Thursday, December 31, 2009

Starting A New Decade


Here we are, on the edge of a new decade.

What happened to the last one?

In the past nine years, I decided to stop tossing my writing into the bin and made an effort to improve my writing skills.

I made a concerted effort to get a novel published. So where am I at now, as the decade ends?

Not published at book length, but I've managed to get the wordsmithing to a level that garners compliments from literary agents. The praise coming after the "not quite right for me" part of the rejection, to be sure, but there's clearly been improvements made.

If I continue along this trajectory, getting better at crafting sentences and paragraphs and chapters, I just might sign with a literary agent before 2020.

By that time, of course, there may be only one or two major publishing houses left, making it even more difficult to get a novel in print. And the notion of "in print" could have morphed into the creation of an e-book, which would sell for 99 cents, of which the author gets fractions of pennies in royalties.

Happy New Year, writers. Let's hope the coming decade is better than the last.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cromwell's Failure

When England's King Henry, the eighth of that name, decided to start up his own religion, he tried to force all of his subjects to switch over.


The Irish never took to his brand of faith, however, and when Cromwell came along, he tried very hard to force the issue. His vicious determination to destroy the Catholic Church in Ireland was a failure, although his name was added to the pantheon of Ireland's worst tormentors.

The Protestants, being the ones in charge, stole Church property right and left, converting some of the finer cathedrals into Anglican centers of worship.

Along came 1916 and the election of Sinn Fein in 1919 and before long, the Irish engaged in ethnic cleansing. Protestants who feared retribution for centuries of oppression up and left. In small towns, the Proties were "encouraged" to follow suit.

However, the Church of Ireland did not see fit to return the stolen churches to the Catholics. Instead, the ancient monuments were allowed to fall into disuse and disrepair, the Protestants too few in number to maintain such expensive structures.

The Church of Ireland is selling St. Mary's Church and attached graveyard to the Irish government for 1.1 million euros. Not a bad profit on land that was acquired via seizure at little or no cost. It will take many, many more euros to repair the damage that's been done by time and vandals.

The 13th Century church is a treasure of medieval architecture and will be a welcome addition to Kilkenny's tourist attractions, while the cemetery is said to contain some of the best examples of Irish Renaissance design. With public money funding the restoration, St. Mary's will become a national monument.

For all of Cromwell's notorious cruelty, the Catholics persisted. Now, one more Protestant church is abandoned due to lack of use, lack of parishioners and lack of support.

Just took a bit of persistence and an eye on the end game that was waiting on the distant horizon. Not unlike a notion held by some who would like to see their words put into print and their story shared with the reading public.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I've Always Wanted To Work For The Airlines

Janet Napolitano was thinking that the system was working, if you'd only look at the big picture.

Did you not know that able-bodied passengers are part of that system?

We're drafted into part-time employment with the airlines every time we board a flight. Face it, if you were flying and the plane crashed into, say, the River Shannon, wouldn't you much prefer to have a man possessed of a couple of muscles sitting at the emergency hatch? If you saw some old granny in the key seat, you'd be a bit nervous, wondering how the old woman could lift the door out of the way so that you could leap to safety.

Apparently, we not only are expected to flip up the appropriate levers and discard a heavy piece of the plane, we're to be prepared for hand-to-hand combat.

Look, I know that Limerick is called "Stab City" but just because a person flies out of Shannon Airport doesn't mean that they were in the city itself. There's plenty of country to County Limerick and precious little murder. Please, don't stereotype us and expect certain, shall we say, reactions to specific threats.

If a fellow passenger were to try to set the plane on fire, I'd be willing to get a few blows in for the sport. I'm willing to do my bit of Christian charity, but if I'm to be drafted into airplane security, will I reap the benefits of airline employee perks?

Free air fare? No? Still have to pay for my ticket, and I have to be ready to defend my fellow passengers?

Lovely that the system works, Ms. Napolitano. Would it be asking too much of those whose system is working to hand out an extra packet of peanuts to its part-time militia of passengers?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

And To All A Blessed St. Stephen's Day

Is anyone concerned that there's a shortage of wren boys these days? No, you'll not hear a word.

But the fact that some of Dublin's shops are open today?

You'd think the world was coming to an end.

In a way, the world has ended. In spite of reports that most of the migrant work force has gone back home, with the jobs dried up here in Ireland, the all-white faces of O'Connell Street are no more. There's other languages heard around the island, foreign tongues.

People like to go shopping on their days off. They like to walk, to look at what lovely shiny objects are available to feather the nest, and wasn't it just a matter of time until someone figured out that St. Stephen's Day was a perfect day for shopping?

In the States, it's the day when eveyone floods the shops in search of next year's Christmas decorations and cards and light strands. Sales, discounts, bargains to be found, so why shouldn't the Irish have the same access to the insanity?

Most will stay at home, recovering from hangovers or food comas, but anyone with a hankering to get out and stretch their legs has a place to walk that also has appealing scenery.

Sure the Celtic Tiger's dead, but the boom brought along changes that are not so easily reversed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When Literary Agents Avoid Love

You may have been perfecting your query letter since Thanksgiving, but literary agents don't fall in love with manuscripts during the last two weeks of December. The inability to love may even extend into the first week of January.

Holly Root of the Waxman Agency tweeted a subtle suggestion that anyone thinking about submitting to her should wait until after the New Year.

Agents like Kristin Nelson have closed the doors completely for the holiday season. No queries acknowledged, read, or fallen in love with.

I'm fighting off the urge to submit a manuscript that's been revised based on some agent feedback, but I know it's absurd to send off anything right before Christmas. Of course, there's always some go-getter agents working, but there's no way to identify them.

It would be a good time for writing, if it wasn't for the press of holiday duties. Today it's lunch in the city with friends, window gazing and a hunt for the guy who sells hot roasted chestnuts. All in the face of an east wind howling off Lake Michigan.

I'd rather be writing. Indoors. With central heating.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Holy Grain Has Been Located

The Knights Templar, keepers of the Holy Grail according to Dan Brown, have chosen a Chicago-area member to be their Grand Master.

Patrick Rea lives humbly in Tinley Park, an outpost of Irish-America. He fields numerous phone calls from those who seek the Holy Grail, and he's admitted to knowing exactly where the sacred vessel is located.

The man has a sense of humor, which is required when heading an organization that a novel turned into a secretive cult.

The Knights Templar began as a police force, set up to protect pilgrims traveling to the Holy Lands in the Twelfth Century. In modern times, they are a charitable organization that has shipped school supplies to Afghanistan and founded a clinic for maternal/infant health in Cameroon.

For all of Dan Brown's mastery of suspense, the Holy Grail that the modern day Knights Templar protect is the vessel of overflowing charity.

Treasure hunters can dig all they like, but the Knights aren't hiding this Grail underground.

As for those who call Mr. Rea, asking about the Holy Grail's location? He's been known to send them to the Tinley Park train station, where they are met by the local police force.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Public Television Made Public

Public television has a certain feel to it...a sense that the programs are not subject to ratings systems that reward the most mundane and inane.

A huge audience for reality programming? There are those who would much prefer a re-run of Masterpiece Theater, thank you very much, and that may not be an enormous audience, but it exists and must be served.

Public television stations hold fund-raisers to get the money needed to produce programs that appeal to a more literate demographic. Want to see a dramatic performance of a Charles Dickens tale? The suits at the likes of CBS or NBC wouldn't know Dickens from a hole in the ground. That's what public television is for.

Advertisers are looking for the biggest bang for the buck, and they want to know that enough people are watching P.O.V. or Frontline to make it worth their investment. Public television will now be subject to Nielsen ratings.

The number of eyes glued to Nova will be counted, but where those eyeballs reside will be just as important. Companies pushing higher-cost goods won't much care if their PBS ads don't reach the masses, as long as the smaller demographic they reach is the one with money.

A company can sponsor PBS programs for short time spans, as small as one week, and for PBS, that could mean raking in big bucks when Ken Burns has a new documentary available for viewing. There would be weeks when sponsors wouldn't be willing to fork over major cash, especially during pledge week when programs are interrupted non-stop and viewers flee.

Advertisers will soon know how large an audience they can reach. PBS will discover how many viewers they attract.

And if the two don't mesh well, expect those pledge weeks to drag out for months.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Redistribution Of Assets

Adam Clayton of U2 is awash in money. His housekeeper/personal assistant is not.


She sought to even things out slightly. An amount almost insignificant, in the greater scheme of things. Mr. Clayton failed to notice for a very long time. Failed to notice until she'd redistributed 1.8 million euros.

Carol Hawkins of Dublin 14 appropriated 13,000 euros of the gentleman's hard earned savings back in 2008. She confessed to her crime, was forgiven, and allowed to keep working. Must have been quite a sad tale of woe that she spun. And what's 13,000 euros to a man of such vast wealth?

