Friday, October 31, 2008

Beware On Halloween

A young man was walking home from the local, his coat up around his eyes. It was a cold night indeed, the wind howling in the bare trees and carrying along the bite of snow. A responsible lad, he was walking because he knew it wasn't safe to drive after drinking.

Thoughts of his warm bed and a Saturday morning free of chores lifted his spirits, to say nothing of the four pints that did their fair share of spirit lifting. Close to home, he picked up the pace.

A sparkle caught his eye. Just ahead, on the pavement, something shiny was in his path.

He bent over to pick up the silver comb, pausing to admire the filigree work that marked a very expensive item. Any lady who lost such a lovely thing would surely be looking for it.

The wind whipped around and he turned his back to the hard blow. Only a few yards away was a woman, eyes to the ground, and sure she had to be the one who had lost the comb.

"Is this what you're looking for there?" the young man called out.

She looked up, her long blond hair lifting on the wind like angel's wings. Her smile was as bright as a May morning, her step light as she hurried to his side.

"You've picked up my comb," she said, her voice a song. As if she had to test it out, she ran the comb through her hair. A note of joy rose in her throat and filled the air, but too late the young man realized that she was't singing, but was keening.

The headlights of the oncoming car blinded him. The collision happened too fast; he was gone before he felt any pain.

The Moral of the Story: Never pick up a comb you see laying about. The bean si's left it to trap you.

If you fall into her snare, you might try to confuse her with a song of your own----sean nos could save your soul.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not Everyone Loves A Parade

The unionists would like to welcome home the brave soldiers who served their nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nationalists would like to point out that British soldiers aren't serving the Irish nation, so why stage a big parade to welcome them back to the occupied six counties?

In a colony where every word is heavily weighted and every action is highly suggestive, the Parades Commission has a problem. Permission has been given for the British Army to march in Belfast, where the DUP wants a big television production with fly-overs and all the rest of the bells and whistles.

Sinn Fein has been given permission to have their own parade, to remind everyone that all the British Army means to some people in Belfast is collusion with paramilitaries, the Bloody Sunday massacre, and various other repressive actions. Welcome home? They're not welcome in Belfast at all.

Then there are the illegal parades, the gatherings of the socialists and the paramilitary groups who don't support the peace process. There's been rumblings that they plan to protest, and those sorts of parades aren't peaceful and usually result in mayhem.

The Parades Commission is considering its options. To deny Sinn Fein their right to march would only make matters worse, what with the DUP not adhering to the St. Andrews Agreement timeline on devolution of policing powers. To allow Sinn Fein to march will draw in the malcontents, and that isn't a pretty picture.

Or no one can be allowed to march, thereby making everyone equally unhappy. Sounds fair.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Free Books, Small Catch

I'm an avid reader, but a poor one. Buying books is such a luxury that it's rare for me to actually put money down. The public library's the place for us of small means, which may explain why it's getting harder and harder to find a good book available on the shelf. Everything's circulating.

There's a way for the cash-strapped, book-hungry public to get free product, thanks to a new marketing angle cooked up at Thomas Nelson.

They'll send you a free book. An actual hard copy, all for you. You are then required to post a review of the book on your blog, and then you have to go over to and tout it there.

The catch is, you have to read the whole book.

Keep that in mind before you sign up for the program. Do you honestly think that you could slog through every single page of the memoir penned by Britney Spears' mother? Could you digest that much shite without losing your mind?

What would your neighbors think if they dropped round for a cuppa and found a copy of The Faith of Barack Obama in your home? Ah sure it's strictly business, you'd babble, and they'd never look at you the same way again.

Still, something free being given away---that's a powerful temptation. And if you didn't want to keep the books once you'd reviewed them, they'd make for grand treats to pass out at Halloween. No better way to ensure that the little ones steer clear and you'll keep all the candy for yourself.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

That Old Thing?

What query are you referring to, I had to ask.

The rejection e-mail was resting comfortably in the inbox, but I didn't know who had sent it. RE: your query isn't much of a subject line when you're sending out queries all the time and don't have any e-queries current.

So there it was, a rejection from Stuart Krichevsky. Or from his assistant, more accurately. Thanks for the response, but what query might I have sent? Nothing recent, to be sure.

In this day of no reply equalling a no, Mr. Krichevsky's assistant responded to a query sent six months ago. Six months. Just to let me know that he wasn't interested.

I'd quite forgotten it, of course, and had marked it as a rejection long ago. Very civil of him, however, to make a point to respond, albeit rather late in the game.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Paying More For Patriotism

The Irish people discovered bargains in New York City. With the value of the dollar well below the euro, all those highly desirable goods were cheaper, so why not hop a budget airline flight and do your holiday shopping in the States? Who needs Grafton Street?

