Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rejected With Thanks

And it's a 'No' from Georgia State University Review after three months of consideration. Enjoyed reading the story, the editor said on the rejection slip. Not enough enjoyment to warrant publication, obviously, but not a nightmare of a piece either.

Think of us in the future, they ask, and I will of course. Not only think, ah no, but action will be taken. When the journal opens its mailbox door and invites submissions, one of my stories will be there.

I've all these stamps, you see, and lovely white Tyvek envelopes, and it would be a shame to waste.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Feet Of Flames In The Dock

Nothing succeeds like success, but success has its own set of difficulties. Michael Flatley had to defend his name in court not so long ago, fighting against a woman who made false claims because Mr. Flatley was successfully rich. Now he's to be back in the dock, but in London this time, and it's a rather sad set of circumstances.

When Mr. Flatley married his pregnant girlfriend, his business manager Martin Flitton was there, a member of the wedding party. That's not a post that's given out to a casual acquaintance or someone not liked, so there's every indication that the two men were on good terms a couple of years ago. Now Mr. Flitton has brought a case against Mr. Flatley, a most unfriendly and acrimonious gesture that spells the end of their association.

A judge has not yet heard the case, so information is sketchy, but it has been suggested that a business dispute is at the heart of the matter. Having served as business manager and press spokesman, Mr. Flitton performed a variety of services and has been credited with some part of Mr. Flatley's success and wealth. Somewhere along the line, however, Mr. Flitton felt that he was shortchanged or cheated. Odds are, Mr. Flatley is feeling hard done by, presuming that Mr. Flitton was getting greedy or taking advantage. That sort of thing is guaranteed to drive a wedge between friends and set them apart, off to their war camps to huddle with solicitors and barristers.

They may reach a settlement before this goes to trial, but the friendship that once existed is surely damaged. Once the dust settles, Mr. Flatley will be on the lookout for a new business manager. Then the Flatleys can go back to their wedding pictures and Photoshop Mr. Flitton out of their lives.

Hooked On Hooks

There has to be an addiction to querying, and I'm afflicted. I was trying not to write another query letter, to let the brain rest and come back fresh this autumn, but there it was.

While reading over the log lines for books that are due to be released later, I ran across a few words that fit really well with a manuscript I've been shopping intermittently. Why not, my query-starved head asked, use that sort of description and create a hook around that?

Why not? Well, I wasn't planning.....I'm trying to get past this urge....yes, it is a new idea and maybe it would work, with the right sort of tweaking....

Or not. I queried Susan Ramer at Don Congdon's agency on Friday night and got a rejection by Monday morning. Then Matthew Carnicelli fired off a form 'no' on Wednesday. I dropped six of the new queries in the mail, so that I can look forward to maybe getting one or two snail mail rejections in a few weeks.

Too hasty, too wrapped up in satisfying the insisting demand to come up with a good hook, a decent synopsis paragraph, and a respectable closing. I'll be tweaking the hook again, to smooth out the rough edges. And then I can give in to the pleasures of query letters, to look forward to the misery of getting rejected over and over again.

Best make sure that the liquor cabinet is well stocked.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Doctors Call For More Study

CHICAGO, June 28 (Reuters) -- At a meeting of the American Medical Association on Wednesday, prominent physicians have called for research into the public health risk of query letter addiction, declaring that the writing of query letters is decidedly an unhealthy mental illness.

"While more study is needed," said AMA president Dr. Davis Ronald, " the AMA remains concerned about the behavioral, health and societal effects of query letter and e-query overuse."

The debate over query addiction touched a nerve among doctors, who are not sure what to tell writers and their concerned families. " To the extent that writing query letters, waiting for replies from literary agents, and then sinking into depression upon the inevitable rejection, then you are talking about a compulsive behavior that belongs in a psychiatric manual," Dr. Ronald told reporters.

A psychiatrist from New York City, specializing in addiction, said querying literary agents were definitely a problem for some. "This is a brain disease for every single writer who is at all serious about getting published," he said. "And they all become addicted to querying."

Addiction experts who have not written a novel yet are strongly opposed to declaring query letter writing a mental illness that should be included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Physicians who have tried countless times to get a short story published in the Bellevue Literary Review are equally adamant that querying literary agents, and submitting in general, are highly addictive and deserving of a proper place in the pantheon of psychiatric illnesses.

Literary agents who were contacted for comment refused to return phone calls, saying that they only responded to mailed queries with SASE or e-mail queries but only if they were interested in asking for more material.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Good Luck In The New Job

Tony Blair will stroll down the Mall today and have a chat with the Queen. Well, I'm off, he might say, and you'll like Gordon Brown. Wonderful chap. Looks to be a brilliant prime minister. And then it will be over. Mr. Blair will not be the Prime Minister anymore.

Changes like this give the pundits something to wax prolific on. Who will Gordon Brown tap as his aide de camp? Will he put a Northern Ireland guru in his cabinet, and if he does, what will Scotland and Wales have to say about that? What does this move mean? Ah, wait, but what if he should do this other thing, what are the implications?

By all accounts, Tony Blair will say 'ta-ra' to the Queen and move into a new office, where he will serve as a Mideast envoy. Still working on peace between Israel and Palestine, oh, about forty years now, thus providing Mr. Blair with ready made employment. He's still a fairly young man, after all, with a lot of good working years in front of him. Maybe he can somehow sort out the mess before he hits 65 and hangs up his portfolio.

What am I to do with the short story I wrote over a year ago and submitted to a couple of very slow reading literary journals? Will I get rejections now, after six months of waiting, because the characters in the story have changed positions and the plot has gone stale? I could rewrite it a bit, substitute all the 'Blair' references with 'Brown'. After all, the political scene in England won't change very much. Only the names.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Well-Covered Tracks

Long, long ago, back in 1989, Pat Finucane had a thriving practice defending Catholics in Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles, in the days of the Birmingham Six and countless other miscarriages of justice. He was a rather successful solicitor. He paid for his success with his life.

In front of his wife and children, Mr. Finucane was gunned down in his home. Recent inquiries into this and other murders demonstrated that the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army colluded with loyalist paramilitaries, allowing them to carry out murder and not be charged. English justice for Irish people was one way of looking at it. The inquiries carried out by Lord Stevens resulted in the conviction of Ken Barrett, who confessed to murdering Mr. Finucane, but the Finucane family believes that there are others who are just as guilty and who should also be punished.

The series of murders that were carried out by loyalists and permitted by the authorities have come to be labelled the 'Dirty War', but the British Army and the RUC are coming out of it with clean hands. As far as the prosecutors are concerned, there is not enough evidence to bring any police officer or army soldier to trial for colluding with loyalist paramilitaries and breaking the very laws they were supposed to uphold. Not enough evidence to prove that the British Army was setting up nationalists to be murdered by loyalists.

London has been trying mightily to craft new legislation that would close the doors on the Finucane murder inquiry, as if the collusion reached far higher than has yet been realized and those in the know would rather not have anyone find out who was colluding. It has been suggested that there are soldiers currently serving, including an army brigadier, who should be facing charges of colluding with loyalist paramilitaries to murder nationalists. By claiming that there is not enough evidence to try them, the door is effectively closed.

Links have been made between UDA intelligence officer Brian Nelson and the British Army's Force Research Unit. The RUC returned a pistol to UDA member William Stobie, and that same gun was later used to murder six Catholic men in Belfast. But the prosecutors say they lack hard evidence to bring any police officer or soldier to trial for collusion.

They must have done an outstanding job of covering their tracks, for the trail to be so cold. Now that Sinn Fein is sitting on the Police Board, will they try to hot up that old trail?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Thunderbirds Over Galway Bay

Making their first appearance in Ireland, the Thunderbirds and their F-15 fighter jets thrilled a crowd of 80,000 at the Salthill Air Show. The precision flying team has not been abroad since the terrorist attack of 9/11, and they went to Ireland for their first venture away from home.

The day was marred by a bizarre incident, when a door fell off of an RAF helicopter and struck three people who were on the beach watching the show. Gardai immediately interviewed the crew, and the helicopter is set for a thorough inspection to determine what went wrong.

As would be expected, the weather was less than perfect, but the crowd was thrilled with the Thunderbirds. Whether you care much for airplanes or not, there is a sense of awe and wonder that a viewer experiences when watching stunt pilots in very fast jets. It's a case of being impressed that human beings could create a machine capable of such swift maneuvers, to say nothing of the men and women who pilot the aircraft and make them do what they do.

The Galway Alliance Against War released 99 red balloons in protest. Remember that old German rock song, about the balloons that had something to do with anti-war drivel? No one paid any attention to the lyrics at the time, but it was a catchy tune. Still and all, a grand gesture by the 200 protesters, who tried to catch the attention of the 80,000. Tough to compete with the Thunderbirds, though, when they zoom overhead in formation. How did that song go again?

