Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Kindle Is For Old People

New electronic devices are cutting edge, the play things of the young and hip.

As it turns out, this is not at all the case with the Kindle reading device.

Don't be fooled by the advertisements that feature young intellectual types with Kindles in hand, riding the subway to exciting jobs in New York City. The Kindle is for old people.

Amazon did a survey and found that the vast majority of Kindle owners are fifty years of age and older. Hardly the young, hip set.

In part, it could be a cost issue. Older people have more disposable income than the young hipsters who have college loans to repay. Kindles do not come cheap.

More books are purchased by the middle-aged and the senior citizen, who have more time to read and who still find reading to be a pleasurable pursuit. The kids are too busy playing video games to sit down with a book, even one that is presented on an electronic box.

What may put the nail in the coffin for Kindle use among younger people is the fact that the typical Kindle user is suffering from age-related physical decline. People with arthritis can use the reader because they don't need to turn a page with their crippled hands. No one needs reading glasses with a Kindle because the print can be enlarged, so those suffering with weakening eyesight love their Kindles.

Once the younger generation gets wind of the data, they'll avoid being seen with a Kindle. How could such a device be cool if it's a toy for one's grandmother?

For the publishing world, one positive bit of data emerged from the survey and it's good news indeed. People who are unable to read hard copy are buying Kindle-ready books, which puts to rest a fear that those buying for Kindle were thus not buying a physical book. With Kindle, according to Amazon, the market has grown, rather than collapsed in on itself.

So if it's the senior set that's taken to the Kindle, are the kids doing all their reading on their iPhones?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thanks And The Door's Just Over There

Amid a flurry of publicity and noise, Richard Abate left powerhouse agency ICM to create a literary agency within a Hollywood talent agency.

Endeavor expanded its reach from Hollywood and the movies to New York and the book world. He did a splendid job, brokering big deals that brought in big commissions. Several of his old ICM clients followed him, fattening up the agency's bottom line, and who wouldn't want such a hard worker on the payroll?

Now that Mr. Abate's baby is all grown up and getting hitched to William Morris, the man who helped make it happen is on the skids.

It's a case of office politics, in which Jennifer Rudolph Walsh of William Morris wants to be top dog and there's only room for one at the top. Is it true that she was chosen because she was the head of William Morris's much larger literary agency, so she won by virtue of experience?

Maybe. Or maybe she had the Board of Directors on her side.

Whatever happened, he's out the door and, given his experience, he's quite likely to open up his own literary agency. At the same time, he'd like to take his existing clients with him, and not leave all his hard work for someone else to reap the profits.

The agents he brought in may not leave with him, and he'll have to start again.

Whether or not he'd be interested in signing up some debut authors who don't have MFAs from Iowa remains to be seen.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Spirit Of The Times

Until recently, Egan's Bar was a Waterford landmark of sorts.

The pub stood in the middle of the city for a long time, serving thirty patrons.

Time moves on, however, and Penneys needed to expand in spite of the rough economy so Egan's had to go.

Waterford is an old town, dating back to the days of Viking raids. Since that time, buildings have gone up and been torn down, the city itself has grown, and what was put under the ground was long forgotten.

Construction workers digging the foundation for the new Penneys outlet shop were startled to discover human skulls and bones at the job site. They contacted the gardai at once.

The bones had not been placed there recently. There was no secret mass grave or evidence of evil deeds done in the cellar of Egan's Bar.

Long before Egan's was erected, a monastery stood on the same spot. Eight centuries past, the monks came to Waterford and established a place to pray and teach. They did so until Henry the Eighth decided that he was quit of the Catholic Church and so too were his subjects. After three hundred years of service, the monastery was gone.

Another three hundred years went by; the monks were forgotten by all except for the historians who keep such records. Forgotten, until the construction crew dug into the burial site.

State archaeologists have been called in to examine the site, to make records of what they can now that the area has been disturbed. The National Museum will collect artifacts, the bones will be re-interred somewhere else, and construction will continue.

The ghosts of Dominicans long dead will have to haunt a retail establishment. They'll be quite disappointed. Men hate shopping. They always head to the pub.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Top This Platform

Plenty of people write memoirs, thinking that their life story is fascinating because they survived alcoholism, abuse, dyslexia, et al. Then they try to find a literary agent to represent them to the publishers, and no one is the least bit interested.

You wouldn't think that Susan Boyle, she of the remarkable voice and some of the talent that England has, would have enough stuff to fluff out an entire book, but she managed to get a literary agent, who's already contacted his U.S. counterpart.

Richard Pine is setting up an auction, and given the short period of time that Ms. Boyle is a hot commodity, he'll move quickly. The idea is to have publishers bid ever higher in their determination to win the prize, and then they'll lay the book down in no time and everyone will buy a copy.

