Sunday, May 8, 2022

Bill Finger’s scarab paperweight: mystery solved

In 2006, a beetle landed on my desk. It was not alive, and it came not from nature but rather another writers desk and, before that, the Museum of Natural History in New York.


This paperweight was a gift from writer Charles Sinclair, who inherited it from his friend (and Batman co-creator) Bill Finger, who in the late 1960s or early 1970s had received it as a gift from his second wife Lyn Simmons. That’s already a lot of backstory for a little bug, and the Bill connection was all I needed for it to be culturally valuable. 

So I never considered that there could be more to it.

This week I heard from Alex Cash, who will soon be launching a Batman podcast called Bat Lessons.

He informed me that Bill’s scarab was likely from a batch made by Alva Studios, a company that produced replicas of ancient jewelry and sculpture which were sold at museum gift shops starting in the late 1940s.

This particular replica commemorates Amenhotep III, a pharaoh of the 1300s BCE (18th dynasty). In particular, it glorifies the pharaoh’s hunting skills. The hieroglyphics on the bottom tell how Amenhotep III slayed 102 lions. (That crushes my record.)


To date, 123 of the OG scarabs have been excavated. They are made of a metamorphic rock called steatite, or soapstone, which is a variety of talc. The Global Egyptian Museum, the British Museum, and the Met each have at least one of the originals.

To quote Alex, referring to the scarab at the British Museum: “Note that it is written right to left, while Bill’s replica reads left to right. Hieroglyphics can be written and read either way. Animals and humans always face towards the beginning of the line. Size (and therefore line length) also varies from scarab to scarab. ‘102’ is on its own line, but on Bill’s, it is with the final line of text.”

These scarabs even have a Wikipedia entry hiding in plain sight, where you can read the full translation of the hieroglyphics.

Thank you again, Alex!

In sum, going backwards in time:

backstory 1: Charles gave the paperweight to me.
backstory 2: Charles got the paperweight from Bill, presumably after Bill died.
backstory 3: Lyn gave the paperweight to Bill after purchasing it at a museum.
backstory 4: The paperweight was produced by a company that specializes in replicas of pre-CE craftwork. 
backstory 5: Amenhotep III of Egypt was revered for killing lots of big cats.

(I am confident that this post has more hyperlinks than any other post about a paperweight in the history of the internet.)

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Cheshire High School Hall of Fame - 2022 inductee

Unlike an estimated 86% to 90% of Americans, I liked high school. And I would’ve said that at the time. 


It might help you put that in perspective to know that I entered ninth grade with two middle school yearbook superlatives on my then-nascent résumé: Friendliest and…Best School Citizen. What could go wrong?

I’m a proud product of small-town New England—namely Cheshire, AKA the Bedding Plant Capital of Connecticut. 


Growing up, I heard that no commercial sign could be higher than the second story of a building. (I can’t think of a building in town that had more than two stories.) An apocryphal nighttime activity of certain high schoolers in our farm-adjacent community: cow-tipping. Terrible, which makes me happy to report I never knew of anyone actually doing it. I am wired to function best with a change of seasons, in particular a snowy winter (flurries, don’t waste my time). I pronounce “Bill Clinton” as if the “nt” in the middle of the last name were buried several feet underground, though I’m not sure if that’s unique to CT.

Cheshire has only one public high school. For me, highlights of attending it included designing both the logo of our senior play, The Boyfriend, and the cover of our yearbook. (I also sang and danced in the play, but that was emphatically not a highlight…for anyone listening/watching.)



I’m still in touch with some of my high school teachers and my principal, and not only because it’s part of the Best School Citizen’s Code of Conduct.

My best friends in high school are still my best friends today—same exact group. No one has dropped out, no one has joined. Most of us have relocated to the Washington DC area—because of us. We’re a secret society without the vaguely sinister intrigue.

12/19/89

A few summers ago, two of those friends and I were back in our hometown. On a lark, we stopped by our high school even though I said the doors would be locked. I was wrong. We entered. We reminisced. We recreated (by memory) one of my favorite high school photos. We left without seeing another soul though I, for one, felt many souls.