Mass Conversion

The secret to authorial success has been found. All we have to do is convert to Judaism, en masse. Then it's off to the Hebrew Union College for access to the closed up world of big house publishing.

Want to get published? Get plugged in to the Jewish Book Network and become best friends with founder Carolyn Starman Hessel. She's reportedly a "power in the publishing industry", working to promote the books of Nathan Englander, Myla Goldberg and Jonathan Saftran Foer. Still not impressed? Stuart Applebaum of Random House wishes that the publishers had "a thousand more like her." Anyone who can push book buying is a friend to the publishers, and that's the kind of friend you'd like to have for yourself.

I'm hoping for a breakthrough that doesn't require me to become Jewish, however. I don't know that I could actually give up a belief in Jesus, so any conversion would be half-hearted and rather false. Ms. Hessel claims that the publishers wish the Irish and Italians would start up a group like hers, to plug books to particular niches. Big readers, those two groups, although I can only vouch for the one. It would be grand, wouldn't it, to have someone promoting your books to people who would relate to your stories.

Ms. Hessel finds authors of all sorts: debut authors, non-fiction authors, et al., and promotes their books. She sends them on book tours, arranges speaking dates for various Jewish groups that need a speaker, and the publishers don't have to arrange expensive book tours.

The down side is that the potential authors have to endure a rigorous selection process, in which they have a couple of minutes to present their synopsis and sell their novel as well as themselves. Hard to imagine an author, accustomed to the solitude of writing, being personable and presentable, in front of an audience of 100 Jewish Book Network members looking for someone to come speak to the ladies of Hadassah.

I'll have to wait for some group in Boston or Baltimore to put together a similar consortium that finds authors writing about the Irish experience. In the meantime, I'll have to keep polishing the query and writing short stories and manuscripts. I've heard it said that Eamon de Valera was Jewish. Wonder if that would open any doors?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

In A Gesture Of Solidarity

Congratulations to movie actress Cameron Diaz for another brilliant performance.

While touring Peru, she walked about with a very stylish handbag, emblazoned with one of Chairman Mao's most memorable phrases.

The Maoist Shining Path terrorist organization would like to thank her for her support. The people of Peru who suffered under the murderous onslaught of Shining Path would prefer that Ms. Diaz take her bag and go elsewhere.

Ms. Diaz might wish to consider hiring new handlers who are possessed of a modicum of intelligence, with enough brass to tell her when she's being a feckin' eejit.

Another Recruit

As his last overseas visit, outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair has selected the Vatican. The last thing he does as PM of the UK is to call on Pope Benedict. And we all know what that means.

The rumors have been circulating for a long time, but those who pay attention to such things see this as the clearest sign yet. With a Roman Catholic wife and Roman Catholic children, the pressure was on to convert. Mr. Blair has attended Catholic services with his family, so he's familiar with the Mass and all its accoutrements. Not so very different from the average Church of England Sunday mornings, so it's not much of a stretch to try a new angle.

Once he's had a chat with His Holiness, Mr. Blair is going to call on the Archbishop of Westminster at the Venerable English College in Rome. That's where Catholic priests were traditionally trained for the martyrdom that awaited them when they were posted to England. Deep significance there, you must admit. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's Irish eyes will be smiling, and don't think he won't put in a strong hint about joining a winning team. After all, the Anglican Church has nothing nearly as grand as the Sistine Chapel to lay claim to.

To say the least, members of the DUP in Belfast have no comment, but there is a lot of loud grumbling coming out of Stormont. They're on a losing streak, and now it's another soul gone to the Papists. The marching season can't come soon enough, to provide a bright spot in an otherwise bleak future.

Cry Fire

You can't yell 'Fire' in a crowded hall. Everyone uses that analogy to describe the limits of free speech. And you don't call a man an arsonist in a crowded pub.

Joseph Murphy was having a drink (or several) in a Leitrim pub when Eoin McManus sauntered in. They got to talking, as men will do over a pint, and before long, the topic shifted to a recent arson attack at a local quarry. Someone burned out a couple of excavators, and Mr. Murphy declared that it was not Eoin or his missus who done the burning. No, it was his brother Michael, the "buck from Sligo" who committed the crime. Mr. Murphy knew it was Michael done it, and he was going to catch up with the arsonist.

Tell one man something in a pub, and the whole town knows of it before the night is over. Everyone who had stopped in at Flynn's Pub after a funeral were suddenly made aware that their neighbor Michael McManus had set fire to machinery and caused damage. And there was the man's brother, drinking in the pub, being told that his brother was a criminal. From the pub, and out into the street, word spread.

After a week or two, Mr. Murphy rang up Mr. McManus and apologized. It was the drink talking, not Joseph Murphy, and he was wrong to have let his tongue wag without putting a leash on it.

In court, Mr. Murphy claimed that he never said any such thing about Michael McManus being an arsonist. As far as he could judge, it was just a case of extortion and blackmail, with Mr. McManus trying to put the squeeze on him and making some unjustified claims. That notion, however, failed to explain why Mr. Murphy rang up Mr. McManus and apologized for speaking out of turn, and the jury saw it that way as well.

Free speech is priceless. For Mr. Murphy, the price of his speech has been set at EU300,000. His legal team plans to appeal the ruling.

Friday, June 22, 2007

On The Heels Of Last Year's Success

What if you held a parade and rioters came? Does love really mean never having to say you're sorry? What about Love Ulster? Ah, they're a sorry lot, but they'll not be apologizing.

This summer, Dublin could once again be treated to the Love Ulster parade, a marching celebration of all things sectarian. Last year, Willy Frazer organized a parade so that the Protestant victims of The Troubles could strut their stuff in Dublin, beating drums and waving the Union Jack, wearing Orange Order sashes as a reminder that Ireland is still divided and Love Ulster wants to keep it that way. Sinn Fein begged to differ, and the parade never quite took that first step. A riot broke out, shops were looted, bits of construction materials were thrown through windows, and forty-two protestors were arrested. Businesses saw trouble coming and they shut their doors. By the time it was over, they claimed EU10 million in lost sales and physical damages.

Why is Mr. Frazer trying again? Because Sinn Fein got trounced in the recent elections. In his mind, that means that the people of Ireland don't like Sinn Fein any more than he does, so they should also be in favor of his parade, just like he is. Flawless logic, there.

He has spoken to Garda representatives, who have told him that he can parade. The problem is, it's going to take a massive amount of manpower to police the parade. The bands and paraders will probably end up marching between cordons of gardai, which is not quite what the Love Ulster people had in mind. No one could see them, and what's the point of a parade if you've no audience?

The Love Ulster parade committee is going to think it over, in light of the advice from An Garda Siochana. They might want to think over something else while they're at it. Just because Sinn Fein lost seats in the last election doesn't mean that the people of Ireland have come to love the Orange Order and sectarianism. It doesn't mean that everyone in the Republic is happy about the partition of 1922, or that they don't want a united Ireland. Sinn Fein isn't particularly welcome, but that doesn't mean Love Ulster is about to be welcomed with open arms. Sorry.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

In Case You Were Thinking Of Submitting

After six and one-half months, it's a 'No' from the Gettysburg Review. In my fantasies, I shall imagine the editor, Peter Stitt, reading the short story over and over, giving it serious consideration, but then, at the credentials, no room in the journal.

There was more than just the little card that said 'Rejection' in so many words. Clipped to the first page of the story, back to back with the rejection, was another card that pretty much said, If you're thinking about submitting again, well, we're closed.

I'm not taking it as a warning, however. I know they don't read in the summer, but not everyone does. The extra note was for all those faceless others who don't remember to read the journal's submission rules and regulations before posting their works of literary art. So I won't send another story just yet. I'm waiting for August and September, when the happy little English majors are back at university and ready to do that work-study business by tackling the slush. Ah, the things you'll do for an education.

Hip-Waders Optional

Such a troubled individual was JT Leroy. And Laura Albert. But Laura was JT. JT was Laura. Her respirator, JT, her channel for air.

Pull on your hip-waders or slap on the Wellies. The muck is piling high, higher and deeper. Laura Albert is in the midst of a contract dispute and she's pleading a form of insanity. Money's at issue, and how else could she hope to salvage something out of the web she wove when first she practiced to deceive? So it's to be the artiste, the creative genius slipping into insanity, replacing JT Leroy with the next character.

A contract signed by JT Leroy is null and void because JT Leroy does not exist. That's what the film production company said when they cancelled out on the film rights for the JT Leroy epic novel Sarah. The critics loved the book, but they really loved that deranged author who was so asexual as to be androgynous. Then the world discovered that this brilliant author was only a real person who said she was what she was not, and that was the end of the ride for Ms. Albert.

Why should Ms. Albert not lose the money? Let me count the ways. She was sexually abused by a family friend and by her mother's former boyfriend. Then she had to deal with obesity as a child, and endure the teasing and torment of her peers. She spent time in a mental hospital, and then she worked a phone sex line in San Francisco. Yes, but, what does this have to do with signing a contract with a false name? Writers use pseudonyms all the time and sign their contracts with their real names.

