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Lunchtime

They talk during lunch. Sometimes the conversation flows freely, and sometimes long periods of silence occur. The silence is broken, sometimes after a time period that feels like minutes, rather than seconds. Oliver imagines how they all think, intensely, about a new topic to bring up, and when one of them is brave enough to break the silence, a new discussion can start.

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They mostly talk about facts. They do not talk about feelings. No one says “did you read that book, it was truly fantastic, it gave me a complete new picture of the Chinese culture.” Perhaps someone says “did you know that there is a golf player who can reach 300 meters using only his putter.” This may be followed by comments like “did he do it in a contest?” and “can he control his muscles or does he hit that hard all the time?” Someone may even joke, like “I was kidding, it was 300 yards, not 300 meters.”

Sometimes they talk about airplanes, or cars. They are not so interested in the design of cars, or if the cars are beautiful, or ugly. They are more interested in the internal, technical properties, of a car. Oliver remembers a discussion that ended with the phrase “it is called toe-in.” He remembers that it had to do with how the wheels are oriented, and toe-in meant that the wheels are oriented inwards. He imagined the wheels like the feet of a shy child, standing in front of an angry parent, and he did not hear when he was asked for his views on the matter.

He looks out of the window, and his mind wanders away. His colleagues continue their talking. Their discussion has shifted, and the current topic concerns methods for cleaning a roof from moss. They give lengthy descriptions of their favourite methods, involving manual work, performed while standing on tall and unsteady ladders, but also machine-assisted work, performed with the aid of high-pressure water hoses, aimed with precision at the unwanted weeds, and used with success thanks to their automatically generated, fluid-carried, force.

Oliver sees the grey clouds, and he remembers the start of the semester, in the midst of August, when the sun was shining and he travelled to work on his newly acquired bicycle. He continued using his bicycle until the beginning of November, and his goal was to use it also when he returned from Munich.

He remembers one August morning, a few days before the start of the fall semester. He was approaching the University building where his office is located, and his pace was slow and relaxing. He was travelling along the bike road, with its winding path through the campus lawns and the small groups of planted trees. He saw the students, marching, and he recognised what he had seen before, at the start of each fall semester.

It was the annual ceremonies and rituals for the new students of Engineering. He looked at the spectacle, and he tried to convince himself that it was interesting and meaningful, and that it gave the students a chance to meet new friends, and relax, before their demanding studies took off.

He did not participate in such ceremonies when he started his own studies. He found them ridiculous, and he wanted to concentrate on his school work, already from the first day. Some of his friends have reminded him, later in life, of his decision to put studies first, and to be very restrictive with social activities, and they have let him know that he perhaps made a bad choice.

“You see,” they said, “those years were the starting point for some really good networking.”

A grey, almost black, cloud enters his field of view. It moves slowly, eastwards, along the sky. Oliver wonders, silently, if some of his former student colleagues have utilised their networking experiences for the purpose of coordinated actions and confidential meetings, with the specific goal of unlawful extraction of data from National databases. He is confident that their academic competence, as well as their connections in different parts of the society, would be useful ingredients to ensure the success of such a task.

The tapping of a government-owned pen towards the wooden table alerts him. He turns, from the window, and looks towards his colleagues. They sit, around their lunch table, and some of them look directly at him. He sees the Department Administrator rise, and after a while he hears her voice.

“Oliver,” the Department Administrator says. “Dear Oliver, I should say.”

She stands, next to her seat, in one of the corners of the table. There is a light, from behind her, and Oliver realises that it is the winter sun. It has appeared, magically and without warning, and it blinds him a bit, so that the contours of her body, and her head, become a bit blurry.

He shifts his body, so that he can look at her more from the side. He straightens his back, and his view is more clear now. He lets his gaze move from the Department Administrator, towards some of his colleagues. He sees their faces, and some of them smile, slightly. They do not look in his direction. There are no eyes that meets his own, and he decides to focus his gaze on the Department Administrator.

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A helping hand to Evolution

What if we could single out the unproductive?

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What if we could find, and eliminate, the ones who do not fit in?

Even better, what if we could prevent them from entering our world?

Some people may want to ponder these questions.

Some people may also want to act on them, and do something about it.

An organisation, headed by its Leader in collaboration with the man known to them as the Treasurer, has been formed, and their goal is to create a better society. They will do it using DNA, and they will use DNA patterns for selecting the ones who are fit, and suitable, and have the talent for science and rational reasoning.

