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I grew up in suburban Chicago, and one of my stronger memories, especially on summer days, was hearing the clattering of a manual typewriter. When our Frisbee sailed over the bushes, I could see my neighbor, a writer, at work at his typewriter in the basement, through the artificial stained glass decals on the window. I recall he wore socks with sandals, listened to classical music, and smoked a pipe. I try to avoid that precise profile, but otherwise have fallen into line...I write about historical topics, relying on my dual training in creative writing and American studies (I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin). I’m particularly interested in popular culture, oddballs, popular science, technology run amok, and science fiction. Currently I’m one of the consultants working on a large museum exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center that will examine the multicultural impact of science fiction.

Topics I’ve covered include the escapologist Harry Houdini; early mesmerists and their diabolical powers; the Amazing Zancigs, mind-readers extraordinaire; Richard Shaver, the outsider artist and pulp magazine creator of “I Remember Lemuria”; Allen Funt, the madcap genius behind “Candid Camera”; noir detective fiction, and the history of amusement park rides. My books include, The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey, a 2014 Locus Award Finalist, and Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America. I also have published scholarly articles, as well as humor and fiction in the Atlantic and other magazines, and received a Pushcart Prize nomination. A past fellow at the Smithsonian, I am currently at large in California.

Selected Works

Are we ready for space colonization and is space ready for us? Forthcoming, Pegasus Books, 2021.
This 2014 Locus Award Finalist is the true story of Ray Palmer, the science fiction editor who jumpstarted the flying saucer craze and early interest in the paranormal.
A critically acclaimed historical study of the overlap between performers of stage magic and purveyors of scientific wonders.
Co-Editor of volumes 20-21, World History Encyclopedia, eds. Alfred J. Andrea and Carolyn Neel, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011.
Camille Flammarion, a forerunner of Jules Verne, was an astronomer, balloonist, and science fiction visionary who dazzled the world. June 2016 article in Astronomy magazine.
June 17, 2014 essay in Vanity Fair online.
Biographical essay in Imponderable, the exhibition catalog for Tony Oursler's July, 2015 show at Luma, Arles.
Before reality tv, there was "Candid Microphone," Allen Funt's postwar radio broadcasts. This article served as background for the October 6, 2015 NPR Radiolab episode, "Smile My Ass."