In an effort to further take from the rich and give to the poor. Ms. Hawkins got her hands on credit and debit cards. Why accept a paltry salary as a personal assistant when the boss has more money than he knows what to do with? Clearly, Ms. Hawkins knew what to do with it. She had needs that could not be met on her wages.

It's alleged that she withdrew 600 euros, twice each day. For thirteen months.

She was caught in November, when someone finally realized that the books weren't balancing and there was activity on the cards in Dublin when Mr. Clayton was touring the world. After admitting the theft, she denied that she'd used all that money to buy a condo in New York, or that she had bought into a horse syndicate to the tune of 900 euros per month.

An Garda Siochana is investigating. Ms. Hawkins has been barred from liquidating any of her assets, as Mr. Clayton has hopes of recovering some of his money.

From each according to his ability, to each according to her needs. Ms. Hawkins says she used the money as needed. If anyone's to blame in this case, it must be Karl Marx.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Poverty Of Literacy

The population of Laredo, Texas would hardly be described as upper to upper-middle class. Located on the U.S.-Mexico border, it's a blue-collar town.

Blue-collar people do read, of course. They have been seen in public libraries. They are known to buy books.

Barnes & Noble purchased the B. Dalton book chain and has been carefully culling its herd of excess stores. Having crushed a competitor, B&N claimed the winner's spoils. There isn't such a need in the B&N corporation for as many stores as they acquired, and so, the lone book store in Laredo, Texas, will have to go.

For a single shop, the place was profitable in that it made sales and could meet expenses. From a corporate stand-point, it's not profitable enough.

Eventually, Barnes & Noble would like to build a new place, eliminating the B. Dalton name in the process, but plans are not yet fully formed and it could be a year or two before everything falls into place. That would be a year or two when the people of Laredo could not walk into a brick and mortar store to make a purchase.

The loss of this small business won't put a dent in B&N's bottom line. Amazon will pick up some of the slack, but not all of it. There's the browsing factor that will go missing, the physical aspect of book buying on impulse that requires an actual book with actual jacket flap copy and genuine pages to turn---or not turn, if the first couple of pages don't grab the reader.

Blue-collar folks in Laredo who like to read and buy books will lose out, and all because a big corporation decided it wanted to get bigger, to maybe become the one and only book store chain in the universe.

While they build an indoor snowboarding park, the city of Laredo might consider portioning off a part of the new complex for an independent book store. Keep the rent low because there's not much profit in an indie shop, and promote literacy in a population that is growing increasingly illiterate.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Golden Globes For The Irish


With a Golden Globe award in their trophy case, could an Oscar be far behind for U2?

Busy with their 360o tour, the Irish super group has been nominated in the best song category for Winter, heard on the Irish film Brothers directed by the brilliant Jim Sheridan.

Not to be outdone, Ireland's son Brendan Gleeson has also been nominated for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Into The Storm. Considering how much trouble young Winston's father created for the Home Rule movement back in the day, it's a wonder the man could stomach playing such a role.

Kenneth Branaugh of Belfast is competing against the Dubliner for the honor of being named Golden Globe's best actor in a television drama, for his role in Wallander, One Step Behind. My money's on Brendan Gleeson, assuming the judges take a look at his work in the black comedy In Bruges and realize how vast a range the man has as an actor.

The Celtic Tiger may have expired, but Ireland can still lay claim to a pool of talented performers. With cuts in public pay, threats of strikes, high unemployment and worry, a little glimmer of pride gives a person some hope for the future. If Bono and The Edge are Oscar-worthy, it can't be that grim in Ireland.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

If It Reads Like A Random House Book, It's A Book

As far as Markus Dohle of Random House is concerned, if it walks like a book, looks like a book and sounds like a book, it's a book and Random House bought the rights when they signed a contract with the author.

Literary agent Nat Sobel doesn't see the analogy between e-books and physical books in the same light.

Back in the dark ages, before anyone really believed that one day we'd be reading books on a screen, authors granted publishers the right to print the book, in hardcover or paperback.

Now Random House has decided that, since they purchased a manuscript, it's all the same. They can publish the electronic version and not have to cut a new deal.

That's bad news for literary agents who represent authors' estates. It's the back list that Random House is planning to offer, the back list titles that were published without a thought to protecting the e-book rights.

Random House would like to claim that a contract allowing them to publish something "in book form" automatically means they have the Kindle business exclusively, but literary agents aren't on the same page. Is a Kindle or Sony e-Reader "book form"? Or is it a modified computer, a device wholly unrelated to books in any form?

The argument means a great deal to authors and agents, who make money off granting rights piecemeal. It means a great deal to new start-ups, where the business model is built on gaining e-book rights of old back list titles for sale to new reading devices. Random House, of course, would like all the profit for itself.

Eventually, someone will take Random House to court and sue, citing the success of RosettaBooks LLC, which won the right to publish e-book versions of old titles by William Styron and Kurt Vonnegut for three to six years.

Since that time period has lapsed, it could be that Random House is trying again, with a different judge and a fresh bank of lawyers, to grab up e-book rights without having to pay the authors another dime.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Merry Christmas From Santa Chavez

His country is spiralling down into an economic morass, but Hugo Chavez wants the Venezuelan people to enjoy a socialist Christmas. Inflation at 26%, manufacturing all but gone, but little Venezuelan children will find a present on Christmas morning.

The Romans understood the concept of bread and circuses. Bread's getting mighty expensive in Venezuela, so Santa Chavez figured on bringing in the distraction of a circus.

At a cost of $1.4 million, the Fidel Castro wannabe brought in 124.000 toys from China. What, you thought that all those lead-infused items returned from the U.S. would go to waste? Venezuelans were invited to Hugo's Super Sale Tent to pick up toys on the cheap.

Not given away, but sold at 'cost', without the profits tacked on by evil middlemen. The state newspaper proclaimed victory over capitalist toys. Kids don't much know the difference between knock-offs and the real thing anyway. The parents are thrilled to be able to give their offspring something for Christmas, and if they praise Hugo Chavez, that's the point.

For those who missed the toy sale, the items sold at a discount were available in nearby markets shortly after the sale ended. At regular prices, however.

Funny how capitalism pops up when someone figures out how to make a profit.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Open To New Queries But Not Yours

You have to wonder, when you don't hear back from a literary agent, whether or not your query fell into some black hole in New York City, to be reduced to atomic particles that float off into the atmosphere.

As for the unanswered e-mail queries, you always fear that some aggressive spam filter gobbled up your words and the agent has never even seen that letter you slaved over for months, struggling to use the choicest, most succulent words.

Send off those queries via WEbook and you'll gain some insight into what happens to your query.

It goes unopened. Unread. Ignored.

There may still be some bugs to be worked out in the system. At Writers House, agent Dan Conaway doesn't want e-mail queries, but he's signed on to the WEbook system which delivers queries via e-mail. Does that mean he won't open submissions sent through WEbook?

Scott Gould of RLR Literary hasn't responded to one of my queries, ever. By submitting to him through WEbook, I know if and when he even looks at the query. Should it remain unopened, I could safely assume that I'm on the Black List, my e-mail address listed in every spam filter in every literary agency across the country.

The first few queries sent through WEbook were answered in record time, so maybe I've developed some unrealistic expectations. Literary agents are busy, more so in these times of tight markets. There may be no significance to the delay that I've seen in the second round, in which all of the queries are still sitting around, unopened since last week.

Queries submitted, queries left unopened. After a time, they'll drop out of the agent's inbox due to old age. It doesn't matter how they're sent. The non-response remains the same.

Friday, December 11, 2009

En Garde, Google

French president Nicolas Sarcozy has taken his glove and figuratively slapped Google across the face. En garde, Google. Monsieur Sarcozy will fight for French honor.

Google plans to scan all out-of-copyright books so that the world has access via the Internet.

The French, however, will not let Google steal away all that French culture, and then sell...quelle horreur....gauche Google ad space right next to examples of France's greatness.

If anyone is going to make money off of France's literary patrimony, it will be the French.

Like every other country on earth, France is struggling with the economic crisis. They too have a stimulus package to get the economy going, and their own book digitisation program is part of that jobs creation venture.

Yes, the French tried to create a search engine to challenge Google and that hasn't gone well, but this is French literature and centuries of knowledge that's to be protected from overbearing Americans with their massive IT skill set.

Yes, France has been scanning books still under copyright, and publisher Le Seuil has taken the government to court over copyright infringement. All done with the best of intentions, mais non?

The Americans will come in and loot France of its culture if they're not careful. If anyone's getting the income from Google ad clicks, it's to be France.

