Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Knight of the Vacuum

Her nibs on the throne in London is getting ready to whack a crowd of people on their shoulders. Bono's knighthood has already been mentioned widely in the press, but that had more to do with the fact that the Irish government had to give their stamp of approval. It's only been ninety years, and the north is still an open wound, and there is to this day a lot of animosity towards the British and their so-called honors. The Ministers no doubt decided that there was no harm in giving Bono a medal of some sort, but he won't be called Sir Paul, no, don't even go there.

But Bono's not to be alone when the mighty sword of knighthood is rested at neck height. Rod Stewart will be there, next in line, being honored for producing seven children with nearly as many women. I suppose his musical career has something to do with the honors as well, but the man's a prodigious talent when it comes to preservation of the species.

Johnny Briggs, a star on the extremely popular soap opera Coronation Street is to be knighted. As far as I can tell, the queen is pleased that he has retired from the show after thirty years and wants to give him a lovely going-away gift. Sometimes you just can't tell why a person's been picked for the prize, can you?

There's a bunch of athletes due for an honorarium, but fans of the television program House will be delighted to learn that their own Hugh Laurie is about to become Sir Hugh. Although Her Majesty may be a fan, she is probably more familiar with Mr. Laurie's earlier work in the Blackadder series and the more recent Jeeves and Wooster. A brilliant comedic actor, his dramatic talents are all the more remarkable when you compare his British and American programs.

But the most worthy of all recipients has to be the man who brought the vacuum cleaner to new heights, the king of the Hoover. Is there one more worthy of knighthood than James Dyson, inventor of a machine that doesn't lose suction? He's made a fortune, surely, considering the $500 average price of a bit of metal and plastic that sucks up household dirt. Athletes and singers and actors are fine, they serve a function and entertain us, but James Dyson did something that benefits clean freaks all across the globe. He most definitely earned his award.

Arise, Sir Knight, and could you hoover the hall before you go?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Your Honor, I Object

How could I have missed this one? Submissions closed on the 27th of November, so it's too late to upload your crime fiction masterpiece. The slush has already been culled, and the five lucky finalists have been selected, courtesy of the legal minds at Court TV.

Can't enter the contest, but you can vote for your favorite. Yes, you, you can help a budding author get published. I'm taking a pass myself. I hate crime fiction, never read it, and I'd be a poor judge of the quality. I'll leave that to the experts.

Who picked the five finalists, anyway? I suppose if you're a fan of crime novels, you'd recognize the names of the judges. Jonathan Kellerman, Faye Kellerman and Lisa Scottoline are all involved in this contest, but I'm more familiar with James Joyce myself. As for the fourth judge, ah now, we all know Judith Regan, don't we?

The prize in this quest for the next great crime writer is a publishing contract with ReganBooks. Problem is, Judith Regan ain't there no more. I'd have to presume that HarperCollins is still involved in the whole thing, as it hasn't been pulled and is still being promoted. Rather awkward situation, it appears, with an ex-employee calling the shots on a publication when she's been kicked out of the house.

According to the rules, this is what the lucky winner will get:
"GRAND PRIZE: One (1) Grand Prize Winner will receive a check in the amount of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000) and an opportunity to sign an exclusive book publishing deal (“Publishing Deal”) with Regan Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers (“Regan Books”), at an approximate market value (“AMV”) of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000). The details of the Publishing Deal are subject to the sole discretion of Regan Books. Regan Books will decide whether or not to publish the Grand Prize Winner’s book (the “Prize Book”) in its sole discretion. Winning the Contest does not in any way guarantee that the Prize Book will be published."

Yes, that's right. An advance of $1,000.00. No royalties, just the one check. And ReganBooks gets to write up the contract. Naturally, they'll be more than generous with the author, and who needs a literary agent mucking things up and protecting the writer's interests?

With no guarantee that the novel will actually get published, even if it is a grand prize winner, I have to ask this. If the book doesn't get published, does the author get it back to shop to other houses?
"...participants agree that the rights granted hereunder shall include, but not be limited to, the perpetual, worldwide right of Sponsor and its designees to use, edit, telecast, cablecast, rerun, record, publish, reproduce, license, print, distribute and/or otherwise exploit, in any language and in all media now known or hereafter devised, the Submissions in whole or in part, without any further compensation to participant or any third party."

Now that's a crime.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Cheapening of #10

After the airport scare, the whole world knows that Tony Blair has arrived in Miami, a brief sun holiday for the Prime Minister. It's so dreadfully gloomy at 10 Downing Street, so who could blame the man? And Cherie has earned some time away, after all, and no one seems to be quibbling over the need to relax.

Conservative politicians are up in arms about the venue, not the general notion of Miami. It has been discovered that the Blair family has been comfortably ensconced in a very luxurious mansion overlooking the water. But that's not the bit that has resulted in accusations of "cheapening the premier's office."

Robin Gibb has provided accommodations for the Blairs. Yes, that Robin Gibb, the BeeGees own Robin Gibb, the man with the vibrant falsetto. Cheesy disco, spandex, the lot of it, and doesn't that just scream "cheap" to a Conservative MP. A definite element of white trash has touched on the Prime Minister's position, and it's unbearable to the opposition.

The MPs are hiding behind a facade of words, acting upset that Mr. Blair might be getting a free room that others would have to pay up to 60,000 euro per week to occupy. The Daily Mail calls it a "glitzy family holiday", a definite swipe at the old glitz that was personified in the BeeGees and their ilk.

Politicians are trying to equate this stay as a guest of Robin Gibb to the whole pay-to-be-knighted scandal that is currently under investigation. But who would expect Robin to invite the Blairs and then charge them to stay at his house? Who would be that rude? The dust-up is nothing more than a ruse to mask some Conservative bias against disco and their general dislike of The BeeGees and Saturday Night Fever. Those of us who can read between the lines can interpret the nasty sentiments being expressed by Conservatives trying to drum up support in the next election.

Look at that New Labour hack, friends with the likes of that dreadful disco star. That's what the politicians are really saying. Blair probably has a white disco suit hidden in his closet, they suggest, with their catty remarks about free vacations. The Prime Minister of England, can you believe it, the man representing the nation that gave the world Shakespeare and Milton and Dickens...he likes disco music. But they can't just come right out and say it. They'd look so snotty and upper-class twit-ish. Instead, they speak in upper-class code, trying to hide their true sentiments from the lower classes who will be casting ballots soon.

In spite of all their blathering, they're green with envy, longing for the glitz and glamor of South Beach and the party scene that Tony Blair is enjoying free of charge. These sorts of sun holidays don't come cheap.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Year End Housecleaning

Just before she went off on Christmas hols, Gail Hochman must have cleaned out her in box and dusted off her desk. My gift for St. Stephen's Day this year was a form rejection, three months in the making. Bill Contardi of the same agency rejected an e-mail query I sent last Saturday, so clearly he's the one holding down the fort this week.

Last October I fired off a batch of submissions to a few literary journals, but there wasn't much thought behind it. What was I thinking, to send a satire about the Center for Science in the Public Interest to Swink, when they're based in California? Of all the editors who would not find it amusing, that would be the place to find them. They were good enough to reply within their twelve week time-frame, which every author appreciates, and they accept simultaneous submissions so you don't have to tie up your short story for months at a time. If you've got something all selfishly introspective and LA-LA-land whingey, they might be the literary rag for you. Just don't make fun of their sacred cows.

