About Me

I am not a narcissist but I think it’s time I told the readers of my blog a little bit about me. I’m an outsider, an observer, a thinker and (after all this time) finally, a writer, with one self-published novel to my credit, The Obeahman’s Dagger. I’m working on a new book, The Omega Hypothesis, a sci-fi genre story set in a dystopian future. The young protagonist’s search for her treasonous father is closely watched by the Secret Police and when she is caught up in the struggle for possession of the Omega Hypothesis, she is catapulted into a war for Freedom in America and the world.

I had imagined that I’d have completed the novel by now but the thing keeps growing and changing as I write, and read. For example, I’m presently reading, for the umpteenth time, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This is a problem because the excellence of Bradbury’s writing makes me cringe when I read my own stuff. Then I go back to my manuscript and rip out pages, sections, chapters and decide that I must do better. When do I stop?

When I’m satisfied, that’s when. In the meantime, I have to eat. Like Bradbury, I have a very understanding and supportive mate who is willing to support what must seem to her like my addiction to writing. I spend a lot of time on it and we all know that time is money. Except in my case. Thanks to the Internet though, I’m able to make a small contribution to our income – I recently set up an online store through which I’m able to sell items we find at estate sales and thrift shops. With my handyman skills and tools, I’m usually able to repair and refurbish the vintage appliances and sewing machines we find.

So I’m back at my writing desk, working on making The Omega Hypothesis the best book I can. The draft I’m discarding is over sixty thousand words; I hope I don’t have to throw it all away but I will if I must. I’m already seventy years old, a fact that I do my best to ignore but secretly I’m just hopeful that I will have enough time to finish the book before I get the call.

I feel a bit like Schrodinger’s cat just now.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yes, But do They Believe Him?

Everybody knows that the President lies. The big question is whether and by whom he is believed. At a recent rally in Wisconsin President Trump told a story:

The baby is born, the mother meets with the doctor, they take care of the baby, they wrap the baby beautifully, and then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.”

This, he told his audience, is what routinely happens under Democratic leadership in the state; it appears that a majority of those present applauded his remarks.1 What were they endorsing? Did they think for one second that it was a true story? Or is it that it no longer matters what he says as long as he says it? So is it then that he has established a narrative, about himself and his vision, that they have embraced and telling outrageous stories is part of that Truth? Let’s step back a bit, away from Donald Trump, to take a look at how our Government has being doing the people’s business. It’s not a pretty picture, is it?

I invite you to examine the story of Prisoner 760 as written by Ben Taub in The New Yorker of April 22. The Government was convinced, without substantial evidence, that Prisoner 760 was a ‘high-value’ prisoner whose information was vital to ‘national security’ and it was expedient to use any and all means to extract that information from him. His insistence that he did not have the answers they sought, and expected, was received by his interrogators as evidence of the strength of his resistance and cause for increasing the torture in order to force him to confess to what they already knew that he knew. They were searching his mind for a known unknown. The account is available – a google search for “prisoner 760” brings up several sources, most behind paywalls, but it’s on the wikileaks page for free.

What I wish to point out is how the Government lied about its handling of prisoners, ‘enemy combatants’, after the tragic, infamous attacks on American civilians on September 11, 2001. All involved parties knew that while the official policy was that civilized people like us do not torture prisoners, behind closed doors, we were doing just that. That disconnect, between official and unofficial policy, has always existed and continues to this moment. Everybody knows this to be true, as well as they know that Trump tells the biggest and greatest lies of them all. He appears on the public stage, wearing the mask of the Truth-Teller, claiming the identity of the ‘anti-politician’ while he employs the worst and most cynical of political tactics to hold on to the highest political office in the land.

The Messiah appears in that ironic space, and he is an old white man, rich, lecherous, and boastfully ignorant. And just a little bit criminal, as are all our heroes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In my little town

A small vegan grocery store opened nearly a year ago, on Oliver Street in North Tonawanda, my little town. When it opened I thought that it represented something that was happening in the community, a kind of revival at the core. It seemed to me part of a sustainable initiative that would bring real benefits to everyone and improve the general quality of life.

I’m not a capitalist, not a socialist, not a communist. People will do what they must to live together and they will do as they please to secure their lives, their property and their kin. The rulers will rule as long as we will bow. When we storm the bastille they will tremble and run for their lives. The power is ours to wield, or not. We owe our lives to each other. That is the whole truth about the politics of everyday life.

