Friday, July 31, 2009

High And Dry

When a firm wants to save money on operations, they have only to find another company willing to do a given task at a discount.

Why pay someone wages and benefits if another company can pay someone else lower wages and fewer benefits, and still get the same job done?

People in India are willing to work for less, and they aren't whingeing about health care or time and a half or Saturdays off.

Barry O'Callaghan's whale of a corporation has thrown 65 employees out of the pond, high and dry, in an effort to realize a few more little synergies.

In the future, HMH's IT needs will be met by people in India, courtesy of Cognizant Technology Solutions. East Asians will find work and the former HMH employees in Boston or Orlando will be considering a move to Mumbai or Delhi.

To further reduce costs, HMH could outsource the writing of novels and non-fiction manuscripts for the adult trade division, thereby eliminating author advances. East Asian editors, working in Calcutta, could easily manage acquisitions on the cheap. Books would sell at the same price, while profits would climb.

Swimming in debt, HMH Riverdeep will have to get even more creative, to realize even more synergies, if it's to stay afloat.

Another Book Rant

The first clue? The fact that the book was sitting on the library shelf. New books in demand circulate off of a waiting list and don't make it to the stacks.

The next clue? I'm the third person to check out the book. Not exactly getting worn out with reading.

Hyperion/Voice was twittering all kinds of hype, giving away free copies of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane to anyone quick enough to twitter back. When I saw the book at the library, I thought I might see what the hype was all about.

After twenty pages, I was angry and depressed. How does this sort of thing get an agent's attention, let alone a publishing contract, while my manuscripts are ignored?

Katherine Howe is working on her doctorate, specializing in the very era that is used as the book's setting. She can trace her ancestry back to a couple of women touched by the Salem witch trials, which figure prominently in the novel.

The characters don't just speak, they grunt, they point out, they demur, they sigh, they prompt. It's with good reason that writers are told to avoid the dialog tags. It really is annoying. The same goes for dialect. I get it that the characters would speak with a New England accent. Please don't spell it out in every line of dialog. It's nearly impossible to decipher.

There's so much description, an abundance of adjectives and adverbs that had me skimming over the pages in short order, in search of a story line. Who needs Noah Lukeman's advice on writing? Literary agent Suzanne Gluck didn't seem to mind, since she agreed to represent Ms. Howe.

The writing style was academic and a bit dry, with the author's copious knowledge of the time period dumped in chunks that again were skimmed over.

In the end, I simply didn't care about the characters. I didn't care if Deliverance Dane's physick book was ever found. I didn't care if the protagonist found love, and I didn't care if the evil college professor got his comeuppance.

After fifty pages, I closed the book and today it's going back to the library, for someone else to tackle.

Little wonder, I suppose, that someone at Hyperion/Voice was busy at their computer, sending off tweets to the world. Buzz has to be generated to promote sales when word of mouth is heading in the opposite direction.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Still Not Nailing It

Another new query went out yesterday, freshly tweaked and completely revised. The approach was changed, the focus of the synopsis altered, and I ran it up the flag to see who would salute.

Sadly, Stephany Evans isn't resonating with the premise. And it didn't take her long to realize it, considering the fact that her rejection arrived first thing this morning.

As for Jessica Faust, she found the story intriguing, but not enough to want to read a single page of the manuscript.

Two speedy rejections out of six queries does not look promising.

The tweak is not tweaking in the right direction. The new query doesn't seem to be working.

Months of letting it rest, of clearing the mind and starting fresh, haven't panned out.

Back to square one. Back to reading even more jacket flap copy in search of the preferred and accepted way of presenting a story idea.

It's Not Bermuda But The Irish Like It

The recent removal of four Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo to Bermuda caused quite a stir.

Not that anyone was particularly upset at their release. After all, the men couldn't very well go home, not when the Chinese government was waiting for them with open, open cell doors and an open death sentence.

No, it was the fact that the impoverished Islamic lads ended up in the island paradise of Bermuda, on the U.S. taxpayer's dime. A stint in a lovely cottage was being paid for by people who were hard-pressed to pay their own bills, let alone even think about a vacation.