That's the idea. An anonymous editor at one of the potential publishing houses has said that there's a story there, but it's a short one.

If millions are spent to buy the book, and it doesn't sell, then millions will be lost. Risky, a big gamble, and one that means less money available to buy up your little novel that might sell through, but you don't have the star power of Susan Boyle and everyone loves a platform.

For now, there's plenty of talk and rumor. In the end, there may not be a big offer made, but you can rest assured that someone will snap up Ms. Boyle's as yet unwritten memoir. Even a limited market is better than none at all, especially when the author has gone viral.

The Memoir As Novel

From St. Martin's Press book club comes a coming of age novel that is written by a Korean-American. The story is about a Korean immigrant coming of age in America.

There's a memoir in there somewhere.

The first paragraph describes a memory of a place, a recollection of a childhood that you suspect actually happened to the author. It's not uncommon to find novels about immigrant children coming of age, written by immigrants who have come of age.

As a non-immigrant, readers find these stories intriguing because it gives insight into their world, one that is so much a part of them that they can't see how others see it. What better way than to read things like The Kite Runner to discover the States through the eyes of an Afghani?

Everything Asian, by Sung J. Woo, was laid down a couple of weeks ago. Will it sell? Who could say?

The opening that arrived this morning in the inbox was full of nostalgia, as the young man surveys, in present tense, the facade of his childhood home and the empty lot that was the strip mall where the family had their little shop.

That's the key for this novel as memoir, if the flap copy is any guide. The author presents a "strip mall world" for the reader. It's the fresh and new aspect of his coming of age tale. Literary agents are always after fresh and new in the tried and true.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Watch This Space

Keep an eye on Trident Media. Change is a'comin'.

How do I come by this inside knowledge? Should I reveal my sources?

Nothing so mysterious as having a guy who has a guy. No, it's all because of the job that's advertised at PublishersMarketplace.

Trident Media Group is looking for a literary agent who represents romance. Someone with a stable of clients that will follow her (or him, but it's usually a female) and become a Trident Media Group client.

They'll throw in health and dental, which are nice perks that would be attractive to an independent agent who's had to pay up her own insurance coverage and that gets to be expensive after a time, and it would lovely to have office staff to make life easier.

You, the romance writer looking for an agent, would do well to pounce on Trident Media's new hire when she's eager to show what she can do and will be more amenable to considering new clients. Ensconced in Trident Media's office suite, the new recruit would have more time for authors in need of publishers because there'd be less time taken up with the mundane paperwork. She'd have staff, you see, and she could increase her client base.

Polish the query one last time. Buff up the manuscript. Get ready to submit before everyone else does, and make sure it's your query on the top of the pile.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Maybe the manuscript is somewhere in this stack. The agent asked for a full, I sent it via snail mail, never heard back, gave a nudge, sent it again via e-mail, never heard back, gave a nudge, and never heard back.

No matter. I've re-written the opening chapter, edited the second, and cut some excess verbiage out of the rest. The manuscript is better, thanks to the advice given by agents who included feedback in their rejections.

The agent who asked for the manuscript when I started submitting the original, less than perfect manuscript has requested it again. New query letter after three years of work, but the story is the same, and it's the story that's she after. A perfect query letter isn't so critical. Literary agent Nathan Bransford explained in a recent blog post that agents aren't ticking off a checklist, but are looking for the concept.

So she finds my concept to be intriguing enough to ask for the full manuscript.

She did so three years ago, but there was never any response. No response means no, for query letters and manuscript submissions.

Yet there's a new assistant at the agency, and maybe, just maybe, she'll be doing the reading and making an effort to provide a response of some kind.

Am I mad to try an agent again after having a submission ignored?

I must be out of my feckin' mind to be climbing out of bed at five a.m. every day to squeeze an extra hour out of the day so that I can write. It stands to reason, then, that I'd submit the revised manuscript and expect a better result, as if an agent could change her stripes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Flying Without Carbon Guilt

The economy is bad, but people are still flying.

It might be a business trip, or it could be a vacation. Planes are taking off, landing, and burning fossil fuel in between.

You'd like to do something to cut back on your personal greenhouse gas emissions, but what's a person to do when they have to fly and can't walk from Boston to Berlin?

Fly United, and you'll fly with a clear conscience.

The struggling airline will be happy to help you calculate your carbon footprint for that flight you just booked, and then they can direct you to Sustainable Travel International, which is ready to take your money.

They, in turn, will invest your donation in a wind farm owned and operated by BP, the huge oil giant, or other wind farms that are owned by for-profit companies. Makes sense, doesn't it?

Not happy with wind farms? Then your guilt can be turned into a tree planting program in China, one of the biggest polluters on the planet. Sure they could afford to plant their own trees, but why should they spend their money when you're willing to part with your hard-earned coin?

