Friday, February 29, 2008

Look Before You Leap

Leap year day is upon us. By tradition, women are allowed to turn the tables on the men and do the proposing when they've marriage in mind.

At the same time, some alarming news has come out of New York. It seems that Gabriel Byrne, the Dublin-born actor, has been declared "hot" and "a hunk, totally". It's his hands, some say, so expressive.

He listens with a rapt expression, exuding sensitivity while his beady little Irish eyes and great honking potato nose preclude any suggestion of softness. He's a manly man, but he's vulnerable and cuddly and you'd like to take him home and fix him a nice cuppa tea.

Through transference, women will pick up on Irish accents and associate the sound with Gabriel Byrne's sensitive psychiatrist from In Treatment. With Mr. Byrne on the mind, they're liable to fall head over heels for that Irish ex-pat at the end of the bar, and with Leap Year Day as an excuse, it's a mistake in the making.

Should you find yourself falling into this trap, keep in mind the advice of my elderly neighbor. Don't marry an Irishman, she said, they won't notice if you're covered in soot or dressed up to the nines. Marry an Italian. He'll always tell you how beautiful you look.

So Far, Little Conflict

So said the New York Times on Monday. In an article about global migration, Jason DeParle stated that Ireland could boast of little anti-immigrant violence. From his perch in the Big Apple, it might appear to be so, but the poor lad's a touch misguided.

While there are those who protest loudly when the government tries to expel the illegal immigrants, there are also those who attack the non-Irish. Little conflict? For the families of Pawel Kalite and Marius Szwajkos,, there's too much conflict.

Hooliganism at its worst, according to Bertie Ahern. It's the drink, according to Mary Upton of the Labour Party. There's no swimming pool, there's no teen cafe or gymnasium or library or hang-out available. There's nothing for teens to do without clubs open late hours.

The official line, of course, is that a double murder had nothing to do with immigration, but it's hard to argue that two Poles were not targeted because they were different. This isn't the first time that the gardai have been called to the scene of a crime involving foreigners.

To read the New York Times, you'd think that the Irish are welcoming the waves of new faces, but the reality on the ground is very different. Strange faces and different languages are not welcomed with open arms.

The two Polish nationals had come to Ireland in search of work, but when a gang of teens confronted them outside of a chip shop in Drimnagh, the kids weren't concernced with the men's troubles. They wanted the men to buy alcohol for them, and the Poles refused. A young man went home, got a screwdriver, and came back so that he could stab Mr. Kalite and Mr. Szwajkos.

They aren't the first foreign nationals to be murdered. They won't be the last.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Waiting For The First Move

Get up off your feckin' arses, says the deputy mayor of Kilkenny. If there's to be something done to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, then move on it.

Last year, the clever tourism officials of Kilkenny declared that a parade was so last century, so dated and downscale. They brought in a street festival that smacked of continental flair, ever so European in scope, thinking that an updated affair would bring in the tourists.

It brought in the begrudgers, didn't it? Oh, sure, they wanted something grand and when performers failed to show up and the stewards couldn't keep order, then the complaints came pouring in. Visitors hated it, and it was done for their benefit. The mayor was quick to jump in, saving his reputation with a call to review the review of the parade.

So all you who have whinged about the festival, come up with something better. You weren't happy with what was done; you plan out what you want. A parade? Fine, then organize it. Go to your neighbors, go to the civic organizations in the community, go to whoever you need to get with and put a parade together.

Just try to organize a parade and see how feckin' impossible it is to please some people who like nothing better than criticizing what others have slaved over. It's all on you. Make your own parade and don't start crying about the failure when it flops. And don't blame the deputy mayor. It'll be your fault when everyone goes off to Dublin's grand spectacle and no one bothers with Kilkenny.

Let Them Eat Cake

Bad weather last season. The wheat crop in Europe came in below expectations. Drought in Australia and New Zealand put a crimp in grain production. Poor harvests in Russia and Argentina, coupled with limited stocks in storage, resulted in a decrease in exports. Russia and Argentina will keep their wheat for their own people, thank you very much, so go look elsewhere.

Prices are going up, as anyone who buys carbs is aware. Price hikes lead to inflation, and countries who export grain are keeping it at home, to keep local prices down and hedge against inflation that leads to price hikes which lead to revolutionary tendencies. Just ask King Louis and his lovely missus, Marie Antoinette.

People want to eat wheat, carbaphobics excepted. Low supply, high demand, and there goes the price curve. But if exporters won't sell at any price, where does a nation go to get its daily bread?

The wheat market in Chicago was a wild ride yesterday. Given the capitalistic system, it's easy to buy wheat in America as long as you're willing to meet the price. Americans will watch their amber waves of grain shipped overseas, and then head to the bakery to pay even more for a hamburger bun, but that's the nature of a free market.

Farmers will make a bit more per bushel, the middlemen will rake in the cash, and only the wealthy will be able to afford a loaf. At least hair powdering isn't figuring into the mix, to elevate the price of grain into the stratosphere.

