SermonsFascism

Revising Future Canadian History

When I set up the geography for my dystopic future novel, The Price We Paid, (formerly Shea) I knew that I wanted to have several Autonomous Indigenous Regions (AIRs) between the United States and Canada which would serve as a place that dissidents, Muslims and other people fleeing the fascist Christian Republic could find refuge. I think I probably got the idea from the film Frozen River (one that I think anyone who makes more than $50,000 a year should see).

Frozen River with Melissa Leo

Frozen River with Melissa Leo

Frozen River takes place on the Mohawk Reserve at Akwesasne and tells the story of desperate people: A Mohawk woman who smuggles immigrants from Canada into the U.S. and who is shunned by her family for doing so and a mother of two whose husband has gambled away the downpayment for a prefab house. She joins the Mohawk woman to recoup the money. . .
Anyway Akwesasne straddles the Canadian and U.S. border, so when the river is frozen, people can cross from one side to the other without going through U.S. and Canadian customs.

So I thought for my novel, that would be really useful; I could see the Mohawks and other First Nations that have communities on both sides of the border—Anishinaabe, Dakota, Blackfoot, etc. —being amenable to receiving persecuted people from the Christian Republic, but I wasn’t sure if the history of how their autonomy came about would stand up under scrutiny. I thought maybe Canada could have a Mohawk Prime Minister in the 2050s who helped facilitate the creation of the zones and that the United States, in its weakened status, might not have the power to object when large chunks of its territory were carved out, because the Latin American Union and China would support the AIRS.

One of my Christian Peacemaker Team colleagues, Peter Haresnape, who works on our Aboriginal Justice team and is thus familiar with the intransigence of Canadian Federal and provincial governments when it comes to the rights of the First Nations told me he thought that that non-Indigenous Canadians wouldn’t allow this change to happen out of a simple sense of morality. So based on his suggestions, I came up with the following footnote:*

In 2052, with indigenous nations wielding more influence in the Canadian government, Prime Minister Kaniatariio, announced that Canada supported the autonomy of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Nation, whose territory at Akwesasne straddled the U.S./Canadian Border, and would defend it militarily if need be. China and the Latin American Union (LAU) immediately joined a defense pact with Canada, saying they would view an incursion by U.S. troops into the territory as a hostile act against their own nations. The LAU joining this pact was somewhat ironic, given that Colombia and Peru had almost exterminated their own indigenous populations by this time. Within the next decade, three more Autonomous Indigenous Regions were established between the U.S. and Canadian border at Red Lake, Dakota, and Niitsítapi, incorporating large swathes of U.S. territory.

The granting of autonomy was not entirely altruistic on Canada’s part. The Autonomous Regions became tax havens for wealthy Canadians, and the northernmost tribes whose lands contained significant mineral deposits agreed to cede their lands to the Canadian government and move to the Autonomous Regions.

The First Nations allowed descendants of European settlers still living in the regions to remain on their lands, but not to pass the properties on to their children. Since Estadounidenses were allotted considerably greater political freedoms in the Indigenous territories than they were in the U.S., most chose to remain on their lands. The few settler Canadians living in the Canadian Indigenous regions accepted financial compensation and emigrated to Canadian provinces.

Jim with his book and a couple admirers

Jim with his book and a couple admirers

I asked my friend and CPT colleague Jim Loney to read my manuscript, because I wanted his perspective on whether I had portrayed my gay teenager, Ralph, realistically. Jim (who is the author of Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War, which tells of the time he was held hostage in Baghdad November 2005-March 2006) told me that he had problems with my Canadiana. He said the Northern Nations would never cede their lands willingly (which was something I had wondered about, too.) He also said he just didn’t see white Canadians morally evolving to the point where they would elect a Mohawk Prime Minister by 2052 or be amenable to Autonomous Indigenous Regions.

