Saturday, September 30, 2006

Like Father Ted, Only Not Funny

Throughout the long run of the "Father Ted" series, there was a running joke about Father Ted's penchant for gambling and deep yearning to go to Las Vegas. What a surprise to find out that there really are such priests, except they are not starring in a comedy show.

A monsignor no less, 79-year-old John Skehan is currently residing in the Palm Beach County jail in sunny Florida, not enjoying the sunshine however. Before he returns to the sandy beaches of the Atlantic shore, he'll have to clear up the matter of the missing funds. Not the few pennies out of the St. Vincent box, but in line with a grand theft amount exceeding $100,000.

Turns out he's been helping himself to church funds for ages - maybe for all forty years that he was assigned to a Florida parish. Did well for a poor lad out of Kilkenny, except of course that he had to resort to theft to be a success. So it looks like he may be forced to sell his Kilkenny pub, and the lovely wee cottage in Clare, and then the parish will be looking for him to replace the money.

Can you imagine the sight at the Palm Beach International Airport last Wednesday when the good father got off the plane from Ireland? Rather embarrassing for the old cleric, I'd have to say, to be cuffed and arrested in the public eye. Such a thing would never happen in Dublin, would it? Humiliate a priest, ah no, the Garda would have to be more discreet about it.

There's said to be about $8.6 million gone missing, used for property investment, holidays and the like. But the monsignor was not alone in his little scheme. The police are now searching for his successor at the parish, Father Francis Guinan, who comes from County Offaly. Now, he was not one to waste money on investments and the like. The police are claiming that Father Guinan was fond of those trips to Las Vegas. And then there was the parish bookkeeper to look after, paying her credit card bills and providing for her child's education.

We've got Father Ted, Eammon Casey and Michael Cleary, all rolled into one parish, and the Catholic Church in Ireland has gained yet another humiliating black eye. I know it's not funny, but can anyone help but laugh over the whole fiasco? Maybe that's why "Father Ted' was so funny - it was all about things that you just couldn't make up.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Chump Change

Poor Bertie Ahern - in quite a mess, now that the Irish Times has published a leak and told the world of some very friendly generosity. Indeed, it's not what you know, it's who you know, and doesn't Chicago look more Irish than ever?

Thirteen years ago, Mr. Ahern was in the midst of a marital break-up and greatly in need of cash. Lots of cash, by all accounts, to pay off his soon to be ex-wife and provide for the future of his two little girls. What's a man to do, if he does not want to stay married and yet he does not want to go bankrupt getting out of his wedding vows? If you're a government minister with wealthy friends, you go begging hat in hand. Good friends would know how desperately you wanted out of the marriage, and really good friends would help you out. So goes Mr. Ahern's explanation of why he was given several thousand pounds.

The Opposition is jumping all over it, trying to make the payments look like bribes. The problem is, no one got anything out of it, except Bertie, who got Celia Larkin. No vast sums of money were handed over, no hidden bank accounts discovered. Ahern needed to fund his separation and his ex-wife Miriam agreed the deal. For all the hot hair spewing out of the Dail these days, though, you'd think someone was pocketing some big money. Fools. Take a look at what's happening in Chicago if you want something real.

Chicago's mayor turned to his friends as well, and we all know that political campaigns are costly ventures. A good friend would know how desperately he wanted to be mayor, and some really good friends helped him out. However, those same friends were given plum positions that brought in some vast amounts of cash, more than making up for whatever was donated to fundraising efforts. The Feds are busy investigating the whole corrupt mess, starting from the bottom, where folks with qualifications found out that they were lacking the only real qualification. It's not what you know, it's who you know.

Will Bertie Ahern be forced to step down? Will the coalition government topple? Should the Progressive Democrats pull out? Yes, all this tempest over relatively small wads of Irish pounds. Amateurs, the lot of them, rank amateurs. And they call that corruption. They don't know what corruption is.

Reading For Study

I'm a fan of book reviews, if only to gather up some titles of new offerings so that I can be more efficient at the library. It's a slow go if you don't have any idea what you're looking at as you peruse the spines in the new releases section. And once I get the book home, I'd rather not waste my reading time on something that has a plot I won't like - say, medical examiner solving mysterious murder.

There's another thing about pairing the review to the actual novel. By reading both, I can see how the book gets distilled down to a query-like essence, with the reviewer using some words and phrases that sum up story line and plot. As always, I'm looking for a bit of learning. The whole reading for pleasure thing is out the window.

With that in mind, the next book I read is going to be Kate Atkinson's latest, One Good Turn. It's not that the plot is intriguing or the characters of the sort that I could relate to. No, I'm going to read her book because the NYT review indicates it has multiple story lines and the writer does a good job in keeping everyone in line.

The first thing I thought of when I read the review is that I could learn something from this novel. How does one go about weaving separate plots in a book? Two unrelated characters appear in one scene together, and then are given their own story lines to follow, but how exactly does that work properly? Within the confines of the novel, all the disparate stories come together, and I can get a sense of how to do that by reading this book. Not reading it for enjoyment, no, but I will treat the novel as if it were part of a homework assignment.

In a way, I'm just part of the home school movement. Continuing education, so to speak.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Please Try Again

Well, it finally came, after a long, long wait. The editors of Indiana Review have sent a rejection. And once again, it's the old 'But do please send something else, won't you, even though we are rejecting this piece.'

What's to be done? Another round of submissions, now that most literary journals are open for submissions. There's something so maddeningly frustrating about all this, a sort of close but no cigar sort of feeling. I'd be a fool not to try again, when I almost made it the first time around.

Still, I have fifteen other subs out there. What's a few more? There are so very many journals, not stellar and maybe not paying, but a credit is credit and I do believe I need something. Or I could give up literary fiction and switch to murder mysteries. Hmm, write what you know. Would I have to kill someone to make for believable prose? Writing from Death Row - now that's some kind of author bio that would make a literary agent sit up and take notice.

High-Priced Gladhand

Just off his recent war of words with Fox News, Bill Clinton has turned up in Dublin, and is leaving town with his pockets stuffed with cash. Not quite literally, but close enough.