More of an interest in India? Another major contributor of greenhouse gases, but they'll gladly accept your donations to subsidize a start-up company consisting of franchises that will sell solar appliances. The population is doing well, what with all the outsourcing going into Calcutta and Mumbai, taking jobs from the U.S. Why not send them your money as well?

Better yet, keep your money and plant a tree in your own community. Buy stock in BP or one of the wind farms. Invest in your own solar panels or replace your water heater with a tank-less variety.

Carbon offsets are a nonsense and if you're going to waste money, it's better to waste it at home where it might do some good for your neighbor.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

As Unchanging As The Sea

For centuries, men have gone to sea to feed their families or earn their keep.

For centuries, the craft has been handed down from father to son, down through the generations, young men following the old into the boats. In spite of technology, in spite of better equipment, in spite of a better understanding of the ocean, men have gone down to the sea and never come home.

Feichin Mulkerrin and Tony Coohill pushed their currach away from the pier at Aughris, not far from their homes in Claddaghduff, County Galway. They set off in the morning to check their lobster pots. It was a fine day for fishing, with a moderate wind out of the northwest.

Three hours after they left, another fisherman spotted their boat on the rocks. The Coast Guard searched with their planes and helicopters. The neighbors of Mr. Mulkerrin and Mr. Coohill set out as well, as had their fathers and grandfathers before them, searching for their neighbors. It is their way, the close-knit fraternity, the way it has always been.

Two bodies were pulled from the water before the day was over. In spite of technology, weather satellites and forecast, no one can predict when the Atlantic will swell near the Irish coast, when the water will rise up and capsize a small currach.

The tiny fishing town of Claddaghduff will mourn their loss and wonder why God chose to take the two fisherman. They will offer their prayers, for the repose of the souls of their colleagues, and the men will continue to go down to the sea, in a cycle that is unchanging, despite the dangers.

An Anniversary In Style

For fifty years, Strunk and White's little tome has been the writer's guide into the literary jungle.

The Elements of Style is fifty years old, and still going strong.

If you've taken writing classes, you either were required to purchase a copy of the book to study, or your instructor was teaching from it.

Page after page is filled with rules that are intended to explain how to write well. Professor Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of Edinburgh would beg to differ, however. He's appalled at the notion of writing by the rules, especially as he finds that Mr. Strunk and Mr. White broke so many of their own rules in writing their prescriptive.

Not that every rule cannot be broken, but Strunk and White give authors a framework that can serve as very good advice. If you would write to be read by others, you should make your sentences as clear as possible so that the reader can follow along.

One basic tenet is worth keeping in mind as you compose your novel, particularly in these troubling economic times. Words are too precious to be wasted, to be spent with reckless abandon. Use them sparingly, with parsimony, and your writing will be suitably lean.

Let The Elements of Style be your guide, on this fiftieth anniversary of its birth. Wander off the path, if you must, but keep an eye on the main road. Don't let your prose become a victim of the obesity epidemic.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In Tempo With Freedom Of Speech

Journalism students are supposed to be learning about their field as it exists outside of the college campus.

Unless it's a journalism student at Chicago State University, where the administration has long been populated by cronies and jobbers.

The student newspaper, Tempo, took a page from professional journalism and criticized those in the corner offices, asking questions about money and where it came from and where it went. For that, the presses were stopped.

Is it censorship, or did CSU's top dogs have a right to stifle the students?

As you'd expect, a judge will have to settle the dispute. Steven Moore, a faculty advisor who was fired for not censoring, and editor-in-chief George Providence II are both suing. The university claims it did nothing wrong. No constitutional rights were violated.

In fact, Patricia Arnold just wanted to edit the stories so that the kids could have a really good newspaper that they'd be proud of. As the executive director of university relations, she'd be better at doing those edits than Steven Moore, who was specifically hired to run the newspaper. Too bad that she wasn't a little more familiar with the law before she got involved in axing Mr. Moore.

Legal experts believe that the plaintiffs in the case will win, based on state statutes that protect journalism advisers from getting fired for not suppressing the students' free speech.

Rachel Fleischmann has the thankless job of defending the geniuses of CSU, who thought they were untouchable because they had clout. Look for Ms. Fleischmann to settle the case out of court. She won't be letting Patricia Arnold do any editing of her legal briefs, that's for sure.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Stimulus Bill Gives Ireland A Boost

Thanks, American taxpayers. The Emerald Isle is grateful for the stimulus package that you all think is helping only American businesses.

Didn't know how wrong you were, did you?

That wind farm in Missouri? You know the one, where $300 million is blowing in to build a huge wind farm. Well, a bit of that cash is going to blow across the Atlantic to Ireland.

Wind Capital Group is, of course, a U.S. firm, but it has an Irish partner in NTR. Working in tandem, they'll put up windmills that will generate up to 150 megawatts of non-polluting energy, as long as you don't look on the dead bats and birds that are killed by the turbines as pollution.

