Dear Michelle Obama

I received the following email today. I get them all the time but rarely read them. When I do, I feel ill: my heart races, my fists knot, and I turn red. Sometimes I even curse at the senders. Today I noticed the bold line in the footer, so I wrote Michelle Obama a letter. First the email in question:

John —

At this very moment, some of the first votes of this election are being cast in New Hampshire. And before you know it, I’ll be asking you to go to the polls in the fall.

And even though you won’t see Barack’s name on your ballot this time, this election is just as important as those we’ve been through before. When we vote for Democrats in November, we’ll be voting to protect everything we’ve worked so hard for these past few years and to keep making the change we all believe in.

John, you’ve been such an important part of this movement and everything we’ve achieved together. That’s why Barack is counting on you to do all you can to keep us moving forward — and I am, too.

So please let us know you’re committed to a Democratic victory in November:

http://my.democrats.org/Elect-Democrats

Thanks for always being with us,

Michelle

Michelle,


Paid for by the Democratic National Committee, 430 South Capitol Street SE, Washington DC 20003 and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

 This email was sent to power_unit@yahoo.ca. If this isn’t the best email address at which to reach you, update your contact information. Our email list is the best way we have of staying in regular contact with supporters like you across the country and letting you know about the work President Obama and other Democrats are doing. If you like staying in touch, but want to receive only the most important messages, click here. Click here to unsubscribe from our supporter list, but if you leave, it will be harder for you to stay involved in the organization that you’ve been such a critical part of. This organization is powered by you, and we’d love to hear your ideas. Send us any comments, criticisms, or feedback here, or just reply to this email! Thanks for supporting President Obama and other Democrats.


My reply:

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or upchuck as I read these emails.

I gave up my US citizenship this year, so I cannot vote. And if I could, I wouldn’t vote Democrat. It’s not that I hate liberals; I are one. And the Republicans honestly make me sick. The bottom line is America has lost its way in this world, and neither party, in my humble opinion, is going to make any headway in making it better.

I have lived abroad most of my life. This is my 46th year in Canada. I married Canadian, my kids are Canadian and not American, I’ve worked my entire life in Canada, I invest here, and I will retire here. I am Canadian, but as you are likely aware, giving up that USA brand is not easy. I have many relatives living in the 50. I used to love to visit them. At the moment I couldn’t care less if I ever cross that border again.

This brings me to my main reason for handing in my passport: your taxing me. I hope you continue reading, as I get the sense most homelanders typically shrug our complaints off as sour grapes and tax avoidance. It is anything but. My issues are fundamental; my issues are based on American values and its constitution; and since those values and the constitution have failed me, I am gone. As are thousands of others. A national disaster that in my opinion that will be a black mark on your husband’s legacy.

I want you to consider the duty to file and pay taxes based on citizenship. It sounds patriotic and all red, white, and blue, but I’d like to reword it for you: “citizens shall pay taxes to the United States because the US owns them.” They do not have the right to walk away from this obligation, despite what the United Nations proclaims, because the US owns them. They are chattel. They are economic slaves. Yes, no? I love being treated as a slave. I live, work, and pay taxes in Canada, yet my master needs his payment. The concept is against everything I consider American.

Consider also sovereignty of foreign nations, something I can’t claim the US has ever respected. The US does not allow foreign countries to step in and tax its businesses and its citizens, its economic contributors. America’s practice of taxing its citizens is basically what Mr. Trump accuses Mexico of doing: sending its citizens to America to generate dollars to send home. It is a despicable concept which the Democratic Party has rightly laughed at, yet this is what you do with CBT, FBAR, and FATCA. You tax monies earned abroad by your citizens. You tax capital gains on private homes in the UK; you apply SS and Obamacare taxes on mom & pop businesses operating overseas; you tax lottery winnings considered tax free economy boosters in foreign lands; your actions pirate money from foreign economies and you pretend it is okay because we victims are American. We are not the only victims. Our families, our communities, and our host nations all suffer from your syphoning. You steal funds, jobs, and debt. You are the biggest tax cheater of them all, and the fact you justify it based on patriotism is disgusting to me and almost all the 8.9 million citizens abroad.

I could write all day about how I am personally abused: cannot invest in mutual funds, invasion of my privacy, invasion of my family’s privacy, cannot save for retirement, cannot open the financial accounts my neighbours can, etc. And upping fees to prevent us from leaving is nothing more than extortion. You are nothing more than a disgusting bully, and yes, if I could still vote, I’d vote for the worst of the opposition because I hate what your husband and his cabal are doing to American citizens like me.

John Hanson
Saint John, NB Canada

Writing in 2016 – Act One

I haven’t been working on specific projects since last autumn, but I have been writing. I finished draft four of a novel in October, and I did write a NanoWriMo project in November. I also landed a fairly intense work project which kept me too busy from October through December. Now in January I am devoting time to writing, or should I say, learning how to write.

