Always Judge A Book By Its Cover

I made a new cover for the first entry in my Professor Wagstaff mystery series. I got sick of the old one, it seemed a bit too generic. Not that I’m some sort of genius in graphic design by any means, but not too bad for a concoction of royalty-free images, eh?

You realize that this makes all copies with the original cover WORTH MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.

Click on the “Books I’ve Written” tab up top for more. I need the money.

My New Favorite Mafia Boss

I’ll read anything that’s all about Rhode Island mafia. Hell, I’ll write one of my novels about Rhode Island mafia.

I just finished getting through My Life In The Mafia, a 1973 confession by Vincent Teresa, who’d been a major player in the Patriarca organization before turning government witness. Spotting it in some thrift store one day reminded me how my parents had a copy of it for years and I’d neglected to pack it up with whatever I wanted to save from the widdle house I grew up in when I moved out west and everything got packed up, sold or trashed.

Teresa, through writer Thomas Renner, recounts his life in the mob and the various scams and crimes he’d committed over the years. Mostly stolen goods, bookmaking, loansharking and some stock and bond scams. A lot of the crimes he committed are truly dated – the various forms of check cashing and bank fraud would be nearly impossible now.

But in a story about his time in prison before turning informant, he relates a tale involving Carmine “Lillo” Galante. Lillo, a Bonnano family capo, basically ran the mafia section of the Lewisberg federal prison they dropped Teresa in for his securities fraud activities. And much like we saw in Goodfellas, mob guys have different prison lives than the rest of the population, to a degree. Lillo’s prison job was to run the greenhouse, where he grew his own vegetables and set up a nice grill for cooking the steaks and such regularly smuggled in for him.

And don’t put too many onions in the sauce, etc.

Teresa tells a story where Lillo kept 3 cats as pets inside the greenhouse and in his general realm. Evidently some strays had gotten into the prison yards somehow, and Lillo decided to adopt them.

From page 302:

“Lillo had three cats, and they ate better than most of the prisoners. Every morning they had pure cream for their breakfast with an egg beaten in it. The cats were sort of a symbol of freedom to Lillo. He used to say ‘At least they can get outside – they go outside the wall.’

The hacks almost never came to the hothouse, and when they did, it was just to be sociable. None dared tread on Lillo. I remember one problem came up with a hack because of Lillo’s cats. It was a Friday, and we were having fish in the prison dining room. Lillo sidled up to me and said “You’re not eating your fish, are you Fats?”

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t eat that crap.”

“Well, I want to take it for the cats,” he said. He walked up the row to the hacks and announced “I’m taking Vinnie’s fish.” Then he put it in a plastic bag with his own fish. The hack didn’t seem to mind, so Lillo sort of added insult to injury. “Those cats are pretty hungry. I’ll take two pieces.”

The hack was standing behind the row where the prisoners went through the food lines to eat at the tables. “Hey!” he shouted at Lillo. “You can’t take two, only one to a man.”

Lillo turned around. He gave him a look that froze him in his tracks. “Hey, I said I’m taking two or three pieces for my cat.” His voice was low and soft, but he had ice at the end of his tongue.

The hack stared back at him. “I said you can’t take them,” he snapped.

Lillo’s eyes narrowed, and that sneer of his looked worse than ever. His voice was soft, but it was menacing, It made my blood run cold the way the words came out. “You got kids at home?” he asked.

The hack looked startled. “What?”

“I said, you got any kids at home?” Lillo said again. “You want to see them?” He sort of paused for effect, letting the words sink in. The hack seemed to nod. “Good… then shut your mouth.” Then Lillo took five pieces of fish slowly, one by one while the hack looked, and he put them in the plastic bag. What he said he meant. He wouldn’t have hurt the kids, but the hack would have an accident one day in prison. He wouldn’t have lived to see his kids, just because of a couple of lousy cats. But that was Lillo. No one defied him.

Continue reading “My New Favorite Mafia Boss”

So Long, MAD Magazine

A post-war American institution, really… MAD taught the entire boomer generation irony & satire (along with Rocky & Bullwinkle, I guess) and became a regular staple of American popular culture.

And now it’s going away.

A few more issues of new material, then they’ll rerun old material until all existing subscriptions run out, then…. they are done. Over. Kaput.

Partly due to the declining readership of print magazines in general, partly due to over-dilution of their brand among far too many other outlets for their younger target audience, and saddest of all, partly due to the overall dearth of satire and cancer of hypersensitive offense and humorlessness pervading our zeitgeist.


