Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Assassination Story Revised

Hilary Mantel came under fire for one of her stories that appeared in The Guardian. It's not that the critics were complaining about her decision to leave behind all things Cromwell and take at a stab at more recent historical fiction. It was her choice of subjects, and the people doing the loudest roaring were those who were fans of her short story's subject.

Ms. Mantel has no love for the late Margaret Thatcher. Economists can debate the late Prime Minister's policies in their numerical and distant way, but the people who did not prosper during her time in office look at things from their emotional point of view and decry all things Thatcher. She was a divisive sort of politician in a country that clings to its social caste system.

As an author, however, Ms. Mantel could take her fantasy a step further and write an entire story about someone hiding in a sniper's nest, just waiting for the right moment to assassinate Ms. Thatcher as she recovers from minor surgery. The PM did indeed undergo minor surgery, and the story presents a possible scenario that was well written, so well that it felt as if it could have happened.

The story can be revised now, in light of recent events in the United States. The assassin's target is no longer the British Prime Minister but the American President, and maybe the assassin isn't sitting in some hiding place but working as a Secret Service agent, supposed to be guarding but actually facilitating.

Fictional political thrillers are more believable if the author can trade off actual events to draw a reader in. It could have been, the reader will say as they turn the pages. Something in the news that stuck in their minds, and the author takes that memory and twists it until the reader is on a slightly skewed path, into make believe that contains a chunk of potential reality.

Will anyone write a short story called "The Assassination of Barack Obama" and have a group of his Secret Service agents plotting against him? What would make it seem plausible? How about a scene in which a security guard at the nation's Center for Disease Control rides the elevator with the President and his agents? The guard is carrying a hidden gun, and how did he manage to get close to the President with that weapon? The agent in charge of searching him is part of the cabal meant to put Joseph Biden in the White House.

He's not as dumb as he appears, that Joe Biden. In the story, the author could make him the brains behind the operation. Or maybe it could be his wife, who wants to bring about massive change to the national health care system.

Mad men hop the fence encircling the White House and no one stops them as they cross the lawn? There's more fodder for an author writing about a desperate plot to murder a politician. Readers could get lost in the conspiracy theories that a good author could concoct, and all of them based on real events like Hilary Mantel using Margaret Thatcher's vulnerability when hospitalized following surgery.

Of course, Ms. Thatcher is dead and using her as a subject in a short story has a very different feel than if Ms. Mantel had penned her story while Ms. Thatcher was very much alive. It is doubtful that The Guardian would have published such a tale while Ms. Thatcher was actually in hospital. A well-written story can serve to inspire those bent on doing evil deeds, and the less creative of the dangerous types would only find a brilliant idea in what was meant to be a story dealing with twists of fate and where history might have been turned by a chance encounter.

Don't expect to read "The Assassination of Barack Obama" any time soon.

But you can expect to hear a few talking heads discussing conspiracies and moles within the ranks of the Secret Service. At least that doesn't sound like rank incompetence where taxpayers would expect to see flawless performance and dedication.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Farewell To The Glory Of Encased Meats

Soon to be gone but never forgotten
There are those who laugh at the aficionado of the encased meat product. They scoff at those who waited in line for up to twelve hours on one of the finest Saturdays Chicago will see for a long time. They simply cannot appreciate the taste of a tube of ground meat served on a steamed bun with a variety of tasty condiments.

Hot Doug's is closing in a few days and those who once made the pilgrimage to the tiny corner restaurant will have no place to go for duck sausage draped in a blanket of foie gras. No more shrimp and grits as an accompaniment to a gourmet weiner. No more julienned potatoes fried in duck fat.

The line stretched endlessly on Saturday, with some arriving at 2 a.m. to be sure of eating a gourmet sausage one last time.

Cities are dotted with countless emporia that serve hot dogs. Different towns proclaim the glory of their local speciality, be it the salad in a bun that is the Chicago dog or the Coney Island hot dog with its frills of sauerkraut. But only Hot Doug's could boast of a sausage with foie gras that was nothing less than a slap in the face to some idiotic Chicago aldermen who put through a ban on foie gras sales in all Chicago restaurants. The finest eateries flinched and changed their menus. Hot Doug's said they weren't selling it but giving it away with the purchase of a sausage. Doug Sohn took his lumps and paid the fine and his fans made such a mockery of the anti-foie gras ordinance that it was soon overturned.

