More Comings and Goings

Urgh, I continue to be the worst. Blogger. Ever.

Hi, everyone.  How ya doin’?

Since I last saw you, I’ve come back from a wonderful trip to Kinderhook, New York, where I had been invited to come talk on Washington Irving.  Kinderhook is particularly important in Irving’s story, because it’s where he wrote his first book, A History of New York, in the summer of 1809, while recovering from the death of his 17-year-old fiancee. While I was there, I toured Martin Van Buren’s home, Lindenwald (which is THE ACTUAL HOUSE where Irving wrote his History of New York, though it was still owned by the Van Ness family at that time), and had the great pleasure of staying in this house right here:

kinderhook georgianThis is a local landmark, the Burgoyne House, where British general John Burgoyne was held after his capture by Benedict Arnold.  Arnold, however, had to stay at a very nice, but much smaller, house just down the street.  Which probably explains a lot about what happened later.

I spoke that afternoon at the Reformed Dutch Church, where I talked about Irving’s version of the Dutch history of New York. Afterwards, I was asked several really good questions, and only slightly disappointed the home town crowd when I informed them that Kinderhook was probably not the Sleepy Hollow of Irving’s famous tale (Had I been a bit faster on my feet, I’d have said that every place is Sleepy Hollow.  But it was hot.) Afterwards, we retreated to a reception at the old Jesse Merwin house, which at one time belonged to the historic figure who actually was the inspiration for Ichabod Crane. All in all, a lovely weekend — and I even got to bring Barb with me.

I’ve got several events coming up in the next few months, which I’ll post under the News tab as well.  

First, I’ll be speaking at the University of Maryland — Jim Henson’s alma mater, for those of you playing at home — on Friday, September 12, as part of the university’s parent’s weekend.  I’ll be at the University Book Center at Stamp Union, starting at 6:30 p.m.

In October, I’ll be attending the James River Writers Conference down in Richmond, Virginia, for three days (October 17-19), and I’ll be giving my hour long Jim Henson show on Friday night, October 17, as part of the many kick-off events. If you’re anywhere near Richmond that weekend and love books . . . well, it’s something you’d probably wanna do.

In November, I’ll be back at the University of Maryland (in association with the Prince George’s County Historical Society) to talk Jim Henson on Sunday, November 2, from 2:30 to 4, at the Hornbake Library.

Finally, on Wednesday, November 5, I’ll be making my long-overdue appearance at the New York Public Library’s Mid-Manhattan Library, at 6:30 p.m. I’m very excited about this one, especially as the library and I went back and forth for a long time trying to find a date that worked.

That Giant Sucking Sound

I’m back from a long weekend in Colorado, where I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful wedding for one of my nephews.  The next day, we headed for Denver to catch our flight back to Washington, DC–and while we were waiting at our gate at the airport, an alarm blared and informed us a tornado had been spotted nearby, and to head for the tornado shelters at the ends of the terminals.

So, while this was raging outside . . .

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(No, I didn’t take this photo.)

…we were huddled in the underbelly of the Denver International Airport, none the worse for wear:

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While I looked, I never did see the Batmobile.

Obviously,  everything worked out fine, though our flight was delayed to the point that we didn’t make it back home until after 2 a.m.

And how’s YOUR week so far?

You Never Forget Your First

photo 2This is a photo I took today of the very first Lego Space set I ever owned.*  It’s the Rocket Launcher, and it was the first time I had ever seen a minifig, a sloped ramp piece with a computer printed on it, and the piece we always called the Gas Tank. I must have put this thing together a thousand times–and when I put it together at the desk in my office today, I was astounded at how my fingers seemed to automatically find each piece even before I knew which one I needed.

I was 12 when I got this, and as you can see, I still have the instructions and the box.  Which is a good thing, because I’m sending this set–and lots of others–off to my nephews. They’re big Lego fans, and I think they’re much better off being sent someplace where they’ll be enjoyed, rather than sitting in the box in my basement.

*Lego Crater Plate not included.

