Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cold Cash

Things were looking up for Robert Burns. The chiropractor had managed to get out of the US before he could be arrested on charges of fraud in the amount of $1.9 million. Found himself a lovely place in Dublin, on Lower Camden Street, very comfortable. Then the Irish Supreme Court overturned a High Court order that would have extradited him back to the States to face trial. All was well in his world.

Problem is, to live well, one must also have money. Things like food, rent, a new pair of shoes, sure no one is actually giving that away. Mr. Burns had planned his escape from justice with care, and had deposited money in an account with the Bank of Ireland in 2005, long before all this legal difficulty clouded his sunny life. Imagine his surprise when he popped over to the branch in Athlone and was told his account was frozen.

Gardai had advised the bank, he learned, that the deposit could be tainted. In fact, detectives were looking into criminal activities, including money laundering, and so Mr. Burns could not have his money.

In court, Burns claimed that the funds were the product of a life insurance policy that he cashed in. Perfectly legitimate source, all above board. He sent a check to the Bank of Ireland to open an account, but not in his name, no. There was a lady he was going to marry, and he put the money in her name. Then he transferred it to his sole possession, moving his money from Athlone over to Dun Laoghaire. That may sound like trouble in lover's paradise, but Burns is now claiming that there was no Garda investigation, and the bank is working with the US Justice Department to force him to go back to America, thereby blocking his marriage. Brings a tear to the eye, it does. Still, why not let the money rest in the lady's hands? No basis for marriage there, this lack of trust.

Every time that he has tried to withdraw funds, Mr. Burns has been blocked. Now he is suing the bank, claiming deceit, negligence, and breach of contract. His solicitor has pointed out that the Criminal Justice Act does not give gardai the authority to freeze bank accounts. But if it did, then, well, that's just unconstitutional. Oh, and it's a violation of Mr. Burns rights as guaranteed by the European Convention.

Court watchers are waiting for Mr. Burns' response to the State's explanation. It seems that the life insurance policy, the source of the bank funds in question, was purchased during the time the fraud was taking place. That would make the money part of the proceeds of a crime, in which case Mr. Burns will have to pass the hat or turn to his fiancee for financing. It belittles a man to ask his intended for money. But not so little that Mr. Burns will be heading home any time soon.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

That's The Spirit(s)

Liam Neeson gave a tremendous performance. Chicago's own Aidan Quinn wasn't half bad, either, and who could forget Stephen Rea as the 'man in the castle' who worked undercover for the rebels. Brilliant movie, Michael Collins, and what a story it told. Isn't there always great emotional conflict in any civil war epic? Brother against brother, friends divided, against a backdrop of hardship...and always, the presence of death.

Cheer up and raise a glass, to toast to the memory of Michael Collins and famous Cork Flying Columns, the rebels who fought against their British overlords and finally tore Ireland free from English rule. The Shinners, however, may keep their glasses on the table. We all know about the Treaty that left the six northern counties to their fate. It's in the movie, if you care to rent it and watch it all again.

What to toast with? Here in America, you can sip a bit of the Big Fella. Yes, it's true, and you've all been tippling the deck to such an extent that Cooley Distillery would like to thank you. People in Cork didn't care for the name when it was announced. Good reason to promote sales in the States, where the name of Michael Collins does not hold such deep emotional meaning. So, thank you, American drinkers, for buying up and enjoying thirty thousand cases of Michael Collins whiskey. Cooley Distillery, and owner John Teeling, saw profits rise 20% thanks to Michael Collins Irish Whiskey, and your elbow-bending efforts.

If you were to buy a bottle in Ireland, you could expect to pay fifty euro, which makes it a pricey brew. And you can't mistake it, either. There's a picture of Mick himself on the bottle, with a replica of his signature. Sort of like he's recommending it, isn't it?

Until Michael Collins Irish Whiskey took off, Dr. Teeling was reeling (couldn't resist, sorry). There he was, starting up a drinks company and having to face the likes of Pernod-Ricard and their Jameson brand. Sure it was a struggle, until he introduced the new brand. Next thing he knew, sales rose 10%. What else to do but expand at the County Louth home base, and enter another market. If you're in South Africa on business, you won't need to drink an off-brand, not when you'd like a bit of Mick and water.

Dr. Teeling recognizes the difficulties he faces, with one of the smaller distilleries and tough competition. How much longer until we see a Countess Markiewicz light blend for the ladies, or a James Connelley brand for the working man? Padraig Pearse Irish Whiskey for the cerebral intellectual? What about a communion wine named for Bishop Eamonn Casey? If the bottom line is to continue to grow, Cooley Distillery will have to expand, and isn't it better to go with what's been working?

Monday, January 29, 2007

We Hope He Loses Too

Sean Gregory has a piece in the current issue of Time and I couldn't agree with him more. Yes indeed, we hope Peyton Manning loses. Don't want to see him get hurt, of course. He's such a sweet lad, every mother's dream of a son. A few sacks on Sunday, though, would be grand. Somehow it would be appropriate for Tank Johnson of legal trouble fame to come through the line and lay little Peyton on his arse. Sports writers could wax prolific on the irony, the symbolism, the good vs. evil and all that.

He's been tapped for commercials, playing himself, the charming Southern boy, polite and mannerly and a bit of an imp. Considering how often the adverts run, Peyton must be raking in cash by the bushel basket full. He doesn't need the bonus that would fall to him as a Super Bowl winner.

In the article, Mr. Gregory resurrects an old story about Peyton's brother Eli, who finagled around when it was time to get drafted, all to avoid getting picked up by a losing team. Water under the bridge, sure. Eli Manning's with the Giants who went nowhere, and the San Diego Chargers who got the short end of the stick must take some consolation from that. They had a good year, far better than New York's, and isn't that one of God's blessings? Things worked out better in the end, so why hold a grudge? It was a favor done, and Chargers fans should be sending a note of thanks instead of grumbling about past misdeeds.

Gregory suggests that Peyton Manning will be ever so perfect if he were to lose the game on Sunday. After all, the man's got a certain persona that would only be enhanced if he could add 'lovable loser' to his portfolio. I'm all for it, anything to help Mr. Manning earn more money and save up for the day when he's too old to play football. That day will come, when he'll have to retire because his body can't take the pounding anymore. Who would begrudge him every penny he can earn now, while he's young and fit?

Go out there on Sunday, Peyton, and show us just how human you are. Throw up an interception, make a bone-headed play that reflects the foibles of the average man. Sure and they'll love you for it, for making people feel that you truly are just like them, except for the fact that you're a star athlete. We're all behind you, one hundred percent, as you stumble through the game, Brian Urlacher and Hunter Hillenmeyer in your face.

Be human, Peyton. Be very human.

Let's Go Bears.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Advantage Sinn Fein

And now the ball has been moved to Ian Paisley's court. Accept the PSNI, the DUPers said, if you want to restore Stormont. In Dublin today, at an extraordinary ardfheis, Sinn Fein voted to support policing in the north of Ireland.

Not that the Shinners have given up on their dream of a united Ireland, and by 2016 if God is smiling upon them. Rather than use the bullet and the bomb, they've decided to try peaceful means, politics rather than war. Accepting the Police Service of Northern Ireland is a step along that road, the destination unchanging. The DUP recognizes this desire, and they've done all they could to prevent it. With the policing roadblock now removed, what excuse can the DUP come up with next?

Easy enough to brush off the vote. Actions, the DUP contingent will bark, actions speak louder than words and we don't trust the words. Therefore, there is still no deal to restore devolved government. Oh, and did we mention that it's all Sinn Fein's fault? Don't go saying that the loyalists are putting up a roadblock, not when it's clearly Sinn Fein's fault. You understand that, don't you, that it's Sinn Fein's fault?

The agreement was not easily reached. Reports from Dublin note that the debate dragged on for six hours before a vote was forced, and not every party member agreed with the decision. Too many years of fighting British rule, and now, clear evidence that the police colluded with loyalist gangs, have embittered many nationalists.