Farewell to the encased meats of Hot Doug's. The restaurant's sausages brought fine cuisine to the common man who might have been too intimidated for Charlite Trotter's and too poor for Alinea. We are truly sad to see you go.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Signed And Sealed With A Kiss As Per Agreement

Away from home and parental supervision, the children get up to all sorts of mischief at university. They learn about their chosen profession, of course, which is why you are spending all that money to educate them, but you know they are learning how to be adults at the same time. It's a transition phase, those four (usually more) years.

If you are so fortunate as to send your child to school in Georgia, the one in the States that is, they will learn how to sneak around to have a smoke. Uncover hidden reaches where they can light up without being caught by authorities. There will be no tobacco products allowed anywhere on any campus in the entire state, which never had much of a tobacco industry anyway so there's no lobbyists to complain.

Your child will not be exposed to second hand smoke in a dormitory room or while walking the leafy environs of the campus. The huddled masses will no longer be allowed to congregate near the entrance of a building, puffing away. But neither will anyone be allowed to use electronic cigarettes, with their harmless water vapor emissions. That's what the kids will learn to smoke without detection. There is no smell to give them away. The vapor released is just water, the sort of thing that would dissipate in the same way the clouds of steam dissipate from the communal showers.

Learning how to skirt laws is an important lesson for the child to master. They'll never get far in this world if they don't.

If smoking is the least of your worries, then steer your offspring to the vast school system in California. At least you know that your daughter won't be sexually assaulted, or your son accused of the same by some girl he hooked up with at a party. No indeed. No sex will take place on a California university campus without the express consent of the parties involved.

Students in California will be trained in the fine art of contract negotiation. Or they'll discover the character-building value of celibacy.

When you were a student, you just didn't really know what consent meant when you found yourself alone with someone you fancied. Women might be worrying about how far is too far and should I let him, while the men were not thinking with their heads at all, beyond a little voice that whispered something about offering encouragement if the lady seemed to waver in her commitment.

As a parent, you won't have to worry about your child going through that same torment. The couple, or however many are involved in sexual activity at any given time, must all agree. There must be a contract so that no one can later go to the authorities and claim sexual assault.

For now, all it takes is a yes. As in, let's fuck, and she says yes, let's. If she's drunk, well, a lad might think he heard a yes so he'll be needing to look for non-verbal clues, like her not resisting. Again, if she's had a big feed of drink, the muscles just don't respond to the brain's call for resisting, so what else can a man do to prove he's been given pre-approval?

There will be a need for contracts which the California university system can post online for easy downloading by students caught up in the flurry of raging hormones and human curiosity. It's just a matter of time until the state takes that next step, now that they've made it a law for all involved parties to express their consent to sexual activity.

The schools will likely be offering a class on how to consent, and what better time to explain the legalese of the new state-mandated sexual activity contract that must be signed and then duly notarized. Sure all that coupling before the law changed was spontaneous, and sure there would be less sex if people actually stopped for a minute to sign a contract and had a chance for their heads to clear. Many a young woman would reconsider in the hard light of sobriety, when she waited for her partner to read the fine print before inking his signature. She'd be thinking about waking up next to the wanker and what kind of good morning would that be?

All the problems of sexual discovery, solved by a law. As Charles Dickens wrote in OLIVER TWIST, "If the law supposes that...The law is a ass ---- a idiot."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Darkness In The Empty Cave

In August, publisher Ellora's Cave sent a letter to their authors to inform them that erotica wasn't selling like it used to. More specifically, the publisher notified the writers of a sharp drop in Amazon sales, where most e-books are sold.

Why was smut not selling? Who could say, but the sales drop was steep and the loss was hurting the bottom line. Changes had to be made to turn things around, and changes were dictated that many Ellora's Cave authors did not like. Editing and cover art was going to be done in-house in future, and if an author had a favorite editor they liked, it was too bad. The publisher wanted to exert more control over the product because how else could they discover where the problems were hiding in that sales decline?

