Random Acts of Kindness: From Tragedy Comes Triumph

MiMi Yeh

The recent events of September 11, 2001 were designed to bring about doubt and fear, to destabilize any belief in the strength of the human spirit. Many would probably shake their heads and think even worse of those around them even if these events were only the outcome of the actions of a few. Yet, the inherent kindness and courage displayed by volunteers, firefighters, and relief workers has somehow made these atrocities somewhat more bearable.

In a similar vein of thought, Robyn Larsen, a UMass Boston student and local author, has decided to donate 20% of the proceeds from the sale of each book to the International Association of Firefighters, located in Washington, DC. Her publisher, Virtualbookworm.com, will match the total amount she makes.

To promote her second book “The Ghost of Strathmore Manor”, as well as awareness of her efforts, Larsen and fellow author Jodi Blase, were contracted to do a book signing at the Burlington Barnes & Noble Booksellers for the night of September 25.

With the beginning of the war on terrorism also came the onslaught of donations from corporate America. In spite of the outpouring of donations, like eBay’s Auction for America that aims to raise $100 million in 100 days or Coca-Cola and its bottlers pledging $12 million, this next incident is surprising and disheartening in light of the generosity of a multitude of major corporations.

According to Larsen’s contract, they are required to contribute 60%, of the money from any books sold, to Barnes & Noble. Larsen planned to donate 20% regardless. However, once Barnes & Noble takes their cut, there is substantially less to contribute to the firefighters’ relief fund. When she mentioned this fact and asked if they would waive their fee in order to put a larger percentage towards the cause, the company refused.

When asked to comment upon this, Barnes & Noble Booksellers had nothing to say. And as to inquiries about any plans for donations they might intend to make, the company stated that the plans in question were of a private nature. To be fair, Barnes & Noble has opened its stores to act as collections centers but, beyond that, no action has been taken so far to respond to the New York City and Washington, DC incidents.

Larsen takes responsibility and readily admits that she did not read the contract carefully enough.

“I have a very big soft spot in my heart for firefighters,” Larsen writes in the author’s dedication of her second novel “The Ghost of Strathmore Manor.” “They are grossly underpaid and work with ancient equipment. I’ve even heard of firefighters being yelled at for holding up traffic while attempting to collect donations for the September 11 tragedy.”

Larsen will be selling books directly on the UMass Boston campus. Her first novel “A Suitable Murder” and second novel are also available through her online publisher, Virtualbookworm.com. She is currently working on the third novel “The Body on Flight 406” and a joint project with fellow author Duncan MacLaughlin.