Sean Oliver put it best when he commented on the change in Sinn Fein strategy. He sees the foundation of unionism crumbling, bit by bit. The Orange Order, once a mighty force, is fading into insignificance. The one-party state, run by unionists, is on its death bed with the rise of the nationalist influence in politics. And now, the control of the police force will be lost to the loyalists. Couple that with a recent survey showing a dramatic rise in the number of registered nationalist voters, and change is in the air.

The DUP will not accept such change, and they will find a way to stop progress. As Sean MacBradaigh said at today's ardfheis, Sinn Fein republicans are going to probe the police service, "into the deepest, darkest recesses", and there goes the once cozy relationships between the peelers and the loyalists. All that fresh air will blow into the PSNI and who knows what might get blown out from behind the closed doors? Crimes by loyalists against nationalists might actually get prosecuted. Unthinkable before, but an evolving reality today.

Scientists suggest that the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid crashing into the earth, creating a cataclysmic change in the environment. What was a catastrophe for the dinosaurs, however, was a boon for the little mammals that once scurried about underfoot.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Celebrating All Things Father Ted

It's been far too long in coming. At last, Ireland will celebrate Father Ted, and already there is controversy.

If you're not familiar with Father Ted, you can find clips from the program on YouTube, and it's well worth the time and effort. Unless you're offended by Irishmen making fun of Irish clergy, but you'd not be interested in a festival then, would you?

Inis Mor will host the event, three full days of Father Ted in all its glory, to take place next month. The good folks of Inis Oirr are quite put out, seeing as the opening of the show featured a shipwreck that is a landmark on that windswept island off the coast of Galway. All is not lost, however, as cooler heads have prevailed. Added to the myriad activities of the festival is a five-a-side soccer match, with the winning island being proclaimed the official "Real Craggy Island" of Father Ted fame. No word on whether or not the over-65 retired priests will be playing, but that would be appropriate.

There will be a Lovely Girls contest, and we all hope that the thrills and spills of the Craggy Island carnival are reproduced for the amusement and edification of the tourists. Should you wish to attend, you could participate in a vote for best program guest. Comedian and talk show host Graham Norton is reputed to be leading the pack, but I'm all for Gerard McSorley in his Y-fronts.

Inis Mor is a lovely island, though small. You'll want to make your reservations early. And you happen to run into the bishop...remember, don't call him Len or ask about his son.

National Health Care With A Brogue

Senator Barack Obama wants to bring in health care for all Americans. Has he taken a look at the Irish system? It might be of some benefit to open those starry eyes filled with wonder.

Will the Obama system allow doctors see patients in a private practice? That's a bit of a problem in the Emerald Isle, as physicians make more money seeing people who can afford to buy their own health insurance. Then when someone with nothing more than national health coverage comes calling, there aren't many slots open for consultations. And so the poor have to wait. Months in some cases. Literally, waiting to see a specialist and if they die in the meantime, sure and 'tis a pity.

Will the Obama system allow hospitals to offer beds to those with private insurance? Ireland has a few hospitals that are not open to those on the national health, run for profit by independent companies. The government runs the rest, and they have beds set aside for people carrying private insurance. Should all those beds be filled, and someone with government coverage gets sick, they end up on a trolley in the hallway.

Every so often, the newspapers run horror stories about old pensioners being housed outside of a room, as there is no room at the inn, so to speak. No hot meals served in the corridor, so Granny makes do with a cold ham sandwich. Not a pleasant prospect for the elderly, to be spread out in a drafty corridor, everyone walking by, hoping that no one gets tangled in the drip line and pulls out the I.V.

Mary Harney, the current Minister for Health, is trying to force through a new contract between the government and the country's doctors. Physicians want to see more private patients and she wants them to see more public cases, but who wants to work a job that pays less when the same work is available at a higher rate of return? She'd like to hire a boat load of consultants to work public practice only, at a higher salary than the current level, and then she would like to force doctors to work the number of government mandated hours on public care.

The costs to the Exchequer are phenomenal as it is, and it will only go up if doctors are to be compensated adequately (in their minds) for seeing poor people. The two sides are in talks, and discussions are going nowhere. Ms. Harney is trying to reform the health care system, with one eye on the money and the other on the outraged voters who want better health care. There is no middle ground, actually. What with capitalism so entrenched, any attempts to introduce more socialism get pounded down into pulp. And due to capitalism, it's the poor at the bottom of that pile, taking the brunt of the pounding.

Would any American citizen not try to buy their own insurance so that they could be seen by the doctor of their choice? Would the Obama plan result in a two-tiered health care system, one for the poor and one for those who would do anything to get their hands on private insurance? Is that any different than the situation now in Chicago's county hospital? Mr. Obama, being a
Chicago resident, must surely be aware of the public care alloted to the poor of Cook County. Does he think that expanding this system from the county level to the national level is a good thing?

It sounds lovely, to prattle on about taking care of everyone. So charitable and kind, but one has only to look to Europe to see how much of a disaster it is, financially as well as socially. All men are created equal, but that's pretty much where the equality stops.

Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own

Besides finding sellable manuscripts, literary agents have businesses to run. A solo shop means that the agent is handling the contracts, the paperwork, the accounts payable and receivable, and all while contacting agents and negotiating deals. It's a heavy load, and if a one-person shop becomes successful, the business end could become downright unmanageable.

Sounds like a good reason for Janet Reid to align herself with the Imprint Agency. The other option is that her solo operation is going downhill and she's looking to latch on to someone trying to grow their company, but it's much more pleasant to walk on the sunny side of the street.

By every indication, JetReid Literary Agency is no more, folded into the Imprint imprimatur. Its name lives on as a blogspot URL, as Ms. Reid will continue to post, one presumes, since she invites us to drop by and find answers to questions about publishing or what she's looking for in manuscripts.

If you're a mystery writer, you might give her a try, since that seems to be her specialty. How to contact her? Now there's a real mystery to be unravelled.

The website lists an e-mail address for queries, but her Publishers Marketplace page states quite clearly that she doesn't take e-mail queries. Is there already a power struggle brewing at Imprint? Will Janet Reid be forced by Stephany Evans, President of the agency, to join the paperless revolution? Or will Ms. Reid stand her ground, refusing to be bullied?

Time will tell; the agent will clarify. But if you can't wait to send a query in the hopes that Ms. Reid will now have more time to be an agent, with Imprint handling the busy work, you can never go wrong with the United States Postal Service and a SASE.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tak A Cup Of Kindness

The day has come at last. It's Robert Burns Day, today, this very day, and if you've a secret longing to taste haggis, there can be no better time. If you knew what was put into that hot dog you ate at lunch yesterday, you'd never touch another one, so why get squeamish over sheep innards? Don't forget the oatmeal that's such a key ingredient, all high in fiber and heart-healthy oat bran. Can't say the same for a Big Mac, can you?

The man who is Scotland's greatest contribution to poetry lived a short life, departing this earth in July of 1796 at the tender age of 37. His family was poor, farming folk, and young Robert's first gainful employment was farming. Even so, he acquired some book learning and kept an ear open, picking up on traditional songs and folk tales.

In spite of his poverty, he found the means to write poetry, and he kept on writing even though he failed in the few jobs he tried to hold down. Like a truly tortured genius, he had some tremendous women problems, starting with the family servant and an unplanned pregnancy. Then there was Jean Armour, carrying a set of Burns twins, but her father so hated Robert that he took the poet to court and that was the end of their engagement. Some people just don't appreciate art, apparently.

With so much heart-ache, Burns thought to try fresh in Jamaica, with an equally fresh young lady whom he sort of married in a non-church ceremony. But those twins were so adorable, and the trip to Jamaica was postponed. Then his sort of wife died, and emigration seemed less appealing. But the real reason he abandoned his plans was simple. He became a published author.

At a time when Scottish nationalism was high, his very Scottish poetry became the height of fashion. There were speaking tours, readings, and drinks parties. The pressure to keep producing great works drove him to keep writing, always in need of a new book to support himself. When he finally married Jean Armour (now that Robert was no longer the poor farmer who wanted to write but a lauded poet, his father-in-law took a different view of the man), there were that many more mouths to feed. Through connections, he obtained a position with the Excise so that he had a steady income, collecting past due taxes and receiving a regular salary. Writing was always a part-time job, in spite of his success. Even then, a popular writer could not live on writing income alone. Anyone querying literary agents with an eye to riches should take note.

