24 December 2013

The Happiest of Holidays to You!

Matt and I want to wish all of you the happiest of holidays! Here is the image on our card this year. As you all know, Matt is the artist in the family, but this year I tried my hand at paper cutting, inspired by (but in no way as good as) the work of artist and friend Kevin Kidney. We hope you enjoy this little effort made of 65-pound paper, copper wiring, and tufts of fur from our wonderful dog Aalto and our fabulous cat Eero. You could say it's a real family affair!

27 October 2013

08 September 2013

Finishing The Hat

Let’s face it: I’m a sucker for lost Hollywood.

I’ve been involved in researching lost Hollywood for most of my professional writing career. It always warms my heart to hear that more “lost” films have been found. (Like my entry here.)

Matt and I are currently making our way through a review copy of the most recent batch of “lost” films to be found: Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive which presents 11 films out of a group of 176 found a few years ago in New Zealand. It includes a cartoon, newsreels, film shorts and early work by directors John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and actor Mabel Normand.

Oddly, the feature that most piqued my interest is Birth of a Hat (pictured) thought to be from 1920. It’s a long commercial for the John B. Stetson Hat Company. It shows every step involved: from the beginning (the fur-bearing animal) to the end (the finished product). Like a 1920s version of How It’s Made, Birth of a Hat is compelling and fascinating -- not least of which reason because at the time it was produced everyone wore a hat. And now, not so much.

While hat making is fascinating on its own, the bigger picture is that, until recently, this film was not known to exist. NINETY-THREE YEARS LATER it is returned to us. This, and the other films and shorts contained on this DVD (more than three hours worth), provide a unique window into a very long lost world.

You can read more about these films and the preservation work behind them here.

You can pre-order your own copy here. (It'll be released on 24 September.)

Organizations responsible for the preservation and release of these films include: the New Zealand Film Archive, National Film Preservation Foundation, National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Academy Film Archive, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Save America’s Treasures, Turner Classic Movies, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Film Technology Company, Park Road Post Production, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Argyros Family Foundation.

27 July 2013

The Best Laid Plans...

The day before I was born, my mother went to the hospital to prepare for my birth. My father decided he would surprise my mother and go home and clean the entire house -- top to bottom. He cleaned the house, left open all the windows to make sure everything was aired out and smelled great, and returned to the hospital. As is pretty common in this neck of the woods during July, a whopping huge-ass dust storm came through that night. When my father and mother returned home, the interior of the house -- once spotless -- was completely coated with dirt.

20 July 2013

Helen Thomas RIP

I wanted to be many things growing up -- paleontologist, translator at the United Nations, oceanographer, actor. I tried my hand at a lot of these things, but always came back to writing. There are two people who I admired growing up: Edward R. Murrow and Helen Thomas (1920 - 2013).

It was because of Murrow that I got into radio news. I wrote and produced documentaries because he did. He touched millions of people through his war reporting and his later documentaries (radio and television).

It was because of Thomas that I got into writing for newspapers and magazines. Every time there was a presidential press conference, she was there. She always had insightful, probing questions. Many of her questions -- a journalist trying to get to the truth -- got her in trouble. I admired her for having the strength to ask those very questions.

I think our profession is diminished greatly at her loss; but our profession has been losing its luster over the years because of so-called journalists spouting opinions as facts. Now, understandably, the public doesn't know whom to trust, so they suspect every journalist -- the real ones and the pretenders.

The job of a journalist is not to make friends; it is to interview people, gather facts, put information into a timeline so that people can understand what is going on. A lot of people have lost sight of this, but Thomas never did.

02 July 2013

Would my father still be alive?

Would he still be alive if he had sought out medical advice when the cough first started rather than waiting TWO YEARS? Would he still be alive now, nine years after he died?

I don't know.

Would my father still be alive if I tried just a little harder to convince him to go to the doctor? Would it have helped to have had just one more fight with him about going to see what was wrong? Would it have mattered if I forced him into the car and drove him to the doctor myself?

I don't know.

It's possible nothing that he or I or anyone could have done would have meant he would still be alive today to celebrate his 81st birthday. But, there's no way to know for sure, is there?

