Category Archives: works in progress

Stay on Target…



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:


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.

It’s Official…

We have a title. It’s Jim Henson: The Biography. Dignified and straight to the point. But I’ve got another announcement for you, too.

Jim Henson: The Biography is now available for pre-order.  There’s no cover for it yet — everyone’s still working on that part — but the listing is up on various bookseller websites, as well as on Goodreads. You can pre-order it from your favorite bookseller right here, and see it on Goodreads here.

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):


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.


….and hello there once again. I know I’ve been away for quite some time, but, y’see, this finally happened:

The first draft of Jim Henson sits in all its 700-page glory, to the likely approval of the Jim Henson action figure (as well as the photobombing Jim and Kermit bookmark).

I delivered the first draft of Jim Henson (as I’m currently calling it) to my editor earlier this week. (Actually, I delivered an electronic version to him — this 700-page monster is the one that gets filed away, with all the other first drafts.)

I’m taking a bit of a break for a moment — I’m headed to New York later this afternoon, in fact, to talk about Washington Irving — and then the next round of fun begins.  Stay tuned.

Be Right Back . . .

I’m back from BIO 2012 and will have a full report for you just as soon as I can. In the meantime, I’m working hard to wrap up things on Jim Henson — which, trust me, is what you want me doing, instead of blogging.

Until then, head for the lobby!

Five Months and Counting

Hello there, and Happy 2012! Sorry to be away so long — I hate when this thing sits idle, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks.

I’m still due to deliver the first draft manuscript of Jim Henson to my editor in May (which I choose to define as “by close of business on May 31”) — and looking at my outline, that means five chapters in five months. Even I can do the math on that one.  At the moment, I’m deep into Mystics, Muppet water ballet sequences, and Fraggles — so if you’re a Muppet fan, you can guess how far along that makes me.

I spent the first week in January, in fact, back at the Henson Archives in New York, where archivist Karen Falk once again took extraordinarily good care of me, patiently helping me locate and carry one box after another to the office they’d set aside for my use.  (If you’re interested, here’s an interview with Karen Falk, where she talks about the the actual layout and look of the Henson Archives—which does not resemble the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

We also had the opportunity to oooh and ahhh over her advance copy of the new Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand graphic novel, which is every bit as terrific as it sounds (and I just received an e-mail earlier this week informing me that the copy I had ordered from amazon back in June(!) should be arriving this week).  Jim and his long-time writing partner Jerry Juhl began writing Tale of Sand in the mid-1960s, during an incredibly experimental time in Jim’s career. They continued to tinker with the script on into the early 1970s before finally setting it aside in the midst of Sesame Street fever and the countless other balls Jim was juggling at once. It’s very different from most of the Jim Henson projects you’re familiar with — and yet, it’s also “very Jim,” especially the Jim at that time. Be sure to check it out—it’s not only an intriguing story, but the book itself is also a really nice piece of work.

Let’s see, what else? Over the next few weeks, I’ll be up and down the Eastern Seaboard to take care of some more interviews, each of which should be a lot of fun. I also get to work my way through films like The Great Muppet Caper and call it work.

Finally, I can’t resist passing onto you some New Year’s Words of Wisdom from the Always Remarkable Neil Gaiman — who really hopes you will make mistakes this year.  Click here and read on.

Happy New Year. Make mistakes.