In the event that the problem was with Amazon, known to manipulate sales to bring recalcitrant vendors to heel, the publisher also encouraged its authors to get their readers to buy direct from Ellora's Cave. At least all the royalty that would go to Amazon would then go to the publisher, so there was that little boost to the bottom line to consider.
Hairless? Really?

Authors were complaining before the letter arrived because they weren't getting their royalty checks in a timely manner. Clearly, the publisher was having cash flow problems and was doing what it could to turn the mighty ship of erotica around, but it's tough to balance the books on the backs of the employees, as it were. There were grumblings and suppositions and suggestions that Ellora's Cave was going under.

By mid-September of this year, industry watchdog Victoria Strauss was advising potential Ellora's Cave authors to be careful in submitting to the publisher, which seemed to be following a trajectory suggesting it was indeed going under. Several Ellora's Cave authors had asked for their rights back, complaining of unwieldy pricing policies and the difficulty in getting paid.

There was a post on a blog that laid out all sorts of issues about the publisher that strongly suggested the owner of Ellora's Cave was living the high life while the authors went without and employees lost their jobs. After reading that, who would have any confidence that the publisher would be around much longer? And given that, you'd be mad to submit to such a publisher.

There may be too much competition in erotic publishing these days, what with the many self-publishing options available. Authors could bypass Ellora's Cave, especially those who had established a following, and cut out the middle-man (unless writing about a menage a trois in which case a third party is essential). A blog post that states the publisher was not worthy of consideration would only harm the publisher's chances of recovery, since authors have other options. What could the publisher offer of value to an author besides a brand and strong marketing that were worth the author's investment? If the firm was soon to be unable to do that, a key component of a recovery plan would be ruined.

Ellora's Cave has struck back with a lawsuit against the writer who published the blog post alleging misbehavior and financial mismanagement. The court filing takes on the blog post points and states that they are not true, that there is no funny business at Ellora's Cave and the blog poster is just being malicious and causing further harm that would send Ellora's Cave into a death spiral.

Is Ellora's Cave failing?

We won't know until the case is heard in an Ohio court and a judge decides if Ellora's Cave's rebuttal to the blog post has merit.

In the meantime, potential erotica authors will think twice before submitting, not knowing where their smutty manuscript could end up, and their publication rights with it.

Tell The Wolves I'm Home: A Book Review

Authors will often tell a story from the point of view of a young character, one whose innocence precludes the need to delve too deeply into a sensitive subject. There are countless novels of the Holocaust told through a child's eyes, with the child blissfully unaware of the bigger picture.

In TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME, Carol Rifka Brunt opts to follow the formula. The novel is told by June, who also follows the other stereotype as the 'weird' sister of the family. That makes the girl an outsider and it is always the outsider who sees things more clearly because they're on the outside looking in on the more popular kids.

The novel is almost historical fiction, with a setting in the late 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was so new that no one really knew the cause or how the disease was transmitted. June's uncle dies of AIDS early in the story, and June must come to grips with losing her beloved uncle while fielding the harshness of her older, talented, prettier sister.

Isn't it always that way? What more do you need to establish some conflict than pit teenaged sisters against each other?

So there's June in mourning and there's her mother (distant, of course and too busy to pay the daughter much attention) who blames the dead man's lover for essentially murdering her brother. It comes as no surprise that June, the outsider, is drawn to the lover who is naturally another outsider because he's a gay man. It's a bit of forbidden fruit, with June sneaking around to meet the man whom her mother despises, all to learn more about her uncle's unknown private life.

While she does this sneaking, June's sister falls apart under Mammy's pressure to excel, and as the story progresses we see the conflict grow between sisters who cannot communicate because they are too young to know how. They can only express themselves to each other by painting on top of a portrait their famous uncle painted of them right before he died.

The narrative has a tendency to drag through long bouts of navel gazing and ruminations on the rather insignificant, but when your narrator is a child, there is no room to spread out within an insular world. I found myself skimming through long passages, in search of the story that got bogged down in the mundane.