We didn’t quite nail it.

I even took it upon myself to plan our 30th high school reunion. I was able to round up emails for perhaps two-thirds of our graduating class of 289 and sent the reunion announcement on 3/12/20…yes, the day after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and approximately ten minutes before life as we all knew it screeched to a halt. Number of replies to that initial email: zero. 

Our 30th reunion did take place, but in our 31st post-grad year (November 2021). Maskless and mirthful.

Also delayed due to COVID: the 13th induction ceremony for the Cheshire High School Hall of Fame. I did not know that CHS had a hall of fame before I received an email in December 2019 to notify me that I had been selected as an inductee. Like everything else originally scheduled for spring 2020, it was postponed (eventually more than once), finally happening on 4/24/22 at the venue where we had our senior prom.


As you can imagine, it was an honor for this former Best School Citizen. I was heartened to see that it was also an honor for the other six living inductees, none of whom I knew previously and none of whom were from my year, though one is the brother of a guy I sat next to in homeroom. 


Most had been star athletes so in my brief acceptance speech, I pointed out that I, too, set a high school football record: I did not attend a single game in all four years.


Two plaques per inductee were produced: one for the inductee, one to be hung in the high school. 


This makes up for the fact that I was never Student of the Month. 

Thank you again to the Cheshire High School Alumni Association for this honor, and to Cheshire High School for an experience that, despite the odds, holds a special place in my memory. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Interview: Anne Collins Ludwick, writer for “Wonder Woman” (1977-79)

Anne Collins Ludwick (then Anne Collins) was not the first female to write scripts for The New Adventures of Wonder Woman. She was the last. To clarify, she wrote the last five episodes (among others). 

On this list of the 10 best eps of the show, five (including the top four) are Anne’s (one based on a story idea from someone else).

I’ve covered various aspects of Wonder Woman before (from two granddaughters of one of his creators to two people who sang on her delicious theme song).

But I was inspired to find/interview Anne because of this line in a 2019 article: “it isn’t super easy to find out information on her.”

That’s throwing down the gauntlet to me.

Luckily Anne did not throw up her bracelets to deflect me. She kindly agreed to an interview and I excitedly share it here:

How did you end up writing for Wonder Woman?

Somewhere in the process of writing three scripts for Hawaii Five-O in the mid-70s, the show’s Story Editor, Curtis Kenyon, helped me get an agent, John Schallert. Though I was working at a PR firm and living in Denver at the time, John successfully pitched me to the people at Wonder Woman, who were looking for a woman to join its writing staff. So I packed up my VW Rabbit, sublet my apartment, and drove out to LA, fully expecting to return within a month once they discovered how inexperienced and untalented I was. 

But to my surprise, I discovered I could, in fact, hold my own when it came to working with and, frequently, heavily editing the work of the (mostly male) freelance writers to whom the show was giving assignments. The Supervising Producer, Bruce Lansbury, was such a joy to work with and so creative and sooo supportive that I stayed in LA for the next seven years and never looked back.

Did you pitch storylines on your own or as part of a team, or were writers assigned certain premises by producers?

Bruce, the studio and the network had a vision for the show, which in its second season saw it move from WWII into the ‘70s, so there was already an informal list of suggested and approved storylines. At that time TV programs were required to utilize freelance writers. We would contact writers we thought would “get” the show and assign a story area to them, though they were also free to pitch their own ideas if they wanted. I, too, could and did pitch ideas, of course, but as story editor I mostly helped outside writers develop their stories and would rewrite/polish their final drafts if/when necessary.



It looks like you first wrote for the show during season 2 (of a three-season series). Were you already a fan of the show (or the character)?

I never saw a single episode of Wonder Woman before I joined the show. However, my two brothers and I were avid consumers of DC comics growing up so I was familiar with the character, although I must admit, she was not my fave because, unlike Superman, Superboy, or Surpergirl, she couldn’t fly. (Never was a fan of that invisible plane.)


Is there one story about your Wonder Woman days that you tell more than any other?

My hands doubled for Lynda Carter’s in the episode called (I think) “The Man Who Made Volcanoes.”

