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.
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.
The hotel was small but nice. It was located a few blocks off the main Railway station, a place which they approached using the well-functioning and precisely scheduled train system known as the S-Bahn.
They arrived after a short walk, entering the lobby through a narrow door with a sign telling them that Zimmers were still Frei. The check-in was carried out as in older times, requiring the dear guests to fill in a hand-written document with their names and home addresses, combined with an equally out-of-time documentation of their passport numbers.
Oliver found this part of the procedure interesting. Considering that almost all citizens of today have internationally valid ID cards, or internationally valid driving licenses – all stored in internationally synchronised databases – the whole procedure could have been done electronically.
They did as told, filling in their signatures in the designated boxes, and when the yellowish papers were safely stored behind the counter their keys were handed out. It was slightly before five o’clock when Oliver and Elizabeth walked the two flights of stairs, leading them to their floor. They turned right, as instructed, and after some minutes of searching they found their room, at the end of a somewhat dark, and not very clean, corridor.
Oliver did his customary routine. Always check the television. This is the first thing to do when you enter a new hotel room. What channels are there? Are there any English-speaking channels? No, in this case. Are there any movie channels? Yes. Are all movies dubbed? Also Yes. Oliver found this fascinating, this culture of dubbing films. He wondered why country after country still chose to use it, and he found it even more fascinating that it was used for almost all foreign movies. They simply replaced the original voices by the voices of some, perhaps famous in their own way, native speakers, and subtitles were completely out of the question.
He managed to find a channel with news, spoken in a clear and not too fast German. Having covered the main national events of the day, the news channel did some reporting also from other countries. It was a bit surprising, but the reporting he now witnessed came from his own country. The news reporter mentioned the new party, and the results it had achieved in the polls up till now. Thinking of new parties, with new agendas promising bright new futures, and being where he was at this very moment, gave Oliver a certain sense of awareness. He had heard it from Elizabeth’s father, but also from his parents and teachers, and he had been told that “It happened there, and it can happen also here.”
They had decided to spend the next day, the first full day in their scheduled week, by visiting some museums. This plan was now to be reconsidered. Their daughter was not well, and it was not clear if she would join them or not.
“We should go and see her,” Oliver said. “Let’s buy some German pastry, and perhaps some wine. I saw a Konditorei just outside.”
His proposal was met, not with enthusiasm, but it was nevertheless accepted. They bought a large piece of Sacher cake, and together with a bottle of mineral water and a small bottle of red wine, they entered a taxi.
“Lehrerstrasse Ein-und-Dreissig,” Oliver said, and smiled towards the taxi driver.
“All right,” the taxi driver said, and pulled out from the curb. He took them to their destination, and after having explained to Oliver, in well-rehearsed English, that he did not accept credit cards, he received his amount, and a tip, all in recently acquired and unfolded Euro bills.
What if we could single out the unproductive?
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
For 1107 days, producing an average of 145 words per day, it looks like this if you make a graph.
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.
It started in August 2011
and it ended March 24, 2015.
I have been up in the air, thinking that it would be short and fast and not so much work.
I was wrong. It took some time – a lot of time actually – but it feels great to have reached the finishing line.
What’s up now, you might wonder?
Some marketing, I presume. I have put yet another needle in the large Internet haystack, and perhaps someone will find it, and perhaps someone will also find it a bit interesting, and a bit entertaining.
In any case, here is the link again, in case you want to give it a try:
Kudos to Bookbaby for their rapid and professional publishing process, and a big thanks to the giants on whose shoulders I do not stand, but at least I am climbing a bit upwards, I guess – and from whom I have taken a lot of inspiration, in writing as well as in fighting that big dark enemy that we sometimes call the Resistance.
What if we could find them? – the ones who are not fit
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)
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!
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.
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.