No, there's not.

All I know for sure is that he was a stupid man to not go to the doctor when he could have treated the lung cancer that eventually spread to his brain and killed him.

19 June 2013

Facebook and Me

I was a late convert to Facebook. I was hesitant to get involved with "social media" because it just seemed too much -- too much information, too much time, too much everything.

When I dove head-first into publishing my novels, everyone (and I do mean you) told me I had to have a Facebook page for my writing. Fair enough. I started a professional page and began putting up content related to my books. Lots of content. I'm reminded of the comment someone made back in the 1930s about the famous vaudeville stars (think Jack Benny and Fred Allen) as they made the transition to radio: In vaudeville, you could use the same material every show, every day for years and get laughs. On radio, you use it once and that's it.

To figure out what I should post, I began looking at what others posted. There are a lot of baby pictures. There are a lot of cat pictures. There are a lot of photographs of people I don't know. But all that's fine. It's interesting to see what other people think is interesting enough to post on a public forum.

I joined Facebook in May 2012. In that year, my feelings about Facebook have changed. I still think it's too much information and too much time, but I'm also starting to understand its world-wide appeal.

I've connected with people I knew from high school. People I didn't realize I missed being in touch with. I met new friends (a lot of new friends) who share my interests. I've latched on to some personal and professional pages on which I read very interesting stuff. I love learning, and it's a new opportunity.

Occasionally, I post personal thoughts and insights -- like this one. I can't imagine too many people care to hear my opinions on things or stuff, but I occasionally post something I consider pithy -- or at least interesting.

My spouse, Matt, says I always discover something really fascinating about ten years after everyone else found it fascinating. Fair enough. I don't care if I'm late to the party as long as show up. (And, for the record, I don't believe in being late. It shows respect to be prompt.)

Generally, I'm enjoying my time on Facebook. Although there are still a few things I don't understand.

For example, why do people think cats are illiterate? All the cats I know would ask properly for a cheeseburger -- and would add "please." Cats are many things -- stupid isn't one of them.

Another example: how can people not find animals beautiful? I love all the kitty photos, the doggie pics, the rabbit snaps. All of them. But I don't understand why people feel a need to "shame" their animals on a public forum. Would you like it if someone publicly "shamed" you every time you peed on the bed, or ate through a power cord? Probably not.

Lastly, I don't understand why people say mean and hurtful things on other people's Facebook pages. It astounds me some of the rude comments I've read. Perhaps it's the supposed "anonymity" of posting online that gives people power to be mean. But, even if no one else in the world knows you said it, YOU still do. There's no anonymity in knowing yourself.

On the flip side, I've been on the receiving end of some very considerate, thoughtful, even kind words from people who follow my pages or just stumble onto them. People I've never met, perhaps people I'll never know in person, taking the time to type something kind and encouraging. I'm so amazed at the generosity of some people. I always try to be kind and considerate of others -- keeping in mind the tired but true dictum: if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.

But, right now, I have writing to attend do. I'm working on another novel and my time is very precious, and I need to -- wait, another picture of baby kitties! Hold on! I'll be right back.

09 June 2013

01 June 2013

Win a signed copy of "Murder at Eastern Columbia"!

My newest novel has just come out: "Murder at Eastern Columbia," a James Murray mystery. It's a really cool story about a young man in 1931 Los Angeles who wants to be a writer, and his alter ego, tracking down clues and trying to solve the murder of the girl with the sorrel-colored hair.

Wanna win a copy? Of course you do! Here's a contest. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

22 May 2013

Melamine Answer Man

Who hasn't wondered what kind of melamine dinnerware was used by Darrin and Samantha Stevens on "Bewitched" (pictured)? Or the kind used by Lucy and Ricky on "I Love Lucy"? Or perhaps what brand Alice favored when serving "The Brady Bunch"? Now, you can find out on a new page I just added to my PlasticLiving.com website here.

13 May 2013

The countdown has begun.