He further said that my set-up for the Canadian Civil War was based on a false notion of the Parti Québécois. They are secessionist, yes, he said, but they are also progressive, and therefore unlikely to seize Indigenous lands or bomb Indigenous education centers. What I wanted was a Parti called Pure Laine (Pure Wool), which refers to people of a pure French-Canadian heritage. As we talked further, we realized that this political party and its militia groups would be just the sort of people that the Christian Republic would support with funding and weapons so they could foment a coup in Quebec and stop the trafficking of people and supplies through Akwesasne.

And then we realized we could backtrack a bit to the Mohawk Prime Minister. What if a much beloved populist Anglo Prime Minister were assassinated in the late 2040s-early 2050s by a member of Pure Laine (possibly with the backing of the Christian Republic?) What if one of his political passions had been reparations to Indigenous peoples in Canada, and after he died people elected Prime Minister Dudley Kaniatariio as a way of honoring that legacy? Kaniatariio, as a savvy politician, could then lay the groundwork for the AIRS.

That scenario, Jim said, might work.

One of the things I generally like about writing for Christian Peacemaker Teams is its communal nature. Someone (if I’m involved, usually me) knocks out a first draft, and then other people suggest new information and perspectives that are incorporated into the piece. My character Ralph became who he was at the suggestion of one of my beta readers. I feel both excited and relieved that my future Canadian history makes more sense now because of Jim’s input.

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Note: The Price We Paid was featured this week in the Worlds of the Imagination blog, as part of the 77 challenge, (7 lines starting at the 7th line from the top of page 7 or 77) Thanks fellow She Writes member Olga Godim http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6471587 Olga_Godim for picking me!

*I’m currently eliminating all the footnotes either by incorporating them into the text or just losing them. Not everyone is as enamoured of fake academia as I am, according to my beta readers.

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End of Sabbatical and a new writer friend

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Today is the last day of my sabbatical from Christian Peacemaker Teams, which began June 1, 2012. I ran a search on Google images for “sabbatical” and most of them involved beaches.

Mine didn’t.

I wanted to write my novel Shea, which for biblically-interested people is a retelling of the Hosea-Gomer narrative with the gender roles reversed, and a fascist theocratic government running the U.S. instead of a theocratic government that had adopted elements of Canaanite fertility religions running ancient Israel. For those not interested in the biblical aspect, it is the memoir of Islam Goldberg-Jones, written from prison, telling of how he, his wife Hoshea “Shea” Weber, their family and comrades brought down the Christian Republic that ruled the United States from 2065-2087. He also writes about how he betrayed Shea with three increasingly heartbreaking affairs (which is the parallel of Gomer having three children—although to be fair to her only one was officially by another man.) Mission accomplished.
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I wanted to get Because the Angels formatted as an E-book. Mission accomplished.
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I wanted to get a website set up. Mission accomplished.
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I learned how to use Twitter. I have NOT learned how to spend only fifteen minutes a day on Twitter.

What I didn’t get done
I wanted to help a friend who was a dissident in Iran under the Shah and Khomeini regimes write her memoir. The process turned out to be too painful for her so we had to let it go.

I did not finish filing all the papers in the boxes in the hall upstairs, but I have made good progress in throwing out things that don’t need to be filed anymore.

I still have a room full of my mother’s stuff that needs to be listed on Ebay.

I did not work on my Arabic language study AT ALL.

I did not do a retreat with my spiritual director.

So what have I learned? I’ve been on a cycle over the years where I would become overwhelmed with CPT work, get depressed because I didn’t have time to write the novel that was in me, and then had to leave CPT to do it. I need to figure out a way to take depression out of that equation. And that probably means that I need to actually assign times for CPT work, time for housework, and time for writing work. And within the CPT work, I need to assign time for filing, time for e-mail, and time for Arabic language study, or they won’t get done.

