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Triple Crown

There are three major newspapers in which we tellers of tales and spinners of yarns–whether those yarns or tales are fiction or non-fiction–love to see our work reviewed: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. What makes these three the trifecta? Mostly its because they each have large circulations that extend well-beyond their home markets–they end up in front of lots of readers, reading the papers in hotels and airports or on iPhones and laptops. They’re also papers with different audiences and different, often distinctive, points of view.

I’m thrilled, then, that Becoming Dr. Seuss has run the Triple Crown–and seems to have emerged out the other side in good shape. If you’re so inclined, you can click here to read the review in The Wall Street Journal (under the headline, “‘Becoming Dr. Seuss’: Who Killed Dick and Jane?”, which I think Dr. Seuss would have loved). Because WSJ is behind a subscription paywall–and therefore you may not be able to read the entire thing–here’s a quick peek:

“A fluid and enjoyable new biography . . . Brian Jay Jones takes a long appraising view of the life, career and creative evolution of Theodor Seuss Geisel . . . In this lively chronicle, Mr. Jones tackles the controversial elements of the Seussian oeuvre in a forthright way, setting them in the context of both the times and his subject’s own life.”

Next, here’s the review from the Washington Post, “a look at the prankster workaholic behind the iconic characters.”

And here in the New York Times is what might be one of my favorite reviews of anything I’ve written ever, “‘The Cat in the Hat’ and the Man Who Made That,” written by the brilliant author and essayist Adam Gopnick.

Finally, I want to thank all of you, who have been so enthusiastic about Becoming Dr. Seuss. I appreciate all of you.

Becoming Dr. Seuss in New York, Boston

We’re nearly a week away from the publication of Becoming Dr. Seuss–and I continue to be thrilled with the various places I’m seeing it mentioned. Several days ago, it showed up in Boston Magazine as one of Seven Can’t-Miss Events in Boston in May 2019. Given that Dr. Seuss is a Massachusetts native, I’m pretty pleased to get a shout-out from his home state. Thanks, guys

Over the weekend, the New York Post ran a long piece on Dr. Seuss himself, called “How Dr. Seuss Found the Juice for His Most Beloved Stories,” in which they were kind enough to call the book “wonderful.” Again, thanks, folks.

Oh, the Places I’ll Go!

The fine folks at Dutton books are very kindly sending me on a short book tour the week Becoming Dr. Seuss is published — and they’ve also just as kindly put all the information right here in this colorful card. Are you nearby on any of these dates? If so, swing by, hear me talk a bit about Dr. Seuss, and say hey!

It’s Nearly a Book

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These arrived on my doorstep yesterday: advance reader copies (ARCs) of Becoming Dr. Seuss.  ARCs are usually sent around to reviewers, but they’re by no means the final version of the book.  (Heck, if you’ve got an ARC of Jim Henson: The Biography, you’ve got a version of the book with a completely different prologue than what appeared in the final.) While I don’t anticipate any changes in the text of Dr. Seuss as significant as that, the ARC still doesn’t have the photo insert, nor does it yet have the index.  But this gives you a good idea of what the final version will look like; it’s reeeeally close to becoming a real book. The next time I see it, it’ll be a real hardcover.

I See You Shiver With Antici…

This week, Publishers Weekly published its list of the Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2019–and I was thrilled to see Becoming Dr. Seuss among the list of eagerly anticipated upcoming biographies, criticism, and literary essays. Here’s its listing on the PW website:

My thanks to PW, and to all of you currently anticipating Becoming Dr. Seuss. I appreciate it. It’s right on schedule to be in your hands in May.

How can I say that? I finished up the final manuscript–meaning I incorporated all of my editor’s comments, as well as copyedits and my own rewrites–on Monday afternoon. At 4:21 p.m., I turned over the very last page of the manuscript.

That’s a wrap.

Now it’s in the hands of the production department at Dutton Books. In a week or so, I’ll receive a nicely-printed version of the final manuscript to make what we call “first pass” (which is actually my final pass), where I can make sure everything looks right.

Nearly There

This weekend, I’m making the final edits on Becoming Dr. Seuss, and then it’s off to production on Tuesday. That means I’m making all the changes suggested by and discussed with my editor, and well as the copyedits, fact checking, and legal read. I also have to go through every endnote to make sure they’re accurate, as well as structured correctly (meaning they’re all in the proper citation format that used to make us all crazy in high school).

I also do quite a bit of spot-checking as I go, ensuring I’ve quoted things correctly–and that involves a lot of back-and-forthing between books and articles. There’s a lot of heavy detail work that goes into biography (and history and other non-fiction) — and it always seems to take much more time I ever think it will.

It also means making a HUGE mess in the office, with piles on the desk, and on the floor.

Mess on the desk….
….and mess on the floor.

The production folks at Dutton are waiting to get their hands on this thing, so they can start doing all the work necessary to have Becoming Dr. Seuss in your hands by May. They’ve already done some really fun work in both their title page design and font selection. Take a peek:

If you’re interested in pre-ordering, there are brand new links to your favorite booksellers right here. And thanks for your interest! I appreciate you.

I’ve also been asked if there will be any appearances and signings. I don’t have any information yet, but as soon as I do, you’ll see it here. And here’s hoping I’ll have the chance to see a lot of you lovely people beginning in May.

The Home Stretch

I’m back on the corner of the couch in my office, going through my editor’s notes and copyedits–all of which need to be completed by January 15.  See ya in a week!

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Dark and Stormy Nights

Today, I came across this piece in the Daily Telegraph, which begins with this literary accusation:

One of the worst lines in literature is widely regarded to be “It was a dark and stormy night”, which first appeared in Washington Irving’s 1809 work A History of New York. It became the catchphrase for awful writing and one which authors are warned to avoid.

Whether you believe these are really the “worst lines in literature” is a matter of taste (and of some discussion). But one thing that isn’t really true is that the phrase originated with Washington Irving–or at least not the phrase that became the cliched opening for bad novels.

Washington Irving did use the words in that particular order in a revised edition of his mock history of New York City, A History of New-York. The book was originally written in 1809 when Irving was 26-years-old, and revised periodically throughout his life. In one of the revised versions (not in the 1809 original), Irving writes:

It was a dark and stormy night when the good Antony arrived at the creek (sagely denominated Haerlem river) which separates the island of Manna-hata from the mainland.

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Edward Bulwer-Lytton

That’s a perfectly useful sentence, and not at all one of the “worst lines” in literature.

It would actually be a contemporary of Irving’s, the Romantic English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, to use the phrase as the opening of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. Here’s Bulwer-Lytton’s opening:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies) rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Again, whether that’s a clunker of an opener is up for debate; for a bit of English Romanticism, it does the trick.  It is a bit purple, however, which is likely what made it ripe for satire–most notably by Charles M. Schulz, who regularly used it in Peanuts:

Snoopys-Dark-and-Stormy-Night-Second-Line

So, is Irving the true creator of “It was a dark and stormy night?” Not really. While he used the words in that particular order in his History, it would be Bulwer-Lytton who would dramatically use them as the opening of his novel* — and Charles M. Schulz who would turn them into a modern-day punchline.

* And inadvertently spawning the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest at San Jose State University, where entrants are encouraged to write “the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”

First Draft Complete. Level Up.

So, this happened last week.

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It’s currently in the hands of my crack editor at Dutton, and I look forward to us going through it together.

Now off to clear photos.  Be good to each other.

The Goodreads Choice Awards, Then and Now

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The display of all the past winners of Goodreads Choice Awards.  Can you find Jim Henson? (Don’t worry, I’ll show you where it is in a bit…)

Last night, I had the great pleasure of attending the Goodreads Choice Awards Tenth Anniversary Celebration in New York, where I was one of about fifteen previous award winners in attendance — and that’s because you were all lovely enough to vote for Jim Henson as the Best Biography of 2013. You can see Jim stacked there with a few of the other winners from 2013, including Stephen King, Dan Brown, and Dean Koontz. 2013 was a pretty cool year.

GoodreadscoverIt was great to be among so many passionate readers, writers, and publishers–and I tried not to fanboy too much when I met Dave Cullen, who’s heartbreaking Columbine is one of my all-time favorites, and with Alexandra Robbins, who’s got a new book, Fraternity, coming your way in January. We also got to hear from Neil Gaiman, who picked up an award for being one of Goodreads’s most-nominated authors. It was a pre-recorded (Whattayawant? The man is off working to bring us the miniseries Good Omens!), but it was still super cool.

It was also a lot of fun to watch the folks at Goodreads (and Audible, another of our hosts for the evening) unveil the nominees for this year’s awards. Lots of great nominees across lots of categories–in fact, you can start casting your votes for the books of 2018 as of 11 p.m. last night. Go for it.  You’ll find the link below.

Oh, and one more thing . . .

As a prior winner, that also makes Jim Henson one of the nominees in this year’s new category, “Best of the Best,” in which readers can vote for their favorite book from among a gigantic list of previous winners. I’d love it if you’d vote for Jim Henson as your all-time favorite–but it’s a huge list with EVERY genre represented, so even if you’re not a biography reader, there’s bound to be something on the list that you loved.

Click here to start voting!

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There he is! Stacked between two other award winners from 2013, Dan Brown’s Inferno, and Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half.