Fifty years after his death, friends gathered for a memorial supper, and so the tradition continues. Celebrate Robert Burns' birthday with a steaming plate of haggis, a bottle of single malt Scotch, and don't forget to write something. Add a paragraph to your current work in progress, compose a poem, and remember that brilliant writers don't make a fortune with their words.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Head Hunting

The Police Ombudsman has stated quite clearly that the collusion between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and loyalist thugs could not have gone on unless those at the "highest levels of the RUC" knew what was going on and lent their support. So the obvious question is, who was in charge back then at the height of The Troubles?

All eyes turn to London, where Ronnie Flanagan continues to serve and protect. He does it so well, apparently, that Her Majesty bestowed a knighthood on him. Not every policeman can claim such honors.

Sir Ronnie is currently employed as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, minding the force in the far-flung kingdom. On the heels of Nuala O'Loan's report on collusion, heads are being hunted, and Sir Ronnie is the highest head of all.

While Special Branch was hiding the fact that loyalist gangs were murdering innocent people at will, Sir Ronnie was head of Special Branch. Yet in spite of Mrs. O'Loan's assertions that those in the highest ranks had to have known, Flanagan insists that he knew nothing. There he was, sitting behind his heavy desk, and all that collusion? Never smelled a whiff of the stink. Right under his nose, maybe, but he didn't have the slightest inkling.

The embattled Chief Inspector states that he was as helpful as he could be when the Police Ombudsman came calling. Not evasive, not unhelpful, no indeed. No one from Mrs. O'Loan's office ever criticized his willingness to answer questions. As for the charges of collusion, why, such conduct is reprehensible. And those who did the dirty deeds should be punished or disciplined or brought to court.

People were killed because of their religion, the murderers allowed to kill again because the police protected them from justice. Worse than corruption, the verified fact of police collusion is indescribably vile. Those who were guilty managed to cover their tracks, by destroying evidence or operating outside of police procedure, and they will most likely never be brought to justice. Someone is going to have to be made to pay, and that someone is the man who once headed the Special Branch.

Mark Durkan of the SDLP is calling for Sir Ronnie's noggin on a tray, and he's asking Tony Blair to do the chopping. It was Tony Blair, after all, who elevated Flanagan to his current position. Never mind the collusion charges, but how incompetent must the man be to not know what was happening while he ran a department? And today he's in charge of the whole bit, the Chief Inspector? Not much of a vote of confidence, is it, when the Chief Inspector can't see past the end of his nose.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Time Is Irrelevant

Thank you for your recent query letter and your interest in PMA.

Excuse me?

It's the 23rd of January, and I frankly don't recall...recent, you say.

E.M. Blake, an intern at PMA, has replied to a query I e-mailed so long ago that I'd given up on it, erased it from the sent mail box, and vowed never again to send anything to PMA. If he hadn't pasted the rejection onto the original e-mail, I'd be completely in the dark as to what I was asking Peter Miller to consider.

My "recent" query was sent in August. Remember, the summer, when it was warm and sunny? Hard to imagine, I know, when there's two inches of fresh snow and the forecast predicts temperatures in the below zero range.
We have to be very selective of what we choose to represent, and all of our decisions are based on a frank assessment of the current needs of the literary and film markets. The fact that this work doesn’t fit our narrow criteria for representation does not mean it couldn’t find a home elsewhere.

Very selective indeed, and I believe that's a true fact. I have hope that my manuscript will find a home, and I'm doing all that I can to make that happen.
We urge you to submit your work to other agencies or management companies that may be more suited to this type of material.

How can I put this? After so many months, not hearing from you, well, I went and assumed that it was a rejection. And, you see, I went ahead and queried other agents. I didn't mean to jump out of turn, ah no, none of it, but if I waited five months for a reply and didn't query get my point.

Thanks all the same for responding at all, when most agents hit the delete key and move on. If you should finish up your internship with all your faculties intact, and get a job as a literary agent, it would be grand if you'd continue the practice of responding to queries with a letter of rejection. The writers appreciate the gesture.

Going Solo

More and more agents are striking out on their own, fledglings leaving the nest to explore the big world. If you have what they are looking for, this is the time to send off your shiniest and most polished query, the envelope flap sealed with a drop of holy water.

Nadia Cornier left Creative Media when it was being folded into Folio, and she's been busy ever since with Firebrand Literary and her blog and the ever changing retinue of associates. Her last and final colleague in Firebrand has now gone off on her own, to start up another agency that handles a lot of romance. Think Harlequin and heaving bosoms on covers that you'd never let the children see.

If that fits your bill, take advantage of some grand opening specials at Caren Johnson's very own agency. She'd love to hear from you, don't you think? In need of new authors, to be sure. Assuming that she's taken along her clients from Firebrand, you might want to keep Nadia in mind as well. Looking for replacements to the stable, yes?

On a more literary front, Jonathan Lyons has left McIntosh & Otis, but the man's a lawyer and so he's no fool. He's looking for non-fiction, serious projects that are more likely to sell, what with the non-fiction market being the stronger. Maybe he'd consider your literary fiction manuscript, but the odds are very much against it. Won't know if you don't try, and what's a couple of thirty-nine cent stamps, a piece of paper and two envelopes?

Now, if your heart is set on querying one of the big dogs in the agent pound, you can write Jane Rotrosen's entire agency off your list. Unless you've been published, or you have some clout in the industry, that is. She's got enough to go around, all her associate agents are happy as can be, and she won't answer the door should you come knocking. According to her Publishers Marketplace site:
We regret that we can no longer accept queries from writers who have not been previously published or who have not been referred to us by a client or colleague. We will not respond to email queries. Solicited submissions by mail only unless otherwise requested by agent.
The fiction market gets tighter, or so the literary agents say, but still, new agencies spring up in search of authors and manuscripts. Have they learned any economics, about the law of supply and demand? Or is the demand greater than we have been led to believe?

Monday, January 22, 2007


The long awaited report from Nuala O'Loan's office has finally been released. There is ample evidence that the Royal Ulster Constabulary colluded with thugs from the Ulster Volunteer Force to protect murderers from justice. What the Catholics in the north of Ireland knew has been shown to be a fact.

Sharon McKenna stopped by the home of a friend, who happened to be an old pensioner of the Protestant faith. Her friend had just been released from hospital, and she thought she might fix a meal, a very ordinary act of kindness that anyone might do for a neighbor. She was shot dead by the UVF for her trouble, and the RUC was more concerned with hiding the identity of her murderer. Turns out the killer was also an informer, and what's another Catholic dead anyway?

Special Branch went so far as to increase the murderer's stipend for informing, and when he did try to confess to the McKenna killing, he was given a few hundred pounds to spend on a holiday...abroad.

The same informer murdered Eamon Fox and Gary Convie, killed while working a building site in a loyalist area. After a witness reported that the killer was sporting a goatee, the UVF killer, already in police custody, took advantage of a razor and a bit of lather to change his appearance, all with the knowledge of the RUC.

During the course of Ms. O'Loan's investigation, a number of serving officers, including detective chief superintendents and constables, refused to cooperate with her. No answers to her questions, evasive answers, or answers made up out of thin air were provided by men who are today serving in the revamped Police Service of Northern Ireland.

This past weekend, Gerry Adams has been heavily lobbying the members of Sinn Fein to accept the PSNI, and this latest report of collusion plays right into his hands. For all these years, Sinn Fein refused to recognize the police, refused to sit on the police boards, refused to allow its members to become police officers, and the Catholics suffered.

It's truly historic, to accept the PSNI. Difficult for them to shut the door on you when you're already in the room.

As of now, it is being said that those serving police officers who refused to cooperate with the Ombudsman's inquiries face no disciplinary action. Think they'll remain swept under the rug if Sinn Fein is sitting on the Police Board?

