Next stop: Japan.
Oceanside cliffs are common in and around San Francisco. This one is just around the corner from the Golden Gate. It's kind of awesome to stand here and think that if you head due west, the next land you reach will be Japan.
The National Park Service has placed the Land's End Lookout here so you can have a cup of coffee and a sandwich while contemplating the immensity of the globe.
You can also learn a bit about the history of this spot or pick up a sweat shirt in case you came here thinking all of California is sunny and warm.
On a really clear day, you can see three tiny triangles on the horizon. They are the Farallon Islands. The water between here and there is the Gulf of the Farralons. It is home to the largest population of great white sharks in the world.
This is a great to to be glad you're on dry land.
San Francisco's historic cable cars are popular but misunderstood.
They are not trolleys. Trolleys are powered by electric lines overhead. Cable cars are powered by a system of cables that move constantly in channels beneath the street. The gripman operates a clutch that grips the cable, causing the car to move, and releases the cable to stop the car.
They aren't used for transportation any more. There used to be fourteen lines fanning out over the eastern portion of the city. They were invented because there were accidents involving teams of horses pulling heavy loads up the steep hills in the city.
Now there are just two lines. The Powell Street car runs from Market Street, up and over Nob Hill and winds up a Fisherman's Wharf. At either end you can watch a turntable turn the car around to go the other way. It is hugely popular with tourists
The California Street car (pictured above) starts near the Embarcadero, runs up and over Nob Hill and ends at Van Ness Avenue. The latter half of the ride is mostly residential and there's no tourist destination. Usually there's no waiting in line for this one. Just hop on!
I suppose every now and then someone rides them just to get from here to there, but mostly they are museum pieces, and delightful ones at that, although they are expensive.
Three years ago, I read Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel from Plot to Print. I read it again in 2018. In 2019, I re-read in more than once and found useful tips to keep me going.
When I saw that Block had published an updated version with "to Pixel" added to the title, I wasn't interested. The original, published in 1978, addresses all the fundamental problems a novelist must solve. Those things don't change. I didn't think a guy who has been traditionally published since the 1950s could have much to say about digital publishing. I was wrong.
In the early 2010s, Block began experimenting with self-publishing on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and others. He speaks from experience. This updated version contains everything in the original plus three new chapters: "The Case for Self-Publishing," "The Case Against Self-Publishing," and "How to Be Your Own Publisher." His analysis is valuable.
Writing in 2016, he says repeatedly that digital self-publishing will continue changing, and indeed it has in the last three years. But here again he focuses essential problems---things that don't change. If your thinking of upping your game as a novelist, it's worth getting this new version.
I've also tried Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. It's good, but there's a lot of overlap with Writing the Novel. Just get the 2016 expanded version and be done It is one of my three essential writing craft books.
Like The Thicket, this tale is set in East Texas during the Great Depression. In a small town that has grown up around a saw mill, the mill hands work long hours for low pay. But they are lucky. The migrants who work the farms sometimes get cheated out of their pay.
Not only is there poverty, there is also racism and sexism. Lansdale depicts the lynchings, the beatings, the physical and psychological abuse, and does so in the language of that time. He does not filter words and phrases we no longer use.
Also like The Thicket, this is a tale of a team---a band of brothers and sisters---who come together out of necessity and oppose the overwhelming cruelty of their world.
Sunset, a woman so named for her flaming red hair, becomes constable of the mill town through a series of unlikely events and pulls together an unlikely crew of deputies and enforcers.
The horrors of this violent world become bearable because these people do what they can to oppose it. They do so, not because they are idealists, but because they want to survive.
Landmark has announced it will close the Clay theater, which was built in 1910 as a movie house---no backstage! Reportedly they have lost money for years on this single-screen neighborhood theater, showing new art-house films and cult classics.
Elsewhere in the city, Landmark is doing well. Its Embarcadero Cinema emerged from a re-do with luxurious seats and upgraded food and beverage service. Landmark has announced it will refurbish the Opera Plaza Cinema, which needs it. Both are multi-screen houses.
There is hope the Clay will be saved by the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, which has saved the Vogue (1912) and the Balboa (1926). The Castro (1922) survives in all its glory thanks to community support. A few others survive around the city, mostly divided into multi-screen theaters.