In a nutshell, Ms. Albert was a nut case. She created this artificial persona of JT Leroy and took to inhabiting it full time. When Steven Shainberg came around to discuss the movie deal and meet the author, the tangled web wrapped around Ms. Albert and she fought to get free. She had to spin even more lies, to cover up the original lie. As far as Antidote International Films is concerned, that's fraud and it's illegal and that nullifies the contract.

Not so fast, says Ms. Albert. She was not really pulling a fast one. Her ex-boyfriend's sister was not merely fronting for JT Leroy when Ms. Albert was pretending to be someone else entirely. No indeed, this friend was possessed by JT Leroy when they met with Mr. Shainberg. Or pregnant with JT Leroy. There was a JT Leroy, Ms. Albert insists, sort of like an invisible friend or the creation of a very troubled mind, so she was not deceiving the production company after all.

Fraud, however, is fraud, and even a lunatic cannot claim insanity as a defense and then expect to keep the money that was paid out on a fraudulent contract. It's a nice try. Maybe Ms. Albert can walk around in public in a bathrobe, looking dishevelled, to demonstrate her incapacitating mental state. Then again, that tactic didn't work for a New York mobster.

The critics raved about the book, but it withered when the public found out that the writer was not JT Leroy. That was the end of the plaudits, the adulation, the oohs and ahhs. And the literary agents insist that it's all about the writing that gets you published.

Transcript of a Job Interview

"And what are your qualifications, Tony?"

"My good friend George phoned me. Knew I was looking for new employment. And he mentioned this position in particular, with my unique qualifications. My resume is extensive and all past experience points towards this exact job opening."

"There's some suggestions that you might be interested in another job. We've gotten wind of some rumors."

"Front-line politics? No, not for me. Frankly, the presidency of the European Union would be akin to becoming the ringmaster in a circus. On the surface, one would expect to have a great deal of power, but the fact of the matter is, they can't agree what to have for lunch, let alone reach any sort of governing accord. President of nothing with that position. No, honestly, I would much prefer this position that my dear friend George asked me to apply for."

"You have a recommendation here from former President Carter."

"And who wouldn't humor an old man? He insisted, and, that is, he means well, doesn't he? Full of good intentions. And he does make a strong point, with my experience in the peace process. For example, there was an election ninety years ago that we felt was not in the best interest of the island. Before long, the populace rose up and we had several years of civil war. Brother against brother, destruction, the lot. So we split the island into two countries. Partition worked, and it will work in the Palestinian territories."

"But partition led to The Troubles. More slaughter, bombings, disappearances. Is that what you would bring to the Middle East as Quartet envoy?"

"The Republic of Ireland, the break-away nation, is thriving today. They cast off their fundamentalist Catholic cloak and stepped out into the world. Look at how successful they are today. So you see, partition does work, and work effectively. If I am given the position I seek, I plan to encourage the separation that exists today. Gaza will be cast loose, while the West Bank will be shored up with donations and cash stipends, expand the public sector, turn it into a nation of bureaucrats. Just like Northern Ireland has been supported by hand-outs from London."

"And you see Gaza blossoming like the Irish Republic. An Arab Tiger, if you will?"

"If they get out from under the thumb of religion. And if they don't turn inward, as Ireland did, and become a backward, repressed society."

"You do indeed have a great deal of experience in this field. Highly qualified. Now, about the salary."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Declining The World Over

At the recent BEA convention, the story was the sorry state of publishing. So many titles, so few readers, the moan went up amongst the crowd. What does the book-buying public want? Why can the publishing houses not figure it out?

Tony Farmar, past president of the Irish Publishers' Association, is worried about the health of Irish publishing houses, those small presses that struggle to compete with the mighty powerhouses in England. Irish authors are lured to London with the promise of large advances, loads of publicity and plenty of hype, so how can some small beer of a press ever hope to compete against those big wallets? His suggestion has some merit.

Like the publishers in New York, the London-based presses aren't much interested in culture beyond their city limits because they can't relate to it. If they don't relate to it, the reasoning goes, neither can anyone else, so why bother publishing something that won't sell. Irish authors go unpublished, even though they have something to say, because what they are saying has been judged too regional, 'wouldn't know how to sell it' as the literary agents say. Change the setting to London or New York City and throw in a bit of shopping at high end establishments and then we'll talk.

Mr. Farmar has suggested that the government treat small presses as cultural institutions, and support them as they support painters or sculptors or theatres. If it doesn't get written down and put into print, it gets lost, and if the big houses aren't buying something they deem too "Irish", shouldn't Ireland step in and rescue its written culture? In a land famous for writers and poets, is the written word something worth shoring up? It's been done in Canada, to help Canadian publishers keep their heads above the flood that is publishing in New York City.

Is it time for the states of Montana or North Dakota to promote local authors? If the literary agents in New York won't represent someone writing about a winter in the High Plains, should the local authorities step in to help so that their unique culture isn't lost? Would people read more if they had good books about people like them, living in the same sort of place and doing the same sort of things? Not shopping at Bergdorf Goodman, that is, or trading bonds on Wall Street.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Splitting Hairs

What did Mr. Finian McGrath get for his support of Fianna Fail, and what was his prize for joining the coalition of FF and the Greens?

Sure 'tis a secret. The Independent TD has to talk to his constituents first, but he might reveal a bit of the deal. Or at least the part that covers the use of Shannon Airport by the US military. That's no secret, of course. Planes from America touch down in Shannon, the soldiers get a chance to stretch their legs, buy from the duty free shops, and enjoy a lovely cuppa tea before continuing their journey to Iraq and Afghanistan. A plane needs a rest as well, and a refueling, and the Irish Exchequer benefits all around.

Mr. McGrath is not at all pleased that the evil empire's soldiers are setting foot on Irish soil. It's that war, you see, and all that imperialism. Well, when you don't much care about Afghani women being stoned to death for perceived crimes, or you prefer to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the ladies, and the blatant discrimination against Christians, you're more likely to rant and rave about soldiers walking about Shannon. It's as if Ireland is supporting the war, and it's a neutral country, and the war is all wrong. So what if a mullah wants to oppress women. It's their problem. Am I my brother's and my sister's keeper?

The thing about the deal is, Mr. McGrath signed a letter before the election, vowing to not participate in any government that allows the US to use Irish facilities to conduct war in Iraq, or anyplace else for that matter if the letter writers think said war is imperialistic. Here he is today, going into government with a group that hasn't paid the slightest attention to all the anti-war protesters who want the use of Shannon ended. How to reconcile such contrary positions?

Here's where the hairs get split. Mr. McGrath made an agreement with Bertie Ahern, reaching a brilliant compromise that gets both men what they want. Sure, says Bertie, the US can continue to use Shannon as a stopover on the way to Iraq. But that's as far as it goes. Any non-UN mandated military operations can't stop by for a cuppa and a scone. Unless the Dail votes on it and allows the stop, say, if the pilot called for an emergency landing. Being anti-war is one thing, but there are humanitarian concerns after all.

What's so exciting about a UN mandate? The US is operating under a UN mandate in Iraq. As a member of the UN, Ireland has always followed the body's mandates. The government has no intention of blocking the Shannon stopover, because doing so would violate Ireland's agreement with the United Nations. There's nothing more to be done about it, unless Mr. McGrath would like to legislate Ireland's exit from the UN?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Flights Of Mobsters Sing Thee To Thy Rest

Fans of The Sopranos are sorry to see it gone. No more excitement on a Sunday night. No more suspense, who gets whacked and who rises in the televised world of organized crime.

How real was the program, anyway? Was it largely flights of fancy, cooked up to follow along the lines of King Lear or something equally tragic? Did the screenwriters take news items and cook them up into juicy scenes, to lend that tasty air of reality? A new series is about to begin, and it will dish up all kinds of reality. Follow along and judge for yourself, just how accurate The Sopranos version of mob mayhem might have been.

In Chicago, the trial of Conrad Black is drawing to a close and court watchers are keeping an eye on the next trial. Joey "The Clown" Lombardo is about to be hauled into court, along with four of his closest friends who were the core of Chicago's crime syndicate.

Contract killings? It will be there, brought out in an open courtroom. Unsolved murders, loan sharking, the numbers racket; all fodder for the prosecution. Who was the boss of the family, who were the made men, the enforcers, the hit men? Day by day, the evidence will be presented. Flow charts will be fashioned for PowerPoint presentations, a roster of who reported to whom, and where the money went.

The Sopranos was entertainment, with family conflict as much a part of the show as the crime, but it was the cold-blooded nature of the criminal enterprises that held viewers spellbound, week after week. Now, instead of turning on your television to HBO, you can click on a link to the Chicago Tribune, and watch the drama unfold.

