Philosophical Myopia

One of my favorite quotes comes from science fiction author Isaac Asimov in his masterpiece, Foundation: "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right." There is a blindness plaguing the world.

I think this theme is pertinent especially now. People are so bound in their own ideology and philosophical rigidity they can't see what is the right thing to do. Or worse, they don't do the right thing, just what they're told.

This seems be a theme in my writing. Certainly in Bucky. And it's haunting the political landscape. People are myopically caught in a point of view. People on the left can't emphasize with those on the right, and people on the right can't with the left. Those with nationalist views can't with globalists. Religious zeal is stringing people to one way of thinking.

Am I any better? Sometimes. Now and then the lawyer in me comes out and looks at the facts rather than make a principled stand. It takes a moment to breathe, stop, think about the validity of other points of view. Only then do I find I can come up with a solution, usually better and more innovative than my immediate reaction.

Immortality

There is something about having a publication in print rather than just in digital format that is an inherent need for many authors. I'm no exception. Nevertheless, must have some odd hangup. I published Bucky first only in digital, and wrestled for a couple years with putting it out as a paperback.

I have no logical excuse for not putting it out as a paperback. It's not like the old days where your choices for getting a book in print were to go the traditional route and get an agent and then maybe the agent is able to strike a deal with a publisher, or suffer upfront costs trying to publish and distribute a book yourself. I have no issue following the traditional route but I simply don't have the patience to try to get an agent and hope for a publishing deal. I certainly wouldn't mind the editing and marketing help though, as well as the broader distribution. Its just not right for me, right now.

The old self publishing route was filled with some shady characters, and it was rough getting your book distributed. If you were lucky you might get your book into Ingram or another distributor and then into bookstores.

That's not the case now. The costs are much lower to get a book published on demand. You still have to do a bit of work but the risks are far lower than in the past. The price for a paperback is still more expensive than digital - unfortunately there's no getting around that, but still the process has vastly improved from how books were published in the past.

So I'm boggled why I didn't get Bucky into paperback sooner. The market for those who read paperbacks is still quite large. And the process for getting a book into paperback isn't particularly onerous.

But - good news. The deed is done. Bucky will be available in paperback soon. Rejoice non-Kindle readers! I have to admit I look forward to seeing it on the shelf. Hopefully you will too.

Free Will

I dwell occasionally whether I have free will. But the more I've thought about it over the years, the less I believe I have it. It's dogma we have it, but I've come to reject it. I suppose that makes me a determinist. I know I won't be able to satisfactorily resolve the issue whether we have free will for myself, let alone someone else, and I don't think I have a coherent argument or philosophy. But I'll give it a shot.

For me, the issue lies around physics. I'll posit we're all made of just energy, matter, and space. These move and interact according to the laws of physics, not of their own accord. Whether they obey rules set up by a creator or that's just how they are, well, that's an argument for another day. Some say the odd, strange and random interactions of small particles are impossible to predict so we don't have actually have predictable laws of physics, so these are just "so called" laws. Yet, they are obeying laws, just that some particles move randomly. Randomness is governed by statistics. Particles are predictably unpredictable. In other words, God plays dice.

But lets talk about this thing that would drive free will. Is it some random thing, when you drill down deep? Or do I have to assume something ineffible is controlling my actions? If it is some random thing, it's not really in control. And if it's something else - is it matter, energy, or space? This controlling thing I would think would be what most people would call "the soul." Or you could call it the puppet master.

Maybe this "soul" would not obey the laws of physics.

Or maybe the soul is  the laws of physics, and narrowing that down, the soul could just be mathematical rules, as physics is simply mathematics.

Well, this is all very good, but what does it matter? I suppose for some people, if they believed they had no free will, it would send them into a massive depression with bouts of nihilism. After all, if we're just behaving according to the laws of physics (or we are the laws of physics) , what's the point? There may be no point.

But to be, to get by, and to function as a society, we have to believe we have free will. It would be a rapid descent into anarchy and despotism otherwise. Towards anarchy, as people would believe what's the point of it all, right? And to despotism, because things are predestined, and "blessed are the chosen." Those with the biggest guns and most money will most likely be the chosen.