Vous aurez été prévenu, Monsieur Google.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Making Money With New Media

Were publishers as hysterical about the paperback book as they've become about e-books?

Hardcover books have always been more expensive. There's more material there.

Readers who were watching their bottom lines developed the habit of waiting for the paperback edition of the latest hot read to come out. They'd save a few dollars, still get to read the exact same words, but they had to exercise patience.

Publishers reaped what they could from those who had to be the first on the block to read the latest blockbuster, then the cheap version was made available.

How is this any different from releasing a given book in a digital edition?

E-books are cheaper, as anyone would expect, because they don't require the expense of paper and ink to produce. Since they are so much like a paperback in that regard, why is there such a debate about when to release digital books?

It shouldn't be shocking news that Harper or Macmillan have decided to hold back on e-book releases. After all, it doesn't make business sense to compete against one's own product.

Harper ceo Brian Murray believes that relying on income from e-books, selling for $9.99, would trickle down to fewer new authors being given a trial run. Publishing houses need the extra profit from hardcovers to take a chance on unproven talent, and the bean counters who run publishing wouldn't put up with quite so much risk when there's not a great deal of spare change in the kitty.

There's all kinds of e-book readers coming out, and that will lead to lower prices down the line. Eventually, more people will own Nooks or Kindles or Sony e-readers or whatever the computer geeks invent, and everyone will be looking for a bargain when it comes to books.

It used to be the paperback. Now it's the e-book.

Hachette plans to hold off on releasing e-books, to give the hard bound copies a chance to sell at a higher profit.

Good business sense. And it shouldn't be shocking. It's not a reflection of dinosaur publishers clinging to old technology. Until the market dries up for hard copies, until the e-book proves to be more profitable, there's no reason to abandon one niche for another.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Does This Recession Make Me Look Fat?

Anyone who's lost a job would be expected to be depressed, and no one would fault them for turning to comfort foods in search of consolation. Such behavior would lead to the pounds packing on. If there's a rise in obesity rates due to the recession, it's understandable.

The under-employed are adding to the fat tally as well. With budgets stretched to the limit, cheap food is replacing more expensive healthy eating. Instead of lean chicken, it's Kraft macaroni and cheese from a box.

Those with jobs are working more hours as their employers calculate that overtime is cheaper than hiring another worker. This leads to less free time for the worker, less time to shop and prepare balanced meals. Think a quick drive through McDonald's for a Big Mac instead of broiled salmon with a tossed salad.

The recession is making everyone fat, according to Harry Balzer, author of Eating Patterns in America.

Before anyone suggests exercise as a way to combat recession-induced obesity, they should consider the high cost.

For one woman, that cost is somewhere near $100,000.

In an effort to stave off waistline expansion, she went to the East Bank Club in Chicago and stowed her rings in her locker. After fighting against obesity with a brisk work-out, she came back to her locker and found that the lock had been cut off and her rings stolen.

She would have been $100,000 to the better if she'd just accepted the fact that obesity is up 1% and once the economy turns around, we'll all get thinner. Now she's filed a police report about the robbery, but her jewels are gone.

Not only is the recession making us fat, but combatting the fat is making us poorer, so it's looking like a continuous loop spinning around fat asses nationwide.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Literary Payola

Long, long ago, it was the custom of record companies to pay radio stations to play their records. Disc jockeys, station owners, whoever---they were bribed to increase air time of certain songs, to the benefit of the recording artist.

The practice was declared illegal and prosecutions ensued.

Why isn't the same thing illegal in book vending?

Publishers pay ridiculous amounts of money to Barnes & Noble, in the neighborhood of $30,000 according to Adam Penenberg at fastcompany.com. For a bribe of that size, a publisher can expect to place a key title at the front of the store, to catch a book buyer's eye the minute they enter the big box retailer.

If the marketing gurus deem it worth the money to have a certain book shelved facing out, with the attractive cover up front and personal to the potential buyer, B&N or Borders are happy to oblige for a fee.

According to Mr. Penenberg, every place you find books, you'll find literary payola, and that includes the rack of paperbacks at the local supermarket.

What does it mean for a writer? If your publisher isn't convinced that your particular work of art isn't destined to be a blockbuster, a la Dean Koontz, you won't get the marketing budget and your book won't get the payola treatment. And so, your book is sure to fare poorly because it's not getting the promotion.

Since no one seems to be heading towards the State's Attorney's office, it means an author might have to cough up some big money to counter the publisher's bribe. Up the ante, so to speak, in a bid to claim some prime real estate in the book store or at Amazon's website.

Knowing that the books up front were placed there on purpose, doesn't it make you want to bypass the front tables and confine your browsing to the shelves? Just to stick it to the whole marketing concept that figures you for an instant gratification sheep?

The Results Are In

At the end of last week, I gave Webook.com a try. So what are the results at the beginning of the following week?

No different than anything I've seen with a do-it-yourself approach. But there's more data for my amusement.

To my surprise, the agents read the material in record time. No waiting for weeks, trying to determine if enough time had passed to yield a "no response is no" rejection. From my submission chart, I could see that real action was taken.

Elyse Cheney read the submission right away, but she only looked at the bio, brief synopsis and query before giving up on it. Didn't bother with the writing sample, so I can assume that the query didn't float her literary boat.

An agent with Levine Greenberg was quick, looking over the brief synopsis and manuscript sample before clicking on the reject button. Didn't even bother with the query. The last couple of submissions I sent to them via the form on the website never got any kind of reply, so I'm ahead on that count.

Another submission was read but not responded to, so even with the convenience of WEbook, no response probably means no.

And, of course, one submission has been ignored so far. Who knows, maybe within the next few weeks something will happen, but I won't hold my breath.

Still no requests for more material, but I know for sure that what I sent was acknowledged, which is more than you'd get from a standard e-mail submission that often doesn't get answered.

Using a go-between has provided some new information that I couldn't get otherwise. Other than that, it doesn't make any difference.

Even so, it's amusing to see what parts of the submission different agents read and how soon they get to the submissions and all that. And who can complain about free entertainment?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Query Middleman

If it hadn't been for Colleen Lindsay's twitter about WEbook, I don't know that I would have given the query service a try.

The FinePrint Literary agent is giving WEbook a one-month work-out and what's to lose if I give it a try as well.

For now, it's free. You fill out the forms and follow the directions and the next thing you know, you're submitting queries to agents who have signed up to receive queries from WEbook.

The service says that they look over your submission, which includes an author bio, a VERY short hook, the query letter and a partial manuscript, before moving the whole thing along to the agent. You have to pick your genre, so the idea is to compile a list of agents who want to be queried for what you write. Targeting is so efficient, don't you know.

How does it differ from a do-it-yourself process? Not very. You don't have to look up agent e-mail addresses, since clicking on a link brings up a screen where you insert your letter and it's already addressed. You still have to write a proper query letter so there's no easy way out at that end.

The author bio is a bit more involved than the standard closing paragraph of the query letter, but what agent will care about your education if you're writing fiction? And what kind of credentials does a writer need to write fiction, anyway, besides a mastery of the English language and a vivid imagination?

How well does the service work? My trial run produced a very quick rejection from one agent, so it's not entirely different from past experience without a go-between.

What I do know is that the agent read my bio, the brief synopsis, and the query.

Thanks to WEbook, I know that a second agent read the whole packet, from bio to manuscript sample, and then....well, maybe it's one of those "no reply means no" sorts of things. Everything got read, but there wasn't any request for more. Nor was there a rejection. Yes, not at all different from doing it yourself.

Eventually, WEbook will charge for the service, possibly after it catches on with writers or draws a lot of members. The thing is, it won't be worth paying for.

Except for knowing when and if an agent reads the submission, there's nothing about the site that makes a big difference. Sure, it's easier to submit a query, but it's not such a difficult thing to do in the first place. It's fantastic to know if your material has been received and looked at, but to pay money for the information?

There's all kinds of query blasting services out there that practically spam literary agents. WEbook is more fine-tuned and requires more of their users, but you can find agents for your genre at AgentQuery.com and that won't cost a thing.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Blarney This And Blarney That

The Irish agree that global climate change is a serious issue. 82% think it's almost as serious an issue as poverty, and something needs to be done.

Just not something done by the Irish people.

They talk a good game about the use of alternative fuels, but when it comes time to pay the higher price, they're steadfastly against it. They complain about the government and private industry not doing more to combat climate change, but they aren't willing to meet the financial demands that are required to lower the carbon footprint of the Emerald Isle.

It's not that the Irish invented blarney. They're probably aware of a new study that shows we're all in for another ice age, and it's the melting Greenland ice sheets that spell our doom.