MAD started out strong in comic book form under Harvey Kurtzman – the throw-everything-at-the-wall style of satire from those early issues holds up beautifully today. While some of the genre parodies are dated, the comic art and execution of the jokes still hit their marks. When MAD transitioned post-Kurtzman’s fallout with William M. Gaines into the b/w magazine format, the types of pieces varied somewhat, though the direct parodies of movies and television shows remained. The “usual staff of idiots” each stood out in their regular pieces for the magazine in the days I grew up with it – the observational humor of Dave Berg, the weirdness of Don Martin, the offbeat dark humor of Al Jaffe, the distinctive comic art variances of Antonio Prohias’ Spy vs Spy juxtaposed against the boxiness of Paul Coker’s people… the magazine was always well designed and very rich visually.

Before the age of video and before they got bought out by Warners for even more access, they’d parody movies a few months after they hit theaters, with uncanny reproductions of specific scenes by brilliant artists like Mort Drucker.

Continue reading “So Long, MAD Magazine”

A Good Review, Just In Time For Christmas

Kirkus Reviews has given my new book Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast the thumbs up!

Here’s an excerpt:

In this fantasy, Berkin (Cut to Wagstaff, 2012) forges humor and intellect into quite a sharp narrative. His employment of time-travel motifs is sometimes goofy, like the dwarfish Timegoblins, who eat vital artifacts and bring chaos to history. Other devices, like quantum linkage, help the siblings borrow their appearances “from alternate versions” of themselves, and introduce young readers to a complicated scientific field. Gastronomic themes also prevail, as time disturbances focus on the invention of the microwave in 1946; the creation of hot sauce in Louisiana in 1868; and the first baking of bread in ancient Egypt. The author offers young and older readers excellent wisdom: “Our world” is “an ongoing experiment of the dreams, ideas, successes and failures of billions of minds.” Timegoblin antics ensure an irresistible sequel.

This fantasy delivers an energetic ode to quantum mechanics and the culinary arts.  – Kirkus Reviews

The entire review can be found here.

Don’t I ALWAYS offer everyone excellent wisdom? I’m sure all of you longtime readers of my widdle blog think so.

Seriously, I find it interesting how that one line of dialogue stuck in the mind of the reviewer. I guess people… well, some people… are actually paying attention.

And DAMN STRAIGHT the sequel will be irresistible. Feel free to start sending me money for it now.

Set up a GoFundMe while yer at it.

Happy Holidays, all. I’ll be back with some movie reviews later this week.

I Understand Some Guys Dream About Girls

But not me. I guess the subconscious reveals what we TRULY wish for.

Last night, I dreamt my front door had been left open, and I heard it slamming in the wind. When I went to close it, I saw a small siamese kitten meowing. I took it inside and petted it, figuring I’d better set up some food and water. Then I noticed it wore a collar with a bell, so I thought it must be someone’s lost cat, but that I’d take care of it anyway.

Woke up. Clock said 1:37AM.

Back to sleep.

New dream! I went to some giant office building, but when I went inside, there was a humongous black Newfoundland dog in the lobby. It butted its head against my legs, so I sat down on the floor, and the dog flopped on top of me and I figured I should just sit there so that the dog would be my friend.

This dream’s source was easy to figure, though – I’d just been asking Elinor Shapiro, the illustrator of my new book Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast, how HER humongous black Newfie had greeted her upon her return from a month-long artist-in-residence deal in France. The answer was “She tackled me.”

This time I woke up and the clock read 4:28AM.

Back to sleep.

Last dream of the night before waking up around 8:30 was of me leaving my work, walking some Victorian-housed neighborhoods that looked a lot like Providence, and deciding to get a big pizza before having to drive all the way back to Southern California.

Got a giant pepperoni and sausage, and it was a giant rectangular Sicilian-style one like they make at Caserta’s in Providence.

Woke up for good this time.

Like I said, some guys dream about girls. I dream about kittens, dogs and pizza. The subconscious can’t lie about what I truly love, I guess.

Making some spicy chipotle chicken chili for dinner just now. I’m predicting more dreams.

Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast Is On Amazon, In Both Paperback & Kindle!

Amazon finally linked up all the web pages into one. Just updated the “Buy My Books” tab up top with this…

Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast


The first entry in the new YA scifi adventure series!

And since it’s written by yours truly, expect that special brand of Wagstaffian humor throughout! That way, kids and grownups can all enjoy it.