They will do it while our protagonist, Oliver Dalton, continues his ordinary life, with a permanent job at the University and with a temporary assignment at the Department of Education and Societal Health.

He has been hired, by the Department, and his task is to see patterns in DNA, using the national DNA database as his data set. His world interleaves with the world of the organisation and their Treasurer, and it affects Oliver and his family, in ways that they had not anticipated.

The organisation refines its plans while Oliver spends time in Munich, visiting his daughter and celebrating his own birthday. When the organisation finally decides how to carry out their mission, by shifting their focus from elimination to prevention, Oliver is busy with his work. When Oliver is informed that his daughter is in danger, and the police steps in, this is not an end, but rather a beginning, of an even more complex situation.

As the final plans are set into motion, the police and the Dalton family do what they can to track down the organisation, and charge them for a crime that will “eliminate whole generations, without harming, or killing, a single person.”

Set in Munich and in an unspecified Northern country, in our current society, with science and technology as driving forces and with art in its different forms as a sometimes debated complement, Prevention is a “fast-paced modern thriller. The plot is well executed and the writing is crisp and engaging. The character of Oliver Dalton is well drawn and relatable and the cast of supporting characters is equally realistic. Prevention probes into the field of DNA matches and profiling, and the various uses that gene matching can be put to.”

Updated backside text

Searching for structure

I am reading about structure. All stories have that, they say. All good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

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There should be three acts. I have learned that, from books about heroes and journeys and protagonists and antagonists.

And there should be conflict. All good stories are driven by conflict. The conflict centers around a dilemma. A dilemma is a problem that cannot be solved. It can only be resolved, or altered, or modified, by a change of perception.

There are no answers. There is only exploration, of the story that I have within me, and which by exploration can be let loose, and come alive on the page.

The blank page. Right there in front of me.

And there should be beats, and scenes, each with mandatory steps – inciting incident, complication, crisis question, climactic decision, and resolution.

It turns out that these steps apply on different levels. This sounds rather cool, I would say. They apply, in micro-scale on individual beats, and on a somewhat larger scale on scenes. And they also apply on acts, and for the whole – for the global story. Almost like a fractal.

I am trying to make sense of the above things. I have this goal of putting together a new book. And then one more. And then perhaps a series.

Why, one may ask?

I cannot answer that one clearly enough. Perhaps it is a test. To see if it can be done. Before it is too late.

These are my current, favourite references in this endeavour:

  • The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. I purchased this book in 2011, and I used it a bit in my previous project. This time I intend to follow it, and to go through the ninety day scheme that is presented in the book. I think it is a good way to make sense of the structure questions, while still holding it loosely enough so that it does not feel artificial and constructed.
  • The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. Here I learn about the structure, and the steps mentioned above, and a lot more. There is also a running example, where the author applies the Story Grid to The Silence of the Lambs. The book is very well written, and very instructive.
  • From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler. This book is the opposite of structure. It may help you to make a story come alive, and to make the reader feel something, and not just be informed. I have written about this book also in another post.

A history of words

For 1107 days, producing an average of 145 words per day, it looks like this if you make a graph.

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The graph shows one bar for each work shift, placed at the date when the work shift took place. The length of each bar corresponds to the total number of words in the book, at that date.

We see from the graph that there are periods of productivity, and periods where the pace is slower.

Referring to the labels in the graph, here are some milestones

  • A – March 2012. This was the start, however not from zero. My input data was 57875 words produced during NaNoWrimo 2011.
  • B – Summer 2012. Vacation time from day job, and deciding to do some work. This blog was rather new, and I wrote about giving it a try, and about the theme of the book.
  • C – Summer 2013. The next summer, and I am not done. Time to speed up. I read From where you Dream by Robert Olen Butler, and it was a game-changer. I wrote this post about Hypnopompia, and I became a little bit more convinced that I would make it to the end. We see that the productivity goes up (more words per day, and less days between each work shift). Looking forward, we see that this will happen also the next summer.
  • D – January 2014. Added this is a work of fiction, and a publishing note referring to the year 2014 (it was later changed to 2015). Started using Scrivener for the writing (before this date, I used Emacs with org mode).
  • E – February 2015. Decided to use Bookbaby (I purchased e-book production and Cover design), and aiming for the release. Starting the final edit, together with my first reader (who, like for Jan Guillou, happens to be my wife). Here I used docx-format for the book, since that was the format to be used for the submission, and Kindle Notes for the editing markings. We saved some rainforest and did it using phones, tablets, and computers. In total, there were over three thousand markings – small but significant changes! (In retrospect, this final editing was very well worth the effort).