How do scientists know this? Geologic evidence points to a past incident of melting that dumped millions of gallons of fresh water into the oceans, thus disrupting the flow of warmer waters into the North Atlantic, leading to an ice age 12,000 years ago.

Perhaps the Irish aren't so keen to dig deeper into their pockets because they understand that this melting was not caused by man at all. No carbon dumped into the atmosphere, no fossil fuels causing havoc with the climate. It happened because that's just what the earth and the sun do when they get together.

So, without any human influence, the northern ice sheets melted and diluted the North Atlantic current and created a massive freeze...in the span of a few months.

And it might happen again. No reason not to think it couldn't, when it's happened before. And if it does happen again? There's not a thing man could do about it.

Risk financial meltdown because the earth is warming and a group of scientists say man is causing it? Or accept the scientific fact that the climate changes, has changed in the past and will change in the future, and it's not homo sapiens, the mightiest of the beasts at the top of the food chain, who can control the climate.

Little wonder that the average person isn't entirely buying into the urgent need to change lifestyles and make great sacrifices. All that effort, the sun holidays cancelled or the thermostat lowered to near freezing in the house, and will it really, truly make a difference? It's the element of doubt and the desire to be warm and comfy that leads to all that blarney about doing something to stop a phenomenon that looks to be perfectly normal and unstoppable.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Limits To Being Free


Rupert Murdoch was making noise some time ago about charging for news content on the Internet. Google has just decided that they understand what Mr. Murdoch was talking about. Not all news content accessed via Google will continue to be free.

It's Google that's been making the money off such content. The revenue from the Google ads aren't going to the news organizations that invested time and money in research and writing, while Google doesn't pay a single cent for the material that crowds out its advertising space. Anyone with business sense can see that the arrangement was grossly unfair to the producer and highly beneficial to Google (what a scientist would call a parasitic relationship).

You'll get five free clicks in the future. Visit a news publisher's site and you can read five separate stories. On your sixth click, you'll be sent to a registration page where you'll have the opportunity to pay for your curiosity.

Josh Cohen of Google sees it as all to the good. Google still gets the free content that fuels their search engine. Rupert Murdoch and his ilk get some revenue to compensate their labors. If you took advantage of a Google search and read an entire newspaper cover to cover, you'll soon discover that your unlimited browsing has a limit.

Want to read one of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers for free? You'll have to march yourself over to the local public library and wait your turn.

Otherwise, you'll have to pay up for your Google search results. The days of unlimited and free access to all information has reached its limit, and it's the hard reality of money that's created the barricade.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dubai Meltdown Cooks The Minnow

What a tangled web Barry O'Callaghan did weave when first he practiced to borrow his way into educational publishing materials nirvana.

One acquisition after another, and before long he had EMPG, a debt-laden whale that was propped up by Istithmar World Capital. All looked well on the minnow's horizon.

As bad luck would have it, Istithmar World Capital is situated in Dubai, owned by the very people who have asked the world to hold off on getting repaid on $60 billion in debt.

As Istithmar must come up with some cash to make its payments or face a total meltdown, those associated with EMPG (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for example) are wondering if Dubai's stock in EMPG will have to be sold to raise money.

There is more to Dubai's financial woes than a sharp decline in the real estate investment market, although that is said to be the trigger that started the trouble. Having borrowed heavily to promote Dubai real estate, tourism and other non-crude oil ventures, the nation-state is hard-pressed to carry the debt load of others. Others being Barry O'Callaghan's former minnow of an educational materials publisher.

As one investor that took a big chunk of EMPG during the $7 billion debt restructuring, Istithmar now must exit its position. That being the case, is there anyone who wants to buy?

Chances are good that such stock would go at fire-sale prices, given the shaky situation in the entire publishing industry. The set-up that got HMH Riverdeep et.al. out of some seriously boiling hot water is looking more like a house of cards, and the foundation is on the verge of washing away.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Everybody Knew, Nobody Said


There is not doubt any more that the Catholic Church and the Irish government colluded to cover up endemic child abuse by priests.

The report of the Commission of Investigation stated this in clear terms.

What everybody has known for years is finally acknowledged as fact, and the Church is most sincerely sorry. An Garda Siochana is launching their own investigation, an examination long delayed, into the State's participation in the scandal.

Was there criminal liability? Are gardai to be taken to task for kow-towing to the local bishop and not pursuing complaints? Is the State to be sued for failing to act, for helping the Church to hide and avoid prosecution?

What can be done for the victims whose lives were destroyed by criminal acts of physical and sexual abuse that were ignored, all to save the reputation of the Catholic Church?

It is hoped that the report will provide a framework to avoid a repeat of such incidents in the future, but the damage is done to both the victims and the Church, which has lost its former standing as moral authority. A bishop or priest cannot open his mouth without being laughed at, for those who would throw stones are now proven to be with sin.

That which was hidden has been revealed. The perpetrators must now deal with the fall-out of their decades of hypocrisy.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give Thanks

For friends and family, we give thanks every day of the year. For good books and good arguments, we count our blessings.

We'll eat too much and drink far too much, enjoy the company of our siblings and mourn the physical decline of our aging parents, who may be celebrating their last Thanksgiving Day on earth.

Clean the house, scrub the bathrooms, baste the turkey, mash the spuds, and in a flash the meal will be concluded and we'll pause after the guests have gone home, pause to recollect and reflect on our blessings.

We don't have much money. Business has been bad and won't be better in the coming year, but no matter how grim the economic climate, we'll have friends and family to provide food for the soul.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Unfair To Who?

Trade unions in Ireland have gone out on strike, to protest against planned wage cuts for public service workers. A successful strike requires the support of non-union members, the general public---the same people who make less than those who walked off their jobs.

People employed in the private sector earn less than the public service sector. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions seems to have forgotten this proven fact. Instead, in the face of unsustainable costs, they've decided to launch a very public complaint about being asked to take pay cuts that would bring member wages in line with everyone else's.

And they expect sympathy from the general public.

Doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters and paper-shufflers are walking the picket lines, demanding that their pay not be reduced. Demanding that people who make as much as 20% less than them pay more in taxes to fund their bloated pay checks. Inconveniencing people, frightening people who are afraid to get sick or light a match in case no one will be there to take care of the issue. Yes, ICTU expects sympathy for their cause.

When Jim Larkin called out the workers, conditions were grim and pay was low. Today, ICTU calls out the workers and they're well-paid, with decent working conditions.

In 1913, W.B. Yeats wrote poems in support of those locked out in Dublin. In 2009, no one's writing poems. Just as no one is demanding that service workers paid by tax dollars aren't asked to make sacrifices like everyone else when the government's run out of money.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Day For Giving Thanks

The long awaited report on clerical sex abuse in Dublin's archdiocese is due to be published, after much delay, on Thursday.

As luck would have it, that's also a major holiday in the U.S. Makes for a slow news day, a relatively quiet day, and it's less likely that the Irish diaspora will get many details in their newspapers. By Friday, of course, it's old news.

The report would have come out sooner, but there's a strike scheduled and people who might need mental health counseling after reading the report would find that the helplines are down due to industrial action.

Then there was the Department of Justice weighing in, adding to the delay. One of the priests mentioned in the report is about to be tried for child sex abuse, and they didn't want certain information relevant to their case to be released.

All the delay, yet it won't be much news in the end. It's well known by now that the Catholic Church had a pattern of moving abusing priests around from parish to parish. It was done all over the globe, in every parish in every country. And the State did nothing, not when it was the Catholic Church they'd have to deal with. The bishops didn't tell the authorities, the authorities didn't pursue cases aggressively because the bishops promised to take care of it, and the end result was thousands of children abused and broken.

On Thanksgiving Day, while the Americans are sitting down to a feast, the people in Ireland will be sitting down to yet another litany of abuse. A sensitive telling of the story, in fiction form, can be found between the pages of The Leaven of the Pharisees, if you're interested in learning more.

And Patrick Kennedy's bishop has decided that the man is to be denied Communion for his political views.

How can they wonder why no one takes them seriously?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Encounters With A Brick Wall

Query letters aren't getting any attention. The current work in progress was put aside in favor of editing an old manuscript, and when I went back to it, I knew the opening had to be re-done but I didn't know where to start. Revised query letters aren't getting any attention.

I've reached the tallest brick wall yet, the one that I'm having a difficult time climbing over. It's the wall that's covered with graffiti, all of which declares my utter inability to write anything that anyone would want to read.

Crisis of confidence perhaps? Or the faintest glimmers of reality poking through? So what's at the top of this brick wall if I try to clamber up? More failure? Yet another wall?

The partial manuscript that was sent to a publisher may never move along any further than the bottom of the slush pile, forgotten until some cleaning session sees it tossed into the bin. The agent who's reading the full manuscript may be composing a rejection query letter even now.