Oh, and also, I was walking across the lot (Warner Bros. in Burbank) one day for some reason with the show’s producer, Charlie FitzSimons (wonderful Irish guy, Maureen O’Hara’s brother). As he talked I became aware of a guy walking toward us, someone with the most electrically blue eyes I had ever seen in my life. I couldn’t take my eyes off his, and suddenly had no idea, and could not care less about, what Charlie was saying to me. I recognized the guy’s face, but it was his eyes I’ll never forget. Paul Newman, in the flesh.

Any other funny/inspiring/weird anecdotes about your Wonder Woman experience?

There was one Saturday or Sunday early on in my Wonder Woman stint that I absolutely had to get into my office to write/rewrite something (this was eons before laptops, remember). However, to my horror, the key I was given to the WW office suite would not work. Desperate to get to my typewriter, and more than a little pissed at the key, I took the door handle with both hands and shook it in utter frustration. Causing the lock to break and the door to limp open. I went straight to my office and got to work.

Next thing I know, a wide-eyed security guard was peering at me from around the corner of my doorway, hand on his nightstick, ready to use it on whomever had broken into the suite. I apologized for breaking the door but it was an emergency. I just kept working, and he finally went away to get the door fixed. He also filed a report, so that come Monday everyone knew the story and thought it was quite amusing, and appropriate, that a woman employed by Wonder Woman had busted down a door.

What was it like to be a female writer in Hollywood in the 1970s? How did the men involved with the show treat you?

Frankly, so grateful was I to be getting paid for something I absolutely loved to do that I never gave my gender much thought. I never came close to being pressured into sleeping with someone in order to get work, and I never felt like I was being patronized, or that my work was in any way discounted because I was female. When dealing with some of the older male freelancers (and there were quite a few back then that had written for network TV since its inception), I occasionally detected some arrogance and resistance to my notes on their scripts, but I don’t recall any major incidents. I felt like the producers on the show respected me because I could, and did, get the job done promptly and well.

At the time, did you reflect on the number of women vs. number of men writing for the show?

No, because at that time, there were very few women writing action-adventure, and there was also nowhere near the pressure to hire women and minorities back then that there is now. True, I was hired by WW largely because everyone, including Lynda, felt the show could only benefit from including “a woman’s POV,” but I’m not sure my gender ever really had a big influence on the scripts we churned out.

Do you remember any instances where you felt strongly about an idea that didn’t make it on air?

No. Hey, I well understood the perimeters of what we were creating: WW aired at 8 pm on Friday and was considered “family” programming. Which meant no realistic violence, no swearing, no drinking, no depiction of deviant behavior, no adult situations. The network’s Standards and Practices Department scoured every script and finished episode to make sure nothing that could be construed in any way as offensive made it on the air.

Did you interact with Lynda Carter, and if so, what was your impression of her? Did it change over time in any way?

Lynda was a sweetheart. We didn’t hang out, but our interactions were always pleasant and she always came across as genuine. She wasn’t hired because of her acting skills, and she no doubt knew that, which had to’ve made showing up for work every day somewhat terrifying. But by golly she did her best, and I have to say, whenever I happen to catch an episode, I’m struck with how likeable she comes across on screen. Not just because of her considerable physical beauty, but she has a nice, watchable presence. Probably because she is/was basically a sincerely nice person.

What is your favorite episode that you wrote and why?

“Phantom of the Roller Coaster,” probably because it was such a colorful arena (who doesn’t love amusement parks?) and I have an affinity for Raggedy Man-type stories. It started out as a single episode, but the shoot at Magic Mountain went so well that we made a two-parter out of it, though I forget when in the process that decision was made, or exactly how much more shooting was involved.


What did you do professionally after Wonder Woman?

After WW was cancelled, Bruce Lansbury became the Supervising Producer on Buck Rogers. To repeat, Bruce was one of the kindest, merriest, most creative people I’ve ever known, so when he asked me to come aboard as Story Consultant, I immediately said yes. I was on staff on a couple of other shows after that, and eventually wound up story editing for Matlock while raising two kids in Seattle. I have two fantastic grown-up daughters. 