Splash Down

All week long, it's been a never ending coverage of a human interest story. During football season. All weepy-eyed, the sportscasters have been, touting the trauma of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation and heart-ache and misery, et. al.

We're happy for you.

Chicago was devastated once. Not the Great Flood, of course, although that will live on in memory. Only in the city of the big shoulders could a contractor drive a pylon through the bed of the Chicago River and straight into an unused tunnel. The effort to plug the hole and pump out the Loop's collection of connected basements brought the Kenny Construction Company to fame, and helped launch the diplomatic career of James Kenny, recently retired as the US Ambassador to Ireland.

Nothing was more devastating than the Great Chicago Fire, which burned up the entire heart of the business district, turning a major metropolitan area into a pile of cinders. A tinder box of wooden buildings and wooden sidewalks, the heat of the fire melted cast iron facades, bricks and stone fused in the heat, and most thought that Chicago had come to an end. What commerce existed there would find its way to Cincinnati or St. Louis, and the town would fade from memory.

The city burned because it was made of wood, so the city's leaders ordered that new construction be masonry. A lesson learned, a change made. And the disorganized zoning, once wiped out by flames, was gone for good as the local government re-structured the commercial areas and created a more cohesive and functional city.

From the ashes of the fire came the first skyscraper, the Prairie School where form follows function, and Daniel Burnham's call to make no small plans. Chicago as it came to exist after the fire bore no resemblance to the city that was consumed by flames on a hot and dry October night in 1871.

New Orleans was built on low-lying ground, on a delta that has been sinking since the French began construction, and the town fathers now want to reproduce the city that existed before the levees gave way and flooded almost every neighborhood.

Stupid is as stupid does.

Let's go Bears.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Only One

You go away for a few days, you come back, and you expect some mail stuffed into the box. That's because you forgot to let the USPS know that you would be out of town for a few days. And then too, you were thinking that you'd like the mail waiting for you on Saturday afternoon when you returned. There'd be rejections in there, surely, and there's that need for closure when it comes to queries. Those submissions to literary journals were sent months ago, and it's past time for a response, unless there's to be a letter of acceptance, and who could wait until Monday for the postman to show up?

Magazines, catalogs, the usual. Some income tax information, forms from the bank, the mortgage interest, yes, all needed but not what you'd rush home for. Thumb through the letter-sized pile of stuff, searching for the label that you know so well, the stamp that you stuck on, squared with precision to the right hand corner.

And? One rejection from Tin House, 89 days after submitting, and they like to respond within 90 days. No surprise there, not from a top-end journal, so log it out and move along, searching for something more substantial. And what do you find? What else came while you were away?

Nothing. Not one SASE from the bunch of queries sent. Sweet Jesus, but I hate being ignored.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Out With A Whimper

And so ends the great Rupert Murdoch funded experiment. There is no such entity as ReganBooks anymore. That which was will be reabsorbed into the host body, leaving the surface of HarperCollins unblemished. The Los Angeles office will close, the staff will return to New York, and there may be a few people getting the sack, so much excess baggage.

What happens to Jane Friedman, though? She was in a position to fire Judith Regan after the disaster that was If I Did It, but Fred Goldman has discovered that Ms. Friedman was unquestionably involved as well, up to her ink-stained fingers. OJ was under contract to write a book that would spell out how he "might have" murdered two people, while examining his "potential" thoughts and feelings towards his ex-wife. And there at the bottom of the official contract sits the autograph of Jane Friedman, giving her stamp of approval to the whole sheaf of shite. Not Judith Regan alone is to blame, apparently, but thus far the surgery to remove the offending growth that was ReganBooks has not completely cured HarperCollins of the disease.

The details of the contract have come out during discovery, and Court TV will undoubtedly follow along, sharing every detail. At present, they are more interested in the legal aspects, touching on the civil suit that Fred Goldman won, and OJ's claims of poverty that have stymied efforts to realize the financial decree of the court. News Corp. said that they had given OJ $880,000, of which 15% went to agent Bret Saxon, even though the dogs in the street know that Fred Goldman was awarded considerable damages and OJ owes him every penny, none of which has yet been paid.

Mr. Goldman has proof that HarperCollins paid out money, and now he has added the publisher to his lawsuit. Firing Judith Regan has not solved Jane Friedman's problems, not now. It's her name on the contract, her authority that started the book in process, and her arse in the hot seat. HarperCollins will now have to defend itself, which will cost money they would prefer to keep. Will Ms. Friedman manage to hang on to her corner office, or will she be the next in line for the corporate guillotine?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Literary Markets

Always looking for a way to waste time and not actually write anything, while doing something remotely connected to writing, I signed on with Duotrope. For free, of course. There's not enough money in the kitty for extraneous expenses, and the cost of postage is enough of a stretch on the empty purse.

Besides being an excellent resource to find literary journals for short story submissions, they have an added feature for members. I have entered all of my short fiction submissions and now I can look up my list whenever the mood strikes.

Who has what is a nice little feature, easy to read with the click of a mouse. Best of all, I can see who has what for how long. Literary journals take somewhere on the far side of forever to respond, and that unpleasant fact is proven every time I look at my list.

Beyond that, Duotrope also includes columns that detail the average wait time that has been culled from their members reporting on their own exercises in futility, along with another column that lists the journals' response time claims. Without having to study a calendar, I can see exactly how long I have waited before or after a typical response, and how much longer I might expect to wait.

No point in pulling out the hair when I can see that a given journal doesn't usually let an author know until six months have passed. On the other hand, I can also see that my own wait time has surpassed the Duotrope average. It may be silly, but I take hope from these extended days, telling myself that my short piece must be under consideration or I would surely have heard by now.

I have reached the editor's recommended report time for Tin House and the Missouri Review, and I know that because it's right there in front of me, in a neat spread sheet. Looking for hope, grasping at the thinnest straw, I tell myself that I might get something published after all. Or the submission has been lost. Up with hope, as the Reverend Jesse Jackson has said.

Getting An Education

With all the discussions lately over Houghton Mifflin and Riverdeep merging to become an educational materials publishing behemoth, we might forget that there were once small, local companies cranking out textbooks for the little ones. Men like Albert Folens, who made his fortune in producing textbooks for Irish schoolchildren. Now people are wondering what sort of propaganda he might have put into the books, and thus the heads, of the wee ones.

RTE aired a program about Mr. Folens last night, and Mrs. Juliette Folens has been busy denying the allegations presented. She even went to court earlier in the week to get the program stopped, to no avail. Loyal wife, you'd have to agree, to argue against evidence that her late husband was in the Gestapo.

It was reported that Mr. Folens volunteered for the Flemish Legion, which fought on the Eastern front with the Nazis. According to the missus, Folens signed on to fight communism, and not for love of Hitler or Nazism. She also insists that the poor man suffered dreadfully from ulcers, and was sent home after six weeks of training. After all that, he never got to the Russian front.

During the war, he did nothing more than translate newspapers into German, so that the Nazi occupiers could understand what was being said about them. RTE, on the other hand, reported that Folens did indeed serve on the Eastern front, went on to join the Gestapo, and was gainfully employed by the Gestapo at their Brussels headquarters.

Disputing other details, Mrs. Folens said that her husband was never held by the British after the war. She agreed that he was tried for treason in a Belgian court, but he was only proven guilty of membership in the Flemish Legion. As he was handed down a sentence of ten years, not life, Mrs. Folens feels that her point is validated. If her husband were in the Gestapo, surely he would have been sentenced to death? And just ignore the file of evidence that was produced by the Americans, which paints a radically different picture of Mr. Folens during the war.

The late Mr. Folens was incarcerated for all of thirty months before he escaped on a false passport. Wherever could a man go, with that sort of past, and on the lam from justice? To Ireland, where else? He found a safe harbor, and the space to launch his publishing firm. From that beginning, he grew his company until he was the leading provider of textbooks to Irish schoolchildren across the Republic.