We're heading back to the good old days, when the ancestors lived on spuds and buttermilk because it was all they could afford, while ships left Irish harbours loaded with grain for the export market.

This no carb diet business is starting to sound like a good idea.....except that the price of corn is running off the charts and meat protein comes from corn-fed creatures.

It's been suggested that higher grain prices will encourage farmers to plant more and the increased supply will yield lower prices next year. Unless we really are headed into another Ice Age and grain-growing weather doesn't come through. Marie Antoinette was a victim of that exact sort of foul weather.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Minnow's Second Fishbowl

The new digs on St. Stephen's Green are working out well for the executives of Education Media and Publishing Group, aka HM Riverdeep, aka HMH, or whatever alias they're using these days. The lovely fishbowl that was created by developer Garret Kelleher has been so functional that the little minnows in the creative department are to get a new home for themselves as well.

Price Waterhouse Cooper has moved out of their space on Tara Street over to Spencer Dock, which sounds like a better place to house a whale of publishing firm. Instead of locating near water, EMPG's clever set is shifting to Tara Street. The current offices at the Digital Exchange Building are too small, now that the little minnow Riverdeep has swallowed up some big meals.

They'll swim up to the second floor of Ashford House, where the rent is pegged at 611,000 euro per year, on a nine year sub-lease. After that, one would suppose, they'll need an even bigger place because EMPG is going to keep on growing.

Of course, this being accommodation for staff, the place isn't so grand and the rent works out to around 41 euro per square foot. Compare that to Barry O'Callaghan's office space in the former Department of Justice building, which costs 65 euro per square foot. Rather like the difference between an exotic coral reef reproduction and a ten gallon tank with a noisy filter.

If HM Riverdeep-Harcourt-Greenwood-etc. is getting bigger space in Dublin, does it mean that the Irish employees aren't facing the rounds of lay-offs that have rumbled through Orlando, Boston and San Diego? An bhfuil gaeilge agat*?

*pronounced: on will gale-geh ah-gat....meaning: do you speak Irish.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Literally Outsourced

Court documents are important bits of paper, and the British government believes in storing them safely. The Court Service in Belfast found that an outsourced venue was the way to go, and it turns out that their documents were, literally, outsourced.

A search of outbuildings on a farm in County Tyrone turned up five filing cabinets, stuffed with legal papers. No one had reported them missing, since the storage of the documents had been outsourced and there was no presumption that the paperwork was not being properly minded.

It was confirmed today that some of the documents are thirty years old, and no one is saying if anything of importance was tucked away on the farm near Ballygawley. Private information, data that could be of importance to the IRA, or anything along those lines? No one's talking.

Expect the independent contractor who was charged with keeping tabs on the files to be sued for dereliction of duty, breach of contract, and that sort of thing. Expect that further outsourcing of records storage will be examined, and the use of outbuildings when outsourcing will be made illegal.

Doesn't that just prove that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself?

As Told By Mom, Dad, Granny, Aunt, Uncle....

Starbucks will be selling a book for you to read while you sip your carmel machiatto espresso corretto concoction. But their book is only one side of the story. Is this the wave of the publishing future? One tale, as told by father and son. When will the mother put out her version? Maybe a take on things from the dog are in the offing.

Misery lit is coming to the coffee shop. David Sheff tells the story of his son's meth addiction in all its gory detail, so that you can wallow in his tragedy and feel quite good about yourself. You can afford a cup of fancy brew at Starbucks, after all, so you've got that going for you. Now you can read about someone else's troubles and pat yourself on the back, knowing that you and yours would never sink so low.

Son Nic, the one who lived through the addiction, has put his deep thoughts and horrible experiences on paper as well. Through his lens of meth-muddled memory, you can explore the world of the addict as he journeys deeper into the depths of despair. Then you can turn to dad's book and see what it was like to watch such events unfold.

The twin tomes are made for book groups. Read them both, compare and contrast, what was it like for him and how could he cope with that.....before long you've descended into a chat about how it would never happen to you because your child doesn't do this, that, and the other, and you're a better parent than David, thank God.

Sheff pere et fils are on good terms these days, reading each other's books and gaining insight into one another's heads. How long will the camaraderie last, you have to wonder. How long before someone checks his Amazon ranking and compares it to the other, to revel in higher book sales and greater popularity? It's a dangerous and slippery slope, this notion of literary competition in the family.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Weak Dollar

Economists have not been terribly upset by the sinking value of the American dollar. With an election in the offing, the politicians are trying to spin the exchange rate to their favor, but there is a positive side to the current state of monetary affairs.

Bombardier, a Belfast-based airplane manufacturer, is hoping to drum up some business among airlines looking to replace old fleets. All those DC-9s and MD-80s are logging enough miles to wear them out, and Bombardier would like to promote its new CSeries as the natural choice for the likes of Lufthansa.

