Random Precision is a collection of tales I’ve written over many years. As I went through my files, I realized some of the older stuff simply wasn’t good enough to be published. Because I really wanted at least 25 stories in the book, that meant I had to write some new material. “A Speck of Sawdust” is one of the new ones.
“A Speck of Sawdust” started on a day when I found social media particularly discouraging. Accusations and put-downs abound. In the online world, modern-day truth is often founded on opinion, not facts or rationality. I began to wonder what might happen if this sad state of affairs crept into other aspects of our society—in this case, law and justice executed by the online community.
Greta is obnoxious and almost wholly unlikeable. Yet I didn’t want to make her a simple dark-hat villain. On her last night of freedom, with her scheme never a sure thing, there’s a growing desperation that (I hope) pulls the reader in. You don’t want her to succeed, but you don’t necessarily want her to fail, either. Interestingly, she manages to do both—with disastrous results.
In some respects, the current state of judging via social media is like what Greta experiences. While online death penalties aren’t likely, the assassination of one’s character can live on the internet forever. Every poor decision or every misrepresented moment exists in bits and bytes that can re-emerge at any moment. Greta faces a literal death in the end; her reputation died before she stepped out of the detention cell the first time.
“A Speck of Sawdust” is another biblical reference—Matthew 7:3-5, which cautions us to reflect on our own shortcomings before calling out the flaws of others. It’s a measure Greta fails to meet spectacularly.
I had to dig deep in the memory banks to describe the bar scene, as it’s not something I’ve done in decades. A few modern TV programs helped. They also helped me remember why I haven’t been back.