Category Archives: Project Blue Harvest

What’s Up This Week

Happy Jim Henson’s Birthday Week!

Jim Henson would’ve turned 78 years old this coming Wednesday, September 24–and as always, there’ll be plenty of people commemorating his life and work all over the web and other media. Heck, I’ll be one of them. Here’s a bit of what’s in store for this week:

Today, I’m thrilled to be over on This Happy Place blog, talking Jim and Muppets with Estelle Hallick, one of the biggest Muppets/Jim Henson/Disney fans anywhere. You can see our conversation right here. As an added bonus, we’re also giving away an e-book, as well as a complete and unabridged copy of the audiobook — all 21 1/2 hours on 17 CDs — signed by Yers Truly.

On Wednesday, I’m taping a podcast with the crew at The Assembly of Geek, which should be available for you to listen to and download the next day.

And on Thursday, I think it’s high time I officially announced what my next project is — and on which I actually just completed the first chapter this past week. Stay tuned.

In Which All Is Revealed…

At last, here’s the answer to the question “Who are you writing about now?”

It’s this wonderful fellow right here.

Here’s the way it was reported on Galleycat:

Jim Henson Biography Acquired By Ballantine

Biographer Brian Jay Jones has sold a biography of the late Jim Henson–the genius behind the The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock. The project is currently untitled.

Jonathan Lyons of Lyons Literary negotiated the deal with senior editor Jill Schwartzman. Jones is the author of Washington Irving: An American Original, and is working with the blessing of Henson’s family.

Here’s more from the release: “The biography begins with Henson’s days as an early TV pioneer, innovative artist and businessman who created a whole new way to present puppetry in a popular art form for television and motion pictures. It will also cover Henson’s famous creations, such as The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock and his important contribution to the development and success of Sesame Street, and describe his groundbreaking artistic and technological work that continues to this day.”

To say I’m incredibly thrilled, delighted, honored, and humbled to be working on such a project would be a colossal understatement.

Project Blue Harvest Revealed

…well, not quite.  But for those of you who keep kindly asking me, “What are you doing next?”  . . . you’ll have your answer shortly. In the meantime, I’ll take a moment to address the next most popular question, which is: “What’s the first Beatles song to feature an Epiphone Casino guitar?”*

Ha ha! No, actually, it’s “What is this ‘Project Blue Harvest’ reference anyway?”

(My fellow Star Wars nerds can stop reading and come back tomorrow.)

Back in the early 1980s, when George Lucas was hard at work on Return of the Jedi — the final installment of the Star Wars series, until later, when it wasn’t — speculating on the plot of the final film was something of a parlor game.  Would Han Solo survive? (rumors were that he wouldn’t, since Harrison Ford now had the Indiana Jones franchise and was on his way to making Serious Films) Was Darth Vader really Luke’s father? (many argued that Vader had lied, and that some sort of change-up was coming down the line in the final film) Who was this other hope Yoda spoke of? (Leia?  Chewbacca? Or, god help us, the hopelessly cheesy Lando?)  To keep information from leaking out — and to throw nosy reporters and fans off the scent — Lucas and his film makers began production on Jedi under a fake working title, a horror film called Blue Harvest (tagline: “Horror Beyond Imagination!”) As Jedi producer Howard Kazanjian said later:

When shooting Jedi in the United States, we called the film Blue Harvest. Camera slates, invoices, hotel reservations, call sheets, production reports, and crew hats and T-shirts all read Blue Harvest. So when a visitor would ask, ‘what are you shooting’ and we said Blue Harvest, they went on their way. Can you imagine what would have happened if we had said, ‘We’re shooting the next film in the Star Wars trilogy’?

In fact, if you watch the special features on the Indiana Jones DVD boxed set, you’ll see Steven Spielberg in one scene wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with a Blue Harvest logo.  And I want one.

Anyway, since the publication of Washington Irving: An American Original in 2008, I’ve been pursuing another project, involving those Really Amazing People you keep hearing me talk about.  But until we could all make it come together, I promised them — and myself, since like most writers, I’m a notorious jinx — that I would keep quiet about it.  For a while, then, when asked what I was working on, I would hem and haw and deflect or say I wasn’t really sure.  Eventually, however, I settled into admitting that, yes, I did have a project I was pursuing, which I started referring to as “Project Blue Harvest.” And it just sort of stuck.

