I love this post from Amy Writes…

In Praise of Deadlines, Accountability and Encouragement (via The Parking Lot Confessional)

I love it because it’s true, because I couldn’t have said it better and because it’s hard, sometimes really hard, to hold yourself to your own goals. Myself, I wish I had more accountability. Truth be told, that’s how I ended up trolling the PLC blog all the time. I should probably seek out some writers right here where I live, but I haven’t the foggiest idea where to look. (I suppose I could just walk up to everyone I see at Starbucks with a laptop. Those are serious writers, right? And yes, I sometimes write at Starbucks. Shut up.)

Point is, accountability is key, as is sticking to your goals. Which can be hard. Take tonight, for example. I’m firmly in the grip of writer’s block and not working on the book I really should be working on. I’m writing, yes, and doing things associated, at least marginally, with writing, but I’m not doing what I set out to do. No 2,000 words toward a completed novel tonight and that’s my standard minimum for a writing session.

And now I’m rambling.

Read Amy’s post. It’s sage advice. And please, don’t just walk up to me when I’m writing at Starbucks. Just don’t.

For the last week, since my first viewing of Inception, my conversations with friends and co-workers have invariably included the following interchange:

“Have you seen Inception yet?”

If the answer the that question was yes, much discussion, admiration and speculation ensued. If the answer to that question was no, they got the following response:

“Okay, then I’m not talking to you about it. Get to a theater. See it. And avoid anyone who wants to tell you anything about it.”

My friends/co-workers nodded, stirring their coffee, and chuckled. I solemnly stared them down and asked, “Seriously, what are you still doing here? Go. To a theater. Now.”

This created a few awkward situations, but I made my point.

I can’t write what I would like to about this film. Not yet, anyway. I can’t because I’m not going to put spoiler alert warnings all over this post and I refuse to try to tell you about it without telling you about it. I’ll only say three things about Inception at this time:

1. I loved it.

2. It is easily the most original film since the Matrix, which was pretty damn original.

3. It was more fun to see the second time than it was the first.

I highly recommend it.

Someone over at Entertainment Weekly‘s book blog, Shelf Life, has suggested that Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy wasn’t the self-proclaimed feminist he thought himself to be.

The logic goes like this, and I quote: “Larsson seems to want it both ways: to condemn such savagery [as descriptive rape scenes, for example,] while simultaneously exploiting it in graphic detail for titillating storytelling purposes.”

So, because he doesn’t pull punches in describing the violence and brutality committed against his female characters, he must be enjoying it a little too much? Is that it? Or he’s a sellout because he’s willing to go to dark places, painting these horrific pictures for his readers when his true agenda is just to sell more books by exploiting his female cast?

That, I suggest, is a stretch.

I’ve just recently finished this series of books. I loved them. And I will agree that there are scenes that are difficult to read because it’s true that Larsson describes some pretty dark shit. I would like to offer a different interpretation, however, of his motives: perhaps he just understood what makes a villain a villain.

You can’t very well convince your readers that the bad guy is truly evil if you don’t allow them to see his evil ways in action. Larsson shows us the depth of the depravity of his villains, all of whom are male, by showing just how merciless they can be toward both men and women. Sure, he could have made the narrative more tame. But I would not have seethed with hatred toward them, and I’m supposed to. The title character sure as hell did.

By showing me the full extent of their treachery, I was led down the same emotional path his principal characters were led down. That, my friends, is just good story telling, not some cheap, exploitive stunt.

And it’s worth mentioning that his female characters are strong people. They fight back. And they win.

How, exactly, does that make him not-a-feminist?

“Police! Arrest this man!” Harold ran along the sidewalk careening back and forth as though the city were twisting beneath him.

The police officer at the corner looked up from his hot dog unsure of what to make of Harold. Fifty feet behind him a younger man, probably in his late forties, was also running toward the corner. The younger man was running in a straight line, but, nevertheless, Harold arrived first.

“He talks in maths,” Harold exclaimed. “He…he buzzes like a fridge! He’s like a detuned radio!”

The officer stared at Harold dumb-founded, his hot dog hanging in front of his mouth. “What’s this about?” he asked.

“Karma!” Harold exclaimed. “I’ve given all I can.”

The younger man joined Harold and the police officer on the corner. The cop was eying Harold suspiciously.

“I’m sorry,” the younger man said. “He’s my father. He’s not well. Alzheimer’s.” The younger man was panting. On his face was the unmistakable mark of worry mixed with fear.

Beside him Harold was muttering, “It’s not enough. I’ve given all I can, but we’re still on the payroll…”

The cop huffed and tossed what was left of his hot dog into a nearby garbage can. “I’m going to need to see some ID,” he said to the younger man.

The younger man fished his wallet out and handed over a driver’s license which the officer took to his cruiser, parked nearby at the curb. There he swiped the license and waited with the patience of a monk.