When that small vegan store opened for business in March of 2018, I felt the centre of gravity of the community shift slightly. The results were real, observable even within my own family.

We were not vegan then; we still aren’t today. We’re not even committed vegetarians.

But we were all drawn to the idea of veganism, as individuals and collectively, as a family. In our discussions about food, we all agreed that we were not comfortable with factory farmed food in general; meat products were especially distasteful. Please understand that I’m not particularly squeamish about food. I’m a country boy who grew up seeing my father kill and clean a yard fowl for our dinner, or gut and clean some fresh-caught fish for the frying pan. I’ve done those things myself, in my turn, during those young years of my life.

These are different times. I live in a city now and there’s no room for yard fowl, no easy access to fresh-caught fish from an unpolluted ocean or river. There’s no farmer next door, no cows and goats in the backyard field. We keep a kitchen garden and a small compost heap in our tiny backyard where the plants struggle to find sufficient sunlight to grow strong and bear fruit. But it’s an important gesture and we make it, every year.

So when the vegan food store opened on Oliver, we felt like a small sun had come down in our midst.

You must understand that to an objective observer, all this would be invisible. We were feeling all these things but the only thing we would ever buy from the store was non-dairy ice-cream, pretty much. (I must say – you have to try it. Just the best.) But there was change happening inside the family, catalyzed by the presence of the The Vegan Grocery Store on Oliver Street in North Tonawanda.

Slowly, as if in response to the shift in the centre of gravity of the neighborhood, meat products slowly disappeared from the weekly grocery list; it’s still an ongoing process and I have no idea where it’s going to end up.

What I can say is that we’re educating ourselves about the situation of the planet and we’re trying to figure out what we can do to effect a remedy. A plant based diet is probably best for us and for the planet but old ways are hard to change. It’s complicated.

And although I’m still not vegan, I’m really, really happy that The Vegan Grocery Store is still open on Oliver Street in North Tonawanda.

Go get some of that non-dairy ice cream. You’ll love it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Memento Mori

Believe nothing. Many years ago a fine teacher and friend handed me that piece of advice and I thought it then a perfectly good idea. I still do and it has served me well, bringing me to my present state of mind and understanding of the world around me. It’s really about people, mostly.

My world is produced by the way I interact with the people around me. Your world is produced by the way you interact with the people around you. Our world is produced by the way we interact with the people around us. Of this we can be sure – everything else is open to inquiry. The physics of the quantum Universe establishes that clearly. The material world is a Grand Uncertainty.

This is difficult for most, impossible for some, to accept. The world is shouting, screaming at us, memento mori, fool, but we pretend not to hear. We require certainty, security in our whatever it is that we think we have, and will have, for all eternity.

Love me forever, we say to our wives and husbands, for our love will never die.

Does that hurt? Is reality painful? It doesn’t have to be, my dear one. It really is all in your head. Except for the part about dying, it’s all created in and out of your mind, your will, if you choose to exercise it.

What I’m saying here is we can save the world. We have that power, to act, always. There is an external reality because we’re not alone. We come and we go, some say multiple times, and the world goes on. Life is a Grand Chain of Uncertainty that is subject to our collective will and wisdom.

You, my dear, must choose. There is no belief that matters. Only the reality of your relationships and your choices.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Work Ethic

This post is not a plug for Writers’ Relief. I have not used the service and I’m in no position to recommend or repudiate it.

I’m presently working on my second novel; its working title is The Omega Hypothesis. My first, The Obeahman’s Dagger, was a fairly good literary effort but came up a dismal failure in sales. Well written, but no page turner and it was not aggressively marketed. Most critics assert that marketing is more difficult than writing and that a good book without great marketing will never enjoy good sales. The converse, they argue, also holds – a poor book can be marketed to financial success. I disagree.

Of these two factors, in accounting for the book’s market failure, I give priority to the writing. The writing was weak and the chain broke.

I will not repeat that mistake.

So to perfect Omega I’m determined to get professional help. I understand that this is a cost and if I can find a publisher, I’d be happy to do a deal. In the meantime, I’m researching all offers of professional editorial services, which is what brought me to the Writers’ Relief.

Writers’ Relief offer support services in two ways (‘Two’ is a bit of an oversimplification but I’m not trying to sell the service so for the sake of simplicity I’ll stick with ‘two’) – full service and a la carte.