That hunt for the biggest bang for the buck has the Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association up in arms. You're killing jobs, they've said. All you who look for the most for your money are wrecking the economy.

When you buy on Fifth Avenue, you're not paying taxes to the Exchequer, goes the reasoning, so the government has less with which to operate. The government, in turn, isn't rummaging through bags as thoroughly as they should, so customs isn't finding those additional sources of revenue that could be had by forcing overseas shoppers to pay duties and fees.

Now there's an uproar over budget cuts that have to be made because there's no money. Every single special interest group affected has been roaring in protest. Don't cut our funds, or the following dire circumstances will occur, they all go, and now the solution that Brian Lenihan seeks may be at hand.

Ban shopping in America. Force everyone to stay at home and patronize their local vendors, whatever the prices may be. Legislate patriotism. By law, everyone shall be made to pay more for all their purchases.

Or would-be overseas shoppers can lobby the government to raise taxes. It's the same thing. Either way, it will cost you more. It's rip-off Ireland, isn't it, so why not embrace the fleecing?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Honest Abe

Let's remember that it was Abraham Lincoln who was described as honest. Not the executive director of his library.

Any armchair psychiatrist could tell you that Richard E. Beard, executive director of the Abraham Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, needs help. The man's not even close to poverty, yet he was caught shoplifting a $40 box of DVDs from the local Target store.

This isn't the first time he's been rumbled. Only last year he was caught swiping neckties at the local Macy's. He was fined and let go with a slap on the wrist, but that sort of discipline didn't do a thing for his mental state.

He's on administrative leave for now, with pay, while his underlings keep things running for the tourists who come to see all that was Honest Abe.

Sure everyone's on the take in Illinois. Unfortunately for Mr. Beard, who came from points east, he didn't seem to fully comprehend what that phrase meant exactly. He could have received the complete set of "House, Season 4" from someone looking for the painting contract for the museum's walls. He could have had a closet full of ties by dropping the hint in the right place, exchanging men's haberdashery for a no-bid contract on some concrete work. He didn't have to actually 'take' the items in question.

A psychiatrist will help him deal with his kleptomania. It will take a Springfield power broker to educate him on the ways of Illinois politics.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Voting In The Peace Dividend

It's often said that the peace process in Northern Ireland yielded a dividend of opportunity. Jobs, money, security, and all the rest have contributed to the economy, but it's voting that's giving Derry a boost.

When you stand in the voting booth in Washington DC you are standing in a product that was made in Derry.

Pakflatt, a small firm owned by the McGonagle family, designed a simple and stow-able product that was easily assembled without tools. They won the contract to supply the DC area with voting booths, and they couldn't be happier.

If this keeps up, Mr. McGonagle expects to see his U.S. business grow, until the States are his number one market. That means a steady salary for his twenty employees, and this in a colony that relies largely on hand-outs from London to keep things going.

All over the world, democracies are emerging and governments are in need of voting booths. Patrick McGonagle's small business can only get bigger, and it's largely due to the lack of bombs and bullets, to the peace that is still settling into place.

Not too much peace, of course. Sinn Fein is going to stage a parade to protest the parade of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Wouldn't want to go and forget all the rhetoric about oppressed peoples and British oppression and colonialism and all that. All politics is local, after all, and a global war can always be reduced down to a personal level. Care to vote on it?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Government Giveth, The Government Taketh Away

The auld ones were rioting. well, as much as a person confined to a wheelchair could be said to be disruptive. Don't change the rules on medical cards for the over 70 set, they demanded. No means testing. No altering what is in place.

The students were marching. Don't increase the number of pupils per class. Don't tack on fees for the third level set.

In other words, don't cut us, make the cuts on someone else.

Money is in short supply in Dublin, and the government cannot continue as if the Celtic Tiger were roaring down Grafton Street with an unlimited credit account. Changes have to be made, but no one wants to be made to take a hit.

No matter what is proposed, the Opposition proclaims that the action will result in grave damages, as if the money can just keep getting spent when it isn't there. So what if your granny has the financial means to pay for her own health card? The government was giving them away before, and now that she's reached 70, it's her turn for the free one.

Where's mine becomes the mantra, but without funding, there's a chance that the Christmas bonus for social welfare recipients might not turn up in the post this year. It means that taxes have to be increased, because maintaining the same level of spending calls for the same level of tax income.

Hand-outs are the order of the day, the accustomed style of living in Ireland. Now that the cost of those hand-outs is proving ruinous, the politicians have no choice but to cut and then be voted out of office at the next election, or raise taxes and find someone else to blame.

