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, popular science, pseudoscience, technology run amok, and science fiction. I recently served as a consultant on a proposed museum exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center to examine the multicultural impact of science fiction.
Topics I’ve covered include the escapologist Harry Houdini; early mesmerists and their purported diabolical powers; the Amazing Zancigs, mind-readers extraordinaire; Joseph B. Rhine, the founder of the parapsychology lab at Duke University; 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. I recently placed a story in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. A past fellow at the Smithsonian, I am currently at large in California. When not writing, I might be found playing clarinet with local klezmer, balkan, and trad jazz groups in Santa Barbara.