Ah, the ups and downs of the writing game. The temptation to quit is quite strong. Be done with the pain of rejection, the weariness of early mornings spent with words. What point is sleep deprivation if it leads to nothing but....nothing?

But if I give it up, I'll be expected to find the leak under the kitchen sink and actually fix it. Rooms in need of paint will have to be painted. I'd have the time for the mundane chores, if I would abandon a hobby that's provided years of frustration.

Maybe if I can hypnotize myself and try writing from a trance......

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Kind Of Town?


The massive McCormick Place complex on the shores of Lake Michigan has long been a destination for major trade shows. Plenty of space for exhibitors and guests, the venue has the added advantage of being situated in Chicago, a bustling town famous for its steaks and respectable nightlife.

Unfortunately, McCormick Place's other claim to fame has caught up with it. The major trade shows are going elsewhere, and just when Chicago is desperate for money.

The plastics industry got fed up. The healthcare info management industry got fed up. And now the restaurants are letting the city know that the goose is cooked.

Since time immemorial, it was known that an exhibitor didn't dare to so much as screw in a single lightbulb out of fear that the booth would come to harm overnight. Call an electrician, or else. And then pay an astronomical fee.

An exhibitor had to have a union operative for every possible activity, and the cost was high but there wasn't much choice. Over the years, however, other cities figured that they could build large exposition halls and attract conventions. The conventions realized that they could go someplace else, have great fun, and not get gouged for the privilege.

Orlanda, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada, have stolen two key trade shows from Chicago, taking along tens of millions of dollars in business that includes hotel rentals, meals, and other incidentals. The National Restaurant Association, booked for the next two years, is making some noise about 2012. They might not choose Chicago.

When you own a monopoly, you can charge what the market will bear. Chicago's McCormick Place isn't the only game in town anymore, and Mayor Richard Daley has a hard choice to make.

He has the union's support because he takes care of the union bosses, but the union bosses have become too greedy. Now the Mayor must rein them in, but if he cuts off their access to the trough, why would they continue to get out the vote for Richie? But if he doesn't bring them to heel, there goes another trade show and the tax revenue they generate.

The high cost of corruption is taking a toll. Will someone blink and make a sacrifice? Or will they sit back as business departs, content with the knowledge that they run a place that's all but abandoned?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Talk To The Hand

The Irish government might as well talk to the hand, because the religious congregations ain't listening.

The cost of compensating thousands of Irish citizens for the abuse they suffered as children under the care of the Sisters of Mercy or the Christian Brothers is astronomical. Since the religious made money off the slave labor of those children (small fingers work best to string rosaries), it was expected that they would take a large share of the blame.

What few outside of Ireland know is that Irish children were literally arrested on trumped up charges such as begging, and commited to industrial schools. The idea was to socially engineer poverty into oblivion, and the girls could be well trained in morality and there's the end of premarital sex. The ultimate outcome was thousands of men and women wholly unprepared for the outside world, institutionalized, emotionally stunted.

The cost of psychological counseling alone will cost millions of euro, to say nothing of the financial remuneration for pain and suffering.

So will the religious organizations answer the government's call to contribute more to the redress scheme than what they originally were willing to give? More than worthless land and the heartfelt prayers of the congregations?

Thus far, there's been little response to Taoiseach Brian Cowen's request. No surprise, of course. The religious orders did nothing when they learned that they were harboring pedophiles within the confines of their institutions, and they did nothing when children were physically and/or sexually abused. Why break with tradition and actually do something productive?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Old Age Isn't Pretty

Playboy Enterprises is up for sale. Who'd want such an old dinosaur?

Anyone looking for something particularly creepy to watch on television can spend time with a very geriatric Hugh Hefner, looking more and more senile by the week. This is the face of Playboy? It's isn't pretty.

The man who helped to launch the sexual revolution is now watching the revolution pass him by. There's so much porn on the Internet that no one needs to pick up a copy of Playboy's magazine. It's not the only game in town, and apparently no one was reading the thing for the quality articles either. The prose is still there but the sales are not.

The corporation is bleeding red ink. A casino project from the 1980's fell apart, and there went that source of outside, non-porn, income. When the business is sex, and the competition is fierce, where does a CEO go to diversify the portfolio? The nightclubs are long gone, just as the habit of going to nightclubs is long gone. What passes for entertainment fifty years after Hugh Hefner launched the bunny on the world is radically different.

For now, that is. Pay attention to the commercials for liquor that feature handsome (a bit gay, actually) men sipping things like scotch or expensive bourbons. Dressed in tuxedos. All very formal, like something our parents might have thought was a look to aim for.

Then look up old videos of Hugh Hefner's television program, in which he roamed a room filled with sophisticated types, sipping scotch or expensive bourbon. Dressed up, not down.

It seems as if the style pendulum is going back to the 1950's, to the age of cocktail parties that flowed with witty repartee and not a single glass of white wine to be seen. It's the Playboy image that Hugh Hefner promoted, and it may be making a return appearance. Just in time for some investor to buy up the potential that could be residing in Playboy Enterprises.

Then they could put Grandpa Hugh out to pasture and bring in a younger, hipper spokesman. One far less creepy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Minnow Swims Into Court

An asset isn't worth much if its value has been artificially inflated.

That's Cengage Learning's take on their earlier deal with Barry O'Callaghan's conglomerate.

Looking to dispose of that which could lower its heavy debt load, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sold off the college textbook department and set about focusing on the younger set. Now Cengage is claiming that HMH dumped a load of books on the market and now that the market's been flooded, Cengage doesn't have any business going forward.

Not only did HMH flood the foreign market, they did deals with some "shady" operators who planned all along to re-distribute their inventories back to the U.S. through "unauthorized distribution channels." Sounds like a black market in low-priced books, and what hard-pressed school board wouldn't look for any discount they could find.

Since Mr. O'Callaghan promised to reimburse Cengage if the deal wasn't all it was supposed to be, Cengage has taken the whale-swallowing minnow to court, to get what they feel is owed.

No word yet on the defense that will be mounted, but there's always the "Who could have guessed" type of excuse. Who could have guessed that the foreigners would sell under the table? Who could have guessed the overseas buyers were only looking for cheap inventory that would undercut Cengage?

Times being hard, it's not as if Cengage could lower their own prices to compete. Cengage not being an Irish firm, they probably never heard of gombeen men. You'd think that somewhere in their collection of history texts would be something explaining the "shady" dealings that took place after the potato crop was wiped out.

Caveat emptor?

Send The Boy To America

A few weeks ago, I posted a story about Adam Costello Doherty, an Irish teen with common variable immune deficiency.

He's been showing marked improvement over the years that he's been treated in the U.S., the only place in the world that has the protocol needed. At this point, he only needs twice-yearly injections to keep him alive, but it's not so easy as it sounds.

Under Ireland's national health care plan, Adam can't get the life-sustaining injections he needs because it's not covered. The Health Service bureaucrats paid for it before, but now they've realized it was all a huge mistake and Adam can only be treated in the European Union. Which doesn't have the treatment. At all.

If you're outraged by this kind of callous disregard of a child's life, you can sign a petition to the HSE to insist that Adam's critical care be paid for.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How To Turn Your PC Into A Kindle

No magic required to perform this amazing feat.

No need to spend all that money on a Kindle if you have your laptop handy. It's one less thing to carry on those business trips, and who would go on vacation over the upcoming holidays without their computer?

Amazon has a new app for the personal computer that will bring Kindle publications to anyplace that can access the site.

Log on and get a free download for your old-fashioned Windows XP operating system, and you can buy all the books you like. Amazon will store them for you on their servers, in your own electronic library. Your well-to-do cubicle neighbor at the office can show off his financial largesse with a posh Kindle, but you don't have to be deprived of the expansive collection of e-books when you have a PC that will work just as well.

The more available the e-book, the more sales that can be generated, and that puts a nice boost into Amazon's bottom line.

Those who are upgrading to Windows 7 will have access to more features, including the all important page turning function that works by a swipe of the finger, quite similar to the motions a reader makes to turn a physical page.

To the publishing world, it's a mixed set of emotions that greet the news. At $9.99, Amazon's e-books are downright cheap compared to the cost of a hard copy, and that means less profit. They've responded by holding up the release of electronic versions of new titles, in the hope that everyone will rush out to buy the more expensive version from a book shop.

At the same time, making it this easy to buy a book anywhere, anytime, and have it in hand (so to speak) at once sounds like the sort of arrangement that could sell more books, even at a lower price.

Will volume be the salvation of publishing, or will the heavy discount send the major publishing houses to the poor house?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

And You Thought It Was All About Literature

Sweating over the perfect word, agonizing over the placement of a comma, now we're learning that authors have it all wrong.

