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. ;)

Slump Broken

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I have not been working hard on my novels for the last couple of months. I don’t know what the problem has been. I’m not sure any writer can tell you why they back away from a project. I have been writing, just not my fiction.

This has not been writer’s block. The few times I’ve sat down, I was able to write. But then I later re-wrote it. And I re-wrote it again. I sat at Starbucks and outlined once again, fully satisfied with the scene’s future, and I sat on it. Funny how our guts tell our minds it’s not right.

Last week I wrote a blog post for The Manatee. It was a simple, stupid post, but I thought it was funny. Others have too and it has over 2500 hits. That’s nowhere near great, but it feels good to me. The interesting bit was I wrote it in one sitting, made no revisions, and the editor accepted it as is. I read it again today and I laughed again. I also found no errors or changes I’d make. Believe me, this is positive reinforcement.

I’ve been reading Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. We all know the history of that book, but what I didn’t know was it was written as magical realism in an additive style. If you don’t know what an additive style is, then read Tony Reinke’s blog. I am not enjoying the book, but it is making me ask questions. I want a little more grounding, more story, more empathy. As Bill Shatner says, “I Just Can’t Get Behind That.”

But something says such a voice might be what I am looking for in my next project, an additive style but with friction and trust. By the way, as I listen to Bill, the song is written in an additive style. So today I sat in Starbucks, pulled out TWSBI Micarta fountain pen, and wrote a 500 word story. Then Sean Rouse stopped by and we chatted about writing. Sean was so encouraging, and when he left, I felt elated, motivated, and ready. I went home, had a nap, a great dinner, poured a glass of Magnetic Hill blueberry wine, and finished my Québec chapter. I wrote in a more additive style than I had been, and it felt good. It not only felt good writing it but also reading it. It felt right.

A missing ingredient in my voice? Perhaps. This is a constant game of assessing and reassessing. But I feel good. I feel very good tonight, and it’s not just the wine. Anyway, enjoy the beginning of story I wrote today, written in an additive style. It has not been edited or revised except as I transcribed it. Nearly straight from the pen.

Her load was too big. He’d told that to her too many times, so many times that she stopped listening to him, so many times that he was sure she purposely refused to listen to him. Marion Black may not be the brightest streetlamp on the backstreets of Dallas – it only makes sense that if a lamp is punched, kicked, and clubbed with garden and auto-repair implements enough times, dimness would creep into the shadows of the mind – but if one person in a relationship stops listening to the other, then there is a good chance there is a communication problem and the relationship may be in peril. It only made sense that when he saw the dual forces of her stumbling with her wavering load of apricots, piled higher than her eyes, and the speeding 1988 Oldsmobile Delta 88, green, bigger than his mother’s mobile home, pristine as oil refinery piping before they encroached on each others’ spaces, before the inevitability of collision was imminent, and before she busted the Oldsmobile’s grille, that Marion Black would not move. His hands did not attempt to roll down a window, open the door, or press his truck’s horn (the horn was busted anyway). He wanted to think that he knew such actions were pointless, that he was powerless to save her, that she’d have kissed the Oldsmobile with her lips spread and apricots splattered, but if Marion Black is one thing, it is honest. No such thoughts coursed through his mind, and he was too dim-witted to create any visions to compensate for his emotional void. The truth came a long time after being realized. And the truth was Marion Black didn’t react when she and the Oldsmobile perished – the young driver of the Oldsmobile panicked and swerved into an oncoming 30 foot U-haul van, the front of the Oldsmobile collapsed, and the young lad kissed the back of his engine as it drove into his face. Marion Black never flinched, his mouth didn’t open, and no tears offered to be shed. He never even thought it was a cool – by any objective Texas standard, a slightly overweight woman overburdened with cases of apricots kissing the grille of a 1988 Oldsmobile Delta 88 travelling at 70 mph in a 30 mph zone performing seven and a half summersaults and plunging feet first into a chasing police car and wrapping her legs around the police officer’s face would be considered cool. Marion Black shook his head, said ‘my life as I know it is over,’ started his 1974 Ford pick-up (yellow and rusty), and hit the road. He didn’t even stop at their apartment for clean underwear and a beer. He drove onto highway30, said ‘I’ll follow that thunderstorm,’ and he drove. Three months later he stood in front of a sign that said Welcome to Vermont. He still hadn’t bothered with clean underwear.