Sorry, about the cows, I wasn't thinking. Sure and they must all be vegetarians out there. Make that last bit "sacred cow-parsnips" and we'll call it even.

There Is No Free Lunch

Why would London be so keen to solve the 'Irish question' after all these years? In Thatcher's day, the government fought to hang on to the six counties with a rabid intensity, and yet today, the powers that be are pushing the DUP to reach an accord with their despised Catholic enemies.

There are several old adages that might apply, but the fact that there is no free lunch is the most pertinent. No, nothing's free, as everything comes at a cost that someone has to meet. Thus far, it's the British taxpayer who's been meeting some high costs, and clearly they are not happy.

The north of Ireland is booming, relatively speaking. It's a growth region in the United Kingdom, the fifth largest, and the price of property is shooting through the roof. Residents hoping to buy in Belfast are getting more and more frustrated as the price of a house keeps escalating beyond their reach. For someone owning a home on the market, it's all good news, of course.

Economists are looking at a slightly different picture than that painted by headlines and sound bytes. What is at the basis of this boom, they ask, and they have discovered a house of rather flimsy cards.

For all intents and purposes, the north does not have a private sector. What is there is so small in size that it holds little hope of attracting foreign investment, being comprised largely of firms that employ no more than ten people. You won't find an American venture capitalist looking to sink millions into someone's chip shop or Chinese take-away. That's nothing to build a future on.

So where do most people work? They work for the government. The north is a land of civil servants, and civil servants are paid out of other people's taxes. London is moving to ease the tax burden on the voting public, and that means jobs in the north are going to be lost in the budget cutting process.

As the civil servants seek new employment, they won't find anything because there is no private sector out there, looking for new hires. With a slashed budget, the local government units will not have enough to spread around if they are going to take care of education and health, so analysts expect that economic development will have to take a back seat to more urgent needs.

Philip McDonagh of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Belfast does not offer a very rosy picture. He describes a community that plays it safe, avoids risk, and that is exactly the opposite sort of mentality that is needed to grow a private sector economy. As the public arena shrinks, the pool of unemployed will grow, but those same people are so averse to taking a flier that they won't think to start up their own business. The end result will be a smaller public sector, and a ballooning rate of unemployment.

Just as London cuts the budget for civil servants in the north of Ireland, the live register will begin to expand and the cost of public assistance will climb. No savings there for the average British citizen, with money going from one pocket to the other but never leaving the pants. The real solution is to get rid of the whole outfit, pockets and trousers and all. Cut out the excess civil servants, cut out the unemployed and their benefits, and Westminster can show some real progress on the bottom line.

Bit by bit, London is going to get rid of the Six Counties now that the colony has become a loss leader. There will be a united Ireland one day, because it's just too expensive to keep it separated.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

St. Stephen's Day

While the Boys of Barr na Sraide go hunting for the wren, I'll go hunting for the aspirin. Another cup of tea, a bite of toast, and I'll be right as rain again.

Margaret's over to visit from Dublin, and brought a bottle of something special to share with us all. And share we did, until there was none left to share. Mary Harney's ears must surely have been burning, but I believe she's half asbestos, that one, and didn't even feel the heat. All in all, a lovely Christmas, with too much food and just enough drink.

There's a reason that Ireland is shut down on the day after Christmas. I wasn't wrong to take a week of vacation to see me through the New Year. The older I get, the longer it takes to recover, and I'm needing the full seven days to get over the party. After New Year's Day, of course, we're all in the same boat, back to work all bleary-eyed and hung over.

Now there's the perfect frame of mind to be in when I start sending out my query letters again.

Monday, December 25, 2006


If you're thinking of sending a query to Susan Golomb, might as well wait until after the New Year. She's out of the office, you see, until the third of January. Go ahead and send the e-query if you must, but she won't answer until after she's back.

Funny, that. After my partial manuscript was sent and then ignored, she hasn't answered any of my e-queries. Why start now? It'll be the same as before, I suppose. The overflowing e-mail box, crammed with queries, will be glossed over on the third of next month. And I'll get my answer. The same answer I've gotten in the past.

It's the return of the 'no answer means no', and I'll have to wait until the New Year's been rung in to get that no response. Now, I could send a snail mail query, but some agents don't seem to be taking the time to send back the SASE. No response means no, and it won't matter how you send the query. Michelle Beno, Chris Parris-Lamb, and Gail Hochman are at three months and still nothing. Sally Van Haitsma at Castiglia Agency is winning, however, with no response to a snail-mail query after four months.

This weekend I took another look at the query, after reading up at the very useful Crap-o-Meter for queries as presented by Miss Snark. Read enough of them and your eyes will bleed, but you'll get a sense of what it is one agent looks for. Scroll through and find the formula for composing the hook portion of your should get your head wrapped around the general notion of how to. I'm preparing a new batch of snail mail queries to be posted while the agents are 'out of the office' and look forward to more waiting in the New Year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Best Christmas Song Of All Time? Or Not...

You can have your Bing Crosby and your Nat King Cole and all those chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Give me The Pogues and Fairy Tale of New York...

It was Christmas Eve, babe,
In the drunk tank.
An old man said to me, 'Won't see another one.'
And then he song a song,
The Rare Old Mountain Dew,
I turned my face away and dreamed about you.

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one,
I got a feeling
This year's for me and you.
So Happy Christmas, I love you baby,
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true.

They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold,
But the wind goes right through you,
It's no place for the old.
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me Broadway was waiting for me.

You were handsome
You were pretty, Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more.
Sinatra was swinging,
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on the corner
Then danced through the night.

The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day.

You're a bum, you're a punk.
You're an old slut on junk,
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed.
You scumbag, you maggot,
You cheap lousy faggot,
Happy Christmas your arse I pray God it's our last.

The boys of the NYPD Choir were singing Galway Bay
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day.

I could have been someone.
Well so could anyone.
You took my dreams from me when I first found you.
I kept them with me babe,
I put them with my own.
Can't make it all alone,
I've built my dreams around you.

The boys of the NYPD Choir were singing Galway Bay
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

It's How You Say It

Michael Corbitt and Sam Giancana wrote a book about crime and corruption. HarperCollins published it, judging the non-fiction manuscript to be a potential money-maker. Everyone loves true stories about the Mob, about all the greed and dirty deals that make crime go around. Now the Illinois Supreme Court has declared that the authors are not quite so free as they might have thought when they sat down to compose their sordid tale.

The name of attorney Patrick Tuite came up in the book, in connection with a fix put in for Outfit members' trials. Corbitt and Giancana never said outright that Tuite got paid off, they only reported that the Outfit believed that Tuite had the deal arranged. They reported what their sources implied. How else to make the story complete than to relay what was said by those involved? An author is supposed to fill in the gaps, to set the stage, and the reader needs this sort of background information to understand what was going on and put other information in context.

Tuite turned around and sued the authors, claiming that his name was defamed by this implication that he had bribed a judge or something equally reprehensible. Why, Mr. Tuite only helped Joey Aiuppa's lawyers prepare for a sentencing hearing after the conviction, that's what he did for the one million dollar fee. That's a lot of billable hours, there, even for a high priced attorney, but we're all supposed to believe that a million dollars changed hands for this perfectly legitimate reason.