The planes would be ready by 2013, as long as the company has orders for 50 -100 units, to make it economically feasible to develop. With little manufacturing in Belfast, the British government was hoping for the boost, but sterling is dear these days.

Bombardier may turn to their factories in Canada, and farm out wing production to a country offering cheaper costs....the U.S.

Thanks to the weak dollar, Belfast could lose out to the Yanks and the favorable exchange rate. There's an economic stimulus that we can all applaud.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Looking For Answers

So Joelle Delbourgo wasn't impressed with my meagre credentials. Nor was she swept away by the first chapter of the manuscript.

What might an agent be looking for? I picked up a copy of Mozart's Sister, to get some idea of what makes the cut for debut fiction. Picked it up and put it down. I wasn't drawn in by the prose.

Don't start a novel with an info dump we're told, but the novel begins with a long section of "As you know, Bob" details. I understand why the tactic is generally forbidden. It makes for a dull run of prose that I skimmed over in search of something concrete.

I tried to keep going, but I was surprised! by the number of surprising! statements. I had to turn to the frontispiece, to see if by some chance the novel was put out by a vanity press without editors on board. No, it was Crown Books, a real publisher. Turn to the back flap, and discover that the writer lives in Italy. That explains the emotion, the use of exclamation marks to substitute for the hands that Italians cannot help but flap about as they speak.

If this is what agents are seeking, I have no hope. I not only can't write like that, but I wouldn't want to. Mozart's Sister might be shelved with historical fiction, but there are different styles within the genre and I don't fit.

It doesn't matter in the end. The author thanks her literary agent but I've never heard of her and I've queried them all. I'm not ready to start an agent search in Europe. Not yet, at any rate.

Foreclosing On Edith Wharton

Literature students may not have a love of Edith Wharton, having been forced to read Ethan Frome at too early an age. One has to have a few years on them to fully appreciate the sense of despair.

There is despair in Lenox, Massachusetts. Ms. Wharton's first home, the one she shared for a time with her husband until she had enough, was turned into a museum some time ago. The house and property are about to be foreclosed. Rather like a House of Mirth, as it turns out.

Directors of the site had been borrowing for years to fund operating expenses associated with operating the Mount. Then there was the loan taken out to purchase Ms. Wharton's huge library from a British book collector.

Like Lily Bart, they relished the elegance but had no means to pay for it. Taking advantage of debt financing only delayed the inevitable, as loans will come due and banks will ask for their money. Donations from Ms. Wharton's many fans does not begin to cover the expense of borrowing, just as Lily Bart learned that the lifestyle she wanted was not within her means.

The Mount is a listed building, and someone might wish to own the home, but as a private residence and not a public place where writers could come and soak up the atmosphere that inspired Edith Wharton.

A new board of directors was installed over a year ago, filled with people who know something about business and less about literature. Given a debt-riddled property to manage, the directors may have arrived too late to salvage the Mount unless someone with deep pockets comes forward. If not, the Mount will die as a public venue, as Lily Bart died in penury.

A fitting end, in a way. Edith Wharton wrote The House of Mirth at the Mount.

Friday, February 22, 2008

And You Thought It Was Generosity

Politicians have to shell out all the time to look good. A few donations here, raffle tickets there, this charity, that charity, and it all adds up. Turns out it's not their personal money paying for all the good will after all.

Bertie Ahern has explained the means by which the savvy office-seeker makes himself look generous. Some donations made to his constituency office were sidetracked into his personal pocket, so that he could give to charity and make it look like he was contributing from his own coffers. Brilliant, isn't it.

What else can a politician do with the money that gets donated to his constituency funds? Well, he can contribute some of that cash to yet another worthy cause. For example, Mr. Ahern gave a bit to the "Help Celia Larkin's Parents Buy A House" charity drive, albeit in a roundabout way. 30,000 Irish pounds were drawn on the mysterious "BT" account that was supposed to be used to cover constituency expenses, and given over to help the elderly couple out of a tight spot. If a man can't help the elderly in need, what good is all that money?

Those same needy elderly paid back the money recently, but somehow the funds ended up in Fianna Fail's account and someone has to run to the bank to transfer the money into the BT account and then it's all square.

What makes the whole thing so mind-boggling is the fact that Mr. Ahern was the Minister for Finance at the time all this bank account/donation/walking-around money was floating through his fingers. If a man can't understand his own accounts and doesn't know where the money's come from or where it's going, is he at all qualified to manage the funds for an entire nation?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

This Way To The Exit, Please Use It

An eighty-year-old man doesn't move very fast. Sure, his mind is still sharp. He knows all the words to the hymns and he can dress himself. Still capable of arguing and not losing his train of thought. He may not know, however, when it's time to leave.

