Tips For Writers

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more, not in the weblog, but actual fiction writing. Andrew, Josh, and I plan to meet from time-to-time to share and discuss our individual writing projects. I intend to take another writing class this term or next. I’m excited about writing fiction again.

Sparked by a comment in the recent New Yorker Philip Pullman article, I looked up Billy Wilder’s tips for writers. These are actually screenwriting tips, but they’re applicable to other forms of writing as well.

Billy Wilder’s Tips for Writers

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — thats it. Don’t hang around.

(Billy Wilder was a wonderful writer/director of the forties, fifties, and sixties. He wrote and directed one of my favorite films, the never-a-dull-moment Some Like it Hot, which the American Film Institute named as the top comedy of all time.)

The Finest Restaurant in All of Portland

I sometimes think that I’d like to start a restaurant. My life revolves around food. A lot of what I eat is crap, but I crave the good stuff. Here are a few food-related thoughts:

One Kris and Craig have been e-mailing each other, planning their tomato crops for next year. They’re also planning to take a knife class together. (With all this discussion about grow lights and knives, I’m sure the FBI is closing the noose around these two.)

Two The other night, Paul Carlile and I had a longish chat via instant messaging. (Paul is the only person with whom I ever use IM. Strange, huh?) During our conversation, I mentioned that if I ever opened a restaurant — which is this dream that I have in the back of my mind — then I’d love to have Paul working with me. He has a lot of experience working many aspects of restaurant life.

Three I keep saying that I need to have a Gourmet Potluck. I’d invite the Foodies that we know (meaning: Paul/AmyJo, Craig/Lisa, Jeremy/Jennifer), and ask that each person prepare one stellar dish that they love. It sounds like heaven.

Four Though I never mention it here, I spent six years working in various food service jobs. Much of the time I did grunt work. I loved it. Someday I’ll jot down first my memories of working fast food, and then my recollections of working in the coffee shop at Holiday Inn.

If I were to open a restaurant, it’d be fun to assemble a dream crew of co-workers from among my friends. My talents don’t really lie in the kitchen; in situations like this, I’m excellent at planning and organization. I’d be the behind-the-scenes manager type. Who would I like to join me?

I’d definitely want Jeremy as the “face” of the establishment, the person who interacted with customers, made wine recommendations, answered questions, talked about the food. Jeremy’s passionate and knowledgeable about food, and he could sell ice to an Eskimo.

I’d want Paul Carlile to be in charge of banquets and large groups. I’d have a trio of kitchen divas: Kris, Jenn, and Amy Jo. These three would be responsible for baked goods, and especially for menu planning. My head chef? My head chef would be Craig, who would quietly and skillfully chop and grind and cook, serving up strange but wonderful dishes.

Yessir, with a lineup like this, we could have the finest restaurant in all of Portland!

Bluefoot

Warning: This entry contains graphic images that may not be safe for children. (Or for you.)

Our house has a cellar. The cellar does not have an earthen floor (as you might expect from the house’s age), but one of concrete. At the far end of the cellar there is hole in the ground. In the hole in the ground is a sump pump.

There isn’t much light in the cellar. There’s a small window above the sump pump, and the previous owners installed a light fixture without a switch. Meaning: to turn the light on, you screw in a 100-watt light bulb; to turn the light off, you unscrew it. If you forget to unscrew the bulb, the parlor floor gets warm and you can smell an odor like warm oak.

Last Spring I was down in the cellar, rooting around for something or other. I didn’t have the light on. I turned around and began to walk away when suddenly I plummeted thigh-deep into the sump-pump hole. I was stunned, more out of embarrassment than anything. I sat on the floor, twisted and tangled, for nearly a minute. I was angry. Finally I pulled myself from the hole and hobbled upstairs.

When the bathroom was being remodeled this summer, our contractor pulled me aside one afternoon. “Did you know there’s a hole in your basement?” he said. I nodded. “Well,” he continued, “I’ve put a milk crate over the top of it.” He didn’t say it, but it seemed clear that somebody had stepped in the hole. The milk crate was a great idea. After construction was finished, I left it there to protect against further accidents.

Apparently Kris, however, was unaware of the milk crate’s noble purpose.

On Christmas Eve she went downstairs to futz with wrapping paper and ribbons and suchlike. A few minutes later she came limping upstairs in pain. “I stepped in the hole,” she said.

“Didn’t you notice the milk crate?” I asked, perhaps not as sympathetic as a husband ought to be.