I’ve felt a need to do a few things. I’ve been working on longer novels, and have not written many short pieces such as anecdotes, vignettes, and poems. My NaNo project explored craziness: magical realism, the additive and almost random sentence style, and the concepts of liberty and freedom. I’ll write more on freedom shortly, but first the exploring part. A few writers I read last year (Bradbury, Rico, etc.) suggest the only way to find one’s writing voice is to try other writers’ voices, to explore other styles, to experiment. NaNoWriMo 2015 was a big, scary yet interesting experiment for me.

I’ve also put off reading some writing craft books I’ve felt the need to get into. One is James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure and the other is James Wood’s How Fiction Works. I see P&S discussed everywhere, and it is a  subject I have thought much about. Most craft books cover it lightly with rather proasic advice: follow a three act structure, increase the conflict and tension, and write the shape of the plot line as a sine wave. Three authors mentioned in readings, workshops, and lunches they read Wood and it helped them tremendously. Lisa Moore was one of them. I’ve finished Bell, am over half way through Wood, and I am not disappointed.

The interesting part, for me (this blog is only for me), is that I did not learn much from Bell; he seemed to help firm up and cement my own ideas gathered from reading, writing, and pondering. I feel my past choices, which I have always doubted, were made with sound reasoning and instinct, that my inate storytelling instincts are founded on sound theory. The same with Wood but different. I have been developing a theory of paradox; that is, great story is founded on striking paradox; that when a writer says to write 3D prose, he really doesn’t know what he is talking about but means to create multiple lines of mind-jarring paradox. In my mind paradox is conflict, the meeting of two extremes that cannot possibly meet: objective vs. resistance, abstract vs. concret description, flat vs. round character, time shifting, sensory baiting, free indirect style, and just about every literary technique factors into paradox. I see I am going to have to blog this someday.

I had to write of freedom as I have relinquished my American citizenship to become more free (paradox). I won’t get into the gory details again, but the decision bothers me as the US claims to be the freest nation in the world yet treats its citizens as slaves, has the highest incarceration and violent crime rates, and is mediocre at best in almost every category indicating freedom. I also live in a city with a mural of Benedict Arnold on a wall, DSC_0199and I write every Sunday morning next to the property he lived on for six years. This city was founded by Loyalists escaping the opression of America. I live at a vertex of freedom questioning.

I am now writing randomly, and I do not mean this post. I have a 200 page, tall journal I write some stories in (13 pages * 250+ words each so far), I have written at least a poem a week, I have written numerous (20+) one to three short page anecdotes (I sometimes simply watch a person and describe them), and I have started a more formal journal of brainstorming ideas (TYVM Mr. Bell). Mostly I am writing about what I am reading. I have summarized much of the Bell and Wood content, and am logging interesting snippets from my other reading to support my paradox hypothesis:

And we are wise, because we are educated with too little learning to despise the laws, and with too severe a self-control to disobey them — Thucydides, some Spartan giving a speech arguing for war.

Now that’s literary paradox!

I also met with the University of New Brunswick writer in residence Naomi K. Lewis for a coffee and discussion. She liked my writing and my story, but she offered a fairly drastic suggestion. It’s the same suggestion I often give other writers: start in media res. I have thought about this, but I have always brushed it off. My story is linear. I cannot possibly put the cart before the horse; it just wouldn’t work. But as soon as she said it, before she had finished arguing for it, I knew she was right. A pain of lingering banality has overhsadowed my enthusiams: if only my readers could see the full story, they would understand the need for the slow buildup. Honestly they would.

I am now taking my main belly of the whale scene and beginning my novel with it. And it feels so right. I am not yet sure how to transition the gap, but I’ll worry about that when I get there. This shift has also triggered a new edit. Reading through the scene was somewhat painful and I knew it needed another overhaul. That is what I am now beginning, again, a new draft. Draft number five. This draft will happen much faster (I hope) as the story is complete.

So far I am beefing up the prose with virtually no change to the structure.  The outcome seems to be writing that’s more sophisticated yet clearer (another paradox), words that flow and emit imagery while founded in conflict. Story tied up in Stevenson knots, etched in motivation-reaction units, and framed in basic, common-sense structures. A novel that works and demands to be read by all Canadians and wannabe Canadians everywhere.

I am also editing reviewing others’ work. Not much, but enough to get the juices flowing. I and a couple of other writers are toying with starting a service. I hate to say it is pure editing. I have this need to help people (I am also tutoring a community college mature student), and I am drifting towards an editing/mentoring business model: this is what you are doing wrong, but this is what I recommend you try to fix it. Lots of work and little pay, but the payoff may be worth it. Damn, teaching really does help you to learn.

So You Want To Get Into Fountain Pens

I love fountain pens, and I now do most of my writing with them. Typing this blog post almost feels strange. There is something special about writing with a pen. I won’t go into that, but if you doubt this assertion, please watch Jake Weidman discuss the issue. By the way, fountain pen users generally do not strive to become anywhere near the penman Weidman is. We just enjoy it. The other way to test this hypothesis is to try fountain pens on your own.

