Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave

The cover for The Esmeralda Goodbye is taken from an old postcard I found, which features an illustration of a female swimmer standing on the rocks at the entrance to a cave, preparing to dive into the ocean waves below. As you’ll see from the images below, it’s a real location—Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave near the La Jolla Cove. It’s been a popular tourist attraction for over a hundred years.

Cover of The Esmeralda Goodbye.
Photo by Sharonannajacob via Wikimedia Commons , CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’re a particularly strong and fearless swimmer, you may be able to access the cave from the ocean. Kayakers also like to approach from ocean side. But most people get to the cave by taking a self-guided “tour” that starts at The Cave Store, located on the cliffs above. You can view a short sample of the tour via the video below.

In 1902, a German professor and mining engineer named Gustav Shulz hatched a plan to construct a tunnel to the cave from the land he owned on the cliffs above. It took him nearly 2 years to dig the tunnel. Visitors were originally required to use rope ladders to get down. The current stairway and observation deck were built later.

Photo by Cultivar413 via Flickr

A restaurant called the Crescent Cafe stood above the entrance to the cave, but it was burned down by an arsonist in 1915 and was replaced by The Cave Store. It is said that bootleggers used the cave and passageway to smuggle in whiskey during Prohibition and that human traffickers may have used it as stowaway spot for Chinese immigrants.

Photo by Cultivar413 via Flickr

In The Esmeralda Goodbye, the chief protagonist’s younger brother gets a summer job working at The Cave Store. I won’t give away any spoilers, but he discovers something important in the cave one morning while doing his rounds.

My friend and fellow San Diego author Matt Coyle used the cave for a book cover and scenes from his 2018 novel, Wrong Light. A Hollywood movie, Neptune’s Daughter with Esther Williams and Red Skelton, used the cave as one of its filming locations (I don’t know if Esther actually swam there).

How did the cave get it’s name? Well, the leading theory is that L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz and a San Diego visitor in the early 1900s, named the cave after a cartoon character, Sunny Jim, who appeared on boxes of a British breakfast cereal. You can see how the outline of the cave resembles a man’s profile.

Sunny Jim's Sea Cave photographed from inside the cave
Photo by Jarek Tuszyński, CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s an old-fashioned kind tourist attraction and still worth a visit.

Book Trailer – The Esmeralda Goodbye

The Esmeralda Goodbye now has a book trailer. It’s big and thrillery and I think it does a pretty good job previewing the book. What do you think?

Trigger warning: This video contains a depiction of a man attempting suicide.

I Cover the Waterfront

I have been here so long that even the seagulls must recognize me.

I Cover the Waterfront by Max Miller

I Cover the Waterfront was one of the most popular and best-selling best selling books of the 1930s. A simple compendium of real-life vignettes about the lives of those who lived and worked along San Diego Bay, the book struck a chord with readers of the day. It’s wistful, low-key and charming and still makes for a good read today.

It’s author, Max Miller, was twenty-eight years old at the time and the success of the book allowed him to buy a house by the ocean in La Jolla, CA, just a block away from where Raymond Chandler and his wife lived. Miller and Chandler knew each other, drank together on occasion and sometimes played tennis together.

Which is why Miller, in addition to Raymond Chandler, became an important character in my historical mystery novel The Esmeralda Goodbye. The two men could not have been more different. Chandler’s personal appearance was more formal in style, favoring coats and bow ties. Miller preferred an informal look, happiest when barefoot in shorts and shirtsleeves. Chandler could be withdrawn and moody while Miller was ebullient and outgoing. Chandler enjoyed dinner parties and literary conversation. Miller played drums at parties and enjoyed boating, beachcombing, fishing and swimming (he made a point of finishing last in La Jolla’s Rough Water Swim every year). Aside from being writers, the only thing Chandler and Miller had in common was a fondness for alcohol. In The Esmeralda Goodbye, they serve as contrasting mentors to the protagonist, a very sober rookie policeman named Jake Stirling.

Max Miller, 1930s publicity photo
Max Miller in the 1950s

Miller wrote twenty-eight books in his lifetime, none of them remotely as successful as I Cover the Waterfront. One of his books that I enjoyed reading while researching mine was The Town with the Funny Name, another series of vignettes full of colorful characters that gave me a glimpse of life in La Jolla in the 1950s. Two of the real-life characters in Miller’s book—Perky Adams and Miss Billings—inspired two of the fictional characters in my book.

Miller continued to live in La Jolla the rest of his life and died in his home there in 1967.

I Cover the Waterfront remains Miller’s best known book and the one still in print today. It’s a charming portrait of an era and a place, the first book to put San Diego on the literary map. In its time it inspired both a movie and a song by the same name (it really is a great title, isn’t it?). Here’s a performance of the song by Peggy Lee.

The movie is available on YouTube. Warning: Aside from the title and its waterfront location, the movie bears almost no resemblance to the original book. It was produced during the pre-Hays code era of sound movies, and hints at the racier side of waterfront life noted in the book.

Christmas Comes at Midnight

It’s time for my annual Christmas/Holiday song (well the last two years at least). Last year’s composition was a lively bit of New Orleans funkiness – Gumbo Ya-Ya Christmas. This year’s song is more contemplative—a little sad, a little hopeful. Maybe something John Prine might have written. Does Christmas come at midnight?

Father Christmas won’t you visit us tonight
Don’t say no
Or be too slow
And bring those smiling faces to the morning light Don’t you know
They love you so
They want to know
Does Christmas come at midnight
Does Christmas come at midnight
Does Christmas come at midnight
This year

Working hard just to make ends meet
But times are slow
And children grow
Sometimes I wonder if we’ll have enough to eat
It’s such a blow
When you don’t show
I need to know
Will Christmas come at midnight
Will Christmas come at midnight
Will Christmas come at midnight
This year

Underneath the Christmas tree
Something there for you and me
Will there be a miracle tonight

I’m staring out the window, children sleeping in their beds
The lights are low
A cold wind blows
I hear the sound of sleighbells ringing overhead
The fire glows
And my love grows
Because I know
That Christmas comes at midnight
Christmas comes at midnight
Christmas comes at midnight
Every year

Cold November

New song (and video). Share it if you want. And let me know what you think. You’re never prepared for the storm, be it personal, political or meteorological.

The spirit of the season was falling all around.
I heard the word come down the line, three more bodies found.
I stayed up late to watch TV, I stayed up all that night.
I was hoping things would change if I saw them in a different

Cold November, Cold November
Cold November, Cold November night

I tried to start a fire, but the fire would not take.
My eyes were getting tired and my hands began to ache.
And as the wind kept howling, I looked outside to see.
As one by one the lights went out and there was only me.

Cold November, Cold November
Cold November, Cold November night

I don’t know how much longer this old house can stand.
Still the snow keeps falling down and covers up the land.
It may be that there’s still time, but I don’t understand.
Why we didn’t see it coming, why we didn’t make better plans.

Cold November, Cold November
Cold November, Cold November night

Want a copy? You can download the song file below with a right-click or control-click.