit Backspace, about a year ago now. This was when Karen was first experimenting with the guest speaker idea, hoping to find people willing to share their time and expertise with on-line.

Lee’s contribution was definitely above and beyond the call — he hung around for six days instead of the agreed-upon three, logging in six and ten times a day — and his session got Backspace’s guest speaker program off to a terrific start. In the bargain, he offered two Backspace members blurbs for their debut novels — and their publishers were so happy with them they put his blurbs on both books’ front covers.

A few months later Lee donated two articles on writing for the public homepage area for the Backspace website, and when Karen met him at Bouchercon he volunteered, “If there’s anything else I can do for Backspace, just let me know.”

Well. You’ve seen where that got him.

For a little more insight into the man they call “Saint Lee,” and I’m not even kidding about that, we asked around. Here’s what people had to say.

From Jeff Abbott: Lee Child is one of the most generous writers in the business. Generous with his support and encouragement, which he has given to writers at every stage of their careers; generous with his talent, which he has shared as a speaker and mentor; generous with his time and expertise, which he has donated to a range of conferences and organizations dedicated to helping writers.

From Robin Burcell: Besides being very tall, handsome, debonair, with an accent to die for, what can I say about Lee Child? Did I mention that he was tall and handsome? Lee’s generosity is one of his most endearing qualities. He once told me that part of the reason he takes the time to help new authors, to read their manuscripts for cover quotes and the like, is that he believes in helping the underdog.

From Heidi Moos: We see a bit of his generosity in the little things like sending a signed first edition to round out a fan’s collection of Reacher books or responding to email personally. And in bigger acts like critiquing an aspiring writer’s manuscript or helping someone make a connection or offering support to a group trying to make a start in the publishing world. Any combination of these acts is good business sense and signs of a pro. With Lee it goes to his character.

From Maggie Griffin, Lee’s webmaven: I remember a reader named Doug who emailed Lee to say how much he enjoyed the Reacher novels. Doug was diagnosed with terminal cancer, though, and he didn’t expect to live long enough to read the next one. Lee corresponded with him regularly and promised Doug he’d get the first ARC of Persuader the minute it came from the printer. Which he did, just in time. Lee’s also e-mailed missing chapters to soldiers and other folks in faraway places.

From Cornelia Read: It’s pretty much impossible to describe Lee without sounding suspiciously like Frank Sinatra’s character in The Manchurian Candidate: the guy who’s been brainwashed to say, “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful person I’ve ever known in my life,” whenever Shaw’s name is mentioned. Here’s the thing, though. when it comes to getting across the truth about him, Lee’s the hardest to convince of all. The man seems utterly incapable of taking in any of the “kindest warmest bravest” stuff. Nor will he admit that his generosity is in any way remarkable. I’ve never met anyone who deserves the Bob Kellogg Award more than Lee. It would be tremendously cool if this recognition serves to convince him, at long last, how very much he does.

So there you have it. And in our effort to do just that, Backspace is happy to present you, Lee, with the very first-ever Bob Kellogg Award — and as a token of that honor, with a supporting membership in Friends of PEN. PEN American Center — the largest of the 141 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization — works to advance literature, to defend free expression, and to foster international literary fellowship.

Congratulations, Lee; and thanks.