Here are some conclusions

  • Every day without writing pushes your release date forward. Your book has a certain amount of words – even if you beforehand do not know how many – and every day you don’t write, the release day is postponed by one day. See this picture, which shows the number of words per day, and this picture, which shows the number of days without writing between working shifts – and you will see the effect more clearly.
  • Sometimes it helps to think that you are closer to the end than what you really are (a post published January 2013).
  • Books about writing can help – they did, surely, for me. But beware – count the number of blogs about blogging and the number of writers writing about writing, and select carefully which ones you want to spend time on.
  • Copyediting is painful but productive.
  • Selling and marketing needs their fair share of work. For me Joanna Penn has been a great source of inspiration. And of course, also here you need to Do the Work.

So, even if writing it was hard (well, at least it took time, but it was a lot of fun), I hope that reading it would be less cumbersome.

Finding those who are not fit

What if we could find them? – the ones who are not fit

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and then, when we know who they are, we could take action …

Oliver Dalton’s job is to see patterns in DNA. His government has hired him, on a temporary contract, and his task is to analyse data from the National DNA database. The purpose, his government says, is to find persons who are genetically fit for jobs in science and technology. Such persons are very much wanted, and we do not consider it morally wrong to use DNA profiling to find them.

Oliver discovers that there are others who seem to have the same idea. He sees traces of searches, and pattern matches, done by someone other than himself, and he considers reporting his findings to his manager. What if this is an intrusion, he wonders, into our national storage of our complete population’s DNA?

Unknowing to Oliver, he is correct in his assumption. An external, in fact international, organisation has adopted the government’s way of classifying humans. But in contrast to Oliver, they have decided to instead search for persons who are not fit for science and technology.

“And when we know who these persons are,” they reason, “we could of course take it one step further and seek them out. And since their contribution to real, measurable, advances of our society is as good as none, what would be wrong if we instead chose to eliminate them?”

The organisation refines its plans while Oliver spends time in Munich, visiting his daughter and celebrating his own birthday. His wife is with him, and they look forward to a week with museums and visits to their daughter’s school. She is a student of Drama, and like her brother Michael, who is an opera student, she has chosen the artistic way.

When the organisation finally decides how to carry out their mission, by shifting their focus from elimination to prevention, Oliver is busy with his work. When Oliver is informed that his daughter is in danger, and the police steps in, this is not an end, but rather a beginning, of an even more complex situation.

As the final plans are set into motion, the police and the Dalton family do what they can to track down the organisation. Will they find out how, and where, and by which means of distribution, the organisation will reach their targets? And what will the eventual crime charge be? How can we charge for a crime that wants to “eliminate whole generations, without harming, or killing, a single person?”

And will the Dalton family itself, with its artistic traits, be selected as a target?

(first stab at backside text – book ready! – starting to figure out how to publish)

Closing in

They say it is like driving in the dark …

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… writing, that is – you see only a small part of the world, and sometimes it is very hard to know how to find your way home.

But now I have given myself a deadline!

I must admit that I have been strongly influenced by a) my wife, and b) a new job, which starts beginning of February 2015.

But nevertheless, I can sense a small feeling of (premature) celebration.

It has been a long journey. It started with NaNoWriMo in 2011 (yes, 2011!), and it has involved publication of excerpts here on this blog. And of course, many hours with my computer.

The excerpts are now removed, since it was impossible to keep them up to date. The manuscript changes all the time, and when it is finished (yes, it will be), I might reconsider the idea of publishing snippets from the book also here.

I plan to use Bookbaby, and when it is done (the publication, that is), I will give myself some rewards.

I will read this expensive book, leaned back in a comfortable chair.

I might join the Story is a State of Mind course, by Sarah Selecky.

I will read more in these excellent writing books (yes, it is always more fun to read about it than doing it – Resistance, right!):

  • How Fiction Works, by James Wood – because of its language, and because of its use of that language to describe what people have written in books!
  • The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner – because it is interesting in an elitistic way
  • Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose – because it got me started

And I will return to my other book-project – Books with Views.

And I will post here more often – I promise.

Hypnopompia – is that even a word?

