28 December 2014
We started seeing each other, going out, spending time together. He told me he loved me, he wanted to be with me, that I was the one for him. I felt exactly the same way. I thought this was it. For the first time ever, I thought this was the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with.
We dated a couple months, then one day, over lunch, he said the following: “I hope I haven’t said anything that would make you think we had a future together.” What do you say to that? I was devastated. I crashed so low I didn’t think I would ever get up again. I found out he had been dating someone else at the same time he was dating me. He invited me to their “wedding” in a couple weeks. They exchanged rings and had a commitment ceremony (sans me).
A while later, he called and told me they had broken up, and that he’d been thinking of me and wanted to see me. Well, what do you say to that? I told him I was genuinely sorry his other relationship had failed (I was), and for him to call me next week and we’d do lunch.
He never called.
A few years later I met Matt, who turned out to really be the perfect man for me.
24 December 2014
in the year '68
When a young boy was eager
but forced to wait.
Xmas was around the corner
and presents were near
when suddenly a door bell
the boy did hear.
He raced to the door
"Was it Santa, perhaps?"
No, a chap in brown shirt
and matching brown pants.
"I'm looking for Christopher,
might you be he?"
I didn't at first realize
he was talking to me.
"Um, yes sir," I replied
always taught to be nice
"Sign here," he said,
I think he asked twice.
I signed the receipt,
and returned it to him.
He gave me a box
and a sly little grin.
"What could it be?"
I wondered aloud
and walked to the living room,
my mind in a cloud.
I opened the box,
it didn't say to delay,
and found twelve sea creatures
and a boat with which to play.
Requested so long before
I did nearly forget
from Nabisco I had ordered
his neat sea animal set.
I played with it for years,
in the bath and the pool
and on not a few occasions
was actually late to school!
So thanks to Nabisco,
and the UPS guy too,
my xmas was happy
and very special, too.
Here's wishing a wish
to you and you and you
that your special sea creatures
will arrive in time, too.
*this is a true story
14 December 2014
When I was young, our summer vacations always ended with a huge Labor Day picnic for the employees of the company where my father worked, Western Gillette -- sorta like the big company fete you see in the movie musical Pajama Game. It was always held in Paradise Valley (Arizona) at the Paradise Inn (pictured) -- a big, old, sprawling resort that opened in 1944 and had a real Western feel to it. It’s now long gone, with the Phoenician Resort sitting where it used to be. I loved those picnics because they had a big bar-be-que, games for the kids, drawings for prizes, swimming and lots of fun stuff.
One year, when I was about the same age as the above video, I entered a dance contest at one of the picnics. It was open only to kids, and there were many rounds where the winner worked his/her way up. Kinda like a March Madness of dancing. It was a tough slog that finally got down to me and this little blonde girl a couple years older than me. Well, I whooped ass and won! For my efforts, I got a huge box of chocolates.
The picnics -- and, really, my childhood -- ended sometime in the early or mid 1970s when Western Gillette was bought out by the Roadway company. I don't think they ever had company picnics again. If they did, I know I didn’t go to any. Isn't that sad?
11 December 2014
It was Friday the 13th (really), November 1981 and I was working at my bank job in Rossmoor, California. A huge storm had come in during the day and I kept my ear glued to the radio at work, wondering whether I would be able to drive home (I traveled the 4 highway to my apartment in Pinole). There was talk of mud slides, driving rain, etc. Well, finally, 6:00 p.m. arrived. The bank closed and I started home.
The rain was driving very hard. I turned on my windshield wipers and one promptly broke. I pulled into a gas station and got a new blade, then started home again. The normally 30-minute drive took me more than two hours. The downpour was so thick I couldn’t even see the front of my car let alone the road. So, I drove very slowly. I drove around a couple small mud slides, other road debris, etc. I don't remember seeing any other cars at all (who would be so stupid as to be on the road in THAT weather?).
Finally, I got close to home and came over the hill that would lead me down into Pinole. I looked and saw nothing. Nothing at all. Where there should have been lights (from the houses and the huge oil refinery near by) there was nothing. I was disoriented until it dawned on me that the power had gone out in all the cities in the area (San Pablo, Richmond, Pinole, Hercules, Rodeo, etc.). I made my way toward my apartment through the rain and howling wind. I got into my apartment and relished being safely out of the storm for the first time in hours. It was nearly 9:00 p.m.!
Later I found out I had driven through the biggest storm to hit San Francisco in years. It was the first storm identified as part of what would later be known as the "El Nino" effect.
07 December 2014
And then came “A Chorus Line.”
Everyone knows the story: an audition for dancers for a new musical, the appearance of a once-great dancer who had fallen on hard times and needed a job, and the director who was once in love with the dancer who had the power to give her a new life. It’s so simple and yet, at the same time, incorporated every hope, dream and disappointment ever felt by anyone who ever wanted to achieve anything.
