Tag Archives: Stephen King

Brill, Booklist, and “Buzzworthy Bios”

As hard it is to believe, we’re a mere four weeks away from publication of Jim Henson: The Biography. At one point, September 24, 2013 seemed as far away as the 23rd century.  And now…here we are.  There are a couple of exciting things lined up for the weeks following the release of the book–including a couple of fun “cameo appearances” of the book in some unexpected places–all of which I’ll tell you about later, as we get closer to the 24th.

300px-Zoe-FranBrill-Prairie-medium-res

The one-of-a-kind Fran Brill, with Prairie Dawn and Zoe.

In the meantime, Jim Henson has picked up a couple more nice mentions, as well as some kind words from another longtime friend and collaborator. The lovely and talented Fran Brill — the first-ever full-time female Muppet performer, who made her debut on Sesame Street forty-three years ago, and still performs on the show to this day — had this to say about Jim’s story (and graciously permitted me to quote her):

“This is not only a superb biography for the Jim Henson and Muppet fans but also a sensitively-written portrayal of a great and unique human being that will fascinate any and all readers.”

Fran’s been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of this project, and I’ve been grateful to her — on more than one occasion — for allowing me to pepper her with questions not only about her and Jim and the Muppet performers, but also Sesame Street sets, Muppet right-handing, and all those little quirky details that inform a story, even if they never make it onto the page.  A big thanks to her for everything.

A side-note: I had a great time interviewing Fran for the book, but never had the pleasure of talking with her in person (though we’re working on it — more on that later). We conducted our conversations over the phone instead, and it was such a thrill hearing that voice–so distinctive, so one-of-a-kind– come out of the speakerphone the very first time. Wanna see her in action? Here’s Fran and Prairie Dawn with Frank Oz and Grover as they try to stage Singin’ In The Rain:

Next up, the esteemed Booklist gave Jim Henson one of its coveted starred reviews, and I’m thrilled with its reaction.  At the moment, the review’s behind a firewall, but here’s a bit of it:

“[Jones’]  lucid style, wide-angle perspective, and deep immersion in Henson’s exuberantly innovative approach to puppets, television, and film make for a thoroughly compelling read . . . With verve and insight, Jones illuminates the full scope of Henson’s genius, phenomenal productivity, complex private life, zeal to do good, and astronomical influence.”

Very nice.  Finally, The Hollywood Reporter chose Jim Henson as one of its “Ten Hot Fall Hollywood Reads,”along with the upcoming biography of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep.  Which marks the first and likely only time I will ever be on the same list with Stephen King.

Autumn Leaves

It’s fall, the publishing industry is back in full swing, and that means there are plenty of great new books to choose from.  Let’s see. . .

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the book launch for American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America, by my  colleague David O. Stewart. Stewart views Burr’s tale as both an adventure story and a political/legal thriller, and why not? Imagine a novel in which a sitting Vice President is charged for murder in two states, plans an elaborate military coup to overthrow the U.S. government (and have himself installed as the head of the new upstart government installed in its place), is indicted for treason, and is put on trial — and acquitted! — before the Chief Justice of the United States. A tale too unbelievable to be true? You bet — and yet it is.  Stewart’s book is available now—and getting spectacular reviews—so go get it (and look for a cameo appearance by Washington Irving, who made sure he had a good seat in the courthouse every day of Burr’s trial in Richmond).

The book currently sitting on my nightstand is Walter Issacson’s biography Steve Jobs, which is already kicking ass and taking names on numerous bestseller lists. Those of us who were keeping tabs on Issacson’s book for the past year (and who rolled our eyes when it was rumored, probably falsely, that the book was going to called either The Book of Jobs or iJobs) watched with interest as it was updated and revised after the manuscript was already completed to reflect Jobs’s resignation from Apple due to health reasons — and then revised again immediately following his death. That gives Issacson’s book the wonderful weight of immediacy—though it’s not like most us weren’t chomping at the bit to get our hands on this one anyway.