Lots of tax breaks, tons of loan guarantees, and NTR is certainly relieved that much of the risk has been assumed by you, the American taxpayer. If the wind farm scheme proves a failure, then it's your loss.

The best thing of all is that there could be profits generated by the generators, and that's where NTR comes in. All those dollars earned from electricity sold to you, the American taxpayer, who already paid for the equipment to make that electricity, will be blown to Ireland where the corporate tax rate is low.

There's nothing doing in Ireland, and if there can't be jobs created, then cash infusions will have to do. Someone has to foot the bill for all that social welfare, and why not the good people of Missouri? Thanks again, on behalf of every unemployed Irish man and woman.

No, it doesn't mean that the taxpayers of Missouri are going to get any sort of discount on their electric bills, even if they did pay to build the wind farm that's providing the electricity that Wind Capital and NTR are going to sell them at a profit.

It's not as if you, the American taxpayer, is a stock holder who's owed an annual dividend.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What Do Literary Agents Want

It's not Sigmund Freud's famous question, but if he were a wannabe novelist, he would have asked exactly that. What is it that a literary agent is looking for? Why can't I find one who'll represent my manuscript?

You can't ring up an agency and ask, so Publishers Weekly has done the asking for you.

Jofie Ferrari-Adler spoke to four major players in the literary agent business, and you can find the complete article here.

Jim Rutman, Anna Stein, Maria Massie and Peter Steinberg gave freely of their knowledge of the business, and share what it is that they look for when your opening pages cross their desks.

The bottom line? It's a crap shoot.

MFA graduates stand a better chance because it's presumed that they've learned the craft, and whatever they write must be good because they've had all that training.

The chance that your manuscript might make it out of the slush pile is slim.

But if you love to write, if you have a compulsion to put words on paper, why let poor odds determine your passion? Write, submit, and be rejected, but if you keep writing and keep reading, you might manage to put together something that an agent believes the public would buy.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fix It Again Tony

How will a forced marriage to Fiat help Chrysler survive?

Fiat may not actually be an acronym that describes the reliability of the Italian vehicle, but the car has a poor reputation. How can that make Chrysler thrive?

To pile on insult, it's Fiat that's balking at the proposed merger, as if Chrysler isn't good enough for the likes of Fiat.

The idea is to share Fiat's knowledge of small car technology with an American firm, so that the U.S. automakers can leap ahead. After that, it's up to the geniuses in marketing to sell the things. Fiat technology? Fix it again, Tony. Would an American want to buy such a thing?

Fiat is willing to go through with the deal, provided that the union work force makes some big concessions. Sergio Marchionne, Fiat's CEO, wasn't born yesterday and he knows how to cover his operating expenses. Employing expensive UAW laborers, with all their perks, would only be a drag on profits.

So either the union gives up or Mr. Marchionne goes home to Milan.

If the UAW doesn't accept the offer, they'll have won a moral victory at the cost of thousands of jobs. The Feds aren't going to keep loaning money to Chrysler, and without Fiat, it's time to declare bankruptcy and let whoever wants the pieces to come in and buy.

The U.S. government also wants Chrysler's creditors to be happy with 15 cents on the dollar to pay off debts totaling $6.9 billion, and the creditors are about as agreeable as Fiat.

Business is all about making money. Politics is all about winning votes.

It's looking extremely grim for Chrysler. Without additional financing by the end of April, they may join the ranks of American Motors, Studebaker and Packard.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Least Popular Man In The Room

At the moment, that man is Batt O'Keeffe, and that room is any space in which Ireland's teachers have gathered.

The Minister for Education has been addressing the teachers' unions, making the case for the budget cuts that cannot be avoided. An economic downturn means change, and for those accustomed to the twenty-year run of the Celtic Tiger, it's too unpleasant to consider.

There's no money in the till. Not anywhere in the world. But still, the teachers are furious that they, of all people, are to be asked to sacrifice. Like everyone else in the world.

Mr. O'Keeffe spoke to a collection of retreating backs recently, when members of the Irish National Teachers' Organization walked out as he began his speech. Those who kept their seats sat on their hands, unless they were holding up placards to proclaim their protest.

John Carr of INTO took a page from the Jim Larkin playbook, when he held up Ireland's children (figuratively, unlike Mr. Larkin who once lofted a living child) as the victims in all this. Why should they be made to pay for the government's recklessness?

Perhaps because they, along with their parents, reaped the rewards that came their way thanks to the free market economy.

The members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland are threatening to walk off their jobs to protest the cuts. They've promised to make the politicians pay at the polls in the next election, when they'll vote in.....what, exactly? A sudden turn-around in the financial markets that will bring back the good old days?