What are you doing these days?

Living in the PNW, enjoying my WGA pension, and writing, though I’m not sure yet exactly what.

Anne 2022

Are either of your children fans of Wonder Woman?

I don’t think either of them have seen an episode of TV’s Wonder Woman, nor to my knowledge have they read a WW comic book. They both saw and liked the first Wonder Woman movie but passed on the second one (as did I).

Have you participated in any Wonder Woman-related event (comic convention, panel, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to meeting fans and signing autographs?

No thanks. That kinda stuff just isn’t my thing.

Are you still in touch with anyone from the cast or crew?

No. Although I am still in touch with novelist Alan Brennert, the most talented freelancer to ever write for Wonder Woman.

When was the last time you watched Wonder Woman? How did you think it held up?

The last time I caught an episode was probably two years ago. As I said, Lynda was very watchable, but oh my gosh, the production was so amateurish compared to what’s on TV now. The special effects were dreadful, the storyline was simplistic, the dialog was utilitarian, and the characters were one-dimensional. But that was the way episodic TV was back then. The networks had a very low opinion of their audience; we writers were instructed to repeat info important to the plot as often as possible, and to spell things out for viewers instead of relying on them to figure things out. Pretty much the opposite of the way TV is now.

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as set photos, a script, or anything from the set?

I think I have copies of all the scripts I wrote for the show in a trunk somewhere, but that’s about it.

What did you think of the first Wonder Woman movie?

I loved it. It struck just the right tone and it worked. There was one scene—I think Wonder Woman making her way through a battlefield—that was incredibly moving. I didn’t bother to see the second movie after reading the reviews.

What did you think when you first heard my request?

I thought, who the hell would be interested in hearing about my experience on a short-lived TV show that ended more than 40 years ago?

How do you look back on your Wonder Woman experience?

I loved every single minute of it. Needless to say, as a kid originally from Toledo, Ohio, I’d never been on a real movie set before (though I did participate in some student productions during my two years of grad school at UT Austin). It felt good to be part of a major creative endeavor and to have my work appreciated (and well-compensated, though little did they know I would’ve gladly done all that writing for free!).

If the experience changed your life in any way, how?

Though I don’t remember the exact circumstance, I do remember Bruce Lansbury, in response to some expression of self-doubt I’d just made, sternly admonishing me, “You are a writer.” Not sure if he changed my life at that moment, but he definitely defined it.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’ve bored you enough. 

Anne, no you didn’t. If you don’t believe me, put the magic lasso around me…

Saturday, March 26, 2022

New decade, new author headshot

The day after I said goodbye to my forties, I embraced my new decade by getting my first new author headshot since 2015. 

Actually, I’ve used multiple photos across the internet, and while I do like “matching” the profile pic vibe with the platform (e.g. formal portrait for LinkedIn, picturesque travel shot for Instagram, playful pose for Facebook, etc.), I also see the value of a consistency in presence.

Here are the photos I am replacing (taken in the Washington DC area unless otherwise noted):

Facebook
(Milwaukee, WI)

Twitter

Instagram
(Machu Picchu, Peru)

LinkedIn

Viber
(Taj Mahal, India)

Upwork

TeachingBooks

The “main” author photo, which I used for sites including Google and Amazon

The new author photo

Thank you again to Karen London for my previous author photo, and National Geographic shutterbug Rebecca Hale for my new one (and for your graciousness in trying various locales).

Thursday, March 24, 2022

#KidlitForUkraine: timeline of a benefit—conceived to streamed in three weeks

On 2/24/22, Russia attacked Ukraine. Less than a month later, on 3/22/22, 28 authors of books for young readers shared stories of hope in a virtual benefit to raise money for children of Ukraine (via Save the Children).


In my initial talk with the two people who would partner with me on this (see below), I advocated for the show to air as soon as possible; I was nervous to do this because it would mean asking a lot of them within a limited time frame. But the crisis was new and raw and I knew it would be easier to secure donations while the invasion was in the news daily. 