So, given the origins of the name, then, you might rightly ask if my project has anything to do with Star Wars?  Am I, perhaps, pursuing a biography of George Lucas?

The answer is:  No. While there is a remote Star Wars connection, my subject is not George Lucas.  It’s someone even more exciting than that. And I’ll tell you who it is this later this week.

* It was “Ticket to Ride,” and the jangly opening was actually played by Paul McCartney, on a left-hand strung six string.  Now you know.

East Side, West Side

And hello again.  Sorry to have been away so long, but trust me when I say that things have been a bit frantic.  I was in New York late last week to meet with some Really Neat People, and now I’m on the opposite coast, in Los Angeles, to meet some more Really Neat People.  In fact, yesterday was such a fantastic day that I hardly minded sitting in I-5 traffic for two hours on my way back to Anaheim.  Can I tell you all about it?  Not yet — but as the exclamation point on this west coast excursion, I just got off the phone with Agent J, and it looks like we’ll be able to formally reveal the secret identity of Project Blue Harvest at some point next week. So when I say “stay tuned,” I really mean it.

If It’s Friday, This Must Be London…

…and so it is.  We actually arrived here at our hotel here on Montague Street late Wednesday night, and while Barb attended meetings all day Thursday, I ran off to some of the remote parts of London to explore a few sites associated with Project Blue Harvest.  I was thwarted at one location, as a site I’d hoped was open to the public actually wasn’t, and no amount of pleading or begging was going to get me inside, but I did have better luck tromping around another spot at a different location.  It was a productive afternoon, even if it did seem like I spent most of it on the London Underground.

This morning, I hit the ground running as I made a trip over to Kensington to have a conversation with An Amazing Person, who graciously gave me nearly an hour and a half of her time, despite the fact she was getting ready to travel that afternoon. Following that, I hopped back on the train and made my way back to Westminster, where I had a quick lunch (and a quick pint!) with Andrew Lownie, the superagent who shared a circuitous cab ride with me in Boston back in May. And there was much rejoicing.

Tonight, it’s Avenue Q, then tomorrow it’s a day at the British Museum, just around the corner.  I’ll check in with you again soon.  Have a good weekend!

Swiss Cheesiness

Well, hello there.  Sorry to be away so long, but lots has been going on behind the scenes — including some exciting news regarding Project Blue Harvest, which I promise — promise! — to reveal shortly.  Hang in there.

In the meantime, I’m coming to you from the Hotel Royal in Geneva, Switzerland, where the clocks all say 8 in the morning, but my body, despite my best efforts, is still trying to say it’s 2 am.  Barb is here for meetings at the World Health Organization (an intimidating marble structure that somehow mysteriously repels non-science types from its stern facade like Damian from the church door) before we leave this evening for London, where she has even more meetings over the next several days.  Once in London, however, I have some work to do, visiting two key sites related to Project Blue Harvest, and conducting an interview with An Amazing Person. Looking forward to it? You bet.

We spent yesterday driving from Geneva to Lucerne — about three hours by car — to have lunch with friends and stroll the streets of the old city. It made for a long day — by the time we returned to Geneva, we calculated we’d been up for 31 hours — but we love driving in foreign countries and meandering down back roads to see those places a bit off the beaten path.  Plus, when GPS technology makes it so easy to find your way back again, there’s really no good reason NOT to try to get lost for a while.  And believe me, I’m good at getting lost.

This morning, while Barb attends her meetings (she stressed to me that she is attending meetings, not a conference, as I kept exhausting her with a lame Geneva Convention joke), I’m catching up on e-mails, trying to keep up with the newspapers (apparently, there was some sort of soccer-related thing that all of Europe was interested in yesterday), and generally soaking up All Things Geneva, which includes enjoying a cup of Nespresso. Because George Clooney says I should.

Oh, and apparently in Switzerland, the “C” on the faucets means “hot” while the British pound sign thingy means “cold.”  Gotcha.  Lesson learned.  In the shower.

At The Gates

Hey, are you wondering why you haven’t heard much on Project Blue Harvest lately?  It’s because after nearly two years of research, conversations, more research, e-mails, more conversations, writing, talking, phone calling, rewriting and revising . . . well, we’re finally ready to go Out on Submission — three of the most exciting words a writer can hear.