Ian Paisley stepped down as head of the church he invented when mainline churches failed to permit him to despise Catholics. He was getting on in years, and while he was still physically capable of doing the old job, everyone knew that he wasn't going to live forever. Better then to get the successor in place so that the transition would flow smoothly. Besides, the codger was clearly going soft in the head, since he went into government with the Shinners. Getting a bit dotty, no doubt, and so Mr. Paisley was shuffled off.

The members of the DUP would like their titular head to step aside. There's tremendous dissatisfaction among the rank and file, who still fume over home rule and the Stormont Assembly. Seeing their beloved diploma mill reverend on the same stage as Martin McGuinness is too much to take, and the old man's going off the rails isn't he?

Citing the need for a transition, since Mr. Paisley will be called to meet his maker at some point sooner rather than later, higher ups in the DUP have tried to show him the door. On the heels of certain revelations that Paisley Junior was stuffing his pockets and helping a loyal Loyalist stuff his as well, the average voter is losing their love of a man who once called the Pope the Anti-Christ.

Make way for Peter Robinson and his mate Nigel Dodds. They'd like to close the door on an exiting Ian Paisley and then get rid of the St. Andrews Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement and the Shinners and home rule.

The problem is, clocks don't run backwards and neither does time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

After The Fact

It's been said that there's a fine line between madness and genius. Some years ago, Niall Clarke crossed that line. The brilliant computer science student morphed into a paranoid schizophrenic, but only his family cared about the dangerous transition.

Mr. Clarke was at the top of his class at Trinity College, on the verge of earning his degree and thinking of starting up his own software company. Before that day arrived, he dropped it all and headed off to Thailand. His calls home were nothing more than angry outbursts directed at his father. The family knew that the boy had gone over the edge.

Michael Clarke recognized the symptoms. His mother had gone mad as well, just like Niall, and the father was quick to seek help from the national health care system. The boy would have to be committed.

Don't want him, thanks, see yaz, said the authorities.

Niall left Ireland and went to America, where he self-medicated with alcohol, but Guinness isn't a proper treatment for insanity. One fine day, he walked into a bank in Bangor, Maine, and held up the teller at gunpoint. Being a rank amateur in the robbery game, he was caught in no time.

An American judge handed down a lenient sentence for Mr. Clarke, recommending that he be jailed in a place with a psychiatric facility. At last, Niall will get the help that he needs -- courtesy of the United States taxpayers.

If he had been put away when his father asked, Niall would never have endangered anyone in Bangor. But if he had been locked up in Ireland, the Irish would have to cover the costs of his treatment, and in the end, the Health Service Executive is that much more to the good.

Are we to expect a flood of sick people, tired of waiting for treatment through Ireland's national health care system? Stick 'em up, I've got a gun and a bad heart in need of a pacemaker.....

In The Words Of Macbeth

Political speechifying has brought this to mind:

"...a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Out, out, brief campaign season. I can't take much more of the rhetoric and the finger-pointing and the name calling.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Minnow Binges And Purges

The minnow that was Riverdeep swallowed up one educational publisher after another, feeding an insatiable hunger.

Sooner or later, all that feasting would result in a most undesired weight gain. The HMRiverdeep-Harcourt-Greenwood-etc. buffet left the minnow all bloated and too heavy to move.

Employees of the newly merged firm have been getting the sack, bit by bit, department after department. All that the minnow swallowed cannot be fully digested and therefore has to go.

It hasn't been all back office staff, the extraneous bean counters and clerks and administrative assistants. Now the editorial staff is shedding a few. Three editors from Houghton Mifflin and one from Harcourt are leaving, as if they know that they're in line to be disgorged from the overstuffed HMS Minnow. Or is that supposed to be HMH....or HHM?

The Way We Were

The Protestants always had the upper hand in Northern Ireland. For centuries, it was the Free Presbyterians who did what they pleased and if that meant ignoring the Catholics, well, that's how it was and how it would be.

Until the peace process and the return of the Stormont Assembly, that is. With such an abrupt turn, who could blame Ian Paisley Junior for doing things as they used to be done?

While the Shinners and the Brits and the Irish and the Unionists were hashing things out at St. Andrew's in Scotland, making deals to bring two opposing sides into government together, little Ian was making deals for himself. Poor lad didn't know any better, and now he's caught up in something that is considered a political scandal everywhere else on the globe.

One of his pals wanted to build a visitor's center near the Giant's Causeway in Antrim. Bring in the tourists, of course, but Seymour Sweeney stood to make a nice piece of change for himself with the project. Junior lobbied hard for Mr. Sweeney, putting the screws to former Prime Minister Tony Blair while home rule was under construction. What matters the future of Northern Ireland when a friend could use a hand?

Then there was the revelation that little Ian was double-dipping, taking a salary as a junior minister to his loving daddy while also being paid as papa's researcher in Westminster. On top of that deal, it has been discovered that the rent on the Paisley constituency office in Ballymena is sky-high, and it's the taxpayers footing the bill.