The authors relied on an old standard, the "innocent construction" rule that was used in the past to block libel suits where the statements in question could be interpreted as non-defamatory. The Illinois Supreme Court judges declared that the statements in question were not the least bit innocent and had no non-defamatory interpretation at all. Go on, there, Mr. Tuite, and press on with your libel case, the Justices said.

As for the "innocent construction" rule, that stays in place, and news organizations and HarperCollins breathed a sigh of relief. The Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times and television stations knew what was at stake if Tuite's lawyers had their way and got the rule lifted. A decision like that would have been devastating to the entire news industry, making it almost impossible to report the word on the street or to quote an unnamed source.

Expect Patrick Tuite to be back in court soon, pressing his libel case. And expect that publishing house lawyers will be more cautious when there's a contract in process for a true crime book. Once burned, twice shy, they say, and authors are going to be under pressure to properly parse their participles and turn a phrase. No hearsay allowed in a court of law, and soon it won't be allowed in print.

One million dollars to advise Aiuppa's lawyers. Sure, and I just fell off the turnip wagon.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Be Merry

The stock market is quiet as the traders take an extra day, getting ready for Christmas. Comes on a Monday this year, and the school holidays are scheduled for the two weeks after...plenty of time for family fun, trips to museums and pizza for lunch and dinner.

All the literary agents have gone to ground, many big agencies close their doors for a week or a few days. There's no point in sending out queries right now, not when you'll be waiting even longer for a reply. It's a good time to write, or re-write, or edit something.

In a couple of weeks, the publishing industry will kick up again, until summer of course when they slow up and spend a great deal of time at parties. While you wait, why not read a few novels, maybe someone's debut, and get a handle on the market. Or just read for the sake of reading.

There's a slice of whiskey cake with my name on it, and a lovely, hot Irish coffee to wash it down. Followed by a bit of Dundee cake, and perhaps a little whiskey punch before bed.

Merry Christmas to all, and may you experience the joy and wonder of this holiday season.

Nollaig shona duit.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bah Humbug

Christmas decorating requires lights, lots of lights, twinkling and sparkling and brilliant. However, certain people don't seem all that interested in making the effort. Not everyone, mind you, only a few along Grafton Street and Henry Street are being most Scrooge-like these days.

The Dublin Business Association is going to name them. Put their humbugging names in the newspaper for all the world to see who is too cheap to pay up for the cost of all the lights in the major shopping areas. A thankless task, it's up to some volunteers to organize the whole project, from putting the lights up to taking them down, and it costs money to do that sort of thing. The whole street gets done up for the holidays, one of the local merchants takes care of collecting the donations to cover costs, and the shoppers are treated to a festive scene. Except some people aren't paying their fair share.

And who is it that isn't helping out in Dublin this holiday season? It's the British corporations, the English chain stores who take advantage of the holiday shopping season and feast on Irish euro, but don't donate anything to the decorating. Isn't that just like them, after all they did in Ireland, and they're still at it, the leeches...the parasites. Won't help to promote Irish Christmas culture, will they?

A vendor with a shop on Wicklow Street has become concerned about the lack of financing. According to David Brennan, there were no lights on South Great George's Street or Exchequer Street this year, and we must assume it's because there wasn't enough money donated to pay for them. It's England's fault, clearly. They robbed the nation, stripped it of its resources for hundreds of years, and now they're trying to steal away Christmas.

Name them and shame them, organize a boycott in the Irish tradition. No lights, no custom, let that be the battle cry. And if all else fails, go straight to Dail Eireann and demand a law, a tax on foreign vendors, and maybe then they'll see the light.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hide In Plain Sight

Should the police be on the prowl for pedophiles, they need look no further than the nearest organization promoting child sex abuse. In Britain, taking the rather obvious tack resulted in a phenomenal find.

Far north, in the chill of County Durham, Thomas O'Carroll was busy running the International Pedophile Child Emancipation Group, and the equally vile Gentlemen With An Interesting Name. These organizations existed for the sole purpose of promoting a change of the laws, rather like a PAC for perverts. Make it legal for adults to have sex with children was their cause. Highly unpopular, but what's to lose? People once thought homosexuals were vile and look how accepted they are today, so why not pedophiles? Men just want to have fun, after all.

British police had infiltrated the group, and when they finally closed in on O'Carroll and his co-conspirator Michael Studdart, they discovered a cache of kiddie porn that had taken fifty years to amass. It is said to be one of the largest collections of filth, kept behind a bathroom wall in Surrey.

One can imagine the two arguing in court, complaining about being tried for their views of proper sexual conduct, playing the victims. Judge Roger Chapple had none of it, according to reports. He tried them both for possessing, manufacturing and distributing child pornography, and the defendants could whinge about discrimination all they wanted, but they had broken the law.

And so, the former teacher and the son of the Archdeacon of Surrey are now registered sex offenders, but their attempt to normalize their sick perversions will no doubt continue. They can turn to their fellow travellers and play the victim card in a search for sympathy, but Judge Chapple rightly recognized that the true victims in the case were the little boys in the photographs.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Top Gun Agent

You want someone with power, someone who can get your manuscript in the hands of elite publishing executives, someone who won't take no for an answer. Based on Judith Regan's recent diatribe, as "leaked" by HarperCollins legal eagles, you couldn't find a more powerful agent than Esther Newberg.

She must be tied at the hip to Jane Friedman, top level exec of HarperCollins, since they reportedly worked together to get poor Judith kicked out of her own imprint. Who wouldn't want that kind of agent? And don't forget HarperCollins executive editor David Hirshey. He's part of this publishing cabal that had the long knives out for Ms. Regan.

An agent with powerhouse ICM, Ms. Newberg reps the luminaries of thriller authordom, people like Carl Hiassen. With all the reading she's done over the years, it's no wonder that she's mastered the art of intrigue. Is there a plot device or devious technique she's not seen yet? Like a master student of the genre, she has surely incorporated much of the information provided by her stable of authors and put all that knowledge to good use. Hence, Judith Regan was tossed out on her arse, bested by a master. More exciting than any episode of 24, wouldn't you say?

It's starting to read like some spy novel, with Ms. Regan announcing the conspiracy against her, days in advance. Then there's the chick-lit catty element, with Jane Friedman playing the snotty role while Ms. Regan portrays the downtrodden Cinderella. And off in the sidelines, waiting for his cue, is agent Laurence J. Kirshbaum, ready to provide Ms. Regan's happy ending by repping the tell-all memoir that will blow the lid off the secret cabal in publishing. Kirshbaum...isn't that Jewish?

The Resale Shop Around The Corner

Ebay is big. It's getting bigger.

Back at the turn of the millennium, Alan Scroope started up a business in his mother-in-law's house. She had a spare bedroom, and Mr. Scroope was looking for office space on the cheap. I'll bet she brought him his tea as well, since he was there and it was no bother, really, the kettle was on and she was having a cup herself.

Like any budding entrepreneur, he had a an idea of a niche that needed filling, and he stepped in. He called it Freeflow, and started to buy up excess or unwanted inventories and sold them on to those who were looking for just the thing. Not just bits of odd junk, no. Freeflow bought up things from Apple, 3Com or Motorola, electronic gadgets that had some useful life if they could be had for a bargain price.

