Jim and Washington

Both are watching you.

Guiding Vocals

For me, the toughest part of writing anything is always the opening lines or opening paragraphs. They’re hugely important; do it wrong, you might lose the interest of a reader who will never come back.

Endings? I’m good there. I almost always know where I’m going. Usually when I start any chapter, I have a pretty good idea of what the final “scene” will be, and sometimes even the last line. But that first step to getting there? Ugh. I stare at the page forever. Usually, in fact, I write the opening pages last.

The opening paragraphs of Becoming Dr. Seuss, however, actually came about relatively early in the process, when I was still thinking about how to frame the narrative. In fact, they were born in an airport bar in September 2017 as I was coming back from one of my research trips to Dr. Seuss’s hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts. While in Springfield, several locals had laughed as they told me how disappointed tourists were when they pointed their cars toward Mulberry Street, expecting to find the Seuss household preserved there as a relic, much like a visit to Monticello, only to discover he’d actually lived on Fairfield Street, several blocks away.

Sitting at the bar, I unfolded a little map of Springfield I’d printed out, and looked at the locations of Fairfield and Mulberry Street and nearly said aloud to my beer, “I need a map of imaginary locations.”

Not the most brilliant of observations, but it was enough of an aha moment that I pulled out a black notebook and pen and started handwriting an opening paragraph wrapped around that idea:

The messy first pass in my notebook.

It’s not entirely formed, but it there’s enough to serve as what I call a “guiding vocal”–so that when I sat down to write the opening paragraphs months later, I at least had a good idea of where I wanted to go. Here’s what those opening paragraphs ultimately looked like:

It’s not exactly the same, but you can see the original idea is still there, along with a bit of the language.

Oh, and I should note, too, that I don’t handwrite notes or drafts very much–and looking at it, you can probably see why: it’s a complete mess. I usually write the first draft and then edit right in the Word document I’m using. But there are times when you get sufficiently inspired and need to start noodling around with whatever you’ve got on hand in an airport bar.

“Constant Wonder” and Dr. Seuss

Last week, I had the pleasure of discussing Dr. Seuss with Marcus Smith on his “Constant Wonder” radio show on BYU Radio. It was one of the more interesting interviews I’ve participated in, thanks to some really good and fun questions from Marcus, as we covered issues like Ted Geisel’s German upbringing and how that affected his work; his growth as an artist; why the Pulitzer Prize meant so much to him; and whether Dr. Seuss cheats at rhyme.

It was all part of a longer consideration of the poetry of William Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss — and if you missed it, not to worry. You can listen to it–or at least my part of it–here.

Becoming Dr. Seuss in the NYT

Becoming Dr. Seuss arrives in stores in paperback on Tuesday, May 26, and I was thrilled to see it get a shout-out in the highly-coveted “Paperback Row” section of this weekend’s New York Times Book Review. You can see it in the image below, just beneath the list of hardcover bestsellers (and I know the graphic can be hard to read, so you can read it online here).

If you’d like a signed copy of Becoming Dr. Seuss delivered right to your door, you can order one — or signed copies of any of my other books — from the fine folks at Bookworks by clicking here. And we both thank you.

Happy Birthday Kermit! (And Sam! And Lisa!)

May 9 is the birthday of Kermit the Frog — a date that was chosen mainly because it was the date that Sam & Friends debuted on WRC-TV in Washington, DC (Kermit, was there, though he wasn’t yet a frog, and was relegated mostly to supporting cast member). So, happy 65th to Sam and Friends–and to Kermit.

But in the happiest of coincidences, May 9 is also the actual birthday of Jim Henson’s oldest child, Lisa Henson, who turns 60 today. So the happiest of birthdays to Lisa as well.

Take a (Virtual) Walk with Me Through the Jim Henson Exhibition

Having the City of Albuqerque, the State of New Mexico, and pretty much the entire planet on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the traveling Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited—currently in residence here at the Albuquerque Museum—would be pretty much impossible to see for the remaining weeks and months of its time here in the Duke City. Fortunately, the Museum is making a virtual narrative tour available to view online—and they asked a certain local biographer to serve as your host and tour guide.

A bit of a peek behind the scenes: I was absolutely thrilled to be asked by the Museum to lend a hand with the virtual tour. With everything still on lockdown, I spent about an hour one afternoon making a quick walk through the exhibit with Denise Crouse, the museum’s communications manager, to get a good handle on the featured pieces, and to figure out where to stand for each segment. We were also curious whether the sound could be turned off—there are countless videos playing in the exhibit, which meant I couldn’t stand in certain places without sound ‘bleeding in’ from video screens around the room. (Fortunately, on the day the cameras rolled, all audio tracks were muted.)

On the day of filming, the cameraman showed up masked so he could mic me, then—keeping a responsible 6 to 8 feet apart at all times—we shot these segments on the fly, using no notes—and, with one exception, doing it all in one take (the one exception was the segment on television and Sam & Friends, which I had talked through MUCH too rapidly the first time). The goal was to get it done as quickly and as well as we could, then get out—and we definitely did that, finishing everything up in about 75 minutes.

Despite a few ‘uhs’ and some garbled phrases (‘Sesame Street’ came out particularly messy at one point), I’m happy with the final result—and truly proud to have been asked to do it.

Cabin Fever? Catch Me Talking Jim Henson with Tough Pigs

Stuck inside and looking for a break from your latest binge watch? The fine folks at Tough Pigs have got you covered with their new twice-a-week series “Cabin Fever,” where they interview folks from all over the Jim Henson/Muppet world. I was pretty thrilled to be asked to serve as one of their first guests — so here I am, with Joe and Ryan from Tough Pigs, coming to you live from my office in New Mexico. (Don’t be too impressed with my attire–I had on shorts with it…)

In Search of the Muppets

Why isn’t there more Muppet stuff on the new Disney+? Where is The Muppet Show? What about The Muppets at Walt Disney World? Is it the cost of music clearances? A lack of interest from the top? I talked about it with Drew Taylor from Vanity Fair, and our answer is . . . uh, we don’t really know.

But join us as we speculate all about it anyway! Just click right here.

Looking for a Signed Copy of Becoming Dr. Seuss?

The paperback of Becoming Dr. Seuss comes out on May 26. I know that seems like a loooong time from now — and who knows what shape the world will be in by then? — but if you’d like to pre-order an autographed copy, I’m working with Bookworks, an independent bookstore here in New Mexico, to get a copy in your hands.

You can pre-order the book by clicking here. And once their doors are open again, you can order signed copies of any of my other biographies as well.

Until then, take care of yourselves, and each other.

Coronavirus and the Wisdom of Ernie and Bert

Worried about coronavirus? Me too. Be careful out there — and in the meantime, take some advice from Ernie and Bert:

EVERYBODY WASH!