Agent J and I haven’t put our horse in the race yet, but we’ve trotted it out to the starting gates.  Early next week, if all goes as planned, the gate drops, the bell rings, and we’re off and running — so stay tuned.  And that’s the last time I’ll use a horseracing metaphor, I promise.

Have a good weekend.

The Next Voice You Hear Will Be Your Own

I’m in the process of getting the interview I conducted the last week in February transcribed — or, rather, I’m in the process of trying to get it transcribed.   I’ve got four hours of conversation to convert, and initially, I was planning on doing it myself.  I’ve transcribed interviews before, but nothing quite this long — and after taking 20 minutes or so to transcribe about five minutes of conversation . . . well, that’s an unimpressive effort-to-product ratio.  Clearly, I need another system.

For Plan B, I checked with a few professional transcription services, but the per-page costs of transcribing were a bit jaw-dropping.  Probably nothing your average law firm can’t soak up, but for a company of one, it was gonna leave a mark. 

That left Plan C.  I’m in the process of loading voice-recognition software onto my laptop to see how well it does. I chose the Scribe program from MacSpeech, mainly because it allows you to open a sound file directly through the program.  Now the only problem is the operating system on my MacBook.  It runs Leopard, and I need Snow Leopard.  So I had to order the upgrade from Apple (for some reason, they won’t let you download it from their site) and my package is still enroute with the FedEx man.  Or woman.

Anyhow, I’ll let you know how it works.  Anyone else have experience with a similar program?

Tomorrow Never Knows

I’m heading back to New York tomorrow — armed with my laptop, notes, and tape recorder — to have a chat with Someone Wonderful related to Project Blue Harvest.  It’ll be a quick day — up on the train in the morning, interviewing in the afternoon, then back that evening — but I’m so excited about it that the day will probably seem to go by even faster. I even made sure to book myself a reserved seat on the train on the way home so I’m certain of a spot where I can plug in the computer, plunk on the headphones, and transcribe everything immediately. Yeah, it’s fun — and, I’ll admit, a bit nerve wracking.

Given my increasingly frequent back and forthing lately, Barb saw fit to give me a good laptop case — something a little unusual that doesn’t look like anything else out there.  So tell me, how cool is this?

Yeah, that’s my MacBook, tucked away inside there between two hardback leather covers. Pretty neat, eh?

Trip Report, Day 1: Stuffed!

Hello there.  I’m presently camped out next to the fireplace in the restaurant of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, watching as dozens of men and women in dark suits sit huddled in padded chairs at round tables, speaking business-ese in low voices. Even at 10 in the morning, many of them have their jackets off already, slung over the chair as they shuffle through papers with colleagues.  I’m not certain exactly what they’re doing, but it makes for great people watching. It’s like a slightly bizarre Agatha Christie novel.

The snow that fell on Tuesday night was more a pretty snow than an inconvenient one — and even with six inches of the stuff on the ground, the roads were clear. Not that it mattered to me that much — taking Barb’s advice, I had stayed at the Microtel near the airport, meaning I only had to make the mile-long sprint to the train station. I headed for the station at 8:15 or so, lugging a full box of books that had been presold for the Thursday night event, and cramming the rest into my suitcase, so that it was more full of books than clothes.

The tracks at BWI station looked good.

The train tracks were clear — though a speeding southbound Acela still kicked up an enormous cloud of snow and ice as it hurled past on its way to Washington, DC — and the Northeast Regional trains were running just as casually on time as ever, which means they were running about five minutes late. As I always do, I headed for the quiet car, threw my suitcase and the box of books in an overhead bin, and slouched down into a window seat on the left side of the train.  (I always sit on the left side, because I like the good view I get of the bridge in Trenton, NJ, with the sign declaring that TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES). Naturally, it didn’t take long for the quiet car to be infiltrated by loudmouths who had no idea they were in the quiet car — one gentleman perched himself on the back of a seat to engage his two colleagues in a loud conversation, only to be kidney punched by a conductor who shooed them all into a rear car.  Apart from that, things went smoothly.