We might have no choice, but perhaps there is something inherent in the laws of physics that lets us believe we have a choice. What is the fundamental choice even a bacterium has? Or thinks it has? Survive or die. That's the programming, coded even into a bacterium. It's the first choice, but is it really a choice? It's no choice. Everything else stems from that.

Enough incoherent ramblings. I'm sure there are enough holes in my arguments that a three-year old can see through them. And it's rough jelling an argument on a bouncy train car.

But it's not my fault, it's just the laws of physics.

Making Gravlax / Lox (or being a cheap bastard)

         One problem I have is no matter how much I try to economize, someone in the family will end up finding unique ways of making my efforts futile. My wife is no exception, and if anything, the worst culprit. What drove this point home for me was when I thought I was going to enjoy some lox. You would figure I would have been able to enjoy a little of the lox I purchased a couple weeks ago from Costco. That should be a bargain, right, and there should be enough of it with what you usually get from that purveyor of bulkitude. I surely would have been able to delicately and judiciously drape the pink translucent flesh on a Lender’s bagel with cream cheese.

         For those who are about to kvetch about my choice in bagels, I view this, as do my co-workers, as a device to deliver cream cheese & lox, not as an end in itself. Even if I scored a good one from the local bagel place, by the time I got to eat it, it would just be a ball of gluten, rather than something with a lightly crispy crust with tender innards. And yes, I am part Swedish, but due to a Rye - among countless other things - allergy in the house, Pumpernickel is verboten here.

         Anyhow, by the time I got to the lox, just a square is left. What am I to do with that? Let it dry and make a festive eye patch for the kids latest arts & crafts project?

         So one day last week I saw Salmon filets at Costco, and thought, Why can’t I make lox? Ok I can’t smoke the stuff, but I can make gravlax. I’m not a foodie, and don’t get too uptight that it’s not “traditional” lox, in that its not smoked. And no one seems to have a clear definition of what lox really is anyway. Other than the people in New York. They know and will be the arbiters and will tell you so. But they don't know what they're talking about either. And I say that in a loving way.

       It doesn't matter. The last time I tried to smoke something (Mackerel) it just ended up cooked  so I would jump over that portion of the program.

         Three pounds of salmon was roughly $30. I’d lose a little water weight in curing, but I supposed this wasn’t like making jerky (I successfully made beef jerky and highly recommend doing so especially if you have a bench freezer and like having high blood pressure.) Now, I was tempted to get the steelhead but I went traditional and the more expensive route with the Atlantic salmon. After all, its probably fortified with a diet that includes important minerals like mercury, which is needed to keep the mind sharp, and there’s nothing better for the Atlantic ecology than to keep invasive species like Atlantic salmon in check.

         But I also needed a couple other things. Dill, and a lot of it. I didn’t have any dried dill, despite seeming to have every herb jarred up in the closet for the past 10 years. (Note to law enforcement: I don’t have that one. Unfortunately.) But the farmer’s market has mountains of it, and it’s fresh for $1.00. That gives you enough to supply a Swedish restaurant for a week. At least that’s what I imagine, I’ve never been to a Swedish restaurant, nor have I ever seen one. I don’t think they exist, nor does Marcus Samuelsson exist. He doesn't exist at my price point anyway.

         Also needed kosher salt. Apparently regular iodized salt will make the fish too salty and turn the fish brown. Rock salt would have been best. I think that’s for roads, so ... meh.

         I was following a recipe off the Internet, and not from the two Scandinavian cookbooks I have: Andreas Viestad’s “Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking” or Nilsson’s encyclopedic “Nordic Cookbook.” (Both are good reading in themselves.) When you’re on the spot, you can now just reach for the closest resource, which is usually a smartphone, and rather than call up a recipe that may be more coherent, edited, and tested.

         Nevertheless, the recipe I found seemed to be very well researched and the cook actually did variants based on different salts, so I had some confidence in it, unlike some where there were recipes that suddenly call for ingredients not listed in the recipe list, or disturbingly, when there are ingredients listed that aren’t used in the instructions at all. My wife runs into this problem constantly. She is prone to (a) get a recipe off Instagram (b) not find any reviews for it and (c) skip steps when following the recipe and wonder what went wrong. She has the heart, but I do the cooking.

