Writers & Fraudsters: We Dream Big and We Believe Our Lies
Post Media Columnist Praises The Dead Celebrities Club:
To read an excerpt from the novel,
Read An Excerpt
Off to Jail Excerpt: The Dead Celebrities Club
Anxiously, I follow the C.O. into a room the size of my walk-in closet in the Receiving and Discharging Building. I have purposefully worn an old, double-breasted suit, and when the C.O. asks if he should mail my clothes home, I suggest he burn them. The man doesn’t crack a smile. Instead he asks me to undress and then he searches my orifices; his latex-sheathed fingers inside my rectum feel thick and unpleasantly warm.
I receive the standard prison issue: two large-sized khaki uniforms called “browns,” two blankets, two sheets, and a pillow. I am also given undershirts, socks, and undergarments. I can buy sweat pants at the commissary shop. Then the guard marches me out into the yard and leaves me standing dizzy and frightened like a prison mole blinking up at the light.
Unfortunately, the dope has left me feeling light-headed. If you aren’t subject to spells of dizziness, it’s hard to fathom a sensation akin to a window opening behind your eyes, a porthole that lets in air where coil upon coil of your brain matter should be. As soon as my dizziness kicks in, my heart begins beating too quickly. The sinus node, the body’s natural pacemaker, is sending the wrong electrical impulses through the right
atrium, increasing my heart rate. Because I make a crash when I fall, because a large falling man changes the environment no matter how much I might wish otherwise, because I will end up a creature of ridicule, I have no interest in fainting on my first day in my new home.
The tang of male sweat drifts my way. I force myself to turn around. Nothing anyone has said prepared me for the sight in the prison yard. I may as well have stepped into a scene from the television show Oz. Most of the ne’er-do-wells are black or Latino, while the beefy guards are white-skinned, and they all stand waiting for me to play my role in the tawdry prison melodrama to which I’ve been consigned against my will.
Over by the gate, an imposing black man wearing a Vandyke is heading
my way followed by three guards who are each restraining a German shepherd. The man’s closely shaved head rests like a black bowling ball on his shoulders. As he comes closer, I see he is wearing rimless glasses and a dark business suit. His stiff military bearing and the way the other men look at him suggest I am about to meet the warden.
Nathan Rickard, the warden says, extending his hand. The tremor in his voice suggests my presence is having an impact. Celebrity has a habit of doing that, although you could chop up my Midas-like traits, along with the traits of other celebrities, and feed the parts into a blender and out would come some variation of a well-known financier and nobody would notice the difference. I was once mistaken for Wolf Kruger, the head of the securities commission. Wolf and I don’t even look alike. Yet there is something there—a grave facial expression—a knowing gleam in the eye. The gold dust of celebrity does the rest.
Behind the warden, some of the prisoners are clapping and calling my name while others are yelling the same insults the journalists had used earlier: Fraudster! Crook! You get the gist. The warden ignores the men and steers me forward, his large dark eyes behind the lens of his glasses darting warily around the yard. We have almost reached the prison buildings when three men step into our path. Is one of the miscreants about to stick me with a knife? They could be bubble-wrapped for all the good my ability to read my fellow humans does me this morning. While I try to quiet the arterial flutters of my heart, one of the scofflaws shouts, Make us rich, Dale Paul!
With your money and my ideas, we’ll go far! I execute a mock bow.
The scofflaws call out enthusiastic hurrahs. The German shepherds begin to bark, standing on their hind legs, straining against their leashes; the guards appear to be marshalling all their strength to keep the dogs under control. A whistle shrills; the dogs drop to all fours, stop barking, and the cries die away. By the time the warden and I reach my dormitory, the place has assumed a churchy quiet.
If you figure out how to make money in here, let me know. The warden smiles an odd, secretive smile.
You have my word, good sir, I reply.
Heck, you sound just like you do on television. He chuckles.
He doesn’t realize I am serious. In the parking lot this morning, while my friend Nugent stood chatting with the guard, the idea of betting on the death of aging celebrities popped into my befuddled brain like the ping of an email dropping into my inbox. To qualify, you must be in the news and about to die.
Can you see where I’m going with this? Well, all in good time.
To read about the writing process for this novel,
Can someone like Dale Paul be forgiven?
In Susan Swan’s new novel, The Dead Celebrities Club, Dale Paul isn’t just looking for legal redemption but also forgiveness from those he claims to love. So we asked – Can someone convicted of financial crimes be redeemed?
Could you be like Dale Paul?
Susan Swan’s new novel, The Dead Celebrities Club, chronicles a Toronto-born financial tycoon’s imprisonment for fraud and shows the lengths people go to for paydays. So we asked – Do you think most people would throw someone under the bus for $1 million dollars?
Thank you to our video participants!
Cher Jones Cher Jones Social Media Trainer
Stephen Thomas Halo Advisory
Kevin Huhn Kevin Huhn – Business Growth Strategist, Results Coach
Zoe Share Schmooz
and Alan Gruda, Be Your Best Today
BOAT TROUBLE Podcast
It’s been two years since I wrote a blog here. My excuse? I’ve been down a rabbit hole with my new novel, The Dead Celebrities Club, and I am only now coming up for air. This website is getting a face lift in October and I will start posting about Anxiety Pancakes: Life at the End of the Novel.
But right now I wanted to let you know that Accessible Media is airing a podcast this Sunday of my short story in the Walrus titled, Boat Trouble. AM is also broadcasting a short interview with me talking about the real life incident that inspired the story. That is, the summer night, my partner and I were out in an old wooden boat without a moon or proper running lights, lost like cijits (short for city idiots) in the Open, as the locals call the wide open water of the Georgian Bay.