Just a couple more weeks until my new novel is released. This new work is two stories in one -- both taking place in downtown Los Angeles in 1931, the depths of the Great Depression. Here, in this sample, the main character's alter ego talks about pawn shops and what they mean to him:

"I've spent a lot of time in pawn shops and pretty much hated every minute. I used them myself once in a while, of course; I visited them on occasion for help with a case: but every time I hated it. Every one of them held captive so many happy memories and told of so many desperate people and their desperate times.

"I would look through the window at a set of shiny new golf clubs and wonder at their story. Had they been a gift from a loving wife to a deserving husband? Had she smiled with delight when he opened the box and figured out what was inside? Had he leapt to his feet and given her a big, thankful kiss? Had he told her how much he loved them and would think of her every time he played?

"What happened between those happy times and now, when they sat here, covered with dust, unused and unloved? What happened to make the man pawn them? What had he said to his wife when discussing the state their finances had fallen into? Did she cry when he suggested the clubs? Did she admonish him to keep them, telling him that somehow 'everything would turn out all right'? Did he lift his hand and wipe from her face the lone tear that had started to fall, smile at her and say 'as long as we're together, everything will turn out all right'? Did she give his hand a squeeze, acknowledging that he was right, telling him that they were just 'things' anyway? Did the money from the clubs save their house, or their car, or the life of their child who had come down with a pimple that turned out to be infected? Or did the money come too little and too late to save the house, the car, the kid?

"I never knew the answers to those questions. That made them haunt me even more. It made me hate pawn shops more than that. I didn't want to see all the detritus of so many lives and have to always wonder what was behind each piece that sat there with a sad price tag on it. What was the price of happiness? I don't know; but I can tell you for sure it was more than the amount scribbled on the yellowing card propped up against the small velvet-lined box that held two gold wedding rings."

27 April 2013

Digging the Past

I know everyone's seen this already, but I just have to add to the internet traffic for this wonderful find: a 100-year-old time capsule from Oklahoma. How cool is this?

This is an example of why I love being a writer. When I research a story (like the 1930s novel I'm currently working on) I seek out old books, old movies -- sometimes old people -- to find out about the world of the past. In a way, it's like opening a time capsule of information that has not been read in decades, reveling in memories that have not been probed for ages, and bringing back to life (if only for a few minutes) the minutia of a world that has long since stopped existing.

The people of 1913 Oklahoma who created this time capsule did the world a great favor. They included art or their time, fashions, laws of the native peoples, letters written to descendants of families -- and even recorded their voices to be heard in the next millennia. I know a lot of people could not care less about the past. It's a shame, really, because as the saying goes, their past is our prologue.

You can read more about this find (and see photographs) here.

21 April 2013


I feel sad for all the people involved in both the Boston bombings and the West fertilizer-plant explosion. I feel empathy for the people who were killed, those injured, and even those who just happened to be in the area. Even if not physically affected, they are mentally affected -- which can often be just as bad.

Of all the people connected to these events, you know who I feel the most sorrow for? Ruslan Tsarni -- an uncle of the two Boston bombers.

I suppose this might come as a bit of a shock. Why don't I feel the most sorrow for the people who died? Or the people permanently injured?

Fair enough. But, put yourself in the place of the uncle:

You're sitting at home, minding your own business and you see a television report showing the suspected bombers and you recognize BOTH of the bombers as relatives. You are an immigrant to America, you love your new country as much as you love your heritage and here you are: faced with such a horrible action taken by people you know and are related to.

Tsarni could have stayed in his house, cowered in a corner for fear someone would find out that he was related to the suspects. What did he do? He appeared in front of national media, told everyone who he was and his relationship to the suspects and implored them to turn themselves in. He stressed that the suspects -- his nephews -- brought shame to their family, shame to their home country, shame to their status as immigrants.

Some have dismissed his actions as a clever public-relations ploy. Perhaps it was. But perhaps it was another example of one or two people bringing shame to an entire class of immigrants. History is replete with stories of immigrant parents disowning their children for doing something that brought shame to their nationality. This is nothing new. For many immigrants, it matters to them that they "do the right thing" as American residents or new American citizens. They want to prove that they are worthy of being an "American."