While a lucky few (make that a wealthy few) nibbled canapes and guzzled champagne, the 42nd President of the USA delivered a thirty minute lecture on leadership. Not a word about Monica, by all accounts, and no one asked any nasty questions about being asleep at the wheel during some critical times. All were most pleasant guests, but at those prices...well, who'd misbehave?

According to the Irish Times, about 450 folks attended the fest, but of greater interest were the twenty or so who had a Private Audience with himself. After laying out 1000 Euro just to get a seat at a table, these Clinton fans shelled out an additional 3000 Euro, plus VAT, for the chance to be shuttled off to a side room where The Man shook their hand, said hello how d'ya do, and smiled for the camera. Well, for that kind of money you'd want evidence, wouldn't you? This is Christmas card material here, without a doubt.

To save a bit of money, or if you're not quite as rich as you wish you were, you could have pooled your resources with a group of ten and purchased a full table at 10,000 Euro (of course add in VAT, the government's going to get their cut), but then it would be the luck of the draw to see who among you was the one granted access to the Private Audience. Or you could skip the handshake and photo altogether and simply bask in the glory of breathing the same air as You-Know-Who, for the bargain price of 7500 Euro per table of ten.

Now, it you aren't so keen on meeting the former leader of the free world, you might have enjoyed mingling with some truly high-flying stars. Ryan Tubridy of RTE radio was there, along with a couple of Senators and former taoiseach Albert Reynolds. The Lord Mayor of Dublin was in attendance, along with builder Joe Cosgrave. For the ladies, there was the handsome Royston Brady, married to be sure, but a girl can look, can't she?

As for the speech, it was noted that Mr. Clinton was definitely exhausted by his whirlwind fundraising tour, but he carried on bravely through a thirty minute talk (given without notes) and a brief question and answer session. Oh, and the handshake and photo bit as well, he managed to please the twenty who can display their financial prowess to all the world with a lovely snapshot prominently positioned in the foyer. "Ah sure and it's Bill Clinton there with me" they can say when friends drop in for a cuppa. Such a portrait calls out for a gilt frame at the least.

How full were Mr. Clinton's pockets when he boarded the plane out of Dublin? I'll leave it to you to do the math.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

And Baby Makes...

Carefully crafted the query letter, so I did, and then double checked spelling and grammar in the first chapter. Copied and pasted the lot of it into an e-mail, and then I checked it all again.

Verify the agent's name, check. Verify file attachment, check. Say a prayer...Who is the patron saint of writers, anyway? And then it's time to hit the send button and hope for the best.

Sorry to report that Stacy Glick of Dystel and Goderich is heading off on maternity leave. She sent a form rejection of my query, so I don't put much stock in the line about the project being intriguing. All the same, it's one less agent at the firm to query, and I presume that the others are going to pick up the slack while Mrs. Glick is out of commission. Not that I'd let something like that deter me from querying someone else there, of course.

There's plenty of other agents to pester, and there's plenty of writing to be done. All the best to the little chiseler just the same, and here's hoping that the thought of sending the wee babe off to college one day will drive Mrs. Glick back into agenting with renewed passion and an intense desire to sign on more new writers. I'm a prolific one, I swear to you, cranking out a novel a year and the occasional short story. A real money-maker, if you get my drift.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tailored to Fit

I've got to stop this querying process - I've made a mess, I believe.

According to Kristin Nelson's blog, she is still looking for new clients. In the archives at her site are some sample successful queries, so I modified my letter to fit what she seems to look for in a letter.

Four days letter, it's a form rejection. Was it the query? Or was it the story? Too edgy? Not explained well enough? Not the sort of plot she's looking for? Who knows?

Pam Strickler is open for submissions once again, but I guess not interested in my manuscript. Following her policy, I pasted the opening pages into the e-mail, but the rejection was just boilerplate standard. So, was it the writing? Was she not taken with the first five pages, or was the story not quite what she is looking for? Granted, it's not a standard romance novel ready for sale to Kensington or Harlequin, but is that what she wants or is my manuscript no good?

Time to focus on the WIP and put the query letter aside. Trying to follow all the advice that's out there, I think I've got a muddle that will need to be re-worked after a brief spell to recover my senses. And there's the fourteen short story submissions to wait on. I've plenty of stress to keep my mind frazzled.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Time Marches On

For three thousand days they have protested. Three thousand days of holding a grudge. Three thousand days of feeling put upon.

On Saturday night, the Portadown Orange Order had their march, to let the world know that they have suffered these last three thousand days. For three thousand days, they have been prevented from marching through the Catholic neighborhoods, to show them who's the boss, and they turned out on Saturday to show their displeasure. Yes, they turned out in their thousands....strike that. They turned out in their hundreds. All five hundred of them.

The Drumcree parade went past St. John's Catholic Church on the Garvaghy Road, past the Drumcree Church of Ireland and on to the bridge that they have not been allowed to march across. How unfair that they cannot parade further along the Garvaghy Road, with their bands and banners and sashes. How hysterically funny that these bowler-hatted dinosaurs think that anyone much cares anymore about them and their petty upset.

There was taunting by the few nationalists who came out to watch the protest. Ha, ha, they sneered, two-nil. It was the score of an afternoon soccer match, with Celtic defeating the Rangers. Not to be outdone, the loyalists threw back their own taunts -- mocking the murder of Michael McIlveen. That pretty much describes the vast gulf between the two camps.

Even the parade's organizers had to concede that Drumcree is not the hot button issue it used to be. Then again, the IRA is not what it used to be since they swore off violence and disarmed. It has recently been demonstrated with piles of facts and figures that Protestants in the north of Ireland aren't anywhere near as disadvantaged as Catholics, and the Catholics are still getting the short end of the stick when it comes to jobs and public aid. Everything that the Orangemen insisted was true has been shown to be false.