 

This and That

It’s a gorgeous early summer day here in Maryland and I’ve been outside mowing and working in the yard–but I’ve got a few noteworthy things to, uh, note for you.

First, for those of you in the Norfolk/Newport News region, I’ll be on HearSay on Tuesday, July 1, from noon until 1 p.m. (that’s 89.5 FM on the local dial, but it’ll be streaming shortly afterward).  I’ll be sitting in studio to talk Jim Henson with my pal Liz Humes (who also brings you the Wordy Birds radio show in Richmond every Friday), who’s sitting in for the vacationing Cathy Lewis for the week.

And as I mentioned, even if you’re not in the Virginia region, the show will be available online shortly thereafter over on their website.

Next, an interview I did with Neil Haley during last fall’s Miami Book Fair just went online right here. This one was a lot of fun, since we had thirty uninterrupted minutes — and I think Neil had just completed an interview with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, so it was a nice change of pace for him as well.

Finally, it’s always lovely to read a thoughtful reader review like this one.

In Which I Am On CNN, Go To Boston, and Get Back In The Chair

Good grief, it’s really been over a month since I last checked in here? I’m never gonna get a John Scalzi-type following at this rate…

First thing’s first–and because everyone asked me about it at the time–the CNN piece on the Muppets finally aired in late May. The CNN crew had come to my house here in Maryland ages ago to film me in my basement office, and then I never heard anything more about it. I had assumed it had turned into vapor trails, until a sharp-eyed fan on Twitter alerted me to it: a half-hour special called CNN Spotlight: The Muppets, with a brief look at Jim Henson about a third of the way through it.

In case you missed it (and even if you didn’t), here’s the piece in its entirety:

 

I also had the great pleasure of speaking in mid-April at the newly-opened Gaithersburg Library here in my neck of the words, with the added bonus that C-SPAN was in attendance to record my hour-long talk in its entirety for BookTV.  No word yet on when, or even if, it’ll air, but I’ll let you know what I hear. More than likely, some eagle-eyed Muppet fan will spot it before I do and let me know about it.

In mid-May, I headed for Boston to attend Biographers International Organization’s annual conference. It was my privilege to be elected the organization’s president in early spring, but that meant that in addition to the two panels I was on and the one panel I was moderating, I also had to act as emcee for much of the conference–which also meant I didn’t have as much time to spend catching up with everyone as I would have liked. One of the founding principles of BIO is to address with what we informally call “the loneliness quotient,” so the opportunity to mingle and trade stories with other biographers is one of the genuine pleasures of attending the BIO conference. It’s also perhaps the only place on the planet where you can grouse about having to assemble the index for your book (“And that index?!? AMIRIGHT?”) and have everyone in the room nodding sympathetically.

At the final reception, we announced the finalists and winner of the Plutarch Award, presented to the best biography of the year, as chosen by biographers.  I was pleased and honored that Jim Henson was among the finalists (along with Ray Monk’s Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center and Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin), with the well-deserved winner being Linda Leavell’s Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne MooreIf you haven’t read any of these fine biographies, do yourself a favor and grab any one of them. Better yet, grab ‘em all.

And, oh yeah . . . I’m at work again. On Something Cool. That means I’ll be back at the desk regularly again –which I’m also hoping means I can get back here more often. Bear with me.

Pulitzers and Plutarchs

The 2014 Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday, and I’m thrilled with the winners for a couple of reasons. First, as vice president of Biographers International Organization (BIO), I’m delighted that this year’s winner was BIO member Megan Marshall, for Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. Megan’s been a steady, supportive force in BIO for years, and I’m so thrilled for her — as the saying goes, it really couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. (And if you want an opportunity to congratulate Megan in person, she’ll be attending BIO’s annual conference on May 17, which you can sign up for right here. Just sayin’.)