Raising taxes is easier, in the short term, because the economy will die a slow death and the average voter won't realize what happened. But the over-70's will have their free health care.

The problem wouldn't exist if the government hadn't started handing out little gifts in the first place.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Sign Reads Open For Business

As far as is concerned, the Collins Literary Agency is inactive.

A check of the agency's website shows that Nina Collins is no longer on the list of agents there, and it is her agency, after all. In fact, there's only one agent in the place, and it's not a Collins.

I sent a query to Ayesha Pande of the Collins Literary Agency back in April, complete with SASE, and never heard back. It fell to reason, then, that the agency might have closed up shop, since there was no response. Another agent trying to go off on her own and failing. It's a tough, highly competitive business.

Yet a little light has flickered, an update at Ayesha Pande is still in the business, still interested in queries apparently. The query requirements have been updated to eliminate e-queries. She wants snail mail only, with pages.

My last query went unanswered, but could it have been lost in the mail? Or has Ms. Pande adopted Miriam Altshuler's approach, to not reply if there's no interest, in spite of the SASE stuffed into the packet.

It's only a few cents for the postage, a piece of paper and a pair of envelopes. Might as well give it another try.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Minnow In Oil

All the money's in the Arab world, a slick of oil money that the sheiks are keen to spend on...on just about anything.

How about educational materials, says Barry O'Callaghan of HMRiverdeep et. al. He's struck a deal with the government of Dubai, and the little minnow that swallowed a whale has gone global.

The International arm of Education Media and Publishing Group/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt etc. will be jointly owned by EMPG and Istithmar World Capital, which is the government of Dubai in fancy dress for this particular party. The new venture is valued at $125 million, which should go a long way towards paying down some of that debt that accrued with the series of acquisitions that created EMPG.

There's educational materials publishing business to be found in places like the Middle East and the Far East, and the newly formed company will be targeting the rest of the world as its market. The kids have to be taught everywhere, don't they, and they need books and programs and on-line teaching aids and all the rest.

Things can only get bigger for the minnow, with a cash injection of $125 million injection that's been described as "an initial equity commitment". Sounds like there might be more oil money flowing down the pipe in the future.

Crispin Osborne has been tapped to run the show, a trusted financial guru who once toiled at Credit Suisse (once home to you-know-who) and Citigroup. And who better to manage an educational materials publishing concern than a man who knows money?

So it's not all about finding synergies. Sometimes it's about finding someone with the financial means to keep a whale of a conglomerate afloat.

Merry Christmas, and a festive Eid. Which way is Mecca?

A New Agency, An Old Agent

Successful agents do reside in other parts of the country besides New York City. Jonathon Lazear opened up an office in Hudson, Wisconsin, in the vicinity of Minneapolis, and managed to make a living.

For a while, Julie Mayo was on the staff but left the agenting business some time ago.

Another member of the Lazear Agency stable, Christi Cardenas, has now gone off on her own, which suggests that Mr. Lazear has retired and shut up his shop.

Ms. Cardenas can still be located in Hudson, Wisconsin, but she has hung out her very own shingle at The Plains Agency.

Like any newcomer to the field, she's very interested in receiving your query, especially if you write women's fiction or mystery, sci-fi and fantasy, and she wouldn't mind some non-fiction in the areas of business, parenting, and the like.

Just not historical fiction. Or my historical fiction, at any rate.

Under two weeks from e-query to rejection. A real rejection, that is, and not just a no response means no kind of thing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Saints And Sinners

For some reason, there's a sudden push on to have Pope Pius XII made a saint. Was he so saintly as all that?

The folks at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum wouldn't agree. As far as they're concerned, His Holiness didn't open his mouth when the Nazis deported 1,000 Jews from Rome to Auschwitz.

The folks at the Vatican would say that His Holiness zipped his lip in an effort to not annoy the Nazis, who would only have done even worse to Italy's Jews. Rather like a triage system, to save those most likely to survive by letting the terminal cases go.

Sir D'Arcy Osborne, who worked closely with Father Hugh O'Flaherty to rescue escaped Allied POWs, wasn't overly impressed with the Pope's actions. Germany's ambassador to the Vatican may have pegged Pius XII's reasoning rather precisely, when he noted in a dispatch to Berlin that His Holiness hoped that the Nazis would hold the Eastern Front, to keep Communism from spreading out of Russia and infecting the West.

So what's a few Jews lost when Communism is rearing its ugly head? Why rock the Nazi boat if they can contain one evil while promulgating another that isn't so bad as all that when it comes to the survival of Catholicism?