The characters in the show were all me, one facet or another of the young boy in Phoenix who wanted nothing more than to perform on a stage. I had parents who didn’t understand it, friends who made fun of it, and a fantasy world where it all became real.
I watched excerpts from the show on the Tony Award telecast in 1976. I bought the record and sang and danced to it “around the living room” every chance I got. I sang songs from the show at auditions. Everyone around me got sick hearing about “A Chorus Line” and I don’t blame them. I talked my chorus director into letting me do a solo of “The Music and the Mirror” at one of our shows; and my theater director in high school gave me the final song at a variety show. I stood on stage and sang “What I Did for Love” like I was on the stage at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway.
Then, after months of begging, my parents took me to Los Angeles to see the Broadway cast at the Shubert Theater at Century City. The anticipation virtually made me sick. We drove to California. We arrived at the theater only to discover that some of the original cast had just left the show -- including Tony Award-winning star, Donna McKechnie, who left to marry Bennett. I was crestfallen; but the show was still phenomenal.
I dropped out of college after a few years, determined to go to California and make good on my theater dream. Instead of heading right to the Great White Way in New York, my plan was this: go to San Francisco and make a big noise in theater there. Then head down to Los Angeles and became someone. THEN head to New York with one foot on the stage, ready to conquer the theater world with an audience ready to embrace me.
Quite quickly reality crept in. I was in San Francisco only a little while when I saw the kind of talent I was up against. Wow! I was nowhere near their level. My lifelong, dearly cherished dream died a quick and painful death.
On one return visit to my home in Phoenix, I happened upon a small antique store. I was chatting with the owner and kept thinking he looked really familiar. Turned out it was Cameron Mason who played Mark in the original company. We chatted briefly about the show, but I got the impression he didn’t want to talk about it.
My life’s ambition turned to writing shortly after that. I found in writing the successes I was never to find in theater. I got a couple newspaper columns and began reviewing theater. I found it to be nearly as rewarding as performing.
Through all these years “A Chorus Line” has remained an integral part of my life. I saw the show performed six times, including finally getting to see McKechnie in 1989. I interviewed her twice and got to meet her backstage after one performance.
“A Chorus Line” eventually closed on Broadway, but not before becoming the longest-running show in history.
02 December 2014
One time, she was very somber and began to tell us a story that has haunted me ever since.
When she was a very young girl, her family was hounded by the Nazis because her father published a newspaper. Betty and her family were sent to a concentration camp. She managed to escape the camp thanks to a group of nuns who had come to visit. The plan was for one of the sisters to secrete her out of the camp under her vestments. The other people in the camp scrawled messages to their families all over Betty’s body. The nuns hid Betty and they exited the camp. The nuns put her in a suitcase and put the suitcase under their seat on the train. And this was how Betty was able to leave Nazi Germany.
If I remember the story correctly, she was the only member of her family to survive the camps.
26 November 2014
I lived in a certain house for the first six years of my life. In the house directly across the street from us lived a man and woman significantly older than my parents. The woman was really nice. She was constantly inviting me into her house to take my pick of candy from a giant bowl she had that was always filled -- almost as if it was forever Halloween.
I remember her very clearly. Here is an image of her (with me and my mother) from a home movie from about 1963.
Many years after we moved from that house, my parents told me about this older couple. They had a child, a boy, who had grown up, gotten married, moved away and had at least one child. One Thanksgiving, the son and his family came to visit. Driving home, the entire family was killed in a horrible car accident. The parents were devastated and apparently never recovered. I guess this is why she was always so super nice to me.
23 November 2014
20 November 2014
She was born in 1928, the youngest of nine kids who moved with their parents from Alabama to Phoenix in 1935. Her father was a farmer.
For the first six years of my life, Gwen took care of me during the day because both my parents worked. She was like my nanny and was always cooking really great southern food including fried chicken, real mashed potatoes, peach pie, vanilla pudding with banana slices and "Nilla" brand wafers around the pie edge, black-eyed beans and real fig jam.
Many years earlier, her older sister Rose was dating Ed Lysek. Ed sent to his brother Joe a picture of Rose’s sister Gwen. Joe was in the military and they began a correspondence. In 1946, Joe moved to Phoenix and in August they were married.
Gwen and Joe moved into a house in 1957, and my parents moved next door a couple years later and a few months before I was born. My mother took a bus to work and was concerned about taking me on a bus. So, she arranged to have Gwen take care of me.
Rose lived with them at some point. She made really neat pleated pillows which I really loved. At some point Joe had to have his feet and then legs amputated because of diabetes. He was in a wheelchair for many years. After he died, Gwen lived alone. I kept in touch with her for years, and then suddenly she never answered the phone again. I went to the house to see if she was there and it was empty. I know she had family who lived near by, and they knew about me. I guess she died and no one thought to call me and let me know. It was very sad to have missed her last days.
