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ralph robert moore

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ideas | friends before food | dallas restaurant reviews | our world is a word

I wrote fiction for years before it even occurred to me to try non-fiction, in part because it was hard for me to conceive of writing a piece that did not have characters or scenes, and that moreover had to be, on some small level, an attempt at truth.

I started with recipes, because I love food, and in that process discovered that the essay format did allow me to digress as much as I wanted, without worrying about characters standing around waiting for their next line, or sets starting to sag.

So my love now for writing essays comes really from my occasional need to digress, to explore ideas unattached to a character or narrative advancement, not worrying if the reader, bored, has quietly tip-toed out, because I'm still here, talking, even if only to myself.


pornography and martial arts movies

In the cold, in the snow, in the night, in its aloneness, sometimes all you have as a companion is an idea, but that idea can lead you between dark buildings, past their yellow windows, down the silent, brick streets with their concrete curbs, under the starry sky, under gabled rooflines, up wooden stairs, past a paneled door, into the warm kitchen, into its smells and smiles, onto a chair, you laughing, eyes black slits, no longer alone, pulling off big black boots, their ridged soles dropping zig-zags of grey snow onto the pink, salmon and turquoise linoleum that needs a mopping.

Review was first published in the June 29, 1980 issue of the Los Angeles Times, in the Calendar Magazine section. God was first published in 2004 in Issue 5 of Songs of Innocence (and Experience). Dreams and Space were translated into Lithuanian by writer/journalist Jonas Skendelis in 2005. Pornography and Martial Arts Movies was first published in the Spring, 2007 edition of Sein und Werden (online Issue 12).

In 2009, artist Jason Mcaloon contacted me about a poster he created based on my Fear essay. The poster uses the text of the essay to produce a typographical design meant as an interpretation of that text. It's an amazing work. I'm reproducing it here, with Jason's permission.

To see Jason's poster as an Adobe PDF file, please click here. The file is approximately 2 megabytes. Jason's design site is located here.

Here's Jason talking about the circumstances regarding the poster:

I came across Ralph Robert Moore's essay on Fear a few years back.

I was living and studying in Switzerland. It was a pure white out blizzard just outside the window of the room I was staying in. I had every light off in the room and had been staring for what was probably a good half hour out into the white outside. Like when you stare at your face in the mirror for an extended period of time. I had faded away.

Sitting huddled, bundled and hunched. Trying to work on a project to which I had a class critique fast approaching.

But I was feeling tapped out. Useless. Unable to think of where to navigate within the realm of the project ahead of me. I felt a huge swell of frustration and impotence hit me. I questioned my artistic self. Was I an artist/designer at all?

This led me to question more. What was I doing with my life. Was I just drawing pictures?

At the time I don't think I was fearing anything, as much as being overall unsatisfied with my endeavors or lack thereof. (Or at least I didn't realize or want to admit I was was in fear of just plain not knowing where I was going in life.)

Considering a new direction of life. Maybe culinary arts? Or lawyer. Or the Peace Corps. I snapped from the window and my staring session and began searching for "fear" on the internet.

At some point I came upon the Ralph Robert Moore site where I found an essay that seemed fitting at the time. The title was "Fear". Like it was written and placed under my pillow by some destined gnome for me to find on this night.

I read over the essay.

At times feeling preached to, I stopped reading once. But I immediately went back to the essay and found an understanding. I realized that I had been at battle much too long with myself and needed to accept what I was and was not. That I was not in such despair, That I failed to witness the "cooperative" aspect of myself.

From the reading, two posters were inspired. I translated the posters typographically. These poster eventually became the solution to my project at the time. Thus helping me formally through a creative dry period, but emotionally boosting me as well.

Now, years later, new circumstances led me into some of the same questions and discombobulations that faced me that snowy night in Switzerland.

Now though being older, different fears seep into thoughts.

Fears of health, future, success. What will happen next month? The next shoe is scheduled to drop when? How is my family is doing? Where are they?

Are "we" going to pull out of this? What is this?

And so I came back to Moore's essay on Fear, and have dug from a digital grave the pixely dust that I created some time back. To revisit a writing, that in my eyes, is full to the brim with hope during times of fear and uncertainty or self-hate.

This poster was completely type set with each letter individually placed, rather than typed in sentences or paragraphs. This was in an effort to "externalize what is long internalized" using the repetitive nature of the process to dictate the form.

friends before food

south of the border
mommy food
the most important meal of the day
steak and pepper sandwich
sea scallops in cream sauce
hot cheese chicken
sloppy pierres
wrapped thighs
deep shrimp
teriyaki chicken
vacation dip
mary's ziti

In our late twenties, living pay check to pay check in a studio apartment in Mariner's Island, California, Mary and I came up with a scheme to make some extra money.