Fortunately, Kris isn’t severely injured. She is in pain, it’s true, and her foot has turned blue, but she’ll live. I think. Meanwhile, she’s completely fascinated by the various bruises on her feet and toes.

Two facts about Kris Gates: she bruises easily, and her feet are her worst feature. (Kris has many wonderful qualities; her feet are not one of them.) Her already hideous hoofs have mutated into something even more grotesque.

“Take some pictures!” she commanded last night. “You could put them on your weblog.” As repulsed as I was by her hideous feet, I obeyed. Aren’t you glad I did? Here is closeup of Kris’ toes.

sigh I was going to eat lunch after posting this entry, but now I am no longer hungry…

New Games

I got together with Andrew and Dave last Thursday night to play some games. It was fun. I haven’t played games (aside from occasional Settlers of Catan) in ages. I miss it. (Note: though I’m not a huge fan of Settlers, I would love to have this 3-D deluxe set. I’ve seen it in a store. It’s gorgeous. Also, here are some rules for Armed Settlers of Catan!)

I picked up a couple of new games last week while I was out Christmas shopping. After doing some thorough research (paying special attention to Defective Yeti‘s good games guide), and after listening to the recommendations of the people at Rainy Day Games, I picked up Ticket to Ride and Shadows Over Camelot.

Ticket to Ride is ostensibly a railroad game. Some of you may be surprised to learn that in the games market there’s an entire sub-genre of train games. Bizarre but true. Ticket to Ride owes much to a previous game called Transamerica in which players take turns placing little wooden rail lines across a map of the United States. Transamerica, however, was so simplistic as to be tedious. (I still feel as if I must have missed some important rule someplace — the gameplay is mindless.)

Ticket to Ride maintains the “lay rail lines across a map of the United States” aspect of Transamerica and adds the “load cards” concept of the Empire Builder games. Players have “ride tickets”, each of which lists a route between two cities. If you complete this route during the course of the game, you receive bonus points. If you do not complete a ride ticket you receive negative points. (This is very important and adds an interesting wrinkle to things.) To complete the gameplay, players accumulate train cards of different colors. If the board shows that the rail line between Houston and New Orleans is two orange tracks long, for example, a player can complete this section of track by collecting and playing two orange train cards.

The three of us agreed that Ticket to Ride feels somewhat like Rummy in concept. It was fun, though it’s probably more fun with four or five players. (As few as two players can play, which makes this game unusual.)

We also played Shadows Over Camelot, which is a co-operative game with a twist. Co-operative games are part of a newish genre that hasn’t garnered many fans. Some people (including myself) like the idea of working together, but co-op games often just are not fun to play. There was a Lord of the Rings co-op game released a few years ago that received much acclaim. I own it and have played it several times with various groups. One or two groups have even beat the game (which is difficult). Despite the game’s good reviews, I’ve never enjoyed it. Much of the gameplay seems forced, as if the players have no choice in their actions. It’s not fun. When I mentioned my concern to the woman at Rainy Day Games, she was quick to assure me that Shadows Over Camelot wasn’t anything like that. “It’s co-operative,” she said, “but each player has a wide range of choices. Plus there’s always the possibility that somebody might be the traitor.”

The premise of Shadows Over Camelot is that each player is a Knight of the Round Table. Each knight has a special ability. During the game, the knights undertake various quests, attempting to acquire special relics and white swords which represent fame and valor. Failure to complete quests earns the group black swords. Earn more white swords than black and the crusade is successful; any other result is failure. The game would be fun if that was all there was to it (and when I played with Andrew and Dave, that was all there was to it), but there’s an added twist.

The game includes eight “loyalty cards”. Seven cards are labeled “loyal”, but the eighth is labeled “traitor”. Before play begins, each player draws a loyalty card at random. The greater the number of players, the more likely it is that somebody has drawn the traitor card. The traitor subtly works to sabotage the efforts of the rest of the knights. By the game’s midway point, knights may begin accusing each other of being the traitor. If a traitor is discovered, he stops being a knight and simply acts as an ever-present malignant force. Gameplay is cleverly designed to encourage suspicion of others: sometimes a knight must make an action the looks malicious but which is in actuality the best choice at a particular moment.

The game was fun with three players and no traitor card involved. We were salivating at the idea of how fun it must be with seven players and a likely traitor in the midst. (The only drawback to that many players would be the wait between each person’s turn. Turns go quickly, but waiting for six players to go is always going to seem tedious.)

(For more on Shadows Over Camelot, check out Defective Yeti’s review.)