Some years before I lost touch with her, I took my spouse, Matt, to meet her. She was very old and frail, but I am glad the two of them met before she died.
19 October 2014
12 October 2014
01 October 2014
The reason for my trip was the untimely death, a couple years ago, of a friend of mine. We had known each other more than fifteen years and shared a common passion for vintage melamine. It was something I’d been interested in for about fifteen years; but he had me beat: he’d been collecting and researching it since the mid-1970s.
His intent all these years was to write the comprehensive encyclopaedia of melamine to be exhaustively researched, documented and compiled with the help of several other researchers, including me. We exchanged notes for more than a decade. I, and the others, kept encouraging him to get going on the encyclopaedia. Despite the fact that he had thousands of pieces of vintage melamine stored in two huge storage units, he didn’t yet have enough. He kept buying and assembling, hoping to have everything in place before he started writing.
Then, one day, he cut his leg at work. It wouldn’t heal so he went to the doctor. They said he had an infection and gave him some medicine. When it still wouldn’t heal, they said it was a different infection and gave him a different medicine. Long story short, turns out he had stage-four pancreatic cancer. He underwent treatments, including proton beam therapy, and came out all cured. Six months later he was dead. Apparently, he hadn’t been as cured as the doctors thought.
Despite the fact he insisted he had a will (years before all this happened), he died without one. His family wanted to sell the contents of the storage units, but no one who had the money was interested in the contents, and no one with interest in the contents had the money. Frustrated after two years of no sale, they told me they were going to abandon the units and I had a week to go there and take whatever I wanted. Living a few hours drive from Palm Springs I leapt at the chance. My spouse and I went over, spent two days going through many hundreds of boxes, found lots of stuff and came home.
From this exhausting exercise, I learned a great many things: have a will (I do), do not have a storage unit (I don’t), if you have to store and organize research materials do not combine many subjects into a single box (each subject gets its own box) and make sure to give people what you want them to have when you’re still alive and not after you’re dead -- that’s the only way to guarantee they’ll get it, will or no will.
But, most important I learned that, if you’re researching something in which you have a passion, don’t wait to publish until you have every last speck of information on the subject. Publish now, either online or otherwise, and change it as new information comes along. No sense spending thirty years researching something only to die before you’ve printed a single word.
You can find my research into mid-twentieth-century plastics here.
24 August 2014
22 July 2014
01 July 2014
Follow young James Murray as he makes his way as a writer in 1930s Los Angeles. First, as a clerk at a swank department store investigating the murder of a friend, then as a junior writer at a Hollywood movie studio investigating some sinister happenings on movie sets, and later as a moderately successful writer investigating a kidnapping at the newly opened Griffith Observatory.
You get all three novels for one great price! (See link in the "My Books" section to your right.)
27 June 2014
03 June 2014
Along the way, they encounter a rich cast of characters including a hate-filled landlady who doesn’t like anyone different than she, the nervous director of the observatory, the mysterious black woman who was exiled from the country of her birth, the young page working at the observatory, a gentle cleaning woman who has suffered since the death of her husband, the scientist with a deadly secret, and the girl in the blue pumps who tries to hide the scar on her face like she tries to hide so many other things about herself.
27 May 2014
25 May 2014
15 May 2014
In the mid 1990s, I lost my regular newspaper gig. I ended up with a good job at a large corporation. Although not part of my official duties, they let me write for and occasionally edit the in-house publication and other communication materials. I continued doing freelance newspaper writing part-time. Before I knew it, I had been at the company fifteen years, earning a great salary and magnificent benefits.
Then, friends of mine, nearly my age, started to die -- suddenly. I was never one to question my own mortality; but I did start to think: if I died today, would I be happy with my legacy?
Despite decades of writing, the answer was a sound “no.” Even with all my professional writing, the works for which I had the most passion -- my novels -- were languishing. Who can work full time and still write novels? I tried and couldn’t make it work. So, I talked it over with my spouse and quit my secure, well-paying corporate job so that I could create the novels I needed to be happy.
My intent was to get a part-time job (twenty hours a week) and write the other twenty hours. That sounded fair and was financially doable. Of course, it took me more than a year to find a job I was interested in doing that would only require twenty hours a week. But before I found that job, I wrote like a fiend. I polished off two manuscripts and published them; I polished and published a handful of short stories; I turned a screenplay of mine into my third novel; and then embarked on my first “new” novel. That was followed by the first novel in a planned five-book series about a boy detective in 1930s Los Angeles. [You can see them all listed on the right hand side of this page.]
