Flash Fiction - That Old Oak Tree

    The shot fwipped over the President's head. I knew it would come to this. Demagogues. They don't pay me to have political beliefs but I knew this President, who didn't have any, would be the one most likely to have bullets fired at him. I pulled him down, and all six feet three inches thudded just as a shot blazed where he was standing.
    "Stay the hell down," I said.
    "I can take out these guys," the President said, reaching for his Beretta. 
    "Put that thing away, you'll get yourself killed." I pressed him onto the concrete and covered his body with mine. Crazy Philadelphia hothead. That attitude gets him elected but would get himself killed.
    "Don't move yet," I said. The crowd stampeded and two other Secret Service agents swarmed looking for threats.
    Another shot blasted the concrete near the President's feet.
    "Listen, we've got to get out of here. Are you ready to run?" The President nodded. "Run behind that old Oak tree. Now!"
    I pulled the President up and we sprinted. I tried to keep close to him, so I'd be more likely to take the hit. Unfortunately this one exercised quite a bit, so it was difficult to keep up with him at a full sprint. The fit Presidents were the worst.
    Another blast. Pressing his back against the Oak tree, the President held his arm. "Jesus, Bill, they got me. Well at least its just my left arm. You think I'm going to bleed out?"
    "Ah sir, I don't know. Wrap your belt around your upper arm, tight as you can. And stay behind the tree. Keep your arm above your head, Mr. President."
    I sent a message over the radio that we were behind the Oak, but my fellow agents were looking for the sniper. It looked like there were two assassins, but one of them was already killed from what I heard on the squawker.
    "Well at least there is a conspiracy to get you, Mr. President."
    "Freaking Republicans."
    "To be honest I think it's more likely your own party, sir."
    The President snorted. "Should've never balanced that budget."
    I raised my eyebrow. Balancing the budget took a huge amount of courage and political capital. But it pissed off people on both sides of the aisle. Only someone either politically naive or gutsy would do it. Not that I pay any attention to politics.
    A shot thudded into the other side of the tree. If they were smart they'd either run away, or position themselves for a better shot. I peeked around the tree to see a man running obliquely so he could maneuver besides us.
    "Shit. One's heading towards us."
    I pulled out my pistol, switching off the safety. "Move just a little toward the other the side of the tree. Not too far now."
    After rolling over, I fired off two rounds at the assassin, but missed. Then I heard a bang. It felt like hot wax burned into my chest. I gasped out. I tried to move closer to the President but I couldn't. So much for protecting the President.
    When I heard another crack in the air, I clenched my eyes. A millisecond later I heard a scream and a thud. I slowly opened my eyes. The President just looked like a drunk, homeless man who collapsed for the night in the park. I banged my head against the grass. 
    Total mission fail.
    "Did I get 'em, Bill?"
    I peered back at the Oak tree. The President slowly scampered up and against the Oak, and waved his Beretta at me.

Now Podcasting

Sven Ericsson is now podcasting! You can access the Sven Ericsson Podcast through iTunes, or enter this URL manually into your podcasting program: http://www.tetrabooks.net/podcast?format=rss. And of course you can just access it directly here.

Listen to commentary about writing, books, politics, and anything that pops in his mind. And you even get a free listen to Sven's narration of Bucky. Subscribe today and enjoy a bit of time with Sven.

How I Write

I’ve been asked how I’ve been able to complete a novel. To be blunt, the short answer is persistence. But there are some other strategies which have also helped:

(1)  Horribly, at first.

This is one of the lessons I took from “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit” by Lawrence Block. The thing is not to worry about writing a perfect first draft. If I sought perfection, I’d never be finished. It's better to just get it written. Like a cream sauce, a multitude of sins can be fixed by editing.

The upside with following this strategy is that you are actually writing. That’s what writers do. With an increased pace and output, improvement should follow, or so the theory goes. Learn by doing.

The downside is the massive amount of editing you may need to do to fix those sins. That's where the learnin' is. These may be fewer edits in later books, but initially there will be a lot of changes.

The important thing is to learn your own flaws in writing, and quickly. But accept that the first draft is going to be horrible.

(2)   Kind of on a schedule.

In theory it’s important to write on a schedule. Mine is such that I tend to write both before and after work. When I get a lump of time to write, I relish that and use it.

There is quite a bit of time that I waste – after the kids are down and before I go to bed. My intention is to use that time to write but I manage to zoom into TV. A lot of self-loathing comes from my use of this time.

(3)  In longhand, currently.

My actual method of writing has varied over the years. The method I currently use (and has proved to be the most useful) is to write longhand. There’s something kinesthetic about it – linking hand to brain. There’s a virtuous feedback loop going on there.

There are fewer distractions writing longhand versus writing with a computer or a tablet (or whatever the whippersnappers are using these days: retinal implants?) I don’t find myself flitting about the web, twitter, or my emails.

But, yup, you guessed it, there are drawbacks. In the best of times my handwriting is not far off that of kindergartener scratch. I don’t know how exactly I managed to read through voluminous amounts of notes through law school. So, reading my first draft, typically written while on a somewhat bumpy train, often with someone sitting next to me, can be a challenge.

The major downside is that it requires an extra step of transcription into a word processor; that can be time consuming and onerous. It’s ameliorated by editing while I’m translating Ericssonese to English, so there are fewer line edits once the words are in the computer.

(4)  Low on description.

This reflects my personality and my background. Anyone who knows me knows I’m chock full of colorful descriptions and have an exuberant personality.

Please read the previous sentence with bucket of sarcasm.

Except for my experience when I was a journalist, my writing historically was not full of color. Programmers are not known for filling their code with commentary. If I were a trial lawyer (I’ve only had one trial, and it was not a jury trial), I might have a little more color in my legal writing.

You might say, “You’re selling me.” Hear me out. In a thriller like Bucky, the focus was on action, and propelling the story forward. Most of the flavor comes as raw subject-verb-object sentences. Adjectives and adverbs tended to get in the way. Not that some description isn’t there, but it’s not the main thrust of the story.

Now, if I wrote fantasy or sci-fi (not something I haven’t ruled out in the future), I will have to bolster my descriptions. After all, full-bodied descriptions are inherent in describing other worlds. (Something like Samuel Delany’s "Babel-17" may be an exception, if my wormy memory is correct.)

For those of you that are fans, please know that the next novel is already underway and you can look forward to bolstered descriptions.

(5)   Semi-outlined.

A debate always seems to raging whether to outline or not. For me, the answer is clear that there has to be some sort of outline. Otherwise I end up off-track and find I end up with a story that I forget about. The graveyard of my desk is cluttered with discarded novels for this reason.

I have started stories (usually long suppressed in my subconscious and had to get out – the next novel is like this) without an outline, but in my old age I know now that I have to outline.

The real question for me is how much to outline. I don’t outline in full detail, and I definitely do not outline in full detail the characters. Maybe in my twilight years I’ll end up outlining them as well. I like to be surprised. Now and then this backfires and there’s holes in the plot or inconsistencies, but this tends to allow me a little of what the Zen call “beginner’s mind,” and keeps the writing fresh.

Let me know what you think and what are your tactics in the comments.


Everyone grab a bucky(ball)

After six years of waiting, Bucky: A Novel by Sven Ericsson has finally been published. It is a non-stop thriller available exclusively on the Amazon Kindle platform.

For those who don't know, Bucky is the story of a mathematician and ex-IDF agent who makes an earth-changing discovery (involving buckyballs - which is short for buckminsterfullerene, and is a fascinating molecule). When he doesn't divulge the discovery to the some rather unsavory folks, a global chase occurs.

Oh, some buildings get blown up, and there are guns, knives and even bigger guns. If you're interested in that sort of thing.

You can read a more detailed description of Bucky here, but you're much better off either purchasing it or reading a sample here.

We look forward to reading what you think of the novel. We plan for this to be an ongoing conversation, so stay tuned for more posts.