A fine, upstanding citizen who pulled himself up from ignominy to publishing glory...and now everyone will want to go back and review the parts of their old history books, the pages that covered the Emergency. And come up with some reasonable excuse for their country giving shelter to a convicted war criminal.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Playing The Trump Card

Real estate when new requires a bit of buzz generation, something for the marketing people to gnaw on when preparing their well-honed works of fiction. Donald Trump, being the savvy real estate mogul that he is, knew that his sales pitch for the shiny new condominiums on Chicago's riverfront would sell better if he could say that people were buying before he even sunk a caisson into the ground.

Friends and family sales, they call it, and it's done quite often. Insiders are offered a deal on living units that are not in existence, requiring someone to take a chance and pay for a place that they have not actually seen, in a building that could turn out to be a disaster. Since all risk is offset by some perceived benefit, the condo buyer gets a deal on the price and the developer gets to trumpet all the pre-construction sales.

As it turns out, the location of Chicago's growing Trump Tower is one hot site, and location is everything in property. Close to Michigan Avenue and the high-end shops of Oak Street, the place will offer spectacular views of the river and the shining white Wrigley Building. Whether pre-sales had anything to do with it, who can say, but the going price for a condo in the tower has risen dramatically.

The insiders who took a chance can now almost triple their initial investment, having paid around $500 per square foot. These days, buyers are willing to spend upwards of $1300 per square foot, and so those who took a chance on a new development stand to make some substantial gains.

Not so fast, not when Donald Trump is behind the deal. Out of nowhere, the insiders have been notified that the deal is now null and void. Thanks for the help, but things are going well and we don't need your pre-sale statistics, and don't let the door hit your arse on the way out.

How, you might ask, can the developer cancel out a previous agreement? It's unheard of, and Richard Peiser of the Harvard Graduate School of Design has said that he has never heard of such a thing, and he's heard it all in his professorial capacity.

It's in the contract, according to Trump's attorney. Right there in Paragraph 12 (b), where it says the deal is a no deal due to matters beyond the seller's reasonable control. Well, there you have it. Clearly, the jump in selling price was beyond the Donald's control. How was he to know that it would nearly treble? He has a chance to rake in even more money on the project, and the insiders have been told that if they still want the units they thought that they had bought, they have to pay the going price. Or, they'll get their initial investment refunded to them. With interest, certainly, even though the interest earned will be nowhere near the potential profits to be had by flipping the units.

Poor Donald says he needs more money to meet skyrocketing construction costs, and there's 21% of the units still unsold. And the friends and family that he sold to? Ah, sure and they made their money when he paid them for work that they did on the project. Why should they make even more by risking their money on his namesake tower and then reaping the benefit when it succeeded?

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Fantasy or Non-Fiction

Trying to determine genre can be a rather difficult process. How will you market your manuscript? Which agents should you approach? There are often elements of mystery in a literary work, and however would one classify Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife? Fantasy, sci-fi, literary, romance, all wrapped up in one story.

Even OJ is having a rough time trying to classify his book, no doubt preparing to peg its genre before sending it around to publishers in Europe. Is it fantasy or is it non-fiction, one might ask. The author claims that the book is a fantasy, although not quite in the realm of Lord of the Rings. No, it is a flight of fancy made up by the ghostwriter. Or maybe it was the publisher. Perhaps it was Judith Regan herself, creating the scenario out of thin air.

He didn't do it, OJ, didn't kill anyone and the jury of his peers said so. Therefore, anything written that claims to show how he did it must be a complete fabrication. The chapter that Newsweek has published, obtained from some unnamed source, is said to provide a blow-by-blow description of OJ's motivations, rage, and manner of murder. That, according to the former football player, is just so much blather. Why, it's nothing more than the hook that every author searches for to make the manuscript appealing to the reader.

In case you were wondering what OJ was doing with his free time, since the round of talk shows and interviews went the way of his pulped manuscript, it's clear that he's been reading writer-oriented blogs and forums. To know about hooks, he must have been making a study of the publishing industry, and what better way to increase his chances of getting published?

Sure, he could have corrected a few technical flaws in the manuscript, but why bother when it's just an exercise in creative writing for the ghostwriter. Anyone could have written the same thing, just by studying court documents and then fabricating this scenario based on the evidence. That's the foundation of historical fiction, right there.

Just as well that HarperCollins pulled the plug on the book. It saves the book dealers from having to figure out where to shelve the thing, to say nothing of librarians all across the country. There's nothing in the Dewey Decimal System about this peculiar dilemma.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Short Shrift

Malaga Baldi sure doesn't waste time getting back to people. I sent her a query exactly ten days ago, and already I've gotten a rejection. Could be that she knows what she wants, can spot it in a matter of seconds, and my query did not have anything that she was looking for. Sent the query letter back, in fact, with a couple of words scribbled in pencil. Not for me, indeed.

Even Barbara Braun managed to wade through my submission in no time. The packet was mailed shortly before the New Year, and already it's a no. Granted, the query letter might not have been stellar, but she asks for the first chapter and apparently my writing was not up to snuff either.

So it goes. Queries sent in August and September go ignored, while another agent can stuff a SASE in a matter of minutes. The killer query is as elusive as ever, the literary agent who says "Send more" impossible to locate.

Pinning all my hopes on a couple of short story submissions -- as much as I pray to hear back, I know that the longer the editors hold the piece, the better my chance of being accepted. Only then will I find out if a publishing credit or two has any effect on the response rate.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Enda Kenny, Hat In Hand

Why, oh why, should Sinn Fein get all the money?

So goes the reasoning of Enda Kenny and the boys of Fine Gael. Mr. Kenny was visiting some Irish-American supporters in the fall when the brainstorm swirled in many a collective head. Someone, either in Ireland or America, thought that he might as well raise funds when he next comes to town. After all, Gerry Adams has been funding Sinn Fein almost entirely on American money raised every St. Paddy's Day. If Gerry can do it, why not Enda?

Mr. Kenny is due to receive the Mayo Man of the Year Award from the Mayo Society in March, and he has plans to visit both New York and Boston. What better time to pass the hat for Fine Gael, maybe steal a bit of Gerry Adams' thunder while he's at it. Sadly, from a great idea comes a great roadblock. When the idea went around the table, that Fine Gael should follow Sinn Fein's lead in the fundraising game, no one considered the legal issues.

Sinn Fein is registered as a Northern Ireland political entity when it comes a-calling every March, and as such it is regulated by the British government. On the other hand, Fine Gael is a product of the Republic of Ireland, and Irish law forbids Fine Gael from accepting any donation from someone abroad, unless that person is an Irish citizen. Not only that, but corporate donations can only be taken from a company with an office in Ireland that actually does real business. Can't just set up some shell company with an empty office and funnel money to a politician.

Even if those hurdles could be jumped, there are American laws governing fundraising by foreigners, and the sum total of myriad difficulties was simply too much to overcome by March. Plucky Mr. Kenny will not be deterred from his visit, however, even if he cannot raise money for his party and his push to become the next taoiseach.

Surely it rankles, though, knowing that the Shinners have pulled in upwards of five million euro in the past decade, and Fine Gael is out in the cold. Could have pumped a quarter of million at least into Fine Gael's coffers on this trip, but now it's not to be.

Have to settle for the golden glory of being Mayo Man of the Year, but that won't pay for any bumper stickers or election posters.

There's one unforeseen benefit to a united Ireland. At least it would put the Shinners at the same disadvantage as Fine Gael when it comes to raising money in the USA.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Why Can't We Be Friends

Parenting is a miserable occupation. You want your kids to at least like you, but half the time they act as if they hate you. Wait until they're older, your wiser friends may advise, and then they'll appreciate you. In the meantime, you have to live with the snarling and it wears on a person.

There are those who get around the problem by becoming a buddy. Everyone likes their buddies, don't they? Hanging out, being friends. None of that parental lording over the offspring, all that "because I said so" rationalizing, all the order giving.

In line with that flawless logic comes the next step. We're pals, my children and I, and I know that they drink because they confide in me. And they've come home staggering, so there's been no hiding the partying. I think, therefore I am...going to allow them to drink here at home. Doing what they'd be doing anyway, but I can control it within my own four walls. And be sure to confiscate everyone's keys, there, lad of mine, for there'll be no drinking and driving.