When I returned to using fountain pens in 2012 I made a mistake of purchasing over a dozen cheap Chinese pens. You can buy really cheap pens on eBay for literally pennies and they are shipped free. Generally these pens suck, to put it bluntly. I have only found one Chinese pen I’ve liked that still works. The rest sit in a Mason jar waiting for a reclamation project — other users have shoved quality nibs into them with positive results.

A certain amount of knowledge is needed to begin using pens, and again, I am not going to give any advice. But there are many easy resources out there. There are a couple of forums, but the one I usually visit is Fountain Pen Network. It has everything you need to get started and more. Don’t be concerned if it’s overwhelming. Education in this world is easy, and really, what can go wrong with a pen and a bottle of ink?

YouTube is also full of reviewers and advice givers. Search away, but if I might, I will recommend following Stephen Bre Brown simply because I like him, he’s honest, somewhat funny, cool in a pseudo-European-hipster sort of way, and he has learned by trying. And he likes swords.

Now for some recommendations:

If you want to spend next to nothing, buy a Jinhao 599A. I’ve bought three of them, one for my wife, one for my friend Neil, and one for me. All three have been running for almost three months without a hitch. Clean, fine lines, no scratching, and virtually no risk at US$1.38 each. They do not fill the easiest (the Chinese converters really are substandard), they will probably fail within months, but they will give you a taste of fountain pens for the price of a half-sized large coffee. I am currently enjoying mine. It is a little dry, but that’s fine for my note taking. I prefer wetter pens for writing prose and poetry, but I only learned that by trial and error. The Jinhao 599A gives you some trial with very little error

The main issue with pen are their nib. Nibs come in various sizes and shapes, and there is no one standard. It’s like trying to but a pair of shoes. Size 11 in Nikes is not the same as size 11 in Clarkes. Stephen suggests picking a nib size based on your writing. Increase the size until the loop in the lowercase e disappears. That’s your size. Maybe. Trial and error will eventually sort it out. I recommend buying both medium and fine-nibbed 599As. The mediums seem costlier, but again, it’s still low risk. I have not found any 599A broad-nibbed pens.

Next steps. Perhaps you don’t want to start el-cheapo. Perhaps you want a real pen. I have to advise you to go slow and carefully. At the end of this post I will append some of my pens and my opinions of them. Pen selection also depends on your needs. Do you mark tests and papers? Do you write longhand letters or prose? Do you scribble poetry on parchment? Do you want to try calligraphy? Do you want to draw pictures? I take notes in my journals, write notes to myself about work and my writing, and I write poetry and prose. Fancy, shmansie  stuff is not for me; though I do love a more flexible nib with a nice, shading ink when I write creatively. Really, it can help the page sing!

If you want to step it up a notch, I recommend getting a Lamy Safari with one or more extra nibs. Nib swapping is not for the feint of heart (yes, I have ruined fine pens) but Lamy makes it easy with this pen. It is robust, has some flex, and is a workhorse you will use for years. My wife loves hers the best of all her pens, and I am growing more fond of mine.

Inks. Half the fun of using fountain pens is trying new inks, but the learning curve on ink might be even steeper than on pens. What colors do you like? What wetness do you prefer? Saturation? Shading? Bleeding? Feathering? Drying time? Honestly, I feel like I’ve just started learning about inks. But here are some of my recommendations for the noob.

Parker Quink Black. You need a black ink; trust me! Many love this ink and many hate it. It is not the blackest ink, has some shading qualities, and is fairly wet. It is a reliable ink that will tell you much about your own preferences. I had given my bottle away because I didn’t like it; I tried some blacks and greys; realized Quink had the qualities I was looking for; bought a bottle for CDN$9, and now love it.

Sheaffer Blue. This is another inexpensive, reliable ink. You can use it for just about any writing, and it won’t disappoint you. You may not be thrilled, but again, it’s a workhorse that will help you learn what you do and don’t want in an ink.

Pick any blue-black. Many hate Quink but I really like it. It is not inspiring in any way, but it always works and is maintenance-free.

Maintenance-free. Some inks are troublesome, and sometimes it’s not the brand but the bottle. Most users love Sheaffer Red, a standard marking ink. Mine dries like cement in my pens. Shaking has helped some, but I am ready to toss mine, maybe in the snow to fake a stabbing or some emergency. Might be fun. Grin. I am afraid to buy another bottle, but I probably will in my next order.

Try some of these cheaper options before investing in better inks. Seriously, there’s not rush. This is a lifelong passion; inks will arrive; you will fall in love with many. My current stash totals 27 inks, and I plan on upping that to 30 soon. I have just about one bottle per pen.

Some of my pens and who I think might want them.

Parker Sonnet. These are currently my go-to pens, and I have four of them. One I hate. The hated one is medium-nibbed that writes like a broad. I don’t know why, but this newer Sonnet’s nib is chunkier than my older M nib. I bought all four on eBay and I lucked out. It’s much preferable to spend $40 to $65 on an auction than $125 to $200 or more retail. If you’re a business person and want something sharp for the office, the Sonnet is the ticket.