I arrived at Penn Station only 20 minutes late, giving me a bit more than an hour to make it to the 1:30 lunch I’d set up to chat about Project Blue Harvest. It was meant to be a casual lunch — I had e-mailed My Friend last week, mentioning I would be in town and offering to take him to lunch. But he threw me a change up and very generously offered to take me out instead. His restaurant of choice? Morton’s.  “I hope you like steak,” he said to me in an e-mail, and was therefore unable to see me wiping drool off the keyboard.

I took a cab to my hotel — the Roosevelt, as I mentioned above, one of New York’s grander of the old hotels, and still oozing with, appropriately enough, Roosevelt-era charm — only to learn that my room was not yet ready.  The clerk checked me in anyway and steered me to the bellman’s stand, where I could have my suitcase and box stowed until I returned after lunch.  My bags were taken by a stooped Italian bellhop, who winked that he would take special care of my bags and had me follow him downstairs to a storage room that he swore was some sort of secret chamber in the basement that held the bags of only the most special of guests. I swallowed hard as he moved my bags into a cold, garage-like area, uncertain whether I would ever see them again. Not wanting to appear ungrateful, I then tipped him way too well.

The Roosevelt's lobby.

I made my lunch meeting in plenty of time — it was a three-minute walk from my hotel — and actually arrived at the restaurant before My Friend did.  I was waiting in the bar, watching New York through an enormous plate glass window, when I suddenly developed one of my Famous Spontaneous Nosebleeds. I ran sniffing to the restroom, where it took about twenty minutes to get the darn thing under control. When I finally emerged and walked back toward the bar, I spotted My Friend sitting at a side table.  I slid into a chair across from him, we shook hands warmly, and spent the next two hours talking about politics, television, travel, and debating exactly why cable news sucks.  Oh yeah, and we even talked about my project, too.

We also stuffed ourselves to near explosive levels.  Steaks, baked potatoes, crab cakes, shrimp cocktails, green beans, carmelized onions (one of My Friend’s favorites), creamed spinach . . . it just seemed to keep coming.  Turns out My Friend’s a semi-regular, and the waiters, waitresses and management checked on us regularly, very kindly keeping drinks filled and clearing plates away, sometimes even as we were still taking the last crumbs from them.  All in all, it was a terrific time.

I walked back to the Roosevelt, where I claimed my bags (to my relief, they were just fine), picked up my room key, then dropped into an armchair to have a quick chat with Barb, and then with Agent J.

I had a couple of e-mails I needed to send, so I fired up the laptop only to discover that this upscale hotel doesn’t offer free wireless. Really, Roosevelt? Fourteen bucks a day?  Yeah, I bit — but aren’t we getting to a point where wireless should be among the basic amenities in a hotel?  Most of the cheaper hotels seem to have gotten there (the Microtel in Baltimore, for example, had free wireless, though it was a bit slow).  As a pal of mine pointed out, there’s an inverse relationship between the cost of the hotel and the availability of free wireless, because the more upscale the place, the more likely it is that a visit is being expensed.  Unfortunately, it’s ME expensing it.

Was that a rant? Sorry.

Anyway, around 5:40, I started the 30-block walk up the island toward the Lexington District, where I was meeting Mark Bartlett, the head librarian for the New York Society Library, for dinner and drinks at an Irish pub. I made it by 6:30, and found Mark already enjoying an adult beverage at a back table, away from the noise of the bar. We talked for 90 minutes about books, college basketball, Peanuts comics, and J.D. Salinger; Mark dined on fish and chips, while I tore into a delicious shepherd’s pie. We had two beers each, and there was much rejoicing.

Yeah, I was stuffed.  Again.

Despite my protestations, Mark insisted on picking up the check (I owe you when you come to DC, my friend) and we walked back along 77th until Mark ducked into the subway. I walked the thirty blocks back to the hotel, strolling slowly down Park Avenue, sleepy from good food and beer, but determined to walk all the way back rather than hailing one of the many cabs that seemed to taunt me as they rolled past at each street corner. I finally made it back to the hotel around 9:15, struggled to keep my eyes open for at least another hour and finally failed at about 10:30. A good day.

As I sit here now the next morning — whoops, make that afternoon now! — in the hotel restaurant, I’m texting Barb and Madi, who are coming up for the event at the St. Nicholas Society tonight.  I’ll let you know how it goes.