         The first problem I faced was how to contain a 3 lb. slab of fish in the fridge. This is putting basketball player in coach seating. And there’s limited room in my fridge with half-eaten whats-its and whodats. So things had to be ... consolidated. Not sure how much went to the rubbish pile in honor of the experiment.

        Then there was the matter of actually creating a cure, containing that on the fish, and pressing down on the whole mass for a day or two. I only had a narrow shelf to work with after all the consolidation, but fortunately no idiot (I use that term in a loving way) would be likely to use that shelf at least. The rest of the family haphazardly uses space in the fridge, and they tend to miss that shelf, just dumping everything in the two main areas.

         The recipe said to use something that could contain liquid like a glass dish. Yeah. I had a few inches of height to work with. A cookie sheet was my instrument. Big enough to trap the fish but I hoped to heaven the water wouldn't blast out of every cell of the fish and jettison onto the sheet, causing the it to overflow and corrupting that refridgerator shelf, as well as anything underneath it with jus de poisson.

         Next I needed to cover the fish in plastic wrap. I unfurled an amount that seemed to be the length of the fish and then some, and then doubled it so I could cover the top of the fish as well.

         As for the cure, it was a lot of salt and the same weight of granulated sugar. But the dill was the difficult part. Coming so cheap, it had everything. Even dirt. I cleaved and pruned the dill off the stems until I had about a cup of it, but there were still blobs of mud. Which might have been acceptable in the Viking era, but, (and my family may be surprised to know) I have higher standards, and a rudimentary understanding of microbiology. (My five year old does not, and regularly eats things off the ground despite repeated chastisement.) So, rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse. And then rinse some more. I chiffonaded the dill to break it up, and then mixed it up with the salt & sugar.

         I also added some black pepper. I used one of those tins of McCormick’s preground black pepper. I’m lazy and don’t have a grinder.

         Hipster: “But Sven, fresh ground pepper is best.”

         SE: “Well you can come and grind it. I use my mortar and pestle to grind up the flea and tick pills I give to the dog.”

         Hipster: “But you won’t get the subtle aromas of citrus and spice that only a newly ground peppercorn can provide.”

         SE: “I’ll put some cayenne in Orange Fanta.”

         Hipster: “You’re just an insolent heathen with no taste, and a lack of understanding of the tradition and authenticity that a recipe drafted by a well-trained chef can provide.”

         SE: “Yes. Now go back to drinking your Caramel Almond Milk Macchiatto or whatever the hell that is.”

         When I mixed the dill and the salt & sugar, it reminded me of Christmas. The dill poked through the snow of salt and sugar and looked like a miniature forest. The grains of pepper (often annoyingly clumped up) look like bits of soil, giving it a bit of an earthy look. At first, I thought I inadequately cleaned the dill; it really did look like soil. This had to be one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in meal preparation, kind of like a bit of Christmas in July. When I showed it to my daughter, she was non-plussed.

         But it was time to throw down. I managed to dump half the mix in the shape of the fish on the plastic wrap. About 90% accurate. Good enough. Then I had to manipulate this slimy pink almost gelatinous flesh mass on top of it just right, without it landing on the floor or making a hash of the tray. I achieved this using my 18 Dexterity. I scattered other half of the cure on top of the fish, covering it gently, all the while not playing with it like it was a sandbox.

         The problem now was covering the fish in its entirety with plastic wrap. The bottom was done, but the top needed to be covered as well. In the best of times my wrapping ability is weak. My wife has an even worse time of it, and knowing this is her Achilles heel, spends $5.00 on a gift bag for a $15.00 gift, or in perhaps a moment of financial clarity, tells me to wrap it.

         I tried folding over the rest of the plastic wrap over the fish. It is well documented that plastic wrap has its own volition.  Impregnated in every square inch of plastic wrap are neuronic stem cells from adolescents so the plastic wrap will contort and fold upon itself, and not behave the way you want. But after multiple horizontal and vertical passes with the wrap, it was perfect. That is, it looked like a mess.