It's all about being green.

Today, in only a few short minutes, one hundred bloggers are going to review books based entirely on their ecological correctness. Printed on recycled paper? You're golden.

Eco-Libris has organized the campaign, which is meant to promote saving trees. The trees that are grown to be harvested to make paper? That's like not eating tortillas to save the corn plants.

As would be expected, several of the books scheduled to be reviewed are books that tell us how to live in an ecologically preserved manner. There's a fair number of books geared towards children, who aren't learning how to save the planet from Mom and Dad and their wasteful SUV.

What will the reviews entail? Might the reviewers look at the quality of the prose, or will the critique focus on the green message contained within?

Wouldn't it be more eco-friendly to bypass the print process and go straight to the Kindle or the Nook? Limit books to downloads that don't require a scrap of wood pulp?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Direct To The Web

Over the past few years, sales have declined at Harlequin, the publisher that gave the world Fabio.

Muscles rippling, hair floating on an artist's breeze, Fabio graced many a cover of a Harlequin romance, and it's said his manly physique boosted sales.

Now Harlequin is giving up on the aging cover boy and launching a new line that will be published direct to the Web. No hard covers, no paper, just digital pages for downloading.

Carina Press plans to put out something new every week, not unlike its parent publisher, and like Harlequin, they'll look at your manuscript without the need of a literary agent.

For now, if your steamy erotic roman-a-clef is picked up by Carina, readers will only be able to access your words through the Carina website. They have plans to expand distribution to other places, possibly Amazon for the Kindle or Barnes and Noble for the Nook. Then you, the author, would have to promote yourself like mad across the Internet to drive traffic to Carina's on-line shop. With a book a week coming out, you can't expect much publicity from your publisher.

Thanks to the discretion inherent in online publishing, Carina could put out women's porn and not have to worry about offending shoppers at Wal-Mart or Target. The only person who might know that a reader has purchased such naughty material is the computer repairman. There's no hiding files from the computer savvy, so you'd want to be careful where you store your digital downloads.

Anyone can submit just about anything to Carina, and they provide detailed submission instructions.

You have a manuscript under the bed, don't you? The one that the literary agent said was well written but without a market? Maybe you won't earn a huge advance from Carina Press, but wouldn't your novel do you more good online than among the dust bunnies?

Just to be sure, you might want to revise it a bit, through in some throbbing members and shafts and the like. And then use a pseudonym. Wouldn't want your neighbors to think you were some kind of pervert.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

If It Isn't Too Much To Ask

A body can't be buried in Ireland without a proper death certificate.

Unless the burial is done by the Catholic Church, in which case no one needs to notify next of kin, take down names, or any of those other formalities that take up too much valuable time.

A group of women who once slaved in the Magdalene laundries met with officials yesterday, to ask if it wouldn't be too much trouble for An Garda Siochana to investigate the exhumation and subsequent re-burial of an uncounted number of women who died while inmates of the Magdalene laundry at High Park, Drumcondra.

The nuns who owned the facility had sold the property for development, and the cemetery was in the way. They had the remains dug up, cremated, and interred in Glasnevin, all without contacting next of kin or filing the proper paperwork. The uproar grew into a shout that eventually brought the entire system of abuse out into the open.

Those who toiled to wash away their sins, whether it was the stain of premarital sex, the crime of being attractive, or the taint of illegitimacy, not one of them ever received a penny in wages while the religious orders who ran the operations were paid by their customers.

To understand how the system worked and how it psychologically bent the innocent, you'd want to pick up a copy of The Leaven of the Pharisees, a novel that tells a powerful tale.

The buck's getting passed around, from the religious orders to the State to the Department of Education to the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme, an endless loop that allows no one to accept responsibility for what was done to innocent women in the name of overblown morality.

Sean Aylward of the Department of Justice said he'd look into some of the women's issues, but victims like Kathleen Legg and Marina Gambold are in their seventies. Justice for the Magdalenes can't come soon enough.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mickey Has Come, A New Theme Park Has Come



There's money in China. Aren't they funding the U.S.'s enormous debt?

The Mouse is expanding, according to reports. As soon as agreement can be reached, the Walt Disney Company will break ground on a new theme park in Shanghai.

Lots of money to found in Shanghai, and with China's one child policy, there's an army of spoiled brats to be catered to. All in all, it's the perfect combination for success.

Granted, the Hong Kong site hasn't done as well as expected, but Hong Kong was a British colony for so long that they aren't quite so starved for Western style decadence. For those who suffered through the Cultural Revolution, a day with Mickey and Minnie and Goofy and Donald Duck has a definite appeal.

Soon, Mickey Mouse will lead the daily parade down Main Street, waving Mao's little red book and singing of the glories of communist rule.

And if the Disney Company doesn't like what they're told to do by an oppressive regime, they can take their mouse elsewhere.

Not exactly the free-est of free enterprise in China. But a savvy investor will hold his nose with one hand and rake in cash with the other. It's all about making money, and even bank robbers know that you have to go where the money is.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Love On The Rocks

The Associated Press may not be all that in the news reporting business.

The Chicago Tribune is going to test that theory.

A newspaper can't afford to put reporters all over the globe to catch the latest news. They've come to rely on other sources, like the Associated Press, to provide content for a fee. The stories are ready to go, can be edited down to fit the column space available, and the paper is as current as the print medium can be.

The fee is the part of the equation that's not adding up for the Tribune Company. Struggling to emerge from bankruptcy brought on by a heavily leveraged buy-out, the newspaper is looking to cut costs and they've discovered that AP isn't cheap.

Starting next week, the Chicago Tribune will use AP on a limited basis. If a story can be obtained from Reuters, CNN, or the New York Times among others, they'll buy that content and AP can go scratch.

Anyone with a subscription to the Tribune knows that there's precious little news and much less physical paper than there used to be. To cut costs, the volume was brought down, and there's not so much need for AP stories to fill out the pages. There simply aren't that many pages.

Some might say that newspapers are dinosaurs in a digital age, dying out. That puts the Associated Press in a bad position, not a dinosaur itself but symbiotically dependent on the industry.

Newspaper watchdogs will follow the experiment and study the feedback from Tribune readers....at least those who are left.

AP has a web presence. Subscribers to the Chicago Tribune who miss their stories in the morning paper can simply log on and fill in the gap, for free.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Night Watchman At Harper Studios

People would try to hide after hours, that was human nature. Seth made his rounds carefully, thoroughly, probing every room, every corner, every stairwell and bathroom stall. They'd want to hide and then break into her office, maybe take a souvenir. Not on his watch they wouldn't.

At the end of the corridor, Seth could hear people walking. Not one or two, but a whole crowd, sounding just like the folks who came for the taping. A sort of shuffling, a lazy stroll when the mob moved as a unit into the studio. By the time he reached the place where he thought he heard footsteps, there was nothing but the quiet of the empty building.

Too nervous, he told himself. Too worked up about doing a perfect job, and maybe a little concerned about screwing up just one time and losing the best position he'd ever get. He'd been a bouncer at the nightclub where the folks stampeded in a blind panic and those poor women got the life squeezed out of them at the bottom of the stairs. No, he'd never work as a bouncer again. The way the cops and the paramedics had to peel the bodies apart, all twined together like tangled branches. Night watchman suited him fine.

A little girl giggled. Seth heard her, clear as if she were laughing in his ear. When he turned to see who was playing a joke, he saw nothing more than the shadows cast by the safety lights. Couldn't have been a child, he realized. It was just the building settling, an old board creaking. It was real old, this building, used to be an armory long ago. Over one hundred years ago, at least. Old buildings made a lot of noise, same as old people did.

Aware of movement over his shoulder, Seth spun around to see if he had an intruder on his hands. A woman in grey crossed the hall at the far end, heading towards the boss's office. He took off at a fast clip, ready to demand an I.D. Then they'd know he was on the job, nothing getting by Seth Lewis.

"Ms. Winfrey," he called to the woman. It was her, he was certain, putting in a late night, getting ready for the next week's round of taping. "That you, Ms. Winfrey?"

The lady in grey had disappeared before he could round the corner, but Seth's ears picked up her mournful wailing. Steadman must have broken up with her, to bring on that kind of sorrow, or that school in Africa had bigger problems than anyone knew.

He followed the sound of weeping to the green room and threw open the door. The room was filled with bodies, lined up so tight that a person could scarcely get a step between them. They were covered with sheets, but their shoes were exposed, rows of shoes on the feet of men and women and children. Old-fashioned shoes, the kind that buttoned.

Was this some kind of joke? A prank played on the new guy? A musty smell, the stink of the Chicago River, was a miasma that mingled with the eerie gloom that was broken only by his flashlight's beam.

