02 December 2016

Shoe, Meet the Other Foot

At a recent family-in-law gathering, one guest (noticing that our anniversary was a few days away) asked how Matt and I met. I explained that I was working for a newspaper as a theater critic reviewing a musical and Matt sat next to me. The usual questions followed: do you remember the name of the show (“Crazy For You”), did you like it (**** out of *****), etc.

She then asked me if I had ever written a bad (i.e. negative) review. I told her I had, but even for the worst shows I always tried to include at least one good thing from the production. It might be a specific performance, the production design (which, honestly, can make or break a show), or a moment in a scene. I never wanted my readers to say, “He hates it, we won’t go.” I wanted them to say, “Hey, he says this one actor was really good. Let’s go check it out.” I never found pleasure in writing a negative review; it always pained me. I had been active in theater for many years prior and I knew first hand how hard people work to put on a show. Productions might fail for a variety of reasons, but I doubt passion is ever one of them. 

Now, twenty years since I stopped reviewing theater, the tables have been turned.

Five years ago I began writing novels with the goal of writing them and getting them published. Anything that happened after that was just icing on the cake -- except in the case of negative reviews. Most of the reviews for my thirteen books have ranged from average to excellent. Only on a few occasions have I gotten a negative review -- a couple of them pointedly mean. I try really hard not to let the negative reviews bother me, but they do.

Each time it happens, I think back to my years working for different newspapers and the various types of subjects (theater, books, social events, dance and opera) that I reviewed and the fact that I always tried to be nice. I might not have always succeeded, but at least I was never intentionally mean.

20 November 2016

It’s Like an Addiction

You know how people say an addict won’t change unless s/he wants to? No matter what you say, it won’t matter if the addict doesn’t want to change? The same can be said for moving into new technologies: unless you really want to move in that direction, you won’t -- no matter what anyone tells you.

Despite years of resistance, I am now a convert to GPS technology. I grew up in scouting, learning how to read maps (a dead art now, I’m sure). I always traveled with paper maps. I didn’t need (or want) fancy technology. With our recent trip to Glendale, California -- and the need to drive the windy Hollywood Hills at night, during rush hour -- I decided to try a GPS program. I’m now hooked.

Dale (what we named our GPS voice in honor of our vacation) got us to our Hollywood Hills destination with no problem. It was a little tricky getting back to the hotel because we couldn’t get a connection in the hills, so we had to backtrack by memory until we got out of the hills and onto flat land (successfully). Otherwise, the GPS got us to all our destinations with only one glitch (guiding us in the wrong direction for parking at the Broad museum downtown Los Angeles).

I guess I can say I’m now environmentally conscious of the need to conserve paper (as in paper maps) and will bow to Dale’s wishes whenever we travel.

28 October 2016

TGIF -- Sometimes

For most people, Fridays are the start of happy times and a great weekend. When I was a kid, Friday night promised either a night of great happiness or great terror. It was a coin toss -- until the clock struck 6:00 p.m.

For a large chunk of his life, my father was an alcoholic. He didn’t drink all the time, but when he did it was bad. His favorite time for drinking was after work Friday. I don’t necessarily blame him. He had a job that was physically tough and he worked hard to provide us a life free of want (mostly). But there were times he needed to drink and get drunk.

On the good Fridays, when he came home right after work (before 6:00 p.m.), he might have picked up fried chicken for dinner, we might have dinner at home, or go to a local fast-food place (which was exotic to a young kid back then).
From my personal collection.

On the most special nights of all, we would go to a restaurant called Jack’s (see photograph) on the northwest corner of McDowell Road and the I-17 freeway near downtown Phoenix. Jack’s offered all-you-can-eat fish fry or chicken and dumplings. I almost always got the fish -- along with a build-it-yourself balsa-wood airplane from the waitress.

If the clock struck 6:00 p.m. and he wasn’t home yet, we knew it was going to be a bad night. I’ll spare you details of what happened on those nights. But there was one particular bad night I remember vividly -- even though it happened more than 45 years ago.

