Blanton is a fictional town near the fictional campus of Fuchs College, which is the setting for the Nicole Tang Noonan mysteries.
The only reference to reality on this map is the note, "To Chillicothe," on the upper left. Thus, the town and campus are in the southeastern corner of Ohio.
Based on the history of the area as told in the first book of the series, Dark Mural, this part of Ohio was settled by immigrants from England in the early 1800s. They gave the creek an English name, Ware.
Although there really is a Ware Creek in Virginia, this fictional creek is in no way connected with it. Names of places were repeated all over the continental United States, the most famous example being "Springfield." There's one in every state.
As is typical of such towns, settlement began along the creek and spread outward. Buildings were erected wherever was convenient and paths worn between them. Later these paths were paved to make streets. As a result the town is not laid out on a strict grid pattern.
I have marked only places mentioned in the books so far. As you can see, there is a lot of unclaimed real estate in Blanton, but more books are on the way.
Reading this autobiography of Samuel Fuller, I met a man who lived a remarkable life and became a remarkable artist. He grew up poor, became a crime reporter while still in high school, wrote novels, fought in World War II, and succeeded as a screenwriter and director in Hollywood.
I'll be absorbing the lessons to be learned from this book for a while, but for now I'm focused on two ways in which Fuller exemplifies Stephen King's approach to writing as described in his memoir, On Writing.
King says the "Great Commandment" is "Read a lot, and write a lot." Fuller certainly wrote a lot: 42 produced screenplays, 11 novels, and 19 unproduced screenplays over a period of sixty years. Since he also directed the films made from most of those screenplays, his accomplishment is even more impressive.
Apparently he also read a lot since he often refers to ancient and modern works of literature as inspiration for characters and plot devices in his screenplays.
King also earnestly advises writers to write truthfully about their subjects. Fuller returns to this theme again and again, especially in reference to his movies about the Second World War: The Steel Helmet, Fixed Bayonets, and others, including The Big Red One.
Producers, Pentagon officials, and J. Edgar Hoover all pressured him to portray American troops as heroes, dedicated to fighting for liberty. In each instance, he refused.
As a soldier in the First Infantry Division (the Big Red One), Fuller survived amphibious assaults in Northern Africa, Sicily, and Normandy. He was one of those who liberated concentration camps and fought all the way to Berlin. He knew there was nothing heroic about war. He portrayed it as chaotic and terrifying.
Sometimes he got to make the movie he wanted to make, sometimes his project was cancelled. He never compromised.
Fuller made other kinds of films, notably Pickup on South Street (1953), a cold-war espionage thriller and Shock Corridor (1963), set inside a mental hospital. I'm ready to see some of his films.
Why would someone take a photo of the surface of the ocean? No boats, no waves breaking, not even a bit of sky above the horizon.
But this is a drawing, not a photo. Graphite on paper. Pencil.
Why not simply exhibit the photo? Presumably because the subject---the surface of the ocean---is not the point. Apparently the point is the act of drawing.
This is one piece in a large exhibition of work by Vija Celmins. There is a room full of these ocean pictures. And a room full of night skies, and a room full of desert floors. Dozens of drawings made over decades. Minimal subjects, maximum technique.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art says, "these 'redescriptions' are a way to understand human consciousness in relation to lived experience." Lived experience? What other kind of experience is there?
For some reason these remind me of Marcel Duchamp's ready made sculptures. He exhibited a metal rack used for drying milk bottles and a porcelain urinal as works of art. Those were minimal subjects and minimal technique, but, like these, the whole point was to draw attention to something.
The Three works collected in this volume are Serenade (1937), Love's Lovely Counterfeit (1942), and The Butterfly (1947). They illustrate what a great writer James M. Cain was, and also why he is little appreciated beyond his first two works of fiction, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), and Double Indemnity (1936).
Serenade is about an opera singer whose career ends when he is seduced by a gay man from high society. Love's Lovely Counterfeit is about a driver for a mob boss who becomes the boss in a corrupt city. The Butterfly is about a moonshiner in Kentucky whose long lost daughter shows up to live with him.
Not only does Cain treat widely different subjects in these stories from the 1930s and 1940s, he does so in distinct voices. Love's Lovely Counterfeit is told in gangland slang. The Butterfly captures the stark poetry of Appalachian speech.