"This is Harpo Studios," Seth said. They had the means to rig up a scene from some cheap Hollywood horror picture.

A picture crashed to the floor behind him and Seth spun on heels, heart pumping so fast it threatened to gallop out of his chest. The flashlight swung around, spraying sparkles across the carpet where the shards of glass had scattered. Except for the rattle of air bellowing out of the night watchman's lungs, the hallway was strangely quiet.

With his breath catching in his throat, Seth took one look at the broken picture. The montage featured an old photograph of the Eastland, a lake steamer that had tipped over in the Chicago River not long after the Titanic sunk. Whole families, hundreds of people, had been trapped below deck and drowned, almost all of them employees of Western Electric headed over to Michigan for a company picnic. Spread around the center photo were newspaper articles that described the horrible day, accompanied by pictures taken by press photographers or maybe the County Coroner, chilling images of bodies that had been pulled from the river and brought to the armory. Hundreds of dead, all lined up in a makeshift morgue.

Harpo Studios was the makeshift morgue. Seth's lips mouthed the words that clattered in his skull. The victims, taken out of the water, cold and lifeless,, had waited here to be claimed. The anonymous bodies, in neat rows, waited to be identified.

A howling rose up behind him, the voices of the dead screaming, as they had screamed while the Chicago River swept over their heads. The hallway was thick with people, but not human beings, just the shadows of people, drifting, moving. Through the wall, into the green room.

The woman in gray was at his side, he saw tears shining on her face but her features were fuzzy. Seth reached out, to touch her and tell her the joke was over, but his hand went right through her.

Overhead lights flickered and then went out. The door of the green room slammed shut. Seth ran and never looked back.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Virtual Minnow

Books take up space. They have mass.

Electronic books, however, don't require much room at all. There's no bindery needed to put pages together, no rolls of paper delivered to factories where ink is applied and pages cut to size.

Publishing hard-bound books takes money. Publishing interactive software is less costly in comparison, and an educational publisher would see a bigger profit with e-books.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the educational publishing arm of Barry O'Callaghan's empire, has landed a contract with the Detroit public school system, a deal worth $40 million and don't think that the little fish in the HMH corporate offices aren't dancing a merry jig.

Children in Detroit's public schools will be connected with their teachers via computers. The teachers can use the software to assign homework and track progress.

No more books! A mouse and monitor will bring facts and figures, to fill the minds of Detroit's impoverished youth. No books? The federal stimulus money that's paying for the interactive system allows for e-books, not physical books.

It's a brilliant system, and home computers all across Detroit will be buzzing with learning, with kids interacting with their teachers, teachers interacting with administrators, and what happens if the Detroit family is too poor to have a computer in the home?

Federal stimulus money could provide that as well, although buying personal computers for Detroit's schoolchildren isn't exactly a way to generate jobs for the unemployed of Michigan.

Teachers have to learn how to use the new system, but once the school is tied in with HMH's program, it's steady income for the whale-swallowing minnow. Too expensive to switch over to the likes of Pearson's competing product, and there'll be all those updates and upgrades and revisions down the years.

Barry O'Callaghan prayed for stimulus money to boost sales at HMH, and God has heard his pleas. With the U.S. Treasury footing the bill for e-books and interactive learning systems, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Riverdeep et al. are well positioned to reap the benefits.

And when the stimulus money is all gone, the interactive systems will remain, and they'll be in need of tweaking at some point. So maybe the federal stimulus money does help to save jobs, albeit in a round-about way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Explaining The Lack Of Agent Interest

Good writing, said the agent who rejected my full manuscript.

Nothing wrong there. Grand to be reassured when a writer's riddled with self-doubt.

Rejection just the same, however. The story isn't a blockbuster type, the sort of thing that major publishing houses are after.

It's the economy, they say. Big, splashy hits like Dan Brown has produced, or Jodi Picoult or Steven King, that's what is selling.

So it's a rejection. I've been advised to go direct to the small publishers, to find a niche that fits my story, and do it that way. Small houses pay little to no advance, and a literary agent won't waste his or her time pursuing an editor if there's no money to be made. They're in business, after all, not operating a charity for needy authors.

I've nothing to lose in finding some little companies that might be interested in a novel that covers a rather obscure area of Irish history. Instead of sending off packets to agents, I'll be sending off packets to publishers who crank out ten or twelve books per year, and hope that I land in their niche.

While I wait to hear back, I'll work on something else, dust off an old manuscript and re-work it into something that might appeal to a larger audience.

Monday, October 26, 2009

One Author's Drivel Is Another Man's Entertainment

Publishers pay huge money to celebrities, who are then supposed to go out and "write" something.

It could be the life story of a girl in her teens, it could be a pop singer penning a tome filled with fashion and diet advice.

Author Lynda La Plante would prefer that publishers stop paying enormous sums for such shite and print more readable, quality writing.

Actress Martine McCutcheon, who rose to fame with a starring role in EastEnders, a long running British soap, begs to differ.

Ms. McCutcheon wrote a novel and is under contract for two more. The first chapter of her debut novel, The Mistress, was made available on line, to generate some pre-release buzz. There was indeed buzz generated, with critics panning the writing as "a truly awful piece of pedestrian drivel."

She was well paid for her drivel because she's got an enormous platform. The book will sell, based entirely on her fame and not at all on the quality of her prose. Whether or not it well sell through to earn the advance is another story entirely.

Some other author will be paid a pittance in royalties to make up the difference. That also means that new authors will find it that much more impossible to get their chance, because the publishers are crying about the tight market and the literary agents hear the call. Untried authors won't get a foot in the door because the money's going out to pay celebrities and only published authors need apply.

So a highly respected crime fiction novelist calls on the publishing houses to re-arrange their priorities, to put out a quality product. A television soap opera actress defends the status quo, noting that her book is nothing more than entertainment for the average man.

The average man enjoys pedestrian drivel, as far as the major publishers are concerned, pedestrian drivel written by someone famous. It's all about the author's platform, about business, and there's precious little art involved.

Friday, October 23, 2009

As Seen On Mythbusters

Can a man be electrocuted by urinating on an electrified rail?

As seen on Mythbusters, it's not entirely likely unless he's standing close to the track, but a man wee-ing on an electrified fence should take precautions.

Urine conducts electricity, and current requires that a circuit be completed. When stream of piss connects grounded man to electrical source, more will flow than the gallons of beer he drank that evening.

John O'Connor is tired of drunken eejits pee-ing on his shop front and he's turned to science to solve the problem.

He's installed an electronic device on the store's facade that will send a charge back up a urine stream, to deliver a shock to a very delicate part of the male anatomy.

Brilliant.

No doubt Mr. O'Connor is at his wit's end, dealing with his place of business serving as an outdoor toilet, forced to clean up some disgusting messes every Monday morning. You'd have to believe that he thought about more violent means to punish the filthy pigs who've made his life a misery, but filling a young man's privates with bird shot isn't legal---although the prosecutor's office would have a hard time finding a jury willing to convict a man for such a crime.

Signs will be posted and you can bet that more than a few morons will have a slash, just to see if they really do get a shock.

He'd installed CCTV cameras earlier, in the hopes of catching the perpetrators. Will we soon seen videos on YouTube of drunks testing out a concept that's already been confirmed by Mythbusters?

And can the voltage be cranked up for the repeat offenders?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Devil In The Details

To be a writer is to be a researcher. No matter if it's about finding who represents an author or bringing accuracy to a manuscript, there's work involved.

Heather Barbieri, she of international short story award fame, managed to snag Emma Sweeney's interest with a manuscript, so my research began with reading her debut piece.

Bringing accuracy to a manuscript isn't all that.

I've known since I was small that you don't call those who roam Ireland's roads "tinkers" as it's considered an insult. They like to be called Travellers. With two 'L's.

That minor point slipped past the editors and Ms. Barbieri, who opens the novel with a character who describes himself as a traveler. One 'L'. He's driving his caravan, makes a living fixing things (that's where the tinkering comes in) but he's not a card-carrying member of the Travellers, not one to support Pavee Point's quest for Travellers' rights. Is he truly a Traveller (and they're not gypsies either) or just a man who likes to roam?

Unfortunately, such small errors set the teeth on edge and make it harder to read. There's an ongoing awareness that things aren't quite right, and if it's all about suspending disbelief, even that becomes hard work.

The story is set in the west of Ireland, but it's in a Gaelic village.

What might that be? Is Ms. Barbieri referring to the Gaeltacht? If so, the folks would be speaking Irish and all the signs would be in Irish and the local newspaper would be in Irish.

But there's no one in the entire novel speaking Irish. They're all talking another language called Gaelic.