So am I happy to be going back? Not sure. I’m not great with transitions. But having spent a year saying that I do human rights work without actually having done any, it will be nice now to be saying it for real. And I will enjoy interacting with my colleagues again and following what’s going on in Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, Palestine, and the Indigenous communities we work with. And I’m pretty sure the idea for my next novel will come to me while I am working, as all the others have.

But oh the conference calls; I have not missed the conference calls at all, or the personality conflicts that arise because we tend to attract intensely committed people, and when you get all that intensity in the same room, well, sometimes people of goodwill can be very hard on each other.

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I’ve had the good fortune, at the end of my sabbatical, to find a writer friend with whom I can exchange manuscripts for critique. The writer’s group I wanted to get together at the beginning of the sabbatical fell through. I met Sara Selznick through She Writes, a forum for women writers—one of the sabbatical indulgences I’m afraid I will have to put aside when I start work again tomorrow. We had applied for the same fellowship and received identical, “you’re very talented and we hope you apply again, but no” rejections. After we exchanged applications, we became a two-woman writer’s critique group. You will find a description of her writing project The Color of Safety on her blog Three Kinds of Pie.

When I edit colleagues writing for CPTnet, I am doing more than one role. My main role is to make sure they provide a voice to our local partners and communicate the realities of their work effectively. But it is also my job to encourage them to become better writers. Their work in the field is the vital part of what we do. Our writer/editor relationship is a vehicle to enhance that work; the writing is not an end in itself. So I generally DO pull punches. I am not blunt about the deficits in their writing (although some of my colleagues may disagree.)

For my novel, Shea, I don’t want someone trying to tiptoe around my feelings. I need people to say, “This doesn’t work for me.”; “I don’t understand what you’re saying here.” “I hate this character.” My regular manuscript readers, who know me personally, tell me when something bothers them, but they usually will pull punches. Other writers won’t. I may choose not to change something based on a critique (one writer friend and I have what we call the Jane Austen—William Faulkner spectrum, with his taste leaning heavily toward the latter), but I want to hear it. I will consider it. And I find it liberating to dispense the critiques as well. I suppose I should check in with Sara to see whether she’s as happy with the arrangement as I have been, because I’ve been more on the dispensing end. But let me just say this: her novel is more than 200,000 words long and I was never bored.

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I thought my novel DID have a happy ending and “ Most Surprisingly Good Read of the Decade” review for Because the Angels

When I first started getting back comments from people who had read my Shea manuscript, I was taken aback when they referred to the novel’s sad ending, because in my mind, I thought the novel had a happy ending. Good triumphed. The efforts of all the people who sacrificed so much to bring the fascist Christian Republic down succeeded. Iz and Shea reconciled. Yes, a lot of the people who resist the regime die along the way, and my narrator, Islam Goldberg-Jones remains in prison at the end because in the U.S., Federal judges are appointed for life, and the entrenched Christian Republic judiciary and Christian Republic holdovers in the FBI conspire to keep him there. Most of the people who committed the worst atrocities under the Christian Republic never have to pay for their crimes.

But that’s how the world is. Famous and anonymous heroes for millennia have sacrificedleonard_bw their lives, bodies and sanity to bring down tyrants or systems of domination. AIM activist Leonard Peltier, whom most of the world regards as a political prisoner, remains incarcerated today for murder even though the U.S. government lied to get him extradited him from Canada, coerced witnesses, withheld evidence during his trial, and even though an Iowa jury acquitted his co-defendants of the same crime.

Dictators and generals in Latin America like Augusto Pinochet, after their torture states finally fell, lived affluent, comfortable lives for decades afterwards.

People think I’m a glass half-empty kind of person. Sometimes I think that’s true. I think sometimes when the Israeli military occupation of Palestine finally ends, if it does end in my lifetime, that I want to be the one who remembers all the people who gave everything they had to fight it and ended up crippled with despair, as well as the ones who ended up dead. But I also think that while compassion is never wrong, it is also always right to celebrate when grassroots movements succeed in toppling oppressors. We need to take a moment and honor the thousands, even millions of nameless Filipinos, South Africans, Chileans, Serbs, East Timorese, Tunisians etc. who decided simply the time had come when toppling their government was more important than their lives, or, that if they all worked together, they had the power to topple their government with minimal loss of life. By honoring them, we also learn, and when we face tyrants ourselves, we are better equipped.