No one would say Cain should have continued writing about a man plotting with a woman to kill her husband, which is the subject of his first two books. But he might have stayed closer to his original material.
Instead, Cain seems to have set out to prove he could write in different styles about different worlds. He challenges his readers to try new experiences, but many readers want more of the same.
The three stories in this book have one thing in common with "Postman" and Double Indemnity. Each centers on a man trapped by his own compulsions. Cain's wrote consistently in the tradition of the naturalistic novel, but he strayed from the sub-category called noir.
Christmas in San Francisco is complicated.
In some ways it seems normal. Macy's provides the backdrop at Union Square, center of the downtown retail district. People scurry about on foot and in cars.
The Christmas-tree lights on the palm trees seem normal, but the trees themselves are not. All trees in San Francisco are exotic species. In its natural state, this peninsula was nothing but sand dunes.
The white shed on the right, glimpsed beneath the trees, is part of the ice-rink concession, another exotic import. There is no naturally occuring ice here, but we have three ice-rinks downtown.
In the upper-right corner there seems to be an angel topping the giant Christmas tree, but she really stands atop The Dewey Monument, placed in 1901. At the time it seemed like a good idea to celebrate the admiral's victory in the Spanish-American War. So our angel celebrates war rather than peace on earth.
In the lower left corner a crane and fencing around a construction site have become familiar sights over the past three years, and they will be there for a while yet. The Metropolitan Transit Authority is digging a tunnel for a north-south subway line. We have several major transit projects underway that seem to be taking a little longer than expected.
So we celebrate the season in our improvised, incoherent, semi-imaginary city, where so many things seem to be coming soon. Merry Christmas to all. Be of good cheer.
At the suggestion of a reader (Thanks, Tim!), I prepared a clean version of the map I worked from while writing the Nicole Tang Noonan mysteries so far. The original is sketchy, full of erasures and x-outs. This one, I hope, will help you picture the place described in the novels.
The chapel is the oldest building on campus, dating from before the Civil War. It served the Eden Commune and contains the mural Nicole studies in Dark Mural.
The Victorians on College Avenue were built in the late 1800s, when the descendents of the founders, having left communal life, turned the commune into the campus of the Eden Independent School. These were kit houses ordered from Sears and Roebuck.
The Old Classroom Building and the Library date from the 1920s when the school became a four-year liberal arts college. They were built in the collegiate gothic style.
Science Hall, a federal style building, was built in the 1950s. The Student Center, an example of early shopping mall, was added in the 1960s. The Arts and Humanities building, added in the 1970s is a fine example of modernist architecture.
The duplexes on Ohio Avenue were added starting in the 1950s. The Rabbit Hutches on Montgomery Avenue, where Nicole lives, are more recent.
The generic names of the buildings indicate the college has not yet sold naming rights to raise funds. Like many small schools with a long history, Fuchs College has survived on donations from alumni and the occasional grant.
Of course, this is all fictional, but I think it is a plausible history for a rural, liberal arts college.
Reviews of this fine film have focused on how well it handles its central issue, drug addiction, and how suspenseful it is. I found it compelling for the suspense alone.
Lee Child has written that creating suspense is simple: ask or imply a question, and postpone giving the answer. Writer-director Peter Hedges seems to have learned this lesson well.
From the beginning, the film methodically implies its questions. A young man runs around a house peeking in windows. When his mom and sister return from church, he says his sponsor suggested he spend a weekend at home, on leave from rehab. If so, we wonder, why weren't they expecting him? Wouldn't he have called?
His mom is thrilled to see him. His sister is not. Why aren't they on the same page? We find out soon enough, but not before several more questions have been raised. Throughout the movie, Hedges's screenplay keeps us waiting for the next revelation.
Some critics fault the film for being a drama about a social issue that mimics the conventions of thrillers. I see it as a thriller that involves addiction, the way Hitchcock's North by Northwest, for instance, involves espionage.
The problem of addiction gives the film an extra dimension for fans of noir. Though we're pulling for the main characters all the way through, we sense that their fate is sealed, no matter what they do.
"Where Bush Street roofed Stockton before slipping downhill into Chinatown, Spade paid his fare and left the taxicab." This is Dashiell Hammett's description of Sam Spade arriving at the scene where the body of his partner, Miles Archer, has been found in The Maltese Falcon.