Industrial action cannot increase the flow of cash into the Exchequer. The teachers can walk picket lines until their feet fall off but a free market giveth and a free market taketh away.

Until the free market returns to a more generous mood, however, Mr. O'Keeffe will continue to be the most unpopular man in the room, and soon, he may be the only one there. Everyone else will be out in front, roaring for more than he has on hand.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fans Of Seinfeld

Among the many topics that were parodied on Jerry Seinfeld's television show, one episode touched on movie piracy.

Not that it was an educational program, and a couple from the Chicago area watched and learned.

Unfortunately for them, they relied on a comedy when they should have switched over to the Discovery Channel for some reality.

Gerardo Arellano and the missus were rumbled in a movie theater. No need for a man to have a video camera on his knee while Hannah Montana's newest film is rolling. Even an action so subtle and discrete as that didn't go unnoticed.

A police search of his home turned up thousands of CDs, DVDs and the equipment to make them en masse.

In the face of the evidence, Mr. Arellano tossed his mother under the bus. It's all her stuff, he claimed. She likes to collect that sort of thing. 44,000 CDs and DVDs. She's a bit of a pack rat, perhaps?

Then there was the family's computer, which was found to have a link to a French website where pirated films can be purchased. Does the old lady like to surf the web as well?

According to the accused, he didn't think he was doing anything wrong. Why, the tape he was making would have been of low quality anyway. It's not like he went to the projection booth and stole the actual film, is it?

At the time of his arrest, the amateur film-maker expressed surprise over his arrest. Won't he be shocked when he's tried and he discovers that the Motion Picture Association of America takes film piracy very seriously, and they have clever attorneys who wouldn't mind making an example of Gerardo Arellano.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Not Everyone Loves A Kennedy

How about this one?


How about that one?


That about sums about the conversation between the Holy See and the U.S. Government. The American ambassador to the Vatican has to be someone who's a practicing Catholic, and there's just none of those in President Obama's stable. Three names were suggested, and three candidates were turned down.

There are rumors that the last candidate to be rejected was Caroline Kennedy, a supporter who is owed a plum position. That's how politics works. Did you think that actor Kal Penn had some special talents that made him particularly qualified for his new government post? He campaigned on college campuses for Barack Obama, and that's as much qualifications as a person needs.

There was a time when everyone loved a Kennedy, but the magic isn't translating to the second generation. Hence, Caroline Kennedy did not become the junior Senator from New York.

Where to put her, after the first try failed?

She's Catholic. She's very Catholic, in fact, with a father who broke the religion barrier at the White House. How about sending her to Italy?

Thanks, but no thanks, said the Vatican. We're not swayed by the famous name or the family's reputation. All we care about is one thing.

Send an ambassador who isn't pro-abortion. Send us someone whose position is the opposite of that taken by the current administration.

The Vatican is not moved to rapture by a name. His Holiness has his own litmus test, and thus far, the White House has failed three times.

And poor Caroline Kennedy undergoes the humiliation of being publicly rejected for a second time. You'd think that if your candidate won, you wouldn't be on the losing side.

Perhaps it's time to focus on non-earthly rewards.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Minnow Gets Moody

The little minnow has decided not to disgorge the indigestible portion of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that it was forced to consume. Rather like chomping on a thick and juicy educational materials fillet and drawing back a mouthful of gill. Not what Barry O'Callaghan set out to consume.

As far as anyone can judge, his attempt to sell off HMH's adult trade division is now off the table. Of the three offers that he fished out of some financially troubled waters, not one of them was a keeper. All three were thrown back, in the hope that they would grow.

What does Moody's rating service think, then, of Mr. O'Callaghan's move? He's keeping HMH, and he's named himself as the king fish.

Down go the ratings once again. As far as Moody's is concerned, Education Media Publishing Group, parent of HMH, is more likely than ever to go belly up.

All the cost cutting that's gone on so far is not enough, in Moody's mind, and their negative outlook means that Mr. O'Callaghan's whale-sized conglomerate will have to pay higher interest rates when he goes to the bank for a loan. Given the current economic climate, he may be hard-pressed to find anyone who would be willing to take that kind of risk, on a firm that Moody's rates as Caa3.

States cutting back on purchases of new educational materials, competition from the likes of Pearson and McGraw-Hill....but HMH still has her reputation intact, and that counts for a little something when Mr. O'Callaghan goes calling on his creditors.

The minnow's not dead yet, and with Easter just around the corner, it's time to keep resurrection in mind.

Easter Blessings

There's the promise of Spring, of warm days and sunshine.

April, the cruelest month, is half way to done and you can count the days until May brings sunshine and flowers.

After the bunny lays Cadbury eggs all over the house, the last of which will be discovered some time around Christmas, you have painted, non-chocolate eggs and then egg salad sandwiches for lunch until you can't stand the sight of a hen.