From the bedroom office, Mr. Scroope has expanded internationally, with offices in Tralee, Hong Kong and California. Did very well for himself in these past five years. He says his sales are in the 26 million euro range, but sales are going to go even higher. Freeflow and Ebay are going into business together, and with Ebay's marketing forces and dollars behind it, the merger looks to be profitable for all.

According to Mr. Scroope, the technology industry had no way to deal with excess product or returns, and were losing money. Between Freeflow and Ebay working together, the techies can sell off their inventories through listings on Ebay, and Freeflow will see to it that the customer gets the goods.

And so, the second-hand store goes electronic. It's not the same without the clutter and the shop owner keeping a wary eye on you while you browsed through the jumble. Clicking and scrolling just aren't the same thing.

Monday, December 18, 2006

In The Red

What with all the talk about Judith Regan and O.J.'s so-called tell-all memoir, the reading public lost track of another Regan product that might be equally dismissed. Coming soon to a book shop near you, or perhaps not, is a fictional biography of Mickey Mantle.

The book pretends to be Mickey Mantle telling his life story to Leonard Shecter, a long deceased writer who worked on the wildly popular Ball Four. The latter was a real memoir, the story of Jim Bouton as told by himself, and he was blunt and honest about baseball life. Whatever was in the book, Bouton wanted in, no matter how unpleasant it might have been. The author of 7, the Mickey Mantle story, just plain makes stuff up, but it could have happened that way, dear reader.

Why not just pen a biography? It's been done, and by no less an authority than Mickey Mantle's wife, who put up with his wicked ways. Then too, the baseball legend is still a hero to many, and even if author Peter Golenbeck could track down some witnesses to confess, it would not be the same. In fiction, the author controls the characters, and he controls what they say and what they do and where they go.

Not to forget, but sex sells, and the sex life of a baseball legend should fly out of the book shop door. Isn't that what ReganBooks was all about, after all? Selling, and selling in big numbers? So what better book to promote than one with a huge baseball icon and lots of smut, with Marilyn Monroe tossed in the mix?

Robert Thiel of the Book Stall in Winnetka doesn't think the novel is going to make it. The problem is, the stories related in the book might have come from other ball players trading tales, hearsay that can't be proved or disproved. So it's not an authentic telling of Mantle's womanizing ways. And the dialogue, being in a novel, is all made up, so the average sports fan isn't likely to buy the book. A guy would know the difference between the fiction stacks and the sports section, apparently, and he won't bother with the novel because he wants the real thing. And there's the whole issue of a big hero being reduced to some weak, testosterone driven cad. Many would prefer that the hero remain on his pedestal and they don't care to hear about his clay feet.

First the expense of the O.J. pulping, and now the potential tanking of the next release. ReganBooks might be a going concern, but it's going into the red. Nothing a change of leadership can't fix.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye

It wasn't so bad as all that, after all. There's been worse trash foisted on the reading public, hasn't there been? But to dump Judith Regan for some tasteless garbage? Sure and there's a bit more to the story than anyone will confess, I'd say.

Just like that, HarperCollins' own Jane Friedman announced that Judith Regan was terminated, effective immediately. The publishing program that she headed will carry on, however, due no doubt to their innocence in the entire fiasco. If I Did It brought Ms. Regan a step too far down the road to the dumpster of publishing. Garbage is one thing, but when the garbage reeks, well, it's time to dispose of it properly.

Not that Judith was responsible for anything high end to begin with. She was the one who brought out the celebrity books, the ghost-written bits of nothing that sold well enough. As the head of her own imprint at HarperCollins, she kept doing what she did best, churning out nonsense with relatively infamous names plastered on the front cover. Who could forget that stellar piece of literary excellence, How To Make Love Like A Porn Star. Can't get enough of the do it yourself books, especially at holiday gift-giving time.

Okay, so there was some funny business with her and the New York City Police Commissioner around the time of the 9/11 tragedy, but then she moved to LA to concentrate on her main area of expertise. If she was not getting along with Jane Friedman, they had an entire country between them to act as a buffer. Besides, Ms. Regan was into the tabloid trash that was the stock in trade of owner Rupert Murdoch, so what's not to like?

The O.J. book was ready to ship, printed and boxed and labelled. O.J. or his selected underling had cash in hand, payment for his time and efforts. The ghostwriter had been paid. And then it all went off to the pulp factory.

You can get away with a lot of nonsense if you add handsomely to the corporate bottom line. Lose money, lose a great deal of money, and you cause pain to the CEO and the Board of Directors and the stockholders. When they are hurting, they go after heads, lopping off the one that created their headache.

In the end, the Regan dismissal is a clear indication that Rupert Murdoch lost a great, great deal of money on the whole O.J. mess, and Ms. Regan has paid the corporate price. She'll write a book about the entire ordeal, and she'll receive a huge advance. Not from HarperCollins, however. They've already paid.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Looking For An Agent?

You've written so many variations on your query letter that you can't be sure anymore that English is your native tongue. The partial manuscript you sent has been ignored, they ask for a full and reject your novel in a couple of weeks with no comments offered.

It's time to bring in the big guns. Here is a link to a website that will be the answer to your prayers:

The St. Jude Novena Site

And I'll be keeping you in my prayers.

Lesson In Economics

Health insurance is costly, no matter what country you're in. And it's the old people on the enrollment lists that are driving up costs for us young and healthy types. For an insurance company, the fewer sick oldsters, the better, since the last thing that an insurance company wants to do is pay out on a claim.

Ireland's national health insurer, VHI, has run up against this very problem. They have far too many geriatrics and not enough youngsters paying in to the system. What to do? Why, they're the government. They can do what they like, make the rules suit them. Now, if they had consulted an economist or two...surely there's a few at UCD or Trinity that were available for a sit-down.

The only competition for health insurance coverage was BUPA Ireland, a company based in England. They were writing policies, but most of their clients were healthy and there was not too much income going out. And there was VHI, with more than its fair share of expensive clients getting sick and going to doctors and filing claims. To even things out, VHI declared that BUPA would have to pay them to compensate for the imbalance. It's not unlike extortion, but when you're the one writing the laws, call it risk equalization.

And so BUPA Ireland gladly handed over their excess profits and the insurance industry lived happily ever after. Or so the directors of VHI expected. In reality, two weeks before Christmas, BUPA is pulling out of Ireland and three hundred people are about to get the sack. Merry Christmas from your friends at VHI.

Rather then become more competitive, VHI tried to legislate its way to profitability, but that's not how the real world of capitalism works. Now VHI has a monopoly on Irish health insurance, and it is expected that prices will rise. It has been suggested that VHI will be broken up into smaller companies, or the behemoth with three-quarters of the market might scare off potential competitors. Competition is what's needed to drive down prices, but a company has to be efficient to reduce costs to get prices down. And no for-profit corporation is going to work hard to make money, just to hand it over to its competitor who's too bloated and inefficient to get up off the couch and make an effort.

What are the chances of VHI, a state-owned company, becoming more efficient? About the same as anyone figuring out that a risk equalization scheme doesn't work in a free-market economy.

Firebrand Literary's New Site

Nadia Cornier has launched her new updated website at Firebrand Literary, and I guess she's accepting queries again. It's only her and Caren Johnson now, with the loss of a couple of agents over the past few months, but it's always worth a try.