The world has kept on spinning while the Orangemen stood still. Now the world has passed them by. Ah yes, the dinosaurs.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Love Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry

If only Tiger Woods had such love for the people who put out Dubliner magazine. Alas, there is no love lost between these two warring camps. Of course, what would one expect from a husband when some stupid rag fakes pictures of the lovely lady wife and then publishes them. All in good fun, there, Tiger, just having a bit of a laugh over tabloid coverage of golfers' wives. Not laughing, Tiger? Don't think it's funny, is that it?

Most people would conclude that the editors of the magazine had every intention of selling more copies then ever, thereby boosting their print run and their profits. The problem is, most people also find it highly offensive when a magazine photo-shops a picture and turns a respectable wife into a nude centerfold. It would appear that the Dubliner editors lacked that part of the common sense quotient.

Hoping to make amends, they have offered to donate all proceeds from the issue to a charity of Tiger Woods' choice. Only a satirical article, they have stammered in embarrassment, but since no one finds it amusing, here's the cash we made and we don't want this blood money. You take it, Tiger, and we'll call it even.

As things now stand, Mr. Woods' agent has yet to respond to the gesture of good will and no harm done. The last that was heard from Mr. Mark Steinberg, of powerhouse agency IMG, was a hint of a threat to sue. All things considered, giving away money may not be enough to cool things off at all. One could hardly blame Mr. Woods for deciding to take the rag to court and sue them out of existence. This is the honor of his wife and the honor of his good name at stake, not some harmless prank.

Now that the USA has lost the Ryder Cup again, for a record third time in a row, Tiger may not be in a very charitable mood. Even now, the editors of Dubliner may be preparing resumes, pounding the pavement in search of new employment. I wouldn't bother submitting anything to them right now. Odds are, the magazine will fold before your little piece ever gets considered.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Current Rejection

After five long months of waiting, I finally heard from Marcy Campbell, the fiction editor of Artful Dodge, which is a literary journal put out by the College of Wooster in Ohio. Of course it was a rejection - isn't it always?

I don't know if it's prestigious or pathetic, but I did get a sense of security in submitting to something that's published by a college. Adds a sense of legitimacy somehow, with that aroma of hide-bound college professors and the smell of graduate student sweat and blood.

Why did they take so long to turn me down? Was it a maybe over the summer hiatus and then Ms. Campbell thought better of it once classes started in the fall? Do they have so many manuscripts in the slush that they can't handle them in a reasonable amount of time?

No thanks this time around, Ms. Campbell's photocopied rejection slip notes. Oh, but do feel free to try again. You're not the worst that we've seen, far from it, but with only five short fiction pieces needed in the issue, and you're not published, and, well, what else have you got?

If it's any help to anyone thinking of submitting to them, Ms. Campbell informs me that the literary journal is now accepting simultaneous submissions. Brilliant. Wise of her to admit that the slow response time is a negative aspect for many writers, like me, who want a publishing credit to their name.

Now, if only the Indiana Review could move things along - it's been six months waiting on their answer, with a note in August that the piece was still being considered. If I keep pulling my hair out at this rate, I'll be bald in a week.

Can I Get A Witness

You can spot them a mile off, dressed in their Sunday best, toting a briefcase full of their religious tracts. In my neighborhood, they stand out even further because the color of their skin is in direct contrast to the vast majority of the local residents. At any rate, when they are spotted on the road, suddenly no one is at home.

The Jehovah's Witnesses like to proselytize door to door, and they're achingly pleasant about the whole affair. Not intrusive, just a knock and an offer to talk about Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Thanks just the same, but I've got a church and it's not perfect but I'm rather fond of the incense and the candles and the colorful robes.

They have their own take on the sanctity of the body, as so many of us are aware. It's the Jehovah's Witnesses who won't undergo a blood transfusion, and it could be that they are the inspiration behind research into non-blood transfusion materials. Here in the land of freedom of religion, our medical personnel are sensitive to the little quirks of different faiths. I would hope that emergency rooms and hospitals would have some protocols in place to deal with medical care for those who are a bit particular about sharing body bits.

Not so in Ireland, where everyone is Catholic, or at least they should be if they know what's best. That's why the case of Ms. K, a Nigerian immigrant, has resulted in some legal discussions that might puzzle the average secular American. Poor woman had a difficult birth at the Mater, lost a lot of blood, and then she turns up her nose at a transfusion. Even to save her life, she refused, and Mr. Justice Abbott had to make a decision.

Ms. K doesn't have anyone in Ireland to mind the baby if she dies, so it would be in the best interest of the infant to keep its mammy alive. That's the basis of the judge's decision to force a blood transfusion on the mother. As far as the law is concerned, Ms. K is not being asked to undergo some bizarre medical experiments, nor is she being forced to endure surgery. Just a simple, relatively non-invasive blood transfusion, and it's all for the best. The Mater has Mr. Justice Abbott's approval to restrain the poor woman if she fights.

So, religious beliefs can hang and Ms. K is getting transfused whether she likes it or not. Honestly, did the woman think she had landed in the USA when she arrived in Dublin? Expecting freedom of religion? There's a company in Northbrook, Illinois that manufactures artificial transfusion products. Maybe they should be looking into a sales call in Dublin.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Wearing of the Green

Everyone knows that they are supposed to put money away for a rainy day. The question is, where is it best to invest your savings so that the money will grow into a very large umbrella, ready to hoist on the rainiest of downpours.

Land, of course, is the tried and true safe haven. Didn't Scarlet O'Hara's father tell her as much? The land is the only thing that lasts. And you won't go hungry again, as God is your witness, if you have land to grow things on.

If there's a group that knows land and growing, it's farmers. Now a consortium of Irish farmers, through a Malahide consulting firm, are investing their savings in land and they're growing a resort. In Florida. You didn't think they'd be doing that in Ireland, did you? There's no sun there, raining all the time, and who'd turn up for a February holiday with those conditions?

So far, about 130 farmers have put in around 130,000 euro each. They've got 250 acres of land near Lake City, within an easy commute of Orlando and all things Mickey Mouse, and the Quail Heights golf course is undergoing a transformation. What is now a 27 hole course is going to be re-configured into an 18 hole championship course, and the remaining property will be turned into a resort. According to reports, there will be 550 apartments, a very nice clubhouse, and plenty of shops.

