Thursday, December 31, 2015

Disappointing Sounds from Alanna-Marie Boudreau

I first discovered Alanna-Marie Boudreau's music more than a year ago.  Sadly, I've been increasingly disappointed with her more recent performances.  "I'll Be Your Woman" from her Hints & Guesses album was a track I could overlook--given the fresh originality of her first album, Hands in the Land.  Two more recent performances, though, are also bringing a return of this sappy and sentimental crooning. 




In "O Come Let Us Adore Him" from a collection: O Come Let Us Adore: A Christmas Collective, she turns a Christmas classic into something slow and about as celebratory as April 15th tax day.  Again, in her most recent release entitled "Simon (Petros)," she takes a soft approach to otherwise thought-provoking lyrics.  The sentimental--almost easy-listening--direction of her music is indeed a disappointment.  She could be a force to be reckoned with, if only each new song didn't come across as an echo of a past one.  Sadly, there's a problem with Catholic music.  Usually, the content of present-day Catholic music is not articulated well, and the music is hardly worth mentioning.  In Alanna's case, the lyrics are most often very good, but it feels like she's having difficulty finding her unique voice this year.  Here's hoping she does better in 2016!






Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sentimentality Awakens (A Review of Star Wars: Force Awakens)

I should preface this mini-review with a little disclosure. I'm a huge fan of the first two movies. They were real bright spots in my childhood. Sadly, though, none of the subsequent motion pictures has come close in matching the quality of the original--until now.  If my review seems too harsh, bear this context in mind.


I liked this motion picture quite a lot, and I especially thought Daisy Ridley's performance was a bright spot. She brought an authenticity and passion to the character that was refreshing. Still, there were too many heart-string pulls and hat tips to the original motion pictures that spawned this monster franchise.


Yes, Star Wars: Force Awakens was better than anything offered from George Lucas for a very long time--perhaps since Empire Strikes Back, but it could have been even stronger and tighter if more of the allusions to the first two movies had found themselves on the cutting room floor. A few hat tips and continuity references are great, but this one went just a little too far. For instance, there were even audio snippets of Death Star radio communications spliced into one scene in Force Awakens. This doesn't strengthen the current scene; it distracts from it. The tavern owner, Maz Kanata, was also too Disneyfied for my tastes: another distraction. A great movie, but it could have been awesome if it didn't convey the feeling, as others have first noted, that it was a motion picture created by committee.


Criticisms aside, this was a great family movie and a welcome relief from what passes for science fiction these days.  Daisy Ridley's new character really is helpful in bringing this movie up out of its sentimental tone (partially) and moving the narrative forward.  I only wish the strong casting choices had been paired with other good decision-making by George Lucas and J.J. Abrams.  








_________________________________________________________

Hey, are you looking for a short science fiction tale to help you face Star Wars withdrawal?  Check out Alcatraz Burning, a fresh release from Karl Bjorn Erickson (writer of this blog)!




Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Syrian Refugee Dilemma

     The Syrian refugee crisis is a heart-rending example of man's inhumanity to man.  The Middle East, no stranger to wickedness on a grand scale, is a house on fire.  While many of its victims are truly innocent, some are likely not.

     
NBC News ran an interesting segment recently focusing upon some of the heated rhetoric regarding this divisive issue. While hardly representative of objective, non-biased journalism, it's worth a watch. Our nation has a rich heritage of immigration, and no thinking, rational person would contend otherwise. As a Judeo-Christian country, our faith traditions were deeply influenced by a particular refugee named Abraham.

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (Hebrews 11:8-12)



     The question in the particular case of the Syrian refugee crisis, however, is a different one than we've faced in the past. There are serious questions as to our ability properly and thoroughly vet the individuals applying for asylum in the United States. One also is reminded of possible connections of Syrian refugees with the horrific attack in Paris. All answers are not known, and the remaining mysteries may never be solved. There are valid reasons for concern. A knowledgeable friend shared the following words, which I will quote in full.

The short term: Who’s who?



What to do about those terrorists/wannabe terrorists that pass themselves off as just another refugee trying to escape oppression and start a new life? Well, I do think the rather long period it takes now (18 months plus is what I’m reading?) to get vetted before being allowed into the U.S. works in our favor because it can filter out those who were not entirely committed, convinced by emotion alone. But how to filter out the truly committed? There is no litmus test during the security screening parts of the vetting.

So in my view what we’re truly considering is:
1. Will there be terrorists/those with terrorist ambitions who will try to get in through this process? 
I absolutely believe the answer is yes.
2. If the answer to 1 is yes, then will, at least, some of those actually get through the process and enter the U.S. in this way?
I have no reason to believe they would not. Does anyone? How much cooperation do you think we’re getting from the Govt(?) of Syria in doing criminal record searches? How much biometric data do you think we have on terrorist wannabes from Syria? As for intel I can’t say but as you might imagine there are many, many, many names of Syrians that sound/read exactly alike (and/or are Romanized differently for the same person!). You can’t just run these guys through an NCIC.
3. If the answer to 2 is yes, then we turn to the moral(?) question: Do we take this risk anyway? Are we as a people willing to take in thousands knowing/believing that at least a few likely have terrorist ambitions and know-how?