For now, a picture of Pius XII hanging in the Holocaust museum bears an inscription that describes his inaction as a case of someone in authority failing to act. Pope Benedict won't visit Israel until the caption is removed, and the museum authorities won't remove the caption unless the Vatican can prove it wrong.

The issue has reached a stalemate, in which the Jews insist that beatification of the Pope would only harm relations between the religions, while the saint-makers are itching to grant special status to the Pope who kept the Vatican neutral during the Second World War.

Not a particularly holy bit of business, was it?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

When It's Time To Cut The Budget

Income was falling well behind outflow, and Brian Lenihan had a difficult job ahead of him. The Minister for Finance had to draw up a budget that would give the Irish people the biggest bang for their euro, but he had to cut somewhere.

Scale back on school class size, raise the tax rate by 1% across the board, patch here, patch there, and the ship of State would stop sinking. Next, it was time to throw overboard that which was excess baggage and dead weight.

Nothing's more expensive than health care, especially for the elderly who are no longer healthy. Mr. Lenihan realized that some of those unhealthy old people had more than enough money to pay for their own health coverage. They didn't need taxpayer-funded medical cards, not when they were capable of meeting the cost themselves. Over the side they went.

Fianna Fail backbenchers and Green Party colleagues revolted.

Take away a free offer from those who can well afford to pay? Those same people vote, and they don't much like being made to pay for what was once free. It's all for one and one for all, and they won't stand for means testing.

The bickering and negotiating continues, as An Taoiseach Brian Cowen hunts for the middle ground that will please everyone. The fact remains, the government can no longer afford all the social benefits that came about thanks to the Celtic Tiger. With recession looming, the practical solution is to go with the free markets, and please understand that we can't pay for your doctor's bills when you've got the money in the bank.

When everything has been given, it's next to impossible to take it away. If old folks aren't subjected to means testing for medical cards, someone else will have to sacrifice. The money simply isn't there.

Any physician could tell you that you can't squeeze blood out of a turnip.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Week Ends

Welcome, Friday. The weekend beckons.

It'll be a fine day for a bicycle ride, and there's the garden to be put to bed before the winter comes on. With Halloween approaching, there's pumpkins to be bought and carved, bird seed to lay in for the colder days to come.

Make sure the snow shovels are accessible, clean out and straighten up the mess that's become of the shed.

Anything at all, any task or chore, will be welcomed for the next three weeks. Anything that gets you away from electronic devices that blare political campaign ads on a continuous loop.

If I hear another mention of "Joe the Plumber" I'll go mad. Do I know any plumbers making more than $250,000 per year? Yes, I do. And carpenters and electricians and any other trade you'd care to mention.

Blue collar doesn't mean empty pockets. Is that such a revelation to the empty suits in Washington?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

MacArthur Saves The Day

They hire men who are fond of looking up women's skirts and they give money to geniuses. Now the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is going to save Chicago homes.

Rather than set up counseling services years ago, back when Congress engaged in social engineering by abandoning sensible lending restrictions at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the foundation is coming in after the damage has been done. For all those people who were unable to estimate their means, and thus lived beyond them, and for those who were duped by unscrupulous lenders, there will be grants.

Foreclosures are soaring in Chicago, and that is usually followed by abandoned houses which are boarded up, only to used for shooting galleries and other illegal activities. Better to give cash to various coalitions and support groups, who will then provide....counseling for those who are about to put on the street. Is this to avoid foreclosure the next time that the unfortunate lender takes out a mortgage?

A sizable chunk will be dropped into ShoreBank's coffers, where a fund is operating to help those with some means to get out from under a balloon mortgage and into something fixed. Perhaps they throw in a counseling session that explains what it means when you have a loan that comes due in five years, or that a variable rate means it changes from year to year, and not in a cheaper direction.

The foundation is giving a portion of the $68 million grant to lobbying efforts to encourage sensible practices.

20% down, twenty or thirty years term, at a set rate of interest, with a monthly payment not to exceed 30% of the borrower's salary. Simple, effective, proven over shouldn't cost much to convince Congress that social engineering cripples the economy, and the old way is the safer alternative.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Rare Helpful Rejection

The rejection wasn't final, so technically the manuscript wasn't rejected.

Good writing, talented writer---words that open a rejection letter were there as well. But there was more.

Here's the problems I had with the manuscript, says the literary agent, and there's but two. Can you fix the character development issue, she goes, and there's too many characters popping up at the beginning.

Revise and resend. That's the offer at hand.