Mr. Malachy Mitchell of Farrelly & Mitchell has noted that the more progressive farmer is capitalizing
"on the value of their land,(to) generate additional cash income and spread their assets for retirement and succession planning".
He used to be an official with the Irish Farmers Association, so you can presume that he knows what he's talking about.

Those Irish farmers are a clever group - not about to let the grass grow under their feet. But to have that kind of savings to invest? Farming must be a good business in Ireland. That reminds me. I'm out of imported Kerrygold butter.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

That's A Fact, Jack

After the Million Little Pieces fell apart into dust, one might think that a publisher would be a bit wary of memoirs that tell some highly sensational stories. By uniting thinking and publishing, however, you have made a critical error. It's money that makes the publishing world go around, and by all accounts, Mainstream Publishing did not let facts stand in the way of profit.

Mainstream is responsible for Kathy O'Beirne's bit of history, along with ghost-writer Michael Sheridan. Don't Ever Tell has been a stellar success, flying off the shelves in the UK and Ireland. Unfortunately, her facts are not checking.

Ms. O'Beirne claims that she was locked up in a Magdalen laundry, abused and eventually tossed into a mental institution. If you've read Mary Raftery's expose of the industrial schools and laundries, you'll find some remarkable similarities between the reports of former inmates and Ms. O'Beirne's so-called recollections. That's about where the similarities end, because the Sisters of Charity who ran the laundries have no record at all of Kathy O'Beirne.

Her family doesn't remember any long-term incarceration either, and you'd think that if Kathy was put away for fourteen years, her brothers and sisters might have noticed. Now, she did serve six weeks in an industrial school, but that's the extent of it. A bit of exaggeration, would you say, and oh so very Million Little Pieces. In fact, five of her siblings have come out with a detailed account of her whereabouts for those years that Kathy claims were passed behind the walls of a Magdalen laundry. Not in the laundry, our girl, but she was put in St. Anne's industrial school when her parents couldn't deal with her anymore. And she did spend some time in St. Loman's psychiatric hospital. Then there was a spell in Mountjoy. She also was housed in Sherrard House, a refuge for homeless people. No rape by two priests, no pregnancy at thirteen, and the siblings don't believe that she was abused by their father, either.

Bill Campbell of Mainstream Publishing says that he checked out Ms. O'Beirne's story with the nuns. The good sisters, however, are stating that they told Mainstream Publishing and ghost-writer Michael Sheridan that the whole story was a cod, and that the publisher was informed as far back as April of 2005. Yes, Mr. Campbell did indeed receive the letter, since he responded last May.

The tribunals investigating the industrial schools and Magdalen laundries have been running for years. What they have revealed is truly and genuinely horrifying. Mainstream Publishing has piggy-backed on a tragedy and generated some sizable sales figures, and that is the only fact that truly matters to them. Unless, of course, the O'Beirne clan decides to sue for libel. Cuts into the bottom line, those pesky monetary claims and lawsuits. Will Mainstream Publishing offer a money-back guarantee, do you think?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Variation On A Theme

It happens, now and again, that an agent will leave the safety and security of an established company and set off on their own. Read the history of a few agencies and you might find that the principal had a start at some dinosaur of an agency. Nothing unusual there.

Jennifer Repo was an agent with Joelle Delbourgo's firm, but now she has quit and gone away to be - not an agent, apparently. Well, she's a sort of agent. It's hard to tell what she is, even after looking over her new website.

Frankly, it has the sound of a book doctor/scamming editor kind of place, but then again, she's quite straightforward about what she wants to do. Newhouse Books is an editing firm, I think, but their main thrust seems to be book doctoring and publicity.

Jennifer could have a winner here. Surely she's seen it all while an agent, and figured out that there were some areas that were grossly underserved. How many trips through the slush pile did it take before she noticed that a lot of folks could use some writing assistance, or had a decent story but required a ghost writer to put the plot on paper. No doubt she saw enough lame query letters to figure that a would-be author was willing to spend good money to have someone write a proper, eye-catching query letter. As for manuscript editing, well, that goes without saying.

But what about the vanity printed author? Ms. Repo has services for them as well, with a packet of attention getting buzz that mimics the big houses - except that the author has to pay all costs. Why, she can even get a short run printed up for your own distribution, say for a public speaker who hawks their wares at the back of the room. Perfect for the man promoting small engine repair for fun and profit, and you can buy the manual for only $29.95 at the end of the presentation.

Taking a page from PublishAmerica, Ms. Repo will get you started down the long road of self-promotion, with lists of phone numbers to call so that you can set up some media interviews for yourself. There'll be press kits for you to hand around, to get the local newspaper to review your wonderful book, and Newhouse Books could put together an entire media blitz for you, if you have the money.

There is a market for Jennifer Repo's services. All you have to do is spend some time in writers' forums to see that. I predict that she'll make some money in this new venture, combining legitimate agenting with a host of practices that are part of the package deal if you land a publishing contract with a legitimate publisher. For those who dream of being published authors, but can't get a foot in the door at Random House, this is the answer to their prayers.

And don't forget a few entreaties to Heaven above for the money to pay for all this - it won't come cheap. You could spend more to plug the book than you'll ever make in royalties.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Discouraging Word

Publishers Marketplace has sent me the weekly list of deals, and it's a litany of discouraging words. One of those "Why do I bother?" moments.

What do we have for debut fiction? Who is buying what from the first time author?

Loads of hype for Julie Buxbaum's first ever novel. She's a Harvard Law grad who gave up the corporate life for a year to pen a novel. And the story is about? A lawyer, of approximately the same age as little old Julie. There's a plot of love and failing to commit and how the protagonist's life falls apart when she can't commit and so on and so on. The rich, they are very different from you and I. And that goes for Harvard-educated lawyers. Is there any point in sending a query to Elaine Koster? Would she want to be bothered with a query from me?

Who else might offer me a glimpse of hope? Is there no ordinary person getting publishing contracts these days? Fiona Maazel is being published, but not exactly for the first time. This debut novelist is a 2005 Lannan Fiction Fellow and once edited the Paris Review, one of the most prestigious literary journals around. Can't beat that sort of resume.