Yes it is! – I learned it from Winslow Eliot in her beautiful book Writing through the year.

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Winslow Eliot says that Hypnopompia is that marvelous in-between moment before you’re fully awake. She also mentions a corresponding state, called Hypnagogia, which occurs in the moments before you fall asleep.

It is said that in these states, where you are in a zone between sleep and being awake, there is possibility for increased creativity. This has been utilized by famous persons, in their artistic but also scientific endeavours, and as explained by Winslow Eliot, it has to do with how our brain works:

During hypnagogia, the normal activity of the left/logical side of your brain is inhibited, allowing imagery in your right/creative brain freedom to experience whatever it wants to, without trying to analyze itself.

The whole reasoning, which also reminds us of the interesting topic of the divided brain, suggests that we should take advantage of what is happening underneath – down in that dark chamber that we call the unconscious – if we want to produce great works of art.

It sounds a bit scary to me. If you ask Robert Olen Butler, it is, and should be, scary. He says, in the very fascinating book called From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction – which, by the way, I think, I found via a reference from Sarah Selecky – that virtually all inexperienced writers end up in their heads instead of the unconscious, and he also gives an explanation for why: the unconscious is simply scary as hell.

But there is hope, I think, and I was encouraged to continue writing when I read the book, which I also finished.

It contains many gems, including a discussion about what we could mean when we use the word art. Robert Olen Butler says that what we remember comes out as journalism, and what we forget goes into the compost of the imagination. And only when we let the memories decompose, down in that chamber we cannot access by force of our will, can we recompose them into new works of art.

The book also echoes many pieces of advice seen elsewhere, which tell us to write every day, and it tells us that

Once you are engaged in writing a piece of fiction from your unconscious, it is crucial that you write every day, because the nature of this place where you go is such that it is very difficult to find your way in.

and also that we are allowed to take one day off, occasionally, but beware, as Robert says: you take two days off and you’re on very thin ice.

The book also has some case studies. In these, we are allowed to see the writing of some of his students, and we are allowed to follow discussions on their writings. I found this very interesting, and there are references to Robert Olen Butler’s own works, in the form of shared pieces from his own writings – some that he is satisfied with, and some that he is not so proud of.

As a final remark about the book, I want to mention the chapter called Cinema of the mind. I found it to be an eye-opener, and there are some very interesting studies in there – one I especially remember is from Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemmingway – showing us how thinking (sorry – I meant letting your unconscious guide you) like a film-maker can help a lot when creating fiction.

So now I try to live as I learned. I have practised a short morning ritual of Hypnopompia-assisted writing for some weeks now. And yes, I can recommend it. It has also increased my word count, so someday I may even finish my writing project.

And in the meanwhile, of course, we should remember that the writing itself is a kind of self-inflicted journey, and that we might also learn some interesting things along the way.

Melrosian modifiers

I googled “avoiding adverbs”. Then I browsed through some of the results. The message was clear. Adverbs are evil, and shall be avoided at any cost.

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It is important that the story you tell comes through, so that the reader can understand it. Therefore, avoid unnecessary words. Often, adverbs are unnecessary.

And, of course, we have the Show, don’t tell paradigm, which if obeyed would make my prose better (perhaps). So I should not write

“I will kill you”, said the villain angrily.

Instead, I should write

“I will kill you”, said the villain, and killed his victim.

I reflected on these wise words of advice, and I also spent some time taking a peek into this entertaining book by one of the greatest. We learn there that The adverb is not your friend, and also that one should pay special attention to not use adverbs for dialogue attribution.

Also other forms of dialogue attribution should be handled with care. An example, again from On Writing, is

‘I’m the plumber,’ he said, with a flush

And please, do not substitute the plain ‘said’ for other words, chosen for the sake of making your point come through. So do not write

‘Put down the gun, Utterson!’, Jekyll grated.

These pieces of advice are very sound and they make sense to me. Checking my own endeavours, I find some adverbs here and there, but not too many as dialogue modifiers, so perhaps at least in that sense I do some things right?

But then I was confused. You see, I am reading this series of books that I find very good. There are four of them in my Kindle bundle, and there is now also a fifth book released.

The books, often referred to as the Patrick Melrose novels, portray a traumatic childhood, an evil father, a drug-abusing mother, and, as the years pass by, a drug-abusing child turned grown-up. But I did not find them any way near depressing. On the contrary, they are full of beautiful language, and large doses of both irony and humor.

