Category Archives: My Patient Editor

One Last Thing

Since turning in the first draft of George Lucas back in March, the manuscript has been through the hands of my editor at Little, Brown, John Parsley, vetted by the legal department, and then given a rigorous copyediting. Now it’s landed back on my desk, where I’ve got until next week to finish it all up, answer any questions my editors might have, add any new material (Lucas Pulls His Museum From Chicago!), make sure the endnotes are correct, and generally make any necessary tweaks and revisions before sending it off to production.

There’s a lot going on in the margins of an edited manuscript; the document is edited with Word’s ‘Track Changes’ function on so you can see every change to the draft and — one of my favorite parts — read the comments from the various editors where they ask whether a suggested edit works, seek clarification, or even just maintain a friendly running commentary, like a less sarcastic MST3K. And, of course, I can’t resist making my own comments as I go through it, either.

And seriously, guys: editors and copyeditors are amazing. They not only edit for clarity, for instance, but they also fact-check things, remind you when you’ve used a quote twice, or somehow manage to clean up and make better sense of hundreds and hundreds of endnotes. I’m always impressed.

Wanna see what the Table of Contents for George Lucas looks like on my computer screen as it’s being edited with the ‘Track Changes’ function on? Have a look:

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And now, back to it.  I’ve gotta get this done, if you’re gonna have it in your hands on December 6.

Stay on Target…

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Whew.

Late last night (or early this morning, whatever you want to call 12:04 a.m.) I completed the first draft of George Lucas: A Life.  It’s in the hands of John Parsley, my ace editor at Little, Brown, at this very moment.

The vital stats, you ask? It came in at just under 175,000 words–that includes the bibliography and endnotes–and took up 569 double-spaced pages.  How many pages of an actual book is that? Ya got me. (For reference: the first draft of Jim Henson came in at 700 pages, and eventually ended up as a 608-page hardback.  Out of the gate, George Lucas is already shorter than that. And there’s probably a height joke in there, but I’m not gonna make it . . .)

Technically, the draft was completed around 7:00 this morning, as that’s when I had Barb sit down at the desk and type the final period at the end of the last word. She’s definitely earned the right to be the one to finally blast this one into the net.

The fine folks at Little, Brown are still working hard to have this thing in your hands by Christmas of this year. If all goes as planned, it’ll be out December 10, 2016.

And now, I’m off to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters.

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.

Playing Catch Up

It’s a been a lonely year for this blog, I know. Looking back, I see I’ve written exactly five entries since January 2012–an anemic pace, to be sure. I wish I was one of those prolific blogging machines, but the truth is I’m not the multi-tasker I once was — and every time I’ve put butt in chair over the past year, it’s usually been to spend the next twelve hours or so writing about Jim Henson, rather than writing about writing about Jim Henson first and then going on to actually write about Jim Henson. You get the idea.

When I last left you, the first full draft was sitting on my desk in hard copy while an electronic copy had been whisked away over the emailz to my editor. Since that time, it’s been read and re-read and edited and redrafted two more times. As of November 30, it now looks like this (I knew you were coming, so I posed it among a photo montage just for fun):

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The first draft came in at about 730 pages; this draft is a bit shorter — around 680 pages — but one of the really great things about working with a really great editor is that things not only get shorter, but they get tighter and better. (Editors are the great unsung heroes of most of the books you’ve read — and if you wanna know what else mine is up to, you can follow him over on Twitter at @RyanDoh). While it needs just a bit of fine tuning, it’s very nearly complete, and should be done before Christmas.

There.  That catches you up on that part.

Next up, we’ll start deciding on the photos that’ll be used inside. I’ve already spent days poring over countless images from the Jim Henson Company and Sesame Workshop, trying to decide which ones might make the cut — a tough call, given that nearly every image is a keeper, and I haven’t even started going through the collection of  images now owned by Disney. That should happen sometime in January — and we’re still right on track to have Jim’s story in your hands on his 77th birthday: September 24, 2013.

NYC Trip Report, Part 2

I now understand that New York cabdrivers — and New Yorkers in general, I guess — think of their city as a series of intersections rather than as street addresses. I get it. But at this particular moment, I still had a problem: namely, I didn’t know the cross-streets of my destination.

I tried again. “Forty Seven Fifth Avenue,” I said slowly, then took an old receipt out of my wallet, scribbled the address on the back of it, and held it up for the driver to see. “Like this.”

“Oh, forty-seven,” he said, nodding, as if I’d been speaking Dutch up until this point. “That’s down at Fifth and 12th, Greenwich Village. Why didn’t you say so?” Grrrr.