You can be sure that City Hall will have its collective eyes glued to the courtroom, carefully watching the action and trying to guess which mobster will be legally whacked next. The trail leads back to the fifth floor office of Richard Daley, it is said. So you thought it was exciting, that last bit at the end of the final episode of The Sopranos? You ain't seen nothing yet.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Climb Aboard

Leading by example, that's the image that Minister Eamon Ryan presented when he turned up for his first day on the job. If a man's to be the face of energy and natural resources, he'd best be aware of the press and the television camera. And so, the member of the Green Party rode his bicycle to work and urged others to follow suit.

Begin by living close to your job. Admittedly, that could be difficult if you work in central Dublin and you can't even hope to afford as much as a single room nearby, what with the price of real estate these days. File a complaint with Mr. Ryan or sue the government to provide accommodations for workers who wish to peddle rather than put the peddle to the metal. You'd cycle if you could, and it's up to the State to make it possible.

Need to pick up the week's shopping at Tesco or Superquinn? You've only the basket on your bicycle, remember, so you'll have to shop daily. That should help you cut food costs. Only what you can carry, and once you've picked up the essentials, well, no room to port that giant pack of Fig Rolls, is there? What about it, ladies? Perhaps two or three trips per day might be needed to keep the larder stocked. You should petition the government to mandate breaks during the day, with pay of course, so that you can cycle to the grocer's, bring home the bacon, and then head back to work.

Car-pooling the kids to sports and dance and music lessons and tutoring after school could become a bit of a challenge, but there are carriers available that attach easily to the rear wheel or seat post. With careful packing, you could stuff at least six children, one soccer ball, and the sports drinks for the team. If this is currently illegal, it's merely a matter of petitioning Mr. Ryan to craft the proper legislation to make it possible for mothers (and the occasional father) to haul around several children.

Mr. Ryan has admitted that he may not always be able to ride his bicycle wherever he needs to go. Of course, he could hire a rickshaw to carry him, leaving him free to sit in the back seat and work on his government papers and arrive for a meeting looking fresh and well-groomed. He could set the example, and then all the well-heeled of Dublin would hop on the trendy bandwagon. Why peddle your own self, when you can afford to hire someone to do it for you? And what better way to get home after a night at the local?

Would the gardai be put back on bicycles? That could be a bit of a problem, trying to chase after a criminal who's driving a car. To make things equal, the government will have to enact new legislation that adds extra penalties for those who elude the guards via petrol-guzzling motor vehicles rather than leg-powered locomotion. And drink driving penalties will have to be changed, to reflect the fact that a drunkard can easily elude the breathalyzer by speeding up when he sees the garda at a roadblock just outside the pub.

Ireland is well on its way to reducing its dependence on foreign oil. If everyone would join together and do their part to cut back on energy consumption, carbon emissions would plummet. As for installing better insulation for efficient heating, and adding solar panels to reduce electric usage, everyone should step up and do their part. Keep in mind, however, that you'll need to do some heavy thinking to figure out how to carry all that home on the bar of your bike.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Head-hopping And POV Shifting

Who is telling the story? You write your novel, but someone in the book is there, facing the reading audience. Whoever you choose, that character is possessed of the Point Of View.

Is it first person POV? Lots of 'I' this and 'I' that, with the occasional 'we' thrown in for good measure. And what becomes of the bits of the tale that are never witnessed by the 'I'? The author has to tred carefully here, because changing the POV, shifting from the thoughts and impressions of 'I' to a different character, can result in some unpleasant and disconcerting head-hopping.

Good authors can move in and out of the heads of characters, but they let the reader know that someone else is doing the story-telling. The girl looks at the boy, describes his ratty jeans or his shaggy locks. Can't have the lad pop up in the very next sentence to describe the ant crawling on the girl's back when she can't see it or feel it. And then hop back to the girl, to get her reaction to the boy brushing her back. The reader gets confused about who is talking, who is seeing, and a lost reader is a reader the author has lost.

If you watched the last episode of The Sopranos, you may or may not have liked the ending, but you have to like the newest conspiracy theory that has erupted. The problem is, if you accept the latest suggestion that the director went all artsy and philosophical, then you would find yourself a bit disconcerted. It's a case of head-hopping, a shifting POV that makes for some very confused viewers.

The suggestion now being floated is that Tony was indeed whacked in the final minutes. There was foreshadowing, it is said, with some flashback scene in which death was described as everything going black. Well, there's the final few minutes right there. The screen went black.

And before that? As a television viewer, the program happens through your POV, not that of Tony Soprano. You saw the family enter the diner, one by one. You saw the daughter struggle to park her car, outside, where Tony could not see her. The story was not coming out of his POV at all, but you were the eyes that witnessed the events.

If Tony was whacked, and the foreshadowed blackness was meant to indicate death, then it was death from Tony's point of view. Only seconds before, it was your point of view, but hop over to another head and there's an artistic statement. To hold the POV, the whacking would have to happen before your eyes, but it did not. Was Tony murdered? You watched it, through your eyes, but if you could suddenly jump into his head, then maybe he was. Getting all existential or whatever sort of philosophy might apply; a bit deep for a Sunday evening.

Or maybe the screenwriters and the director wanted to create enough confusion to keep people talking about a series that has ended its first run. After all, who would buy all the DVDs if they knew the main character died at the end?

As Expected

Bertie Ahern has been elected Taoiseach for the third time. Did anyone really doubt that he would win this time around?

John Gormley of the Green Party was named Minister of the Environment. Well, what other post would he have accepted and still gone into government? Would anyone doubt that he was going to be put in charge of all the things that the Green Party weeps over? And with Eamon Ryan taking the helm, to steer the ship of Energy into choppy waters, it looks like Mr. Ahern may succeed in cutting the heart out of the Green Party.

Before long, the Greens will be touting lower emissions, reducing the carbon footprint that has been casting an ever longer shadow in Ireland these days. With success in the global market comes financial largesse and the means to put a car in every garage. People don't walk anymore if they can drive. They don't take public transportation anymore if they have access to a car. And Mr. Gormley will trot into the Dail with all sorts of plans and ideas to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Businesses will jump and scream, waving flow charts that show how the Green Party's ideas will drive away manufacturing by adding costs. The average citizen will let it be known that they are having enough trouble meeting their monthly bills as it is, and 'Rip-off Ireland' need not become even more expensive.

Back at the Ministry of Energy, Mr. Ryan will talk up projects that cannot actually be done just yet because the technology isn't there. He will call for changes, but anything that involves an increased cost to the consumer will fail. The problem is, everything that has been suggested before has involved an increased cost to the consumer, and Mr. Ryan will soon discover that his powerful ministerial position has brought him nothing but bad press and the censure of the electorate. After all, the voters did not cast their ballots with an eye to putting Fianna Fail into coalition with the Green Party. They've gotten what they don't want, and they won't be standing tall behind the Green Party and any proposals that the coalition partner puts forward.

By the time the next election rolls around, the Greens will be looked on as a bunch of egg-headed crackpots full of dangerous notions that will destroy the Celtic Tiger, make it financially impossible to live large, and that is not at all what the people want. With public outcry crushing their plans for new laws and regulations that promote their agenda, their chances of ever taking another seat will plummet to new lows. On the heels of devastating failure, they will either tone down the rhetoric and become more Fianna Fail-like, or they will shrink into relative insignificance. What politician couldn't like that, when his opposition withers away and the road to the next election is made a little smoother.

Less air pollution and energy consumption? Sure, but not if it comes at the cost of giving up the car and the weekends at the holiday home in Kerry.

Coming Up Empty

Two days without a computer, without e-mail, without access to the short story submission records, and I didn't go mad at all. And the minute I come home, it's straight at the computer to see if, as it surely must be, someone got back to me.

Nadia Cornier, after two weeks, sent a form e-mail rejection, declining. That's the sort of thing I've come to expect. Even William Clark declined a query that I sent.....six months ago, I believe. After a month with an e-query, you already know it's a 'no', but still. Nice to get the formal notification when no one else is replying to anything.

What about the short stories? Gettysburg Review is late on their response, going past the six month time. Blue Mesa Review has had a story since last November, and nothing. Have they lost it? Then there's the Boston Review, also well past their notify-by date. So that's it. I come back after a couple of days, and there's no news. No requests for more, no SASEs in the mail.

The agents don't respond anymore, and now the literary journals don't respond either. Have I become invisible without realizing a change was taking place? Or does the postman have it in for me?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Just Like In The Movies

Admittedly, Gerard Depardieu was a bit too old for Andie MacDowell, besides being a bit, shall we say, large for a romantic lead. Green Card was, in spite of its minor flaws, a charming bit of fluff that made for a night's entertainment.

The story was an old one. Illegal immigrant wants to stay in America, but he needs an American spouse. Through comedic means, he pairs up with a willing citizen and the rest is screwball comedy history. Pity it doesn't work that way in real life.

