It’s here. The day we knew would come . . . no, that’s not true . . . it’s a shock, it’s a tragedy! Okay, maybe not a tragedy. Still, our very own writer-turned-tool-junkie, Spencer Baum, is returning to his first love and, by the end of business today, will be a full-time (no longer part-time) writer of novels that already enjoy a growing and enthusiastic fan base.
Titles such as The Homecoming Masquerade, The Demon Queen and the Locksmith, and One Fall found enthusiastic acclaim (and continue to do well) on Amazon.com while Spencer works on his next book. And, you know, there just aren’t enough hours in the day, so . . .
We are not, however, letting him go quietly (you wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?). You’ve come to know Spencer pretty well over the last couple of years—he has been a regular contributor to The Studio—so we asked him to share some of his more memorable experiences from his time here at Rio Grande.
2003: “We’re at our Catalog In Motion show, and Tim Sheriff (Swanstrom Tools) is demonstrating his new wire-looping plier. After four days, he had sold more wire loopers than we had forecast for the entire year! It was a crazy mania of wire looping—and my first experience with a runaway item. Nine years later I’m still amazed at the things people are doing with this tool.”
2005: “At the SNAG Conference, John Paul Miller received the Lifetime Achievement Award. After the awards ceremony, Bill Fretz and I got to talking to him about his life and his work. Bill reminisced with John Paul about an incredible instructional film John Paul had shot showing his friend Fred raising a freeform bottle—Bill had seen that film when he was in school and described it as ‘life-changing.’ The next day, John Paul came back with the original 8mm prints of the film and asked if we could do anything to make it available for a new generation of silversmiths. As soon as we got home, we did a DVD transfer of the 8mm film and the result, Raising a Freeform Bottle, is still my absolute favorite video in our catalog.”
2006: “Bill Fretz showed us the first prototype of a Fretz hammer. It felt so good in our hands that nobody wanted to let it go…our customers felt the same way! Fretz hammers have shown up on three Tools & Equipment catalog covers since then. We can’t stop showing it off!”
2007: “Tim Sheriff sent us a prototype of his company’s new disc cutter. I remember pulling it out of the box, laying it on my desk, and staring at it, wondering why no one had ever built a disc cutter like this before. That day Diana Montoya, the tools product manager, picked up the disc cutter from my desk and said, “This is really, really cool.” It was one of those moments when you knew you had a product that would knock ’em dead.”
“The master forming block, the brass bezel roller (with head-shape designed by Mark Nelson), the Bonny Doon hammer and stakes, the Bonny Doon pattern plates, heck just the growth of amazing Bonny Doon tools in general from only two spreads in the 2005 catalog to eight spreads in the 2012 catalog—I’m so stoked I got to be a part of it all. When you’re a buyer at Rio, your job is to partner with some of the most inventive people in the world and ride the wave of their brilliance. It’s kind of awesome.”
“Something that I find pretty cool is that my replacement [fyi, no one can replace Spencer, but his successor is pretty awesome in his own right] came in the same way I did. A rising star in the Rio purchasing department named Jeff Vinje started out by managing the open orders for bench tools, took all the many jewelry-making classes we offer here at Rio, started going to the trade shows, developed relationships with all the manufacturers and tinkerers we work with (and started some new ones too), and now he’s taken over my role with gusto. He is working with the same product manager (Diana Montoya) who oversaw all the new stuff mentioned above, and I’m stoked for everyone to see some of the stuff the two of them already have in the pipe: new rolling mills, new gold testers, a new bezel roller, lots of new books and DVDs (including new Fretz DVDs!)—some really exciting new stuff is coming soon!”
Then, we had some probing questions for our Spencer:
Q: Are you currently working on a novel? If so, what?
A: Yes. I’m hard at work on the sequel to Homecoming Masquerade. Can’t get it done fast enough—there are many readers emailing me for updates. In the afterward to Book One, I promised a Winter 2012 release on the sequel and that promise made readers crabby because it was too far in the future. So I’m trying to pick up the pace. Going at it full-time starting on June 30, I hope to be finished and online with the sequel before summer is out.
Q: How long have you been moonlighting as a book author?
A: I’ve been trying to publish fiction in one form or another since college. I finished my first novel in 2000 and shelved it knowing it wasn’t good enough for anyone to read. The first novel I felt was good enough to put out there was One Fall, which I published in 2004. (One Fall was optioned for a movie by Brand New Productions in Hollywood!)
