The Mountains We Climb By Accident, the first novel by Montreal writer, poet and occasoional FTB contributor Dawn McSweeney, is a real treat of a book. It would make a great last-minute Christmas gift for someone who likes well-told stories and supporting local talent.

Full disclosure, I’m not just a reader, I was also the book’s editor. So while I may be a biased reviewer, I’m mainly biased because not only is it written by someone local, it’s also unabashedly set in Montreal.

This city serves as a backdrop for our protagonist Talia’s life story, or rather early to almost mid-life story. We jump back and forth with her, landing on key experiences and staying with them a bit, sometimes returning, sometimes not.

This non-chronological narrative approach has an internal logic based on how and when a person remembers certain events. McSweeney explained it to me when I interviewed her a few months ago.

It really works here. The writing is sharp and fast-moving, the characters are believable and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I generally look for political intrigue or outright sci fi or fantasy when it comes to the fiction I consume and that’s not what this novel offers. The focus here is on Talia’s relationships with romantic partners, family and friends.

Thanks, though, to McSweeney’s storytelling, it kept me interested from start to finish. I can only imagine it will do the same for people who are fans of the genre already.

Dawn McSweeney’s The Mountains We Climb By Accident is solid Montreal-based storytelling and a great first novel-length offering by a local author.

You can buy it in paperback or as an e-Book through Amazon

Currently one of the hardest things to do as a writer is cover the explosion of nepotism, treason, espionage, bigotry, misogyny, greed, and comical idiocy that makes up the 45th presidency of the United States. Nothing so pointedly demonstrates this difficulty than Allan J. Lichtman’s book The Case for Impeachment.

Allan J. Lichtman is a legend.

A distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington DC, he has successfully predicted the outcome of eight US presidential elections. In November 2016 he predicted that the Orange Con-Man would win the election, and that he would be impeached. It is therefore no surprise that Lichtman and his publishers worked to get this book out before any such proceedings could take place.

After a couple of introductory chapters explaining impeachment rules, Lichtman, chapter by chapter, launches into a full scale indictment of the Orange Buffoon.

It’s a good book, but it’s incomplete. It’s incomplete because it could have used the notion of impeachment to make a broader point about the state of American politics, but didn’t, and it’s incomplete because that Entitled Orange Bully damns himself too quickly for most writers to follow.

The book is focused and because of that, it’s an easy read. In each chapter Lichtman talks about Cheeto-Head’s conduct before and after taking office, ties it to a legal issue or an aspect of the President’s character, and then argues it as grounds for impeachment.

Before we get into the indictments in The Case for Impeachment, we need to talk about impeachment itself.

What is Impeachment?

Impeachment does not guarantee a removal from public office. It does not fire the president. What it does is act as a formal charge of misconduct that can be brought against the president, the vice-president, and all civil officers in the United States. The power to impeach is vested in the US Congress, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, though only the Senate has power to remove an official from public office following an impeachment.

The process works like this: any member of either house in Congress can draw up articles of impeachment aka charges against said public official. The House can approve or reject article(s) of impeachment, usually following an investigation, by a simple majority vote. If the House votes in favor of impeachment, the accused is impeached.

The case is then brought before the Senate which holds a sort of trial. Each side can present witnesses and the president is allowed to use his own lawyer if he wants. If the one facing impeachment is the president, the case is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, currently Justice John Roberts, who has had clashes with the current president before.

Once the trial is heard, the case goes to the Senate, which acts as a sort of jury. It takes a two thirds majority in the Senate consisting of sixty-seven votes to remove an official. If convicted, the president would be removed from office and lose any privileges and immunities he had in office, and the vice-president would take over.

In the nineties, the House voted in favor of impeaching Bill Clinton, but because he was popular at the time, his opponents failed to get the sixty-seven votes needed to remove him, thus allowing Clinton to finish up his term.

Grounds for Impeachment

According to the US Constitution, the president can be removed from office “for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” According to Lichtman, this has historically been given broad interpretation allowing for impeachment due to conduct before or after taking office. Lichtman also contends that a conviction for any of the aforementioned acts is not pre-requisite, just the fact that the president did them. That said, there is also the Emoluments clause in the Constitution that says that:

“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

An emolument is a salary, fee, or profit, and the notion of emoluments is especially relevant given the mounting evidence that the Orange Administration and the Russians colluded with one another.

Lichtman’s indictments of Nacho-Face are numerous.

He talks about the president’s war on women, mentioning sexual harassment charges and disgusting entitled behavior. Unfortunately, his chapter on the subject does not go far enough. He refrains from mentioning accusations that the president sexually assaulted a thirteen-year-old girl while at a party of now convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a friend of the president who prided himself on procuring underage girls for rich men. It does not address the Orange Bully’s remark that women who get abortions should be punished.