Jeremy Stames came to the aid of Svetlana Kostigova, who did not wish to go back from whence she came. Life is good in the States, no matter the whinging of the politicians, and there's plenty doing in Chicago for a go-getter from Eastern Europe. So, like the movie (except the illegal immigrant was the male, rather than the female, lead character) the couple entered into a sham marriage in 2002 and Ms. Kostigova could breathe easy. She found such relief, in fact, that she joined in with Mr. Stames to bring that same peace and harmony to others in similar situations.

In the movie, the prize for the illegal scam was a much desired apartment. In the real version of events, the award for scam marriages was $5000. Not much work for such a large pay-out, and anyone with a decent memory could pull it off. The participants were required to convince INS agents that the marriage was real, so there was a bit of time and effort involved. That $5000 was earned, not given away recklessly.

American citizens who took part in the scheme all worked together, going to each other's fake weddings and posing for pictures as if it were a real wedding. And then, like the movie, they used the pictures to bolster their claims of marriage.

The Federal authorities who broke up the ring are no doubt great fans of Gerard Depardieu or Andie MacDowell, because they didn't fall for it. Obviously, they were quite familiar with the plot line and clever devices of Green Card. Nine U.S. citizens and their nine Eastern European spouses have been arrested and charge with marriage fraud and immigration fraud. The Yanks face five years in prison. The foreigners face deportation.

That's not how it happened in the movie. Aren't these people supposed to fall in love and live happily ever after?

Lean To The Right

The French rule the fashion world. They set the pace for culinary excellence. For a long time, they were the standard bearers for European socialism. They're not quite so left-leaning any more, but the food is still outstanding.

The political battle between Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal was touted as the great ideological struggle between Right and Left, between the more Anglo-American model and the post-WWII love of socialism. All things on the right were decried, all the evils of crass commercialism and greed, while the left leaning politicians promised a bright future with something for everyone and a poulet in every pot.

The inconvenient truths of economics intruded on the French idyll, as socialism revealed itself to be a budget busting and costly venture that could not sustain itself. Due to restrictive laws that were supposed to protect the worker, it was getting more and more difficult to get a job. With everyone promised a place in university, a university education became meaningless with the need to dumb down the program to fit all. The French looked over what they had created, and decided that this was not, after all, what they had in mind. So they voted Nicolas Sarkozy into office.

Now the legislative elections have come and gone, and the Socialist party of Segolene Royal and her partner Francois Hollande has been trounced. 577 seats were contested, and Mr. Sarkozy's colleagues took all but 110 of them. By any account, that would be a resounding majority, a mandate (to steal a phrase) for change, for a lean to the right.

Socialists now preach fear, warning people that democracy will be smothered because Sarkozy's party has such an overwhelming majority. "Respect for basic rights (is) in peril" Mr. Hollande says, because he, as party leader, screwed up royally.

But what did the socialists have to offer to the French people, who live with their weak economy and high unemployment every day? That's the problem, right there. They had nothing to offer. Except for more of the same, that is, because it's socialism that brought France down and the French people have clearly had enough.

When it next sits, the French National Assembly will look rather like the American Congress, with one party in the majority and the other in opposition. The small groups, like the communists and the far right National Front, are represented in such small numbers as to be nearly extinct.

Will they be able to bring about the hard-nosed changes that are needed to get France back on solid economic footing? Will they weather the protests and riots that are sure to erupt when they try to change the wrong-headed laws that have weakened the economy but promised the moon to the average citizen?

How much did Congress get done when it was controlled by Republicans, with a Republican in the White House? Plus ca change, and all that.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Enjoy The Fried Kidneys

It's Bloomsday!

Fry up a lovely batch of lamb kidneys for breakfast, pour another cuppa tea, and crack open that copy of Ulysses that you've been meaning to read.

James Joyce fans have descended on Dublin and they're making the grand tour, following in the footsteps of the beloved Mr. Bloom.

Here's to James Joyce, and Irish literature in general.

Hard Sell

Random House thought it was a good idea to push literary fiction. In came Daniel Menaker, who was taken on to find all sorts of lovely literary fiction that would boost sales at Random House. Oddly enough, the plan failed.

Mr. Menaker, with a very extensive resume, will go off to write a novel. It will, no doubt, be literary fiction. As for the titles that he picked up for Random House, they will fall into the dark abyss of the back list and fade away.

It was Mr. Menaker who gave the world Absurdistan, a satirical send-up of American consumerism. Author Gary Shteyngart skewered Halliburton, American culture, the whole concept of prosperity, and Daniel Menaker 'fell in love' as the literary agents like to say. At the age of 65, can we presume that Mr. Menaker is a product of the 1960's, free love, make love not war? Can we also suggest that Mr. Menaker, from the old counter culture, thought that Absurdistan was a brilliant bit of fiction? Should we wonder, then, that the novel fell flat?

In New York City, one could see where the satire would find a home. The problem is, a book has to sell in between the coasts, that vast unknown wilderness. Would the average book buyer find the Shteyngart novel amusing, in the vein of Animal Farm, or do the great unwashed that populate the center of the nation prefer things like Animal House?

A friend came to me last year with a dilemma. Her neighbors were insisting on taking up a collection for her, since her husband was posted to Iraq on a tour of duty that pulled him from his managerial position to an intelligence mission in a foreign land. All the soldiers are poor, the neighbors had learned from television and the pages of the New York Times, and they longed to help. To help the poor family that could afford to buy a home for three quarters of a million dollars. To help the poor family that owned two SUVs. Of course they must be poor, the reasoning went, because himself is overseas doing his army reserve duty and the folks who sign up for military service are doing it because they need the money.

"How can I explain to them that we don't need anyone passing the hat?" she asked, but she's a very sweet and polite lady and wouldn't have followed my advice if I had given her my honest opinion. And I did feel badly for her. She's an executive with a very large bank, and she makes a very large salary. Bit of an insult, really, when the neighbors came around thinking she needed financial assistance.

That's the sort of thinking that's behind the publication of Absurdistan. The clueless, in a miasma of utterly misguided good intentions, presume that they know what's what. And then they get out there in the big broad world and things don't fall into place. So an editor in New York thought Absurdistan was brilliant, and the country pointed out that they didn't really care to be insulted by some foreigner. It's not a slap at literary fiction. It's a slap at one editor's good intentions paving a road to hell for any other authors who compose literary fiction that would be well received, except that the clueless can't figure out what's going on in the rest of the book-buying world. Rich kids do indeed sign on to serve their country. And their parents buy books. Or they don't buy what they find offensive or insulting. No need to pass the hat for them.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Cicada Watch: In Their Millions

The trees are full -- no room at the leafy inn. The blades of grass have to serve for vertical surfaces. Everywhere you look, the turf is crawling with cicadas, and it's getting rather disgusting to mow the lawn.

Dancing With The Politicians

Fianna Fail and the Green Party sat around a table and did all they could to reach common ground on forming a new government. Couldn't do it, the exhausted Greens said when the deadline came and went without an agreement. There were too many things that the Green Party wanted, like strict emissions controls and no more American military planes touching down at Shannon. No can do, said Fianna Fail, because that which the Greens wanted would cost too much money and there's all the signs of a downturn up the road.

Ah, but do you really, really, really want to be in government? Because if you do, Green Party, you'll take a few steps back and revise your positions or Labour just might step up and take your place.

It would be easier, as far as numbers go, to do a deal with the Green Party and be done with the negotiating. There are only two PDs who would of course be happy as larks to sign on for another five years with Fianna Fail. There are a few independents that arose from Fianna Fail stock, and being of similar minds they might join in as well, getting a little bit of a treat for their constituency in the bargain. That's how the dance is choreographed: right hand outstretched, money for a new creche received, turn and step. And if you're not chosen to dance? There's not much doing for the people who put you in office, and don't think they won't be reminded of it in the next election.

Won't dance with Fianna Fail, will you? Well look over there, it's a new partner for the political pas de deux. Labour might be interested. They flirted with Fine Gael, of course, but things didn't work out in the end and Labour would very much like to get into a coalition and have an impact on Ireland. They have the numbers, and it would be a one-stop shopping expedition to find enough bodies to form a majority coalition.

Think it over, Green Party. You could be left out in the cold, stuck on the Opposition benches and all because you played hard to get. Labour is lacing up its dancing shoes, ready to take to the floor. Fianna Fail cavorts openly with them, to remind the independents that they, too, could be wallflowers this time around if they push too hard and don't agree a reasonable compromise. There is a great deal at stake here, with political fortunes to be made.

Fianna Fail has every intention of filling its dance card, and it's not overly concerned with partners, except of course for the toe-stomping clods from Sinn Fein, who never get asked for so much as a short reel. Negotiators have let the Green Party know, in a rather roundabout way, that they may be left off completely if they're not careful, and all their dreams of ministerial positions will evaporate like so much fog on the disco floor.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Will The Sopranos End This Way?

Right now, odds are running two to one that HBO mobster Tony Soprano will die. That would make for the morally right ending, in a Victorian sort of way. The bad guy gets his in the end, good wins out over evil, and all that. But is that how things really go?