Sheaffer open-nibbed pens (Sheaffer Sagaris and cartridge pens). These pens can write great, but I have found they all loosen over time and the nib gets out of line. This causes scratchiness and maintenance issues. You have to learn to disassemble the pen, clean and straighten it, and reassemble it perfectly. Over time the wobbliness grows and eventually the pen becomes a relic. Yes, you will get lots of words (I love how my Sagaris writes when tuned), but life is limited. This is my experience and others may state I don’t know what I’m talking about, but this is my experience. Cartidge pens can be bought cheaply, was my first pen years ago, but the nibs, if not already wobbly, will be. Though my 1950’s pen is holding up strong.

Sheaffer embedded nibs. I don’t know the proper term for these nibs, but the Sheaffer Targa is one fine pen. There are other models with this style of nib I haven’t yet tried. The nib will not get out of line and will be a workhorse. Very smooth, very enjoyable, but not extremely flexible. You can only buy them used, and the prices tend to run high. They are big, heavy pens and chances are they will not fit your hand. There is also a thin version, which I love, but fitting your hand is problematic, and finding cartridges and converters can be pricier than the pens. I recommend buying a steel-nibbed, standard version on eBay before trying for a pricier version. I paid $24 for mine and I love it.

Parker 45. These are pretty basic school pens, but some have gold nibs. I found the gold does nothing for the writing. I also found the medium nibs too broad and not as responsive to angle variation. These pens have little line variation, but are great writers and markers. They can be picked up fairly cheaply, and many write like butter.

Pens I want to try:

  • TWSBI Diamond 580
  • Pilot Falcon
  • Parker 51
  • Pelikan ???

If I haven’t covered what you want, go to FPN and find it ;)

 

First Query!

I’ve submitted my first query for a novel. Yeah!

I want to stop writing here, but Madame Agent is probably hopefully reading this post. It wouldn’t be good to cut it off at line one.

I am submitting a novel I don’t think I have ever discussed here or anywhere else online. Maybe I have; I forget easily. I have read maybe ten scenes to others at writing groups and get-togethers. I think everything I have read from it has been well received, and when I tell writers who have heard both of my [possibly] query-ready novels, they all say they really like this one better. But that’s not my main reason for running with it now.

The main reason this novel needs to be published is it is uber-Canadian and 2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday. Is there a better marketing opportunity? It is a coast-to-coast-to-coast travel novel that dissects various political and social issues. Obviously, especially for anyone who has driven this land, a novel like this needs a compelling reason to make such a trip. There has to be anticipation; because, let’s face it, the Trans-Canada Highway isn’t exactly a Sunday drive. Think Marathon to Winnipeg, Winnipeg to Edmonton, or the 20 from Riviere du Loop to Montréal. How does one write about these stretches; and if one does, how does one keep the reader? I think I have created the reason, and all my listeners and readers agree it works.

But nobody but me has read the whole novel. An agent may, if they ask, but no reader has read more than one full scene, and no listener has been able to hear more then a few scenes over a few months. The story remains with me and on the page. I know I am an unreliable reader, even of other’s manuscripts, so do not listen to me when I say the premise works, the story works, the characters work, and the writing works. I am not qualified to make such assertions, but I feel it. Yes there is still bad writing in it. Nasty writing in places. I grossly overused stage management verbs in my initial draft, and I am sure I haven’t extricate all of them yet. I am also sorry to admit it needs a line edit. My last edit was for content, and while I am mostly happy with the story, I tend to make detailed mistakes of the brutal nature. We all do, but my plight is chronic and immune to medication. Anybody who has purged bad writing habits should know what I mean; I’ve had most of them. Well, I always knew the differences between then and than, lose and loose, and whether and weather; that sort of stuff is easy. Agreement, parallelism, and consistency are different tales.

2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday. Wouldn’t it be great to have an uber-Canadian page turner to read that year? That summer? Damn right it would, and that’s why a major Canadian agent or publisher should call me tomorrow!

I wish I could say I am being hyperbolic, but I’m not. Off base, unreasonable, and unreliable maybe, but hyperbolic, no. This novel needs to be published for 2017; I’m afraid I may have to go it alone.

*sigh*

 

Reading Poetry, again

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I’ve tried writing more poems than I’ve read. Well, before this past couple of weeks anyway. A couple of weeks ago I realized if I ever wanted to write serious poetry — and that decision is far from decided — then I had better start reading some, again.

I have tried reading poetry before. Usually I’d open an anthology at the library, read a poem or two, then fold the book back up in disgust. “What does this shit mean anyway?” I’d say. How can people write crap like this? How do people enjoy it?

And then I am drawn to a site like Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog at Writer’s Digest. I write a poem a day for a month and my head gets big. “I can do this,” I say. “It’s easy.” But  the honest truth is I have no idea how to write the things. I just write. I let the words explode from me and fall where they please. Kind of like this blog post. No plan, no form, just a rant with a possible end.