In the end, June saves the day, and her family arrives at a place of greater understanding. The novel could be labelled a coming of age tale, with little June growing up as she discovers the truth about her mother's tense relationship with the uncle, a relationship that mirrors June's tense relationship with her sister. It's all a lot of jealousy and misunderstanding that is solved with the deaths of those who came between brother and sister and then sister and sister.

Though rather long for a YA novel, this one feels like a good fit for angst-ridden teen girls who seem to find drama in nearly everything and often feel as if they don't fit in with the rest of their age group. They will easily relate to June.

Friday, September 26, 2014

David Bowie As Art

Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art is hoping that Americans are so enraptured with David Bowie that they will come in droves to see what is sold as an art exhibit.

Is "David Bowie Is" an art exhibit, or would the collection fit better with another museum? A museum that displays old artifacts and presents anthropology in a slightly dry and dusty manner, perhaps?
Where does David Bowie fit in with this?

Museums are stretching the meaning of their message these days as the exhibitors try to find something that will interest people who have more entertainment options than they can process. Modern art, in particular, is a tough sell because not everyone is appreciative of a large empty room containing a plastic sheet sprinkled with dirt. Finding the deeper meaning can often be too much for a casual Saturday stroll when you're tired from the work week and just want to rest your eyes on something soothing.

The David Bowie-approved collection of his paraphernalia opened in Chicago and the critics don't seem to know what to make of it, either. It's a trip down memory lane for those old enough to recall the musician in his prime, when he was cutting edge in both music and performance. The stage shows were works of art, in their way, but it wouldn't be much of an art museum draw to just play a tape of some old concert.

A coke spoon pays tribute to the performer's drug addled days, but is that art or just a sad testimony to a life of overindulgence, fear of falling into irrelevancy, and boredom?

Are his costumes works of art? The hair, the make-up, is that art or is it all part of a production number that is less art and more marketing of a musician? Does the collection become art because of the way that the museum curators arrange it, is that where the art is?

That David Bowie was once aiming for a career in advertising would suggest that he's done a fine job of promoting himself with many of the attention-grabbing ploys of the advertiser. Yet we treat old posters as art and hang them on walls, often in art museums. It isn't what is being sold, then, but how it is being sold.

In part, the exhibit is a retrospective of David Bowie's career, in which he tried different styles and images in a bid to stay relevant in a changing musical world. There is an art to achieving fame and then keeping it, but whether that's suitable for an art museum is something to discuss over drinks after touring the exhibit.

And as long as you're in Chicago to see the evolution of a musical performer presented as an art exhibit, why not stop by the finest museum in the world and see what most would consider to be true art? The Art Institute of Chicago houses a collection that runs the gamut from ancient to modern. Throw that into the mix and the discussion on what constitutes art would be a lively one indeed.

Turtle Smuggling For Profit, or, Do-It-Yourself Vasectomy

A question for the men:

How much would someone have to pay you to tape turtles to your body so that you could smuggle them out of the country? Not just anywhere on your body, guys. To your legs and your crotch. How much?

Customs officials in Detroit caught a Chinese man of Canadian citizenship trying to cross back into Canada with fifty-one turtles taped to his legs and groin. Either the man was large or the turtles were small, to fit that many onto his body.

Did Kai Xu flinch as he walked through a parking lot in full view of customs officers? Did he waddle like someone trying to keep a bunch of snapping turtles from snapping his balls off?
Are you sure this won't bite the old twig and berries?

The agents have only said that they saw the gentleman disappear behind a tractor-trailer and then reappear ten minutes later, his sweatpants bulging in an odd way. Maybe the turtles were chilled to keep them still and Kai Xu was struggling to maintain his composure with ice-cold invertebrates pressing against his privates. At any rate, he attempted to drive through the checkpoint and he was promptly stopped.

And searched.

It would not take much searching to determine that the man either had an acute onset of some very unusual disease or he was covered with turtles.