What became of John Gotti? Died in prison, not on the streets. There are others as well, heads of crime families who went to their just rewards after a bout with cancer or a heart attack or the ravages of age. Nothing dramatic.

Maybe Tony Soprano's saga will take a page from John Gilligan's life. The Irish thug was never convicted of murdering journalist Veronica Guerin, but it's a sure bet that he put out the contract on her when she got too close to uncovering his crime kingdom. Where is Mr. Gilligan today? Sitting in a prison cell, convicted of selling cannabis, doing twenty years, and the Criminal Assets Bureau is fighting him to get possession of his ill-gotten gains.

Gilligan's beloved Jessbrook Equestrian Centre and houses in Lucan have been in the hands of CAB since 1996, and Gilligan has been fighting in the courts to get his property back. There have been court cases, hearings, Supreme Court decisions and appeals galore, and still the criminal will not give it up.

Recently, Mr. Gilligan asked the courts to provide him with legal aid to help pay for a review of a Supreme Court decision that went against him. He's been arguing the constitutionality of a decision, the Supreme Court decided it was constitutional, and now he's trying to get the High Court to consider the Supreme Court ruling. No, said the State. No money for your attorney, no money to try to bring a nonsense to trial. You're not getting Jessbrook back.

There are those who believe that Mr. Gilligan transferred his wealth to his wife, and that he still retains much of the proceeds of his drug-selling business. He denies it, claiming he is destitute but finding the means to fight against the confiscation of his properties for ten years.

How's that for the final episode of The Sopranos? Tony in jail, his grand mansion forfeit to the state, his strip-club in the hands of the Feds....and the show could close with him talking to his lawyer, trying to find a way to hold on to all that was purchased with the proceeds of his crimes. The show would end with a whimper, not a bang, but that's how criminals usually go out these days. Makes for a rather boring program, though.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Part Of The Problem

Inflation is the reason why your salary buys less today than it did ten years ago. Call it the cost of living, if you like. Petrol for your automobile costs more, but you are only making the same wage as last year, so your cost of living is higher and something has to give. You aren't living as well as you were before; you do without a few luxuries like dining out or a weekly trip to the cinema.

Jack O'Connor, president of Ireland's biggest trade union, is alarmed about rising inflation, pegged at the seventh highest rate in the EU. Union members, with wage agreements in place for years to come, would lose out if their cost of living went up while wages held steady. That's not what the union is all about. As far as Mr. O'Connor is concerned, it's time that the previously agreed wage rates are visited again. Sounds like he's about to ask for pay increases for all the union members, to keep their wages in line with inflation.

He's upset about the ever rising interest rate on home mortgages, which is under the control of the European Central Bank. As for the cost of a house, the Government doesn't control the price of buildable land, but that's how the free market economy works. If I have a prime piece of real estate, and you want it bad enough, I can get my price and you'll pay through the nose. Now, if you want it really badly, but you can't afford it, you're out of luck. Mr. O'Connor would like Government to step in, to meddle with the market, so that his union members can buy houses where they would like to live, even if they are getting priced out of the current market. If you are the owner of a house that is going up in value, and thinking of making a comfortable profit when you sell it later, those are not the sorts of words you'd like to hear.

In the end, Mr. O'Connor is going to lobby for pay rises, appeasing his membership with a promise of more money. Manufacturing businesses, already stressed by competition from Eastern Europe and Asia, will increasingly pull up stakes and relocate their factories where the workers come cheap. Jobs in Ireland are already being lost to foreign wage competition, and raising worker salaries will escalate the rush abroad.

As workers lose their jobs, their homes will be lost and a flood of available housing will depress housing prices. Homes will indeed become more affordable under Mr. O'Connor's plan, but his union members will still not be able to buy because they won't have jobs. With the loss of manufacturing and related industries, the Exchequer will face reduced tax income, and the social housing program will have to be scaled back, along with everything else.

What does help to reduce wage inflation is increased productivity. That means the union worker has to produce more in the same amount of time, without getting more money for it. Fewer vacation days, longer hours, that sort of thing all help to increase productivity. Paying the worker more to do the same will only raise costs, and that generates more inflation.

Telling workers that they should be paid more, since it costs more to live, is fine if a man is trying to keep his lofty position. As a practical solution, it's nothing more than adding to the existing problem. Socialism doesn't work, as has been proved time and time again. The free market builds wealth, but it builds wealth on the backs of the lowest paid workers. Life's a bitch, isn't it.

It Wasn't Riverdance

Pirates are hot right now, but The Pirate Queen never caught fire. The musical spectacle was received well enough in Chicago, where it played on a trial basis before making its way east to the Big Apple, but audience polls and random tinkering did nothing to improve the problems that were exposed during the Chicago run.

The stage play relates the life of Grace O'Malley, a 16th Century Irish woman and pirate, and it should have been a grand story. Moya Doherty and John McColgan, who gave the world Riverdance and made a fortune in the process, were the producers and promoters who hoped to bring their Riverdance magic to another show-stopping show. With book and music by the creators of Les Miserables, it sounded, on paper, like it couldn't lose. And yet it did.

New York critics were so brutally savage that the tone of the negative reviews made the news. To a man, they hated the production, couldn't figure out what was going on, derided the plot and the story line, and made a mockery of the lavish production. The ticket-buying public heard and obeyed. Sales declined, the audience shrank, and Mr. McColgan and Ms. Doherty are pulling the plug, turning out the lights, and going to Europe. Their pet project, the life and times of a legendary Irish woman, lasted only about two months.

They hope that Europe will take to the grandiose musical numbers, the elaborate costumes and stunning special effects. Indeed, if Europe does not, the producers stand to lose a tremendous amount of money. Estimates put the cost of the production at $16 million, with only about $7 million recouped in poor sales.

Critics complained that the show seemed to lack a point. There was music and singing, actors moved about the stage, but there was no central focus. Hard to say if more tinkering with the script could fix things at this point, or if a complete rewrite would be needed to make the show more appealing to the viewer. Maybe the writers left out too much back story, assuming that everyone knew of Grace O'Malley, when the American audience knew nothing about pirates beyond Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow character.

There's always the Riverdance option, of course, if the producers should elect to tone down the costly parts of the spectacle. Put Grace O'Malley on the road, with dozens of touring companies playing venues both large and small. It could be that The Pirate Queen is not Broadway material, but it could play to sell-out crowds in Peoria.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Save A Stamp

Thinking of querying Danielle Egan-Miller of Browne & Miller? You might want to think again, if you can't stand to see another rejection.

Their clientele list is currently full. No more room. Couldn't take another manuscript, sorry. Unless, of course, it was something written by a previously published author or a celebrity, but for a first-time novelist? Can't squeeze in another one, impossible.

On the other hand, Artists and Artisans has added a new agent, and I've sent in my query. If you plan to query as well, you'd best hurry. I have a tendency to drive these poor rookies out of the agenting game with my queries, and Jamie Brenner may not last much longer.

Hello, Is Anyone Listening?

The Greens have been meeting with Fianna Fail on a daily basis. They exchange position papers, move about, and take up new positions, trying to find common ground on which to form a stable government.

Fianna Fail, in a very clever maneuver, is also trying to rope in a few independents, which would make it mathematically impossible for the likes of Sinn Fein to form a technical group and retain speaking rights in the Dail. If things fall into place, the last remnants of Sinn Fein would have little or no function in the next Dail, no input on anything, forced to sit on their hands during leaders' questions, and stay out of the way of the big dogs. Not at all what Gerry Adams had in mind, but such is politics in the Republic.

But you hear it? It's a very tiny voice, but if you listen closely, you can just make out Enda Kenny. There he is again. Wanting everyone to know that the Fine Gael - Labour coalition isn't quite out of it yet. If he can seduce the Greens, convince them to climb into bed, then he can be the next taoiseach and his dreams will be realized at last. So let Fianna Fail woo the Greens, promise to respect the in the morning and the whole bit. He's going to talk to them as well, and offer them a loving, stable relationship for the next five years.

There he goes again, singing the same old tune. Bertie Ahern has had questionable financial dealings. Dearest Greens, you can't possibly want to hold hands with a man of such low character. He doesn't really love you, not like Fine Gael and Labour could love you if given a chance.

Reminds me of old movies, where the girls were dazzled by the bad boy, to the chagrin of the clean cut young gentleman who never failed to open a door for a lady. And just like that same good lad that any mother would be proud of, no one pays him much mind. The bad boy is so much more fun to be around.

Eating Up The Book Tour

Novelist Barbara Kingsolver has a new book to promote, marked by an appearance that was sponsored by the beloved Women and Children First Bookstore. She spoke at the Swedish American Museum Center, an appropriate venue to discuss food culture.

The non-fiction being touted describes the Kingsolver family's adventures in eating locally grown foods for a year. There's a whole movement out there, apparently, to eat locally grown foods, but I guess when you live in New York City and not the heartland, it's a bit of a novelty to eat something that's just been picked. For those of us who have always had a vegetable patch in the back garden, it's hard to see what all the fuss is about.