And off we went, down Fifth Avenue in Friday rush hour traffic, careening around stopped buses, scooting around pedestrians, and squeezing between slower traffic in lanes that didn’t exist. New York City landmarks rushed by on my right — the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building (I craned my neck out the window to look up at that one), the Flatiron Building — until suddenly we stopped in front of a beautiful brownstone walkup, directly across from an imposing old Presbyterian church. I had finally arrived at the Salmagundi Club — and thanks to a cabdriver who clearly had no respect for the laws of traffic, physics or gravity, I had arrived quickly, relatively in one piece, and with plenty of time to spare before my 6:00 talk.

I greeted the staff, and checked out the room where I’d be speaking, a classy Victorian-looking parlor with wing-backed chairs and antique furniture. I camped out on the front steps to wait for Casey, my Patient Editor, and struck up a conversation with a very nice gentleman, who eventually asked me what I was doing in New York. I told him I was speaking at the club in about ten minutes, and he suddenly beamed proudly — he said he had made the trip from uptown just to hear me talk, and asked if he could shake my hand and take a picture, a request that still rocks me back with disbelief. As I say often, it’s just me, and I can’t believe anyone wants a picture of themselves with me and my giant pumpkin head. But naturally, I obliged — and right on cue, with my lone fan snapping away, here came my editor, Casey, with her colleague, Tessa.

I hadn’t seen Casey in person since the Book Expo in Washington, DC, more than two years ago (at that time, I made what I’m sure was a great first impression, as I knocked down her rack of catalogues when I reached out to shake her hand). Since then, we had written, edited, and produced Washington Irving — an experience that, for the rest of our lives, inextricably links us together. And it was absolutely great to see her; Casey is one of those people who bubbles with enthusiasm about her projects and her authors, and she’s at once your biggest fan, best critic, and most patient counselor.

As I think any writer might attest, the best author-editor relationship is built on trust — you are, after all, putting yourself and your work completely in someone else’s hands — and I’ve trusted her completely since Day 1 of the project. But now she was here, in her dual role as my editor and as Arcade’s publicist, to see me talk about “our boy,” as we’ve always called Irving. In other words, she now was putting her trust in me to make us look good, and I wanted to do us proud. And just like that, I was nervous.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one. To her surprise, Casey was asked to introduce me to the crowd of 20 or so that had gathered in the parlor — an easy enough task when you know its coming, but somewhat daunting when you’re suddenly put on the spot. Still, Casey did a fine job of it, telling a story I’d not heard before about the first time my agent pitched the Washington Irving project to her. It was all so interesting — and her enthusiasm was so sincere — that by the time she called me to the podium, I’d completely forgotten to be nervous.

I spoke about twenty minutes, giving them an overview of Irving’s Salmagundi magazine, from which the club had taken its name in 1871, and wrapped up by talking about Irving’s life among artists. I took a number of questions afterwards — there were quite a few about Irving’s views on religion, money, and John Jacob Astor — then signed and spoke with people for another twenty minutes or so. Afterwards, Casey and I were then given a quick tour of the place, allowing us to gawk at the paintings in the stairwell and the old books in the library.

That evening, Casey took me to dinner at Fatty Crab, a funky Malaysian restaurant over in the Meatpacking District. (“Any place with the name ‘Fatty’ in it sounds good to me,” Casey had said earlier — a remark only the rail-thin Casey can make with impugnity.) The place was noisy, so we had to sit next to each other, rather than across from each other, to be heard and typically, we sat chatting until a waitress chased us away, declaring (quite fairly) that others were still waiting to be seated.

Next, the two of us walked over to the Terribly Fashionable Gansevoort Room, a rooftop bar and restaurant accessible only by an Exclusive Goodfellas Elevator, with a great view of the city, and a loud and trendy New York crowd. We took up a post on some low benches close enough to hear each other over the din, and remained in animated conversation until (once again) a server shooed us away, saying they needed the room for a private party. At that, I checked my watch and saw it was 11:45 p.m. There are times when this would have been an ideal time for a change of venue for another few hours — and I do believe Casey could have stayed out until the wee hours as it was. But I’d been up since 5:30 a.m. — and now, I was just plain tired.

We stumbled out into a New York night that was still vibrating with activity and hailed a cab. Casey provided a quick primer on the meaning of New York Geographical Terms like West Side and Upper East Side as we sped back up the island. Our cab driver had misheard my directions (in which I was very careful to say “52nd and Madison Avenue”) and dropped me off at the corner of Madison and 56th, but it was a beautiful night, and I didn’t mind the walk.

I unlocked to door to my room to find my bed turned down, soothing music and video playing on the television, and a chocolate chip cookie and bottle of Yoohoo on the desk. Point scored, Omni Berkshire. I called my wife to tell her good night (we always do that when one of us is on the road, no matter how late it might be), uncapped the Yoohoo, took a sip, and remembered why I don’t like Yoohoo. It tastes like Quik in water.

I reset the clock on the bedside — I wasn’t going to get stung by that again — and rolled up in the comforter. Day One of my New York Tour was over.

To be continued…