Luckily, those two people saw it the same way.

How did so much happen so fast?

2/24 

  • inspired in part by a 9/11 TV benefit called America: A Tribute to Heroes, I reached out to Rocco Staino, who had covered past efforts I’ve been involved in, to ask for suggestions on how to produce such an event

3/1 

  • Rocco said Julie Gribble at KidLit TV was interested; I did not know Julie nor had I ever done anything with KidLit TV, but she seemed reliable and I could instantly tell that she knew her stuff

3/2 

  • Julie, Rocco, and I Zoomed and began to map out details, many of which remained in place till the end (e.g. the concept of a series of authors each sharing a true story of hope in under three minutes, the hashtag #KidlitForUkraine); at first I suggested that we keep most of the cast secret to build excitement when promoting, but then flipped that when I realized that announcing with (most of the) participant names would likely draw a bigger crowd

3/4 

  • sent first invitation to an author (who declined)

3/5 

  • reached out to other authors to explain the event, detail video parameters (e.g. do not introduce yourself, simply start telling the story), provide video tips, and ask for participation; gave submission deadline of 3/14; within an hour I got the first yes; I spent the next few days trying to create a lineup of at least 25 authors

3/8 

  • first video submitted—which made it start to feel more real
  • reached out to a Ukrainian publisher to ask if they could suggest any Ukrainian authors of children’s books to approach (knowing full well they likely had many other priorities)
  • the first author of Ukrainian heritage signed on (found separately from the publisher)

3/9 

  • asked Mike Curato if he’d design a logo

3/10 

  • the Ukrainian publisher sent names/emails for three Ukrainian children’s authors interested in participating (though only one ended up being able to submit)

3/11 

  • Mike sent a logo which became the logo
  • contacted Save the Children to find out how fundraising for them works
  • 16 authors expressed interest so far, but only four had sent videos 
  • (throughout the video-gathering process: had to ask authors to reshoot if wasn’t horizontal, wasn’t a story, sound too low, video too long)

3/12 

  • Julie created graphics for promotion on social media
  • named the event Stories of Hope
  • Julie and I agreed to post the show online for no charge at some point after the event, primarily for educational use

3/13 

  • revealed logo to participating authors and potential authors as enticement
  • the 2022 Newbery recipient signed on
  • a high-profile author I really wanted said yes if she could submit video later than deadline, I said yes
  • wrote copy about event for KidLit TV site
  • suggested we use on-screen to identify authors, and only by name (no book titles or other info) 

3/14 VIDEO DEADLINE

  • …but only 10 videos in so far
  • the 2022 Caldecott recipient signed on
  • told a Ukrainian author who didn’t think she could make a video in time that she could speak in Ukrainian if it would help—and she did
  • created and published the event on Eventbrite; until the event, all donations would go via this platform
  • set up a Team on Save the Children for donations after the event
  • despite Julie and Rocco’s kind nudge that I make a video, I said I was planning on staying behind-the-scenes

3/15 

  • Julie designed the lower third (the on-screen graphic that would ID everyone)
  • suggested we start and end with a Ukrainian and mix up the rest (i.e. not run them in alpha order because the uncertainty—including the promise of surprise guests—would build more suspense)
  • the author who got a video extension backed out with regret
  • all but one of the announced cast’s videos had been submitted
  • began announcing on social media
  • the first post-announcement author signed on (I figured once we went public, we would hear from other authors who wanted to contribute, and sure enough we did)
  • proposed the order for authors to appear in the show
  • announced to kidlit press
  • raised $2,000

3/16 

  • email blast to my kidlit network
  • educators and others asked if program will be available after its initial stream for those who couldn’t watch the scheduled event
  • volunteer translated the video spoken in Ukrainian into English
  • announced on my neighborhood list serv
  • Rocco wrote a proposed intro for the show
  • it was again suggested that I do a video
  • only one of what would eventually be seven surprise guests had submitted video 