The long term: Disaffected, disconnected, unemployed, and unassimilated.

After the refugees are placed (“resettled”) in communities in the U.S., what will be their future? Most will have few skills, most won’t speak any English. What are the odds that most will assimilate into American culture and adopt American values? Will they be inclined to do so if they can’t begin to make a living in short order? And if not, what’s the likely result? Alienation, resentment, anger, listlessness? Will they then be tempted toward a more radical interpretation of their faith. (Most, of course, will be Muslim.) What kind of social support structures, job training programs, and so on, can we put in place in these communities to help keep that from happening? Can anything be done? What will be their affect on native, if you’ll forgive the term, population and norms—will they be displaced? (See, for example, communities such as that in Leeds, England.)

The longer term: Disaffected, disconnected youth looking for a cause.

The vast majority of the immigrant generation will almost certainly remain poor because that’s the nature of this type of immigration. How will that affect the next generation—those born here? Some or perhaps even many parents will have embraced their new country and recognize and appreciate the escape from their previous situation and the freedoms and potential opportunities here in America. Nevertheless, the combination of growing up poor and culturally different sometimes engenders resentment by the next generation not felt by the immigration generation. (I’m trying to avoid the ambiguous terms “first generation” and “second generation” because that can be interpreted differently.) And that can encourage them to seek out striking back or at least being vulnerable to those that would seek to convince them that they are actively discriminated against by the infidels, they have betrayed Islam, and should right themselves by committing to jihad. (See, for example, the Lackawanna Six here in the U.S.)


     I suggest that we've lost a degree of common sense these days, and that more than ever we're influenced by sound bites and pictures that pull on our heartstrings.  This matter requires deep thought and a careful, measured response.  Pacifism at all costs, like open borders, is a pathway to a nation's destruction (from both the inside and out).  A government's responsibility is to protect its people, and the peoples' responsibility is to be informed citizens.  Sadly, we're losing the battle on both fronts.  


“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”


Isaac Asimov




Monday, December 7, 2015

Tragic Time, Reflection on the Nature of Time in Oedipus, The King




Tragic Time, Reflections on the Nature of Time in Oedipus, The King


     The mysterious quality of time has been an area of personal fascination for years. After all, our understanding of time is not restricted to just how we use it. A culture’s view and concept of time is reflected within its arts and faith(s). Time is more than counting minutes or hours; it goes to the root of how we understand the world—past, present, and future. In my own essay from Catholic365.com, entitled “Parting the Veil of Eternity,” I introduced a discussion on faith and the elusive nature of time with the following words.

What is it that so fascinates us about time? If you’re old enough to remember watching the original Star Trek series on a black and white television, you’ve likely experienced that nagging sensation that time speeds up as you age. Whether this phenomenon has more to do with increasing age or busier schedules, I can’t say, but it certainly seems to be a common and shared human experience. I suggest that this feeling might be associated with that deposit of earthly experience we have stored up over the years. It’s difficult to articulate, but it’s almost as if we reach a tipping point where we have more time completed than to come, and the sense is that time is rushing by us more quickly as we speed downhill towards that unseen finish line. If something like this is indeed true, then, what do perceptions along these lines communicate about eternity: the eternal present? More important today, can it be said that there is a unique understanding or grasp of time evident within Catholic theology and tradition?...


When we pause to look at Sophocles’ Oedipus, The King we catch an insightful glimpse of what time meant to the Greeks. Several different dimensions of time are conveyed: the unchanging companion of fate (time and fate intertwined), finder of truth and true nature of character, and time is also seen as possessing a kind of elegant symmetry and mysterious purpose.

     As popularly known (and discussed within this National Public Radio commentary), Beethoven is said to have told an assistant that the opening movement of his fifth symphony represented fate knocking upon the door. As a lover of classical music, these words have helped me see this musical composition with fresh appreciation. There is a quality in this understanding of fate that is also helpful in understanding the nature of Oedipus. He is a character fighting to be his own man in a culture that did not put much faith in free will. He was endeavoring to fight the gods (particularly the will of Apollo), but the one fight you can’t win is destiny. If you examine the past points of Oedipus’ life in the light of his true destiny, you can’t help but draw the conclusion that his victory against the Sphinx terrorizing the people of Thebes was actually a personal defeat with regards to what the future had in store for him. Rather than look at Oedipus as a fool who is unable to reconcile himself with the truth, the reader should appreciate the character’s struggle against the future that lies in wait.

     With realization beginning to dawn, the anguish of Oedipus is abundantly clear when he asks “where is a man more miserable than I? More hated by the gods?” (Sophocles, 30) Despite the character’s general knowledge of his fate, however, he actively fights against it with every fiber of his being.