Peter Abrahams excels at exploring altered states of mind. Most famously, in The Fan (1996), a baseball fanatic pursues his hero to the point of madness. Robert DeNiro and Wesley Snipes starred in the film version directed by Tony Scott.
In Oblivion (2005), Abrahams explores the altered state of mind that follows removal of a brain tumor. The chief symptom is loss of memory for the three days leading up to the surgery.
The loss is critical because the hero is a private investigator tracking a missing-person, and he spent those three days getting close to cracking the case. Following his surgery, he must re-investigate the case, but all the people he talks to now know more about what he's up to than he does. This puts him in increasingly dangerous situations.
To complicate matters, years earlier, one of his cases was the subject of a based-on-a-true-story Hollywood film, and it's not always clear whether people are remembering him or the character based on him in the movie.
Alteration of the hero's state of mind makes this one of the more ambitious P. I. novels I've read.
The land under the bridge is part of the Tennessee Hollow Watershed. The water flows from a freshwater spring down the side of a mountain and trickles through this grassy area.
When the US Army drained this "swamp" to create dry land for a shooting range and other uses, the water was channeled into culverts and carried underground to its ultimate destination, San Francisco Bay.
When the Presidio Trust daylighted the water, the native plants returned, creating habitat for native frogs, insects and birds. It's a lively place.
It got its name from the 1st Tennessee Regiment, volunteer soldiers who camped here before shipping out to the Philippines for the Spanish-American War.
It sounded like my favorite kind of movie. The promotional descriptions says, "A charismatic jeweler makes a high-stakes bet that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. In a precarious high-wire act, he must balance business, family and adversaries on all sides in pursuit of the ultimate win."
To me, it sounded like the perfect-crime scenario, beloved of noir writers and filmmakers. A guy or gal down in a tight spot comes up with a plan to make a big score, get out of trouble, and be set for life. I've written about several in this blog, including The Concrete Flamingo by Charles Williams, Out of the Black, by John Rector, and The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips.
But Uncut Gems didn't play out that way. We watch the jeweler pile risk upon risk to make a huge bet on basketball game. When it doesn't work out, he does it again, and again, and . . . It turns out he has no plan for what to do with the windfall. He just likes gambling.
Watching the jeweler rob Peter to pay Paul for the umpteenth time so he could place a bet reminded me of watching All in the Family and waiting for Archie Bunker to make a bigoted remark. Sure enough, there he goes again. About halfway through the film, the audience of about 300 with whom I saw the film started laughing whenever the jeweler went for it one more time.
I'm offering the ebook version of Dark Mural free from January 1st through 5th. If you have wanted to try my murder-mystery series featuring Nicole Tang Noonan, art historian, this is an excellent chance to get the first book of the series.
As you can see in the foreground, Potrero Hill is a traditional San Francisco neighborhood with attached houses, small apartment buildings, and street trees. It even has a neighborhood bar with hard-boiled, private-eye vibe. It's less dense than many places. Here, people park in front of their houses.
As you can see in the background, Potrero Hill has a commanding view of downtown, or at least the newer part, south of Market street. Most of those big buildings went up in the last ten years. The building boom was driven by The tech industry's need for office space.
I've heard that in just a few years the city built space for 15,000 people to live and work. And yet people still get squeezed out of gentrifying neighborhoods. Partly that's because tech hubs down the peninsula---Mountain View, Cupertino, Redwood City, etc.---refuse to build housing. Instead they remain true to the vision of their founders: houses on lots of a half acre or more.
Of course there are also neighborhoods in San Francisco that refuse to allow building higher than three stories.
And we all complain about traffic.
I participated in the Book Bazaar at the Mechanics' Institute Library. I must say it felt good to see the four Nicole Tang Noonan Mysteries all together on the table. I sold a couple of books and learned a lot from readers. One frequent question: Where are they set?
"Mechanics" has become my literary community. For four years I've participated in writers' critique groups that meet there, attended talks by authors, and hung out at events like this. I've done most of the research for my mysteries at this library. I also enjoy readers' groups for mysteries and short stories.