Lichtman also talks about the president’s disgraceful business practices, pointing out that for a man claiming to be for getting jobs for working Americans, his track record suggests a preference for employing illegal immigrants because they’re more easily exploitable. He mentions the man’s denial of climate change, but perhaps unwisely implies that the Syrian refugee crisis was largely due to it, when we can all agree that drought does not make evil leaders do what Assad has done.

In an extensive chapter devoted to Russia, the author describes how deeply entangled the president’s businesses are with forces in Eastern Europe. He also devotes chapters to the Orange administration gross disregard for the Constitution, the law, and basic human decency.

One of the best things about this book is that it is fundamentally an American work. There are little to no comparisons with other countries or leaders and refrains from references to international history.

This perhaps is a mistake.

The Orange Administration is doing what stereotypical Republicans have dreamed of: an America where the poor look to people of colour and immigrants as the source of their misfortunes, allowing the upper one percent to hold onto their wealth by cutting their own taxes, effectively destroying American healthcare, education, employment, and infrastructure.

History has taught us that people eventually catch on to who is really hurting them, and as the French Revolution teaches us, a reluctance of the wealthy to help the poor leads to catastrophic civil unrest. If the White House isn’t careful, they may one day be faced with an angry mob and a guillotine.

Based out of London, Ontario, Sunflower Skins is a collection of cut and paste self-published books that aim to delight, educate and challenge the reader.  I recently spoke with the brainchild of Sunflower Skins Britani Sadovski, and we chatted about life in the DYI publishing community, her inspirations and where she sees Sunflower Skins headed in the future.

 

Stephanie Laughlin: Tell me about the origins of Sunflower Skins


Britani Sadovski:
I began self-publishing before university, and the early chapbooks reflect my poetry-entrenched literary upbringing. My first Sunflower Skins projects were free, an attempt to inspire shared literature and guerrilla art; I still maintain the free-press mission with the Bulimic Beluga project and put lots of love into each book I make.

I work exclusively with my partner Thom Bacchus Roland, whose writing can be found here.

SL: I’m particularly interested in what inspired one of your books “the future of bullimic beluga whales”

BS: “Bulimic Belugas” originally started as an idea for a zine, but I quickly found a required monthly format to be too limiting for the direction I wanted to take my art. Instead, inspired by riotgrrl liner notes, Courtney Love’s early band posters, and Kathy Acker’s versions of cut-up technique, I created my own “self-help book” using some black humour and real statistics on eating disorders. More people need to be able to talk about bulimia, depression, and anxiety disorders. The absurd approach at least seems to get their attention.

 SL: Are you part of a community of DYI publishers?

BS: As a teenager I realized that traditional publishing was not for me. In general I don’t like big box business, and books are no different; I love local bookshops, the owner’s knowledge and intimacy with texts of all kinds. At 18 I found The Grove Press Reader which changed my approach to writing, for whom I wanted to write, and informed my ethics concerning the publishing world; Barney Rosset’s dedication to fighting censorship, as well as working closely with writers and their original texts, greatly inspires me to maintain full control over my art and to work without boundaries. My partner Thom Roland and I write, format, print, and bind all of our books ourselves. Both of us have blogs for comics, short stories, fragments, and essays. We decided to create the literary, socially-just world we want that we don’t find in London, ON.; though we’ve set up our headquarters here to expand publishing and distribution, we’ve found more of a community online, of like-minded individuals who publish their own comics and essays on blogs.

Sunflower Skins creator Britani Sadovski

SL: What’s the reaction to your work in London, Ont? Have you shown your work in other places?

BS: I’ve sent Bulimic Beluga books to friends around the world to distribute in local libraries, coffee shops, bookstores, and anywhere else they want. Contributing to zine libraries is a favourite activity! This past winter a fellow writer took books with him on a trip to Turkey, leaving some scattered in airports along the way; another friend, a Pure Poet, took a bunch to Washington, D.C. campuses and even he left a few in the aquarium.

 I’ve had many people approach me, both in person and online, about my mental health writing, sharing personal stories about medication, trial treatments, relationship troubles, and social triumphs; the opportunity to connect with my readers and inspire conversation and new ideas encourages me, for I want a more accepting, honest world.

 SL: How do you see Sunflower Skins evolving ?

BS: I have a couple of books currently available (a photography-based comic book and a double-feature horror chapbook shared with Thom Roland). I’m currently working on a collection of Stupid Children Stories, a hand-bound book of mixed media: short stories, photography, and childhood drawings.

As we continue distributing free beluga books to encourage mental health discussion, Sunflower Skins embraces a mindful, purposeful-play lifestyle in order to explore issues in a non-threatening environment; I play with Lego, plastic dinosaurs, Giant Microbes, and various other toys to focus on the absurd in my comics, whether it’s making literary jokes, socio-political observations, or completely silly dino scenes. I also make comics starring live spiders and take great pleasure in connecting with the natural world.