Oedipus has spent all his life dealing with his fate. He has, we learn, been told that he is fated to kill his father and marry his mother. And he has refused to accept that fate. He has spent much of his life moving around, so as to avoid his fate. In other words he has freely chosen, for reasons which we can surely understand and applaud, to construct a life in which what he has been told will happen will not happen. (Johnston, 11)

For the Greek audience, free will was eclipsed by fate or destiny. Time was the ultimate changing force, and nothing, except the gods, could withstand the transformative power of time. While this entropic force, however, wrecked havoc on most, some men were able to hold their ground—at least insofar as character traits are concerned.

     This brings us, then, to our second dimension of time as conveyed with this play: time as the finder of truth and character. Just as Bible passages such as 1 Peter 1:7 refer to the “refiners fire” with regards to hardship and trials endured by man, time is the ultimate refining force in terms of human beings and human institutions. Creon’s wise words to Oedipus follow.

Test what I have said. Go to the priestess / At Delphi, ask if I quoted her correctly. / And as for this other thing: if I am found / Guilty of treason with Teiresias, / Then sentence me to death! You have my word / It is a sentence I should cast my vote for-- / But not without evidence! / You do wrong. / When you take good men for bad, bad men for good. / A true friend thrown aside—why, life itself / Is not more precious! / In time you will know this well: / For time, and time alone, will show the just man, / Though scoundrels are discovered in a day. (Sophocles, 24)

     Read that last sentence again, because this dialogue captures the essence of time’s mystery to the Greeks—and to us today. Like a small stream will wear away rock over thousands of years, man’s true nature will be revealed—be it good or bad—with the passage of time; no mortal can shield himself from its power of discovery. As Jacqueline de Romilly eloquently puts it, “indeed, this destructive action of time, which is clearly shown by the verbs describing it…is the very mark of the human condition. Gods are not submitted to time.” (de Romilly, 94)

     The third dimension of time in Sophocles’ Oedipus, The King is more challenging to articulate than the preceding two. Perhaps it is best described with a reference to Greek architecture. Picture in your mind an example of an ancient Greek temple, for instance, and it will certainly include towering columns and a profound sense of symmetry and order. Indeed, an elegant kind of symmetry is evident in ancient Greek architecture; it’s all about order. Sophocles seems to convey the movement of time in a similar fashion with this work. If you examine the life of Oedipus prior to the period begun in the play, you note that his life began in Thebes, and the play also ends there. While not such an unusual circumstance for dramatic settings, it does lend to the sense of unity of the play. The irony of the character’s fight against destiny is also telling with regards to how Sophocles perceived the nature of time. Time may be the destroyer of mortals, but the nature of time itself appears to take the form of something ordered rather than random. Like Greek architecture, time in this work is similarly ordered and suggestive of an elegant purpose and structure.

All in all, Sophocles’ use of time in his narratives is designed to serve his general interest in the theme of mortals coming to terms with the vicissitudes of their lives and the ways in which the past encroaches on the present. (De Jong, 292)

     In conclusion, the tragedy of Oedipus highlights a man’s fight for free will against the force of destiny. Unlike we usually see time in the modern world, ancient Greeks had far less confidence in free will than the capricious nature of fate (as controlled by their fickle gods). Ultimately, man was slave to his fate, and this destiny was unalterable. The Judeo-Christian response would be to emphasize man’s responsibility for his own destiny; his personal choices determine and shape the course of his life. (This is not to say that God fails to know what our ultimate choices will be, but this knowing does not infringe upon the choices themselves. In fact, from the Catholic perspective, a view similar to what we see within this play would be termed heretical predestinarianism. Christians don’t believe that God chooses hell for anyone, but that people make this selection entirely themselves.) We can agree with Sophocles, however, regarding seeing time as the refining fire, revealing character as dross or pure gold. Likewise, most of use could agree that there is a certain kind of elegance or order to time. While this may be more visible to the astrophysicist than the English major, scientific thought infuses our culture thoroughly enough for most of us to have a perception along these lines. What is the importance of this work? Charles Segal offered the following.

The implications of Sophocles’ play make all such universalizing extrapolations possible. The Tyrannus remains a founding text in European culture. It is one of the most revealing documents of Western man’s determination to define self-knowledge in intellectual and rational terms, and one of the most powerful statements of the limitations of the enterprise. (Silk/Segal, 142)

I’d like to end this essay with a passage from Jacqueline de Romilly’s excellent and thoughtful work, Time in Greek Tragedy. It reminds us why time is such a critical component of the dramatic arts.