So please meet Nicholas Pratt, in a relationship with the much younger and not at all so noble Bridget, when he, during a visit to the Melrose residence, observes Bridget acting in a not so proper way.

‘For God’s sake,’ snarled Nicholas, leaping over to her side.

Then, the drawing room door to the mansion opens, and out comes Yvette, the housemaid, carrying a tray of cakes and cups.

‘Ah, fantastique de vous revoir, Yvette,’ said Nicholas.
‘Bonjour, Monsieur.’
‘Bonjour,’ said Bridget prettily.
‘Bonjour, Madame,’ said Yvette stoutly, though she knew that Bridget was not married.

Then, as a result of Nicholas seeing David Melrose (Patrick’s father) in the doorway, the dialogue continues:

‘David!’, roared Nicholas over Yvette’s head. ‘Where have you been hiding?’

The next sentence, including also some body language, lets David explain, as

David waved his cigar at Nicholas. ‘Got lost in Surtees,’ he said, stepping through the doorway.

I find this style of writing at many places in the books, but I did not notice it until I read about adverbs and replacements for ‘said’. So in a sense, it did not bother me, and it did not hinder the flow in my reading.

Here is another example. It is from the second book, entitled Bad News, in which Patrick spends some time in New York. His father has recently passed away, and in this scene he visits the Key Club, a place to which one ‘comes in from the noise and the pollution of New York, and it’s quite suddenly like an English country house of a certain sort’.

He will meet some gentlemen. One is listening to the name of George (Watford I guess) and is a friend of Patrick’s father, and another one is called Ballantine Morgan. When Ballantine says hello to Patrick and directly afterwards mentions that he is very sorry to hear about Patrick’s father, and says ‘I didn’t know him personally, but from everything George tells me it sounds like he was a great English gentleman’, inner and outer dialogue follows, as

Jesus Christ, thought Patrick.
‘What have you been telling him?’ he asked George reproachfully.
‘Only what an exceptional man your father was.’
‘Yes, I’m pleased to say that he was exceptional,’ said Patrick. ‘I’ve never met anybody quite like him.’
‘He refused to compromise,’ drawled George. ‘What was it he used to say? “Nothing but the best, or go without.”‘
‘Always felt the same way myself,’ said Ballantine fatuously.
‘Would you like a drink?’ asked George.
‘I’ll have one of those Bullshots you spoke about so passionately this morning.’
‘Passionately,’ guffawed Ballantine.

I find that these modifiers – reproachfully, drawled, fatuously, guffawed – where some are adverbs and some are replacements for “said” – add a how-dimension to the story. Perhaps the reader is not only interested in what happens, but also very much in how it happens?

This thinking of what and how reminds me of an interesting book about the brain, a book where the two hemispheres of the brain are described, and discussed in very profound ways. The author, Ian McGilchrist, says that the right hemisphere helps us understand the “howness” of the world, whereas the left hemisphere is more what-centered. You might also like to look at this page, from the wonderful Brain pickings site, where the book is described, in an animated way (pun intended).

So perhaps an adverb here and there, and some well-thought-out replacements for said, combined with a dose of British irony, will make our stories more interesting?

Writing like a(nother) writer

It was one of those that made me hang in there, until the end, with very few intermissions.

And now I want to understand why.

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I bought it as an e-book January 6, 2012. I was led to it by Francine Prose – she had an excerpt from it in Reading Like a Writer, and I was drawn into the story already after a few sentences. It was thriller-like in suspense and tension, but at its heart it is a love story. It begins with Daniel and Hampton wandering around in the woods, in search of a missing girl.

Daniel and Hampton were paired by chance and against their wishes. They were not friends – Hampton did not particularly like Daniel, and Daniel had every reason to avoid being alone with Hampton.

Then, in one sentence

But Daniel’s girlfriend or partner or whatever he was supposed to call her, Kate, Kate went home to relieve the baby-sitter who was minding her daughter, and Hampton’s wife, there was no ambiguity here, his wife, Iris, with whom Daniel was fiercely in love, had gone home to look after their son.

we learn the theme of the story. It then continues, with its real beginning, now written in the present tense, as

Two years after he was kicked down the stairs of his apartment building in New York City, which shattered his wrist, chipped his front tooth, and, as he himself put it, broke his heart, Daniel Emerson is back in his hometown, driving Ruby, his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter, to her day care center, called My Little Wooden Shoe.