Q: What got you into writing?
A: Jules Verne novels got me excited about writing when I was in elementary school. I got more serious about it in my early twenties when I realized the stuff I was writing was just as good (in my mind) as the stuff I was reading. Still, writing for me was firmly in the realm of hobby until 2010 when the eReader revolution turned publishing on its head. All of a sudden I was making money with the novels I had self-published for my own amusement.
Q: What do you hope to be doing this time next year? And five years from now?
A: At this time next year, I want to have two more novels in the Girls Wearing Black series complete and for sale. I have no clue what I’ll be doing five years from now. The changes in publishing are so dramatic and quick that none of us really knows what’s coming next. The rules today for an author are quite a bit different than they were at this time last year. In fact, it’s that rapid pace of change that makes me feel a sense of urgency to capitalize on the success of Homecoming Masquerade (the first in the Girls Wearing Black series). A part of me feels that if I keep writing part-time, as a hobby, releasing a new novel whenever time allows, the window of opportunity that has suddenly presented itself will be gone. Right now, I have an audience of dedicated readers who are ready to pay for the next book if it’s out there before they forget about me.
Q: Who is your favorite author and why?
A: My favorite author is Jonathan Lethem, who writes literary fiction infused with lots of comic-book nerdiness. When I read his books, I get the sense that he and I would be pals if we ever met.
Q: What will you take with you from Rio to your new career?
A: A huge chunk of who I am now is courtesy of my experiences here at Rio. I feel like I arrived at Rio as a wide-eyed college grad and am leaving as a businessman. The culture of the company is all about honesty and accountability, not only to your peers but to yourself. You live it from 8 to 5, and find that it seeps into your personal life as well. That’s the “learned” item I’m taking away—at the company, I have become a better person. As far as something more tangible, I think the hundreds of friendships I’ve developed here, both in the company and in the larger industry are the most significant thing. My wife and I are going to London this fall for our ten-year anniversary, but while we’re there we’ll be meeting up with Matthew Durston (of Durston Rolling Mills) and Nick English, whom many Rio customers know from our Rio In Motion shows in Tucson. These are people who have been business partners and now are morphing into the role of lifelong friends. Same goes for many, many others . . . people in all parts of the country and all over the world. Vendors, customers, former employees—at Rio we call all these people “stakeholders,” because once we’ve developed a business relationship with someone, we’re all on the same team and have a stake in each other’s success. I’m leaving the company, but I’m so close to all these people, I don’t really feel like I’m leaving the team. I’m still very much a stakeholder.
Finally, we couldn’t let Spencer go without loading him up with a lexicon of words to take with him. Offered by those of us who worked closely with Spencer over the past several years, these were the first TWO WORDS that came to mind when we think of our colleague and friend:
From: Molly Bell, Director
From: Rusty Heath, Supply Manager (who couldn’t stop at TWO)
From: Diana Montoya, Product Manager
From: Monica Foster, Supply Manager
From: Viqui Sanchez, Writer
In 10 years of working with Spencer, I never heard a nasty word out of him; his upbeat, half-full outlook smoothed many a rough day for me, though I doubt he ever knew it.
From: Kevin Whitmore, Product Manager
IMPresario of AWESOMEness
From: Sessin Durgham, Tech Team & Designer Extraordinaire
From: Mark Nelson, Tech Team & In-House “Celeb”
From: Orion Malfar, Forecaster & Planner
Hugh Bell (Director) once called me “Spencer” when passing me in the hall—greatest moment of my life!
From: Keith Ward, Supply Manager (looks like more than one of our supply managers has a thing for words!)
Top-Ten (keeper of many a top-ten list)
From: Patrick Sage, Product Manager
From: Patricia Pembridge, Supply Manager
From: Jeff Vinje, Supply Manager
From: Dawn Nials, Product Manager
From: Shelby Chant, Writer
My “Chuck Palahniuk friend” is Witty & Generous
From: Yvonne M. Padilla, Designer & Content Manager
So there you are. Yes, maybe it really is a tragedy—for we who are left behind. Our love and our respect go with our friend and colleague and, yes, we will be lifelong friends. And, hey, Spencer, The Studio loves contributing writers (even those taking a break between chapters, hint, hint) . . . don’t be a stranger!