It happens in my part of town, which is why parents often call one another to check the bona fides of the party's homeowner. "Will there be drinking allowed?" is the usual question, not phrased quite like that but the implication is clear. Parents who believe in allowing drinking under their personal control are often known, through the gossip chain, and there are those who will not allow their children to attend...or even to leave the house, in the event that Junior would be tempted to sneak off.

Lawmakers in Illinois are considering some new legislation, to go after parents who host drinks parties for the underaged. It's a tough call, to be sure. While those who are permissive, one of the lads, are due some hard fines and legal trouble, what's to be done about the trusting adult who goes off for an evening and gets a call at 2 am about a wild party? While we would all like to see the parent trying to be a friend catch hell for their behavior, any one of us could get sucked into a disaster that is unforeseen and unexpected.

Crafting a law will not be easy. The issue is awash in shades of gray, but statutes are remarkably black and white.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

And Yet Another Contest

The Sobol Award died a merciful death. The contest, a pay-to-enter competition, would have brought the organizer somewhere in the vicinity of four million dollars if he had gotten enough suckers (make that authors) to enter. Needless to say, the blogosphere went into full on alert mode, and only 1,000 people sent in $85 for the privilege of maybe getting a book published by a reputable house. The whole thing smelled so strongly of scam that it was no wonder it gave up the ghost.

Now Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster, is trying their own version of the "win a publishing contract" game. Information is available at Gather's website, where the general rules of the contest are explained.

If you have a novel you'd like to get published, you can submit the first chapter to Gather. Then, you get all your friends to vote on your chapter as the best ever. Naturally, you'd want to be on good terms with someone who could hack the site and pack your personal ballot box. There's a publishing contract involved, isn't there, and all's fair in war.

Having successfully accumulated the most votes, you then are asked to submit your second chapter. Repeat ballot stuffing operation, and you will be permitted to move on. Another chapter, another round of voting, and at the end of the process, your oeuvre will be voted the best novel ever and Touchstone will publish it.

Entry is free, and the judges for the contest are people who belong to the Gather website, which is free to join. Can't go wrong, as long as you are very computer savvy. Besides getting your novel published, you'll get $5000, which is not a bad advance for an unknown, first-time author. Borders has signed on to promote the novel, which isn't shabby either.

So far, there hasn't been anything negative said about the contest, other than the problem with voting on-line and the ease of skewing the results. That's why it's highly likely that a Chicago author will win. Now there's a town where the dead rise on election day and make their way to the polling places.

Vote early...and vote often.

Spare Change

The boy from Ballymena popped in today. Actor Liam Neeson was in Dublin, not to promote a new movie, but to speak about his work as an official Unicef ambassador. For the past ten years, he's been involved in a rather unique fundraising effort in cooperation with Aer Lingus, and he wanted to thank the Irish people for their generosity.

Called the Change for Good campaign, Unicef Ireland has managed to raise over six million euro to help African children made orphans by HIV/Aids, and Mr. Neeson has been behind them all the way. Clever idea, too, to ask people on long-haul flights if they happen to have any left-over foreign currency that they won't be needing. Say you've just come from visiting family in Wexford town, and you've got a few euro coins jumbling in your pockets. You can't use them for anything, once you land back at LAX, and what good is the money if you drop it in a drawer and forget about it?

On the plane, you'll be given a little envelope to dispose of the loose change, and Aer Lingus turns it over to Unicef Ireland, and then Unicef Ireland does good deeds for little children in Mozambique. Doesn't hurt the donor at all, giving up small bits of money that aren't worth the trouble to exchange back home. It's reported that about half of the airline passengers do indeed donate, small amounts that translate into considerable charity.

There you go. From little acorns, mighty oak trees grow.

Curiouser and Curiouser

The sun rises in the east. The crocuses bloom in the Michigan Avenue planters in the spring. Chicago aldermen got arrested. Some things come around with such comforting regularity.

Arenda Troutman is only the most recent of a long line of bribe-taking aldermen to be snagged by the Feds. $5,000 to fix a zoning issue, according to the FBI. Ho-hum, been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Where's the real news, now?

Things have taken a most curious turn. No one believes that one of the city's elected officials would not be aware of their ward's boundaries, down to the slightest fraction of an inch. The parcel that the FBI put forward as being in need of some aldermanic intervention is not even in Ms. Troutman's ward. The FBI was fresh out of ward maps on the day they put the sting together, apparently, because they did not know that the 20th Ward was on the odd numbered side of Halsted, while they had a piece of property on the even side of the street, in the 16th Ward. Oops. No matter, since she took a bribe to fix a deal, even if she did not have the aldermanic clout to pull it off.

It only gets more strange. Allegedly, Ms. Troutman made some calls and was told that the property was already zoned appropriately for the proposed development. Not only was the property not in her ward, but the zoning in place was exactly what the FBI mole was trying to bribe Ms. Troutman into arranging. In other words, the man with the wire went in and asked for something that already existed. And yet Ms. Troutman took the bribe and tried to earn it, getting official approval for the developer to use the public alley for access to the property during construction. Considering the fact that such access is routinely granted, it's not much of an effort for that much money.

According to news reports, the man working undercover for the FBI is a con man with a long rap sheet, someone who was already nabbed for mortgage fraud and appears to be cooperating with the Feds. Can you say "reduced sentence", boys and girls? I knew you could.

When the FBI came to arrest Ms. Troutman at her home, she refused to open the door and the Feds had to break in to nab her. She's out and about now, going so far as to demonstrate a shiny brass neck by turning up at a committee meeting at City Hall yesterday. A few of her colleagues gave her the cold shoulder, some spoke to her and some are said to be praying for her. She's up for re-election in March, and her opponents smell blood.

No matter the bizarre twists the case has taken, Ms. Troutman is toast. And not very bright toast at that.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An Agent No More

In response to a query sent recently to Nina Graybill, I received this e-mail:
Dear Author:

I am sorry to tell you that I am not accepting any new literary clients at this time, and will be limiting my practice to publishing and entertainment law. If in the future you need an attorney to help you with a publishing or agency agreement or any other literary legal matter, please feel free to contact me.

In other words, she's getting out of the agenting business. Surely the world of entertainment law must be more lucrative and far easier than trying to sell the manuscript of some unknown writer. So send your queries to someone else, perhaps Elaine English or Jeff Kleinman in lieu of Ms. Graybill.

But if you need an attorney, you probably couldn't do much better than someone who was a literary agent for so many years. Knows all the pitfalls and the skullduggery of the publishing industry. There's probably quite a few Washington insiders with Nina Graybill's business card tucked away in a wallet or a suit coat pocket.

I hope it wasn't something I said in my query that caused all this.

Nothing New Under The Sun

Literary agents are forever asking for something fresh and new. They know that the plot or the story won't be something never seen before. Every story has been told, and countless times. The key is to find a fresh and new way to re-tell what has been done previously.

Vikram Chandra has done just that, and earned a seven figure advance in the process. Note that he is NOT a first time author, and has a record of success to back up the acquisition folks at HarperCollins. He comes from a long line of highly educated and well-connected people, with relatives in the film industry. He's no neophyte.

Sacred Games is the newest release from the Indian author who lives and teaches in Berkeley. Read the story line and you'll immediately think of Mario Puzo and his famous Godfather books. Going up-close and personal, taking the reader into a mobster's inner circle, the well researched crime novels from both authors share some striking similarities.

The freshness of Mr. Chandra's tome comes from a change of location. Instead of the Mafia held territories of New York, his crime bosses hail from Mumbai. Similar to Puzo's technique, Chandra approached and interviewed mobsters, who were as happy to share their delightful anecdotes as their Italian-American counterparts. The result is a certain authenticity, the addition of things that an author just couldn't make up.