Phigg & Clyde are sister and brother. Phigg solves every puzzle. Clyde can build and fix anything.But all of history has changed! Breakfast has turned into garbage! Can they solve the puzzle of time and fix it?It’s usually Uncle Phineas’ job to travel through history and fix the timelines – but he’s been kidnapped! Without him, Phigg & Clyde must use The Watcher to put history right again. And evil forces within the timesphere have plans of their own – for all of history and especially for Phigg & Clyde…Join them as they journey across thousands of years, all around the world, saving what you love to eat! Recipes Included! Taste along!

That’s right – two smart little kids must learn to be Timekeepers like their Uncle Phineas – guardians of the proper timelines of history! Evil forces have changed the course of history by destroying what we’re supposed to be having for breakfast. Only Phigg & Clyde can put things right again by saving the invention of everything from cereal to the microwave oven to dim sum as they travel all over the world all across time!

Tag along with ’em to find out where everything in your kitchen came from, and pick up some recipes from foods across the world & time.

Just don’t let the Timegoblins or their evil master trick you or trap you somewhere in the past. After all, they have very special plans for Phigg and Clyde…

With wonderful illustrations by Elinor Shapiro, who also did the cover.


Get Your Copy On Amazon By Clicking Here!

Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast, my new book, NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!!!

Click on this text to get the paperback!

Click on this text to get the Kindle Version with a “Look Inside!” preview!

Now available in both paperback & electronic form – Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast is the first entry in the Phigg & Clyde series!

Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast is the story of a too-smart little girl and her too-clever little brother who have to become time travelers in order to SAVE THE WORLD!

In the first book of the series, the entire timeline of culinary history has gone wrong, and everyone is eating garbage for breakfast. History must be put right, and Phigg & Clyde are the only ones who can do it, since their Timekeeper Uncle has been kidnapped.

Well, they can do it once they learn how to be Timekeepers. And certainly, the forces of EVIL behind these diabolical changes in the breakfast timeline will surely try to stop them…. or worse.

Join Phigg & Clyde as they journey through history –  making sure the right things get invented from Napoleonic France to Imperial Rome to Battle Creek Michigan to Constantinople to Dynastic China to Ancient Egypt and beyond!

Worldwide recipes from modern times & history included so you can cook & taste along!

I wrote this one some years ago and put myself into the frame of mind I put myself in to teach bright middle school aged kids history. All the seemingly strange and random things that Phigg & Clyde need to restore in the timeline are all true, quirky as they are!

So I guess this qualifies as “edutainment,” as it were.

After I endured what can only be described as “Hollywood Hell” as my draft bounced around various entities and unfulfilled promises, I decided to go through my original version of the story, tighten things up a bit, get some wonderful new illustrations by Elinor Shapiro to make the whole thing a better reading experience, and put it up on Amazon beside my Professor Wagstaff detective series.

Who says I can’t write two series at once?

Quinn Martin, Stephen J. Cannell, Steven Bochco and Aaron Spelling just nodded in agreement, at least on my Ouija board.


Anyway, click on the link, get yourself a copy, and write a review on Amazon! The paperback & kindle links will match up within 48 hours, they tell me… that’s when I’ll add it to the “Buy My Books” tab. In the meantime, you can switch around.

Thanks and hope ya enjoy it!

Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast – A Free Sample Sneak Peek!!! Part 2

Here’s Part Two of the sneak peek PDF for my new novel, Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast.

It’ll be available later this week on Amazon, in both paperback and electronic form!

Once it’s up on there, it will surely have a “Look Inside!” button for sneak previews, but in the meantime, these PDFs that will take you into Chapter 3 will suffice. And don’t call me Shirley.

Click Here For “Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast” Sneak Peek Part Two!

and in case you missed it,

Click Here For “Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast” Sneak Peek Part One!!

Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast is the story of a too-smart little girl and her too-clever little brother who have to become time travelers in order to SAVE THE WORLD!

The entire timeline of culinary history has gone wrong, and everyone is eating garbage for breakfast. History must be put right, and Phigg & Clyde are the only ones who can do it, since their Timekeeper Uncle has been kidnapped.

Well, they can do it once they learn how to be Timekeepers. And certainly, the forces of EVIL behind these diabolical changes in the breakfast timeline will surely try to stop them…. or worse.

Historic recipes included so that you can taste along!

My Official Author’s Portrait

I think it captures my essence, don’t you?

This is my bio blurb pic for the interior of Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast, coming very soon from yours truly over on Amazon.

Watch this space during this week for some previews & PDFs of a chapter or two!!

And FYI: That mug will contain tea FAR more often than coffee, and NOT catnip tea either.

Perhaps dressing up the cat in a beat-up old suit and fedora & changing the mug to a half empty whiskey bottle may go well with the Professor Wagstaff series. We’ll see.

Art by Elinor Shapiro.

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