Ms. Kingsolver bemoans America's lack of a food culture. Sure we've been bemoaning a lack of food culture in Ireland as well. Peas boiled to a mush and then let simmer an extra ten minutes, just to be sure they're done, boiled cabbage, boiled potatoes, boiled bacon....not exactly a culinary delight, but filling the belly is the highlight of the poor man's table. And I wouldn't describe Swedish cooking as much of a culture to treasure, based on the comments of some friends. The fruit soup in the summer might be pleasant, but that's about it. Rather like preaching to the choir, to complain about a lack of food culture, when you're sitting in the middle of Chicago's traditional Swedish neighborhood.

Food culture thrives in Chicago, where "a population's collective wisdom about the plants and animals that grow in a place" can be found on Taylor Street, in Bronzeville, on Jackson St. north of the Eisenhower Expressway, south on Wentworth....not trendy, but the locals know where to find culture. They live it, as their parents lived it and brought it over from the old country. I don't much think that those are the sorts of people who would buy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and read it without laughing over the author's starry-eyed sense of discovery. There'd be less Type 2 diabetes if the nation only knew about fresh foods, the author claims. And there'd be less Type 2 diabetes if the nation got up off its collective arse and went out back to weed the bean patch.

There's more to this dreadful problem, however, for Ms. Kingsolver also decries the unsustainable nature of our food system. All the fossil fuels, the loss of topsoil....she hasn't heard of no-till agriculture, apparently, but then, not everyone is privy to the wisdom of Orion Samuelson and his weekly farm reports, readily available on WGN Radio. After Ms. Kingsolver finished talking, she probably was too pressed for time to drive into southern Illinois, to see what the farmers are doing to retain topsoil. And how is any farmer supposed to work his land without a gas-guzzling tractor or combine? Such answers are not to be found on some friend's hobby farm in Vermont.

Bacterial contamination, God in Heaven, it's a crisis. She apparently never read The Jungle, either. It's an old book, but the premise remains the same. Cutting costs to increase profits, the big meatpackers endanger the health of the consumer. Buy from a local meat purveyor, then, and presume that the meat's not coated with E. coli. But you'll pay more, and for those who are not best selling authors, it's a bit of a budget buster.

Speaking of busting budgets, there's a nutrition crisis out there as well. The government should spend money subsidizing organic fruits and vegetables, according to Ms. Kingsolver, even though there's no more nutrients in organic produce compared to the cheaper inorganic variety. Look at government subsidized children's lunches, for example. Fresh inorganic fruit gets issued to every recipient and most of them toss it in the trash, but would it be different if the fruit was certified organic? Perhaps the government could subsidize time outs until the little ones eat their apples and bananas, and there'll be no pudding, young man, until you eat every last carrot stick.

Ms. Kingsolver is highly impressed with friends in Vermont who grow tomatoes in fabric covered tunnels. It's a form of greenhouse, we used to call it a hothouse, and it's not new technology. It's the technology of the poor immigrant who wants fresh tomatoes when he lives in Chicago and the growing season is too short. She'd be impressed, I have no doubt, with some of my old neighbors who extend the growing season with a few planks of old two by fours and some recyled double-hung windows (a cold-frame for those of you keeping score at home.)

And how do we get people back into their kitchens? Well, we can educate people, as Ms. Kingsolver suggests, or we can take a shortcut that is favored by savvy Irish immigrants. Find a lovely Italian girl and settle down, and you'll not be living on boiled spuds for the rest of your days. Can I fix you a plate?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Votes (Books) Are In

Election season, and books spring eternal. The two competing titles that sling the dirt on Hillary Clinton are ready to roll, and the NYT has dueling book reviews today. Bernstein gets one treatment, the star treatment, while the former New York Times writers are raked over the literary coals by Robert Dallek.

Well before the biographies were in print, there was much discussion about the Bernstein version, and how it lacked anything new. How will it fare against the Van Natta/ Gerth version of events? The latter has been described as "uniformly negative". Book sales could shape up into a form of public opinion polling, and political pundits are going to watch the Bookscan numbers very, very closely.

"Overly focused ...on...the Clintons' scandalous past and the darker aspects of Mrs. Clinton's personality" says Mr. Dallek. There you have it. Buy this book, and it's obvious that you're a right wing conservative Republican. This one is geared up to you, to shore up your opinion of the woman. The woman who once spoke about going out to the nearby farms to help tutor the children of migrant workers....but she grew up in a middle class Chicago suburb and there's not a farm employing migrant workers for miles. Corn and soybeans, family farms, that's all that's within striking distance, and it would have been a long drive to get to the nearest one.

The funny thing about master politicians is that they can talk out of both sides of their mouth with the greatest of ease. Get to know one of them well, see them in action before different segments of their constituency, and you might be amazed to hear them make arguments for both sides of an issue. That's what politics is all about, pandering to the voters to get their vote. Shade the truth, find out which way the polling winds are blowing, and adapt to the conditions. That's the way they keep their jobs, election after election. Look closely, and you'll realize that nothing really gets done in Washington; the same problems fester year after year, and hot air keeps right on blowing.

Some folks, like Mr. Gerth and Mr. Van Natta, can make literary hay out of it, pointing out the hypocrisy and affixing a dark label. Others, like reviewer Robert Dallek, compare Ms. Clinton's failings to the weaknesses of others, in a "look she's like all the rest" attitude that does not excuse immoral behavior, but accepts its ubiquitous presence. It's politics, he implies with a shrug. It's politics, the other side grumbles with anger.

Even reviews of the reviews will be fodder for talk news shows. Carl Bernstein's book, being less of a hatchet job on the woman who would be president, garners all the praise, and if you want the world to know that you support Hillary, well, it's obvious that you'll be after buying Mr. Bernstein's biographical version. It's more balanced, as far as Mr. Dallek is concerned, and it's clearly the better book to him. But he's writing in the New York Times, that cradle of left wingedness, so how could he be fair and balanced?

As the books are laid down, the Clinton camp will attack both books, but you can bet that they'll use most of their strength to shred the Gerth/ Van Matta version of events. It won't make any difference, really, because the people who buy one or the other are expressing their opinion of Hillary Clinton, and whatever rhetoric dribbles out of her camp will only serve to reinforce an already set position. But it gives the twenty-four hour news shows something to talk about besides car chases in California.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Value Added

The Polskys, husband and wife, came from Kiev with little more than the clothes they stood up in. Thirty years later, they are fabulously wealthy, but no longer husband and wife. So what is a wife worth, anyway? A price above rubies? Or next to nothing?

Michael Polsky doesn't place much value on the position of wife, homemaker and mother. He's hotly contesting Judge William Boyd's decision to award Maya Polsky half of the couple's assets, claiming that he's the only one of the couple who actually built up all that money. What was she doing anyway, but staying at home?

Easy to forget that when he came home from a long day, growing an energy firm, she had his dinner on the table. Saved him hours of time every week, in that he didn't have to cook or shop or cut or chop. What's the value of a chef, live-in help, preparing three meals a day, seven days a week, for thirty one years?

Michael could open the doors of his closet and find pressed suits, starched shirts and clean underwear. What is the cost of laundry service for thirty one years? What is the worth of a personal manager who will see to it that the laundry is done, that a lucky suit is ready for the big meeting? How much would one pay for a housekeeper? A party planner? A social director to organize business entertainments? At what price would a man hire on a confidante, someone to patiently listen to his whinging but with a commitment to remain in the post until death.

They had two children, two sons to carry on the family name and genetic heritage, and to take over Daddy's business empire so that it does not expire with the old man. What would it cost to hire someone to produce two children, and then raise them? A full time nanny does not come cheap, and then there's the cost of the chauffeur to ferry them about to all the activities that are selected to edify the child's mind and body. To say nothing of staying current with the latest trends, so that the kids aren't out of the social loop. Researching schools, hiring tutors, monitoring educational progress...all of that is done by the wife who stays at home, but is it valueless employment?

Then there's sexual services, nursing services when Michael fell ill, gift-buying services so that no one was forgotten when Michael was too busy at work to take care of the domestic side of life. To listen to Mr. Polsky's lawyer, one would think that the missus had no stake in the growth and success of the Polsky business, and has no right to be given half, because what she did was worthless. Judge Boyd didn't see it that way, so he divided up the pot, 50/50, and now Mr. Polsky is hell-bent to fight it.

He'd be wise to stop while he's ahead. A savvy attorney and a judge who appreciates his wife just might figure out what a wife's services were worth to the Polsky empire, and Michael Polsky could be left with little more than the clothes he stands up in.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

When Gerry Adams Comes Calling

To read the news, the average US citizen would have no idea that Ireland's soldiers are serving in Afghanistan. Only seven of them, but they're there, doing their unique bit. They have certain types of, shall we say, experience, that makes the Irish contingent a valuable component of the coalition that is fighting against the insanity of religious fundamentalism.