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy playing a good game. At one time, we played board games with Mac and Pam several times a month. (Our other get-togethers were all about bridge, bridge, bridge.) For about a year, Kris and I even hosted a monthly game night. Lately, though, gaming has been a rare thing in our lives. I miss it. I’m toying with the idea of hosting an irregular game night. “I’d probably have to lift the ‘no kids’ rule,” I mentioned on Thursday. (Our rules before were: no kids, no alcohol, bring your own food.) “No way,” said Andrew. “People can find babysitters if they want to play games.”

So, there you have it: you game-playing folk in the Portland area, I may re-institute an irregular game night some time in the near future.


On Friday night, I attended my second poker night at Sabino’s. Last month, I finished fourth out of twelve, just one person out of the money. This month I finished fifth out of fourteen, just one person out of the money. sigh Last month, there were several times when I played like I oughtn’t: bluffing, etc. This month, I did well until we got down to just six players. Then the cards just weren’t coming and the blinds bled me dry. I paid to see a few flops (with AQo, for example, or 89s), but nothing ever panned out. I’ll be that happens quite a bit. My tally now in three poker games: I’ve spent $65 to buy-in, and have won $49, so I am $16 in the hole. I’ve placed 4/12, t1/6, 5/14. Okay for a raw beginner, I think. (Caution: I’ve made “poker” and “holdem” prohibited words in the comments.)

in Fun | 1,126 Words

Christmas MP3s From Santa

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

Have you been good boys and girls this year? Well then Santa will share a little present: some of his favorite holiday songs. All my little elves have gathered these together and given them proper mp3 tags so that they’ll import nice ‘n’ pretty into iTunes.

These songs are from all different styles from all different eras, but each is one of Santa’s favorites.

Ho ho ho! Enjoy!

Santa realizes he should have posted these a week or two ago so that you could all listen to them while baking cookies and wrapping presents and trimming the tree. He hopes you enjoy them nonetheless. Now, if you please, Santa must go watch Love Actually (his favorite holiday film) before loading up his sleigh.

(Perhaps next year Santa will repost these. Sometime Santa will post the CD image for the Christmas mix he made five years ago: it’s a fantastic mix that never gets old. Santa even listens to it during the summer sometimes. Several of the songs here are on that mix.)

Two Types of Christmas

A couple of weeks ago I delineated the differences between Roths and Gates when it comes to Christmas shopping. (Summary: Gates finished shopping sometime around Thanksgiving; Roths still aren’t done.) Today I’d like to observe a few other differences between these two types that become apparent at Christmas.

Stocking Stuffers
Gates: Many little stocking stuffers, few of which actually fit in the stocking. When together, take turns opening. When apart, open one a day until Christmas. Still do stocking stuffers.

Roths: only a few stocking stuffers, all of which fit in the stocking. One is always an orange. One is always cash. None are wrapped. Stocking is simply turned over and dumped on the floor on Christmas morning. No longer do stockings.

Opening Gifts
Gates: All gifts are passed out. Everyone sits calmly and takes turns opening gifts. Kris opens a gift: everyone oohs and aahs. J.D. opens a gift: everyone oohs and aahs. Tiffany opens a gift: everyone oohs and aahs. The process can take days, weeks even.

Roths: Gifts are passed out. While they are being passed out, everyone opens everything at once in a flurry of paper and bows. There are a lot of hurried thanks. The whole process takes ten minutes.

Food
Gates: Traditional Christmas fare: ham, sticky buns, etc. Not enough food for the entire group.

Roths: Home-made pizza! (Or, if we’re really lucky, fondue!) Cookies! Cake! Lots of it. Yum.

Celebration
Gates: Christmas day.

Roths: Christmas eve. Christmas day is for going to the movie theater!


TWO WEEKS of daily posts? Bwahahahahah! And here I thought I was ready for a hiatus. I’ve already written posts for the next two days, too, and have several more nearly finished. Lisa’s logorrhea is contagious.

Words My Father Taught Me

“Think it’ll rain?”

That’s what my father always said on days like today, days on which the rain fell long and hard, days on which the fields and ditches flooded, spilling into the road so that small streams formed on hills, days on which even an Oregonian craved an umbrella.

“Think it’ll rain?” was one of Dad’s mantras. It’s from him that I gained much of my sense of humor (which isn’t necessarily a good thing): the dumb observations and, especially, the use of repetition. (I often think to myself that repetition is the cornerstone to humor. Kris disagrees. You can imagine how she suffers.)