And then I will read a poem on Poetic Asides I think is crap but it has fifty comments praising it. And another will be total crap and have a hundred comments praising it. I chalk it up to popularism. You hang around a website long enough that people get to know you, you make enough generous comments about poems you don’t understand or appreciate, and sooner or later those make believe poets decide to like your generosity with praise and return the favor. Sort of like politics without the assholes.

I am being rude. Of course poets are nothing like I describe. I am making up excuses for my complete lack of understanding of and ability in the craft. I’d rather write prose any day. Conflict. Rising tension. Suspense. Imagery. Figures of speech. Empathy. A story formulated to encapsulate the reader. This stuff is easy (right); while poetry is hard. But something about poetry draws me in. I am a fish hooked on a line and not understanding what is causing the pain in my face as I somehow swim closer and closer to those green boots standing in the water.

When I read poems, something unexplained happens to me, and my prose writing likes it. I cannot adequately describe the effect, but I am open to new ideas, new words, new arrangements of words. It’s like a poem shuffles my brain and I am playing with a new set of random cards. I don’t even have to understand the poem. Most poems I don’t understand; they are puzzles to me, yet if I try to solve the puzzles, their effects backfire and I get nothing out of them. A bizarre game this poetry.

So a couple of weeks ago I decided to read some poems. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I was at Scheherazade Books and found a Leonard Cohen book it the $1 bin. I picked it up. What Canadian writer can resist reading Leonard Cohen? Stupid question, I know, but the answer should be none.

I was not enamoured by the book or even captivated. I struggled to read through it. I did enjoy a few of his poems, but most were … I gave the book an uneducated three stars. I said “They were terse and unemotional, written by a young man with a hard-on and little patience for the world.”

Before I had finished Cohen, I browsed the 800 section at my local library, the 803 and 808 writing craft books. Nothing interested me, so I flipped through some poetry books. Most were long and dreadful looking things written by people with unpronounceable names. I groaned. And then I saw the name ‘Jim Harrison.’ No, he’s not a Pawn Star but a prose writer. He is considered one of the unique voices in 20th and 21st century American literature. Les Edgerton recommends him, and I listen to just about anything Les Edgerton has to say, if I read or hear it. Les also turned me onto David Sedaris who I hate as a writer — his additive style irritates me. Anyway, it looked short and sweet, I like Harrison, so I signed it out. I hate his poems, but once again, they affect me in strange ways.

This past week I have re-written two major scenes in my current novel project, and I felt very much in control over the words. I explored and developed ideas that worked, I hope. I have also written a few poems and they felt good to write. Maybe it’s the reading of poetry and maybe it’s not, but something inside my grey matter is changing for the better.

I am now hoping to read poetry every day and write poems every week.

Purple Mountains – A Poem For America

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4172_canadian_rockies

I have thought many futures since I was hauled away
Will I return or will I stay
I saw the mountains, prairies, and seas
I learned such treasures are not all glorious,
That binding words are more likely to fill prisons than free slaves
The currency of freedom should not be a crime to possess

Living on the fringe one learns to appreciate rainbows
But some lessons take time to learn
One does not easily befriend the absence of colour,
When one has been circled by white cars with red and blue lights
You cannot protect what you don’t have by taking away what you don’t own

I rarely see the Almighty Eye of the world but I know it watches
I can feel its sticky fingers in my pockets,
And I see it handed out freely
Front desk floozies beg for it,
But you only demand more payment when they multiply

Self defence, you claim
Fighting for safety is the greatest of all evils,
But living in fear is not the same as freedom to fear
You cannot close the gate on the lady dressed in leaves
Did you know mountains only look purple in fading light?

Learning To Write Fiction — Some Books

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I feel uncomfortable as I begin this post. I do not consider myself an expert or even good at writing fiction. On one hand I know this is a sentiment most writers feel, yet on the other hand, I have only been writing fiction for five years. I have written much non-fiction: management consulting reports, some IT technical writing such as manuals, some minor web content, and of course hundreds of hours worth of diabetes, nutrition, social, and political debate in forums and various online outlets. I estimate I have written 2.5 to 3.0 million words since 2006. But quantity does not mean quality. If you do not actively learn theory, assess your own writing, and learn from your mistakes, you will not advance. This post is about theory and where to find it. Where I’ve found it.

There are several aspects to writing. A writer needs to know grammar (I will not debate this) and sound grammar is ubiquitous to all writing. The set of techniques needed to write a novel is different from the techniques to write a short story, yet there are similarities besides the variances, and variations besides the assumed. One cannot say “these are the rules.” And then, perhaps outside boundary, are more general, creative elements: sentences, paragraphs, openings, scenes, closings, the give and take sine wave scene-sequel construct, motivation, routine, and a host of technique living somewhere between grammar, form, and end product.