In this photo, we are looking north on Stockton Street, through the tunnel. Bush Street runs across what looks like a bridge. Thus "Bush Street roofed Stockton."
Before the tunnel was opened in 1914, Stockton street rose steeply up one side of Nob Hill and ran down the other side. The part of Stockton the crests the hill can still be seen at the top of the photo. The original purpose of the tunnel was to create a level roadway for street cars.
The scene continues: "Spade crossed the sidewalk . . . went to the parapet, and resting his hands on the damp coping, looked down into Stockton Street." Sam Spade would have been standing at what looks like a stone fence on the bridge, facing in our direction, looking down.
"An automobile popped out of the tunnel beneath him, with a roaring swish, as if it had been blown out, and ran away." The white van in the photo did what Hammett is describing seconds before I snapped the shutter.
The scene changes as, "Spade turned from the parapet and walked up Bush Street to the alley where men were grouped.." That is, he walked to the left, as we view the scene. Today, at the mouth of that alley there is a brass plaque marking it as the place where, "______ shot Miles Archer." The plaque actually names the murderer. I refuse to do so.
The pages describing Spade's actions at the murder scene give much more detail about stairways, railings, buildings, and other details of this intersection. Obviously, Dashiell Hammett, who lived in San Francisco when he wrote The Maltese Falcon, walked this intersection and took detailed notes for this scene.
Somewhere I read that Elmore Leonard said, "I write about Detroit because I live in Detroit. If I lived in Buffalo, I'd write about Buffalo." Lessons from the masters.
When James M. Cain published The Butterfly in 1946, he added a preface. Perhaps he did so because it was a novella, about half the length of a novel, and he needed to bulk up the book.
Whatever the reason, this preface gives us glimpses into his life as a writer.
He talks about his travels in Harlan County, Kentucky and how meeting people and working alongside them in the mines and elsewhere gave him the desire to write a story about them. This sounds more like immersion than research.
He says writing for newspapers prepared him to approach a subject this way, and he praises other forms of writing as useful to becoming a novelist.
He disagrees with critics who compared him to Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway, and goes on at some length to distinguish his writing from theirs.
Most surprisingly, he distances himself from "the picture business," denying accusations that he writes with adaptation for movies in mind. Coming from the author of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, this is surprising, especially since several other works were adapted and he worked for a time as a screenwriter.
I've blogged about books by novelists that mix practical writing advice with memoir: Patricia Highsmith, Lawrence Block, Stephen King. I enjoy these because they teach me not only how they wrote, but what it was like to live through it. This preface by Cain is a miniature version of those books.
Relentless in its quest for innovation, San Francisco has introduced curling. In a city that has not seen naturally occurring snow or ice in decades, this is nothing short of visionary.
Such wonders do not happen overnight.
Long ago, an ice rink opened at the Embarcadero Center for a few weeks in December and January. It remains a popular holiday destination under the sponsorship of . . . you guessed it: Hawaiian Airlines!
More recently the merchants around Union Square duplicated the success of the Embarcadero by opening their own December-January ice rink.
And this year, ever-eager for public-private synergy, the city's Parks and Recreation Department has teamed up with a contractor to open the Winter Park at Civic Center. As you can see by the monumental architecture in the background, this one is in front of City Hall, and it has outdone the other two seasonal ice rinks by offering curling lessons.
What's next in a city that seems determined to astonish? Just thinking out-loud here: we have the hills for urban skiing.
In a recent article Manohla Dargis wrote, "I have a particular weakness for the kinds of dangerous, sometimes unhinged femmes fatales in film noirs like 'Gun Crazy' and 'Out of the Past.'" That put both movies on my watch list.
Gun Crazy certainly meets Otto Penzler's definition of noir, as well as my speculation that noir is related to the twentieth-century tendency to see people as defined by their circumstances.
Bart Tare (John Dall) is fascinated by guns, but a childhood trauma gives him a horror of killing. Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), a sharp-shooter, is the star attraction at a carnival, but the boss says she belongs to him.
They bond over their expertise with firearms, and they set out to liberate her by running free and robbing banks (echoes of Bonnie and Clyde). They are doomed because she is willing to kill, but he cannot stand it.
The movie starts slow with scenes of Bart as a boy, a teenager, and a young man. But once he meets Annie at the carnival, it is a sharp, suspenseful thrill ride.