Chinese herbalists like certain species of American turtles for the medicinal properties they think the creatures contain. Then there's the lure of turtle soup, and Oriental chefs will pay top dollar to obtain the key ingredient. An ordinary pond turtle can be worth over $1,000 in the market, and if you multiply that by 51 you can see why Kai Xu let that many slimy, potentially dangerous critters so close to the family jewels.

Kai Xu was working with a friend who was also in the smuggling trade, moving American turtles to Shanghai via a far more conventional method. No squirming, snapping turtles resting on his gonads for Lihua Lin, however. He simply packed his haul in a couple of checked bags, knowing that the chill of the cargo hold would preserve his valuable goods. At least his lower half was warm and dry when he was arrested at Detroit's airport, charged with smuggling wildlife.

Rather than return home, the gentlemen will spend some time with American law enforcement.

For endangering his manhood, Kai Xu expected a hefty return. Instead, he risked his nuts for nothing.

Which just goes to show that crime doesn't pay. Especially when one's genitalia are put at risk.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Poor Choice Of Words

We are dog fanciers, Mr. Cameron
One does not say that the Queen of England "purrs". Elizabeth II is not some pampered house cat.

The word "purr" might have expressed the Queen's attitude when she learned that the Scottish independent vote had gone her way. She wanted to keep Scotland under the United Kingdom umbrella. Her kingdom is small enough already and did some considerable shrinking over the course of her reign, so we would not be surprised to hear that she was quite pleased at the good news.

But to purr, like a contented cat?

Hardly the right word to use in reference to a monarch. Come to think of it, you really wouldn't want to describe any female as purring if you know what's good for you.

Now David Cameron has to find some other words to express how sorry he is that he claimed Her Majesty purred when he told her that Scotland was still British. For the use of one small word he must compile a string of others, because words have meaning beyond the surface. Words have a context and can express a larger thought without excess verbiage. It's all about showing, and not telling, and purr certainly shows that David Cameron should have thought a little longer about how best to tell anyone that Her Majesty was happy. Pleased would have been a better word. Delighted, perhaps. Thankful for the peaceful process that was the election.

But purr?

No, Mr. Cameron. The Queen isn't purring. By all accounts she is fuming at the insult contained in that nasty little four letter word. The comment was expressed to New York's former mayor Michael Bloomberg but having been uttered in a public place, it was overheard and then summarily reported by members of the press. What should have been kept to himself became a matter of much discussion in British circles, where that which is said between Queen and Prime Minister is not to leave the room when he walks out.

Writers are constantly being told to show, rather than tell. Can there be any better lesson than that learned by David Cameron?

Why Wait?

The best of intentions can be lost to dithering. You want to enter the contest to win a free copy of THE SECOND WAR OF REBELLION but if you put it off, you are likely to forget and then where are you? Missing out is where, on the outside looking in.

Go on. Click on the linkin the box below.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Second War of Rebellion by Katie Hanrahan

The Second War of Rebellion

by Katie Hanrahan

Giveaway ends October 20, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
You say you're living in England or Ireland and the contest isn't open to your sort? Not to worry. Newcastlewest Books has a plan to post a second giveaway, with fewer books because it's expensive to ship those things around the world. Or you could go to the website and navigate over to the contact page, where you can ask if there are any books to spare sitting around the office. There might be. It won't hurt to ask. Why should the readers in the States and Canada have all the fun?

If you're a great one for the thrill of anticipation, you can pre-order a digital copy of the novel and have it suddenly appear in your library on the 25th of November when the book is officially launched. It's also available for pre-order via Smashwords if Amazon isn't to your liking.

Wherever you go you can find a short sample if you'd like to read the opening pages.

Go on, why are you waiting? Today is as good a day as any, and by tomorrow you might forget.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Diversity In Publishing And Lost Readers

This is not exactly news, but it could be an alarm, not for an industry, but for society.

Publishers Weekly reports that the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white.  Those who work in this industry are already aware of that fact. Those who follow the industry are likely aware of the majority whiteness as well. Look at any photo snapped at any industry get-together, from a book signing to a launch party to Book Expo America, and the faces are uniformly pale. And female, but that's another issue.

Why don't non-white types not go into the publishing game?