Finally, there is Hillary Jordan, who has the Bellwether Prize under her belt. But hold on here, her agent is Chris Parris-Lamb of The Gernert Company. A new agent! Quick, where's the paper? Is the printer warmed up? Get the query out, now. Go, go, go!

Friday, September 15, 2006

There's A New Agency In Town

Psst. Psst. I'll let you in on a little secret.

Rolph Blythe, formerly with Dunow, Carlson Lerner, has gone off on his own. He has a page at Publishers Marketplace, but his website is still under construction.

He says he takes e-mail queries, but I couldn't tell you if the addy works or not. See, I sent a query but there's been no response. So, is it a 'NO' or did it not arrive? Give it a go yourself, and let's see if anyone can get a request for a partial.

Oh, and if you should get published...well, a bit of an acknowledgement would be grand.

The Proportional Solution

Jan Egeland is quite concerned with conditions in Gaza. Everyone's looking at Lebanon, you see, and things in Gaza are sliding downhill with no one paying any mind.

Can he be referring to the recent decision to form a unified government between Hamas and Fatah? The agreement involves the recognition of Israel as a state, and the fascisti are none too pleased with that arrangement. Some cooler heads no doubt realized that all the aid they so desperately need could be theirs if they took the rhetoric down a notch. Yet, why would Mr. Egeland be displeased with this?

Of course, he's upset about the humanitarian crisis. Not a word about the attempts to form a coalition between political parties, even though most pundits suggest that this could very well go a long way to solving the very problem that Mr. Egeland is worried about.

He lauds those who recently donated to the U.N.'s appeal, but sadly, not all promises have been kept. Seriously underfunded, his pledge drive, to the tune of a 42% shortfall. Rather a steep shortfall, that is.

The problem, according to Mr. Egeland, is Israel. Oh, sure, the Palestinians kidnapped an Israeli soldier on Israeli territory, but how dare the Israelis to retaliate so forcefully? If you follow Mr. Egeland's logic, the Israelis lost one soldier killed, so they should only kill one Palestinian. Anything more than that is out of proportion. Rest assured that Mr. Egeland will see to it that the U.N. creates an office of War-Related Head Counting and Proportional Tabulating.

So the fascisti hide among the civilians, using them as shields, but that's not a problem at all for Mr. Egeland. Although he does realize that it's wrong for the average Palestinian to have to put up with Israeli rockets fired in defense after the rockets shoot in from Palestine. He calls upon the Palestinian Authority to respect civilians - after he calls on Israel to respect civilians first.

Then, after everyone has laid down their arms, they can live in peace and harmony. And Israel better let in humanitarian workers, and let the money flow, and open the borders.

Dear Mr. Egeland is missing the big picture - looking at the trees and not seeing the forest. If the fascisti stop shooting rockets into Israel, the Israelis will not shoot rockets back. Now, who's to take the first step, Jan?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Political Master

The pundits laugh at him, at the way he butchers the English language. They laughed at his old man before him, stumbling over phrases until he was vowing that the police were not there to create disorder, they were there to preserve disorder.

Laugh, yes, but they've never accused him of being stupid. Lifelong Chicagoans are too smart to believe that an inability to talk smoothly indicates low intelligence. Decades of rule by the Daley clan has demonstrated quite well that the ability of a man to speak eloquently has no bearing on his intelligence.

It was not that long ago that Time Magazine was lauding Richard M. Daley, the mayor of the biggest city in fly-over country. These days, the poor lad's under the gun, feeling a bit of heat in the seat of his pants as Federal investigators look at the corruption of machine politics. With all that going in, Mr. Daley is still sharp enough to battle the aldermen, who have earned their reputation for dim-witted-ness.

What a never-ending roll of hoopla over the so called 'Big Box Ordinance' and the cry for big pay. The unions jumped on the issue, stirring up the members and threatening the aldermen with opposition come election day. Push through a law that would require higher pay for this select group of stores, they said, or we'll work like demons to get your opponent elected come November. The aldermen listened and quaked in their boots.

Enter the Master Politician, the man who learned how to run a city at his Daddy's knee. The big box stores were looking at sites in the worst neighborhoods, the ghettos where empty lots march on for block after block. Unemployment is at record highs, and the residents have no hope of ever working because there is no place to work.

'Where were the unions when the big box stores were built in other places in Illinois?' our Master intoned. Just like that, he turned the tables on the aldermen, many of them people of color, and gave the residents of Chicago's inner city a little tidbit to gnaw on. Sure, the unions are up in arms now, when Wal-Mart and Target want to build in the black neighborhoods, Mr. Daley has observed. It was all right to build in the white suburbs, he implies, but the unions don't want these stores where you live. The unions are racist. They are discriminating against you, and they have convinced you to protest. They have convinced you to support their racist agenda.

What was Alderman Shirley Coleman to do? Wal-Mart wants to build a store in her ward, bring in jobs, and provide products to her supporters. And she was going to tell them that it was better not to have those jobs and goods? You'll thank me in the morning, impoverished residents, when you still don't have a job and you still can't buy anything because there's no stores around here. It's the residents who vote, not the unions. And now that Mayor Daley has implied that the unions are trying to keep the poor black voters in misery, how could she ever support the ordinance?

A masterful stroke indeed, and the unions are crying in their stale beer. Some of the aldermen who supported the new law have gone over to the other side, where a job paying minimum wage is better than no job at all. A store paying minimum wage is better than an empty lot that does not produce sales or property taxes. And why are the unions up in arms over wages at Wal-mart now, when the company was ready to build in the inner city? Why all the fuss when it's the turn of the poorest in Chicago to have a chance at a job?

The man might not speak with the tongue of angels, but he knows how to twist an arm and use a few choice words to express exactly what he wants to say. He didn't get where he is because he's a brilliant public speaker. It's all about the words, not the delivery.

Lost My Touch

I've gone back and re-written the opening pages, hoping to generate some interest. The query letter was not as successful as I liked, so I re-worked it. And then it went nowhere. Again, it was revised, taking a different approach. No responses.