Three minutes later the cop rejoined Harold and the younger man on the sideway. “Jacob Anderson?”

The younger man nodded.

“There are no warrants for your arrest,” he said matter-of-factly, “but I’m going to have to insist that you escort your father home immediately. I don’t believe it’s wise to let him explore the city like this on his own.”

Jacob nodded.

“Her Hitler hairdo is making me feel ill,” Harold said under his breath.

“We—my mother and I—we don’t let him out of the house on his own, but she was taken to the hospital today. We were at the veteran’s parade. Dad was in it. She started feeling chest pains and I had to call an ambulance. I was supposed to meet dad at the end of the parade route, but I was late.”

“I see,” said the cop. He looked toward the trash can that had recently been fed what was left of his lunch.

Harold looked to Jacob and said solemnly, “For a minute there, I lost myself.” Jacob put a hand on his father’s shoulder and squeezed.

“Well, Mr. Anderson,” the cop said, “see to it that you don’t…misplace him again.”

Jacob clenched his jaw and, taking his father by the arm, said, “Thank you. I won’t.”

The cop nodded and turned away from them.

“This is what you get,” Harold said, “when you mess with us.”

Jacob gave his father a tired smile. “Let’s get you home, dad.”

The two of them turned and walked west, toward the hospital district.

*Written for the 500 Club and based quite loosely on “Karma Police” by Radiohead.

When no one was looking, I casually set the chicken on fire.

Wait. That’s a horrible way to start. Let me back up a bit.

Lindsey Gordon is, perhaps, the most appealing girl in all of Wichita Falls. Granted, that’s not saying much, but you’ll have to take my word for it. She’s quite remarkable.

I’ve known her for a couple of years, trading pseudo-wit at the metaphorical water cooler and stupidly thinking that this would somehow set me apart from every other male no doubt chomping at the bit to garner her attention. We work in a small office, Wichita Falls being a fairly small town, and I knew she had a limited number of options. However, pithy commentary about last night’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance didn’t seem to be winning her heart.

“You’re a moron,” my friend Morgan informed me. “If you want a date with her stop beating around the bush and ask her out. Seriously. I don’t want to hear another fucking word about her otherwise.”

Morgan doesn’t mince words.

So I asked Lindsey out. It was a cardiac arrest inducing event for me. I could literally feel my heart straining while I stood there at her desk trying to find the words and wondering what in God’s name to do with my hands. I pulled them out of my pockets, balled them into fists and blurted out, “Wanna go to dinner?”

I think the force of my words startled her.

But she’s an angel, that Lindsey, and she said yes. I suggested Saturday night, but she was planning to attend a family cookout that night. Thoughtful girl that she is, she suggested we have dinner with her family and then go to a movie.

“You agreed to dinner with her family?” Morgan asked. “You are an idiot, Kyle. An idiot.”

Initially I thought Morgan was being harsh, but then the reality of meeting her mother and father set in and I saw the hopeless stupidity of my ways.

I fumbled her mother’s name when we met, calling her “Titty” instead of “Kitty”. I pretended to be a Cowboys fan when her dad mentioned sports, and then he asked me about some player I’d never heard of and he knew I was bluffing. I spilled iced tea all over her little sister.

And when her father went back into the house to grab a beer, I decided to be helpful and light the charcoal. I suppose I could have been more careful with the lighter fluid. Some of it splashed on the chicken sitting to the side of the grill. Two matches and a strong breeze later and the chicken was flambe.

Not my best moment.

Mr. Gordon asked me to go inside. Mrs. Gordon, Kitty, clicked her tongue at me and suggested we just go pick up Chinese. Lindsey’s sister declared that she was no longer hungry and that she would just go over to a friend’s house.

But Lindsey volunteered us to go pick up the Chinese.

“That was pretty funny,” she said in the car. “Mi pollo esta en fuego.

“What?”

“It’s Spanish. It means, ‘My chicken is on fire.'”

“You speak Spanish?” I asked.

She laughed and set her hand on mine on the console.

“No, just that one sentence,” she said. “Thank God you gave me a reason to use it.”

I could hear Morgan in the back of my mind. “Don’t fuck things up with this girl, Kyle. Seriously.”

And, you know what? At the end of it all, the Chinese food wasn’t bad. By Wichita Falls standards.

*Written for the 500 Club.

I came across this article recently on gawker.com. It describes a literary contest “which awards the worst opening sentence of an imaginary novel every year.” An let me tell you, the winner is a hum-dinger. (You’ll have to actually click through the above links if you want to read it. I know, I know—the work I make you do just to read a bad sentence.)

A bad sentence can ruin whole paragraphs of otherwise passable prose. But really, that doesn’t happen often. Odds are, the next sentence isn’t going to be much better if your opening is that bad.

