Category Archives: Musings

No trespassing…

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December 9, 2014 – If you’ve read my novel, City of Whores, you’ll know I’m a rabid fan of Hollywood’s golden age. I’ve also been a lifelong fan of Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, and abandoned places. So imagine my surprise when I was recently scrolling through the posts on the Vintage Hollywood Homes Facebook page and came across an item about all of the above: famed director Vincent Minnelli’s abandoned mansion which stands empty and in ruins in the heart of Beverly Hills. My first thought was how could I not know about this? I had been to the Beverly Hills Hotel many times, never realizing that the derelict Minnelli estate sits directly catty-corner from its famous entrance. I immediately shared the article with my friends, and, long story short, found myself with a date to visit the place with my friend from The Wonder Years, Val Joseph. As I was walking toward the house earlier today, Val appeared from the driveway. Seems she’d beaten me to it, and had already been exploring a bit of the house’s exterior.

The minute I stepped into the driveway, a very strange feeling came over me. It was a mixture of vague uneasiness and the dawning of a profound sadness. This only intensified as we drew nearer. I joked about how we shouldn’t be trespassing (there are signs everywhere, after all), but Val rightly pointed out we wouldn’t be the first or the last, so I gamely followed her around to the front of the house. As I stood there in the circular driveway looking up at the forlorn facade, I couldn’t help but imagine it in its heyday. My mind unspooled a vivid Technicolor™ scene of a line of gleaming vintage cars easing through, stopping only long enough to deposit the cream of Tinseltown society at the front door where a tuxedoed Vincent Minnelli himself convivially shook their hands and welcomed them in through the front door and into his dazzlingly lit, capacious manse. From somewhere inside, a piano accompanied a young Liza as she belted out a song for her father’s elegant soiree, and the windows were alive with the silhouettes of the motion picture royalty inside. Perhaps Judy, in a show of magnanimity, had even agreed to put aside her differences with her ex-husband and attend this particular shindig, finally joining their daughter in wowing the partygoers with an impromptu duet of her greatest hits.

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As we moved around the side of the house, I peered through a huge picture window into what was left of the living room. Impossibly, a few pieces of furniture remained, but the space had been destroyed by vandals and squatters, someone having scrawled “LIZA WAS HERE” in spray paint on the wall, among other things. The sadness haunting me intensified, though I tried to conceal it from Val.

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In the backyard, the drained and ruined swimming pool came into view, its walls defaced by graffiti above the brackish puddle of water in the deep end. Again, I imagined a vignette from the distant past: a maid in a crisp uniform was bringing a telephone with an extraordinarily long cord from the house, informing Minnelli (who was sitting on a chaise lounge watching the shirtless pool boy fish leaves from the water’s surface) that Gene Kelly was on the line. Minnelli eagerly took the call, then had an amusing and animated conversation with the screen legend even while his eyes remained glued to the worker’s glistening torso. When the pool boy realized he was being watched and smiled, Minnelli quickly snatched his eyes away.

And then, from all of this enchantment, a thought intruded that utterly changed the experience for me: I was suddenly standing in my own backyard. The destroyed pool was now mine, and the house that I’ve loved since I walked through the front door in 1999 had been equally defaced and disrespected, my belongings rifled through, stolen, broken, and in tatters. How would I feel knowing that people were exploring there, writing on my walls, breaking my windows, and burning my furniture in the fireplace? The unease and sadness deepened.

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Val was determined to go inside despite the padlock on the front door, and she soon found easy entrance through an open kitchen window. As I watched her climb through, I blurted out that I had no intention of going inside. She jokingly cajoled me, but I was firm. I didn’t know how to explain, but I really didn’t want to walk around inside the tragic remains of these people’s lives. After Minnelli’s death in 1986, Liza inherited the place with the promise to her father that she’d take care of his widow, Lee (despite his homosexuality, or perhaps because of it, Minnelli was married four times during his life). Liza wanted to sell the house, which she finally did in 2000, having purchased a half-million dollar condominium for her elderly stepmother. Lee refused to move and the situation became contentious. Ultimately, the house was sold and Liza rented it month-to-month from the new owners so that Lee could live out her years there, finally passing away in 2009 in her nineties. For reasons unexplained, the house remained mostly furnished even as the new owners finally took possession, but never moved in. Never restored the place. Never tore it down to make room for a McMansion. Never did…anything. Inexplicably, they just let the house sit there in inexorable decay.

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I had seen enough to satisfy my curiosity. I didn’t need to experience firsthand the disrespect of vandalism. The stained carpets. The broken mirrors. The filthy toilets. The ransacked detritus of famous people’s lives. I preferred to imagine the house in its prime, when a doting father maintained a closet in Liza’s room filled with child-sized reproductions of costumes from Gone With The Wind and The King and I for his daughter to play dress up with her friend Candice Bergen. I preferred to try and imagine where the backyard playhouse had been. I preferred to picture the house when it was alive.

