PRE-ORDER - Available November 2021
Welcome, hoopleheads! We are making a A Lie Agreed Upon: The Deadwood Chronicles. A book about the making of David Milch's classic HBO series Deadwood, which recently wrapped up its story with a TV movie, 13 years after its traumatic cancellation. The book will look like an old Bible, written by me, with an introduction by bestselling novelist Megan Abbott (Dare Me), extensive footnotes, and drawings by Max Dalton that channel dime novels and Charles Dickens illustrations.
ABOUT ME AND THE BOOK
I've been writing about Deadwood for 15 years, starting when I was a TV columnist for The Star-Ledger of New Jersey (two set visits, in 2005 and 2006), and continuing at Slant, Salon, and most recently New York magazine (they flew me to the film set in 2018, and it resulted in an exclusive interview with Milch in which he revealed his diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease).
But here's the thing: Although I've done numerous books about film and TV--including The Wes Anderson Collection, The Wes Anderson Collection: Grand Budapest Hotel, Mad Men Carousel, TV: The Book, and The Sopranos Sessions--this Deadwood book is something that can't be produced within the commercial system. It's too much of a peculiar, obsessive collector's item/art object.
As you can see from the cover mockup, A Lie Agreed Upon will look like a Bible from the early 20th century (it's specifically modeled on my grandfather's Bible), so that if you read it in public, people will assume you're just refreshing your knowledge of the Gospels. Reverend Smith would approve.
The heart of the book is a thoroughly reported history of the series, broken into seven chapters, plus illustrations, footnotes, an introduction, and an appendix of critical essays on all the episodes. Here's a detailed breakdown:
Introduction. By crime fiction writer Megan Abbott, the bestselling author of Give Me Your Hand, You Will Know Me, and Dare Me, and a staff writer on HBO's The Deuce. Fans of my work will also recognize Megan from her marvelous introduction to Mad Men Carousel.
Chapter 1: Beginnings. David Milch before Deadwood. Covering some of his personal history at Yale, as Robert Penn Warren's assistant, as an acclaimed young writer on Hill Street Blues, as a writer-producer on NYPD Blue and subsequent dramas, then finally pitching a show about Rome to HBO, finding out they already had a show in the works called Rome, and changing his pitch to a Western.
Chapter 2: Pilot. The writing, casting and shooting of the pilot episode. This chapter will include origin stories of the principal cast, Milch's hiring of director Walter Hill, and the creation of the main set at Melody Ranch Studios near Los Angeles.
Chapters 3-5: The Seasons. These chapters will cover the production of seasons 1, 2 and 3, including the addition of new cast members, concerns about falling ratings, controversies over the show's language and violence, and the series' place within the pantheon of early-aughts TV dramas built around antiheroic characters. These chapters will draw on my archive of interviews with principal and secondary actors as well as the cast and crew, including so-called "below the line" people who worked in specific craft-oriented jobs and who aren't normally included in a book of this sort. This section ends with the show's shocking cancellation in 2006, and goes into differing accounts of what happened.
Chapter 6: The Wilderness. Wherein Milch tries to get other series going at HBO, with varying degrees of success, including John From Cincinnati (one season), Luck (one season) and Last of the Ninth and The Money (pilot only). Meanwhile, the main cast members move on to other shows, including Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant; House of Cards, costarring Molly Parker, Supernatural, costarring Jim Beaver; American Gods, starring Ian McShane, and Sons of Anarchy, which employed so many former regulars that I've joked was a part of the Deadwood Actors Full Employment Act of 2006.
Chapter 7: The Movie. Self-explanatory.
Appendix: Recaps. Critical essays on every episode of the show, plus the film. These will certainly contain detailed footnotes on the story; the characters' psychology; the ratio of historical fact to Milch's fiction; Deadwood's kinship to Western movies and literature, the Bible, and Shakespeare; and other fun stuff. Many of these footnotes will be written by me, but there will also be contributions from colleagues who are experts on particular aspects of the show and the history it draws on.
As is my policy, the recaps will discuss things that have already happened, but never things that haven't happened yet. That way first-time viewers can use the recap section of A Lie Agreed Upon as a viewing guide.
And now here comes something really cool:
Max Dalton, an Argentina-based graphic artist and illustrator who did drawings for my Wes Anderson books and Mad Men Carousel, is on board to do a series of original illustrations for this book, based on key incidents in Deadwood.
These will be done in a modified version of his signature style, drawing partial inspiration from dime novels and the pen-and-ink caricatures that used to appear in bound editions of novels by Charles Dickens. Here's a rough, early version of a sketch of the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok by the coward Jack McCall. They will appear in the recaps section, always on the page where the event in question is written about, in order to prevent accidental spoilers.
Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.4 inches