Perhaps it was this directness, where persons are talked about without being introduced, combined with the rhythm, where long sentences, with interestingly many commas, sometimes also with elements of repetition, a repetition that gave me, the reader, an additional, almost listening-to-music-like experience, that I liked most.

I did not have to spend time, as I do in many novels, by taking breaks where I stop the reading, for the sole purpose of trying to remember who is married to whom, and was it really important for me to remember where the old charming Aunt lived, and what was that name again, of the detective?

Then there is a new paragraph. We are still in the present tense, and following this first, short sentence, a sentence which really makes me stop and hold my breath for a moment, we learn more about Daniel’s relation to Kate’s daughter Ruby, and starting with worldly but still wonderful events he shares with Ruby, this second sentence, which is even longer than the previous, also long sentence, ends with a reflection on life itself, and its very meaning and purpose.

It’s fine with Daniel. He welcomes the chance to do fatherly things with the little girl, and those ten morning minutes with dear little four-year-old Ruby, with her deep soulful eyes, and the wondrous things she sees with them, and her deep soulful voice, and the precious though not entirely memorable things she says with it

and after a while, we approach the end with

it simply reminds you that even if God is dead, or never existed in the first place, there is, nevertheless, something tender at the center of creation, some meaning, some purpose and poetry.

It is not my purpose, with this post, to give away spoilers. But I wanted to take the chance to recommend the book – A ship made of paper by Scott Spencer – and at the same time submit a contribution to the weekly writing challenge – stylish imitation, a challenge I found very interesting, and perhaps, by some purpose or design, I was supposed to find it since by an act which to me seemed quite random, the nice folks at WordPress linked to my blog from the page where the contest was presented.

The feeling that something was intended for you I share also with Daniel, who contemplates like

Maybe he has drifted into the periphery of her life because somehow in the grand design of things – and this private, pulverizing love he feels makes him believe in grand designs – he is the man who must awaken her to her own beauty. Is there some casual, defused way he can say to her: Do you have any idea how lovely you are?

Then there’s Kate. And we learn that she, through dialogue, can express her suspicions regarding Daniel’s feelings for Iris in a rather subtle, but very calculating, way. Like if you dear reader, or one of my loved ones, would say

“Tell me something about your novel, I have seen you sitting there, in your office, in the evenings, typing away on your computer keyboard.”

and I would say that

“Well I do my regular work, but no, I have not started any novel-writing, but I have thought about it, perhaps later, when I am retired.”

but then you still pursue, and you are determined to make me reveal my secret passion, and being both jealous and worried that I might spend more and more time in this solitude, where you are not allowed to take part, you continue, and it gets sharper and sharper.

“You do like them, don’t you? she asks. A surviving bit of her old southern accent streches the “i” in “like”.

“I don’t really know him.”

“Do you like her?”

“Iris?”

She gives him a look. Of course Iris, who else are they talking about?

She, Kate, then arranges for them to meet Iris and Hampton at a restaurant, and the dialogue at that restaurant, also replayed in Francine Prose’s book, gives me a very direct and also a bit saddening view of our human nature, showing its more dark and cynical sides.

As the novel continues, we follow Daniel and his love for Iris, but we also follow several parallel stories, setting the relationship drama in its place in society. It is about race too, I did not say that before, but you will see that it is a significant element in the book, and there are also repeated references to a real high-profile court case, represented in the novel by Kate writing about the O.J Simpson trial.

And there is bad weather. You will meet storms and snow, causing electricity outage and blocked roads

The electricity cuts out for about the time of a long blink, the world disappears, then shakes itself back into existence

and sometimes these natural causes play their part as puppeteers for the love-seeking characters in the book. And even if not everyone says it,

“I love you”, Daniel says in the darkness

How the %&*# can I find my voice?

They say I have to have a voice.

A voice when I am writing, that is. A voice that makes my writing instantly recognizable as mine. But where is this voice? And do I have it? Perhaps I have no voice at all!

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I decided to practice. This was when I took my first steps in the preparations for writing a draft for a novel. I had previous experience in writing, that was clear. I had written research papers and even a thesis. So perhaps I had a scientific, tech-voice? If you want a sample of it, it may sound like this:

Fast motion along a predefined path is important in many robot applications, and requires utilization of the maximum allowable torque range. If the torque is at the limit, there is no margin to cope with disturbances or modeling errors, which may result in deviation from the path. A path velocity controller for modification of the velocity along the path when the torques saturate can improve path tracking. The path velocity controller acts as an outer feedback loop outside the ordinary robot controller, and modifies a nominal velocity profile, computed by minimum time optimization using available methods.