With the full service you get all kinds of help (there’s the complication) and you’re expected to write, write, write. This is for the fully committed writer, the one determined to work for success. With the a la carte service, you pay a flat fee and they will determine the 25 best publications for your work, saving you many hours of research, trial, and error.

What I find interesting is that to access the full service your writing must first be evaluated and accepted by a review board. The a la carte service is open to anyone willing to pay the (relatively) small fee. (At my last look it was $150.)

Is this some kind of scam? If it is, it’s a pretty strange kind of scam, one that refuses potential victims.

Remember my flop, The Obeahman’s Dagger? Have you guessed yet what I’m about to tell you? No? Yes?

Well I submitted The Obeahman’s Dagger to Writers’ Relief – it was rejected. No market for a book like that they said, adding kindly, not even for one as well written as The Obeahman’s Dagger.

I may or may not use Writers’ Relief in the near future but they’ve taught me one lesson already – if you’re writing, write.

Here’s a quote from their website –

Our Full Service clients who are making regular submissions are “screened” by our Review Board. But our A La Carte clients, who submit irregularly as they please, do not need Review Board approval.”

What I find instructive is the phrase ‘submit irregularly as they please’ – the implication is that if you want to get published, to be taken seriously as a writer, you must write regularly, and well.

Contrary to the popular opinion, marketing is the easy part.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Don’t Read My Blog

Not today, anyway. Yes I’m still writing, working now on a collection of short stories that I intend to self-publish, in three editions — digital Kindle, Kindle audiobook, and print version with CreateSpace. But today I want you to follow the link, here, and read an opinion piece that should be considered by every American citizen and by anyone in the world who values the collective welfare of the planet.

Tomorrow I’ll be back with more about my writing. Today, we believe the women.

Thank you for your support,

Neil.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

the center holds …

I think I’ve lost control of my blog. It was supposed to be about writing, the writer’s journey, all about language and technique. It was supposed to be honest and open about my process, a first person account, a personal journal for all to read. Maybe I went to far down the road of honest and open. Or maybe this is my writer’s journey.

The other day, we went for a bike ride, me and the kids, down the scenic trail that follows the Niagara River as it flows past Tonawanda, New York. We saw things we’d never seen before.20180726_160359

“Did you see that,” said twelve year old Hazel.

“Yeah, What if you saw something new every day of your life? D’you think that’s possible?” I said.

“Of course,” she said.

“Do you see something new every day?”

“Yes. Don’t you? Doesn’t everybody?”

“I suppose they do but they’re not paying attention so they don’t realize it.”

“Well I see new things all the time,” she said.

“That’s the attentive life I guess,” I said. “You know, that sounds good, The attentive life. Think I’ll put it in a blog.”

“Don’t be preachy,” she warned.

“Who me? Never. That’s boring. Nobody wants to read preachy.”

Smart kid. Reader, if I get that way, stop reading immediately.

20180726_160104

Sharon and I live as simply as we can. We don’t want or have a lot. We spend a lot of time with the kids and with each other. We work together on our little Ebay business, selling the interesting things we find at Estate sales and thrift shops. We’re recyclers, cleaning and fixing and reselling. Mostly vintage sewing machines and appliances but often other stuff like printers or household items. We home-school the kids and I write. Lately it’s been getting harder both financially and emotionally.

‘Emotionally’ isn’t the word but it’s as close as I can come in standard English. ‘Empathy’?Or maybe there’s a German word that goes something like schadenleid,  a feeling of sadness in other’s sadness, a sort of antonym to schadenfreude. If there is, then that’s what I’m feeling. I’m not saddened by life; I’m a lucky guy, with lots of good genuine friends and some beautiful children, from two marriages. I live free and am reasonably healthy. Nothing really bad has happened to me – the bad stuff was my fault and mostly avoidable. But the milieu has changed.

Israel and Palestine, Gaza; the destruction of the Socialist experiment in Venezuela; the American Empire bombing and droning the regimes it didn’t like; Homeland Security; racism and policing; racism and the President; the open resurgence of the KKK; homelessness and child poverty; the deterioration of Health Services – a tsunami of badness, with a sick President surfing the wave to more power. All of that is leaking through my castle walls.

So, dear Reader, forgive me if I impose on your goodwill; I find it necessary to incorporate all of this, to open my doors to everything out there, to feel and experience it all. And to write about it.