But what is character development, says I, who doesn't remember all the intricacies and jargon of the field. Google search is the only hope, short of pulling out old textbooks and manuals, threatening an explosion of dust and the sneezing that would follow.

Ah yes, it's true, the actions of the character in the first chapter don't really follow the character's actions as the story progresses. I had a feeling, after I looked at the manuscript on the heels of some recent rejections, that something wasn't right.

One literary agent took the time to pen a quick note, to tell me what needed to be fixed. Now I'm hard at work, re-writing an opening that doesn't lose the character's motivations but expresses them in more nebulous terms.

As for too many characters, so easy to edit out the extraneous names and eliminate an entire scene that isn't really necessary to introduce the male and female protagonists.

The revised manuscript will be ready soon, after it's had a chance to rest and I've read it over again. Now how do I go about re-submitting? Do I have to send another query? Do I just post the manuscript, or the first three chapters?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Rat

Write what you know, and Milan Kundera did just that.

The author who won a Nobel Prize made his name as the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book that shredded the false promises of communism. The myth of eternal return, a life which disappears is like a the life of the man Mr. Kundera denounced as a Western spy?

Jiri Dedecek of the Czech Pen Club is disappointed at the news. He sees now that Milan Kundera penned his guilt into his work, with a repeated theme of denunciation. It was a subject that the author knew well, from experience.

The Czech Republic has been examining secret police archives, and they discovered a document which stated quite simply that Milan Kundera made a report to the authorities back in 1950.

It began innocently enough. Don't come around to my flat, said his friend Iva Militka. She was hosting an old comrade, a man who had fled Czechoslovakia a year earlier, gone to the west, trained as a spy, and returned to gather intelligence for the U.S. Communism had proved to be a misery, oppressive misery and a complete lie. The system had to change. Czechoslovakia had to be free.

Mr. Kundera promptly went to the authorities and turned in Miroslav Dvoracek. Thanks for the tip, said the secret police, and they staked out Ms. Militka's flat and arrested Mr. Dvoracek.

Tried for desertion, espionage and treason, Mr. Dvoracek was spared the death penalty but served 22 years in a uranium mine at hard labor. Ms. Militka was left to wonder if she had done or said something to tip off the police, which in turn destroyed a life.

It wasn't her at all. It was Milan Kundera, who finally figured out that Communism was a cod after the Prague Spring of 1968. He fled to Paris, to write, to eventually win a Nobel Prize for his fiction.

The Swedish Academy is on a roll. They've got Milan Kundera and Gunter Grass on their roster of literary glory. The rest of the world puts them in a different category altogether, the category that is shunned by decent people.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Soak The Rich In God's Name

Father Tony O'Riordan believes that the wealthy should pay more taxes. The director of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice thinks it's only fair.

The poor are struggling to survive, and there's all kinds of stealth taxes that everyone has to pay but it hurts the poor more, so why not change the system. Have the wealthy give more, so that the poor can give less.

The government doesn't have the sort of income it once did, so there's talk of cutting back on programs, some of which benefit the poor. So why not have the wealthy dig deeper?

No one pays any attention to the priests anymore, not since the church became mired in a scandal of its own making. No one will donate more to charity because Father O'Riordan has made a strong case from the pulpit, because few bottoms are in the pews to hear him. So what's left?

The government, of course. Let the government become the source of charity, so that people can be forced to give, even if they are made to donate to a cause they don't support.

As long as people believe that the government, and not the Catholic Church, is a source of such largess, they won't bother with giving to the church because they have to render unto Caesar and there's not much left at the end of the week.

Father O'Riordan may find more success by promoting his own institution as a charitable organization, and if the wealthy could pay lower taxes through incentives, while being reminded of the good old days of competition to buy the most African babies, there might be more money to go around.

The government has a tendency to waste, and those who work hard to generate their wealth are somewhat resentful. All those priests and nuns, working for next to nothing? At least you always knew that almost every penny you donated to a Catholic charity was going to the needy.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Haven't Found One Yet

If you're still looking for an agent, she goes, and can you send a sample of the manuscript?

The query letter was sent out only three weeks ago, and I am indeed still looking for an agent. I've been looking for a few years now, and have yet to locate one who'll sign me on. So of course you can have the first three chapters.

Take your time with the reviewing, even though there's other agents looking. Quite a few have looked, and they've all passed. No reason to expect anything different on this go.

As a matter of fact, since all those others rejected the sample, I had a brilliant idea and I changed a character in the opening chapter. Now the female protagonist opens with an argument with her mother, to set up a conflict I hadn't considered before, until all the rejections rolled in.