Under her new system, you the author fill in the blanks for name, e-mail address and word count. Then you paste in your query letter. It's brilliant. No bizarro questions to answer like other on-line submission sites, just that query letter that you've spent hours polishing.

After that, you paste in the opening couple of pages in another box. They're busy, and they're obviously looking for the instant hook, the turn of a phrase in the first couple of sentences to judge writing skill. If your novel doesn't really get going until the second chapter, you're out of luck. That's why some agents ask for three chapters, to better gauge the manuscript, but then they probably have assistants to do most of the grunt work.

Best of all, once the query is received you'll get an automated response that lets you know the submission got to where it was supposed to go. If nothing else, there's a sense of relief that comes with an acknowledgement, that your query did not go wandering off into cyberspace. Finally, the agency will send a form rejection if they aren't interested, so there's an end point to the whole process.

For the very rare few who are asked to submit, they'll be able to download the manuscript and get updates on the process, how far along, being read, to be read, all that sort of thing. All in all, very friendly to the author. All in all, almost no one makes it that far anyway, so it's not a tremendous burden.

If you want a rough estimate about the odds, I pulled this from Kristin Nelson's blog. She received about 20,800 queries during the past year. Of those, she requested 54 full manuscripts. That's a quarter of one percent. From there, she took on 8 new clients. That puts the odds at one in 2600. And you still want to keep trying your luck, don't you?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Belly Up the bar. Although fans of the scene at Claddagh might think that their favorite watering hole is going belly up.

Kevin Blair, once an operations manager for Supermac's in Galway, had a dream of bringing the Irish pub to America. That's what the Irish do best, after all, travel to the four corners of the globe and build pubs there. Mr. Blair got the backing of his boss, Pat McDonagh, who no doubt thought it was grand to start up a new restaurant chain that was not fast food. He'd be a fool to bring Supermac's to America and try to outdo McDonald's. And so, Claddagh was born.

Like so many entrepreneurs who taste success, Mr. Blair expanded his restaurant into a seventeen unit chain, but he burned through Mr. McDonagh's initial $20 million seed capital in about four years. There was no American investor willing to buy into the expansion plan, and Mr. McDonagh was not going to drop another bundle of cash into the scheme either. By that point, Blair must have been feeling slighted, with his restaurants doing well but his urgent need of cash going unmet by the man he thought was his financial partner.

A judge in a Dayton, Ohio bankruptcy court appointed a trustee to oversee management of the Claddagh restaurant chain, and then he told Mr. Blair that he owed Mr. McDonagh two million dollars. Apparently the judge agreed with McDonagh, that the Supermac king was not an investor in Claddagh, but a lender, and Blair owed him interest on the loan. Oh, and Blair has to pay back the $20 million as well.

Chances are, the Claddagh restaurants are doing fine, bringing in customers and all that jazz. Expanding too quickly, where rational thought is suffocated by greed, has led many a businessman to bankruptcy court. Who can say if Kevin Blair was on the pig's back, as Mr. McDonagh claimed, or scraping by on a pittance, as Mr. Blair asserted. Anyone familiar with the elaborate stone cottage look of Claddagh could guess that the restaurant cost a fortune to build. Financing that sort of construction would take a lot of money, and it's hard to imagine that a new enterprise could have the kind of cash flow needed to pay for that many new buildings in such a short period of time.

Sure there's economies of scale that lower operating costs, but in this case, the financial strain of achieving the critical mass of restaurants caused the company to implode. Too much too soon, but isn't that the way with the hard-driving entrepreneur? Many are called, but few make it to the ranks of Pat McDonagh and Ray Kroc.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

No Longer Fashionable

The classic department store is fast growing extinct. One behemoth swallows another, then spews back a piece to be consumed by another giant. Federated Department Stores, itself the offspring of countless mergers, took over the Marshall Field's chain in Chicago and promptly changed the name of every store to Macy's. Didn't go over well in Chicago, either, but management has faith in their product.

It would seem that their faith has been misplaced. Since the merger, sales for Federated have slumped, down seven to eleven percent compared to last year. The chairman of the North Division, Frank Guzzetta, is on the hunt for former Field's shoppers who have yet to show themselves at Macy's. Discounts, letters, give-aways...whatever it takes to get them back. Pity that he's not aware of what is keeping the buyers away.

When Federated first announced the name change, the outcry was deafening. Marshall Field's was an institution in the city, going back before the Great Fire. To lose the name, even if someone from out of town owned the place, was just too much to tolerate. Many vowed never to shop there, some called for a boycott. Through it all, the folks who run Macy's insisted that it would all blow over once people saw what great things would come to be.

Federated's stock has been downgraded, and that's not what they had in mind when they took over Field's sixty or so shops. According to Banc of America securities analyst Dana Cohen:
""The key issue we are facing is that management miscalculated the impact of these changes and, potentially, the pace required to successfully execute them without seeing a big drop-off in the business," Cohen wrote in a report Monday."

Even though Cohen thinks that Federated will have problems through the spring, it is expected that the strategy will eventually succeed.

Mr. Guzzetta has been given free rein to fix things in the Upper Midwest, where Macy's is not a familiar name. Or so he thinks. It's actually a known commodity, in large part due to their famous parade. People in the Midwest think Macy's is a lower-end establishment, along the lines of J.C. Penney. Field's was associated with higher priced goods, designer duds and the wedding gift registry. The clients were none too pleased that May Department Stores ran the place down, but they did not change the name at least. There was hope that a new owner would restore the luxurious end, but that's not what anyone thinks of when they hear "Macy's".

An article in the Chicago Tribune details a bit of Mr. Guzzetta's strategy to lure customers back, as he seeks feedback on what is missing, to give the lady what she wants.

After the awnings were changed and the sign replaced, I walked past the windows of the local emporium. It's a small shop, a bank originally, with a limited selection of ladies apparel, men's clothes and gifts. When it was owned by Field's, the mannequins were adorned with designer wear, expensive outfits that catered to the locals. New name, and different goods for sale. The mannequins could have been lifted from Kohl's, the clothes of poor quality, fabric not draping as it should. The merchandise had gone downhill. Why would I bother to shop at Macy's when I've seen what they have, and it's not what I want?

Meanwhile, Von Maur and Nordstrom's plow ahead, taking over where Marshall Field's once stood. J.C. Penney has recently remodeled their store in the mall that shares space with Macy's. Must be expecting an increase in foot traffic.

The Outfit Resurrected

Lately I've been slogging through After Capone, a biography of Frank Nitti that was written by Mars Eghighian. It's an exhaustive, copiously detailed account of the early days of the Chicago Outfit, back during the days of Prohibition. There is so much information, in fact, that the book is difficult to read, and I find myself re-reading sentences and paragraphs to make sense of things. Light reading it's not, but there's something fascinating about the way the whole organized crime ring got started.

It's said that you can still see the pock marks left by a hail of bullets, right there on the cornerstone of Holy Name Cathedral. I'm tempted to take a look one of these days, to see if it's true. The killing did indeed take place, when a mobster was gunned down as he walked on the street, in broad daylight. That was how things were then, a violent version of the corporate buy-out and no attention paid to the innocent bystander.