Who came out ahead on the rip-off? Junior's father-in-law, for one, as he's the director of the firm that rented the office space. Hard to say if Seymour Sweeney made out at all, since he used to be the firm's director but isn't any more.

Ah, memories of the way we were, the DUP can warble. Someone should put them on to Bob Dylan's old tunes. The times they are a-changin'.

Why You Can't Write

Your entire problem with literary pursuits can be put down to one simple fact. You must be happy.

Wake Forest University's pride and joy, Eric G. Wilson, has put out a new book that explains his concept of misery as a source of creativity. You don't need Prozac or any other pill that lifts your glum mood. You need the core of your sad being to tap into if you're to make it in the writing game.

According to the professor, creativity springs from sorrow and sadness. If you aren't gloomy over impending doom, how can you appreciate that which is beautiful? If you're so feckin' busy pursuing happiness, you can't begin to examine the unhappiness that novels are built upon.

To read Mr. Wilson's Against Happiness is to understand why writers turn to drink. If your world isn't already full of ups and downs, you have no choice but to create the roller coaster of emotion that is so essential to good writing. Nothing like the downside of a pounding hangover to make you ponder some conflict that you can then assign to your imaginary characters.

Feeling perky today? Suffering from writer's block? Consider your own mortality, and the possibility that you'll never see your name in print and no one will ever listen to what you have to say. Sliding into abject misery, are you? Good. You're well on your way to completing your novel and achieving literary fame, which should make you even more miserable in a different way, and won't it be easy to compose that second book?

Raining and Pouring

There's nothing like a blizzard in the heartland to bring the return trip to a screeching halt. Go to Sunday Mass or leave first thing in the morning, we wondered. Beat the storm or take our chances? Go to Mass, of course. And stay an extra day when the storm hit and spoiled our best intentions to be home by Sunday night.

It never rains but it pours, unless it freezes, which it did, before the snow came down sideways and the wind gusted up to 30 miles per hour.

After a long weekend, I finally got back home to my snail mail. Nothing at all from a single agent, and you'd think there'd be a rejection or two to the query letters sent a couple of weeks ago.

What about e-mail? Not a peep out of the agents who received my lovely personalized query. They're stunned into silence, no doubt.

But it paid off, going to Mass. Another short story has been accepted. Sure and it's the time of miracles.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Do You Love Me Now

Dear Agent, I have personalized the query with a mention of your blog. The part where you say you're looking for the very book I've written, do you remember posting that?

I've written the best query I could. Plot summed up, conflict described, what's at stake, all the usual stuff that goes into an intriguing little billet deux.

And look, I've added a bio paragraph to cite my one and only credential.

Do you love me now? Will you ask to see my manuscript? Will you fall in love with my words?

Take a bit of time to think it over. Sure it's a big step, making a commitment like that.

I won't know of your love until Monday. We're off for a long weekend, no computers, just a lot of hiking and nature and time to think about the manuscript I'm currently refining.

Don't break my heart. Don't let me come back on Monday to find an empty e-mail box, the rejection signified by the lack of your response.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Iron Bars Do Not A Prison Make

Theme tours are all the rage, and Ireland will not be left behind. Plans are in the works so that you, the blase tourist, can enjoy a unique experience while in Dublin.

You'll have to wait until some time after 2011, but what a joy awaits you. The 'Joy, in fact, will be awaiting you. Iron bars optional, one would hope.

The massive stone pile that is Mountjoy Gaol has changed little since Queen Victoria's day. That would be the day before indoor plumbing, and inmates at the 'Joy are made to slop out their cells every morning. Talk about hard time.

A new and modern facility is due to be built, which means that Mountjoy will be empty. As a listed building, its facade is untouchable, and what could a developer do with such limitations? There's no need for a museum, not when Kilmainham serves so well. The inside is already chopped up into cells, which speaks of the typical hotel room, doesn't it?

Close to the Mater Hospital, right there on the outskirts of Dublin city, conveniently accessed via public better location. And if you're tracing your ancestry back through the penal colonies and transportation, wouldn't it be a treat to stay in the same cell as your great-great-great-great-grandparents called home until they were shipped off to Van Diemen's Land?

As Good As Your Last

Publishing is very much a "What have you done for me lately" sort of business model. Sell through, generate clamor, and your publisher will love you. Your next book will be received with open arms -- and an open wallet.

What happens, then, if you don't sell through? What if you're a popular writer who's lost the edge and written something that no one cared to buy? Don't expect to get a big advance on your next piece.

Even winning a Pulitzer prize couldn't help Richard Ford. For seventeen years he trusted his manuscripts to the folks at Knopf and editor Gary Fisketjon. Mr. Ford's next three books will be coming from the presses of HarperCollins.

What have you done for me lately said the bean counters at Knopf. Sold 51,000 hardcover and 36,000 paperback. Poor numbers indeed, and not good enough to meet the advance. That being the case, Knopf would like to break even so the next batch of novels will be granted a smaller advance. Just a bit of risk assessment, nothing to be alarmed about.

