Sunday, December 4, 2016

Paramount Pictures Christmas Tree Lighting 2016

This week marks the start of my third year as a story artist at Paramount Pictures.  Prior to that, I worked at Sony Pictures, DreamWorks and Disney.  If you're interested, my credits can be found here. Last week was the storied studio's annual holiday party and the spectacular lighting of the four story high Christmas tree which stands just outside the famous Bronson Gate.
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The music used for the video above is from Polar Express by Alan Silvestri.  Interestingly, Polar Express is a Warner Brothers movie. 
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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Autographed bookplates of my new book, Candy Cane Lane

Christmas is coming and Candy Cane Lane is now available at every online bookseller and many independent and chain bookstores across the United States and Canada. Barnes and Noble is for some reason not carrying it in their stores, but Books-a-Million is. Several people have requested personalized copies, so for practicality's sake I've created adhesive-backed 4" x 3" bookplates (as seen below) which I will personalize and send to you to free of charge to place inside your copy of Candy Cane Lane.  There are a limited number of these bookplates, so order soon. Simply e-mail me and tell me how you'd like yours signed. (Scroll to the right to About me -- then View my complete profile for my e-mail.

Here is the link to buy it from Amazon. 
I'll also be happy to send autographed bookplates to bookstores.

I was pleased to see these nice reviews from Kiss the Book by Cindy Mitchell and The Jade Sphinx.  



Monday, September 19, 2016

Here it is

My new children's book, Candy Cane Lane, is now available. My author copies arrived today.  See the previous post for more information.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My new picture book: Candy Cane Lane

       Candy Cane Lane, from Simon and Schuster is my fifth picture book.  So far as I know, it's the only book ever written about Christmas lawn ornaments.  It's the story of a little plastic choirboy who one fateful night suddenly finds himself heading off on a adventure far beyond the confines of his little neighborhood.

      You can buy it at Amazon and in all Books-a-Million stores.  For some reason Barnes and Noble is not stocking it in their stores, which is quite disappointing.  It has been getting good reviews, such as this review from Publisher's Weekly.

     I was also pleased to get this nice review from Kiss the Book by Cindy Mitchell
  
      But first a bit of backstory: this little tale was inspired by a true event in my childhood.

      In those days of yore there was something called trading stamps. They were a premium given out at grocery stores and gas stations.  With every purchase a  certain amount of trading stamps were given out with which were redeemable for various products, but first they had to be pasted into redemption books. Once you had the requisite number of books for any given item in the catalogue, you went to the redemption center (usually near a retail center), to collect your prize.  It felt like you were getting something for nothing. Of course you weren't, but no one seemed to work that out at the time. Notice the boastful remark by the successful looking father below and the operative word, 'free.'

      Popular items at redemption centers were waffle irons, picnic baskets, and other things most people never knew they needed.  Every family we knew who had a badminton set or croquet set had always purchased them with trading stamps.
      There were often long waits at the redemption centers. Unlike simply handing over cash or a credit card, the clerks had to check each redemption book carefully to make sure every page was filled. 
     You'd get the books at any supermarket or gas station that gave out that specific trading stamp.  Sunoco and Kroger's gave out Top Value, so that's where my family faithfully went.  This certainly helped the stores with brand loyalty, even if there were no kickbacks directly from the trading stamp companies.

It took fifty single trading stamps to fill a page. That's a lot of pasting. After a while, they started issuing stamps that were worth ten or fifty stamps, like larger sized bills. 
      After redeeming the requisite badminton and croquet sets, my mother set her sights on a little
choirboy, a plastic 'blowmold' about two and a half feet high, illuminated by one large-sized Christmas bulb. The choirboy was our first and only lawn ornament and I was quite excited when my father placed it on the front porch.  Naturally, we had to walk to the edge of the lawn to see how he looked from the street.  I vividly remember my mother gushing how adorable he was as we shivered there in the night air. 
            A page from a Top Value Catalogue. From these items, my mother chose the aluminum tumblers and the yellow plastic canister set.

      But the euphoria was short-lived.  Just a few nights later, we were sitting in our living room, probably watching a variety show on television, when a windstorm blew up.  Suddenly, something flew by the windows.  "What was that!" shouted my mother.  We all rushed to the front door.  The choirboy was gone.  My father pointed to the shrubbery ten to fifteen feet away. The choirboy was lying there face down, his light gone out and his neck broken. My mother rushed over to him, cradled him in her arms and cried, "My poor choirboy!"
      My mother seemed to think my father could repair anything and to be fair, he always assumed he could, too.  But competent as he was with tools, when it came to fixing plastic lawn ornaments, he had few resources at his disposal.  This was before the days of most specialty glues; all we had were things like Elmer's and plastic model glue. Therefore my father did what always did in situations like this: he turned to his favorite method of repair -- tape. As opposed to glue, my father had many different types of tape -- masking tape, electrical tape, duct tape, cloth tape, cellophane tape, and his very favorite, a large, prized roll of nylon tape. "Go get that nylon tape," was a oft-repeated phrase in our house.
        You can just make out our ill-fated choirboy in these blurry old snapshots.