Speaking of good things happening to nice people, here’s the second reason I’m thrilled for this year’s Pulitzer winners: my editor at Random House, Ryan Doherty, also happened to edit another pretty spectacular book released in 2013, Dan Fagin’s Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, which won the Pulitzer for Nonfiction.  As soon as I saw the announcement, I immediately sent Ryan an e-mail of congratulations, and completely stunned him, as he hadn’t even heard yet. To say I’m excited for Ryan would be an understatement; he’s a creative and hard-working editor, and I’m so pleased for him and Dan Fagin.

Meanwhile, back over at BIO, we’ve announced the ten nominees for the Plutarch Award, our annual prize given for the Best Biography of the Year. I’m honored and humbled to have Jim Henson among the nominees — and it’s such an interesting list that I’m going to reproduce the full roster of nominees here.* In alphabetical order by author, then, the nominees for Best Biography of 2013 are:

Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson (Doubleday)

Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster)

Wilson by A. Scott Berg (Putnam)

The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee, Jr. (Little,Brown)

Jonathan Swift: His Life And His World by Leo Damrosch (Yale)

Gabriele D’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallet (Knopf)

Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (Ballantine)

Holding On Upside Down: The Life And Work of Marianne Moore by Linda Leavell (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore (Knopf)

Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center by Ray Monk (Doubleday)

Like the Nebula award, we turn the voting for the award over to our membership, and the winner will be announced at our conference on May 17.  I’ll be sure to let you know the winner at that time.

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* Disclaimer: while I’m an officer for BIO, I have no role in selecting the nominees for the Plutarch.

Places To Go, Things to Do

I’m hanging my head in embarrassment that I’ve let the ol’ blog lie fallow for the past few weeks. For shame, Doc, for shame.

First off, I’ve got several folks to publicly thank and acknowledge. I’ve thanked them all privately, but the events were so terrific that they deserve a public mention as well.

In mid-March, I had the great pleasure of being one of the twenty authors invited to the Literary Feast, a three-day fundraiser for literacy programs sponsored by the Broward Public Library Foundation.  Our hosts took great care of us, the company was grand, and the weather . . . well, considering it was 21 degrees when I left Washington for Ft. Lauderdale, the weather just could’t be beat.  In fact, it was while griping about East Coast weather in a shuttle bus that several of us discovered we had come in from the DC region; besides me, there was John Shaw (author of JFK in the Senate) and Andrew Carroll (a multitasking machine who’s latest is Here Is Where), and making their acquaintance was one of the high points of the trip. As an added bonus, I also spent a good part of one reception hanging out with the super cool Rupert Holmes (yes, that Rupert Holmes) and never once made a Pina Colada joke.

The day after I returned, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Arts Club of Washington, one of DC’s really great (and under appreciated!) venues, housed in a 19th century mansion that once served as the home of President James Monroe.  I had to task my host for the evening, the poet Sandra Beasley, with running my slideshow from my laptop from her seat in the center aisle–and with our unspoken language of arched eyebrows and nods and finger waves, things ran smoothly. (In fact, I thought it was one of the best presentations I’ve done in a while.) My thanks, then, to Sandra and the Arts Club for having me. It was a terrific evening — and if you find yourself in DC, locate the club over on I Street and drop in.

Up next for me: I’ll be at the newly-renovated Gaithersburg Library on April 16, starting at 7 p.m.  It’s free and open to the public, and it’ll be a lot of fun.  Here’s a bit of video of me (sitting in my basement office) giving a sneak preview of the April 16 event:

And as an added bonus, here I am again, talking about Jim Henson in Maryland:

Finally, on the weekend of May 17-18, I’ll be attending the Biographers International Organization’s annual conference in Boston. I’ll admit to being a bit biased about this one — I’m BIO’s vice president, after all — but BIO’s conferences are always informative and entertaining, with first-rate panelists and moderators. I’ll be sitting on two panels, one on book tours, the other on working with the family of your subject.

Even better, the recipient of this year’s BIO Award — given to individuals who’ve made a significant contribution to the art of biography — is Stacy Schiff, whose Cleopatra: A Life is an art unto itself. Plus, Stacy’s a class act, and a dynamite speaker — and you’ll get to hear her at lunch at the BIO conference.  Really, that should be enough to convince you to attend right there.