The robin that sits in the muscle wood tree and laughs at you every morning when you gingerly tip-toe through the muddy flower bed to retrieve your paper sings of new life that will hatch, whether you have work that day or not.

While we don our Easter finery that has seen better days, our fellow parishioners will parade about in splendid new rags, but the Bishop's sermon will fall equally on our ears and we will equally not pay attention to most of it.

For those who may have lost it, or for those who need reminding that it's there, Easter is the season of hope. And we need plenty of it these days.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Fast food vendors and convenience stores are the places to go if you need cash late at night and robbery is your game.

Alex Holmes dropped into his local Dunkin' Donuts in suburban Chicago, armed with his BB gun, and held up the place. The woman who worked behind the counter was scared half out of her wits, and the fact that she didn't speak much English couldn't have helped.

All of Alex's words of assurance would have fallen on deaf ears.

Maybe the boy had gotten wind of the Easter message. It's a time to forgive, to mend the old ways and make a fresh start with brotherly love in the heart.

The night after he stole the money, he walked into the same Dunkin' Donuts and returned every penny he had lifted. For good measure, or to cover the interest expense, he threw in whatever loose change he had in his pocket.

All better now, right? Money's back, the clerk was given a hug to make amends for the earlier fright, and so Alex bicycled home. So sorry, he said, and he left a written note of apology to boot.

Lovely sentiment for Eastertide, but the fact remained that the seventeen-year-old had pulled the heist, and so he was arrested.

There's always a price to be paid when you do something wrong, even if you try to patch up and make whole. Even if you show remorse.

He will, however, be home for Easter dinner. His parents bailed him out, and he will have to stand trial. Given that he did something stupid and a bit crazy, it's a good bet that his attorney will play the whacky teen angle and get the lad off lightly.

Perhaps he could try a modification of the old Twinkie defense. Sure and sugar is a dangerous thing.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Summer's Shock To Come

Get ready, Ireland. You're about to be shocked.

The Archbishop of Dublin would like his flock to know that there's a report coming out this summer that details the scope of clerical child abuse over the years. He's talking about a report that examined only the Dublin archdiocese.

People were certainly shocked when the Ferns diocese let it be known that they had a sizable collection of pedophiles in the priestly ranks. So if you were taken aback at that one, just wait.

You've been warned, so don't act surprised when the Catholic Church comes clean and tells the nation that thousands of Irish children were abused by the same priests they were instructed to trust.

A statistician will trot out to explain the numbers, to prove that the percentage of pedophiles in cassocks is the same as that in the general population so it's not as if the priesthood attracts them. That same statistician will say nothing about the Church's habit of moving abusers from parish to parish, rather than turning them in to the authorities as happens in the general population.

The Church took care of its own, at the expense of thousands of children in Ireland. How many in total, then, if a small country like Ireland could count the victims in the thousands?

Against this background of a very horrifying past, Archbishop Martin and his fellow bishops across the planet will ask their congregations to pray for vocations. Pray that more men and women will sacrifice all to sign on, abandon the real world and commit to a life where people on the street look at you with a jaundiced eye. Where you're presumed gay or sexually deviant or otherwise emotionally dysfunctional.

The report is coming, don't be alarmed.

Are the bishops alarmed about the jobs that go unfilled, shocked by the empty rooms in the seminaries or startled to discover lay teachers in every Catholic school classroom?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Yes we can! Yes we can---manufacture an item of startling kitsch that falls off the edge into the world of very bad taste.

Don't bother searching your local Walgreens store for your very own collectible Chia Obama. After a week, the chain has pulled the presidential greenery from its markets in Tampa and Chicago.

It's the chia growth that's caused the trouble. It would be one thing if the verdure was all encompassing, but it's only on the scalp area and it creates a most unfortunate resemblance to an Afro.

Sure and the Chia company is proud of Mr. Obama's Irish heritage. Brown clay, to represent Kenya. Green chia growth that sort of puts one in mind of the shamrock growing all around Moneygall. Yes we can!

Joe Pedott, whose firm makes Chia Obama, claims that his clay bust is 100% patriotic. Why, he's a Republican who voted for the Democrat, he's so taken with the forty-fourth president. As to Walgreens' decision to pull the Obamas from their shelves? Mr. Pedott is flabbergasted.

If you're determined to snag one of these rarities before it's too late, you might have a bit of luck with Amazon, where everything can be found.

Yes we can!

Order now. It's the perfect gift for every Notre Dame graduate this year.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The $84 Million Tomb

If greenhouse gas is so bad, the logic goes, why not bury it?

The human species learned long ago to deal with various noxious products by putting them under the ground, like rotting corpses and decaying garbage. It's nothing more than recycling at its most primitive.