When I’m done with this blog entry I’ll go back to the novel I’m presently working on – science fiction about a child’s search for her father. Maybe I’ll put a chapter up here at some point, so you can tell me what you think.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Return of The Private: the Great American Spirit

One day soon, I hope that I’ll be earning enough from my writing to make it my full-time occupation. As of yesterday that was not the case; maybe tomorrow will bring better times. In the meantime, my partner and I make our living buying and selling the most lovely and useful things we can find in estate sales, garage sales and sometimes, even thrift shops. Yes, it’s a lot of fun. Especially when I come across a great old book.

Here’s a question for you: What is the difference, if any, between a Bibliophile and a Bookworm?

I think I learned to read on my own, before I learned the alphabet or read any of those Dick and Jane books (Actually Nelson’s West Indian Reader by J.O. Cutteridge). I remember getting up at dawn with my mother. She would make a pot of coffee and fix me a demitasse, hot, thick, and bittersweet and then, as she got busy in the kitchen, I’d run out to the front gate to collect the daily newspaper. Then it was on to the front porch to read it. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do. What else do you do with a newspaper? And that how it was until the day my father got up earlier than usual and came out looking for his paper. He was shocked to find me reading it. I remember that he made a big fuss about it and after that things were not the same.

And then there was the old sideboard where my mother kept all the books she thought I was too young to read. The old girl’s reading habits are still a mystery to me. She had all these books, but she didn’t read them; she kept them locked away in the sideboard.

She never knew, and I never told her, that I had figured out a way into the sideboard. It was easy to slide out one of the top drawers and then to reach into the cabinet and undo the hook that held the left side door. Then a gentle tap was sufficient to pop the double doors open without a key to retract the bolt in the lock.

The first thing I’d notice was the smell. Maybe you know it – the musty, slightly sour smell of really old books. It wasn’t, in itself, an endearing scent but it was connected, in my imagination, with a universe of adventure and delight, with The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask.

So it was that at a very early age, I discovered Literature. And became a book something – bibliophile or bookworm, or maybe a little of both. One of the books I read then was Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Perhaps that was the reason for my mother’s secrecy. She was a remarkable woman. I was born in 1948 so this had to be, maybe 1954 or 56. I wish I still had those books.

No matter, I find new old books all the time, these days, and often relive the secret pleasure of my childhood, heightened now by the presence of my youngest children, with whom I can share them.

My most recent find is a 1921 publication from The Macmillan Company, Modern Short-Stories edited by Margaret Ashmun, M.A.. The editor’s stated purpose was to provide access, for college students, to classic examples of the art in its modern form from Russia, France, England, America and Scandinavia.

Amazingly, or perhaps not-so-amazingly, you can find it on Amazon. There’s even a Kindle edition available for download at $0.99!

All the stories in the collection are classic examples of the form but there’s one that really resonated with especial poignancy – The Return of a Private by Hamlin Garland. The story begins with the end of the Civil War and the discharge of many blue-coated men who were left in the deep South to find their best way home. It’s the story of Edward Smith

“a man of terrible energy. He worked ‘nights and Sundays’ as the saying goes, to clear the farm of its brush and of its insatiate mortgage! In the midst of his Herculean struggle came the call for volunteers, and with the firm and unselfish devotion to his country … he threw down his scythe and grub-axe, turned his cattle loose, and became a blue-coated cog in a vast machine for killing men, and not thistles. While the millionaire sent his money to England for safe-keeping, this man, with his girl-wife and three babies, left them on a mortgaged farm and went away to fight for an idea. It was foolish, but it was sublime for all that.”

Ed and his fellows walk home together, over several painful days, forcing their worn out, wounded bodies to stick to the trail. And at the end, for Edward Smith, are his wife, his children and his farm. His beloved dog, Spot, is dead, and the farm is

“weedy and encumbered, [and] a rascally renter had run away with his machinery, his children needed clothing, the years were coming upon him, he was sick and emaciated, but his heroic soul did not quail.”

Edward Smith was Garland’s lesson in what it means to be of the ninety-nine percent. Perhaps we are often unwise, even foolish, and some of us may sometimes behave in unthinking, even deplorable ways. Yet we share a dream, of freedom for all, and a good crop.

Garland’s soldier fought a war to end American slavery while the bone-spur-encumbered millionaires of the day stayed home and counted their money. That was the difference then, and it’s the difference now.