This cartoon has always reminded Kris of our relationship.

Another of Dad’s chestnuts was “should we make like a tree and leaf?” whenever it was time to go home. I’ve heard countless variations of this from other people, but that was Dad’s particular favorite.

Some of the things he said all the time weren’t particularly nice. When a family member did something dumb, he’d say, “If you had a brain, you’d take it out and play with it.” Sometimes to Mom he’d say, “Dumb woman — that’s like saying woman twice.”

I’d repeat this stuff to my friends, and sometimes to my friends’ parents. I can remember one instance during high school in which I used the “dumb woman” bit when a friend’s mother did something silly. (And this was a smart woman, a woman I respected.) It didn’t even occur to me that I was being misogynist. This stuff was bred into me, just as was a low-level racism and a low-level hatred of gays. (I’m happy to report that I seem to have shed most of the vestiges of these prejudiced ways.)

Dad was a good guy, and funny, and I have a great fondness for those little phrases he used to say all the time, but he was also something of a jerk.

Be Careful What You Wish For

For ten days I lamented the cold. For ten days I bundled up and shivered. For ten days I scraped ice from my window in the morning. I longed for a hot bath. I couldn’t get warm enough. The dry air gave me a bloody nose. I moaned. I complained.

Now the cold air is merely cool, and is supposed to grow warmer by the weekend. But the clear skies have gone, too, and the endless rains have set in. After only two days, already the fields are flooding into little lakes.

It’s gray and damp, but now I want it to be cold and clear.

Am I ever satisfied?

Ah, if only it were autumn again, with the cool clear mornings and the warm, lazy afternoons.

State of the Blog

No real entry today, just a bunch of housekeeping. Kim has forwarded some new photos, so I’ll be updating the entry on little Isabel Pilar this afternoon. Meanwhile, here is the state of foldedspace.

Content
I have several long entries finished or nearly finished. (One has existed since the beginning of August!) They’re all drawn-out meditations on subjects like photography, religion, and the Mac vs. PC debate. I’ll try to polish these and post them soon. I’ve also got several “guest” entries submitted by you folks that I need to post. Meanwhile, you’ll get the same old mix of daily life, media reviews, snapshots of friends, and geeky obsessiveness that you’re used to. I’m happy to take requests for other topics, too. If you have suggestions, let me know!

Layout
I still can’t figure out why this weblog’s display is goofed up in Internet Explorer on the PC. Any HTML/CSS gurus out there want to give me hand? It never bothers me because I don’t view this site with IE on a PC. However, ninety percent of you do use this combination, however, so I’m embarrassed to have such obvious lingering display issues.

Miscellaneous Flotch
This weblog really consists of two separate blogs: the one you’re reading now and that little sidebar off to the right, the Miscellaneous Flotch. Some of you come to read me ramble about my life; others come for the random links I post. (Some of you come for both.) When this site crashed, the entire flotch section received a massive upgrade; it even has its own full page now! During the past few weeks, I’ve tried to reduce the amount of casual surfing I do. Since it is from this casual surfing that I harvest flotch links, I’ve had fewer to post. Fortunately, you readers have been picking up the slack. It’s not just Dave who’s sending me links, but John and Lisa and Josh and Jim and Amy Jo. I just want to say: keep it up. I may not post everything you send, but I’ll post most of it.

General Motivation
“I really haven’t been into the weblog lately,” I told Mac a couple weeks ago. “I can tell,” he said. Since that conversation I’ve posted every day. Suddenly I’m into the weblog again. Funny how that works. That being said, I am going to try to ease up a bit on the frequency of posting: maybe an average of four times per week instead of five.

Comment Spam
The spammers have discovered this weblog’s new location, and they’re making the most of it. There’s the ==================================== guy (those of you with weblogs probably know what I mean), but he’s easy to deal with because he only leaves a couple comments per day. The other night I was flooded by Vumas the colobumumum man. Lordy what a flood of spam! There have been other isolated instances, too. What this means to you, dear reader, is that I’ve had to activate stricter comment requirements. Previously I had left everything open. I’ll still accept comments from anyone, but most of them won’t appear on the web site until I grant approval. (If I actually understood how Movable Type’s “trusted commenters” thing works, all the regulars would have automatic posting privileges. I don’t understand how it works, however, so I have to approve almost everyone. I even have to approve my own comments. Sheesh!) I’m sorry it’s come to this, but there you go.

And that is the state of the blog. I’m off to deliver the last batch of Christmas baskets. Have fun!