It took a lot of courage for Tsarni to put himself square in the public focus like he did. I sincerely hope all the other Americans who heard his pleas understand that the guilty are not "immigrants," they are not "Islamists," they are not "Chechens." The guilty are the people who placed the bombs that did the damage.

You can read more about Tsarni here.

19 March 2013

Misplaced Focus?

Recently, the television news station CNN has taken heat over its coverage of a rape trial in Ohio. Some people (really, a lot of people) have taken them to task over appearing to have "sympathy" for the two boys convicted of a rape and little concern for the victim.

The "sympathy' shown by CNN has been in the form of comments about how the future of the boys has been forever ruined, how the families are devastated and how the culture that raised them is tarnished.

I, for one, don't think this is "sympathy"; rather, a very potent (I hope) warning to others about just how easily one stupid action can tarnish your life forever.

Before I go on, let me unequivocally state the following, just to make sure I'm not misunderstood:

  • Rape is wrong
  • Sex without consent is rape
  • Being passed out is not consent
  • The boys are guilty and deserve far more punishment than they will ever get
  • The victim is not guilty of anything

However, these boys are (apparently) representative of a lot of male teenagers coddled in an "athletes can do no wrong" culture where they are never punished for anything they do wrong. Poor grades? No problem: we'll fix it. Underage drinking? No problem. Speeding ticket? No problem. Taking a little something from the store without paying? No problem. How hard is it to imagine these boys taking it even further, to something like "having sex with someone who is unconscious? No problem."

These boys apparently had no authority figures to teach them right from wrong. Not their parents, not their teachers, not their coaches and not (according to some reports in this case) the police officials. They had so little idea of the moral and legal issues involved that they posted their conduct on the internet using text messages and video footage. It was not posted by someone trying to demonstrate a crime. No, they posted it themselves.

There is probably no better time than now to focus on these boys and how their actions ruined their own lives. They will forever be branded sex offenders, they will not be able to get scholarships to college to play ball, they will probably not have good careers, good relationships, good families. The entirety of their lives has been brought down because of their own actions.

I hope other teenage boys see the tale of these two rapists repeated over and over and over. If other boys and men are similarly without figures of authority showing them right from wrong, perhaps (just perhaps) they will figure out that rape is wrong.

And if the tale of these two rapists stops just a single boy or man from raping a woman, then some good will have come out of this horrible series of events.

As for the victim, I can only hope she is able to move on at some point, to not let her life be similarly destroyed by the actions of others. I would think she would rather have little media focus on her right now, so she can start the process of rebuilding. I don't know how possible that is. I just hope so.

You can read more about the CNN backlash here.

12 March 2013


I've long been fascinated by the period of history between the two world wars. This includes the whole Hindenburg story. Seriously, could you have written a better story than the pride of the Nazi fleet bursting into flames over America? I think not.

Although the Hindenburg disaster meant the death of rigid airships for many decades, they have come back (sorta) in the form of much smaller blimps -- like the famous ones used by Goodyear and MetLife.

Over the weekend, we were outside reading and the familiar sound started of the MetLife blimp flying over our house near downtown Phoenix. Every time one of these flies over, I try to imagine how much bigger was the Hindenburg -- and just how majestic it would have seemed flying over houses back in the 1930s.

So, I created this little comparative photo showing the MetLife blimp flying over us (thanks to my spouse, Matt, for taking the snap) and a superimposed image of the Hindenburg. (The Hindenburg was a little over 6 times the length of the current MetLife blimp.) Pretty fascinating, isn't it? Imagine what it would have been like to see this flying over your house in 1937.

28 February 2013

27 February 2013

Now We're Married; Now We're Not

My spouse, Matt, and I just got back from a week in California. We love vacationing in California because it's close to us, has oceans, has Hollywood, and tons of great history. We love vacationing there for another reason: when we're in California, our marriage is legally recognized. When we cross the border into California, I remind Matt "Now we're married," and when we cross back into Arizona I remind him "Now, we're not married." It's a schizophrenic kind of existence, but it's also fun, in it's own way.