These are simply the books that have helped me become a better writer. They are not about technique for writing stories. I don’t give you scene, plot, or story element theory, the Hero’s Journey for example. These books are about writing. I begin at the basics and move into more advanced topics. I fear my explanations will be thin. Get copies and read them yourself!

Painless Writing Studying grammar is difficult. Often we do not know our own weaknesses — the blind leading the blind — and we need help. Strausser leads you through the relevant basics that will improve your writing. It is a timeless book, and I plan on re-reading it soon. five

 Writing Well: The Essential Guide The entire book is worthy, but the section I found most useful was Tredinnik’s discussion on sentence types. 13 total with hints on usage. If you don’t know what a triadic sentence is, then you may need this book. four

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One Stanley Fish is an unbearable blowhard, yet I found this book most fascinating. There are perhaps a half-dozen important lessons in this book that every writer must know. I am sure a lengthy blog post could cover them all, yet the writer in me says this is where the real writer needs to work. Work through this book and I guarantee you will be a notch above 90% of all other writers; though neither of us will be able to explain exactly why. five

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them This is not a detailed how-to book but a learn-by-example book. Many have criticized it. Her chapter on dialogue is priceless! Those who persevere through this book will be the stronger writers. five

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print This is as much a book on how to write as how to edit — two sides of the same coin. Show don’t tell, dialogue, narrative, point of view, proportion, voice, sophistication, and more. This book is a gold mine for the new writer and a  useful refresher for all writers. I will read it again more than once. five

Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively Who knew there was so much to think about when describing something? A fantastic exploration. This is somewhat a reference book and is useful to review when stuck writing description. If you think description is simply finding words to describe, you are so wrong! *grin*  five

Attack of the Copula Spiders: Essays on Writing If was limited to one craft book, it would be Douglas Glover’s. This collection of essays is rich and deep, a lifetime of knowledge packed into not-easy-to-extract-and-assimilate narrative. The “Drama of Grammar” alone is worth the price of the book. Google ‘Glover but construction’ for hints and what this contains. I plan on pass #2 sometime soon.

How Fiction Works This is not a how-to book. Subjects such as plot, characterization, dialogue etc. are not covered. This book is about lubrication and engineering, not design. How come writing works so well? What are those gears turning inside that box really doing? What kind of grease does that writer use? When I hear two workshop leaders, a poet and an eminent Canadian author (Lisa Moore) recommend this book, I pay attention. Read it with an open mind; it will pay dividends. five

Alert!

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Prompt: ‘Alert’  ***

I have this pen that writes fine lines,
A joy to use, especially with blues,
The color of business, the tone of authority,
A clear message without moody interference,
Is not a green or any combination thereof.
Confidence imparted by turquoise ink is shaky at best.
And reds?
I don’t let the color of whores near this gold-tipped phallus
I am not ready to alert the world that my thoughts are impure.

TWSBI Micarta

Gold-tipped Phallus

*** A Poetic Asides prompt, not a Public Service Warning!

Novel Update

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I don’t say much about my writing on this blog. I’ve written much but have said little. Meet me for a coffee, and I will talk your ear off. There is too much to write about, and I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what I am doing. *grin*

2012 Novel

I have received feedback from 5 of my 8 beta readers. It ranges from apathetic to, “you probably need to have a real editor help you through the next steps. I’d send it to an agent now.” My three remaining readers are not so much proofers or editors but audience feedback. I touch areas, and these readers live in those areas. It is prodding the sleeping lion with a short stick.

2012 is currently sitting idle and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

2010 Novel

This story keeps creeping into my head. It is probably because the inspiration for it came from an apartment in the building directly across from our apartment (been here just over a year.) The story has issues, and I don’t know if I am ready to tackle them. I do like it, though, and will have to put serious thought into a plan.

2013 Novel

No plans to take this on. It might have potential, but there is nothing particularly compelling about it.

2014 Novel

This is a sequel to 2012. As with 2012, it addresses important issues that have never before been covered in a novel, and it needs to get out there. *Damn you 2017!

2015 Novel

I am currently trying some ideas out for the next NaNoWrimo. My mind hoards images and inspiration. A few of them are colliding: magical realism, additive sentence style, satire, immigration and emigration (I descend from immigrants and I are an expat), the American Revolution, Vermont dress-code and hairstyles, and the history of my current city a.k.a. The Loyalist City. There is still something missing, and I don’t know what it is. Yes I do, a story.

The Manatee

I am writing a few satirical articles for the Award Winning online blog. My stories.

2011 Novel

I have decided to re-write 2011 and this is where my current fiction-writing efforts are focused. The reason is simple and pressing: this story needs to be published in 2017.

I have overcome some serious flaws in my writing. I still write conversationally, but I am much better at using active verbs. I used to write passive sentences habitually, and I somehow developed the habit of overusing stage management verbs. Copulas have also been a problem, but no as bad as the other issues. A focus on editing has done wonders over these past five years, my reading pace and the quality of my analysis has picked up, and I am seeing the bigger pictures: conflict, character, imagery, theme, etc. My writing feels tighter when I read it back to myself.