Super-agent Binky Urban was not about to let her client take a pay cut. She worked out a deal with HarperCollins that would bring in the sort of price that Knopf wasn't willing to meet. HarperCollins decided that they'd risk it on Mr. Ford hitting a winner again, while Knopf waved good-bye. Plenty of other fish in the literary sea.

You're only as good as your last book, no matter how big you've grown. It's business, not art.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The First Step On A Long Road

Writers are supposed to be in their mid-thirties, living in New York City after attending prestigious universities, thinking deep thoughts, composing literature.

If you subscribe to that notion, and you don't fit the stereotype, you might wonder why you bother. Older than the ideal? Sure there's no hope of getting published. Residing in a hick town? Sure there's no hope of seeing your name in print.

Suppose you've been driving a truck for a paper mill for thirty-two years, and you went to college later in life, part time after work. Suppose you decide to make use of your love of writing and get a short story published in a university journal. Suppose the journal's editor tells you your story's rejected, but keep writing. Do you give it up?

Donald Ray Pollock accepted the editor's positive spin and signed on to the MFA program. He kept writing and submitting short stories. An assistant at InkWell Management saw one of those stories. Mr. Pollock got an agent.

His collection of short stories is due to be laid down soon. The publisher is promoting Mr. Pollock's blue collar background, making much of the characters that parade across the pages. He's the second coming of Erskine Caldwell, the marketing department would like everyone to know. The sort of people you might know, but would never be spotted in Manhattan.

He's in his early fifties. He lives in a small town in Ohio.

Keep writing. Keep trying.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tabulating The Data

Only 97 short story submissions made in the past eighteen months. I have to send out three more to get to an even hundred before the end of this month.

How many rejections? Up to a few hours ago, there were 75. Nice, round figure. That left 22 open, waiting for the word.

And then came an acceptance. Someone actually wants to publish something that I wrote. In an edited, reviewed publication. A real live credential, just for me. No money in it, but it's the credit that matters. The copies of the journal will be nice, but recognition is what we're after.

That leaves 18 open submissions. One acceptance. The rest were withdrawn.

What a grand feeling.

The Rush Is Over

What else would a writer do but write? Literary agents must have been swamped these past three months, inundated by queries from striking writers with time on their hands and a desire to generate a quick buck.

Publishing being utterly unlike screenwriting, the potential novelists would have had no chance to get a penny out of any accepted manuscript for months. From beginning to end, it's a crawl to the cash window.

On top of that, several literary agents were not excited about the new material, given the fact that screenwriters are good with dialogue but not great with exposition and narrative. The novels that were produced were not very good, and agents spent time reading and rejecting while your query was given a quick rejection in an attempt to clear up the backlog.

A writer with credentials stands a better chance of getting a request for more material, which means you as a novice author were shuttled aside as the strikers made a mad dash for representation. The strike is over, the writers are going back to work by Wednesday, and the coast is clear.

The influx of screenwriter novels will grind to a halt, and the publishing industry will get back to its normal, stodgy pace. It's safe to submit to agents again, without having to compete against someone who knows someone. Have at it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

What Would The Prophet Do?

Memorizing the Quran is hardly preparation for the business world. The ability to recite some particular passage from memory does not mean that the speaker could interpret a cost/benefit analysis. Profits dropping, sales off, and the CEO won't get far by asking what The Prophet (peace be upon him) would do to rescue the bottom line. The religious rulers of Iran are beginning to figure this one out.

The linchpin in the axis of evil is out to privatize part of its energy sector, in the hope that foreign devils will come in and shore up a failing industry. Sure there's power in prayer, but God isn't going to come down from on high and serve as board chairman. This new umbrella group would be listed on Tehran's stock exchange, with an eye to propping up that financial invalid as well with foreign investment.

Iran is looking for $90 billion out of the privatization scheme. Considering the price of oil these days, you'd have to believe that they've made a complete mess of things financially. Where did all the oil money go, if they've gone begging for billions?

The holding company for Iran's privatized oil companies is going to be listed on four markets, a spokesman has said, but which national markets are coming on board is a big secret. No details will be released until the end of March, but you can pretty much figure that the only interested parties will be other axis of evil members, and they're not exactly the most sound financially.

It's time for the ayatollahs to pay closer attention to Bloomberg's financial advice. Ah, no, that would never do. Too Jewish.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Never query a literary agent until your manuscript is polished, perfect, and ready to go. Don't jump the gun. Don't be in a great hurry to submit.

Sure I'm always being rejected so what could it hurt to test out a new query for the manuscript that was finished two months ago? Query, and then do the final polish, or that was the plan. The first chapter's done, and there's time to do the other twenty-three. Three hundreds pages of words, how long could that take?

Don't try this at home. I sent out three queries yesterday morning, and had three replies in a matter of hours. Two rejections, as expected, and a request for a full. To be sent via e-mail.