The fact is, the great majority of Ms. Barbieri's readers wouldn't know that. They wouldn't cringe every time the word 'Gaelic' was used when 'Irish' was the more accurate word. They've most likely never heard of the Gaeltacht and have no idea how restrictive the places are, how little English is heard.

Outside of the details, the story is well told. The plot revolves around loss (mother dies) and finding a new man (post-break-up) and there's the usual female problems tossed in to the subplot (wife abuse).

With a bit of clever phrasing, I could probably come up with a query letter that claims my manuscript would be snapped up by Ms. Barbieri's readers. Except my manuscript has a few more words of Irish in it.

The devil's in such details.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We Know You're Here

Already literary agents are putting all advertising for Barnes & Noble's e-reader in the bin. A reading device that can't handle Word documents is worthless to those who earn their keep with words.

Anyone who values their privacy will not be keen to purchase a Nook either.

Barnes & Noble will know when you enter one of their shops.

Combining free WiFi with marketing, Big Reading Brother will zap your Nook with sample chapters the minute you wander into the shop. You wouldn't want to be carrying your Nook if you were a hit man on your way to a job near a Barnes & Noble. One subpoena and your movements would be traced as easily as that.

The suits at Barnes & Noble will tell you it's a brilliant thing, to be able to read the opening of a new book that's not to be laid down for another month, and you'd be the first. Why, there'd be coupons and such dumped into your Nook, and that's all to the good, the marketing department is proclaiming. Never mind the creepiness factor, that your electronic reading device is being used to spy on you.

As for lending e-books, the publishers don't like that at all, even if Nook users can share one title with one friend just the one time. It's one thing to do that with a hard copy that costs $24.99 and quite another to do so with an e-book that's going for $8.99.

Still, the device will store 17,000 books, and that's enough reading material to last a lifetime.

Just don't carry the thing around if you don't want B&N to know where you are.

Monday, October 19, 2009

There's More To Literature Than Little Red Books

If this is how honored guests are treated, the Chinese would rather not be honored.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, China expected to have a platform from which to hawk their Communist culture, and expand into yet another export market.

Sad to say, Beijing, but the world doesn't want your books.

Literature springs from free speech, from the right to express opinions that are often contrary to the party line. As this concept is anathema to those on high, Chinese books are worthless.

Then there's all those Chinese dissidents, invited by the book fair organizers and then uninvited when China complained. Wouldn't you know, with all that freedom in the Western World, that the organizers caved in to pressure and let them in after all. Freedom of movement is also troubling to the Chinese of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

When the message is controlled, it's so much easier to indoctrinate to the party line. That hasn't happened in Frankfurt.

They didn't come to be instructed about democracy, but the honored guests got a lesson just the same. Chinese censorship dictated what books the Chinese exhibit displayed, but all their censorship couldn't prevent participants in the German book fair from displaying those same works that criticized Chinese censorship and other aspects of the brutal regime.

Of course they complained mightily about the Germans, about the rudeness of the host and the focus on human rights when it was supposed to be about selling books.

That's the problem with literature. It's too much about human rights and the human condition, and even though publishing is a business, there's no controlling the readers who buy those books. So if there's no market for censorship, what's the point in selling it?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Form E112 (IE)/EU/EEA And Fill It Out In Triplicate

What could be better and more efficient than government running the health care system?

Like a good citizen seeking treatment in the proper way, Judi Costello filled out form E112(IE) and submitted it to Ireland's Health Service Executive. Her son Adam has severe medical problems, and treatment for his common variable immune deficiency requires regular injections.

Those injections are, as luck would have it, only available in the United States. Remarkable that the States would be on the cutting edge, considering how dreadful their privately run health system is said to be.

Ms. Costello filled out her forms, submitted, and brought her son to Newark, NJ, for his vaccinations, and has done so for the past seven years. The HSE then paid for the trip and the treatment.

The lad is showing signs of improvement and his immune system appears to be improving.

Sadly, it was all a vast bureaucratic error. The HSE can't pick up the tab after all. The U.S. doesn't recognize Form E112(IE) as it is not a EU/EEA signatory.

Ms. Costello's son is no longer eligible for the expensive treatment and the HSE has informed Ms. Costello that her most recent submission has been denied. All those previous reimbursements for the past seven years? A mistake. So sorry.

No medical facilities in the EU or Switzerland, where Form E112(IE) allows for treatment abroad to be paid through HSE, has the necessary injections.

Only in America.

The group that lobbies for Irish interests might bring Ms. Costello's son to the halls of Congress during the health care debate and push for the U.S. to sign on to Form E112(IE) and save the young man's life. The prognosis without the shots is pretty grim and wouldn't it be grand to put a face to a matter of life or death?

Just don't let it get out that a government-run program denied life-saving treatment to Adam Costello-Doherty because of cost. That would only fuel the opposition, and proving them right wouldn't do at all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Murky Future Of Publishing

Librarians figured out how to solve the e-book dilemma. Some libraries have downloadable books available on their websites.

However, patrons can't download to Kindle or iPhone or other e-readers because there's simply too many platforms and libraries aren't equipped to handle them all. For now, a library download is available to computers only.

Barnes & Noble is coming out with their own device to compete with the Kindle. Like the VHS vs. Beta wars of long ago, one device has to dominate the market to make it practical for public library lending via an e-reader.

From the publisher's perspective, libraries offering downloads of books means fewer buyers of those same titles. Neither Simon & Schuster nor Macmillan will sell e-books to libraries because there's so much "free" involved. A popular title might result in sales of multiple copies because the library wants to have enough to meet demand. Downloads? Only need one and everyone who wants the latest book can have it. Even the most impatient, who otherwise might have bought the book, can read it through the library.

Even so, former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman has thrown her hat into the e-book ring. Her new venture, Open Road Integrated Media, is all about electronic books. She's planning on releasing the backlist of several popular authors such as William Styron and Iris Murdoch.

Clearly she thinks there's money to be made in electronic publishing, while old school publishers are struggling to find the profit center.

However, Ms. Friedman is hedging her bets by including video content and film production under her publishing tent, along with a sideline in vanity publishing that could prove to be very lucrative.

Is the e-book the future of publishing? The industry indicates that it is, but what form it will take, and what form publishing will take, is still unclear.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Lovely (Golden) Bones

The Albanians would like Mother Teresa's bones returned from India. Time is of the essence.

In fact, India has been given until August to dig up the nun's remains.

Already beatified, Mother Teresa is considered a shoe-in for sainthood. Sure the Nobel Peace Prize was grand, but that's become a bit of a joke and it's sainthood that's to be taken seriously.

Will the Pope make the official declaration next August, on Mother Teresa's 100th birthday?

Should that happen, the Albanian tourism ministry would very much like to have the sainted bones mouldering in Albanian soil, to be prayed over by tourists who would spend money on food and lodging and souvenirs.

India has shown no signs of giving in to the demand. As far as the Indian government is concerned, Mother Teresa became an Indian citizen in 1951 and so she is Indian. She is buried in her homeland, in Calcutta, and the Albanians can name as many roads and airports after her as they like, but those bones aren't leaving.

Albania does not even have a birthplace to turn into a tourist trap, since Mother Teresa was actually born in Macedonia. Don't think that doesn't grate on Albanian nerves. Technically, the woman was Macedonian and not Albanian at all, except for her parents having been born in Albania.

Times are hard, and it's even harder in Albania, a poor country with nothing to attract hordes of wealthy foreigners. The government has vowed to increase pressure on India to deliver the remains, but Albania is poor and India is booming. What real pressure can be applied when such inequality exists?

Beatified individuals must perform miracles to make the final step to sainthood. It's time for the Albanians to start praying.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Taking Things Literally

As the offspring of Simon & Schuster's Simon, singer Carly Simon could be expected to take things literally. After all, it's words that financed her childhood and made her life well-cushioned.

So when Starbucks said they'd promote her new album in their plethora of coffee shops, she took them at their word.

Their word turned out to be as fleeting as the steam on a grande no-fat double-shot latte.

In Ms. Simon's opinion, Starbucks failed to stock enough albums in the stores when it was fresh and new, thereby losing valuable impulse purchasers. When the racks were finally filled, Starbucks cut the price to move them out, and everyone in publishing knows that cut-rate products are remainders that no one wanted the first time around. Not where any artist wants to be, on the remainder table.

Starbucks has countered with a more simple explanation. They did what they were supposed to do. Ms. Simon's album sucked. No one wanted to buy a collection of shite pressed into discs, and all the publicity in the world wouldn't move it.

Like manuscripts, opinions are subjective. Carly Simon should be aware of this sad fact.

In a way, the failure of the album to sell at Starbucks is a giant rejection letter. It's the sort of things that writers are painfully familiar with.