It seems hard to believe, but another year is history. For the years I’ve been running this blog it’s been customary to do an end-of-year post, often several, showcasing what I thought was my best work of the year and what articles came the closest to the ideal I have for this site. Alas, my blogging activity has greatly decreased in 2018, so there’s less here than there has been in prior years. Nevertheless, I still do a lot of stuff–history, books, podcasts, videos, classes–even if it’s not always posted here. So, for this year, as we say goodbye to 2018 and take stock of what I’ve done, I thought this time I’d open up the field not just to blogs (though there are a few of those), but any other projects I spent time on this year and which I hope you, my readers, listeners, friends and fans, enjoyed and learned from.
So, without further ado, let’s look back at the stuff I thought was good in 2018, and why I think so.
Some of the most fascinating history I did this year was when I focused, in January and February, on the amazing true story of New York area electronics retailer Crazy Eddie, which gained prominence in the 80s through “insane” prices and an endless series of shrill TV commercials. In reality, Crazy Eddie was the front for an international criminal empire that swindled tens of millions from vendors, customers, investors, partners and the IRS. The story is so incredible that if you made a movie of it, no one would believe it. I was helped greatly on this series by some great source material written by Sam E. Antar, one of the participants in the scheme. History isn’t always battles and kings–sometimes the stories of ordinary people can be just as amazing and fascinating.
In February 2018, I read something that completely shocked me: a story on the BBC about a man named Tsewang Paljor, a mountain climber and border policeman from India who died in an ill-fated attempt to climb Mt. Everest in 1996, and whose body remained, a horrifying frozen mummy, out in the open for all to see for nearly 20 years. This fate is shared by almost everyone–now nearing 300 people–who have died in Everest attempts since 1924. The image of Paljor’s body, nicknamed “Green Boots,” is one of the most haunting things I saw in 2018, and I just had to write about it. This is possibly the best-ever article in my category tagged “real life horror.” Even as a former horror writer, I don’t think I could make up something as ghoulish as the reality of those people who are almost all still up there, grim reminders of what people will do for glory.
I have done obituaries before on this blog, but most often for famous people (like James Horner, Vincent Bugliosi or Choose Your Own Adventure writer R.A. Montgomery). It’s rare, though, to have to do one for a friend. Erik Landwehr, one of the most interesting and unique souls I’ve ever known, died of heart failure on March 14, 2018. His story, not merely of the passion for a better and more equitable world that inspired others, but his vision of autism as a new frontier in human consciousness, is one we should all take to heart. That the circumstances of his death were so wrapped up in climate change, another frequent topic on this site, is also telling. I do miss Erik, but his story is worth reading and retelling. Understandably, I hope I never have to do this kind of article again.
I can’t say this article, from March, was that much fun to write, but at least (I think) it’s fun to read! I seem to be the last person in the world to have finally seen The Room, Tommy Weiseau’s ridiculously bad erotic thriller movie from 2003, which has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the worst and most incompetently-made motion pictures of all time. I found The Room incredibly depressing and infuriating to watch, but it does teach us a thing or two about story, characters and the dramatic process–mostly by negative example! This article got shared a lot during 2018, and it’s probably the best of the “bad movies” category on this blog which stretches all the way back to 2013.
Second Decade, Episode 32: Dawn of the Zulu. [Podcast]
Second Decade, my history podcast about the 1810s, has been around since 2016 and I’ve done a lot of episodes I’m proud of (I still think “Down and Out at Harvard,” from April 2017, is my all time best). This episode, no. 32 in the main series, is one of the best this year because it takes the listener to a part of the world he or she rarely sees in Western history: Sub-Saharan Africa, outside the story of European colonization. This episode profiles Shaka, the warrior king of the Zulu tribe, who rose in 1816 to be the most powerful military leader in southern Africa, and whose life story is pretty amazing. This one took more research than usual for a Second Decade show, but it really was worth it, and one of my best episodes.
Double Perigee [Podcast]
I was super excited about Double Perigee, my science fiction story (dramatic) podcast based on an unpublished novel I completed in 1998 and which is, I think, more topical than ever today. I’m still excited about it. I’m proud of the story, the music (by George Kay), the vibe, and the characters. I’ll be the first to admit the show failed to find an audience–which is why I haven’t done any new episodes in a few months–but I do still think the attempt was worth it. Maybe, when life calms down and I have the resources to do a promotional push, I’ll return to it. In the meantime, I still think it was a cool idea.
Exploring Tudor England [Online Class]
My pace in doing online classes has slackened since the summer, but at the end of June I held this single-session exploratory class, interactive and in real time, on the history of England between 1485 and 1603, visiting (via Google Earth) some of the still-extant places from that wonderful and fascinating period of Britain’s history. This class turned out to be fantastic, and exactly what I want my online classes to be: fun, informative and eye-opening. You can see highlights from the class in the above video on my YouTube channel. I will be doing more classes in 2019, and it’s something I definitely want to focus more time and attention on.
Historical Thoughts: What happened to the “witches” of Carlos Castaneda? [Video]
I spent considerable attention in 2018 on building out my YouTube channel. Part and parcel of that, I transformed a number of my most popular blog articles into videos, what used to be called “vlogs.” This article from 2013, on the mystery of five women who vanished in 1998 after Carlos Castaneda, their spiritual guru, died of cancer, was the basis of the video which I recorded in July, now 20 years after their disappearances which remain, in all but one case, unsolved. This is my most-viewed video on my channel and has sparked spirited (no pun intended) debate, mainly involving the veracity of Castaneda, whose ability to inspire cult-like worship in his followers apparently remains undiminished two decades after his death.
In August, I was in an angry mood when I wrote this blog, to date my most personal and emotional statement regarding climate change. In this article I catalogued the ways in which summer in the Pacific Northwest, particularly at the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, used to be paradise, and how that’s now mostly gone, replaced by the ravages of forest fires, beetle infestation, melting snowpack and more frequent heat wave events. Climate change is not something happening in the far-off future. It’s happening now, and it affects us. We’d better stop and take notice of it, if we’re going to save ourselves.
Bond in Context [Video Series]
One of the projects I embarked on, while populating my YouTube channel, is a still-ongoing effort to research and explore the historical context of all of the James Bond movies, beginning with Dr. No in 1962 and going all the way up to the present (there’s supposed to be a new Bond picture out in 2019). Here is a link to the whole playlist, but above you can see what I think is probably the best of the videos, which exemplifies my approach to the subject. The Bond in Context videos haven’t been nearly as popular as the Castaneda one (or the Oak Island videos), but I think they’re a lot of fun to do. There was a lot going on behind the scenes of the Bond franchise, especially as cultural and political tides changed and shifted over the decades. As of this writing the last movie I did was Licence to Kill; I hope to finish out the series in 2019.
Jake’s 88 [Novel]
Perhaps this is properly categorized as something I’m doing in 2019, because the release date is January 15, 2019, but the last few months of 2018 were consumed by the writing, editing and publication process of my new novel Jake’s 88. This coming-of-age romance, set in the year 1988, took me (and hopefully will take you) on a nostalgic roller-coaster ride back to the 80s, where big hair, acid-washed denim, muscle cars and teenage angst remain deeply embedded in the collective memory of those who grew up in that time. Jake’s 88 is a really fun book and one I’m very proud of. You can find it here for preorder on Amazon Kindle and eventually paperback.
2018 has been a difficult year for many of us, and for me included. We all hope that the world at the close of 2019 will be a better place than it is this New Year’s Eve; to some degree whether that comes to pass is up to each of us. I wish you all the best in the New Year, and thanks so much for continuing to read, listen, watch and communicate. Happy New Year!