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I was tempted to put in a plug for my novel Because the Angels, when the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war rolled around and then decided that was tacky. (The plot is partially based on the experience of my organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, when four of our colleagues were kidnapped in Baghdad 2005-06). But this morning, I decided I hadn’t plugged it for awhile, so I thought I’d send out a tweet with a link to the Amazon Kindle page. I discovered that someone I didn’t know had written the following review:
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Most Surprisingly Good Read of the Decade, April 22, 2013
This review is from: Because the Angels (Kindle Edition)
“BtA wins the most surprisingly good read of the decade. Past the cover art and the anime obsession, the story is fraught with messy, intense, and endearing characters. What’s probably best about the book is the amazingly successful and comedic ending. Without being sappy, the author manages to weave a brilliant resolution to an engrossing tale.”

It’s my first genuinely unsolicited review—probably from the week of free downloads in late February, early March. Davey R. Jones also really like Junot Diaz’s Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a book I really loved, and books by Mario Vargas Llosa, Madeline L’Engle and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, so he seems like a kindred spirit. I am assuming he’s not the dead Monkee. Glass half full, see?

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Passionate Christian Characters, sex, the F-word and Maundy Thursday

I spent this week reading through my novel manuscript carefully, since I had added a big chunk of manuscript—a diary of a teenage character I wrote about in a previous posting— and   wanted to make sure that the rest of the novel was in sync with it.  Often, when I am at this state this stage of the editing process I enter a state of what I call “Tweaking madness.”  I see clunky sentences or awkward paragraphs and I think “How could I have written this? This is so awful!  How could I have ever thought this novel was any good?”  And usually that’s the time to put it aside until I can look at it with fresh eyes.  Because the clunky parts are usually very isolated, and most readers simply breeze past them.

This time, I did catch some awkward phrasing and did some revision, but overall didn’t escalate into “Tweaking Madness.”  What I did find as I read through Ralph’s diary, interspersed with the letters and other writings of Shea, my Hosea figure, was a growing sense of unease regarding how Christian the novel was.

I’ve been spending a lot of time learning how to use social media effectively to promote my writing–definitely not there yet–but part of it involves following on Twitter, Facebook, etc. the work of writers and artists whose work you admire.  And most of these are secular, for me.  Chaim Potok is dead and Marilynne Robinson doesn’t have a Twitter account.  I was wondering if Joss Whedon or Margaret Atwood (or more likely fellow Whedon and Atwood enthusiasts) ever stumbled onto Ralph and Shea’s letters, whether they would just zone out immediately, because of their overtly Christian perspective on the world–even if Ralph and Shea were using that perspective to bring down a fascist regime ruling the the United States.

And then there’s the converse problem, Shea is not really “Christian fiction” in the way that the contemporary publishing world Day-for-the-F-Word-web-236x180defines Christian fiction.It is written from the viewpoint of a philandering husband, and while the sex is not graphically described, it is plentiful and the F-word appears throughout the novel (It’s really odd, my characters can say the F-word, but writing as myself, I say “F-word instead “F—“)

Here is the climactic scene, in which Islam Goldberg-Jones is on trial for providing weapons to the guerrillas trying to bring down the Christian Republic (but the real object of the trial is to defame his wife, Shea.)  It’s kind of appropriate actually, for Easter weekend:

  “Tell me Mr. Islam Goldberg-Jones.  Are you Muslim or Jewish?” the prosecutor began.

“My mother was brought up in a conservative Jewish family, but both of my parents considered themselves atheists.  They taught me that God did not exist.”