Good sentences, on the other hand, can be magical. My favorite written sentence of all time comes from Martin Millar’s novel, Milk, Sulphate, and Alby Starvation. It goes like this: “The Chinese man looked mysterious, and not just because he was Chinese.” That sentence is beautiful. Don’t see it? Think about all it says with so few words. There is something profound in it’s simplicity. Robust thought in conserved space. A few words, but a complete image.

That, my friends, is a well crafted sentence.

No, it’s not likely to give you chills. You aren’t going to gather co-workers around you tomorrow at work and make them sit and listen to you read this sentence. You won’t even take the time to cut-and-paste it into an email you quickly shoot out to your closest 500 friends. But if the goal of language is to communicate, that sentence does the trick and does it nicely.

I hope to write sentences like that. Too many writers try too hard to write lofty, flowing sentences. They pack in adverbs and semi-colons like a novice cook using spices. The result is something too rich to be enjoyed, too crowded to make sense. Simple beauty, however, will never lead you wrong.

Eh, what can I say? I thought things were going to calm down and they haven’t. But I don’t intend to stay silent for too much longer, especially with fresh writing prompts from the 500 Club sitting there just waiting for me to attack them. I’ll be back soon…

As sometimes happens, real life has gotten in the way of my writing time in the last couple of weeks. I strive for at least two solid chucks of time spent working on my novel each week (3-4 hours) and two blog posts. Last week, I got in the blog posts but only got one of my two “real” writing sessions.

And this week looks packed, too.

That said, this post (about me not posting) will have to do for tonight. I need to get some work done on the book. I don’t want my main character, who I have been bonding with nicely, thinking I’ve gone and forgotten her. She can be so fragile.

I hope to post again later this week, but if I don’t you know what I’m up to.

I tapped my pack of Lucky Strikes against the corner of the desk. I needed a drink, a stiff drink, but Frankie was still making like he had gone clean for good and the stash I normally kept in my desk was gone. The smokes would have to be enough.

I dug my lighter out of my coat pocket and flicked it with my left hand while sliding a cigarette out of the pack with my right. Flame to paper, and then relax.

That’s when there was a knock at the door.

I yelled, “We’re closed!” but the knock came again. It was soft but persistent, so I asked, “What the hell do you want at this hour?”

The door opened and she floated in.

This broad was trouble the moment I saw her. Headlights to bumber, she was a classic beauty. The kind you take notice of. The kind you don’t forget. Her hair was red and she glided into my office like she owned the joint.

That would have been enough to make her memorable, but there was more. The wings, for one. Fluttering just over her shoulders were two wings, semi-clear like a bug’s. She was flying–that was weird-ass fact number two. Three was even more bizarre: she couldn’t have been more than 8 inches tall.

“You the dick?” she asked.

I coughed like a kid trying to take his first drag. In my line of work I’ve seen a lot of strange shit, but I’ve learned not to let it affect me too much. Most people, seeing a small insect woman flying into a place of business, might get upset. I took another drag and then said very slowly, “Yeah, doll. I’m a PI. What is it you need?”

“I’m needin’ ya to be helping me. Ta find someone.”

I hadn’t heard the accent the first time she spoke but I caught it that time. Sounded Scottish.

“That’s what I do, honey. I find people. Your name?”

She fluttered to the edge of my desk and landed there, hands on her hips. She was small but shapely. It was the first time in my life that I wished I was smaller.

“I’m Sharon MacAlister. I need ta find the troll witch. And I’m needin’ some whisky, too, if ya can spare a thimble.”

I raised an eyebrow and smiled. I liked her spunk. “Sorry. Fresh out of booze. Occupation?”

“What d’ya mean?” she asked.

“What do you do, Ms MacAlister?” I asked.

“I’m a thistle fairy,” she said. “A thistle fairy who lost the damn MacBain ring ta the troll witch. I’m needin’ ya ta find her so I can get it back. The clan is gonna kill me if I don’t get it back!”

I nodded.

“I can pay ya,” she said. “Clan whisky if ya like, since you’re out. Or gold.”

“I’ll take the gold,” I said chuckling. “Hell, at this point I might even help you for free. You’re my first fairy.”

Sharon MacAlister looked up at me and huffed. “Don’t be gettin’ any ideas, longshanks. Just help me get the MacBain ring from that damn troll before the clan finds out.”

“Yeah sure, doll. I’ll help.”

Only 9:30 and it was already looking like an interesting night. A very interesting night.

*Written for the 500 Club in a respectful (though admittedly playfully) mashup of styles of Dashiell Hammett and Martin Millar.

According to this article over at Bad Science, being superstitious tends to positively affect performance.

Yeah, yeah—they conclude “…that superstition works, because it improves confidence, let’s you set higher goals, and encourages you to work harder.” As far as I’m concerned, that takes all the mystery (and all the fun) out of it. I’m content just knowing that keeping a lucky whatever on my person means I will be more successful.