Time shows through change; and in that respect it is obvious that tragedy deals with time. Its subject matter is always one great event, which overthrows all that existed before: it means death, destruction, reversal of fortune; its strength rests on a contrast between before and after; and the deeper the contrast, the more tragic the event. (de Romilly, 5-6)


Works Cited


Erickson, Karl Bjorn. "Parting the Veil of Eternity." Catholic365. N.p., 14 Nov. 2014. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

Johnston, Ian. "Fate, Freedom, and the Tragic Experience: An Introductory Lecture on Sophocles's Oedipus the King." Vancouver Island University. Aug. 2004. Lecture.

Jong, Irene J. F. De., and Rene N├╝nlist. Time in Ancient Greek Literature. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Print.

"Predestinarianism." CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA:. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2015.

Romilly, Jacqueline De. Time in Greek Tragedy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1968. Print.

Silk, M. S. "Segal's Sophocles C. Segal: Sophocles' Tragic World: Divinity, Nature,Society. Pp. Xii 276. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. £25. ISBN: 0-674-82100-9." The Classical Review The Class. Rev. 47.02 (1997): 250-51. Web.

"Sophocles Oedipus Rex 1957." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. The Seagull Reader Plays. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: W. W. Norton, 2009. Print.




(MLA Works Cited indentation not used on blog.)



Sunday, December 6, 2015

Introducing Roland West by Theresa Linden!

I wanted to take a moment to introduce my friend's new book! (Additional information and image coming this afternoon.)


Book blurb: Despised by his older twin brothers, new to River Run High, friendless, and the subject of cruel rumors ... Roland West has a plan. He wants to get his tutor back and avoid high school by proving himself on his father's upcoming assignment in Italy. Before the trip and while his father is away, he must avoid falling victim to his brothers' schemes. To get free from his brothers' first trap, he ends up accepting the help of Peter Brandt, a kid from school who lives nearby. Not sure if he can trust Peter, he finds himself drawn to Peter’s inheritance, an old, mysterious, locked box. The secret of the inheritance may have the power to change the life of this loner.


Quote:

"Roland West, Loner, is one of those books I couldn't put down. Linden tells a delightful tale, weaving the supernatural with the ordinary in a way that left me breathless. You'll never doubt the Communion of Saints after reading this wonderful novel. I can't wait for the sequel."

~Susan Peek, author of A Soldier Surrenders


Author Bio:

Theresa Linden, an avid reader and writer since grade school, grew up in a military family. Moving every few years left her with the impression that life is an adventure. Her Catholic faith inspires the belief that there is no greater adventure than the reality we can’t see, the spiritual side of life. She hopes that the richness, depth, and mystery of the Catholic faith arouse her readers’ imaginations to the invisible realities and the power of faith and grace. A member of the Catholic Writers’ Guild, Theresa lives in northeast Ohio with her husband, three boys, and one dog. Her other published books include Chasing Liberty and Testing Liberty, books one and two in a dystopian trilogy.


Social Media:

Website: http://theresalinden.wix.com/theresalindenfiction

Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/theresalindenauthor

Twitter handle: @LindenTheresa

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/TheresaALinden/catholic-teen-fiction

Amazon (paperback): http://www.amazon.com/Roland-West-Loner-Theresa-Linden/dp/0996816844

Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0189FKSPE

Monday, October 26, 2015

Please Don't Buy This Book...yet

A funny thing happened this year.  Around January 2015, I self-published a small collection of short stories, Alcatraz Burning. Shortly thereafter, I began to receive great and constructive feedback from readers.  After some particularly helpful input from a young member of the Catholic Writers' Guild and a mystery author named Suzi Albracht, I took the tale down from Amazon.  Six months later, I edited and revised the collection.  I uploaded the corrections, and I figured that was it; it was a wrap.


Sadly, things didn't work out quite that way.  People who had downloaded the original work, were not getting the corrected and revised version.  People figured I was just wasting their time, which, of course, was not my intention.  After communicating with Amazon, I realized that this problem was not going to be corrected except by re-issuing the book from scratch.  Yesterday, I took down the original version of the book on Amazon and submitted its revised replacement.

Starting Friday, this new title will be available from Kindle for free.  You can grab a copy of the eBook between Friday and Monday.  Go HERE to check it out...but don't click Buy until Friday!

By the way, I'm back as a university student for the next couple years (English Literature & New Media).  While I complete my degree, you likely won't see much new fiction from me for quite a while.  With two possible exceptions, you also won't see as much marketing and promotion.  (I know that last one's gotta hurt...)  Continue to watch for my articles, and please don't forget to share your reviews of my past fiction!  

Thank you for being a reader.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Short Discussion of School Shootings

Why the recent school shootings? We've turned our backs on God, working tirelessly to remove signs of faith from daily lives, deadened the value of life with the Culture of Death, attacked empathy with invasive technology, and refused to take any degree of responsibility for our family's personal safety... Is it any wonder these shootings are happening more regularly? 