With all that in my head, it was an odd sensation reading about the latest gangland slaying in Dublin. So much of what is going on there now is just like Chicago in the Roaring '20's. Martin Hyland is the latest gangster to be murdered, shot to death in a relative's house. The gardai knew him well, as one of the island nation's biggest drug dealers, and several of his associates had been rounded up during the latest operation to clean up the city. It has been suggested that Hyland was a marked man, with the law on his tail and the danger that he might reveal some gang secrets to avoid a stiff sentence. The gardai had warned him, in fact, that his life was in danger. Straight out of the Capone era, a touch of deja vu, except the tommy gun has been replaced with an Uzi.

Day after day, someone in the drugs trade has been murdered in Ireland, usually shot to death. Reading the news is like reading a litany of Al Capone's strategy to gain control of the liquor and gambling trade in Chicago, wiping out the competition with utter ruthlessness. Like the old gang wars here, the criminals in Ireland are going at one another with guns, killing off rivals in a bid to gain a monopoly on drug sales and the enormous profits that come with it.

Some might feel that there's no harm done, not really, when they kill each other off and where's the loss in that, anyway? The murderers of Martin Hyland, however, went a step too far. They entered the place where Hyland was in hiding, and murdered the twenty-year-old apprentice plumber who was doing some work at the house. Rather than call off the operation, the murderers killed Anthony Campbell and coldly eliminated a potential witness before turning their guns on their intended target.

Al Capone and his gang were brought down by the accountants of the Internal Revenue Service, in spite of the persistence of federal law enforcement. Here's hoping Noel Conroy, the Garda Commissioner, can find a back door of his own.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Limited Seating Available

On the campaign trail, French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has been extolling his main virtue as he sways voters to his side. His claim to fame? He's driven out more immigrants than anyone before him.

Numbers don't lie, and the current interior minister claims to have reduced the number of asylum seekers by over 5,000. As for those trying to sneak across the border, his department turned back 33,000 people, and that's a lot of folks learning that there's no room. Add to that the people who were paid to leave, and Monsieur Sarkozy lays claim to 59,000 foreigners deported from La Belle France.

It's a strong talking point in France, where the general population believes that there are too many non-French cluttering the country. If elected, Mr. Sarkozy plans to charter a fleet of airplanes and deport even more, to clean up the seething banlieues by kicking out those without express permission to live in France. No mention of religious affiliations, however. It's enough that they are in the country illegally, and they simply have to go.

There's been no talk of building a wall around France, but then again, a chain link fence on the beaches of St. Tropez would very much mar the view. It will come down to the vigilance of the local authorities, to root out the interlopers. Considering the fact that the minister is keen to go after the illegal North Africans, it should be relatively easy to spot them on the streets.

The gendarmerie could be on the lookout for dark skin and a Moroccan caste to the eye, and they'd nab the invaders with relative ease. These same North Africans are also among the poorest, with the highest unemployment rate, which would also help them to stand out from the French crowd. Once they've been seen, it's simply a matter of taking them into custody, putting them on a plane, and sending them back from whence they came. A large part of France is expected to cheer.

Where, oh where, has multiculturalism gone?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Twist and Shout

He came to Chicago with $500 in his pockets and a head full of determination. Garrett Kelleher started out as a poor subcontractor, back in 1986 before the Celtic Tiger changed the financial picture in Dublin. Ten years later, with a lot of cash stuffed into his wallet, he took his family back home and became a very big property developer, with projects scattered across Europe.

Now the man behind Shelbourne Development Ltd. is back, with a new project that's been out in the open and then hidden since this past July.

He bought up the parcel at 400 North Lake Shore Drive, a very, very pricey piece of real estate on the banks of the Chicago River, zoned for residential and hotel use. He hired Santiago Calatrava to design a building that was modern, unique, and one-of-a-kind, a statement to be made in steel. And then the critics had at it. The general concensus about the building was that it would look like a gigantic drill bit, lording its phenomenal height over the lakefront. At nearly double the size of the nearby John Hancock Building, it would be a tower not to be missed.

Funny thing about architects. They don't really know very much about construction. They design things that look good, that soar, that take us on flights of fancy, but they don't actually have a concrete notion of how to achieve their vision. Not too long ago, the civil engineers were pulling out their hair and running through money at a rapid pace, all in an attempt to figure out how to build Frank Gehry's exploded tin can of a bandshell in Chicago's Grant Park. There's been no end of mockery for the sweeping walkway that was put in and promptly closed in the winter. The weight of the snow, you see, and then the weight of the pedestrians, and the whole thing could collapse. It snows in Chicago. The walkway bridge can't carry all the weight.

Is it any wonder that everyone's first thought was that the twisting tower could not physically exist? How is it to be constructed, folks asked, thinking of real ironworkers using real steel beams, rather than the architect's twist of his pencil.

Option B has just been put forth. The drill bit, tapering to a point, has been shaved down to a more flat tip, and the base is less tapered than originally planned. It has been suggested that the final phase of construction be the application of a coat of red paint, since the skyscraper is going to look like a tasty Twizzler when it's done.

Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune questions the new form, which allows for more units, which means the developer makes more money. Without its original spire top, the new proposal lacks a certain grace, and who wants to look at a gigantic tribute to the licorice stick, in the city that gave the world Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright?

If Mr. Kelleher is really so fond of Chicago and wants to express his sentiments, perhaps he should re-think the new design and find another way to get enough units into the structure without making it look like something that should be wrapped in cellophane. Unless, of course, your man is making a statement, a steel and glass ode to the city that boasts of its industries...the candy-making capital of the nation.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

High Price Paid

With the coming of the Celtic Tiger, the people of Ireland have had economic success laid on them with the subtlety of a hod of bricks falling from a height of thirty feet. For centuries, it was a desperately poor nation, in which the major export was its people, flying away to other places in search of work.

The change has come too quickly for most to absorb. Criticism of the new middle class fills the papers, with stories of hunkering SUVs filling the air with pollution while Ireland struggles to meet its Kyoto targets. Those who don't give enough to charity, those who flaunt their wealth with clothes and holiday homes abroad; there are tales of the homeless ignored, the youth drinking to excess, and it's all coming from a sense of confusion, a notion that times are no longer hard, so how do we live correctly.

With an influx of capital comes an influx of criminals, and gun crimes are on the rise. What we in America accept as part of daily life has crept into a country that is not prepared to handle the side effects of capitalism. The gardai are unarmed, because they were set up that way in the 1920's, and many wish to cling to an antique notion of respect for the law acting as a deterent. Americans are aware of guns, of criminals with guns, and would not chase an armed robber unless they, too, had a gun. Our policemen carry weapons, always ready for use, and therein lies the source of our respect for the law.

The new postmaster in Kilkenny, lacking the street sense of an average Yank, responded to the robbery of his sub-station by chasing after the criminal who brandished a gun and robbed the post office. He fought the man, the gun went off, and Alan Cunniffe was shot in the gut and died. This tragic incident will become a part of the learning curve, as a once impoverished nation finds a way to deal with a changing world. Shop owners and employees will be cautioned to not go after an armed robber, to not confront someone with a gun. They will be instructed on how to best respond to a threat that follows on the heels of affluence.