There was a time when I could put together a decent query, one that would elicit a request from about 10% of the agents. Suddenly, I can't get an agent to ask for even one page. The touch is gone.

Too much advice, perhaps, or too many conflicting suggestions, but the last batch of queries I sent has not been well received. Margot Meyers at ICM does not even return the SASE with a form rejection, and I have tried her twice with the same lack of response. I thought that Craig Nelson might fire off a reply of some kind, based on the info he lists on his home page, but all he did was read the query in record time and then ignore the thing.

What are agents looking for, anyway? Mysteries and thrillers, it would seem, the sort of fluff that is eaten up like popcorn with the same lack of substance. Everywhere you turn, it's YA this and YA that, but that's not my niche at all. Not that my niche matters much, come to think of it, because I can't get past the query stage. Why do I feel like I'm back to the beginning after a long climb? Call me Sisyphus and stand back, I've got a boulder to push up that mountain.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Manuscript Flaw

Of the very little feedback I have gotten from agents, one has been recurring. Too slow, they have said, complaining about the opening. Hard to interpret the phrase, however, and even more difficult to figure out how to correct the flaw. Thanks to the snarky Miss Snark's recent postings, I might have my answer.

In a variation on a past theme, Miss Snark provides critiques for query letters and the opening pages. While there are countless places that look at the query letter, it is rare to get an agent's view of the first pages that must catch the eye to garner a request for more.

I have made what appears to be a common mistake, and one that I never noticed before. In the opening chapter, I repeated a theme. Once was enough to get the point across, but the same idea pops up twice in the beginning few pages. Of course the reader gets it the first time, and the author does not need to bring it up again. It was a case of getting caught up in the writing, the prose, that caused this flaw. Slow to start? Naturally, if something has to be delivered in a double dose. It takes time to repeat, and that time would be better spent in providing some incentive to the reader to turn the page.

When next I peruse the NYT Books section, I'll examine the opening chapters more carefully. The education continues, using any and all sources. Remarkable how many of those sources are available for free.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Music of Prose

Does your manuscript sing?

You've followed Noah Lukeman's advice and prepared a flawless copy for submitting - no typos, no smudges, proper format and the like. You've even gone that next step and cleaned up the prose. Not one excess adjective or adverb is lingering on the pages, cluttering up your story. Your verbs and nouns are well chosen, some coming from your head but others finding their source in the thesaurus that is always at your fingertips. Those on-line dictionary/reference manuals are remarkably handy.

What next, then, before you send your sample pages to a literary agent? You listen to the words and determine their rhythm, or lack thereof.

Chapter 3 of Noah Lukeman's manual describes the flow of prose that is its musical rhythm. Here is where your beta readers come into play, but it helps to read your pages aloud as well. Good writing has a flow to it, not unlike poetry. When you read aloud, you should hear clunky parts, the dissonance that mars your literary symphony.

While reading out loud, you should hear the parts that sound off-key, perhaps because you have used too much alliteration, describing the last, lingering lock of Lorna's long tresses or some such stuttering. Maybe you thought it brilliant at the time, but as you speak and hear with your ears, the clunking should send you back to the keyboard to re-write that line.

It could be that your character names aren't working. Melvin and Malva might be unique appellations, but the reader is going to get confused pretty quickly. Then if you start referring to Melvin LaRue, Mel, LaRue, Mr. LaRue, etc., and all within the first five pages, your beta readers will really be scratching their heads.

And you thought that all you had to do was keep the plot coherent and double check the continuity. A lot of work, this writing business.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Is Mise....

It's tough to get tourists to visit Belfast. When you think of travelling to Ireland, you might picture green fields and thatched roof cottages, with cows and sheep grazing in the meadows. Maybe you picture bustling Dublin, the pubs and walking tours of Merrion Square. Admit it, never once did you say to yourself, I'd love to see Belfast and take in...hmmm. Take in what sites?

The unionists thought they had a brilliant scheme to get people to visit and spend some cash. Turn the twelfth of July celebrations into a festival, they suggested. Rather like Carnival in Brazil, a sort of Mardi Gras for the whole family. Good thing that didn't happen this year, or things might have gone awry.
Tourist: My, that's a large bonfire.

Unionist: That it is.

Tourist: That effigy that's on top, up there, I was wondering. Why is there a big sign on it that says "Fuck Micky-bo"?

Unionist: Oh, we're celebrating the murder of that Catholic scum in Ballymena. Beaten to death, the fucker, and would that we massacred more of them.

Tourist: (insert sound of stunned silence)

Unionist: He was able to walk home to his mother before he collapsed. Died in hospital, with all his family around when they pulled the plug on the life-support system. And they call us heartless.

Tourist:(insert sound of person fleeing in terror)

Needless to say, the unionists who wanted to make the twelfth of July a big tourist attraction were laughed out of the room. The whole notion seems to have died of shame and embarassment.

Enter the nationalists from the Falls Road, also hoping to entice the visitor's euro into north of Ireland pockets. The Belfast City Council has recently approved a Sinn Fein idea to make a large section of the nationalist Falls Road a Gaeltacht area. What that means is, people who live there speak Irish. It's as Irish an area as one could hope to find, not unlike the Gaeltacht areas in Kerry and Donegal, where you have to be Irish-speaking if you want to move in. The Republic of Ireland promotes the areas as tourist attractions, full of cead mile failte and slain agus etc. etc., and they have found some success. A Gaeltacht area is super-Irish, concentrated into its essence.

Of course the unionists are furious about it. Nelson McCausland, one of Ian Paisley's followers, doesn't like it at all. Thinks it's just the Shinners, trying to promote their nationalist agenda in Belfast. Well, after the Mardi Gras mockery, one might suppose that the loyalists are a bit touchy and they're ready to snap at anyone. Here they were hoping to attract tourists to a celebration of sectarian hatred, and the Shinners get the Council to approve an extremely Irish area in a corner of Her Majesty's empire. This isn't Ireland, the loyalists complain, and to make the Falls Road blatantly Irish is beyond the Pale.