Excellent performances by the two stars made me wonder why they weren't household names like, for instance, James Stewart and Barbara Stanwyck.
John Dall came off two Broadway hits to win an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in The Corn is Green. He played the lead in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, but it flopped. He played the lead in Gun Crazy and it flopped. After that, he worked mostly in television at a time when TV was less prestigious and less lucrative than movies.
Peggy Cummins similarly came close to stardom. She had the title role in Forever Amber, but, when the production was halted for re-writing the script, she was replaced. She went on to have a steady career in British films, but no career in Hollywood.
Life ain't fair, on-screen or off.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the neighborhood adjacent to Lafayette Park in San Francisco. That house on the left has wreaths with red bows in the windows.
The FedEx truck has stopped at Octavia Street, and, if you look very closely, you can see the driver returning from a visit to Danielle Steele's house on the right.
Hers is the one with the hedge that envelopes the first floor. It looks like the setting for a novel by Jane Austen, or rather it would if it had rolling green lawns around it.
Instead, it is perched at the top of a hill overlooking San Francisco Bay. I should say almost at the top. Lafayette Park sits a bit higher, which is how I was able to take in the view and snap this photo.
I sometimes tell myself I am walking by a fellow writer's house. Then I remember her books have sold 800 million copies. I have some catching up to do.
Ms. Steele has turned up before in my blog. The proprietor of the Argonaut Book Shop has an amusing story about her, as I mentioned in my blog post on the shop.
On a recent visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I saw an announcement for this exhibit in the lobby, thought, "That looks like fun," and trotted up to the fifth floor.
Yes, I took the stairs all the way up. I do this instead of working out.
And it was fun. As you can see, people stroll through a room full of giant spiders as if they were in a theme park. Some even like to get close:
Of course these people are a self-selecting group. Not everyone feels this way. One friend opted out, saying simply, "No. I'll skip that." Since there's more at SFMOMA than one can possible see in a single visit, I took this to mean, "rather do something else."
But perhaps my friend doesn't like spiders. In "An Arachnophobe Faces Louise Bourgeois's Iconic Spiders," Tess Thackara confesses she projected her own fears when she interpreted one of these sculptures as an image of horror.
To the contrary she quotes the artist's interpretation: “Because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and as useful as a spider.” The usefulness is a reference to her mother's craft, repairing tapestries. She compares this to spiders spinning webs from threads.
Each of us brings something different to a work of art. Perhaps we should't ask, "What does this piece mean?" Instead, we should ask, "What meaning blooms when you encounter this piece?"
In The Driver (1978), Ryan O’Neal, known for playing romantic roles, convinces us he has some ice water in his veins, playing a driver who hires out to help thieves make their getaways.
As the cop determined to arrest the driver, Bruce Dern proves once again he has the perfect touch for playing playing losers who haven’t yet noticed they’re losers. The script gives him plenty of invitations to overplay his part with lines like, “I’m very good at what I do,” but he keeps it light.
Dern is really the protagonist of this noir film, doomed by his vanity to fail. O’Neal makes a fine antagonist---sinister, inscrutable, evil for no particular reason.
The film is at its best when it focuses on their rivalry. There are sequences with other characters that get unnecessarily talky, but all is forgiven as the clockwork plot winds down and nobody gets what they signed up for.
It will come as no surprise this movie has car chases. When it hit theatres in 1978, audiences had already been wowed by the iconic car chases in Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971). The Driver keeps it exciting by including techniques from demolition derbies.
Under Walter Hill’s direction, the storytelling couldn’t be any tighter.
It’s not the darkest of noir, but it’s entertaining.
Not to be confused with Driver (2011) or Baby Driver (2017) . . . but perhaps to be compared with them.
Why is there a life-size sculpture of a blue whale at Crissy Field?
Why not? Given the choice between having something this cool and not having it, I think most people would go for it.
But there's a little more to it than that. This lovely sculpture is made entirely from plastic trash collected in California.
Why make a blue whale out of plastic trash? Because, Every nine minutes, 300,000 pounds (the approximate weight of a full-grown blue whale) of plastic and trash end up in the ocean.*
*According to National Geographic.
Come on, people, we can do better than this!
By the way, Crissy Field was formerly a military airstrip. It's part of The Presidio. The whale sculpture is a joint project with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and some other great organizations. You can read all about it here.