So yes, I am still looking, and you're the only one with this particular version of the manuscript. I expect that you'll reject it somewhere down the road, so I'll just keep on querying other agents in the meantime. I'm sure you'll understand.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pausing To Pray

Once upon a time, Catholic churches rang their bells at 6 a.m., noon, and again at 6 p.m. Then it became a nuisance, all that racket so early in the morning when people were trying to sleep, and then there were the non-Catholics who weren't keen on the chiming three times a day.

Except in Ireland, of course. Tune in to RTE Radio and you'll know it's time for the Angelus because the broadcast takes a pause.

Does that mean that there should be religious advertising on the radio as well? If the national broadcaster is going to be so Catholic as to ring the Angelus on air, where does it end?

Dr. Martin Mansergh, Minister for Finance, would like to keep the Angelus and do away with adverts that promote religion as if it were some ordinary commodity. It doesn't ring true, some commercial touting job openings with the Christian Brothers, smack up against a spot selling Carlings beer or McDonalds burgers.

They're debating the Broadcasting Bill, deciding what's fit to be heard by Irish ears, and Dr. Mansergh believes that the thrice-daily Angelus is suitable. Seymour Crawford, representing Cavan & Monaghan, thinks it wouldn't hurt to let religious orders push Christmas cribs through electronic media. And maybe some religious programs would be helpful, what with people not going to church because of the sex abuse scandals and look at the epidemic of suicide that's resulted.

Masses, the calling of the rosary: for the old, the isolated and the sick it wouldn't hurt. And as for the Angelus, at least if it's on the radio you can turn down the volume and not disturb your neighbor.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Who Stole The Money

It's been nearly four years since the Northern Bank in Belfast was robbed.

Four years on, and who did it? The authorities claimed from the start that it was the IRA, masters of the art of the tiger robbery, who took 26.5 million pounds to pension off their soldiers prior to decommissioning their arms.

Four years on, and little of the money ever turned up, beyond a few thousand pounds here and there in Cork and Dublin, in the possession of known money launderers.

Four years on, and Chris Ward, the only man accused of the crime, has walked out of court a free man.

The police decided that it had to have been an inside job and Mr. Ward was the man inside. They presented some circumstantial evidence relating to work schedules and who was on duty when the crime went down. The circumstantial evidence proved to be no evidence at all.

No one stands accused. No one knows who did it. 26.5 million pounds, vanished into thin air. And the PSNI has no evidence to present against anyone.

The Nobel Prize For Political Correctness

All right, so I took a couple of years of French at university. I didn't master the language and I don't read French. That's my excuse for never having read a single book by this year's Nobel prize winner.

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio takes home the million euro prize, and you can bet that all of France is rather smug about the whole thing. Their boy is the brilliant one this year, the best writer. The best writer who fits the political bill, that is.

His break-out novel (sure and we've all read Desert over and over, haven't we) was all about a lost world in the North African desert, not unlike Algiers or Morocco where the French were once colonial overlords, and he contrasted those "magnificent images" with dreadful images of Europe as it doesn't welcome immigrants. Barbaric, cruel, so like America, and give that man a Nobel.

You've only to read his page-turner of a novel, The Mexican Dream, to realize how tragic the whole discovery of America was, for if only the Mayans could have been left alone they'd have created a brilliant philosophy. Or at least that's the premise.

The Academy loves Monsieur Le Clezio because of his ecologic engagement, which you can take to mean that he's written of the horrors of global warming and we're doomed. You'll not see them give a prize to the writers of the Farmer's Almanac, especially when they're predicting a long spell of extreme cold due to diminished sunspot activity.

No Yanks were in line for the literature prize, but then again, they're fond of questioning authority and not toeing the line. If they'd like a shot at the big money, they'll have to learn how to be more European---start accepting that the misery of the world is all their fault, and then put it down on paper. In other words, write more science fiction.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Farewell To Greenwood

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has no need of Greenwood Publishing, so they've cut it loose and left it to sink into the sea off the coast of Connecticut.

Once the Greenwood titles were sold off, of what use was the office and its employees? ABC-CLIO took over the license for all imprints, and it has the right to publish Greenwood titles, so thanks Greenwood but you're a synergy that's been realized to lower costs.

The massive merger of Riverdeep and Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt requires many, many synergies to become profitable, or the little minnow that swallowed a mighty whale will surely choke to death.

Synergies will be realized shortly before Christmas as 150 people are let go, and ABC-CLIO doesn't have any plans to use the office space. They say they can offer jobs to maybe about half of the employees who are getting the sack, but they'd have to agree to swim over to Colorado or California, and take a chance that they won't become ABC-CLIO synergies in the future.