At first glance, you might rely on stereotypes of Asians and conclude that they are too smart to join an industry that pays little for long hours. They go into medicine for the long hours, and get paid well for the effort, unlike publishing which returns little more than satisfaction in seeing a beloved manuscript turned into a book for others to enjoy. Asians prefer the rigor of engineering to the artistry of prose so they don't choose publishing as a career.

What about blacks? Why so few black people in the publishing industry? Are we to conclude that black people don't read?

What has industry insiders worried is that the lack of African-American influence in what gets published is having an effect on black readership. If literary agents and acquisitions editors are not falling in love with manuscripts that will resonate with blacks, then those manuscripts are not being printed. African-Americans who peruse the shelves at bookstores or libraries then don't find books they can get lost in because there isn't anything within the pages that they relate to.

Not everyone cares for Maya Angelou's prose, just as some don't see what is so great about F. Scott Fitzgerald or Stephen King. Richard Wright and James Baldwin are fine if you want literary fiction, but how about some sci-fi or fantasy or romance or historicals? Just ordinary books that entertain, but also touch on the African-American experience in rust belt cities or sleepy rural enclaves.

The lack of readers leads to a lack of writers, and so the industry ends up reinforcing the existing population within the industry. Publishing will continue to be majority white if black kids don't develop some interest in reading and then grow up to be English majors. Without the right kinds of books, they do not find much to enjoy and reading then loses out to video game playing as the favorite leisure activity.

Big cities host all night basketball tournaments to get kids off the streets. Will there ever by an all night readathon for the same purpose, or has publishing already lost another generation of potential readers?

America's Got (Writing) Talent, or, So You Think You Can Write

Amazon long ago launched a novel writing contest that was supposed to find talent. Like all those televised popularity contests that populate the small screen, there is some notion that if a lot of people vote in favor of a person, that person must be the most talented and thus destined for greatness.

Can you name a winner of Amazon's breakthrough novel award?

Did you read one of the novels? Buy one?

As it turned out, a lot of people might vote in favor of a certain novel and wish to see it published, but in the end, there are not crowds of people waiting to buy that novel when it is laid down. The author gets a little publicity, and a line to add to the resume, but the contest has not discovered a blockbuster writer because there is a difference between voting on a small list and selecting your reading material from the many possibilities that sit on a bookstore shelf.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Second War of Rebellion by Katie Hanrahan

The Second War of Rebellion

by Katie Hanrahan

Giveaway ends October 20, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
Then there is the preliminary round of culling the talented from the ordinary. Amazon supplies the judges, or should we say editors, who determine if a manuscript is publishable. Their tastes may not match what most readers are looking for.

For some reason, Amazon is determined to make this thing work. It will soon launch a new contest that will see the winner published. This contest will end with a digital publication, however, which will save Amazon some money. Especially if sales match those of the Breakthrough Novel programme.

So you think you can write? Dance on over to Amazon once they open to entries and submit your manuscript. Then get all your friends to vote for your manuscript. And have them get their friends and relatives and co-workers to vote for your manuscript. With an advance of $1500.00 riding on this, you might consider hiring a handful of day laborers to sit in front of a computer and vote for your manuscript.

When you're trying to get somewhere with a crowdsourcing platform, you need a crowd.

Does that have anything to do with how good your manuscript actually is, or does it say more about your ability to market yourself? If you think you can write but you also are very extroverted, with a large coterie of friends and relations, you will do better in this new system than someone who has genuine talent but is far too introverted to go asking around among strangers in search of support.

But what do you get in this beauty contest if you do win? Besides the $1500.00 advance, you would earn half of any net profit, which could be just about nothing. E-books are inexpensive to produce and you'd have to sell to a very large crowd to reach the advance, let alone to surpass it. And how much could you get if you just went out and published your e-book on a platform like Smashwords, where you keep a much larger chunk of the proceeds? Besides keeping the rights, which Amazon wants for at least five years.

Amazon is looking to get into the publishing game, and has not enjoyed much success of late. Can this be anything other than another attempt to put a charge into the venture, using the authors to do the promoting?