I sat down with Mr. 2011 sometime this winter or spring. Its prose was dreadful. Not all of it, but much of it was filled with stage management, filtering verbs – she thinks, sees, feels, and wants. *gag* The scenes had little purpose except for getting from A to B (as one has to do in travel stories), and it was loose. It was more than loose, it was wobbly. It was bloody awful. But as I said, the story needs to be published in 2017.

2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday. It promises to be a huge year in Canada. If you have a Canadian novel — a novel written by a Canadian, set in Canada, and about Canada, this year could be a gold mine. You’d be a fool to pass it by. My 2011 story is about a cross-Canada tour. It is political, tactile, thematic, and in the end, celebratory. I say this honestly and not because I want to sell a million copies: my 2011 story is the perfect Canadian read for 2017. I began writing it long before I realize the significance of 2017, so I will claim it is an honest novel and not manufactured to take advantage of the birthday. I am also encouraged that the people I tell the story outline to all agree — this story needs to be published in 2017!

This morning I finished re-writing up to page 182 of 333, double-spaced Word 2007. 127k words at the moment. I have much left to do. The next step is to edit the belly-of-the-whale scene, the center of the story marking the return home, virtually speaking. The scene takes place on parliament hill during Canada Day celebrations, and I have spent much time at it. This edit will be more a line edit but also to add in elements to make it align with the story and themes, if it doesn’t already, if it would help. The scene has to stay pretty much as it is though. It is a darling that will never be killed by my hands. Without giving too much away, let’s just say the Don Cherry Seven Second Delay makes an appearance.

I have struggled getting this far. I still may re-write PEI and NS. NF and NB are sitting well with me. Québec was a struggle — isn’t it always? — but some research and some deep thought have helped me straighten it. My editor — if you are an editor, I need you! — will have fun with Québec. I left Québec very happy, and I think Québec is very happy I left it.

I entered Ontario a couple of weeks ago distraught. It was some of the worst prose I have ever put on a page. I cut quite a bit of it, yet the basic story needed to remain — again the A to B thing and a need for a setup of the belly-of-the-whale scene. I pondered my root story and my themes, tried a few things, discussed a few ideas with fellow writers, reminisced about certain activities in my past from my time living in Ottawa, and I have crafted some scenes that I now really like. I laugh just thinking about them. And I have to say, this will be a fun, summer read. It is not light and fluffy. It is not an airhead read. It is simple prose, and technically, it is an easy read, but I ask important questions most of us may need to think about.

There are groups of people that will disdain this story — the clowns and the jokers. I acknowledge that, and I am sorry, but there is nothing I can do for you but smile and wave.

Where to from here?

There are big questions surrounding this story:

  • is my writing really tight enough?
  • is the story tight enough?
  • does the story really need to be published in 2017?
  • do I invest time in beta readers?
  • do I query an agent, a mid-level publisher, or go it alone?

I only have two “knows” at the moment. 1. This draft will be completed by the end of August, and 2. Martin(1) will edit it(2) during that first week of September. He doesn’t know his schedule yet ;)

2017 arrives in 17 months! I have to get this to an agent, sign a deal, and get a publishing deal all during September. Self-publishing might be the only way this thing gets out on time, and I hate that thought. I disdain self-publishing for its deigning of quality.

(1)Martin Wightman is a journalist and copy editor at NB News who has recently started writing a regular science column for the Telegraph Journal (protected by pay-wall,) a freelancer, and a song writer (I think). He is also a friend who has edited a few of my pieces, tough but encouraging .
(2)I love working with editors ;)

If you are an agent or publisher looking for that perfect, Canadian novel for 2017. Please contact me. Save us both some time and effort. ;)

The Tax Offensive Starts On Tuesday July 14, 2015

On Tuesday July 14, a lawsuit will be launched by about a dozen people against the U.S. Treasury, IRS (ironically, this stands for the Internal Revenue Service), and U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The suit is being launched by expatriates as well as Rand Paul. Hopefully it will generate media attention. Of course some of the coverage will be wrong, likely slanted by ignorance, and some of it will be sparse. I’d love to see some serious debate on CNN and FOX News with all the necessary pundits. I don’t expect it to go that far, yet, but this is only the first of many law suits being lined up, including one Canadian suit against the Canadian government.

I am telling you this because it may get messy. I may write something I am not proud of. It has happened before, and Tuesday may become even more intense. Many American “homelanders” are ignorant and uncaring of expatriate tax woes. They are complex issues with a long history, and most Americans judge them with their patriotic blinders. I cannot get upset at them for their reactions, but when they continue to discount my argument even after pages and pages of fact, I tend to get a little upset. I am cleaning the heavy artillery for an onslaught against the ignorant.