In my opinion, we're witnessing a perfect storm of a variety of societal factors: loss of sacredness of life (Culture of Death), loss of spiritual dimension to lives, loss of empathy attributed to both technology and media (glorification of violence), fatherlessness, and even a faltering capacity for language. You notice people can't debate like they used to. Inability to effectively articulate feelings may heighten elements of aggression. Look at the 1950s and ask yourself whether, or not, it was easier or more difficult to get one's hands on a gun. In general, I think most would agree that it was easier. If liberal logic were accurate or consistent, then we'd expect to see a decrease in gun violence as access has been more and restricted; that's clearly not the case.  Here's what a relative remembers about guns in the 1950s and 1960s.

I remember well the 1950's. We had a lot of bullying in & after school, but none of this violence. And yes, I remember how easy it was for kids to access guns through the 1960's. Dad had shotguns & .22 rifle propped in a corner of the basement, with ammo in the hall closet. I had a .22 rifle & ammo in my room. But honestly it never even occurred to me to ever shoot another person, or even point a gun at anyone. We played cowboys & Indians when I was a kid...running all over the neighborhood with cap pistols, "shooting" each other. We called it "guns," by the way, never cowboys & Indians. "Hey Mom, we're going out to play guns. Be back by 6:00 for dinner." I grew up on TV shows that depicted violence, & John Wayne movies, and I liked going out to a deserted place to shoot grasshoppers with a .22. Taking my bike down to the river in junior high...I carried my .22 rifle over the handlebars of my bike, and you recall how long a ride that was. No one bothered me. My first 2 rifles I bought I got at Montgomery Wards downtown, bought them at age 16 or so, no questions asked. I bought a Ruger .357 Magnum revolver at age 17... Dad had to go down with me, since I was under 21, but it was mine & he never blinked at my having a magnum revolver at that age. Dad gave Don a .22 revolver for Christmas when he was about 17, and Don and I shot it so much out at Terrace Heights we practically wore it out. Dad never gave a thought to giving him that, or us going out unsupervised to shoot it. I recall that until the 1968 Gun Control Act (following the murders of Jack Kennedy & Martin Luther King) I could have bought rifles mail-order from numerous magazines. Hundreds of different rifles, in dozens of outdoor magazines. Send a check, get a rifle in the mail. But no, absolutely no, mass shooting violence. So the availability of guns is absolutely not connected to today's mass shootings. Plus, as the number of guns in America has exponentially grown in the past 30 years, and it most certainly has, the rate of violence has steadily & commensurately decreased to the lowest in recent memory (& not coincidentally, prison populations have soared.) More violent people are in prison. This data is easily accessed in the FBI's website.


The news media also bears a great deal of blame here.  Years ago, I wrote a newspaper editor to suggest they stop printing the names of school shooters.  He replied that, while he understood my concerns, there was too great a public desire and right to know the details.  Well, it's those details that are partly responsible for the proliferation of copycat school shootings.  The Roseburg, Oregon shooter reportedly said as much in his sick online ramblings.  The Douglas County Sheriff certainly understood this when he refused to name the Roseburg shooter.  A friend and retired educator of incarcerated youngsters commented the following.

They seemed to have no ability to foresee their future and had fantasies about either doing something big or doing something bad that would get them into the newspapers. Wanting to find some sense of "self-worth" in violence that would get them noticed was prominent. Those who had committed murder did not seem to understand death. Suicide is often the expected outcome or to be shot by the police. 

Another dimension of my thinking on this topic is the fact that I'm a fellow who can say that I've saved lives both by use of a weapon as well as the use of emergency medical knowledge--CPR. That reminds me that the most important thing in this debate is to avoid becoming either kind of bystander--e.g. one who fails to participate in the debate in a constructive way and one who is shot. (Of course, we have less control over the latter, but I suggest there is a responsibility for our own protection that many ignore.)


Three short-term suggestions for readers' consideration.  First, increase plainclothes police in schools.  They should be patrolling schools on a random, yet thorough, basis.  Second, as Rob Myers suggested, engage more with those on the margins of society, the outsiders.  Teach your children to be kind and to treat others with respect and love.  Third...take your family to church and limit the influence of the internet and technology within your family.

I'll conclude with some final thoughts from the same relative quoted earlier in this post. (In early 2016, or so, watch for a short story pertaining to this serious cultural issue.)


Because this particular ugly phenomenon is with us for now, but aside from it, there are massive numbers (more than ever) of peaceful people who walk among us armed, with a concealed pistol license, who never hurt anyone. Half a million CPL holders in WA State alone. These people see themselves as sheepdogs, keeping an eye on the herd, watching for the occasional wolf, expecting that if forced to they'll act to save innocent life. I can personally attest to the fact that hundreds of women are getting CPL's, not necessarily running out to buy a gun, but getting emotionally ready for the day when they may feel compelled to become a sheepdog. Every state now has, for the first time since the 1930 Gun Control Act, a CPL system, so there are more citizens going about armed than at any time in almost a hundred years, yet violence continues to drop, relentlessly, every year. In every way except mass killings. Is the next thing we face going to be suicide bombings?