During summer, I would sometimes walk to a public swimming pool. I would walk home; or my mother or father would pick me up after work. On this particular Friday, it was my father’s turn. The pool closed (probably around 6:00 p.m.), so I left and waited outside. I don’t know what time it was that my father showed up (although it had already gotten dark -- and it gets dark very late here in summer), but I was so happy to see his white truck pull up. I got in (ignoring the liquor smell), shut the door and we started home. When we stopped at an intersection, I glanced over and saw my father’s right arm covered in fresh blood from a huge gash. Terrified, I started screaming and crying. Turns out my father got in a fight outside the bar with “some Mexican” and the other person slashed him.

13 October 2016

The Sodium Chronicles

My cancer affects the efficiency of my kidneys. If I eat too much sodium, my body retains water because my kidneys can’t filter out the sodium as quickly as they used to. So, too much sodium and I retain water; retaining water leads to edema, which leads to weight gain and additional strain on my kidneys making me a generally unhappy camper.

It’s taken me a while to figure out that a certain meal eaten at a restaurant one day leads to a weight gain the next. Research pinpointed sodium as the culprit. Further research indicates that I pretty much cannot eat any meals at any restaurants ever again (it would seem).

Keeping in mind that the daily recommended maximum of sodium is 2,000 mg, I’m trying to eat no more than 1,000 mg of sodium at lunch (and very little at breakfast and dinner). This means I can’t eat Pei Wei’s Pad Thai any more because it has (get ready) more than SIX THOUSAND mgs of sodium in a bowl. A wrap at Jersey Mike’s has more than 2,200 mgs (I can eat half today and half tomorrow, I suppose). A wrap at Chipotle has more than 2,300 mgs.

This is only a problem when I eat out. At home, eating low sodium is a breeze: cook from scratch, don’t add salt to foods, etc. Easy peasy. But, who doesn’t like to eat out once in a while? I know I do (or, I did).

28 September 2016

Son of Thalidomide

I was having a nice chat with my chemo doctor Tuesday. I asked him to recommend for me a book or paper that would explain in detail how my daily drug Revlimid works. All I knew prior to that question was that it was a derivative of the dreaded anti-nausea medication Thalidomide, and that it somehow prevented the creation of new blood vessels, thereby killing off cancer cells the way its parent drug killed off the creation of arms and legs in babies in the 1950s.

He explained that scientists don’t know how Revlimid works. He clarified that it enters the bone marrow (where my cancer comes from) and kills off the cancer cells. Okeh. Then he told me that my kind of cancer was originally treated with Thalidomide.

Color me surprised. I hadn’t heard that. Although it helped, the original treatment had so many side effects that some clever doctor figured out what exactly in Thalidomide worked against the cancer and pulled out that small part -- resulting in Revlimid, what my doctor called “the first designer drug.” 

Revlimid, in general, has few side effects and those are pretty mild. Thankfully, I’ve had virtually none of them, so that makes me really happy. According to my doctor, my numbers are still doing really well and that makes him really happy. I guess the situation is the best it could possibly be for a cancer that I’ll have the rest of my life and a drug that I’ll keep taking for the same length of time.

23 September 2016

Everything You Wanted to Know About the "James Murray Mysteries" but were Afraid to Ask

The 1930s were a long time ago and Los Angeles a very different world. And now, a year after the last James Murray Mystery was published, I've published an encyclopaedia of sorts that explains all the little inside jokes, esoteric bits and pieces of historic information, and the background behind some of the choices I made as the author of the five novels set in 1930s Los Angeles.

The James Murray Mysteries Companion is filled with all kinds of information -- like the actual people who were the basis for the mysterious Miss Compton and the dashing Buddy Rogers in the first novel. The origin of Scott Hobby in the second novel. The real person behind the fictional scientist in the third novel. (Hint: he’s not a scientist!) Why I chose baseball as the setting for the fourth novel. Some of the famous Hollywood stars who have cameos in the fifth novel.

You’ll uncover my favorite actress, my favorite movie, my favorite dessert and my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles as they all make appearances in one or more of the novels. I also explain how a real-life medical condition of mine was used to inform the plots of two of the novels.

So, sit back, relax and discover some of the secrets contained in the five James Murray Mysteries

[You’ll find the link to the book in the column to the right called “My Books.”]