Everyone enjoys their newly created wealth, the ability to have central heating and a brand-new winter coat, in contrast to the old days. At the same time, people reminisce about the past, about knowing all the neighbors and watching out for one another. Many see that they are becoming more like the Americans, with the same problems facing large American cities. Some things are lost when prosperity settles down to stay. Innocence is one item that, sadly, is fading away.

Friday, December 08, 2006

In Time For Holiday Gift-Giving

The writers in your life may be hard to buy for. You can't very well give them books, not when they know better than you what's good and what they might need for a study of style. A gift card to a big box bookshop is not of much use, either, as the average writer prefers the cozy comfort of the local independent. Plastic cards are so cold anyway, not really what you'd like to wrap and drop under the Christmas tree.

Thank heavens for the folks at RTE. They've put together a DVD that will be perfect for those on your gift-giving list who want to learn the craft of the novelist.

Don't know much about John McGahern? The late author was practically a literary god in the Irish pantheon, a man who got whacked by the heavy cudgel of Catholic censorship and lived to tell the tale. His first novel was written when he was a schoolteacher, back in the mid-1960's, but it was his second that got him fired from his teaching job, all due to the book's whiff of priestly sexual abuse. That turned out to be true enough, but at the time, no one was talking about such goings on.

As for the budding writer, this DVD is reputed to be instructional, giving insight into the creative processes used by McGahern as he crafted his amazing tales. No great heroes, his characters, just a lot of ordinary folks going about ordinary lives of poverty, hardship and misery. After reading The Barracks, I was depressed for days, so well did he create the mood and flavor of the featured family. To an extent, it was probably drawn largely from McGahern's own life, as his father was a garda, like the father in the book, and the stepmother dies of cancer, as McGahern's mother did when he was quite young. All of that would be explained in the DVD, I would expect, to demonstrate how to use events from your dull life and make things have deep meaning and so on.

Allowing fourteen days for delivery, you'd better dash up off your chair and place the order if the DVD's to arrive on time. Start off the New Year with a new pad of paper and a new pen and a new set of instructions on how to do it, and that novel could be written before the next Christmas rolls around.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Flexing Verbal Muscles

Back in 1984, shortly after control of the city council was won by the nationalist element, the governing members set out to change some things that they thought needed changing. They made a big change. A change with a great deal of significance and subtle nose-tweaking. A change that poked a sharp stick at unionist pride.

There's a song about this city, called Londonderry Air. Lovely tune, but it's not Londonderry anymore, nor has it been since 1984. You see, the town was originally named Doire, which is Irish for oak grove. The Protestants came in, took over and declared that the place was to be Londonderry, King James gave the town fathers a fancy charter and all that jazz back in 1613, and that settled the hash of the defeated Catholics. It would seem that the Catholics played the long game, however, biding their time until the right moment to reclaim their ancient name.

Bit by bit, the Irish took back the town, until they got to the point where they governed the city. With a mighty blow to unionist sentiment, the council passed legislation that returned the city to its original name, with an Anglicized spelling. Needless to say, the British government was not amused, and did not agree with the City Council's legal reasoning.

Mr. Justice Weatherup of the High Court in Belfast has to settle the long-running dispute. Derry City Council has asked him to decide a thorny legal issue, and thereby force the Department of the Environment and the government to call the town Derry, not Londonderry. The government claims that the Royal Charter is still in effect, meaning that Queen Elizabeth herself has to give the okay for the name change. And here you were thinking she had nothing at all to do as her golden years stretched out to a mind-numbing, boring eternity.

The Council, on the other hand, insists that they have the authority, with the passing of the Local Government Act in 1972 in essence amending the old charters, making it perfectly legal for the council to lop off the 'London' part. The legal counsel for the Department of Environment, of course, says no, that the council has no such authority and it's up to Her Nibs on the throne to give approval. Meanwhile, since the 1984 decree, the Catholics state that they live in Derry, while the Protestants call the town Londonderry, and you'd have to believe that it makes for a difficult time of sorting the Royal Mail. One city cannot have two names, and so the Derry City Council turned to the High Court.

No one envies the judge, whose decision will either infuriate the nationalists or enrage the unionists. Whatever Mr. Justice Weatherup decides, you can be sure that the citizens of the second largest city in the north of Ireland are not going to change their minds. The whole issue has nothing to do with a name, and everything to do with a dispute that's been ongoing for a good five hundred years.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Eat Your Vegetables Ordinance

So smug, New York, to think that you're the first to ban trans fats in foods. The city of Chicago thought of it first.

It was right after the City Council banned foie gras, and then a slew of restaurants served goose liver on the day the ordinance went into effect. Places that had never put a slice of fatty liver on a plate were cranking out one dish after another. There was a pizza with foie gras topping, that's how far it went.

Chicago is different than New York, of course. Here, it's all about business, about who you know and what have you done for me lately. Think Rahm Emanuel got where he is today by his own efforts? Just don't ask him about Don Tomczak and the army of city workers who got out the vote when Mr. Emanuel was running for office. Mr. Tomczak's been indicted recently, and it's a sore topic for the Democratic power broker.

No foie gras, it was decreed, and the next thing you know, the aldermen get a brainstorm. Why not ban trans fats in restaurants? They're bad for the heart. The Council should be legislating to help the citizens of Chicago, who pay all that property tax that goes into the salaries of the city workers who campaign for Democratic politicians on company time.

A Chicago alderman has a thick skin, and precious little will embarrass one of them. The howls of laughter, the mockery, now that got to them. What next, people asked, will they legislate our bed time? Make it a law to eat all our vegetables? Arrest us if we don't wear our raincoats and galoshes on wet days?

More importantly, the restaurants pitched sizeable hissy fits. Trans fats have benefits, making fried foods extra crispy and extending the shelf life of baked goods. And when the alderman comes around looking for a donation, don't expect the restaurateur to contribute generously, or donate a crumb to the worthy alderman's table after passing that kind of legislation. As for the night spots in the Viagra Triangle, well, don't mess with them and don't make their business lives difficult if you want the political support of some wealthy individuals.

Chicago's trans fat ordinance died before it was fully conceived. But it's fine for New York, to legislate how restaurants can cook and what people can eat. Go right ahead and tell the citizens of the Big Apple what to put in their mouths, for their own good. And make sure they wash those hands, and eat up that big apple. So tough, the image of New York City....can I pass you another carrot stick?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Raise and Lower Hopes

I sent a batch of queries out on the 28th of November, just to have something to do with the box of envelopes that was sitting on the shelf, dropping dust bunnies on my head by way of mockery.

What do I find in the e-mail box today but a response to a snail-mail query from Molly Friedrich? So e-mail hasty must notify at once. Not quite as expected.
Although your book sounds both intelligent and intriguing, I'm afraid I won't be able to pursue it further with you. I'm sorry that I'm forced to be so painfully discriminating, but I'm taking on close to nothing right now. I only seem to bend when something truly inspires me, and honestly, I find that I may just be tapped out.

Such lovely words that say no thank you. But this new trend of sending denials via e-mail when there was a snail mail envelope provided? It's disconcerting after you've been trained to expect a request for more when an e-mail follows hot on the heels of a snailed query.

A quick response is one thing, but to disrupt the natural order of things is creating turmoil in my brain. I'll have to send another batch of queries out today to clear my head.