Well, frankly, it is beyond the Pale. Anything past the city limits of old Dublin was beyond the Pale. A bit of Irish history for you, no extra charge. But there might be an extra charge to the Royal Purse when the residents of the Falls Road Gaeltacht demand translation services. Legally entitled to speak only Irish, according to the Belfast City Council, and won't that frost the loyalists a bit more.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Agent In Training

If you're determined to become a literary agent, the best way is to start at the bottom and learn the trade. The first step is to move to New York City, where most of the agents are. Not willing to relocate? Ah, go on, it's a grand big city full of people and trash and crime and more intellectual pursuits than you can shake a pencil at.

As soon as you arrive, you'll want to high-tail it over to the Beth Vesel Agency. Or pop in at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. They're both looking for an office assistant-slash-agent in training.

A new job listing at Publishers Marketplace should provide you with all the particulars. I did not know until now that these two agencies shared office space, and office help as well. Given that they are short-handed these days, I might not query them right now. I'll wait until you've gotten your feet wet, as it were, in the position.

What might you find yourself doing all day? Running around like a headless chicken is my guess. They need a multi-tasker, which is a description of every mother I know these days. You have to answer the phone, keep track of checks and contracts, handle correspondence, talk nicely on the phone, work independently, be organized, file, keep the books, maintain the office, do the posting and order office supplies. These agents are looking for a full-time mammy, I swear to God.

But there's a sweetener in the position. Get the job, and the slush pile is yours. Wouldn't that be a fantastic education? Learn to evaluate manuscripts, and you'll find out more ways to stay out of the slush pile than two years of graduate work in Iowa.

No phone enquiries, please. But they do accept e-queries. Good luck in the job search.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Fully Refundable

Random House is going to pay you back. Not that they did anything wrong, mind you, to create this episode of negative cash flow. Don't accuse them of being tricky or sly, and you can get some money out of them.

If you bought James Frey's fictional memoir, the lawyers on both sides have decided that you are entitled to a full refund of the purchase price. Fraud and deception are not smiled upon in legal circles, and since Random House promoted the book as fact, well, um, actually, it's not quite factual and they didn't do it on purpose. Mr. Frey is in on the refunds as well, but no one has said how much of the multimillion dollar settlement is coming out of his pocket.

As long as you bought the book before Jimmy confessed, on or about January 26, you're an interested party in this affair. Nothing is definite, of course, until the judge approves the plan as set forth by the attorneys.

Naturally, Frey's lawyer claims that the litigants had weak cases, but everyone wants to move on, blah blah blah. Speaking of fiction....

You will have to prove that you made a purchase, of course. The courtroom is strictly non-fiction. Not only will you have to submit the receipt, you'll have to rip off the cover and turn that in as well. But wait, there's more. Here's the most ironic part of all. After you have turned in your receipt and the cover, or a piece of the wrapper if you had an audio book, you have to sign a sworn statement.

"Oh, Christ, swear to Jesus, Your Honor. I bought the book because I thought it was a memoir. No, didn't buy it because everyone else was. Oprah's stamp of approval had nothing whatsoever to do with my decision. I was standing there at the book shop, browsing the memoir section. Love memoirs, I do, honest to God. I'd swear it on a stack of Bibles.

Of course I'm not lying, Your Honor. It's the truth. Not a word of fiction there at all, at all."

The Job Interview

When we started out, of course, we thought by now that things would be grand. You're still young. I bet you look to the future and figure you'll be set.

You never know, though. The house still isn't paid for, what with all the re-financing and the equity loans. It's mostly this past year. Maybe past two years. Some days he only works for a couple, three hours. Swears when the crew foremen call him on the radio, like it's such a terrible interruption that they're bothering him with work issues. Business is down for everyone. Competition is harsher, absolutely. Yes, exactly, someone out of work thinks they could set up their own shop. Problem is, they go in on a shoestring, don't charge enough and then go broke. They drag prices down with them. Everyone's operating on slim margins.

There's a new study out, about longevity and marriage. Women who divorce and re-marry late in life don't live as long as those who stay married to the same person. The scientists, they don't quite get their findings. Go look at the financial picture for those women, I say. Struggling to get by for years will age you, believe me. Then they've had enough and they dump the moocher, but the damage to the heart's been done. The scientists? Of course they were men. They don't see the stress. We hide it pretty well, I think.

But anyway, doing without isn't what I had in mind twenty-five years ago. Income's half what it was since he starting getting lazy. Lazier. Career change, that's what I'm after. Complete turn around. Take care of my needs, and get the last one of the kids through college and on his feet. If I had a million dollars? Oh, I'd travel. I suppose everyone says that, but I'd be gone in a heartbeat.

Really, I can start right now. This minute.

Sort Of A Publishing Credit

Well, if I stretch the truth a wee bit, then yes, I've got something published - on the web, mind you. Didn't get paid a penny, either.

Surfing along, I found my very own title from my very own blog on another website that linked back to my pearls of wisdom. Someone has a website out there that lines up bits of news from Ireland for those who like to be in the know, and I've no doubt that they're making money off the adverts. I'll not quibble on this one, though. All credit was given to me, a clickable link available for those who wanted to read more than the first couple of sentences.

Nice to get noticed, but I don't have the guts to add that extra line to the last paragraph of my queries. "My writing has been featured at" just doesn't cut it with the professional literary agent. I'm holding out for something in hard copy. Not holding my breath, no, or I'd have gone blue in the face months ago.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Propagating the Faith

Back in 1996, Bertie Ahern apologized for the State's involvement in the physical and sexual abuse that took place in Ireland's industrial schools. For decades, the Catholic Church worked hand in hand with the Free State, identifying children at risk of moral lapse and then locking them away in what would today be identified as a juvenile detention facility. The scope of the abuse that took place boggles the mind. The lawsuits and tribunals go on, even today.

By 2000, then, one might expect that the gentlemen running the religious show would be a touch more aware, or at least a bit more sensitive, to the topic of sexual abuse within their ranks. Then one would think wrong, apparently.