What comes next, given the tight credit markets and the plans to heavily leverage the HMRiverdeep congolomerate?

Chick-Lit Lives On

Don't label your manuscript a piece of chick-lit, the agents advise, because that genre is as dead as last year's fashions.

And yet....

Cecilia Ahern launched her new book, her sixth, in Dublin and if The Gift doesn't suggest that chick-lit hasn't given up its last breath, then one need only wander along Grafton Street to discover that it's alive and well.

Manolo Blahnik, he of the eponymous shoe, launched his first Dublin shop while Ms. Ahern was celebrating the release of her latest novel. No longer will the smart set have to travel to New York City for footwear, although they're likely to fly over just the same. With the economy tanking, it's good to know that a girl can maintain the chick-lit lifestyle and save on airfare.

The book launch was glamorous, with glitz and champagne and Bertie Ahern in a business suit, greeting the former Mrs. Ahern in a civil manner. When your da's the former taoiseach and you've sold ten million copies, you get champagne and glitz and a book launch, while Colm Toibin is grateful for a cup of tea at the publisher's office.

No doubt the guests at the grand party wore their Manolos, in keeping with the glamorous theme at the Mansion House. While the financial crisis rings down the glory years, there are still places in the imagination where the ladies shop and search for love and no one is worried about how they're going to pay the mortgage.

Chick-lit will live on, albeit under a different code name. There's more need of such fantasy these days. Reminds you of the old movies from the height of the Great Depression, doesn't it? Filled with wealthy people in beautiful clothes, living in huge rooms, looking for love while singing and dancing. Welcome back to the good old days.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Matter Of Breeding

When your father is CEO of Commonwealth Edison, you grow up with privileges and expectations, and when those expectations aren't met, you do something about it.

You have tantrums, which worked so effectively during the formative years, but you're bigger now and the tantrums have to grow in direct proportion. Throwing yourself on the ground and kicking your feet won't cut it when you're in your early twenties. Throwing a bomb is more along the right lines.

So Bill Ayres rebelled against the establishment that had coddled him and protected him and cushioned every blow. His father was wealthy, as establishment as could be, therefore, young Billy went in the opposite direction, where all that pater represented was bad. The boy bombed some government buildings, got off on a technicality, and grew up a little more. The whole poverty thing, the violence, didn't work. A new tactic was needed.

As a long-serving member of Northwestern University's board, Bill's doting father twisted a few arms and got his son a job teaching there. 'All is forgiven, lad, now get to work and straighten up' was the plan. Work hard, advance, and be like your father. Change the status quo through peaceful means.

Hence, the Annenberg Challenge. Destroy the Chicago Public School system and rebuild a new one, and education in the Bill Ayres style would be revolutionary. Didn't pan out, however. The kids didn't learn, grades didn't improve, and what can one man do without clout?

Mr. Thomas Ayres had the ear of Chicago's mayor, Richard J. Daley, and that was a very good connection to have in a city like Chicago, where they don't want nobody nobody sent. Young Bill decided to cultivate some political ears that would bend to his every word, and that would be the key to achieving his goals. Forget the bombing. He'd lob a few non-violent grenades and blow up the establishment through its own rules and regulations.

Step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly from Harvard Law School. Prominent family in Chicago, the Ayres clan, with access to the highest of the high. No one gets anywhere in Chicago politics without a clout. Without joining the right church, kissing the right asses, backing the right candidates for re-election.

It's all about moving on up to the big time. It's all about who you know, not what you know, when you want to get ahead in Chicago politics. The problem arises when you leave the city, because the corruption and dirty deals don't translate from Chicago-ese.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Well-Being Check

There's been a discussion over at about the disappearance of agent Kirsten Wolf, who went off on her own and hasn't been heard of since.

Always a bad sign, the full mailbox overflowing with correspondence. Or in the case of the e-mail box, stuffed to electronic overflow so that delivery fails. Is anyone at home, the querying author will wonder. The mail's not being picked up, so is it a case of an overburdened agent who's just opened up her own shop, or is she doing this part time and ignoring new writers, or....could it be something much more serious?

I sent my query to Ms. Wolf when she left Jill Grinberg's stable and heard nothing, of course, but no reply is a no so it must have been a no. Yet Ms. Grinberg still lists Kirsten Wolf as one of her associates, so did she not actually leave? Or did Ms. Grinberg never get around to updating her page at Publishers Marketplace?

Someone should do a well-being check, to actually track the agent down and see with their own eyes that she's alive and well and not locked in a closet somewhere in New York City, forced to read slush against her will when she'd much rather be an agent in her own right, rejecting wannabe authors.