Because we didn't have a TV, each Friday after work we'd buy all the weekly gossip magazines-- National Enquirer, The Star, The Globe, etc.-- and read the stories to each other in bed. One time, finished with all the features, we started looking at the classified ads in the back of The Star, mostly psychic services and sexual aids. One column, though, was for family recipes farmwives and city slickers were selling.

The Star at that point claimed a readership of six million. Laying on our backs in bed, we calculated that if we sold our recipes for three dollars each, and if only ten percent of Star readers even bothered to read the classifieds, and if only a mere one percent of that ten percent actually ordered our recipes, that would be six thousand orders, representing $18,000.

So we took out a classified ad in The Star, titling it, "Recipes Grandma Was Too Timid To Make." For the ordering address, we used our Post Office box in nearby Burlingame. The ad cost, I think, $162.00.

It took three weeks from the time you placed an ad to its actual appearance nation-wide. During that time, we'd sit in our car at lunch earnestly planning at what point we should open a separate bank account to process the checks, what sort of ledger we should buy to record all the orders, etc., etc.

Finally, the issue came out. We waited until we were in the supermarket parking lot by our car, flipped to the classifieds, holding the tabloid open with four hands while we scanned down the columns, then screamed when we saw our ad.

The next day, we went to our P.O. box. The Burlingame boxes had small square glass doors, so you could dip your knees slightly and peer inside to see if you had any mail. Nothing. Thursday, nothing but a flyer from a furniture store. Friday evening I got out of work, picked Mary up from her job, and we stopped at the box on the way home. The square glass door was packed-- absolutely packed-- with the edges of envelopes.

We had received so much mail that day some of it had even been rubber-banded. We hurried back to our little studio apartment, spilled the envelopes across our bed, and started counting. I think we got something like 130 letters that first day.

Laughing and gloating, we started opening the envelopes. The first one was actually a chain letter rather than an order for our recipes. If we didn't send the letter to ten other people, something terrible would happen to us. Terry Z. in Phoenix, AZ broke the chain, and three days later he was struck fatally by a car while crossing the street to buy a newspaper. On the other hand, Linda C. in Cupertino, CA did send out ten letters, and a week later learned she had inherited $345,000 from an uncle she didn't even know she had (who apparently was himself a chain-breaker).

"Oh, here's another one. Another chain letter-type deal." Mary passed the second letter over to me.

All 130 letters were chain letters. It was unbelievable.

About the middle of the following week, we received our only legitimate piece of mail asking for our recipes, out of over 500 chain letters.

The legitimate order came from a Mrs. Fetty (her real name) from somewhere around the middle of the country. It may have been Illinois.

Since it was a legitimate order, we honored it. I wrote up about a dozen recipes in some detail (none of them reproduced here), and threw in a couple of pages on side dishes. Since she would be the only person ever receiving these recipes, we decided to personalize them and let her wonder at all the coincidences (one recipe, for example, was called Fetty Spaghetti, and a section of our side dish packet was titled ConFetty Vegetables).

We kept the three dollars she sent us thumb-tacked to our wall for quite a while, next to a copy of our ad. Finally, things being what they were back then, we had to take the money down to spend it.

But that's how I started writing about food.

Next to sex, there's probably no activity more lovingly depicted in fiction than eating. When people speak of writing as a 'hand-to-mouth' existence, they mean poverty, but perhaps the phrase should also signal the unusual passion writers have for food. It makes sense story-tellers are oral.

So this section of SENTENCE is, of course, meant for everyone, but for writers in particular.

Most of these recipes take long enough to prepare you'll have time enough to concoct, in the head-bent quiet of measuring flour or mincing garlic, that snaky plot or perfect sentence.

When Mary was a little girl she used to say, "Friends before food." This declaration certainly placed a precedence on friends, but by inclusion it also suggested food was a factor.

As indeed it is.

Cooking is just about the last practice of magic available to us. Like a robed alchemist we summon up, from mere flour and oil, a thickening. Here, standing in front of the smells and steam from the stove, whether otherwise beaten or lonely, we have power.

What we put in our mouth matters. I hope you enjoy my suggestions. I haven't bothered to follow the modern practice of including a calorie count, because, really, who gives a fuck? We're here to inhale. If anyone tells you different, blow smoke in their face and sit on them.