Over lunch at Chin Chin afterwards, Val and I managed to catch up on all the years since we’d last seen each other. I was still a bit overwhelmed by my strange experience, and didn’t know how to articulate what I was feeling. Instead, I told her I’d been concerned about snagging my black linen shirt on the window frame and joked that our official story would be that I’d stood guard while she went exploring. And I’m glad she did, as I could see the genuine delight in her eyes. Val is and always has been, after all, a force of nature.

But for me, considering the gloomy story of that decaying and forlorn palace, the word “trespass” had taken on an entirely new meaning. Perhaps some ghosts are best left undisturbed. Stay tuned…

The proof is in the reading…

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October 23, 2014 – I despise tpyos–damn it, typos. Those persistent and pernicious finger gaffes that sneak full of mischief into my prose. Crafty little devils with the super power to render themselves invisible by hiding in plain sight, especially when they are being deliberately hunted. Sometimes, I’m typing so fast that I generate what I call “word-os.” These appear when motor memory takes over my fingers and I write “was” for “want” or “see” for “she” or, just now, in writing this very sentence, “thank” for “that.” I diligently and purposefully try to keep these foul beasts at bay, and yet the more time I spend at the keyboard—and I spend a lot of time at the keyboard—the more the little gremlins sneak into my prose, successfully avoiding detection until after I hit “send” or worse, publish and distribute.

When I was writing City of Whoresmy invaluable and eagle-eyed editor, Alice Peck, managed to catch and corral (which I just now typed as “coral”) probably 100% of them in the last draft she worked on for me. So of course I released them all right back into the wild while revising, allowing them to breed and multiply like coat hangers. When I sent the “final” manuscript off (which I just typed as “of”)  to the talented book designer Duane Stapp and copied the precise Ruth Mullen for conversion to eBook format, I confidently (read idiotically) told them both that it was “ready for publication.”

And that’s when the grim grinning goblins of transposed words, missing letters, extra letters, and incorrect homophones and heterographs (sexy words to be sure) started to reveal themselves in all of their mortifying glory, humiliating me just like Sissy Spacek in the “they’re all going to laugh at you” scene in Carrie. Panicked, I began to test the patience of poor Duane and Ruth with several rounds of corrections and revisions. Nevertheless, until recently, the paperbacks and eBooks in circulation still had “Hedy Lamarr” as “Heddy,” “made our way” as “made or way,” (thanks Martin Turnbull for catching those), “drove away” as “drove way,” and the most recent, “world-renowned” as “world-renown” (kudos to Carl Wesch for that one). I have corrected these in all editions as they emerge, but now live with a feverish paranoia that more are still hiding in that thick forest of characters, waiting to jump out and terrorize me just in time for Halloween.

Those of you who know me can confirm that I’m about as O.C.D. about this stuff as a person can get. Being a southerner, I want everything in my world to at least present itself as neat, tidy, and nothing short of perfect. Still, as I prepared materials for my recent blog tour, I proofed and reproofed and proofed the reproof of the various excerpts, interviews, and bios I had been asked to provide. And still, when the first day of the tour arrived, there I was debuting on BooksDirectOnline with my main character listed not as “Dan Root,” but “Dan root,” instead. In the very first sentence no less. And here I am trying to be taken seriously as a writer, destroying my professional credibility from the start. Fortunately, I was able to email two of the blogs running that particular boo-boo, and they kindly corrected it for me. On a different site, two–count ’em two–rather obvious typos appeared, one fully my fault:

typo2And the other somehow managed to stowaway in my prose somewhere in transit to going public. I’m telling you, these things are devilish little living creatures who have it out for me:

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Fortunately, none of these have even come close to matching my first most spectacular and memorable typographical error. This one was of the “missing letter” variety. It just happened to be a letter that radically changed the meaning of the intended word. In 1980, I was working for a small company in Atlanta called TCG (The Communications Group), writing and producing industrials (training videos and corporate annual meeting presentations and such). We had one of the very first dedicated word processors I’d ever seen, manufactured by a company called Lanier. As a writer, I marveled at the amazing technology of being able to make corrections without the use of tape or White-out, and to compose one draft of a letter, then have the machine replace the address and salutation over two hundred times so that we could send out that many personalized general query letters, hoping to solicit new business. I composed and typed that letter, and even though all two hundred or so hand signed copies were mailed with the proud proclamation that  “our firm excels at pubic relations,” we still didn’t get a single response. Stay tuned…