Now, I work three days a week and write two; that makes it pretty easy to shift gears between my (non-writing) part-time gig and my personal writing. I have a boss who not only supports my writing, but has also bought, read and enjoyed (she says) nearly all my novels. Sure, my salary is significantly lower than it was, and I get no benefits; but, I’m doing what I’ve always loved (writing), focusing on what’s really important to me now and actually creating a legacy that I would not be embarrassed to have represent me after I’m long gone.
26 April 2014
04 April 2014
11 March 2014
I’ve long had a fascination with vintage Los Angeles -- especially the 1920s and 1930s. I can’t explain it; it’s just one of those things. I travel to Los Angeles extensively and seek out every piece of history I can find, whether it’s a restaurant (my favorite, Musso & Frank on Hollywood Boulevard), a building (the Eastern Columbia at Broadway and Ninth Streets) or a “place where it happened” (the long-gone Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard).
Historic Los Angeles has played a major role in three of my novels: the 1920s in Sarah & Gerald, a novel of Paris in the 1920s; the 1930s in Murder at Eastern Columbia, the first James Murray Mystery; and my newest Sabotage at RKO Studio, the second James Murray Mystery.
Those decades between the wars were so important to history in general, but to America and Southern California specifically. The 1920s saw a major push to have people move to Southern California to take advantage of the virtual year-round sunshine, the open land and the endless opportunities. The movie industry had essentially relocated there only a few years before. Soon, all roads led to Hollywood, as far as filmmaking was concerned.
All the fun and excitement came to a temporary halt, however, with the crash of the stock market in 1929. Apple sellers made their presence known on the streets of Los Angeles as well as New York. It was a tough time for everyone; but, like the war years that would follow in the next decade, it was a time of a major shift in how Americans saw themselves and how movies would portray them.
In the early 1930s, people would attend a film and see the rich and privileged dealing with their “problems” of finding enough alcohol (Prohibition was in effect) and enough beautiful “dames” to squire to the fancy parties in penthouses and exclusive restaurants.
As the Depression deepened and things went from bad to very bad, the movie studios had to retrench and rethink. Soon, every motion picture studio requested and got concessions from its employees to reduce hours and take a fifty-percent cut in salary. It was meant to be only a temporary effort to help the studios survive the hard times; but, in many cases, the salaries were never restored.
Films themselves started portraying grittier and more realistic times, perhaps no more famously than The Public Enemy (Warner Bros.,1931) featuring James Cagney as a gangster. The bad times of the Great War were featured (perhaps by way of contrast to the current bad times) in several movies including All Quiet on the Western Front (Universal, 1930), Hell’s Angels (United Artists, 1930), and the classic, A Farewell to Arms (Paramount, 1932).
The 1930s also saw the rise of the monster films, with Frankenstein and Dracula (both Universal, 1931), and the remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Paramount, 1931). Of course, the biggest monster film of them all would turn out to be the great King Kong (RKO, 1933) which is featured in my new novel Sabotage at RKO Studio.
But the 1930s were not all a time of desperation and strife. There were still films that ably demonstrated how the rich are different from the rest of us including Grand Hotel (MGM, 1932) and The Thin Man (MGM, 1934). Perhaps the brightest star to appear in otherwise grim times was Shirley Temple, who wasn’t quite yet four years old when she first stepped in front of a camera. Her fame was quick to come with such classics as Bright Eyes, in which she sang On the Good Ship, Lollipop (Fox Film Corporation, 1934), The Little Colonel and Curly Top (both Fox Film Corporation, 1935).
But, change was in the air. The rise of the Nazis in Germany was well underway at this point, and the sounds of war could be heard in the distance. Soon, filmmakers in America would begin to rally against the oppression in Europe, and the Great Depression would quickly become nothing more than a bitter memory.
02 March 2014
09 February 2014
Matt's first award-winning cover was the one he did for my book “Sarah & Gerald,” a novel of Paris in the 1920s. I think this is the best design he’s done for me; so, I thought I would give you a little overview of how he created that cover.
As usual, Matt and I talked a lot about the story of the novel and what I envisioned for a cover. Luckily, Matt usually ignores my suggestions -- and did in this case.
04 February 2014
There were three spots that rose above the rest. The top three were, in order, clever, subtle and innovative.
My early favorite, weeks ago, was the Doritos time machine spot made (for $200!) by a fellow Arizonan. This additionally won the Doritos contest because it’s clever, funny and just basically brilliant. It catches the entire point of humor: something unexpected happening in an unexpected way.
Second, also an early favorite, was the spot for AXE body spray. I love how it took a very old slogan “Make love, not war” and put it into so many (otherwise) cliché images of hostility and aggression. In addition, I totally agree with the sentiment.
Runner up: Radio Shack addressing it’s fuddy-duddy image with a very smart retro-themed spot wherein the 1980s come to visit and take back their store.
You can see the spots here:
Read more about the winning Doritos commercial here.