I heard gasps from the courtroom.  They had vetted the audience.

“And did Hoshea Weber know you were an atheist when she married you?”

“Yes.”

“And did she try to convert you?”

I paused and then said, “Not in the way that you mean.”

The military judge said, “Answer his question, Mr. Jones.”

“Goldberg-Jones,” I corrected him.

The bailiff punched the left side of my head, and I heard a consistent high hum in that ear for the rest of the proceedings.

The lawyer rephrased his question.  “Did she try to convince you that God exists and that Jesus was the Son of God?  Do you believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and buried, rose again and will come to judge the living and the dead?

Shea ascribed what happened next to the Holy Spirit.  I will say only this—a quick succession of holos appeared before me, superimposing themselves over the audience in courtroom: Ralph saying—earnest brown eyes wide at having met his first atheist—“But it’s like love, Uncle Iz, you can’t see or hear or touch love, but love still exists”; Ralph clinging to me and sobbing at the border of Akwesasne before he turned back with Hank because Gladys and Edna needed him; Shea smiling at me as we walked and talked in Rock Creek Park and when we lay naked under the ancient Weber family quilt;   Leah leaning against the fence at the farm on Thanksgiving day thirteen years ago.  Al calling me “son.”  My own parents reading Dr. Seuss to me.  L’Merci running across the yard at Al and Deborah’s house with Gladys and Edna.  All the Webers and I laughing ourselves sick over an only moderately amusing story, because we loved each other.  Bernie calling my name, “Ih-ihz.”

“I don’t know whether God is real,” I said.  “But I can tell you right now that he’s a hell of a lot more real than you guys and your god are to me.  It’s the god you speak of that presides over your tortures and murders and atrocities that doesn’t exist.  As for Jesus rising from the dead, today, and today only, I choose to believe in the resurrection because that was Jesus saying ‘Fuck you’ to the Empire who crucified him.  And yeah today I believe he will come again to judge us and you all should be really, really afraid.”

I saw the bailiff descending on me with his baton and then everything went black.

So you see my dilemma.

Anyway, I went to the Maundy Thursday service at my church last night and in thinking about Jesus’ sacrifice, it kind of hit me that it’s really not much of a sacrifice for me to be true to who my characters are.  They are entitled to be devout Christians, and if a secular public has a problem with that, well, may I not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.  And if a religious public has a problem with Iz, well, he probably agrees with their assessment of his character.  And if their problem with him is that he uses the F-word,  that really is their problem, not Iz’s.

When I got home, I found a letter from the Posen Foundation saying I was not among the five finalists in their fiction prize, but that they thought my writing sample had been impressive and they encouraged me to submit again next year.  Not sure if that was something they said to everyone, but it sounded like more than boilerplate.  The timing after the Maundy Thursday service seemed apropos, since the Foundation is designed to promote secular Jewish culture.  I actually knew that Shea would be a longshot for the fellowship, but reasoned that since Iz is a very secular Jewish character, and Hosea was a Jewish prophet, and secular Judaism does have some connection to the Jewish prophetic tradition, it was worth the application.  But I also knew that since I applied for the Posen Fellowship, the novel had gotten progressively more Christian.  I had kind of thought I might be able to up the Jewish content, if I got the Fellowship, but that just wasn’t happening, so there was a small measure of relief, too.  Kind of like dating someone you know you’re ill-suited for, and then being glad that s/he later finds a good match.

 

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Feedback

I have a circle of readers I send the “first” draft of my manuscripts new, meaning a draft I’m not embarrassed to have other people see.  One of the people whose opinion I value most is a fellow writer who has very different tastes in literature.  He hates Jane Austen and loves William Faulkner.  I am the opposite, and so we write different sorts of fiction and in a way, that makes him a bit more objective, I think.   He has been more successful than I in the past.  He has an agent,  although he’s had a rather long drought in sales, so I definitely value his opinion on what’s “sellable.”