3/17 

  • Jack Gantos, one of the surprise guests, made a video (shot by a student) while visiting an international school in Jordan
  • School Library Journal covered the event
  • used the English translation to create subtitles for the Ukrainian-language video
  • compiled list of people to thank in the credits
  • sent all participants a comp ticket (had to be done one at a time; Eventbrite, please make it possible to enter all comp tickets at once!)
  • announced via the newsletter of my son’s middle school

3/18 

  • decided to do—and late at night, filmed—a video
  • changed a line in the promotional copy from “Storytellers subject to change. Surprises are likely” to “Surprises are guaranteed” (because we’d received videos from authors who had not been announced)
  • edited out intros (i.e. “My name is…and I’m the author of…”) from 10 of the author videos so each video starts with the start of the story
  • raised $3,500

3/19

  • Children’s Book Guild of Washington DC announced to its membership 

3/20 

  • Julie created lower thirds for all participants
  • raised $5,000

3/21

  • Julie announced to KidLit TV mailing list
  • second email blast to my kidlit network
  • Horn Book, Publishers Weekly covered the event
  • Julie created a first draft of the show
  • last video submitted (file under “nick of time”): Peter Reynolds
  • raised $10,000

3/22 SHOW DATE

  • Julie whipped up countdown graphics two hours before the show started
  • at showtime, had raised almost $15,000

As breakneck a pace as this was, it was surprisingly low-stress. Julie was a dream partner—collaborative, responsive, proactive—and the authors were (no surprise) team players. People went out of their way to pitch in. As a result, we delivered on what I envisioned: entertainment + empathy.

Thank you again to all involved.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

#KidlitForUkraine benefit raised nearly $15,000 for children

At 7 pm EST on 3/22/22, from multiple continents, for an hour and ten minutes, 28 award-winning and otherwise notable authors of books for young people each told a short story of hope as part of a virtual benefit to raise money for young people of Ukraine. 

#KidlitForUkraine: Stories of Hope took place less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine—an event over 20 days in the making!


The cost of admission to this unprecedented fundraiser was whatever amount a person wished to donate. Every dollar helps!

Number of tickets sold: 356.

Total raised as of showtime: $14,524


This will be distributed by Save the Children. 

You can still donate. (As of 4/24/22, this post-show effort raised $1,270 more.)

Thank you yet again to the brave participants (special bow/hug to the Ukrainian authors), the generous donors, the countless social media supporters, and KidLit TV for making it possible. Another special bow/hug to Julie Gribble and Rocco Staino for saying yes to my proposal—and the unforgiving time crunch that went with it.

The cast (in order of appearance):

  1. Adrianna Bamber | Адріянна Бамбер
  2. Neal Shusterman
  3. Carmen Agra Deedy
  4. Kathi Appelt
  5. Dan Gutman
  6. Dan Stewart, Head of News, Save the Children UK
  7. Donna Barba Higuera
  8. Rita Williams-Garcia
  9. Jarrett Lerner
  10. Victoria Amelina | Вікторія Амеліна
  11. Jason Chin
  12. Katherine Marsh
  13. Peter Reynolds
  14. Samantha Berger
  15. Padma Venkatraman
  16. Nick Bruel
  17. K.A. Holt
  18. Richard Michelson
  19. Charles R. Smith Jr.
  20. Tara Lazar
  21. Minh Lê
  22. Roxie Munro
  23. Duncan Tonatiuh
  24. Nikki Grimes
  25. Jack Gantos
  26. Jane Breskin Zalben
  27. Kate Messner
  28. Marc Tyler Nobleman
  29. Olha Kupriyan | Ольга Купріян

Bold names were not announced in advance (i.e. surprise guests).

Special thanks:

  • Steven Colucci
  • Oksana Ziobro at Old Lion Publishing House in Ukraine
  • Sarah McLoughlin at Save the Children
  • Courtney Nields at Save the Children
  • Mike Curato (who designed the lovely logo)
  • Dr. Oleh Kotsyuba at the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University
  • Lidia Wolanskyj (translator)
  • Allyson Hickey at booked 
  • Uliana Hlynchak at the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation
  • Lisa DiSarro
  • Samantha Berger
  • Aurielle Kuehl

Coverage:
































мир для України.
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