Thanks to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the giant and well-connected agri-business concern of Archer Daniels Midland has $84 million in Federal funds to construct an enormous tomb for the late, lamented CO2.

Bury the waste gas before it can escape into the atmosphere and there you are. Coal becomes clean and usable, and there's a lot of coal in southern Illinois. If the project can be made to work, then Illinois coal miners will have some work.

With the flurry to stimulate the economy, Mr. Durbin managed to squeeze a request for $1 billion of your taxpayer dollars into the plan, with an eye to fund another Illinois project that seeks to sequester CO2 emissions.

It's all a very expensive experiment, by the way. No one knows if CO2 can be made to stay under ground, or even if it can be made to stay under everyone's ground. What if soil is too porous in Nevada or too rocky in Tennessee? What if the tomb springs a leak and there goes all the CO2 out into the atmosphere?

What if the scientists are right and we're entering a period of global cooling due to sun spot activity? What if we're borrowing billions of dollars for a nonsense?

What if none of that matters as long as the Illinois coal industry gets a boost? It's all a matter of perspective, after all.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Cornering The Market On Literary Dreams

Query writers who were rejected by agents at Objective Entertainment have been puzzled by the sudden flurry of new mail they've received. Why, after months have gone by since the rejection was received, logged, and deleted, were they getting yet another letter of rejection that directed them to a dead end?

Get out there and be pro-active, the agency suggests. Why not try publishing it yourself? How about AuthorHouse?

Anyone who's been at the query game long enough has learned that self publishing is not the way to get your words out there for all to see. There's no publicity department, no editor, no support staff, no distribution network, and that means no sales beyond your family and friends.

Why would a respectable agency even suggest such a thing?

They get $100 for every author who takes the bait, for one. And AuthorHouse more than makes it back in the money they earn off of a writer's dreams of success.

AuthorHouse needed the extra revenue, apparently, or at least their parent Author Solutions did. They're looking to corner the market on the vanity press industry, and that doesn't come cheap.

The Indiana-based corporation owns iUniverse and AuthorHouse and Xlibris, among others, and now it's sunk its profits into expansion. They have bought up Trafford so that they can rope in the Canadian writers as well.

Sure there's money to be made in the vanity business. Why shouldn't I join AuthorHouse's affiliate program? All I'd need is one fool to get suckered in and that $100 would be mine, to pay for stamps and paper and envelopes. That would be one less manuscript being submitted; one less writer competing for a literary agent's attention.

No, I can't. I can't do it.

It's Holy Week. To commit such a grievous sin as that, only days before Easter....

Yet, there's obviously a profit to be turned on the dreams of those who long to see their words committed to paper.

Lead us not into temptation.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Further Reductions Taken

There's yet another new look for the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper boldly proclaims on their banner.

A minor change. Purely cosmetic. You'll hardly notice.

The tabloid-sized sheets that detail the television listings for the week will be stuffed into Saturday's paper. Hardly anyone buys the Saturday edition, and if you want that handy guide, you'll have to change your routine.

Oh, and one other thing you might notice when you leaf through the hard-copy version of Chicago's biggest daily. The book section has been reduced even further.

Last week, there was a separate section for book reviews, movie listings, the comics, and other miscellaneous bits of verbiage.

Today, it's all one section, the news and editorials sharing the other side of the fold with a much reduced collection of human interest stories and reviews.

There's no room for more than a few book reviews, and there's only the one article about Nelson Algren for the literati. The best sellers listing is nice and big, though, and the Literary Events part has bigger pictures of authors. Sam Zell doesn't have to pay a writer to fill up those spaces with book reviews, so it's a money-saver.

And he's dropped the crossword puzzle, the tough one. There's a few pennies in his pocket that can go towards paying down the debt he took on when he bought the place.

The Tribune Company has saved themselves a little change, and they're saving me a lot of time. We're all coming out on top, except for those of us who still take delivery of the newspaper. We're getting short-changed.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Little Fish In The Big Sea

Tony Lucki's had enough.

He's going to retire and walk away from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

And it's the HMH employees who are the lucky ones! They'll have THE Barry O'Callaghan at their helm, steering their Titanic liner into the stormy seas of educational publishing.

What does he know about publishing, those same employees will ask, and they already know the answer. Mr. O'Callaghan knows finance and money, and you can't very well buy materials without money. That's as much as he needs to know.

A CEO hires people to do the rest of the grunt work, like publishing adult trade or children's or textbooks. The captain of a ship doesn't swab the deck, does he? He doesn't even have to know where the mops are stowed, but the decks get cleaned just the same.

Mr. O'Callaghan is younger, so he's more energetic than Mr. Lucki. He's going to need that energy to shuttle between Boston and Dublin. He'll be CEO of the whale-sized publishing company and at the same time, he'll be running the parent company EMPG, and checking in on the loyal workers at Riverdeep.