The bidding war for the rights to publish this hefty, over nine hundred page opus, is no indication that the book is on the verge of winning the Booker or even the Nobel. HarperCollins believes that Sacred Games has what it takes to make money -- sex, cops, mobsters, corruption and plenty of action. It's a Godfather or a Goodfellas spiced with asofoetida, an old story with a different twist.

"Leave the gun. Take the kalakand."

Can an HBO series be far behind?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Pepsi...For Those Who Dodge Tax

Pepsi Cola, for those who drink young, may have found a way to evade $100 million in tariffs due on their imported concentrate. At least that is what a former employee is saying.

Scott Winslow was a distribution analyst with the drinks conglomerate, and he has filed a lawsuit in New York, alleging that Pepsi labelled the concentrate manufactured in Little Island, Cork, as ingredients for the manufacture of a soft drink, and brought the brew into the US duty-free. Winslow says that the company was shipping in a ready-to-go, just add fizzy water concoction, but the little obfuscation saved Pepsi a small fortune in fees owed the US Government. Specifically, the lawsuit states that PepsiCo owes all of us citizens exactly $101,968,529.03. That's a lot of armor on a fleet of Humvees, isn't it?

Mr. Winslow got the axe, for knowing about the scam that PepsiCo was running. David DeCecco of PepsiCo calls the lawsuit frivolous, implying that the gentleman is looking to get even for getting sacked and it's really nothing to concern yourself with. Move along, go on, show's over, there's nothing to see here. After all, Customs reviewed the shipments classifications and they had no quibble.

What Mr. DeCecco fails to mention, however, is whether or not US Customs also examined the goods and found that what was being shipped met the label's classification, or if something else was being off-loaded at the Charleston port with an incorrect label.

Should Pepsi lose the case, they could face fines of up to $300 million, and that will cause a twinge or two of pain to the stockholders. As the whistleblower, Mr. Winslow would be entitled to his share of the fine.

There was no way that this re-labelling scam could have been pulled off without people in the company knowing about it. Judging by Mr. Winslow's claims, it sounds as if PepsiCo thought that they could cheat the government and obtain the silence of their employees through some appeal to charity and love of PepsiCo. They would have been better off following the motto of the City of Chicago, Urbs in Horto, which roughly translates to "Where's Mine?". Cheat the US Government out of $100 million for the love of Pepsi? Love never put a Porsche in the garage, did it?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Did Not, Did So

Stosh said he didn't ever spy for the Communists. Did not. Never. Wouldn't dream of such a thing. And he's a priest, can't you tell, why, there's the dog collar wrapped around the neck and the whole bit.

Well, yes, maybe there was a little. Not spying, oh my no, said Stosh. Keep in mind the times, and all he wanted was to study abroad, and help his fellow clergy to expand their horizons. Sometimes, back then, a man had to play ball with the commie pinkos in charge. Only did what needed doing, and only just enough to get the job done. Would you have had them choke the Holy Church to death by keeping our religious from studying?

The papers that people relied on to demonstrate Stosh's involvement with the Polish spy agency were prepared by those very spies. Can't trust a word that's printed on them, considering the source. And if that doesn't do it for you, you can blame the Jews. Nothing like a good anti-Semitic conspiracy theory to shift the blame. There's mighty few Jews in Poland these days, ever since Hitler ethnically cleansed the country, but why let that stand in the way of finding someone to fault for Stanislaw Wielgus's predicament?

Come time for the investiture and your man had a crisis of conscience. Must have been next to impossible to mumble the words of the Confiteor with a straight face and a clean heart. Rather than say Mass, the short-lived Archbishop admitted to the congregation attending that he had, in essence, lied through his teeth when he said he had never spied on his fellow clergymen. He admitted that he had some deep ties to the former Polish secret service. He did not meet officials for the sole purpose of obtaining travel visas, as he had asserted earlier.

The Vatican had conducted its own investigation and found Bishop Wielgus's story did not quite check out. Rumor has it that His Holiness suggested that Stosh resign. No matter, because outgoing Cardinal Jozef Glemp defended his hand-picked successor in a fiery sermon that berated the "trial by media", which led to another round of criticism. Like the sex abuse scandal, it looked like those in authority were protecting one of their own, and at a tremendous cost to the moral authority of the Catholic Church.

Conservative Poles are up in arms, decrying the Jewish conspiracy or the media or whatever else suits. Bishop Wielgus was not forced to resign by a left-wing media onslaught. He acted no differently than a relatively amoral business executive climbing his way up the corporate ladder. Unfortunately for poor Stosh, the company he works for is selling a rather pristine product, and standard corporate morality just doesn't make the grade.

February In New York

And don't you wish you were going, to meet your new literary agent over lunch? If by some miracle you find yourself in NYC on February 3 or 10, by all means get over to Joe's Pub and savor one of Ireland's somewhat well-kept secrets.

Pierce Turner will be back to his home away from home, to dance on the tables and put on a great show. For those of you blessed with a holiday or even if you live there year round, stop in and enjoy some music that's unique and not heard enough on this side of the Atlantic. February's such a gloomy month, and you could do with a hefty dose of good fun anyway.

The rest of us will be home, dreaming and wishing. And waiting to get a response to the last batch of query letters.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ah, The Mail's In

The agents are back, aren't they? In their offices, reading queries, they're there, aren't they?

I expected to get some mail this week, but so far, it's been quiet in my mailbox. The e-mail, well, that's a given that there's no responses. Jessica Regel did as she promised, reading my query when she came back on Wednesday. Reading and rejecting in short order, but such is the way of the world.

Fairbank Literary sent along a rejection on the partial, but there's not much to go on. Ms. Fairbank doesn't care for my writing style. Either it's code for "The writing absolutely sucks" or it's the way I put sentences together that doesn't grab her heart. Unfortunately, I don't have anything concrete that would help me improve the manuscript. Then again, maybe the manuscript is fine, it's just not done up the way she likes. It's all the subjectivity you see, as in the way you might pick up a book and scan the first paragraph and hate the thing, but it's a best-seller. To each his own, eh?

So it's back to the current WIP, and a bit of scholarly research in between. I picked up a debut novel to examine, Thomas Mullen's The Last Town On Earth. He opens with a prologue, in direct violation of writers' board rules. And he's dumping backstory by the truckload by page twenty-two. Every character is introduced with a description of their looks. He's been published by Random House. A literary agent signed him on. Everything is subjective, isn't it?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Talking Dirty - The Download

Thanks to the ubiquitous iPod, just about anything audio can be made available online. The latest offering? The audio book.

An uncle who lost his eyesight was a tremendous fan of audio books, for the man was once a voracious reader and could not get the knack of Braille. On a long car trip, we once brought along a couple of audio books. Never did I see hands fly to the eject button so quickly as that day in Iowa, when a spy thriller ran off into the requisite steamy sex scene. The wee ones were in the back seat, wouldn't you know. Surely there should have been some sort of label on the wrapper, to give parents a warning. Or could they not make two versions available? One rated G and the other whatever, but at least we'd know better. Christ, that was an awkward moment.

Once the province of the illiterate or the blind, audio books are entering a new phase, and it's all due to the success of Apple's invention. Commuters who regularly pop in their ear buds can listen to a book, rather than music, and there's no hunk of paper to cart around the subway. With an iTrip, the driver can be read aloud to while dodging traffic, making the commute somewhat pleasant.

What sorts of books are popular downloads these days? What else but pornography, erotic romances and readings from Penthouse. So impersonal, to surf the Web and find the dirty stuff; so invisible to copy to the iPod and listen in the privacy of one's home. As if the World Wide Web was invented to make porn more readily attainable, the audio book has joined the sex parade.

The phone sex market is in a panic. Competition is getting fierce.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Lack Of Knowledge

The Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly didn't know. They had no clue that the man attending the seminary in Thurles was a pedophile. So there was the one time the seminarian was photographed in drag, but it was a social gathering. And just because the man later went on to abuse children in his drag queen guise, the Archdiocese didn't know before, when he was just a seminarian.