Why Tax Citizens – America’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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America has an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The rest of the world thinks so, based on America’s seemingly non-sensical, misguided, and random behavior. Examples are long and storied: the failure to adopt the metric system, the insane void of gun control, a refusal to fund the United Nations yet an expectation to run the organisation by its lonesome, a fetish for free trade yet a near communist obsession with cheap oil and food, and the list runs on. These are decisions most of the rest of the world has made; because they make sense. Such a patient cannot accurately judge their own actions and motivations, so don’t bother arguing this point if you are an American living in the 50: I won’t listen to you just as you won’t listen to me.

I am focusing on income tax. Americans believe all its citizens must pay income tax. It is a value grounded in constitution and war. Not so much constitution, really; there are no constitutional clauses stating all American citizens must pay income tax. The Sixteenth Amendment (Amendment XVI) states, The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration. And that’s about it as far as income taxes go, in the constitution.

All American citizens are required to file and pay income taxes to the United States, and when I or any other American expatriate argues that this is nonsense, most Americans simply state the obvious: “you are a citizen and it is your duty. If you don’t like it, then leave.”

Let’s take a closer look at this idea. What’s right for America should be right for the rest of the world. It’s why America fights most of its wars, to defend the American way, its values and ideals: freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So in an ideal world, all countries would tax their citizens and only their citizens. We would all file taxes with our native lands. It’s the patriotic thing to do. The only trouble is the United States of America doesn’t practice what it preaches: the US taxes not only its citizens but also non-citizen residents. In 2012, there were an estimated 13.3 million permanent residents in the US who were not citizens and who were required to file income taxes. The US does not just tax its citizens but also its foreign residents.

“But of course,” you say. “Why wouldn’t we tax these people? They live and work in America, they receive government services, so they should pay for those services.”

blind-patriotism

I agree. It would be wrong not to tax someone living in your country. It would open the doors wide open: “come live in the greatest nation in the world and do it tax-free!” It’s a preposterous idea. People should pay taxes where they live because that’s the economy they impact and the economy that impacts them. Boris from Russia works in Silicon Valley, lives in a San Jose home, drives a car bought in California, sends his kids to a private American school, has married an American person, drives American roads, calls American police when his home is broken into, doesn’t have to worry about bombs and rockets because American warships and fighters protect his lands, and on and on. It only makes sense that Boris pay taxes to the US and not to Russia. Which is the way it works if you live in America.

Other countries tax American citizens living in their lands because these citizens live, work, and receive services in those foreign countries. Just as the US does, all countries tax their residents because it makes sense. But the US is different. Besides residents, the United States taxes citizen expatriates as well – citizens living abroad and participating in foreign economies – because somehow this makes sense to an American. The US wears patriotic blinders and can only see the world from its myopic, obsessive-compulsive, cavernous halls of righteousness that says all its citizens must pay for their liberty and freedom and services received, even though there are no documented services expatriates receive for their tax dollars. Just like the metric system, the United Nations, and gun control, the US cannot buy into a concept because it is right if it hints at being unpatriotic or freedom-limiting. Never mind that 8 million of its citizens are burdened with the onerous task of juggling two tax systems, have their financial freedoms abused (basic investment options such as private pensions and mutual funds severely are restricted), and are subjected to invasion of privacy no American living at home would stand for under threat of extreme penalty.

America is losing 15 citizens every day and the rate is growing. It is not because we are not patriotic but because we need to protect ourselves. We are being abused by our native country. Can we please sit back and think about what we are doing and why, America?

Why I Am Renouncing My American Citizenship — the taxation aspect

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This post covers the taxation of Americans abroad and why it is forcing me to renounce my citizenship. There are other reasons I am renouncing (relinquishing) — I have lived in Canada for 45 years — but they are not as front and center as the IRS. I have been battling Americans over citizen-based taxation, mostly political Facebook groups and authors and commentators of news articles on citizen-based taxation and FATCA. I try to argue that taxing us Americans living abroad is wrong. The Democrats Abroad group – a bunch of gutless bureaucrats afraid to buck the party line – shrugs me off, vocal citizens claim I should pay for the services I receive, and retired military service personnel basically call me unpatriotic. You probably already want to leave this page because I sound like an anarchist or a communist, a revolutionary who wants to live in the woods with his gun and live off deer, rabbits, and homebrew, either that or one of the wealthy tax evaders.

I am not that person. I am not wealthy, and I am as patriotic as any American. I won’t say I love the country in the same way as homelanders. Living abroad opens your eyes to the rest of the world, and America’s sores seem more visible to us living abroad. I will continue to write about American wrongs as long as I live. I will because I still hope for an American dream. The United States is the world economic and military leader, and I write to improve America, not drive it under. I want America to succeed, for if America succeeds, the world succeeds.

I have a large American flag folded in a cedar chest. It covered my grandfather’s coffin.  My dad served in the 50’s but there was no action at the time. An ancestor fought in the Civil War for a Wisconsin outfit. The details are now lost. My uncle Cope walked into Luxembourg at age 16, out of Inchon Reservoir, earned a Silver Star, and served in the Special Forces during the Vietnam War to put my cousins through college. Cope wouldn’t talk of his experiences, but he had a way of relating the horrors he’d been through, the losses. I have thought much about America’s military engagement. I criticize it when it’s wrong, but I remember the parts that should be remembered every November 11th.

American taxes hurts me, my family, my brothers, my American friends, all 7.6 million of us living abroad, our unnumbered extended families, our businesses, our hard-earned retirement assets. This is not inconvenience. An extra forty hours of work a year to do taxes may not seem much to you, but when the cheapest advice you can find is $400 to prepare a null return, and more like $2,000 to file a more complicated return, it starts affecting livelihood. Starts.

The next set of issues comes from FBAR compliance. This is the  list of all my financial accounts I have signing authority over, including joint accounts, children’s savings and education funding accounts, insurance cash value, retirement savings plans (RRSPs and private pensions), plus the non-profit organization I volunteer for.  Other people have signing authority in businesses where multiple people own it, and they have to submit this account information to the IRS. There are published stories of people being denied employment because they don’t want to allow them signing authorities and subject their business not only to IRS invasion but possible IRS tax hassles. I have to supply all of this account information and the highest value in each for the year.  If I omit an account or make a mistake, I am subject to a $10,000 penalty and 50% of the account’s value. The internet is full of people confused about this requirement and it is obvious people are making mistakes. I may have made mistakes. There are no guidelines. There is no assistance. It is risky for us, very risky.

I get a foreign income exclusion of $95,000. I don’t make that much, so yeah, I will never pay taxes. Except there are a few gotchas. One is the sale of a private residence. The sale of my home is not taxed in Canada, but it could be by the United States. Again, my home is not worth that much and I am not at risk. However, we are looking at buying a multi-unit building for our retirement, say a three unit building that will supplement our meagre retirement savings. Such a building increases the risk of taxation dramatically. It is viable under Canadian tax law, but not under American auspices. I cannot deduct mortgage interest from my taxes because it is not inside the United States, so while you deride me for evading the tax man, the tax man imposes impossible restrictions on me. Many Americans living in big cities around the world are facing financial ruin because of this. They are average wage earners who bought homes and watched the prices soar over the decades. They’ve lived in them all their lives and watched the values skyrocket. Stories abound of people living in million dollar or multi-million dollar homes they had bought for a hundred thousand back in the early 70’s. These are house-poor people with huge property tax bills and with no other retirement savings, yet if they sell, a big chunk will be lost to the IRS. And it won’t be at the favored American capital gains rates as those only apply to Americans living at home but at a whopping 39.9%.

I cannot easily invest in mutual funds. Foreign mutual funds are treated as passive foreign investment companies. I do not get the 15% tax rate Americans but the 39.9% rate with a gazillion forms and the likelihood of paying over 50% tax. A cannot buy American mutual funds from abroad. I am a Canadian citizen but I cannot invest in mutual funds as my neighbors can or as you can.

Canada has some investment instruments not covered by treaty. A college education savings plan and a tax-free investment account. These are fully taxed in America and my tax deductions here are not recognized by the IRS. I am a Canadian citizen but I cannot save for my children’s education nor my own retirement as other Canadians can.

The impacts on businesses abroad are more severe. A mom & pop shop might pay a couple thousand to pay an accountant at year end to do their foreign return, but stories are emerging of business owners paying an additional $10,000 to prepare their IRS returns. On top of that, they are required to pay Social Security and Obamacare taxes, even though neither they nor any of their employees will ever qualify for such services. Business is competitive. If I have an expense my competitor does not have, then I am at a serious disadvantage. Many of these estimated one million businesses are now re-organizing. They are being transferred to foreign spouses and other family members. It’s easy to do: simply fold and restart under a new name. The problem is some business owners are both American and the ones that do re-organize, the American is left with no assets.

This is a lot to ask of an American. It is too much, and this is why we are renouncing. I have never owed America taxes and I likely never will, but I cannot invest, I cannot plan my retirement as my neighbor can, as you can, because America won’t let me.

My discussion is nowhere near complete as I could easily write 400 pages on this subject. I have only scratched the surface of our troubles, my troubles, but I think I have made it clear there is cause for concern and risk to my financial well being. With the mis-strike of a pen, I could rack up a $10,000 penalty and a $50,000 fine for omitting a retirement savings account. I don’t have that kind of money, and I am very afraid of the potential consequences.

Citizenship does not come with a price tag. You cannot buy it or sell it. America is asking us to pay for our citizenship far above and beyond what Americans living at home have to pay. It is wrong to suggest I owe America my taxes. I live in Canada, and I owe the nation I live in my taxes. The constitution of the United States gives me the freedom to live abroad. The International Bill Of Rights gives me the freedom to leave a country. Double-taxing me impinges on this freedom. It is hardly patriotic to deny someone a constitutional right

Services. The United States provides me exactly zero services. SS, SSI, Medicaid, Obamacare, highways, schools, defense, evacuation services, etc. You name it, I don’t get it. I’ve been thrown the argument that I should help pay for the aircraft carriers that defend my waters. No, that is not an individual service. That is an agreement between Canada and the United States. The US patrols waters, but Canada lets them into the arctic to operate NORAD, or whatever it’s called today. And Canada capitulates. We may not have aircraft carriers, but our soldiers go places American soldiers cannot go. Kosovo. Crete. And many other United Nations operations. Places where American soldiers would be shot. Don’t give me that cute aircraft carrier argument, it doesn’t hold water. I already pay dearly for that with my astronomical Canadian taxes.

And no embassy is going to save me. Did they rescue Americans in Yemen or Nepal? No. They give warnings to leave. And if they ever did rescue someone, that person would be charged for the services. Rescue is not a gratuitous, tax-paid service. The embassy argument also holds no water.

It is obvious to me that I have to renounce my citizenship. I don’t want to but I have to. Living under these laws is neither living as a Canadian nor as an American but as a mutated hybrid with two heads, four left feet, a humped back, and no heart. My livelihood and my family’s livelihood takes precedence over any benefits I may derive from the thing. I am American whether I like it or not, and I do want to help make it a better place. But I don’t need my citizenship to do that. My pen knows no boundaries.

U.S. citizenship taxation burdens Canada’s sovereignty by imposing U.S. taxes on Canadian residents

Originally posted on Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty:

Prologue: Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau speaking to the Washington, DC Press Club – 1969

________________________________________________________________

The Elephant Today: FATCA, FBAR and U.S. Citizenship Taxation – How “even-tempered” is the beast?

I have been watching with interest a recent discussion at the Isaac Brock Society about U.S. citizenship taxation. Much of the discussion was focused on whether the Alliance For The Defence of Canadian Sovereignty  should initiate a lawsuit against U.S. citizenship taxation. (This post is NOT to comment on that specific question.) Interestingly, much of the discussion centered around the question of whether,  U.S. citizenship impacts on Canada’s Sovereignty. Some commenters believe it DOES impact on Canada’s sovereignty. Others believe U.S. citizenship taxation does NOT impact on Canada’s Sovereignty. I use the word “impact” to…

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The Long, Compound, Subordinate Sentence

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I had a discussion the other day about sentence length. “High tension prose should use short sentences, and languid prose should use long sentences,” we initially agreed. But then I thought and I read. I won’t deny that long, languid sentences are useful in more passive prose, but not all long sentences are languid. The compound, subordinate sentence is often used to heighten tension, not only heighten it but hold it for a length of time and make the reader squirm.

I am going to use an analogy some might find offensive: sex. The best sex follows [surprise] a standard story format. It starts out slow and playful, languid foreplay slowly triggers the more intense responses, then as the couple prepares for the climax, they engage in the short strokes, that one long sentence held and repeated that maximizes tension but refuses to release it. And then bang, it’s over.  Over course even better sex has multiple events of this nature – that heightened tension held and savored but pulled back before release, an even stronger buildup for the next engagement and eventual climax.

An example of such an encounter is Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. It begins with a slow, reflective buildup, then about a quarter if the way through, he hits us with one of his most his famous sentences:

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

Now the tension is ready to explode, but he brings us back down a notch and holds us there. He engages us with a series of smaller ups and downs, a long, slow, heightened engagement. Then at the end he hits us with another zinger. It is written as a series of sentences, yet given the repetition, the whole paragraph could likely have been constructed as a single sentence. It has the same effect, the long, heightened tension followed by the quick release, the climax, the conclusion.

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Another example is in the Bible (There are many examples in the Bible). Proverbs 1 sets the purpose and theme of all the proverbs with this wonderful sentences.

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,[
a]
    knowledge and discretion to the young—
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance—
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.[b]

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,     but fools[c] despise wisdom and instruction.

This is not languid but a heightened plea to listen, read on, and save your sorry soul.

If we can revisit my first assertion: “High tension prose should use short sentences, and languid prose should use long sentences.” As demonstrated by King’s second example, we can read these long sentences as a series of small, incomplete sentences held together by common themes and repeating prefixes (anaphora, considered a literary technique for adding emphasis). The take home: don’t assume length equals tension.

I’ll leave you with a musical example, Dragonette’s Live In This City’. Notice half way through, at the 1:30 mark, the singer repeats key phrases over and over (the bolded lyrics), almost in the form of a compound subordinate sentence. It does not use anaphora but an implicit epiphora (epistrophe), a repeating ending — ‘You can’t live without’ sung in the background seems to fill the role. The section acts as a long, tension holding sentence before down-trending into the ending. You could write them as Kings of the indie rockers, you can’t live without m; top of the toilet choppers, you can’t live without me; riots and rebel rousers, you can’t live without me; high roller phantom powers, you can’t live without me; kings of the indie rockers, you can’t live without me; top of the toilet choppers, you can’t live without me; riots and rebel rousers, you can’t live without me; high roller phantom powers, you can’t live without me.” Marvelous technique!

Dragonette
“Live In This City”

I start it up
Turn it over like a general motor
And come down heavy
‘Cause I drop it like a Tomahawk chopper

I gotta keep on doing what I’m doing
‘Cause we’re clapping our hands now
Yeah I found a lipstick that I like
And so I’m walking it downtown, downtown

[Chorus:]
But I only live in this city
Live in the city
I only live in this city
Live in the city
I like to keep the place busy and I do it for free
Cause this city can’t live without me
Can’t live without

Me and my gang and some blonde defender
We wind it up around the center, roll it over to Camden
Just so you know that queen with the face that you call my little pony
We basically invented this place,
That’s why it’s standing room only
Standing room only

[Chorus:]
But I only live in this city
Live in the city
I only live in this city
Live in the city
I like to keep the place busy and I do it for free
Cause this city can’t live without me
Can’t live without

Kings of the indie rockers
The top of the toilet choppers
Riots and rebel rousers
High roller phantom powers
(You can’t live without)

Kings of the indie rockers
(You can’t live without)
Top of the toilet choppers
(You can’t live without)
Riots and rebel rousers
(You can’t live without)
High roller phantom powers
(You can’t live without)

Kings of the indie rockers
The top of the toilet choppers
Riots and rebel rousers
High roller phantom powers

[Chorus:]
I only live in this city
Live in this city
I only live in the city
Live in this city
I only the place busy
Keep on working for free
Cause this city can’t live without me

[Chorus:]
I only live in this city
Live in this city
I only live in the city
Live in this city
I only the place busy
Keep on working for free
Cause this city can’t live without me
Can’t live without me
Can’t live without me
Can’t live without me
Can’t live without me
Yeah I only live in this city
Cause this city can’t live without me

 

The long, compound, subordinate sentence is powerful. It is the short strokes of the story. Used with anaphora and epiphora, it brings tension to near climax with its series of dependant clauses and holds it there until finally driving home the resolution or major point with its trailing independent clause. It is not the slow, languid, reflective sentence but in fact a mesh of tightly packed short, punchy fragments. Use it with care!

*as an exercise, find the lyrics to some of your favorite songs and read them as such sentences where the lyrics are the subordinate clauses and the refrain is the pointed, complete clause or conclusion.

Reading Update – 1st quater, 2015

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I’ve been a busy reader this year. I have set a goal of reading fifty books this year, and I am on pace to achieve it. Yay!

Last year I set the same goal and only reached 34 books. Boo!

So what’s different with this year? Well, I am keeping a journal. In the front, I write notes about the book: new or nebulous words, interesting lines, examples of technique, and general notes about the novel and the author’s writing. In the back of the book I maintain a to-read list and a daily log. I work this list from back to front. When the back meets the front, I will start a new journal. I have shelves full of unused journals I’ve picked up over the years.

Best Book

The Bluest Eye. This book still sits with me.

Enjoyed The Most

Orphan Train. The American immigration story, engaging.
The Fault In Our Stars. A simple story and trite writing, but Green knows how to create and maintain tension.
Carnival.
Rawi can write!

Enjoyed The Least

The Crying Of Lot 49. Maybe if I was an adult in the 60’s I might catch on to it. It’s an unresolved conspiracy story. Like Lost or X-Files, you never find truth. A frustrating read.

Worst Book

Hunting Badger. This must have been released by mistake. Disastrous gaps and redundancies.

Learned Most From

Toni Morrison, hands down.
Rawi Hage is a first rate writer.
I made lots of Atwood notes.
Crummey is a fantastic, modern literary writer.

Genre Breakdown:

Literary: 8
Craft: 3
Historical Fiction: 1
YA: 1
Crime: 1

Rating Breakdown:

5 star: 5
4 star: 3
3 star: 5
2 star: 0
1 star: 1

Difficulty Breakdown:

5 star: 4
4 star: 3
3 star: 3
2 star: 4
1 star: 0

Sex:

Male: 8 authors
Female: 6 authors

The List:

Finished Title Author Sex Country Genre Rating Difficulty
Apr-10 A Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood F CA Literary *** ****
Mar-29 The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison F USA Literary ***** *****
Mar-18 Orphan Train Christina Baker Kline F USA Literary *** **
Mar-13 Sweetland Michael Crummey M CA Literary ***** ***
Mar-06 The Crying Of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon M USA Literary *** *****
Mar-01 Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them Francine Prose F USA Craft ***** *****
Feb-24 The Fault In Our Stars John Green M USA YA **** **
Feb-18 Beloved Toni Morrison F USA Literary ***** *****
Feb-04 The Trade Fred Stenson M CA Historical Fiction **** ****
Jan-31 The Maples Stories John Updike M USA Literary **** ***
The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success Donald Maas M USA Craft *** **
Jan-17 Carnival Rawi Hage M CA Literary ***** ****
Jan-17 Bird By Bird Anne Lamott F USA Craft *** ***
Jan-05 Hunting Badger Tony Hillerman M USA Crime * **
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