Either he'll need a very fast cigarette boat or a private jet to handle all that travel.

Looks like the little minnow has bit off more than it can swallow. The best hope for HMH to stay alive rests in the capabilities of the little fish who toil away, selling books and running divisions profitably.

Mr. O'Callaghan can then focus on what he knows: money. Lose the heavy debt load that's weighing down HMH and maybe he can turn around the ship before it hits that monetary iceberg.

Check The Calendar Before Leaving

They did it once before, in Los Angeles, back in 1987. U2 even filmed their impromptu concert, from start to abrupt finish when the LA police shut them down.

The crowd was unmanageable back then, milling around the liquor store while U2 did a few numbers on the roof. That was twenty years ago. Imagine what such a concert would be like now.

Thanks to some merry pranksters at Red FM, a crowd of U2 fans rushed to the Blackpool Shopping Centre when word got out that the band had just popped in out of the blue, with instruments and sound equipment.

How brilliant would it be, to be one of the few to take part in a unique experience? Isn't it every U2 fan's dream to see them up close and informal? About 500 fell for the April Fool's joke, and 500 people were less than happy to discover that it was actually a U2 tribute band that was performing live. Not quite the same, is it?

The Cork fire brigade and the local gardai had nothing better to do so they went along with the joke. Sure and we've ordered them to stop, they said, for safety reasons, just like that time in Los Angeles. Ha ha. We're off to the roof in these cranes to tell them that very thing, to pull the plug. Sure it's L.A. all over again, right here in Cork.

Not everyone believed it was make-believe, but if you drove thirty miles, you'd not want to think you'd been had.

For the record, U2 is not playing in Cork on this upcoming tour, not now, not on the First of April.

Go on back to your shopping. The economy desperately needs it.

And if you want to see U2 in concert, their third Dublin date didn't sell out. If you have any money left, assuming you're one of the lucky ones to still have a job, you can probably get your hands on an authentic ticket.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Dear Bord na Mona Employee:

Thanks for contributing to our pension scheme for all these years. Don't think we don't appreciate it. We do.

It's just that, well, there's too many of you who have retired, you see, and the well has run dry.

Look at it this way. The Government plans to levy pensions to meet their own shortfall, so in truth we at Bord na Mona are saving you money by not paying your pension.

No need to thank us.

Out of 640 workers, 400 can continue to draw their pensions, so it's not all bad news. If only the financial crisis hadn't struck when it did, we might have generated enough profit from investments to fund those other 240 pensions. Go on with you, you didn't think that it was going to be a case of putting in and then taking it back? You didn't contribute that much, not even those of you who paid in for forty years.

Blame all those who went for central heating. That put a dent in our peat business. The waste management end of things is hardly profitable, with the demands of the Greens to recycle. The pension shortfall is somewhat beyond our control.

Dermot Mahon of Unite says Bord na Mona stands to make a profit of 30 million this year, but that's not pension money and you can't compare apples and oranges. Or coal versus peat, which burns hot and smells lovely and really should be put back into use in every home across the island.

Minister Eamon Ryan will be around soon to discuss the matter, since we are largely Government owned and it certainly doesn't look good for the Government to default on a pension scheme. He'll probably make us dip into our profits to make up the difference, but in the meantime, you 240 workers, please keep working.

Thank you for your understanding.


Bord na Mona

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Bizarre All The Way Around

There's been a discussion lately at regarding Objective Entertainment. It seems the agency has been sending letters to those rejected months ago, suggesting that they consider self-publishing. There's money in it for Objective Entertainment if their recommendation to use AuthorHouse, a vanity publisher, is taken up by someone who doesn't know any better.

What kind of agency would stoop so low?

The kind that would represent Illinois's disgraced former governor when he's pitching his memoirs, that's what kind.

Jarred Weisfeld started up the agency, and he's the man who hoped to convince St. Martin's Press that Rod Blagojevich was as fuckin' golden as an open Senate seat.

Mr. Weisfeld is up in arms because he believes that St. Martin's Press misled him. They were going to pay his client in the neighborhood of $350,000 for a book, but then they changed their mind and took all that money off the table. Maybe a profit-share arrangement, St. Martin's Press suggested, and isn't that the biggest insult ever?

Where else was the agent to go but up? He complained mightily to Macmillan, parent of St. Martin's, and he got no satisfaction. Could it be the lawsuit he filed against the publisher for a different book? Would they hold it against him when he had such a hot commodity as the man who shook down a children's hospital?

In the end, the best Mr. Weisfeld could do was secure a deal for Mr. Blagojevich with Phoenix Books. They're noted for printing Jayson Blair's memoirs, and it's more than fitting that they'd pick up on the former governor's tale. Jayson Blair made up stories for the New York Times, and even the dogs in the street expect Mr. Blagojevich's book to be equally fictitious.