      He wound the nylon tape and masking tape round and round the poor little choirboy's neck with less than perfect results.  His head was no longer exactly perpendicular to his body. But after all that saving and pasting stamps in books, my mother wasn't about to give up on our choirboy just yet. After his fateful flight, he found himself back on the front porch, imperfect but not noticeably so from the street --  at least most of the time.
       For a while, he seemed to bear up fairly well, but this was Kentucky, where the winters can be quite cold, and soon the tape became brittle and flaked away. Sometimes I would arrive home from school and I'd notice the choirboy's head was looking up, down, tilted to the side, and in more than one instance, it had fallen off completely.  Once his head had rolled off the porch into the middle of the driveway. I found it funny. My mother didn't.
       Over the next several years, the choirboy's neck gradually become more and more fragile until one Christmas there was simply nothing more to be done.  We pulled the plug and the poor little choirboy was tossed into the trash. 
     The choirboy in Candy Cane Lane meets this same sad fate, but from there the story takes a very different and much more fantastical turn.

In his unexpected journey, the little choirboy meets other lawn decorations,

and leads them on a journey into the unknown.

    
 I always start my books with a dummy with rough drawings like these and work out the story visually, usually even before I write one word.  It's the same way I do storyboards for animated features.  In fact, I sometimes prefer my roughs to the final artwork.  Someday I hope to do a book with more spontaneous drawings.





Monday, May 23, 2016

Algonquin Manor -- Louisville's ill-fated shopping center

Algonquin Manor Shopping Center was touted with great fanfare when it opened in stages from August to November, 1960. It would be bigger and better than its sister center to the south, Dixie Manor, which had been an enormous success as it was surrounded by the rapidly growing suburbs of Shively and Pleasure Ridge Park. Unfortunately, the developers woefully miscalculated the customer base potential and the result was a woefully short lifespan. In the distance is a Ben Snyder Department store, a local chain.

 
The announcement:  April 12, 1959 Courier-Journal
The Grand Opening: Johnny Ringo was a character based on a real person (1850-1882), an outlaw and gunslinger, but as portrayed by actor/singer Don Durant in the one season, half hour CBS television series of the same name, he went straight and became a good guy -- the sheriff of a small town.  Also starring was Mark Goddard (most notable for portraying Major Don West in Lost in Space). The show actually got good ratings but its sponsor decided it wanted a situation comedy instead so it lasted just one season (1959-1960).  The show was off the air by the time Don Durant appeared at Algonquin Manor but he continued to make personal appearances as Johnny Ringo because the pay was better than the show itself.   Don eventually retired from show business but was loyal to his fans, keeping up with a Johnny Ringo website until his death in 2005.  One presumes the kids had dinner with the star at the Algonquin Restaurant and Coffee Shop. I would have been more interested in the 1961 auto show.
                                                               
       
                                                     






                                              All above, October 27, 1960, Courier-Journal
                                                  November 20, 1960   Courier-Journal

November 24, 1960
Louisville Courier-Journal November 24, 1960
All of the shopping centers in Louisville built in the 1950s and 1960s had impressive road signage.
Algonquin Manor featured the state's largest bowling alley and in an unusual arrangement.  The coffee shop and office were in the middle, surrounded by an astonishing seventy-two lanes. 

The Hobby House featured, as was typical at the time, a large slot car racetrack where kids could come in and race their own cars. This one was probably the largest in the city.
Algonquin Manor was notable for its semi-enclosed walkways, a first for the city. In just a few years, however, Louisville's first fully-enclosed (and very chic) The Mall opened on the opposite side of town.




Besides the aforementioned Ben Snyder's, Family Fair was the other department store anchor.  For years I could not find out any information about the chain. It wasn't until I discovered the website Pleasant Family Shopping that the mystery solved.  It was owned by Interstate Department Stores, which also owned Topps and White Front.  In Louisville, Family Fair pre-dated K-Mart and Zayre, so in Louisville, at least,  the concept of a discount department store seemed fresh and unique.  (Imagine that if you can.) As detailed in the article above, 'colored lights played on the tumbling fountains.'
                                                                  October 27, 1960
I got this 1960 Plymouth Valiant promotional model car at Family Fair. 

Alas, the store would meet a calamitous demise that would signal the end to the entire shopping center.
                                             

                                                        April 15, 1965 Courier-Journal

                                                        April 16, 1965   Courier-Journal
The handwriting was on the charred wall when Family Fair was not rebuilt, nor was anything else.  For years there was simply a fenced off, gaping hole in Algonquin Manor.  That wouldn't have seemed so odd downtown, perhaps, but this was a relatively new shopping center.  It was a clear sign that Algonquin Manor was failing, and it did so with surprising speed. By the early 1970s, Algonquin Manor was the destination of few shoppers. The other Family Fairs disappeared, too, hopefully without leaving smouldering craters in their wake. Interstate's Topp's chain would survive for several years well into the 1970s before finally succumbing to the increasingly intense competition between discount department stores.

                                                           
August 6, 2015 Courier-Journal
 Today there are but traces of Algonquin Manor.  The Big A still remains though it appears not to have any current significance as it does not appear to be part of the name of anything.
The buildings themselves have been converted to other uses --even including a church. Above is what I think had been Ben Snyder Department Store.  Here's more information about the history of Algonquin Manor from an article in Louisville's Courier-Journal.

The footprint of Algonquin Manor remains quite obvious to this day.  Once L-shaped, Family Fair occupied the bottom right corner.