 SL: Anything specific you’d like me to mention in the article? Upcoming book fairs, etc…

BS: Feed the Whales is an important cause! I’ll send as many books as people want to anywhere in the world; free press for all! You can also support Sunflower Skins and Bulimic Belugas by spreading the word through t-shirts, buttons, or even little handmade plush whales.In December 2012 we’ll be taking the Bulimic Belugas to DisneyWorld! Blub blub!

Find me on Twitter @sunflowerskins

“I suppose now is a better time than ever to tell you about my anomalous medical condition.” – Maxwell, in The Altered Consciousness of Maxwell Silverhammer

“Ultimately, the criticism that’s leveled at it that it’s terribly written, is true.” – @litopia “The Porn Supremacy”, regarding Shades of Grey

Maxwell is an interesting fellow. Mystique and controversy surrounded his birth, and from his first breath he’s plagued by a mysterious, incurable illness that will preclude his having a “normal” life, and in fact alter his whole relationship with reality. Tragedy pierces the bubble of his existence, transforming his already wonky life, and still he presses on toward his goals with unfaltering, fairly unmerited, confidence to the end. His life is one of unfulfilled potential, and in that, serves as an adequate comparison to the story itself.

The Altered Consciousness of Maxwell Silverhammer is an ambitious novelette (Is that a new term, or a smaller novella? Can we just call this a short story? 20 pages is actually a short story). It introduces characters that could have such depth but never get there, too many unfulfilled plot possibilities, and some decidedly-poor word choices.

Am I being harsh?

Maybe I should lighten up, but here’s why I won’t: if we want to grab hold of the slipping standards of modern literature, we must start with critical thinking and honest opinions. We must stop shrugging everything off as passably good enough, or entertaining enough, or our literary landscape will soon reflect all the artistic quality of network TV.

I understand that the author, Daniel Bartlett, is an “emerging” artist, and rock-on in that regard. It’s an impressive feat to even get to that stage, statistically speaking. I fear this is an instance of immature writing though, and I don’t want the terms to become synonymous, nor do I feel one is an excuse for the other. This piece could’ve used some honest reads and serious re-writes before getting this far.

Well, it made it this far, and I’m an honest reader who thinks constructive criticism trumps complaining, so I offer a few universal tips that are specifically relevant:

1) Keep it simple. Yup. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Authors can see an infinite web of possibilities for their characters to embark on; a grand tangle of plot-lines stemming from a universe of factors unseen to the reader. For instance, the reader may or may not know why a character has a certain tattoo, whereas the author surely (I hope) knows. The craft is in knowing whether or not it’s pertinent for us to understand. Create or Die’s podcast episode entitled ‘Simplicity’ eloquently delves into the semantics of showing vs. telling, and the poignancy of “She smiled” over “She smiled because she was happy right then.” If your characters aren’t fleshing themselves out, their independent voices aren’t strong enough.

2) If I don’t care about your characters, I don’t care about your story. Plenty of people will take story over character, but I am not one. If characters are merely pronouns with a string of circumstances, I lose inter — oh look! A bird! Characters should have feelings and should be written about in a way that highlights their humanity. It makes them real. It makes me care.

3) A whole whack of people prefer stories to characters, so plots ought be kept tight. Don’t open so many options that none can be sufficiently seen through. It leaves danglies, (and it also leaves me musing over the more interesting turns we didn’t, but could’ve easily taken).

4) People seldom write how they speak, so writing dialogue is tricky by definition. Read it out loud as you write it, and don’t quit till it’s realistic. As a reader, if I can’t believe it, it never happened, hence your characters don’t exist, and your whole universe flashes out and turns into mere paper in my hand.

5) Run that bad boy through a spell check AND a human check. The cover page, the one with the title, should be especially flawless, slick graphics notwithstanding. Also, always number the pages when sending it out into the real world. Someone writing a review may want to print it up and read it at their convenience, and sans page numbers, they can only hope they’ve stapled it all into the right order.

The long and short of this short story is that I went into it hoping to be blown away, but found myself literally face-palming. It’s on sale on Amazon for 99 cents, and available on Kindle, which led to further face-palming. I started thinking that perhaps there’s a whole sect of skilled, probably discouraged, creative writers who aren’t sending their work out. Or that maybe as Litopia pointed out recently—and that statistics consistently prove—quality and popularity simply have nothing to do with one another.

On the other hand: beauty, beholder, eye, or something like that. It’ll cost you vastly less than a cup of decent coffee to see what I’m complaining about and whether or not you agree.

Having been adequately motivated, I’ve dubbed my bestie as my Lit Agent, and she’s Googling what that entails. In the meantime, I hope to read more emerging artists, and I pray to the Muses that the next thing that crosses my desk is so good it makes me wild with artistic envy.

Bring it.