photo by Kate Connell

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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 biographer, 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...Biography combines my dual training in creative writing and American studies (I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin). A biographer has to mix the traits of a detective, a student of narrative, and a nerd, who can eventually take pleasure in turning a genuine assessment of another’s life into story form.

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”; 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. A past fellow at the Smithsonian, I am currently at large in California.

Selected Works

Books
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.
Articles
Biographical essay in Imponderable, the exhibition catalog for Tony Oursler's July, 2015 show at Luma Arles, to be published in English with French translation.
June 17, 2014 essay in Vanity Fair online.
Fall, 2014 article in Santa Barbara Seasons magazine
Before reality tv, there was "Candid Microphone," Allen Funt's postwar radio broadcasts.