Coming up next week is the long-awaited And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by my pal (and fellow BIO member) Charles J. Shields, who pulls back the curtain on the enigmatic writer whose Slaughterhouse Five has been picked up by countless high school students who thought they were reading a horror novel.  Ahem.

I’m anxious to get my mitts on this one as well, though I’ll admit to having some inside information: namely, I know how hard Shields worked not only on the book itself, but on getting Vonnegut to allow him to write the story in the first place.  You can read that story and more  over on Shields’ way-cool blog  Writing Kurt Vonnegut, where you’ll learn all about his adventures as Vonnegut’s biographer — as well as beer, kids’ TV, and writing in general. Go. Now.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve largely given up fiction—but I’m still a sucker for Stephen King (yeah, guh head, make the face!) and I’ve gotta admit to being psyched for his newest, the massive, 960-page 11/22/63: A Novel. I had to fling aside the review in today’s Washington Post, which seemed too eager to commit the major foul of Giving Too Much Away.

And finally, I just read this afternoon that the fourth — but not yet final! — book in Robert A.  Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson comes out next May.

What are you looking forward to reading this fall? You don’t have to post it here, just talk amongst yuhselves.

Stephen King vs. Stephenie Meyer

The dither continues over comments Stephen King made late last week regarding the writing skills of several other writers, including Erle Stanley Gardner, Dean Koontz, and James Patterson.  But it was his comments on Twilight author and phenom Stephenie Meyer that created the greatest uproar.  Here’s King on Meyer:

“…when [Richard] Matheson started to write about ordinary people and stuff, that was something that I wanted to do. I said, ‘This is the way to do it. He’s showing the way.’ I think that I serve that purpose for some writers, and that’s a good thing.  Both [Harry Potter author J.K.] Rowling and [Stephenie] Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. … The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”

I read those comments to my daughter Madi — whose 12-year-old wheelhouse is the target at which Meyer is aiming — and she politely harummphed in disagreement.  And knowing I’m a devoted Stephen King fan, she encouraged me to read the Twilight series and decide for myself, rather than taking Stephen King’s word for it.  “I know you like him,” she told me rather flatly, “but I don’t want you thinking Stephenie Meyer is a bad writer just because he says so.”

The irony in Stephen King’s remarks, of course, is that many people have said the same of him — that he’s a great storyteller but a terrible writer.  Me, I love Stephen King.  Ever since a ninth grade English teacher of mine babbled effusively on about The Shining and encouraged me to read it — which I did, in the form of a dog-eared paperback I checked out of the library — I’ve been a fan.  But really, I don’t care if he’s considered a good writer or a bad writer.  He entertains me enormously and, at times, touches me. I consider that enough.

And that’s why I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with his opinion of Stephenie Meyer — who I’ve never read and, despite Madi’s suggestion, don’t know that I will.  But Madi reads her faithfully — and once she finished the Twilight series, she moved on to Meyer’s more adult novel, The Host, which she’s been devouring for the past week.

On Saturday night, as we were driving back from a volleyball tournment in one of the more rural parts of Maryland (Madi’s team placed third, thank you very much), Madi was sitting quietly in the back seat, reading The Host with the help of her booklight.  Thirty minutes into the drive, over the sounds of the radio, I heard her softly sniffling.

“Did your book just get sad?” I asked her.

Chin quivering, she informed me [***SPOILER ALERT**] that a character she really liked had just died, then put her head down and kept reading.  Moments later, she began choking back sobs and smearing away tears with her palms. 

She took the tissue Barb offered her and dabbed at her eyes, explaining what had happened and still crying, but also laughing at her own deep emotion.  It was, I think, one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.

And that’s why I can’t come down on Stephen King’s side on this one.  Say what you will about Stephenie Meyer, but she entertained my Madi.  She genuinely touched her and moved her to tears. And regardless of whether I ever read Meyer or not, that moment was enough to make me a fan.