Which is why I came away from our standard, “I’ll feed you lunch and you give me a critique” encounter depressed  yesterday.  He had liked my first 100 pages, although he said they were hard to read, because of some personal shared life experiences I won’t go into here, and because, like me, it’s not hard for him to imagine the U.S. sliding into religious fascism.  Yesterday, he told me he had to really forced himself to read the the rest of the book, for some of the same reasons mentioned above, and thought it had real problems with pacing, that there was too much exposition, that I had too many climatic points, that in general, the novel had problems that would require a pretty big rewrite.

I’ve been edited a lot, so I don’t generally have a knee-jerk negative response to suggestions I rewrite.  But others who have read the manuscript said they found it hard to put down.  On the other hand, they were fellow members of my organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, who sort of share my worldview, while my friend is a professional writer, who was giving me a professional assessment from the outside.  On the other hand, he was picking it up and putting it down over the course of a month and is in general too impatient to read Jane Austen.  If a movie doesn’t interest him within the first five minutes, he will walk out.  Some of the places he marked as too much exposition were only two paragraphs long and they covered a period of months.

He liked my second novel, and I realized something today: that novel and all of his novels take place in one location, over a period of a few months, with a few characters.  Shea, my third novel, takes place over a period of thirty years, moves from the U.S., to Canada, to Chiapas, MX, to Scotland and England, and also ties in how global events are impacting the struggle to bring down the fascist Christian Republic regime in the U.S.  Am I being too ambitious? My book is the fictional prison memoir of a political dissident who describes how he, his wife, Shea, and thousands of other ordinary people brought down the fascist regime of the Christian Republic in the United States.  All of the great struggles to bring down fascist and oppressive regimes in recent history have had an international component to them, and my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams basically brings that international component to ordinary people who are struggling nonviolently to resist systemic oppression, so my gut says “no.”

This morning, in my e-mail were two critiques from readers outside of Christian Peacemaker Teams who told me that they found the pacing to be brisk.  They are not writers, but they are readers.  I probably won’t feel completely easy, though, until I have a professional assessment from an editor or agent about how Shea needs to be revised.

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My First Webpage, or, someone else could have done in minutes what I have just spent days doing

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In the past year I have been participating in She Writes.com, and the thing that has been impressed upon me most is that every author, especially ones who are trying to sell self-published novels, must have her own website.  The great thing about She Writes is that there are people who could point me in the direction of how I could go about getting my own site  (KathleenKern.com was already taken–it redirects to Mutual Managed Health Solutions Inc.).  But I have been putting it together with a lot of trial and error and a lot of calls to the good people at Startlogic.com.  Props also to Rebecca Forster who showed me what I could aim for at www.rebeccaforster.com, the surnameless Karma, and Petrea Burchard for help they have given me on She Writes in recent months.

As you can tell by my front page, I am promoting my novel Because the Angels, now available on Kindle.   If you liked Samurai Champloo, Blood+ or anything by pre-Avengers Joss Whedon, you’ll probably like Because the Angels.  If you liked the Avengers, you might like it too,  but his previous work had a little more of the delicate blend of pathos and humor that I strive for in my writing.

I have also just gotten out my third novel “Shea” to my most loyal first line readers, and you will be reading more about it here in the coming months.  For those of you who are biblically literate, it is a retelling of the Hosea-Gomer narrative, with the gender roles reversed, taking place against a background of Christian-Fascist religious syncretism instead of Israelite-Canaanite religious syncretism.

If your eyes just glazed over, here’s the synopsis:
About 100 years from now, serial philanderer Islam Goldberg-Jones is writing his memoir from prison, recounting how he, his wife Hoshea Weber, and hundreds of other people in various resistance movements helped bring down the Christian Republic that ruled the United States between 2049-86.

If you’d like to see some of my other books check out my Amazon author’s page.

 

 

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