My farm is just a raised bed of tomatoes, beans and potatoes in my backyard but I’m hoping for a good crop all the same.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Humpty Trumpty Built a Great Wall

Civil War

I think I see a strategy evolving in place as the White Right organizes to exacerbate the historic divisions in the country; fearful of what they see as their reduction to a minority, they intend to curtail the power of the Federal Government and revert to State rights as the basic organizational principle of the United States of America. Without a civil war to coerce its acceptance, this may not be possible.

Organize, Educate, Integrate

Those of us who are opposed must resolve to organize, educate and integrate. The power of the people, organized, gave us the Civil Rights Act in the face of the refusal of the state power to support it. We don’t need state power, we don’t need politicians, we don’t need leaders, we don’t need heroes. We need us, ordinary people like you and me, to get together and to work together and to resist forever.

They are doomed to fail.

Just look at Trump, failing all over the place as his policies backfire, one after the other.

Humpty-Trumpty and his wall are going to fall, for sure.

 

Organize; Educate; Integrate.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

West With The Night: a review

How do you select reading material? Me, I like to browse titles until I happen on something that catches my eye and attention; it’s especially fun to browse titles in thrift shops where I know I’m going to be paying pennies on the dollar for a new book. Yes, I understand that the writer is getting nothing from this sale, but these days I just don’t have the disposable income to support the starving writers of the world. They do have my sympathy, and more; I’m one of that motley crew, after all.

So it was that I happened to notice a clean looking paperback with an interesting title – West with the Night – by somebody named Beryl Markham. The cool green cover featured a head-shot of a Victorian looking woman wearing an old, leather flying helmet, WWII vintage.

Hmm. Interesting.

I picked up the interesting book and read the blurb on the back cover. And there it was. A blurb from Ernest Hemingway, describing Beryl Markham as one of the best writers he had ever read. That was it. I had to read this book. I know you want to read exactly what Hemingway wrote so here it is, in full.

From a letter to Maxwell Perkins:

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, WEST WITH THE NIGHT? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other people’s stories, are absolutely true … I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book” (Ernest Hemingway)

That kind of praise from Dude Doodley would be great; coming from Ernest Hemingway, well, you get it.

So I grabbed my copy of West with the Night for 75 cents plus tax and took it home with me. The book had been published in 1983 by North Point Press in San Francisco and sold then for $12.50.

It conveniently happened that my reading group was just then looking for some new material so all agreed to give Ms Markham a tryout, based on Hemingway’s flatulent (they thought) blurb. No one wanted to believe that some uncelebrated writer could be that good.

For those of you unfamiliar with my reading group, it comprises me and my three young’uns, Zachary (14) Zizi (12) and Grace (11). We read together every night, taking turns to read aloud. We talk about the books we read, remarking on what we like and dislike as we go on. We’ve been doing this for years.

West with the Night is a memoir that reads like fiction. I guess that’s why Hemingway put in that bit about the verification of the events in the book. One of the remarks from the reading group, I think it was Zizi who said it, but we all agreed, was that the ending was so poetic that it was hard to believe that life could actually happen like that.

It’s a simple story about a fairly interesting life – a young English girl grows up in Africa with her single parent father, learning to train racehorses and to live in the bush like a Murani warrior. A chance meeting with a colorful tinkerer introduces her to flying and when her father loses his farm and she is forced to make her own way in the world, she trains for and gets her pilot’s license and becomes a bush pilot in East Africa. Eventually she decides to leave Africa altogether and return to her roots in England. After an adventurous flight that doesn’t end particularly well, she returns to Africa, presumably to live, and maybe write, some more.

Beryl deserves every bit of the praise she got from Ernest. She writes beautifully, poetically, about Africa and Africans; Italians invading Ethiopia; about flying; about horses; about dogs; hunting; the weather, and anything else she cares to mention. Her style is dated, marked by long sentences, constructed with the beautiful architecture of Virginia Woolf; these days popular writing eschews long, slow sentences.

But this is a memoir?

Not really … it actually has a plot and is driven by a story with a beginning and an end. There’s not a lot about the life of Beryl Markham. We never hear anything about her dramatically absent mother. Beryl never falls in love, never betrays any attraction to a man or a woman. She’s celibate without ceremony; all her emotions are integral to the story. When she feels what she feels, it’s to move the story forward. Yet none of it feels contrived. If it’s a story, it’s a well written story.

Read this book to be entertained, to be pleasured, which is a rare thing in a book. It’s one of those that you don’t want to end.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment