Category Archives: works in progress

Your Mountain Is Waiting…So Get on Your Way!

Who do those crinkling, smiling eyes belong to? Why, none other than Theodor Seuss Geisel — the good Dr. Seuss, whose birthday just happens to be today.

seuss-with-figuresI’m SO thrilled to be working on the life of yet another wonderful, creative, inspiring iconic subject — and I’m just as happy, too, that I’ll be working with the same terrific team at Little, Brown that helped put the George Lucas bio in your hands.

Buried Treasure

At the beginning of December, after spending nearly fifteen years living in a little town in Maryland — we had taken care of our main task, namely ensuring that our daughter got out into the world safely and successfully — Barb and I sold our old farmhouse in Damascus and moved about 80 miles south to Fredericksburg, Virginia. As you can imagine, packing up fifteen years worth of stuff required digging through every nook and cranny and drawer and box.  Lots of stuff got thrown out — user manuals, old atlases, plenty of random cables that didn’t connect to anything any more — as we made our best effort to simplify and downsize.

That can be tough work for me — I’m notoriously sentimental about things, and I’ve been known to hold onto receipts, guidebooks or business cards for decades. But I vowed to try my best to carefully sort through the countless boxes, bins and files in my office and throw out anything I thought might be considered clutter. And I did pretty well, too — or so I thought.  Imagine my surprise, then, when my wife — who is famously non-sentimental about things — looked at my pile of stuff to go into the trash and said, “Don’t you think you might want to keep that?”

She reached into the pile and pulled out this:

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It was the pile of assorted drafts for Jim Henson: The Biography, going all the way back to my first handwritten notes and outlines from early 2010. It wasn’t everything, but it was some of the earlier versions I’d written, printed out, proofed, then filed away as I moved on to the next draft. I was trying hard to be remarkably stoic about them, but when Barb pulled them out of my pile, I have to admit it I very eagerly put them into a banker’s box, on the side of which I scrawled JIM HENSON in fat black Sharpie.

As a bookend to the story, while unpacking in Fredericksburg, I opened a small wooden box — one I hadn’t actually looked in while packing, and had instead just thrown it into a larger box with some other stuff — and discovered another little bit of buried treasure:

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Much of this predates those early drafts shown above, as this is actually the proposal for the Jim Henson biography, which I was calling at that time, Ridiculous Optimism: The Life of Jim Henson (a title I still like a lot, but I totally understand the need to give it the shorter, clearer title under which it was eventually published). You can see at the top corner I’ve written “March 2010 — Proposal and Chapters Pitched.” The sample chapters, in case you’re interested, were eventually massaged into the much more greatly expanded first two chapters of Jim Henson.

Now flash forward three years or so, and you’ll arrive at the roughly bound book sitting on top of the proposal: the first reading copy of Jim Henson, containing the first round of edits from Ryan Doherty, my editor at Ballantine. This version still had to go through another round of editing and a legal read, and there’s not a single photograph — we were still working through photo clearances with Disney. All of this, too, went into that same banker’s box with the early drafts, with Belloq’s admonition from Raiders of the Lost Ark ringing in my ears: “Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something.”

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.

What I Told You Was NOT True, Not Even From a Certain Point of View.

My bad: the publication date for George Lucas: A Life is actually Tuesday, December 6, and NOT Friday, December 16, as I reported earlier.*  (And here I was being SO smug about coming out the same day as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Which looks doggone cool.)

I should also note that while the current listing says the book will be 320 pages, I’m guessing that, given the current length of the manuscript, the final book will be longer than that. Which is probably why it’s got a thirty dollar price tag.

Oh, and did I tell you? George Lucas is now available to pre-order from several booksellers. And with the corrected pub date, you now know it’ll arrive in plenty of time for Christmas.

Click here to pre-order from Amazon.
Click here to pre-order from Barnes & Noble. (Nook only at the moment).
(I’ll update this information for Indiebound, once it’s available)

* Serendipitously, perhaps, December 6 was the pub date for  A History of New York, the first book published by Washington Irving in 1809.

George Lucas Is Covered.

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Nice, huh?

Apparently, this has been up on the Hachette Books page for a bit, but I checked anyway to make certain it was okay for me to share this with you. I’ve actually had it for several months now, and I’ve been dying to show it to you, I think it’s so terrific.

I should also offer the caveat that there may still be some minor tweaks made to the cover as we get closer to the publication date — which as of this morning is now Friday, December 16, 2016. 

It’s not available to pre-order just yet, but should be soon.  I’ll let you know the moment I hear.

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.

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.

Conference Report and More Jim Henson

…and hello again.

I’ve had a wonderfully busy couple of weeks. In mid-May, I spent several days in New York City attending BIO’s Fourth Annual Compleat Biographers Conference, though attending seems a bit too weak of a word to describe what a terrific time I had. Here are a few highlights of my long weekend:

(1) Watching Janet Reid, Sarah Weinman, and Jennifer Richards enthrall a packed room with advice and tales of successfully (and unsuccessfully!) using social media — and gamely carrying on as if nothing had happened when the lights suddenly went out over their heads.

(2) Sitting on a panel with the remarkable Amanda Foreman, who was shot right out of a cannon and had the audience eating out of her hand with one funny story after another — and I had to follow her. Yikes.

(3) Listening to Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Chernow speak at lunch about the importance of listening to the silences in your subject’s story.  Your role as a biographer, he said, “is not to see what’s there . . . but what’s missing.”  Beautifully put.

(4) Moderating a lively panel on the the future of biography and publishing, with two crack agents and two crack editors — including my own agent and editor –participating enthusiastically and knocking it out of the park. Despite everything you might hear, print isn’t dead, or even dying — but it’s got to willingly share its space.

passage-of-power-review_320(5) Introducing BIO’s first ever Plutarch Award, given to the year’s best biography, as chosen by biographers. I’m really proud of this one — I sat ex officio on the committee that chose the ten nominees that would be sent to BIO members for their vote, and had the pleasure of coordinating the awards ceremony for the Saturday evening reception. The winner of the first Plutarch — as selected by BIO’s members — was the fourth volume in Robert Caro’s massive biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power.

While Caro couldn’t be there himself — he was off doing the research for the next volume in his series (which he joked was “volume five in a four volume series”) — his longtime editor at Knopf, Katherine Hourigan, accepted on his behalf.

(6) Meeting the incredibly modest and friendly Tom Reiss, whose The Black Count won the 2013 Pulitzer for biography.  Tom was probably one of the most photographed people at the conference (heck, have a photo with him, and I hate having my picture taken!) and he was always patient, generous, and genuinely interested in talking with everyone. A class act all around.

All in all, a successful weekend — and we’re already in the early planning stages for next year.

When I returned from New York, I had a week left to finish going through the galleys for Jim Henson. Fittingly, perhaps, I made my changes and notes in Kermit-green ink, and shipped everything back three days early. As a result, yesterday I got in the mail from Random House a heavy box full of these:

IMG_0340 These are the advance uncorrected proofs that will go out for review.  There’s still  no cover for it, and the photo insert is being finished off as well. But as my editor wrote in his cover note, “It’s nearly a book.” And it is indeed.

 

A Blurb That’s Legen . . . wait for it . . .

Blurbs for Jim Henson are beginning to roll into the offices of the good people at Random House — including this wonderful one from one of the world’s most devoted Jim Henson fans:

“I’m a rabid Jim Henson fan—his brilliant ideas spawned shows that entertained and educated millions, myself included. Jim Henson vibrantly delves into the magnificent man and his Muppet methods. It’s an absolute must read!”—Neil Patrick Harris

Thank you, Neil.  Sincerely.

Tuesday Mail

Our little town in Maryland straddles several major state highways–descendants, I’m sure, of old cow and cart paths that were eventually hacked and paved into the hillsides and given official state designations. That means that most of us who live on the older, main thoroughfares around here have our houses facing two-lane state highway. It’s not as bad as it sounds; this isn’t the two-lane highway on which speeding trucks thundered dangerously by in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Instead, it’s wooded, somewhat meandering blacktop that curves through the surrounding farms and dairies and only gets really busy on Sundays when they’re plugged with church traffic.

Anyway, one of the quirks  that’s evolved around here over the last half-century or so is that because so many of us face two-lane blacktop, no one uses their front doors. Instead, driveways stretch to the back of each house, and when you step out of the car, you take a quick trip up the back steps or through a patio or up across a raised deck and you knock at the back door.  When we expect company, we turn on the back porch lights. Our mailbox sits at the back gate, too. Life revolves around the back door.

But when packages get delivered by UPS or FedEx  . . . well, for some reason both deliverymen tend to back up their trucks off the state highway, leave the engine running, sprint from the truck across the rock path leading to the front porch, drop their packages at the front door—usually in the space between the storm door and the big wooden main door–then dash back to the delivery truck and escape without us ever knowing they were there. Sometimes a package has even been known to sit a day or two before one of us finally opened the front door and stumbled upon it.

That didn’t happen today, but only because this morning, my editor sent me a cryptic e-mail reading, “Says it’s delivered and at front door. It arrive?” I opened the heavy front door, and sure enough there was a package. And inside that package? The galley proofs for Jim Hensonsuitable for proofreading and final copyediting:

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As it’s been typeset and laid out, it now runs just a hair over 570 pages–and I’ve got a little more than twenty days (fewer than that, actually, since I’ll be at the BIO conference for four of them) to re-read, review, edit and proof all of them.

Off I go, then — and we’re still on track for you to have it in your hands on September 24, Jim’s 77th birthday.