Friday, September 11, 2015

When to Judge a Book by Its Cover


Are you looking for an entertaining read for an adult or child?  From a seagull's antics (sure to delight the young at heart) to an exciting and realistic Pacific Northwest mystery for older readers,  look no further than the high-quality books authored by Karl Bjorn Erickson.  

Thank you to my wife and illustrator, Kimberly Erickson, for the wonderful cover art design....because sometimes it's okay to judge a book by its cover.  

(Each of the above is available as an eBook, and three of the titles are also available in traditional format.)


Tristan's Travels (Published by Rafka Press in 2010.)

Toupee Mice (Published by Rafka Press 2013.)

The Blood Cries Out (Published by Light Switch Press in 2014.)








PS.  Be sure to catch my latest article tomorrow evening on Catholic365.  You won't want to miss it!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Grab a Free eBook Today!

Click to Get it Today Free!
My latest book is now available for free to readers, but only through Monday.  Alcatraz Burning, Four Mind-Bending Short Stories offers readers exciting science fiction horror, fantasy, and mystery stories for their reading enjoyment.  Once you have read the tale, please don't forget to leave a review on Amazon.

Here's an excerpt for you below.  Enjoy!










Exclamations arose from the personnel as they recognized the lifeless legs hanging in the air above them as having once belonged to Slaughter. Derek swore and reached up to pull the body out, but it did not budge. He looked closely and noted that the body and clothing had fused into the vessel’s own metallic material. Everyone’s attention was so riveted above that they failed to notice the shadows in time. Once the dark forms reached the squad’s rear, the screams began. Laser fire erupted next, but it had no effect. Bodies of the dead fell about the corridor. Anne’s hands shook as she assembled the cannon. Derek covered her as best as he was able, but his weapon seemed useless. The laser would cut through a shadowy figure, then it would simply re-materialize. He dropped the rifle and went for his backup weapon, which was an old .45 caliber handgun in his belt pouch. He jammed the magazine in and chambered the round and fired twice into the darkness, punctuated with flashes of white light and fire.

Erickson, Karl Bjorn. Alcatraz Burning (Kindle Locations 217-224). Karl Bjorn Erickson.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rockhound Heaven

The last time I went hunting for fossils, it was just my father and me several decades ago in the Yakima Valley.  We crisscrossed the sagebrush-dotted hills of Terrace Heights to the north as well as visited the Yakima River Canyon.  It was a great activity to do with my dad, but it was a hobby I let slide as an adult.

That changed this weekend.  The four of us recently learned of Holleywood Ranch in Sweet Home, Oregon.  It's only an hour's drive from Salem, and it offers some of the highest quality petrified wood around.  Our visit took place yesterday afternoon.  I particularly enjoyed the sheer variety of the specimens here.  Some of it resembled the bleached driftwood you might see at the beach, but there were also plenty of other species available.  My son was particularly excited with digging-up a carnelian agate.  It's really amazing the variety of specimens found throughout these acres: a rockhound heaven, and it's a great family activity.


If you want to stop by, it's best to call or e-mail first.  E-mail actually never seemed to work very well, but you can text or phone Brad, the landowner, at 541-401-0899.  Keep an eye on your growing collection as you dig; it gets heavy fast, and there is also charge of a dollar for each pound.  You can also drop by their Facebook Page for more information.













Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Church Reflections

It's been a decade since we joined the Catholic Church, and we couldn't be happier.  Today, I'm sharing a dozen published religious essays that are particularly meaningful to me.  I hope they will be to you, too.


"Thirst for Reverence" (on coming home)

"Mysterious Tools" (on prayer)

"Reflections on a Hymn"  (on church music)

"Is Anything Sacred?"

"Fleeing Sin"

"Closer than a Brother"

"Cost of Discipleship"

"Stances of Grace"

"A Call for Unity"

"Reflecting on the Nature of God"

"Parting the Veil of Eternity"

"Forgotten Mass Etiquette"





Thursday, May 21, 2015

Introducing Karl & Kimberly's Etsy Page!



In case you haven't had a chance to drop by our sparkling new Etsy page, I invite you to do so today.  We currently are selling high resolution digital photos, as well as one signed book package, and (of course) a selection of Kimberly's original artwork.  The original plan was to also feature a selection of Kimberly's glassworks on this page, but we've decided to largely restrict those pieces to her website and the Red Raven Gallery in downtown Salem.  

I'd also like to add that nearly all of the digital images were taken in the Pacific Northwest, and Photoshop was used sparingly.  If you're looking for digital images for personal or business purposes, I also invite you to enjoy my photos on BigstockFlickr, as well as at karlerickson.com .  


As an added bonus, I invite you to use TRISTANSTRAVELS.  This special coupon code should save you 25% on your online purchase.

Speaking of Red Raven Gallery, here is some other news of interest for those of you in the beautiful Willamette Valley.



Sunday, April 5, 2015

Cold Brewing is...HOT!