         Next, I placed another cookie sheet on top of the now smothered fish. The idea is to press down on the fish and force liquid out with the salt and sugar being the catalyst for an osmotic reaction, and then the combined relative dryness and salinity of the fish makes it less habitable for more unpleasant type microbes to survive. Or something like that. I didn’t think that was enough weight, but didn’t have anything in the kitchen that thin and heavy to press down. I needed something else that met these criteria and wasn’t often used.

         I had it! If you were thinking of my work laptop, that would be an excellent choice, but I haven’t received my pink slip yet. I’m working on it. Just one more inappropriate sexual or racial remark should do it folks!

        Rather, my instinctive “horrible/bad dad” gene activated, and I picked something the kids should, but don’t use, is rather heavy for its size, and they wouldn’t lose any sleep over if it ended up smelling like fish. Yes, it’s the “Macmillan First Dictionary.” Beautiful, thick paper. Good definitions for growing minds with pictures to help clarify the meaning. The most use it will likely see in this era of iPads is to press fluid out of fish. That went on top of the second cookie sheet and into the fridge.

         Twelve hours later I checked on it. A viscous fluid expressed on the bottom cookie sheet. This was ectoplasm from the fish, and repeating an exorcism chant, I drained it carefully into a silver chalice crafted by Abyssinian monks. This precious fluid will be sent to the movie studios to be used on “Ghostbusters: Revenge of the Fish.”

         Flipped the salmon. Went to sleep.

         In the morning it was time for the unveiling. But another draining first. You’ll be glad to know the dictionary survived and dies not smell like anything other than an unused book.

         I scraped the cure off the fish and gave it a gentle rinse. A little dill still stuck to it. I had my wife pat the thing dry with some paper towels and placed it on another unmanageable piece of wrap. My wife found my plastic wrap wrangling a source of amusement.

         Now the fish resembled more a tongue than fish. I wish I could have harassed the kids with it. But  I imagined I’d end up like Marlon Brando’s character in the Godfather, but croaking in the living room instead of a beautiful orchard, and my kids last memory of me would be with  a giant piece of salmon sticking out of my mouth rather than an orange slice. And that's undignified. The best way would be with a maraschino cherry in each ear, but that may be debatable.

         Once again, the salmon had to rest in the fridge to let the remaining salt soak deeper into the flesh, so the salt distribution was more even. At least this process wasn’t like cooking something that smells wonderful over a long period of time, like Appalachian Baked Beans in a crockpot. That's torture where you have to wait and wait, and no you can’t open the lid, just keep waiting and smelling. With the gravlax, all you have to do with this is flip it a few times and drain some disturbing fluid. But it doesn’t smell like much other than a waft of dill. Bonus, the kids upon seeing it are not terribly likely to mess with it in the fridge.

         Finally, it was time to slice. I have a fileting knife that my wife decides on occasion to cut bread with it (ignoring the serrated knife), or to just use it as a steak knife. That needed to be sharpened. The outside of the fish was a little bit leathery, but once I cut the fish on a long bias, there was just a micron of this tougher material. The rest was orange stained glass with bands of white stripes. At least it looked right. I sliced the fish into thirds and froze two-thirds of it. That’s what it said I could do online and the Internet is 100% accurate, just like a claim from the White House.

         The taste test came after I thinly sliced the remaining third.

         Dead on.

         The difference between this and store bought was a more pronounced but gentle dill flavor which I find totally lacking from store bought. But for me it was cheap bagel and cream cheese time. (No mustard sauce, yes, my kids are allergic to mustard. No, it’s not made up, and you do not want to see the allergic reaction when the kids have it, this is what keeps parents up at night. And yes not having these ingredients around is torture.)

         So now I have lox (quibble with me later over the terminology, smoked fish heads. I say that in a loving way, just like I do with any other insult) at about the price I’d pay for decent deli ham. And I’d need to get to that price; my wife made a wrap for lunch with the gravlax without a second thought. We’ve gone through about 3/4 of that first cut in just one day.

        I’ll probably try to secrete one of the other cuts, but somehow my wife finds my hiding spots. If I parked it behind one of her salads she wouldn’t notice. That often goes untouched for weeks but money is continuously spent on these green wastes. I think it’s just the camouflage I think I’ll need.

         

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.

-Sven

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.