The least I could do is send her a query for a different manuscript and see if there's any signs of life.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Taking Stock of September

After the agents returned from their summer holidays, I started again with the tons o' fun that is the query process.

As soon as Amy Williams of McCormick Williams got the snail-mail query, she asked for pages, and it was all electron submitting so what could be less expensive? She made up her mind within three weeks. Form rejection, tough market, not in love, that sort of thing.

Nathan Bransford, manning Curtis Brown's San Francisco branch, picked up on the e-mail in a matter of hours, and the sample chapters were off on the electron highway. Five days later, the rejection arrived. Couldn't relate to the characters.

Another fast request came from Michelle Tessler, owner and operator of her own literary agency, who was captivated by the synopsis that I posted to her web form. A bit of an expense with her, however, as she likes the writing sample in hard copy form. Sure and it's only money, so the parcel was sent, the parcel arrived, and she read it at once. The rejection was sent via e-mail, to make things go faster.

And here it is, October already. Will the queries sent out at the end of September have the same effect a month later? Or is this manuscript doomed to a shadowy existence under the bed with the dust bunnies?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Borders Goes South

No one wants to buy Borders. It doesn't help that there's no credit available to finance a deal, if an investor were to even consider such a purchase.

Executives of the bookshop chain turned to Pershing Square Capital Management when they needed a loan to keep the doors open, with the hope that things would turn around or that someone would come along and buy up Borders. Neither event came to pass.

Pershing Square's own William Ackman, billionaire owner of 29% of Borders, exercised his right under the deal and will be able to buy another five million shares for $7 each, which isn't a bargain considering the fact that the stock closed at $6.70.

The investor is looking at the end game, in which he can force a sale that won't necessarily be kind to those who sit in the corner offices. By owning more shares, in spite of the dilution, he'll stand to gain more when Borders does finally get bought out.

Not that he's willing to wait for long, however. Mr. Ackman would like to work out a deal with now that Barnes & Noble displayed a lack of interest.

After that, there will be fewer brick and mortar shops where a reader can browse through every single page, if they wish, before they buy. There'll be fewer tables near the front where books are displayed, to attract a reader who might otherwise not know such a marvelous novel existed. There'll be fewer outlets for the author who's not produced a New York Times best-seller blockbuster, and that will trickle up to the publishers and the literary agents, who will seek out fewer debut authors who might have something good but no one's taking any chances.

What's left, then, if it's only the occasional Barnes & Noble, or an independent book shop if you're very lucky indeed? Fewer readers, fewer places to buy books, and it can only yield even fewer readers. Any chance that independent shops might reappear to meet the limited demand?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Borrowing A Great Idea

While the U.S. Presidential candidates are trumpeting an increase in deposit insurance for American banks, the Irish have picked up on that very idea. If it's good enough to warrant an expansion of coverage, why, it's got to be good to have coverage in the first place.

Brian Lenihan, Minister of Finance, assured everyone in the Dail that he wasn't looking to create soft landings for incompetent bankers. He's only trying to instill some confidence in Irish banking and protect Irish depositors.

Under new legislation, if he believes that a bank merger would prevent a collapse, he can allow it, and the competition law will take a back seat. If he finds that a bank is making risky loans, he can raise their insurance premiums, not unlike your man who's had numerous traffic accidents having to pay more for his motor vehicle coverage.

This notion of a government guaranteeing deposits is all the rage in Europe now, to the point that non-Irish banks operating in Ireland are asking the government to guarantee their deposits as well. Sure everyone will want to do their banking at an insured institution, so who'd be entrusting their hard-earned coin to the likes of the Bank of Scotland?

Over in England, the saving public is being reminded that AIB and Anglo Irish Bank operate within their borders and if you want your deposit insured, you'd do well to open an account in an Irish firm. How's that for irony? Once the poor man of Europe, now Ireland's about to become the banking capital of the EU if other countries don't follow Ireland's lead.

Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour Party, is arguing in the Dail today, hoping to score a few political points by ensuring that bank executives don't benefit financially, in a Golden Parachute sort of way. Pat Rabbitte, who used to run Labour, is also not keen on the new legislation. As he points out, the U.S. plan to buy up 700 billion dollars worth of toxic loans represents only 5% of that nation's GNP. Mr. Lenihan's plan to insure Irish deposits is equivalent to 200% of Ireland's GNP. And, as in the States, there's complaints about a mere minister being given broad powers.

But how can anyone argue against a plan that's alarmed European bankers? It's all the rage in the EU, this deposit insurance craze. Ireland, long a province, is a trend-setting nation once again.