I recently learned about cold brewing coffee.  For a long-time Pacific Northwest coffee drinker, it just took just one sip of the cold brew to reveal its potential.  Because, you see, I'm one of those avid coffee drinkers who often has an upset stomach come afternoon.  I've come to the conclusion that this is because of the acids created by hot brewing; cold brewing produces a much less acidic brew.  Anyway, I really took my new Filtron coffee maker and enjoyed using it to create concentrated cold brew to use throughout the week.

There are a couple tweaks or hacks, though, that you might consider for improved flavor and convenience.  The flavor of straight cold brewing is rich, yet somewhat flat.  I was curious how one might combine cold brewing with regular brewing for a kind of hybrid approach.  In case you're interested, here's what I have been doing.  It's easy and the resulting coffee is a little better in flavor, and cleanup is much simpler.

First, fill-up your coffee maker's carafe with enough water for a full pot, then use this water to fill-up a pitcher (like the Filtron one pictured above).  Add enough water to bring the water level up to between one-half and three-quarters.  Next, add the same amount of coffee you typically use for a pot of coffee into the pitcher, tighten the lid, and briefly shake to mix the contents and start the cold brewing.  Pour the remainder of the water from the coffee pot into the coffee maker's reservoir for the morning.  (The total water used, then, should equal a regular pot.)  Now, just let the coffee in the pitcher sit on the counter until the following morning.  

When you cheerfully wake early the following morning, lightly shake the coffee pitcher--making sure the lid is still on.  Pour the contents into the filter compartment of your coffee maker, but don't turn on the power yet.  (Remember to use the same filter method--e.g.paper or gold mesh--that you do ordinarily.)  Once the cold brew coffee is all into the basket and mostly drained into the pot, turn on the coffee maker.  The hot water extracts a pleasant hint of the rich acidic notes, which are ordinarily missing from regular cold brew coffee.  I think you'll agree that this hybrid approach is a little simpler and creates a really good cup of Joe.  Enjoy--and spread the word!


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sense of Place in The Blood Cries Out

Seattle Pacific University
I seem to either connect or not connect with a place; there's seldom a feeling of ambivalence. In the case of the south and Midwest, for instance, I always felt like a fish out of water. Don't get me wrong, I love the people, but I can't feel a sense of connection to the places. 

In Washington and Oregon, there's so much beauty and majesty all about you, that it's sometimes hard to take it all in. You get accustomed to it. I think this is part of the reason why it was so important to me to get the details right. I wanted to convey a strong sense of place in The Blood Cries Out.  The readers should feel like they are within the story.  They should be able to smell the salty air blowing off of the Puget Sound; the environment must add to the reading experience--not detract or distract.  Reader feedback suggests that I was successful.

I love Seattle. I attended Seattle Pacific University in the late 1980s, and I worked at the university as a staff member in the early 1990s. It's a special place, and I love the light and atmosphere of the city. I could spend a lifetime photographing it, but I never have the time these days to spend considerable time there.

Neil Low gives me the royal tour of SPD.
In the spring of 2011, we took a few days to visit areas of critical importance to the tale. This included the Seattle Police Department, where Neil Low graciously came in on his day off to give me a department tour. The tour was great, but, sadly, the Seattle weather was...a lot like Seattle weather.

Friday Harbor was that other western Washington area we visited on that 2011 vacation. The weather was lovely the first day, but things began going downhill on the second. It didn't matter much to me, though. It was wonderful to visit the island again. It had been far too long--and it has been so again! Some authors will say that that these kind of personal visits aren't necessary for fiction authors, but I think this kind of in-person research is terribly important if the writer is to successfully capture and convey the unique feeling of a particular environment.

Listen to a short author reading from the novel, which illustrates the importance of conveying a strong sense of place in fiction.


Watch a slideshow (on the book page) offering a unique perspective on all the research this novel required.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rest in Peace, Shirley Collier


Early Tuesday morning, my dear mother-in-law, Shirely Collier, passed away in her sleep.  It's hard to convey personal thoughts and reflections in words right now, so I've turned mostly to photos instead.  (With only one or two possible exceptions, either my wife or I took all the photos used in my collage.)  You can also find a public Flickr Album dedicated to Shirley's memory.

Shirley will be greatly missed by her family, but we all know with the certainty of faith that she is in a much better place today.  I will particularly miss her laughter and the joyous way she played that piano of hers.  She also had a profoundly giving and hospitable personality--even towards this college kid who was dating her daughter more than twenty-five years ago.  Shirley loved life and savored every moment with her family.  Her life was anchored in Christ, and we all look forward to that heavenly reunion.   

Services will be held on Tuesday at Saint Rita's Catholic Church.  The obituary is available here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Time to Boycott Goupon?