(p.s. For the past six weeks, Lisa has been on a tear over at Chez Briscoe. She’s been posting often, and posting on a variety of subjects. It’s awesome. Go read her!)

King Kong, American Idiot

Will and I saw King Kong yesterday. It sucked. The biggest thing on the screen wasn’t the twenty-five foot ape, but Peter Jackson’s ego. The trip wasn’t a complete loss: Will introduced me to a fantastic remix of Green Day’s American Idiot; and, of course, we walked out of the theater to a world shrouded in snow.

First things first: I don’t know what kind of kool-aid you people are drinking, but Peter Jackson’s exercises in digital masturbation are not quality filmmaking. My complaints about his bastardization of Tolkien are well-documented; now he’s decided to “improve” a cinematic classic.

How does Jackson go about “improving” his source material? He changes things that don’t need to be changed. He adds subplots that contribute nothing to the film. (In King Kong, there are scads. My favorite: the wizened black man who serves as a sort of mentor to the young white sailor. What the hell? Why is this in the film?) He throws as many digital images on the screen as possible. He s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s running times to the breaking point. He discards reason for spectacle.

Many critics and viewers have complained about how bloated this film is. I watched the original King Kong last Tuesday, and it, too, owns a similar structure. In the original, it takes forty-five minutes for Kong to appear, then there are forty minutes racing around the island fighting dinosaurs, and finally there are nineteen minutes during which the ape rampages through New York. In the original, the first forty-five minutes seemed overlong, but that’s nothing compared to Jackson’s re-imagining. God, the first act drags as he tosses in subplot after subplot, “money shot” after “money shot”. I didn’t time it, but I’d guess it takes seventy-five minutes before Kong appears on screen, after which there are about six hours of running around the island (though it feels like sixteen), followed by half an hour in New York.

Here’s a scene that sums up my frustration with the film: Kong has stolen Ann Darrow and taken her deep into the jungle of Skull Island. Our heroes are in pursuit. When they stop to rest in a narrow canyon, they are startled by a stampede of brontosauri. Not one, not two, not three, but a dozen (or more!) brontosauri come flailing down the canyon pursued by a few small ambiguously carnivorous dinosaurs. The next five minutes are a dizzying mess of visual effects: flailing brontosaurus legs, snarling meatasaurus teeth, falling rocks, etc. As our heroes race along beneath the mammoth creatures, avoiding death by inches again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again, the viewer grows numb and disinterested.

“Suspend your disbelief!” you will cry. Hey — I suspend my disbelief all the time. (My main hobby is collecting comic books, for god’s sake.) I have no trouble buying into the universes imagined by competent creators. I can suspend my disbelief on a macro-level, and for a few times per story on a micro-level. (Meaning I can buy a few hairs-breadth escapes or violations of physics, etc.) However, when a story asks me to suspend my disbelief on a micro-level several hundreds times an hour, it loses me. I can’t do it.

As with the Lord of the Rings films, King Kong has garnered fair praise. Why? I have no idea. I didn’t understand it for the Rings films, and I don’t understand it now. These are not good movies. (The Rings films aren’t necessarily bad; Kong is.) Despite the critics, it seems King Kong may not do well at the box office. “Wednesday and Thursday were slower than any of us expected,” a studio executive has said. (Another article here.)

King Kong is major suckage.


I was shocked — shocked! — by how many people had their cell phones on during the movie. When did this become acceptable? Little shiny screens popped up all around the theater. Worse, I heard at least six phones ring. Worst of all, the woman next to us actually answered her phone and carried on a conversation. This is deplorable. Fortunately, she and her husband left. I suspect that most of the calls were related to the early arrival of our little storm.

It’s been cold and dry for the past ten days. A wet weather system finally moved in yesterday afternoon, arriving a few hours early. We walked out of the theater to a about half an inch of snow. It was fun to watch how pleased everyone was by the stuff: kids threw snowballs at each other; one man slid around the parking lot, using his shoes as skates. A father led his daughter out of the theater, holding his hands over her eyes. “Don’t peek,” he told her. “Keep walking. Now look!” She opened her eyes and gasped in delight.

Will and I sat in his car, shivering, as we waited for all the high-tech heating devices to kick in. Gradually the seats got warm, and then hot. The snow on the windshield melted away, succumbing to a network of heated wires. While we waited, we listened to American Edit, which is a mind-blowing full-length remix of Green Day’s American Idiot album (which you’ll remember was my favorite CD of 2004).

King Kong may have sucked, but the rest of the outing was good.