In about a month, the supreme court will hear oral arguments about whether California's ill-conceived Proposition 8 (to ban same-sex marriage) violates the federal constitution. Their decision could have quite a number of different results ranging from allowing same-sex marriage across the country, to saying it is not protected under the constitution.

On a personal level, whatever the supreme court decides won't affect me. The same-sex marriages that happened in California during that brief window in 2008 (like ours) have already been declared legal. This ruling won't change my status. However, although no one will know how the supreme court decides until probably June, the effects of the case are already being felt around the country.

Seriously, did you ever think, in your lifetime, you would read this headline: "Top Republicans urge court to support gay marriage"? That was Tuesday. Today, I was greeted with this headline: "Nike, Apple, Facebook Among U.S. Companies that Intend to Back Gay Marriage in Coming Supreme Court Cases." (insert rubbing of eyes in disbelief here)

It's been long known that the general trend around the world is to support marriage equality. America, once known for leading the world in all kinds of arenas, is lagging far behind MANY other countries in this regard. Is it that we're smarter and know better? Well, no. It's because too many special interest groups (and you know who they are) are desperately trying to keep a strangle hold on the past and their particular way of life (read: institutionalized discrimination and bigotry). Slowly, these antiquated groups are losing their grip on the world, and we're seeing many changes -- marriage equality just the latest among them.

It is possible the supreme court will not uphold marriage equality; but it doesn't really matter what they say right now. As I write this, history is being written around the world and in America. That history will one day look back at all this dithering and wonder what the fuss was all about. Future generations will look back at this debate over same-sex marriage the same way we look at some of the inexplicable elements of our own past: different drinking fountains for whites and blacks? women not being allowed to hold public office? Jews not allowed in certain hotels? I can't understand how any of those things were ever true -- just like I cannot believe marriage equality will not, one day, be a universal truth.

16 February 2013

The Rabbit that Roared

Walt Disney found early success with a group of animated cartoons featuring a human (the "Alice" comedies); but he really hit pay dirt with his first animated star, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Animator Ub Iwerks created Oswald in 1927 for a series of cartoons produced for distribution by Universal Studios. The quirky Oswald possessed many zany qualities. He embodied the craziness of the times and was a free spirited character unlike most other contemporary animated characters.

Disney Studios made only a few Oswald cartoons before Universal decided to take production in-house, thereby leaving Disney out of the process. (In response, Disney and Iwerks created a new character, a mouse, that would bring them their ultimate success.)

Oswald cartoons would continue to be produced into the 1940s; but, despite being Disney's first animated star, he had lost all rights to the character. Oswald was finally returned to the studio of his birth in 2006.
You can find the early Oswald cartoons here.

15 February 2013

Create Space

Every creative genius has an office -- or at least a desk where s/he works. Ever wonder what the office of Walt Disney looked like? I'm talking about the real office, not the fake one you would see behind him on Sunday nights during the "Wonderful World of Disney." You can see his actual office in this photograph (click to enlarge). It's one of the many fascinating things you'll see if you go to "Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives" at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.

The exhibition is divided in two sections: the really cool early years of Disney, growing up and starting out as an artist, and the early days of the studio itself; and the more recent movies, including costumes, props, original poster art and "miniatures" from such fare as the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, the "Tron" sequel and "The Avengers."

Personally, I most enjoyed learning about Disney's early years, including his first animated star -- no, not the ratty little mouse; rather, the cute and frolicking little bunny named Oswald, represented here by some early sketches and posters. It's what got Disney going, and I'm really glad to see some of these very rare early art pieces.

The exhibition continues through April. You can read more at the official site here.

09 February 2013

Cereal Warning

So, here we were, innocently walking to lunch today through our neighborhood, when we came upon this warning (click to enlarge), chalked on a sidewalk by someone desperate to save us from unknown disaster. What can it mean? What happened to the person(s) who wrote it? Did they give their lives to save ours? Will anyone ever know of their sacrifice? I've been haunted by it ever since.

26 January 2013


Is this what they teach in journalism school now? (Click to enlarge.) What happened to paragraphs? See the original story here.