It's not my standard procedure to suggest company boycotts.  It often seems like a pointless venture.  In this case, though...  I was thoroughly disgusted the other day with a product I happened upon on Groupon's website.  I read the description twice--just to make sure--and my jaw dropped.  Gross doesn't even do it justice.  Now, I'm no prude, but this particular item for sale on their site was degrading--to both men and women.  I've shopped Groupon many times over the years, and I've only been happy with the product purchased once or twice.  Let's face it, most of the time it's junk--or a scam. 

More importantly, though, I've never noticed any warning that users must be at least eighteen.  When I raised concerns with Groupon, here's the little response I received.  





 Of course, the reason for Groupon's move to carry adult products is clear.  Just look at the number of sales next many of the items.  It's clearly a big moneymaker.  If you don't believe me as to the depth Groupon has sunk, do a search for "sex," then try not to lose your lunch.  There's enough depravity in society at large to work its way into every facet of our lives, if we're not vigilant.  Why take a stand against this particular player?  Maybe they've been selling this junk for years, and I never noticed.  In fact, maybe almost no one cares anymore.  We're all so inured to the daily spiritual gauntlet we run, does it matter that one more company is lowering the bar a little more?  

Well, I tend to think Groupon might be salvageable, if people of faith stand up and make their voices heard.  Let's let Groupon know what we think of their descent, and maybe they will return to being a more family-friendly online retailer.


What can I do?


Good question!  Groupon doesn't let you close your account per se, but they do let you unsubscribe from all e-mails as well as remove your saved credit card information.  I suggest you log-in, head to your account page, and make these changes.  Next, I suggest you write one, or more, of the people identified below.  Let them know how important this issue is to you and how upset it makes you feel.  Promise to not buy anything else through Groupon until these items are no longer sold on their site.  After all, if some pervert wants to buy this kind of garbage, there are plenty of places to go.  This kind of merchandise devalues human life, disrespects relationships, and turns people into objects.  It contributes to the societal decay we see all around us.  I say that it's time to put our collective foot down and boycott this company.  What say you?



Groupon Contacts

Eric Lefkofsky, Co-Founder and CEO, elefkofsky@groupon.com .

Kal Raman, COO, kraman@groupon.com .
Jason Child, CFO, jchild@groupon.com .
Dane Drobny, Executive, ddrobny@groupon.com .
Rich Williams, SVP, richw@groupon.com .
Hugh Hysel, Executive, hysel@groupon.com .
Sri Viswanath, VP Engineering, sri@groupon.com .
David Schellhase, Executive, dschellhase@groupon.com .
Mihir Shaw, Public Relations, mihir@groupon.com .

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Those Forgotten Edits

Once I've decided upon a particular course of action, I'm known to move swiftly  towards my goal.  Decisiveness, after all, is a good thing...right?  I also tend to not be the best editor of my own writing.  I've found that these two traits sometimes work against me in the self-publishing market.  You see, hitting the publish button is pretty simple these days, and the prospect of offering something new and fresh is as tantalizing as a British Literature course.  (Pretty darn tantalizing to me anyway.)  In a day and age of instant gratification, it's easy to ignore your inner editor.

Alcatraz Burning is probably a good example of what happens when the writer's excitement interferes with the editorial process.  I enthusiastically gathered a very diverse collection of stories together (short stories and story sketches), and I wasted no time in making the leap to Amazon.  I was particularly excited about my first work in the science fiction horror genre.  Unfortunately, the collection was probably not quite ready for prime time.  Some good writer friends pointed out some stylistic and editorial problems, and I sheepishly pulled the collection from Amazon.  I could blame my beta readers, or claim that readers just don't get it, but that would likely just be making excuses for rushing a project that really required a slow and meticulous approach; impatience is never good.  Since I don't have time for meticulous at present, I may just opt for putting my fiction on hold for a little while.  It's time for a breather, as they say.  If the readers don't get it, there's usually a reason, and that reason is that I'm getting a little sloppy in some of my short fiction.


I've been preaching the importance of editing and working tirelessly at revisions for years.  I even regularly decline to review poorly edited books...  Well, sometimes it's hard to practice what you preach.  I'll endeavor to do a more careful job of that in the future, and, in the meantime, don't be too concerned if I fade away just a little bit into the social media background for a while.  I think there's a sense in which social media has damaged the quality of my writing, and I need to give that some careful consideration in the months ahead.

Walking around my old alma mater, Seattle Pacific University, with my father this last Monday, I was struck with how things have changed around my old stomping grounds by the ship canal.  In twenty-five years, or so, impressive new buildings have gone up, and some old ones have disappeared--e.g. Tiffany Hall.  Even with all the changes, though, it still feels like a special place, a place of learning, as well as a home away from home of sorts.  It reminds me how excited I am to be returning to school this month; I've recently enrolled in Marylhurst University.  Lifelong learning is something in which I believe strongly, and, as a related commitment to this end, I'll strive to not let down my good 
audience again.     


Special thanks to the authors who took the time to share honest feedback concerning this ill-fated collection!