Another indication of the seriousness of these taxation issues: A month ago I met with the American Consulate in Halifax to let them know I was relinquishing my American citizenship. Five days prior, I was asked if I’d be interested in having a major network’s “News” show (think 60 Minutes) tag along with me. Record numbers of Americans are booking such appointments, and this program wanted to know if I would be interested in having a camera crew tag along with me. We determined I was not the candidate as I have lived abroad 45 years, have no intention of returning to the United States, and I was not torn up about leaving. And I am not. As soon as the IRS leaves me alone and sends me my Certificate of Loss Of Nationality (stupid concept) I will be most relieved to be gone. The point is some of the major news media are paying attention.

The basic problem we expatriates face is the US has kept its 153 year old tax strategy to control tax cheating by people moving money outside of the country. Most countries have chosen the logical approach: they tax money as it leaves the country (resident-based taxation, RBT). The US has chosen to tax its citizens wherever they live (citizen-based taxation, CBT).

CBT causes many problems, too many to discuss in detail. But the US’s practices have raised the following concerns:

  • CBT taxes foreign economies. Every dollar we pay is a dollar that drops the American debt and raises foreign debt. A person working in Canada for a Canadian institution who invests in a Canadian home, RRSPs, mutual funds, or race horses, has no logical allegiance to the IRS.
  • The IRS does not recognize the same tax savings devices as other countries do. The big example is private homes. The IRS taxes capital gains on the sale of private homes where Canada and many other countries do not. The IRS taxed Boris Johnson, the mayor of London UK, over $100,000 on the sale of his home. He of course called it outrageous. A key difference is the IRS allows mortgage interest and property tax deductions; while Canada and other countries do not.
  • Many American tax laws are protectionist. For example, investing in stocks and mutual funds is looked on favorably, if you live in the US and buy US shares. If you buy foreign shares, these are treated as passive foreign investments or PFICs and are taxed at the highest rates (39.9%) and can be taxed as high as 50% (requires a tax lawyer to explain this shit).
  • About 50% of taxpayers are in private pension plans through their employer. The IRS only recognizes such plans if they are American plans. So all American expatriates working for Bell Canada Enterprises not only are not allowed to deduct their pension contributions from their American income, not only do the plans also do not grow tax free, but such plans are technically considered PFICs and taxed at 39.9% to 50%. It is mind bogglingly stupid, yet there are more examples.
  • We file a FBAR report which is a list of all our accounts, their balances, and the other signing authorities. This invades my privacy and places the burden of proof on me.
  • FBAR penalties are extreme. If I refuse to file, I get slapped with a $10,000 penalty per account plus 50% of the account’s balance for a maximum of three years. Omitting a $25,000 RRSP could cost me $105,000 in penalties; which have been upheld by American courts.
  • FBAR invades my non-American family’s privacy as some of my accounts have been shared by my spouse and my children.
  • FBAR invades the privacy of a non-profit organization I have signing authority with. If I didn’t relinquish my citizenship, I couldn’t ethically retain this duty. I have probably broken my professional accounting ethics guidelines already, but what can I do?
  • Lastly a new law called FATCA is now in place, and this is what Tuesday’s lawsuit addresses. FATCA requires all foreign financial institutions to submit the financial information of all American Persons (similar to the self-reported FBAR report) or have 30% of all their American transactions withheld. This program combined with recent pursuit of several foreign banks for aiding and abetting American tax cheaters to the tune of billions of dollars, has riled foreign banks around the world:
    • Americans are being denied bank accounts and mortgages
    • Existing accounts are being closed
    • Some long term companies are facing difficulties conducting day to day business and signing new contracts with major corporations

Basically the United States has bullied the rest of the financial world and American citizens and businesses (estimated at one million) are taking it on the chin. Canada has not seen these problems, likely because our relationship with the US is so close. Americans in France, Switzerland, Southeast Asia, and other nations are being forced to renounce or relinquish their citizenships if they want to remain.

I am not intimate with the first lawsuit, but it seems to focus on what might be termed a technicality. Treaties and taxation changes require Senate approval. The suit claims the  more than 100 IGAs (Inter Governmental Agreements) the US has signed with other countries are full-fledged treaties, and since Senate approval was not sought, they are null and void. Such arguments don’t seem to matter anymore though. The Obamacare tax failed a similar argument, and President Obama has run executive orders through that probably should have been voted on. Yes, there are many issues involved, and I do not want to get into them. Even if this suit fails, hopefully the media will be woken up to our plights and other, more serious lawsuits will garner even more coverage. There are a number of issues at play here, and a single, all encompassing lawsuit seems unlikely, especially given Cook Vs. Tait failed in 1924.

I firmly believe CBT needs to die. It is wrong on all levels. It would be best of Congress and the president actively discussed this issues and put forward new and better RBT laws, but we cannot wait. Peoples’ financial lives are in Danger. We need action yesterday, and if that means billions of dollars of hidden offshore money goes free, then so be it. We cannot stand for Americans being hurt like this. On Tuesday I and other American expatriates and former expatriates will be bringing out the big guns. You may not want to read my FaceBook timeline on Tuesday.

If you are media and you want intelligent opinion, I know people who can give it. ;)

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