No stalling, no playing for time, not with the speed of e-mail. No need to save up for a ream of paper and the cost of the postage, no indeed. Touch a key, hit a button, and the manuscript's away, but it's not ready to be sent yet is it?

In between doing such things as, oh, say, earning a living, I have to polish the manuscript, slice out the extra words and make sure it's all clear. The longest I can stall is probably until Sunday night.

Trust me. Don't do this. You get one chance with an agent who asks for your manuscript, and you don't want to rush into submitting when you could blow that chance.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

All People Are Sick, But Some Are Sicker Than Others

If you're sick in Drogheda, you have to be really sick. Severely ill. At death's door. Or you'll be asked to give up your space to someone who's sicker than you.

There aren't enough beds at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, but then again, there aren't enough beds in other hospitals as well. Patients have to go somewhere, so if there's no bed, they'll be assigned to a trolley in the hall. And when the trolleys run out, it's time for the nurses to go into triage mode. If you're prone on a gurney and you could sit up without collapsing, you'll be given a seat in the emergency room so that someone who needs to lie down can have a flat surface off the floor.

All it took yesterday was a traffic accident and four injured motorists brought to Our Lady, and four people who were admitted to hospital had to get up so that the accident victims could take their place. You have to marvel at the ability of the nurses and doctors to handle the work load, with the hospital taking in more people than it can reasonably accomodate.

National health care -- is it any wonder that those who can afford private insurance and private hospitals and private doctors avoid the national system at all costs?

Re-arranging The Deck Chairs

Sales continue to fall at Macy's. The current state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, and the time has come to re-arrange the deck chairs on the sinking department store hulk.

Given the chore of reviving sales in Chicago, Frank Guzzetta will be allowed to quietly retire rather than be sacked for failing. Macy's grand shop on State Street never recovered from the change of name, and there was nothing that Mr. Guzzetta could have done that would have appeased both the Chicago shoppers (who loved Marshall Field's) and the suits in New York (who demand that all be Macy's).

What else will help? Having already shed a few jobs, Macy's will shed a few more. About 2,500 more. The thinking is that letting x number of people go resulted in a sales decline of y, therefore making a bigger chunk of the staff redundant will send sales skyrocketing.

The staff cuts are part of a bigger plan to re-organize the chain of command. Rather than have seven headquarters, there'll be four. Best of all, within those four centers, the executives will be allowed to run things with an ear to regional tastes. If that sounds familiar, it's because that is the very structure that existed before Terry Lundgren set out to re-invent the American department store.

No word on whether or not a regional chairman in the Chicago-area satellite office could opt to change the name of the Macy's sites in a bid to reinvigorate sales. After stubbornly refusing to keep the Marshall Field name, Mr. Lundgren would never accept such absolute and utter defeat.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Cancer Services At The Super Bowl

It could be that Mary Harney, Minister for Health, is a huge Tom Petty fan. No one has suggested that she's interested in American football. Why else would she have attended such a premier sporting event?

Fine Gael's Alan Shatter would like to know why Ms. Harney was sitting in the stands on Sunday night, when she was supposed to be on government business. Why, he would like to know, was she absent from the Dail's debate about cystic fibrosis yet present in Phoenix?

As it turns out, the trip had been organized some time ago. Ms. Harney's itinerary took in stops in Arizona, Texas and Washington, where she was looking over cancer treatment at U.S. hospitals. She'd probably like to introduce some of the techniques to the Irish health services, but expensive protocols don't mix with national health. Someone has to pay, and the taxpayers don't care to be the ones doing the paying, but they're the only ones paying for national health care so there you go, around and around in another endless loop.

Mr. Shatter may have forgotten that the cystic fibrosis debate was tabled on Friday when Ms. Harney left on the junket. He probably doesn't know how impossible it is to get tickets to something like the Super Bowl, and he wouldn't realize that Ms. Harney's hosts in Arizona were being gracious when they took her along to the game.

There was plenty of time during the match to discuss cancer treatments. Tom Petty's half-time show was only about twenty minutes long, and then there were those long stretches when Tom Brady wasn't on the field, bending over the center in his skin-tight, body-hugging pants.....

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Disclosure Wars

One man is determined to uncover the truth about child sexual abuse at the hands of clerics. One man has claimed executive privilege and is determined that Church records be kept locked away from prying eyes.

Current Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin doesn't understand why his predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell, isn't in favor of disclosing what was known about perverts in Roman collars. The two have been discussing the release of some documents for months, as Archbishop Martin cooperated with the commission inquiring into the Church's handling of a problem that was thoroughly bungled. Now the Cardinal is going to court, to stop the disclosure. Archbishop Martin doesn't understand.

"Truth is not served by polemics" the Archbishop said when asked about the Cardinal's legal action. This whole inquiry is about the kids whose lives were destroyed, and it is not about the priests who were moved from one parish to the next when they interfered with children. Archbishop Martin doesn't understand why the Cardinal is attempting to block a full and open disclosure, to confess and find absolution.