The Irish soldiers are the resident experts when it comes to bombs. It's the Irish Army Ordnance Corps that heads up training for the NATO forces that dispose of bombs. Why the Irish, one might ask. Why the Irish indeed.

Bombs and their components and methods of detonation give clues to the origins of the bombers. It is now thought that bombers from Al-Qaeda in Iraq have gotten into Afghanistan to share their murderous knowledge of explosive devices with their fellow loons. Where did the Iraqi group learn how to make bombs? From the thugs who terrorize the peaceful people of Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. And who, pray tell, taught Hezbollah and the PLO how to blow up and maim? None other than the IRA.

The clever bombers of the IRA, having perfected their techniques during the Troubles, exported their murderous efficiency to the Muslim whack-jobs of the Middle East, in exchange for cartloads of cash. The Irish members of the ordnance corps, familiar with IRA bombing techniques and bomb construction, are perfectly suited to instruct their fellow soldiers in the ways to defuse the bombs that the Taliban learned how to make from the IRA.

So next time Gerry Adams turns up at a fundraiser, hat in hand, looking for donations to Sinn Fein and the continuing struggle for a united Ireland, think of the young man or woman who was sent to Afghanistan, only to come home without an arm, a leg, a hand. Without part of their brain and skull. Know that the money you gave him all those years ago are serving a radically different purpose than what was originally stated. The blood of the wounded soldier, damaged beyond repair in Afghanistan or Iraq, is on Gerry Adam's hands. Is it any wonder that Ian Paisley won't shake that fist? And Sinn Fein is demanding that American military flights be banned from the Shannon stop over, citing the death of Iraqi civilians at the hands of American soldiers. Excuse me?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Disgusting But Equal

Ian Paisley founded a religion so that he could justify hatred. The Pope is the Anti-Christ, according to him, and it's perfectly all right to hate Catholics, and his followers are assured of their heavenly reward because the diploma mill reverend said so. All well and good to preach to your personal choir, but it's a different story when you're addressing a mixed bag of citizenry.

Ian Jr., a chip off the old block, has been elevated to a ministerial position now that dad is the First Minister of Northern Ireland. Rather obvious that he didn't get his post through extensive training or advanced education, but Chicago's been run through nepotism for ages and the garbage gets picked up regularly so what's the problem? Junior has been inculcated in daddy's faith, but he never did get the hang of public speaking when the public being spoken to are not pseudo-Presbyterians.

While the ministers are busy working on legislation to ensure equality for all, regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation, Junior is shooting off his mouth, lambasting homosexuals. He's supposed to be promoting human rights in his position. Is there some conflict here, when he's quoted as being "pretty repulsed" by gays who he believes are harming society? Junior doesn't think so.

The Assembly meeting at Stormont was considering censuring the lad, until SDLP equality spokesperson Dolores Kelly tabled the motion. She'd rather take him behind the shed and have a stern talk with him, give him some limits and perhaps a time-out so that he can think about what naughty things he said. A minister crafting equality legislation does not exactly engender confidence in the downtrodden when he tears them down publicly. With that sort of mindset, the public will say, how can he be in favor of equality? He's not trying to inflict his religious beliefs on us, is he? That's Taliban talk, that is.

Junior insists that he can do his job and still hate homosexuality, and all this criticism is political correctness run riot, and anyone who says he is discriminating is discriminating against his right to free speech. Yes, it's true. If you deride Junior for being a bigot, he points the finger right back at you and says that you are the bigot for not accepting his right to preach against homosexuality. As far as he's concerned, he doesn't hate anyone, and it's his critics who are the intolerant ones.

And there are none so blind as he who will not see.

Got Blockbuster, Will Publish

The buzz at BEA this year is all about flatness. Book sales are flat, the publishers are saying. It's a fully developed industry, no more growth, just...flatness.

Religious books were growing, with sales up over 3%, but that segment looks to be maturing as well. There won't be such lovely big numbers next time around. After all, once you've got your hymnal in hand, you won't rush out the following year for a new one. The song pretty much remains the same. And there are only so many self-help books that will leave the shelves, as one is largely the same as the next and eventually the reading public figures it out and stops buying.

Paperbacks are looking good, but that should not be a surprise. Hard bound books cost a lot more than a trade paperback, and when you're paying over $3.00 for a gallon of gas, you have to cut back somewhere. The hard covers are fine for the libraries of the world, where a book gets a great deal of hard use and a paperback would fall to bits after a few times around. Publishers are looking to make money, however, and it it's merely a matter of selling two paperbacks instead of one hard cover, if the profit is the same, the higher sales figures don't matter.

It's the blockbuster, the million copy seller, that really gets the publishers salivating. For the past several years, the Harry Potter series has fueled the rise in sales. Millions of copies were sold, but the best part of the HP success was the increase in traffic. More people came out to pick up Harry for the wee ones and found something for themselves. Other books sold because readers were lured into the store. But Harry Potter is done after this year, so what will the publishers do now?

They need a new Dan Brown, but they can't lay down some novel about Catholic conspiracies because it's been done to death. They want something similar, in that they want a book that will sell like hotcakes. Problem is, the publishers don't really know what that is. No one expected Mr. Brown's book to take off like it did. Now the publishing houses would like to find another one that will sell just as well, but they still don't know what will hit it big.

It doesn't have to be the writing. There's literary fiction titles out there that were published with a bit of hoopla, only to sell about 6000 copies. It doesn't have to be the setting. Not everyone wants to read about trendy bars in New York City and the angst associated with gaining admittance. All that is needed is a good story, well told, that appeals to the vast majority of readers who live in between the coasts. Could the problem be that the entire publishing industry has confined itself to one small part of the world, and has no idea what the rest of the country looks like, smells like, sounds like, or cares about?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Legal Jigs and Reels

Michael Flatley took Irish dance, with its rigid as a board, arms compressed to the sides, unbendable form, and made it sexy. The former Chicago plumber found success and incredible wealth in a pair of fast moving feet and a bit of a twist on the old way. No matter if the man were as ugly as ugly could be, for what woman wouldn't find all that money attractive enough to keep her from examining the face? A dancer's grace, cavorting across the stage, but in a manly way to be sure, and Michael Flatley is a bit of a sex symbol in certain circles.

Tyna Robertson found something appealing about Mr. Flatley, but whether it was his skill as a dancer, his rippling muscles, or his bulging wallet, is hard to say. According to her, she went to Las Vegas in 2002 to spend the weekend with the famous dancer. A month later, she was phoning the Las Vegas Police Department to report that she was raped.

The next thing Michael knows, he's getting a letter from an attorney, threatening to sue him for $30 million. Not only that, but if the dancer didn't settle things out of court, the whole world would soon know that their beloved set dancer was a rapist. That's the sort of thing that is typically referred to as extortion, and it's quite illegal. Mr. Flatley's legal counsel probably told him as much, because he didn't pay up.

A bright day dawned in March of 2003, and attorney Dean Mauro popped into the Lake County, Illinois, courthouse to file a lawsuit, accusing Michael Flatley of performing vile deeds. Two days later, Mr. Flatley turned around and sued Mr. Mauro and Ms. Robertson, citing extortion, fraud and defamation as grounds for his case and seeking some financial compensation to cover the damages to Mr. Flatley's good name. $100 million was the price, the amount that Mr. Flatley wished to extract from the lawyer and his client who wanted to finagle $30 million out of him.

It took six months for Mr. Mauro to blink, but he did indeed dismiss his lawsuit against Michael Flatley. He's doing a great deal of nervous blinking these days, because the Illinois Supreme Court's attorney disciplinary committee has just suspended Mauro's license to practice law. He's not a lawyer these days, having been hit with a suspension of five months to a year, and that is a very serious blow to Mauro's career and reputation.

Apparently, Mr. Mauro threatened to use some forensic experts to back up his client's assertion of rape, but when the committee checked with said experts, they knew nothing about a case because no one had talked to them about it. Mr. Mauro denied any wrongdoing on his part, but once he gave a statement to the panel investigating his little scheme, he never bothered to attend the hearing that investigated his acts of misconduct. The three members of the panel did not take kindly to being ignored with such blatant rudeness.

Mr. Mauro got off lightly, considering the fact that panelist Kenneth Peters wanted Mauro disbarred, so egregious was the attorney's actions. As it stands now, the committee will have to decide in future if Mauro gets his law license back, with the suspension left open-ended "until further order."

Lawyers cannot threaten to take legal action against a defendant for the sake of harassing them. Nor can they make statements that they know are false. There's a tale in there somewhere, of a small time lawyer looking to make a big score but over-reaching, dreaming of a $10 million cut of the action, only to get his feet cut out from under him by the man with the fastest feet in the dance world.

Is that the ghost of Flannery O'Connor whispering in my ear? I feel a short story coming on.