Here is the pertinent info about the podcast:
The broadcast is this Sunday July 30 at 7pm Eastern time. It will be available on AMI-audio’s audio-only cable television channel (Rogers 196, Bell 49, Telus 889, etc) as well as on our online livestream at www.ami.ca/listenlive
This group also puts the shows up online as a podcast: you can search for “the Walrus with Lloyd Robertson” on iTunes or any other podcast program.
Read BOAT TROUBLE (published by The Walrus, summer 2017) BoatTrouble-WalrusPub
Anxiety Pancakes: Writing a Novel is like Building a House (Or Something)
It’s back to the drawing board for me. My knowledgeable readers have spoken and said that the story in my novel doesn’t start moving early enough. I accept their views because I did what I said was necessary in my last post: I listened to them and I reread a good chunk of my manuscript myself.
Some writers have to complete each page perfectly before they move on to the next. But for me, writing a novel is like building a house. I do it in stages. First, the note making and research, and filling a large page with the names of some of the characters and a list of some of the scenes. Then I do the first draft on a tape recorder so I have something to work with–a blurt, as I call it. You get the gist. Down goes the floor but oops maybe I’ve forgotten to dig the foundations. And how about that missing roof?
A crucial stage is finding the voice. It took me almost a year to find the right voice for The Dead Celebrities Club. Now it seems I have been confusing the theme of my novel with the story and I need to go back, and streamline my prose so the story isn’t lost in my descriptions. That means throwing out some chapters and extraneous pages, something I find hard to do because I am the loyal type. If I’ve worked on passages until they glisten it breaks my heart to say good-bye although saying good-bye is what I must do.
I’ll put my discarded sections in a file so I can bring them out if I need them. That way these passages aren’t banished forever.
So I’m picking up my hammer and saw and possibly a wrecking ball. It’s time to get down to work.
Anxiety Pancakes: The Horror of Vulnerability
The experience of waiting is like floating free in a void, as if I’ve been set adrift in the galaxy without a space station in sight. Adrift? Really? Yes, adrift in the sense that my identity seems to be on the line. Do I rely too much on my work for my sense of who I am? I do, I admit it, and I hate waiting for reactions to my writing. It makes me feel vulnerable and edgy.
Waiting on others is especially hard for someone like me. In the personality chart of the enneagram, I’m number eight, the challenger. A prominent trait of this personality type is taking charge of their circumstances. The basic fear of the challenger is being controlled by others. Being vulnerable, in other words. And feeling vulnerable is horrifying.
Yet vulnerability is the link to creativity. Without it, I would understand nothing about myself or my fellow humans. So I’m going to hang there in space and stay open to the help that others can give me with my book. Aren’t I?
Anxiety Pancakes: When Is A Novel Finished?
In the spring, I said I was finishing my novel, The Dead Celebrities Club, about a white collar fraudster who starts a betting game about old and frail celebrities in a US prison. My dreams told me I was on the home stretch. Well, it turns out there are home stretches and then some.
The first job with a novel is getting the voice of your character right and finding your story. After that, it’s anybody’s guess how many times you will revise your draft. Leonardo da Vinci said art is never finished, only abandoned and Paul Valery said the same thing about a poem. Writers have been talking about the need to abandon and not finish novels for a long time now.
But when is a novel finished? That is, what makes the writer decide it’s time to show it? When I began novel writing, I handed over my draft to an agent long before my book was done. I wanted my agent to find an editor who would help me finish it.
Today I hold onto my work much longer. Most editors are too busy to nurse along a work of fiction so sometimes the agent steps in and helps the writer finish their book before it is shown to publishers.
So when is a novel finished? Here’s a clue: When you show it to a few knowledgeable readers and they don’t say your book needs a lot more work. Key phrase––a lot more. Critical readers will always find something wrong; that’s their job. But if their comments resonate with you and the problems they spot are easily fixable, your novel may be close to being finished.
The other answer is your own reaction. Leave your novel for a month or so. Then go back and read it through. If you find it (mostly) surprises and pleases you, maybe it’s time to show it. Or you can always hug your manuscript close like Alistair MacLeod until somebody pries it away from you.
Riding through the Waves like Poseidon Scouting Out Film Locations
On Labour Day Sunday, I rode through the waves like Poseidon with my brother John and the young film makers who are making a film of my last novel, The Western Light. It is set in a tourist town on the Georgian Bay.
We scouted out the lighthouse on Hope Island, part of a trio of huge wooded islands off Cedar Point on the Georgian Bay. The blue watery realm is so isolated that the physical experience of being there feels like drifting into a metaphysical dimension. This atmosphere is partly created by the lack of cottages or homes since the islands belong to the band on Christian Island. The film makers Hannah Cheesman and Mackenzie Donaldson took pictures and tried to imagine filming in such a rugged location. Unfortunately, the original top of the 1881 lighthouse had been replaced by a steel structure and light. Hannah is wearing a captain’s hat; Mackenzie is smiling into the camera.
These are Mackenzie’s photos, a taste, she says, of our afternoon on the water. The trip ended with a visit to the Waypoint Health Centre in Penetang, the old psychiatric hospital that is also in my novel. An old Georgian Bay lighthouse is also in the story.
Hannah and Mackenzie were just named two of the 2015 top five people to watch in Canadian film. Their short Boxing is at TIFF this September. The other producer Lauren Grant was home looking after her month old baby. Her most recent feature Wet Bum, which debuted at TIFF last year, was featured in a recent Globe and Mail article.