But now I should do fiction. What was meant by that? That I could, or perhaps should, make things up? That was sort of unfamiliar, at least if I wanted to gain some experience from my previous writings.

They say that authors blend in their own life in their stories. I had certainly heard of that. And I had also heard of angry relatives suing authors for making too many private things very public. So here one might need to tread softly, to avoid breaking hearts and making people upset. And it would also be important to show some dignity towards people who know me, and still want to know me, even after I have written the book.

I read Alan Watt, and I really liked his suggestions of stream-of-consciousness writing. I started with capturing small scenes from my life, and then trying to reproduce them onto a piece of computer screen. Here is a lunch sample, where a bunch of work-oriented persons eat, in a Scandinavian setting, doing their best to avoid the unspoken taboo of talking about work during lunch time:

They talk during lunch. Sometimes the conversation flows freely, and sometimes long periods of silence occur, broken after a while by some of the group using their creativity to come up with a new subject to talk about. They mostly talk about facts. They do not talk about feelings. No one says “did you read that book, it was truly fantastic, it gave me a complete new picture of the Chinese culture”. Perhaps someone says “did you know that there is a golf player who can reach 300 meters using only his putter”. This may be followed by a comment, like “did he do it in a contest?”, and perhaps a somewhat scientific observation in the style of “can he control his muscles or does he hit that hard all the time?”.

Since I always was a strange cross-breed between science guy and something more artistic (perhaps writing, perhaps rock and roll, perhaps opera – I still do not know), I tried to put some art into the writing. So here is Michael, character-to-be in Prevention – the book that I now prepare, leaving his rehearsal, only to be attacked and hit to the ground some minutes later:

Michael Dalton did not know, then, as he prepared himself for the rehearsals, that he was in for a new period of silence. This time it would not be determined by himself, as a result of a failed audition, but instead by forces outside of his own control. He did not know it when he sang his aria, or during the majestic sextet when he listened to the almost divine beauty of the Dove sono aria, and he did not know it when he said goodbye and see you tomorrow to his fellow actors and singers. Instead he felt happy and full of enthusiasm and life. He did not know, shortly thereafter when he mounted his bicycle for the short ride home, that this was the last rehearsal for him, at least for a long time to come.

He only knew it later in the night, when he woke up, stirred awake by a nurse at the nearby hospital, telling him to be quiet and yes you heard me right, you are not allowed to sing, neither to speak actually. You have to be very calm, and stay where you are, in this bed, at least for some days to come.

I found this a good way of practising, and I listened to the wise words of Austin Kleon, saying that no matter how hard you try to copy something or someone, you will always end up doing something original. I decided that this was a way of writing – take your experiences and write about them – however in a state of mind where you feel free to really invent things as you go along. And as a result, some new stuff, completely invented and not very true at all, may come out.

And when you read it afterwards, and revise it, you might even find it a bit interesting!

Of course you need structure too! I studied a bit about structure, for example by following a sequence of good videos in the Plot Whisperer series by Martha Alderson, and by reading a bit in Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting.

I also found the snowflake guy a.k.a Randy Ingermanson interesting, and I started to subscribe to his newsletter.

And piece by piece, mood by mood, some scenes and also some characters emerged.

I also decided on the beginning. There would be a prologue, somewhat secretive with some hidden symbolic meaning at the end. And then there would be the first scene, opened by Annie Dalton, daughter of the great Oliver Dalton, professor of System Studies, in a phone call indicating potential problems.

Her first words are simply

“Dad, I’m sorry, I can’t make it. I have this pain in my stomach. I think I need to stay at home tomorrow.”

The timing is not perfect, since this is the day before Oliver and his wife Elizabeth are leaving for Munich, where they will meet Annie and where they will celebrate Oliver’s birthday, and everything is already neatly planned, including a list of all museums that Oliver wants to see.

art museum

They are not yet aware that Annie plays a part in a bigger scheme, where powerful organizations do what it takes to shape the society, and its inhabitants, in a for them desirable direction. And the old tradition of Eugenics, pioneered in the early 1900s, is suddenly both alive and well.