Ugly American

For the very wealthy, a family reunion can be whatever fantastical experience they wish. Money is no object for a man pulling in four million a year, but nickel and dime-ing a vendor is another side of this nouveau riche coin, or at least it is for the man who runs the Nasdaq stock exchange.

Robert Greifeld held a family reunion in Ireland, with some guests going over the Atlantic on the Queen Mary in the very lap of luxury. Mr. Greifeld was joined by sixteen adults and seven children, stayed for a week at Luttrellstown Castle in County Dublin, and enjoyed every manner of medieval entertainments. The place was populated by actors in costume, the menu featured wild boar, and the guests learned the finer points of falconry and jousting. For those with the cash, immersion in another era is a luxurious way to party, courtesy of Tours of Enchantment.

After going over the final tab with a very sharp pencil, Mr. Greifeld calculated that he had been overcharged by $70,000 on a total bill of $610,000, and he refused to settle his bill in full. Naturally, Gregory Patrick of Tours of Enchantment had to take the man to court to get paid. For a business owner, that's a lot of money.

Unfortunately, Mr. Patrick failed to prove his case, so he has appealed to a higher New Jersey court. Given that he is now providing some very precise detailed billing statements in regard to the disputed charges, his initial suit must have been dismissed for lack of evidence. To hedge his bets, Mr. Patrick is holding the DVDs that record the glorious week in Ireland, and if Mr. Greifeld wants to see them, he has to pay his bills.

From the very beginning, Mr. Patrick played the game according to the wrong rules. He was dealing with a certain type of businessman, the one who thrives on making deals and getting the better of his adversary. The sort that cheats and so expects that everyone else is cheating him. The sort that will dispute every penny so that his ego gets a boost when he squeezes out a discount of a few dollars.

By the same token, the savvy business owner will pad the bill, adding in what he has every intention of taking out as a sort of give-away. Why, it's as if he's doing his client a favor by lowering the price on item A and taking a little off the cost of item B, and as the buyer walks away thinking he got the best of the deal, the business owner is relieved to have gotten his target price. It's the law of the pushcart, and just because a man makes $4 million a year doesn't mean he's left that mentality behind. Mr. Patrick has spent upwards of $50,000 on legal fees, while Mr. Greifeld is said to have spent close to $100,000. For a bill of $70,000.

It's no wonder that Greifeld wanted to go to private mediation and bring in a Dublin accountant to go over the figures, to settle the thing without publicity. He's looking quite petty in the eyes of an average working man, cheap in a robber baron sort of way, and rather ugly.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ming Dynasty Casting Couch

In spite of censorship and limited access to the entire World Wide Web, the Chinese have taken to blogging with a vengeance. That word might best describe actress Zhang Yu's reasons for posting what she has on her personal blog. XXX-rated, by all accounts, and a clever twist on the reality TV concept.

She comes from a poor farming town in Hubei province, and she has dreams of being a big actress. She hasn't had many roles so far, but her current production is making heads spin. Without doubt, her blog is garnering an astronomical number of hits, and could go a long way to furthering her career.

Zhang has blown the whistle on the Chinese entertainment industry, by posting graphic videos of her sessions on the casting couch. She complained about it years ago, when a coveted role would only come her way if she could convince another actress to sleep with the director. He denied it, of course, and no one paid much attention to Zhang's version of events. Since a picture tells a thousand words, she found another way to get her point across.

There are twenty videos posted on her site, which is hosted by Any and all knowledgeable Chinese who have viewed the tapes have gotten an eyeful of some well-known men, some of them household names in China, in flagrante delecto as the Romans might have said if they had videos back then. Want to know how Chinese actresses get roles, Ms. Zhang implies, then have a good long look and doesn't this prove what I said all along?

The average person is, by all accounts, quite horrified by the exploitation of vulnerable young women, and some people claim that they suspected the existence of the casting couch all along. It was certainly a staple in our own budding film industry, and might still exist for all we know. Ms. Zhang has demonstrated, without question, that the casting couch is alive and well in China. And she has also shown that a website with a million hits will get its blogger a lot of publicity, and maybe even a book deal to write her sordid tale.

Debut With Platform

I remember when Mark Bavaro played football. He was a tough, idiosyncratic athlete at the top of his sport. Oh, wait, no, that's the character in his debut novel. But, hold on, yes he was an athlete, and quite the character. So you write what you know, and now he's a novelist penning his closet autobiography. Can't hurt that he played for the NY Giants and all the publishers are in NYC. Now, if Dick Butkus were to write a book...I'd read that one, but I'll pass on this one.

Salvatore Scibona has written a novel, about life in an Italian neighborhood. How much research did he have to do, do you think, to bring that element of realism to his book? By the way, he's the writing coordinator at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Just so you don't think he's using his own world as fodder for the novel, he set the fiction in Ohio but he works in Massachusetts, in a sort of artists' colony for writers. Quite sturdy, that platform, and sure to hold up a great deal of weight.

There'll soon be a work of fiction from Nick Taylor, a prolific non-fiction writer. It's cheating to call his first work of make-believe a debut, since he's been a writer for a long time. This isn't exactly a novice getting an agent through cold querying and then dazzling an acquisitions editor.

People with platforms, like Starling Lawrence, get published. He's an editor-in-chief at Norton, and who could argue with him about what makes a good novel? I tried to read The Lightening Keeper, honest to Jesus I did, but it was so bad that I couldn't go on with the torture. And I thought Charles Dickens was boring. He could have taken lessons from Mr. Lawrence in putting the reader to sleep. Still and all, he's got a platform, and that's all it takes to get your novel out these days.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Method Acting

It's holiday time again, and the Christmas release is upon us. Appropriate for the season, and for family viewing, is Catherine Hardwicke's telling of the nativity story. Will it be divisive, like The Passion? Will right-wingers scream for more while the left decries this pandering to one minority? Free adverts that were supposed to be put up in Chicago as part of their annual German-themed Christmas market were pulled because of ... go on with you, even the dog in the street knows the ads were pulled because the city wasn't getting any revenue. There's paid ads posted on the bus shelters and no one is saying they're divisive or prejudicial.

Director Hardwicke took the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and fleshed out the bits in between the sentences. There's not a whole lot of detail in the books of the Apostles, and the film's writers used the Biblical passages as a skeleton and then put some meat on the dry old bones.

Historians suggest that Mary was most likely around thirteen at the time of the Great Event, so Ms. Hardwicke chose a very talented Maori actress who's about sixteen herself. Keisha Castle-Hughes looks the part of a young girl just entering puberty, unlike any other film treatment that featured a mature woman portraying the Virgin Mary. Despite her tender years, Keisha has proven to be a keen student of her role, preparing for her scenes with a nod to the Marlon Brando style of acting.

Not merely studying to portray the Virgin Mary, the sixteen-year-old actress must have been so extremely focused on becoming the Mother of God that she went and got pregnant, out of wedlock, although no one is saying it was a visit by the Holy Spirit that brought on her condition. She admits the child is the offspring of her boyfriend. He is indeed a carpenter. I am not making this up.

Will the Conservative Christians be so appalled by this outcome that they stay away from theaters? Will Mary and, I mean, Keisha and her paramour, tie the knot and make it legal? She could make the rounds of the talk shows and tell us all how she was inspired by the film and got a bit carried away with the method acting. But if she names the baby Jesus, well, that's going too far altogether.