Alameda County Superior Court agrees that the holy men of Cashel and Emly are not liable in a lawsuit that was brought by victims of Oliver O'Grady, who studied for the priesthood in that very diocese. Therefore, the coffers of Cashel and Emly may remain untouched by the American gentleman who was sexually abused by O'Grady when the pervert-priest was assigned to a diocese in Stockton, California. Archbishop Dermot Clifford no doubt breathed a sigh of relief before he headed off to pray for the victims of the graduate of St. Patrick's College. The Catholic Church in Ireland has already been hit by its own homegrown scandal, and weaseling out of paying the victims has been an exhausting struggle. Just when you think you've seen the end of it, along comes another one, and Archbishop Clifford would like a bit of a holiday from the onslaught.

O'Grady was tried and convicted in California, and served seven years of his sentence. In 2000, the USA deported him back to Ireland, where he is said to be living in a rented house on the Dublin road in Thurles. He surely enjoys the settled life, even though the Catholic Church booted him out of the priesthood and he's not Father Ollie anymore. As a resident of California, he was moved from parish to parish; with each incidence of sexual abuse he was trundled off to another parish to be some other church's problem.

There is no doubt as to O'Grady's guilt. He even had the audacity to give interviews to Amy Berg, a film-maker who has prepared a documentary, a chilling one at that, detailing O'Grady's actions. In Deliver Us From Evil, Ollie shows no shame about his past, willingly demonstrating for the camera how he would approach children and groom them for later sexual abuse. In spite of his candor, the Catholic Church fought tooth and nail against the victims who brought lawsuits, using legal manuevers to get out of paying for their crimes.

The victim who brought the lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly is not ready to give up. His lawyer stated recently that a parishioner in the Archdiocese has come forward, another victim of O'Grady's perversion. Attorney John Manly has filed an appeal, and local gardai have been informed of this latest allegation.

For what I have done, and what I have failed to do. All well and good to ask God for forgiveness at every Mass, but it takes more than words to fix what was done behind priestly garb. Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, but it's time to pay the piper.

The Age Of Enlightenment

A most socially aware group of people in San Francisco have performed an experiment that proved to be an eye-opener...well, for them, at least. Liberating is how they described it.

One night over dinner, a small group of people decided to not buy anything new for a full year. Being clever and a bit intellectual, they called their agreement The Compact, like the original Mayflower Compact, except of course that the Pilgrims could not buy anything if they wanted to, as there were no malls or charming little boutiques available to them.

John Perry, an employee in Silicon Valley, says that "It is about being aware of the excesses of consumer culture...drawing down our resources and making people miserable around the world." I imagine that the Chinese factory workers are especially miserable, as compared to years past when they were unemployed and starving. Before they found jobs in sweatshop factories, surely they were happy, even though they had no food to eat or the means to put clothes on their backs. Now that they're working, to produce all those goods for export, they must be truly miserable. Not nearly as naked or hungry as before, but how could they possibly be satisfied with this rampant consumerism?

How the Compact members suffered at first. No shopping sprees, no new things for the sake of buying. God have mercy, but they went to thrift shops and second-hand stores to pick up their duds. They discovered websites that act as clearing houses for people who have things to be gotten rid of, free give-aways or second-hand items no longer needed. Can you imagine the thrill of discovering this previously unexplored territory?

And then there's participant Rachel Kesel, a dog walker by trade, who learned that other people will actually give something away to help out a friend. She acquired a seat for her bicycle, after the original was stolen, from an acquaintance who had one that was not being used. My heart's in a flutter, just thinking about it. A friend, giving another friend something for free. Have you ever heard of such a thing? I think it's what the ancients might have called generosity, or something like that.

Mr. Perry made a truly profound discovery during this anti-consumption spree. He found out that he was actually rather handy, and could often fix things. Why, he had no idea that manufacturers will actually send replacement parts to a customer, just for the asking. Imagine, if you can, not throwing out something that breaks, but going to the trouble of reading the repair manual, getting the correct parts, and then making the repair. All without buying new. It boggles the mind.

And after this year of suffering, of deprivation, Mr. Perry has come to appreciate what he has, his relationship with his stuff now changed utterly. Good on you, Mr. Perry and all your pals, but you'd best keep your philosophical spoutings to your fellow San Fransiscans. I don't quite know how to phrase this, but, em, the millions who don't abide in your high-cost-of-living city...That noise you hear? No, they're not laughing at you, not a bit of it. But did you ever hear the word 'frugal'?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lack Of Merchandise

Another independent book seller is going out of business. As reported in the NYT, Micawber Books in Princeton, NJ has been sold to the local university, and former owner Logan Fox is lamenting the changing times.

He's right, about the lack of good material with which to stock his shop. It is the fault of the publishing houses, since they are responsible for providing the books that line the shelves. But the publishers are going for the short term gain, and so they no longer nurture an up and coming writer. They leave that to the literary agents, who don't have the deep pockets needed to bring a writer along until they develop a strong following. It's the instant hit these days, the blockbuster, and agents are just as likely to look for a blockbuster author as well. The diamond in the rough is no longer a treasure; they want the polished gem stone.

On top of that, there is the plethora of so-called 'celebrity' books, be they memoirs, kiss and tell, or even cookbooks. Publishers are promoting the name of the starlet who obviously could not begin to write a book, but fame sells and so the local B&N is well stocked with trivial fluff. Those of us who look for a serious read don't buy, and we are the ones more likely to buy books. The quality has dropped, but the publishers continue to flog the dead horse of celebrity, and wonder why their bottom line grows weaker year by year.

The market is shrinking, in spite of the increasing number of titles published. The number of good books is going down, with publishers unwilling to take a chance and literary agents unwilling to sign on a potential, rather than proven, author. Add to that the expanding number of sales sites, from big box retailers to on-line sellers, and the indie gets squeezed out of existence.

Used books continue to be profitable. The old books, the classics, do one thing, the very thing that a reader asks of a book. They tell a story. Hard to make a living as in independent bookseller when your clients want good stories to read. The suppliers are not supplying.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Same As The Old Year

There'll be no mail delivery today, as the nation mourns a dead President. I'll leave it to history to debate the merits of the man.

The rejection season will therefore start a day later, and I expect to find that many more SASEs in the old mailbox. The agents were not so much out of their offices as they were hunkered down, catching up on the reading and such. With about fifteen queries still out there, waiting for answers, I could possibly have a box full of envelopes by this afternoon.

E-mail, however, is still working and that's brought the first rejection of 2007, and a painful one it is at that. Stephen Barbara of the Donald Maass agency responded to an e-mail query sent two weeks ago. Kudos for sending a response, when a no serves as a rejection. In this case, I almost wish there had been no response.

"...but the writing sample for TITLE didn't quite grab me so I am going to pass on pursuing..."

Highly informative and rather frightening. If he got past the query and read the pages, and was not grabbed, then there's a problem with the writing. The problem is compounded by the fact that I don't know what to fix. Did I slip up and put too much back story in at the beginning? Is it too slow, too dull, not lively enough? And it's all subjective anyway, so what he found not grabbing might appeal to someone else.

So it begins, the new year starts up with more of the same as last year. The same questions, the same concerns, the same fears. With everything so unchanging, I might as well just keep writing and querying. Now, to get the response from the literary agents to shift slightly in my favor...

Monday, January 01, 2007

There's Always Tomorrow

It will be tomorrow, or more likely Wednesday, when the agents come back to their offices and face the pile of queries. I've seen to it that a few of mine are there, ready to go.

Until then, I could make a resolution or two, but what to resolve? Resolve to get an agent this year? Now there's a complete nonsense. I've been trying for too many years and I know how unrealistic it would be. What I can resolve to do is to keep improving. Year after year, I learn something new, spend some time studying what little is out there to give a writer a clue. So for 2007, I resolve to keep going. To keep learning, to keep mailing queries, to keep writing.

To that end, I resolve to read. Whatever is out there, no matter how nasty, I will try to read what is being published so that I learn what agents are looking for. Every book I pick up will be dissected and examined, to determine structure and pacing. Where does the back story go, what sort of opening is a hook to get an agent to read the next page and then the next chapter?

For 2007, I resolve not to go away.