Dr. John Buckley, Bishop of Cork and Ross, received a complaint from one of his priests, Father James Davern. According to Father Davern, he was violently assaulted while a pupil at Farrenferris diocesan college back in 1963. Since the Vatican had jumped on the sexual abuse issue, issuing guidelines and rules and regulations to follow, one might think that Dr. Buckley would act according to the newly established protocol. Once again, one would be most incorrect.

Back in 1998, due to what are referred to as tensions, Dr. Buckley determined that Father Davern was a sick puppy, and he ordered him to leave his ministerial post and report to the Church-operated facility for priests removed from ministry. Not to be emotionally battered, Davern took up residence in the family home, and Dr. Buckley put a stop to the priest's income. One does not get paid to sit around and watch the All-Ireland Hurling Finals, now, do they? After a couple of years, the priest consulted a psychiatrist, and the next thing you know, he's alleging violent sexual abuse. By 2003, Father Davern was removed from ministry. Did he take that? Not for a minute. He went straight to the top, writing to the Pope himself.

In his ecclesiastical wisdom, Dr. Buckley determined that Father Davern was a mental case. Surely the man must be mad, to lodge a complaint against a fellow priest. Good excuse, to claim that Davern was suffering from a psychological infirmity. Not that he had any medical opinions to base his decision on, however. The bishop's opinion was certainly good enough. So, rather than remove the accused priest, as per Vatican regulations, the wise bishop kicked the abuse victim around a bit. Might have worked way back when, but times have changed, and the Vatican has finally issued their ruling.

Sorry, Dr. Buckley, but your 'psychological infirmity' ruling is dismissed as null, void, and having no basis in fact. And while you're at it, you'll need to give the good father all his back pay. Amounts to somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 euro, give or take. You see, the psychiatrists examined Father Davern and found that he was as healthy as anyone.

Meanwhile, the priest who was accused of abusing Father Davern continues to minister to the faithful, in violation of Vatican decrees that order bishops to pull the cleric involved when a complaint is lodged. No priestly duties until the investigation is complete and the priest is cleared. The Garda Siochana is looking into the abuse claim, but still the accused abuser goes about his priestly duties, in violation of Vatican protocol. What better way to propagate the faith, Bishop Buckley. Keep up the good work, lad, and you might empty the churches of Cork and Ross in no time.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Is This Mine?

There have been times when I have been a little lazy about logging submissions, but something always gets written down somewhere. Thus, I am completely flumoxed about the rejection that I received today from Wieser & Elwell.

To begin with, I don't recall waiting on a response from them for something, yet the envelope was one of my very own SASEs. Having switched over to self-sealing envelopes many months ago, I knew this thing was quite old because the flap had to have been moistened to be sealed.

Check the stamp, says I, and there was a lovely 'True Blue' stamp - with no denomination on the upper right corner. I must conclude that the stamp was one of the early issues after the last postage rate increase, which went through nine months ago.

Now, the envelope bore the scars of having been tri-folded, which would not fit with the last submission that I sent to Jake Elwell. The agency asks for the first few pages, and I would have sent the bundle in a large envelope with an unfolded SASE. Again, all indications are that they are responding to something quite dated.

The problem is, I have no idea what submission they are rejecting. Everything that I submitted to them over the years has been turned down, and there are no dangling threads. So, if I have not lost my mind, I must conclude that Mr. Elwell, at some point, sent an e-mail rejection which I dutifully logged in, and found this SASE wandering around loose during a pre-Labor Day housecleaning. To cover all his bases, he stuffed a blue card (with large print - make no mistake, author, this is a REJECTION) into the envelope and dropped it into the post.

I guess that's better than Jonathan Dolger's ploy, which is not to respond at all. He must have quite a collection of SASEs to his name.

The Gospel According To St. Luke(man)

Chapter I
In Which The Author Learns The How-To

Where to begin? Why, it's always best to start at the beginning, and Noah Lukeman dives straight into the slush pile in The First Five Pages.

It might be wise to keep in mind that his advice is aimed at a wide target audience, and some of his suggestions seem obvious or old hat if you have been at the agent-hunting business for a time. His first suggestion is to submit a manuscript that is neat, readable, and error-free. No room for artistic license here, the pages must be properly numbered, the margins as per spec, etc., etc. There are numerous websites that describe proper formatting, and I have seen the question answered frequently on writers' forums. Seems like a no-brainer, but one could presume that a long-established agent has seen his or her share of sloppy pages.

Many times I have heard that your query should be targeted to specific agents, and this is sometimes easier said than done. I have submitted historical fiction to agents who have repped same, only to be rejected as 'not right for the list'. One should also cozy up to the agent, being specific in mentioning a couple of authors already within the agent's stable. "....will appeal to readers of..." is a handy phrase to bandy about. Not that I've had any success with it, but who am I to quibble?

How to send your parcel of literary excellence? Oddly enough, Noah Lukeman recommends shipping FedEx and having someone sign for it. How many times have agent blogs mentioned how much they hate this? Right on page 25, St. Luke(man) is preaching pure heresy. Does that mean that he spends his days signing receipts for the delivery man? Now, he also says that one should send only a query and a SASE, rather than some bulky package. Following the agency guidelines is perhaps the simplest way to proceed. As for sending directly to a publisher, unless the publisher accepts manuscripts, don't waste time and paper and money.

We conclude the first chapter with some basic formatting protocols. The usual inch margins, double spaced, twelve point font - and under no circumstances should there be a copyright notice. Rank amateur, St. Luke(man) points out, and his word is holy writ.

Yet I have followed his advice, and still I have been rejected numerous times. I must wander into the pages further, in search of wisdom.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Farewell To Summer

The last rose is fading - the days grow longer, the nights colder. The literary agents come back, like swallows to Capistrano, returning to inboxes piled high with queries.

Once again, bright and early on Tuesday morning, the publishing world will swing into action, a spurt of intense activity that will last until Thanksgiving, when winter holidays and parties interrupt the flow.

Put the last dab of polish to the query this weekend. Shine up the first fifty pages of the manuscript. There's no rest for the wicked. Or the unpublished.