The reason is obvious. The parish-hopping was done under the Cardinal's watch. He's responsible for failing to take assertive action to stop the sex abusers from carrying on their sick game. He was on top of the corporate ladder when the policy was in place, to hush things up and move the priests along to some other parish and some other children. When the victims of clerical sex abuse look to see who's to blame, they'll be pointing their fingers at Cardinal Connell, and that's not the legacy he's looking to leave behind.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Democratic Insult

How dare they call him a Democrat! David Cay Johnston demands satisfaction, after his own newspaper had the audacity to insult him so harshly.

Mr. Johnston wrote a book, as columnists are wont to do, and his employer, The New York Times, was good enough to review his book. Who wouldn't want a review in such a prestigious rag? The mention of one's book would be good for who knows how great in increase in sales. With Mr. Johnston's background in economics, he should easily see the benefits as compared to the costs.

Sadly, Mr. Johnston is less than pleased with his press. As reviewed by Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, Mr. Johnston's non-fiction tome comes across as little more than a re-hash of his newspaper columns, padded with additional material supplied by paid researchers. The book is weak, it takes a decided populist approach to government, and Mr. Johnston is too dense to see that the government taxes the rich and the burden isn't falling on the poor. That, my friends, is a Democrat by definition.

Mr. Johnston would like everyone to know that he is a card-carrying Republican, and to be dumped in the same cesspool as the Democrats is too much to endure. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Chait has a competing book that's just come out. Do you think there's a connection between that tidbit and the negative review?

The Quarterback Gets The Cheerleader

Who was sitting in the luxury skybox to cheer on Tom Brady? His super-model girlfriend, of course, sipping red wine and looking perfect. That's the way of the world, isn't it? The star quarterback gets the prettiest cheerleader and the linemen get what's left.

Who was sitting in the luxury skybox to cheer on Eli Manning? His brother Peyton, a fellow quarterback who isn't the ugliest man in town but he doesn't have Tom Brady's good looks. He's a clean cut American youth sort of man, personable, a role model for children. Peyton Manning is the sort of lad that your mother points to and asks you why can't you be more like him.

Tom Brady went home with Ms. Bundchen tonight. Eli Manning went home with a Super Bowl victory. Sure the quarterback got the cheerleader, but he'd dump her into Boston Harbor if it meant he could trade places with Eli Manning. What good is the super-model girlfriend and the undefeated season if you don't win the big game?

Other men were jealous of Tom Brady's way with the ladies, but they'd rather be the quarterback who won the Super Bowl. Ms. Bundchen will grow old, but the Lombardi trophy will shine forever.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

No Changes To Be Made

Kirsten Neuhaus of Vigliano Associates passed on the full manuscript. It happens so often, these rejections, that I don't even notice. Check it off the list and move on.

You always hope that an agent who reads your manuscript would pass along a clue as to why they passed. Too slow of an opening? The writing needs a polish? Nice to have an idea of where to go and how to improve before trying other agents.

Then there are times like this when the agent doesn't feel that the story is fresh. There are no new stories, when you think about it. There are a bunch of old stories told in a new way, and that is what an agent wants. Apparently, the story I told doesn't stand out from the crowd.

There's no fixing that. The plot is what it is. You can't rewrite a bit or remove the extraneous adverbs. The story is too much like other stories. You can change whole subplots, but then you're not telling the story you want to tell, and who could say if a different story line would resonate?

Might as well try other agents with the manuscript as it stands. It's just as likely that another agent might find the manuscript to be a fresh take on an age-old problem. Or I could save it, to use for a second book in a multi-book deal.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Still Seasoning With Hypocrisy

Beware the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy, it says in the Bible.

For years, the Catholic Church was guilty of perpetrating abuse in Ireland. Recently, the government has been investigating the abuse of children by clergy, hearing from young men and women who were shut away in industrial schools and Magdalen laundries for the crime of being poor or illegitimate. In response, members of the Church hierarchy have been cooperating, in the hope of erasing their sins and hanging on to their ever dwindling congregations.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin handed over some documents that were requested by the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation when he was elevated to the higher post. Get the dirt out from under the rug, air out everything and start fresh, he implied. Make a confession and receive absolution, just like the priests preach to the faithful.

Not so fast, says now retired Cardinal Desmond Connell. Those documents are from my era and I didn't say they could be revealed. The outraged cleric has taken a case to the High Court to get those documents hidden away again, lest some bad things about perverted priests make the news.

Heaven forbid that we gain any knowledge about the rampant sexual abuse of innocent children by clergy. It would make the Church look bad, and God knows that it would make the cardinal look even worse. Best for all concerned to invoke executive privilege, or at any rate, best for the cardinal.

What of the victims who were left with ruined lives? What of their offspring who suffer from mental health issues related to their parents' misery? Rest assured, Cardinal Connell is praying for them. That ought to take care of it.