Washington Irving, Ichabod Crane, and Diane Rehm

UnknownI had a terrific time talking Washington Irving on The Diane Rehm Show this morning.  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was (appropriately) chosen as the book for their monthly “Readers Review,” and I sat on a panel with two incredibly sharp experts on literature, film and media, professors Caetlin Benson-Allot of Georgetown and Sian Silyn Roberts of Queens College.

Me, I was there mostly to provide the background on Irving, though I did get to chip in and comment on the story every once in a while.  I was also fascinated by the interest in how Irving may have come up with the name Ichabod Crane – it was the topic of both an e-mail that was read on the air as well as a phone call.  It was fascinating to hear that the name has a Hebraic origin, but when it comes to Irving . . . well, I’ll let you listen to the show and you can hear what I had to say. If you missed it, not to worry: you can listen to the entire show right here.

And if you’re listening, and wanna know exactly which version of “Sleepy Hollow” we’re reading from and want to read along, it’s this one.

River Recap

Last weekend, I officially had one of the best times ever at the James River Writers conference — a really terrific two days of panels and talks, presentations and conversations. I had the pleasure of staying in Richmond at the home of my colleague Dean King (whose book on the Hatfields and McCoys, The Feud, continues to win one well-deserved prize after another), where I discovered to my delight that I would also be bunking with his agent and editor (not in a weird way, mind you) — which meant each evening ended sitting around a table with great conversation. And bourbon.

As I mentioned the other day, I had plenty to do, from talking Jim Henson (twice!) to sitting on two panels, including a really fascinating session on research — and I say fascinating, because it was a real learning experience for me, since I was the only non-fiction writer sitting up on the dais. Usually, I’m at a conference filled with biographers where research is pretty much what we do, so a panel on research usually turns into war stories and measuring contests. Here, it was a lot of fun to hear about the kinds of research fiction writers and poets use to inform and inspire their work without necessarily worrying about every last neurotic detail of the research, as we non-fictionalists tend to do.  Good stuff.

I sat on the research panel, by the way, with Hugh Howey, the current guru of self-publishing, who’s as charming a speaker and presenter as you’ll ever see.  That meant that the ringside seat I had for Hugh’s discussion/debate on the state of the publishing industry with former Little, Brown editor Geoff Shandler–who is also one of the smartest and most charming speakers you’re likely to see–was destined to be one of the conference’s hottest seats. The session didn’t disappoint–and moderator Erica Orloff did yeoman’s work keeping things both raucous and civil as Hugh and Geoff went at it for nearly an hour.

It was a tough room for Geoff; Hugh’s one of the guys who’s made it big in self-publishing, and his passionate Screw The Man And Keep The Money narrative was an appealing one embraced by much of the room, even as Geoff just as passionately shot it full of holes and urged writers not to rush to give away or devalue their own work in defiance of The Man. All in all, it was a spirited discussion, and ultimately the two of them did their best to agree to disagree–but as an industry, this discussion and debate is far from over.

Another New To Me experience was attending the conference’s Sunday afternoon Pitchapolooza session, in which writers were given one minute at the microphone to pitch their book to a panel of editors and agents. It takes spectacular guts to stand up in a crowded room and pitch your book for critique–so, well done all you gutsy writers who took your moment at the mic. Oh, and the winning pitch that day? It came from an absolutely charming thirteen-year-old who had clearly rehearsed and re-rehearsed her pitch for her urban fantasy novel. Practice matters.

For me, the best part of the weekend was  just sitting and talking with so many talented writers, poets and playwrights, all of whom had something interesting to say and were passionate about saying it. As I noted above, it was one of the best times I’ve had at a conference.

So: Thank you, James River Writers, for having me and taking such good care of all of us. I had a wonderful time, and I hope to come back.

People On The River Are Happy To Give

ConferenceLogo2014-width250I leave tomorrow afternoon for Richmond, Virginia, to attend an event I’ve been looking forward to for almost a year now: the James River Writers conference. I was so thrilled to be invited–and I’m even happier that they’ve chosen to keep me so busy over the weekend. I’ve been to Richmond lots and lots (I love their Poe Museum) but this is my first time at the conference as either a guest or speaker.  So, yeah, I’ll say it again: I’m really looking forward to it.

If you’re attending–well, first, come say hello, okay? I’ll be giving one of two TED-style talks on Saturday morning–a quick ten minutes on what writers can learn from Jim Henson (hint: practice and perseverance). Then, on Sunday, I’ll be serving on two panels, one on research, the other on the art of the first draft. (For more information, the weekend conference schedule is right here.)

And even if you’re not attending . . . well, one of the great things about JRW is they host a lot of events in Richmond that anyone can attend.  Late Saturday afternoon, then, I’ll be talking about Jim Henson at 5:30 p.m. at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond. I just finished putting together a new presentation, with a different line up of clips than I’ve used in the past, and I’m pretty excited about debuting in Richmond.  And did I tell you it’s free?  It’s free, people.

Seventy Four.

John Lennon would have been seventy-four years old today.

Take a moment today to think of peace, think of love, think of joy, and think of the music. Because those are the things John lived for, you know–and wanted you to live for, too.

Look! It’s Jim Henson in Polish!

Late next week, I’ll be meeting with a Polish reporter to talk Jim Henson over at the University of Maryland. As you can imagine, he really wanted to see the Jim Henson statue, and I was so pleased that the University was able to take good care of us, even getting us a room at the Stamp Union Building to record a radio interview.

Oh, and wanna see what Jim Henson looks like in Polish? Here ya go:

JonesBrian_PolishCover

Apparently “Tata Muppetow” translates roughly as “Father of the Muppets”–and just to make sure book browsers knew exactly who we were talking about, I love that they bumped out Kermit with a splash of green.  Really nice work all around.

At Last, Hurrah!

I had a great time with the Maryland Ensemble Theatre doing their Last Hurrah podcast this past weekend — and host Kevin Cole informs me that you can now download it for total free on iTunes, right here.  I’m on Show 12 — but I had so much fun doing this one that I think you’ll probably enjoy any of the shows you might download. I joined Kevin and his pals Hannah Gutman and Andrew Michaels for more than an hour as we discussed Jim Henson, of course, but also whether biographers know everyone else’s projects, what it’s like to major in unemployment, and the whole Paul Is Dead thing.

The rest of my week is seat time, working my way through chapter two. Just for fun, go watch this:

Geeks Assemble!

Screen shot 2014-09-26 at 4.51.26 PMDidja remember I told you earlier this week that I’d be doing a podcast with the fine folks over at Assembly of Geeks? Huh, didja? Well, I did — and I have.  I had a lot of fun talking with supergeek Scott Murray, both on and off microphone. He’s a geek who knows his stuff. And as promised, you can listen to the entire thing if you just follow this link on over to their website.

And one more reminder that I’ll be with the Maryland Ensemble Theater for The Last Hurrah on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. in Frederick, Maryland. Bring everyone you know.  And throw stuff.