As many have said, writing is a solitary activity, and I treasure that time by myself, but I need to come up for air a few times a month. There's nothing like getting to know other writers who are at the same stage I'm at and comparing notes on what's working and what's not.
The Mechanics' Institute Library has been around since the Gold Rush days, when its name was accurate. It was founded to teach people skilled trades. After about 20 years, it became a general interest library. This was before San Francisco had free public libraries.
It has always been a subscription library, and remains so today. For about the price of a years' subscription to a newspaper, all this is yours. And, yes, when I go there, everybody knows my name.
It would be easy to miss how good this movie is. The dialogue is limited to what people would really say in the circumstances. That means most of the storytelling is visual.
When Mickey asks a doctor to write a prescription so she can get oxycontin for her father, the doctor asks what her plans for college are. She has none. Later, she sneaks into a doctor's office to steal a prescription form and accidentally spills some rosewater, wipes it up with her sleeve, and wipes her hands on her pants. The doctor's influence is now real. Nothing need be said. This film is full of such clues.
Publicity for the film says, "a young woman dreams of living life on her own terms." That's soft-pedaling it. Mickey is devoted to her father who suffers PTSD from his combat in Afghanistan. He tells her boyfriend the reason to have kids is, "When your shit starts to look look sewage, they're there to clean it up for you." As the film goes on her dreary situation turns dangerous.
Mickey and the Bear is full of powerful performances from little-known actors. Camila Morrone as Mickey and James Badge Dale as her father are so good you forget you're watching a movie. With a bigger budget, the director could have had Scarlett Johansson and Bradley Cooper, but they would not have made a better film.
A lot of people say there should be more women making films in Hollywood. If that's going to happen, we have to pay admission to see films like this one by first-time writer and director Annabelle Attanasio. Her accomplishment as a director is all spelled out in the 100% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
We took a walk in Muir Woods, a bit of primeval forest just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is what northern California looked like when the Gold Rush of 1849 touched off a building boom. Only a few places like this are left.
These old-growth Redwoods were designated a National Monument in 1908. Since then the National Park Service has done its usual excellent job of preserving the site while also making it available to the public. Most importantly the Park Service provides information: signs, talks by rangers and volunteers, publications, and website.
Since Muir Woods is near several big cities, and tourist destinations, it is extremely popular. Therefore "making it available" has meant charging admission to cover increased costs of protecting it, providing shuttle buses, charging for parking, and now parking by reservation only.
I love the woods, and I have nothing but praise for what the National Park Service does here, but the whole situation reminds me of a lyric by Joni Mitchell, "They took all the trees and put 'em in a tree museum."
Recently I discovered Joe R. Lansdale in a book of short stories, and liked his story so much I sought out some of his novels including The Thicket. He likes stories in which an average guy or underdog gets some help and takes down a bully.
Cold in July, his novel from 1989 puts some interesting twists in this type of story. It starts with a man shooting a thief who breaks into his house in the middle of the night. The aftermath is not pleasant, and the complications are both frightening and thought-provoking.
When I learned it had been adapted for film in 2014 with Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson in the principal roles, I wondered why I'd never heard of it.
Wikipedia explains why the film was difficult to market. Even with three A-list stars it didn't make money. But it is available through streaming services and it's entertaining, so long as you don't mind the violence.
It begins, as some of my favorite books do, with an obviously dumb proposal. Matt is talking to a friend in a bar. The friend has a foolproof plan for a kidnapping. He just needs Matt to be the driver. Matt knows this friend is an addict and even when sober is incapable of making rational decisions. So of course Matt turns him down.
But Matt has money problems and other problems that come with being a single parent. The parents of his late wife think his daughter would be better off with them. The pressure on Matt builds. He runs out of options and decides he may as well take a chance on his friend's plan.
From there on, it's not a question of if something will go wrong but of when, and what the consequences will be, and how far Matt is willing to go to survive them.
Much of the pleasure in reading this book comes from its perfect construction. Each complication plays out just long enough, the next one comes along just in time to boost the tension, and it's usually something we didn't see coming but makes sense once we've seen it.
Given the hero's compromises, we know the ending won't be sunshine and puppies. It's a question of how dark the shad of gray will be. This is a very satisfying crime novel.