I've always found cookbooks to be rather rude. "Stir until boil starts", "Add two cups of stock". Whatever happened to "please", and "if it wouldn't be too much trouble"? However, I follow the same boorishness in the recipes below. Hopefully the finished dinner, plated, will be so good you'll forgive my impolite commands.

"Deep Shrimp" was published in the 1999 book Conjuring Dark Delicacies, a collection of recipes by writers, artists and actors associated with dark tales, published by Dark Delicacies, the Los Angeles book store. Other contributors included Clive Barker, Tim Curry (of The Rocky Horror Picture Show), actress Pamela Franklin, Stephen King, Richard Laymon and William F. Nolan. Copies may still be available at the Dark Delicacies site. All proceeds from sales of the book go to charity.

dallas restaurant reviews

go to the reviews

One of the many common experiences we share in life is eating in a restaurant.

You walk through the door, sit down at a table, look over a description of the offerings, order, and hope for the best.

Like many people, Mary and I would usually try a new restaurant on the basis of a favorable review we had read, either in the local papers or on a survey-type website.

After quite a few disappointments, I realized the reviews we relied on were almost always not accurate about the quality of the meals a particular restaurant served.

For one thing, the reviews tended to be too forgiving. Bad food and bad service, for example, would be overlooked because the restaurant had white tablecloths, or a 'fun atmosphere', or happened to be an establishment where the rich eat.

In some cases, the reviewer himself or herself obviously did not know how a particular dish was supposed to be prepared. If you don't know how to make a bound sauce of butter and cream, if you haven't made many such sauces in your own kitchen, you probably wouldn't know when such a sauce has been incompetently prepared in a restaurant, to where the sauce has broken (the milk solids have separated from the oils). Likewise, if all you've eaten are shrimp treated with nitrates, you wouldn't know that shrimp, normally sweet-smelling, are not supposed to have an awful, embalmed, chemical taste.

In other cases, a restaurant was assumed to be great simply because it had been declared great by prior reviewers. A good example in this category is the Addison Café, widely extolled as one of the finest French restaurants in town, crowned with four stars, when in fact it is an absolutely terrible place to eat. Our visit there we were served mealy crab claws that had been obviously frozen and thawed more than once, a bad-tasting mushroom soup, consisting of stems only, the garbage of a kitchen, and the cheapest possible grade of veal, tasteless and anonymous.

I decided to do something about the lack of standards used in local restaurant reviews. To tell the truth about Dallas restaurants, by giving an honest appraisal of each establishment, from the point of view of someone walking in off the street, wanting a good meal for their money. Although some of my reviews are negative, I also identify those restaurants I feel still care about the diner.

The reviews page is now one of the most popular destinations of visitors to SENTENCE. I'm glad it is. Like any other business, many restaurants, although not all, will try to get away with offering as little value as possible. They certainly have the right to do that if they wish to, but diners, as consumers, also have the right to know which restaurants care about the food they serve, and which restaurants don't.

Once I started posting my reviews, I received a number of angry e-mails from some of the owners of the restaurants I panned. I was being 'pretentious', 'overly-critical', 'on a pedestal'. To all of them I have a very simple, honest reply. If you're going to offer a bad dining experience, I'm going to call it a bad dining experience. If you don't like that, improve what you do.

our world is a word


the problem with pronouns confusion over the intended antecedent; the abstractive nature of pronouns.
when 'like' is not likeable problems associated with removing the reader from the reality of the story.
keeping your sentences 'that-free' problem words: 'that', 'and', 'then', words of degree.


[to be added]

I've been writing fiction for quite a few years now, more than half my life, and as might be expected, during that time I've developed a number of ideas about fiction writing, both theory and practice.

Our World Is A Word brings together some of these ideas, which I hope may in some small way benefit other writers.

The Theory section focuses on different technical concerns, such as use of pronouns, word order in sentences, the effects of similes. I hope both the beginning and advanced writer find some use in my theories. It may be dry reading for anyone else.

The Practice section discusses specific issues associated with being a writer, such as getting organized, self-doubt, writing a novel.

Additional articles will be added over time.

Our World Is A Word is not meant to be a comprehensive manual on how to write fiction. There are plenty of those out there already. Think of Our World Is A Word instead as a supplement to the manuals.

To assist in explaining my ideas in the Theory section, I've created a number of nonsense sentences. These sentences are meant only to illustrate the discussion at hand, and should not be taken as examples of well-written sentences, which they are not.

Finally, although I propose, in the Theory section, a number of rules I believe will improve any writer's fiction, I am certain it would not be difficult to find an embarrassment of instances in my own writings where I myself have broken my own rules, sometimes deliberately, but most often absent-mindedly.