Two men from Uzbekistan are due to be released from Guantanamo soon. Again, they can't go back from whence they came and so they are being re-located.

Sorry, lads, but Bermuda is full up with former terrorist camp detainees.

Ireland has a couple of slots open. Cead mile failte, and yes, it is cold and damp.

Amnesty International worked behind the scenes to convince the Irish government that the two Uzbeks were quite harmless. They'll enter Ireland as something other than refugees, along with their families, in the hope that the Irish people will accept them as ordinary immigrants seeking opportunity in the Emerald Isle, where unemployment continues to climb and jobs continue to flee to Eastern Europe and Asia.

Colm O'Gorman of Ireland's Amnesty International section is thrilled to bits that his native land is playing a role in shutting down Guantanamo. Bet he'd be even more happy if the U.S. moved some of the unwanted detainees onto U.S. soil, but that's not about to happen.

Why would a politician expose himself to a voter's revolt, when he can find some other willing party to maintain the facade? Has no one asked why, if these two Uzbeks are so harmless, were they not relocated to Los Angeles or Dallas?

At least if they'd been sent someplace more akin to a tropical paradise, things would be fair for all former detainees. If four Uighurs get to go to Bermuda, you'd think that the Uzbeks would have pushed for Key West, Florida, at least. But Ireland?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On The Road, Off The Market

After Jack Kerouac, acclaimed beat writer, drank himself to death, he left his worldly possessions to his mother.

According to a letter he sent to a nephew prior to his death, he had no intention of leaving so much as a scrap of paper to his third wife. And who ended up with all the manuscripts and the house and all the rest?

Mr. Kerouac's mother was not in good health when she inherited her son's property. Within three years of his death, she was gone, and she left the Jack Kerouac legacy to....his third wife.

Twenty years later, Mr. Kerouac's daughter saw a copy of the will and realized that her grandmother could not possibly have signed it. A suit was filed, to have the will thrown out, and the wheels of justice began their slow grind.

It fell to one of Mr. Kerouac's nephews to carry on the case, proving that the will was forged. Fifteen years after the document was first contested, a Florida judge has decreed that Kerouac's invalid mother could not possibly have signed the will and it is indeed a forgery.

In the time that the third wife's heirs had possession of Kerouac's items, they sold off his signature trench coat to Johnny Depp and then marketed the original manuscript of On The Road, which was recently sold to the owner of the Indianapolis Colts for over two million dollars.

Given that the third wife's family came into the legacy via fraud, does that make the manuscript stolen goods? Can the owner be forced to return it to its rightful owner, who wants all of Kerouac's papers to be sold in one piece to a university or a museum?

There is far too much money involved for this case to be settled with one judge's decision. The benefactors of the fraud have already gained handsomely from selling the manuscript, and stand to gain a great deal more by selling off the estate in pieces. One legal ruling will not settle the dispute. Expect an appeal to be filed shortly.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not Everyone Loves Bono

By all accounts, the last three nights at Croke Park were brilliant. The lads from Dublin came home to accolades and a full house.

Then there are those who aren't huge U2 fans.

Last night, a group of local residents blocked the road leading to Croke Park, preventing the tour trucks from reaching the venue so that the enormous stage and all the other equipment could be loaded for a trip to Sweden.

The fans of other groups besides U2 were up in arms because the authorities had allowed a 44 hour period of continuous work. Not only was U2 crating their supplies and hauling them away, but the groundskeepers at Croke Park had to lay a new pitch immediately for the All-Ireland football quarter-finals. Turf needs time to knit new roots, and that doesn't happen overnight.

So the "Bono Who?" crowd blocked the road in protest and U2's road manager broke out in a sweat. His trucks couldn't get in, the stage couldn't get out, and he didn't have the luxury of an extra day to appease the unhappy townspeople.

It wasn't just the trucks, however. Patrick Gates of the Croke Park Area Residents' Alliance was really outraged over the three straight nights of U2. All that racket, bleeding out of the Croker and into his ears. Asking too much of the people, he believed, and then to have another 44 hours on top of that?

Unfortunately, no one thought to hand out free tickets to the locals who were upset. Sorry for the inconvenience, and Bono would personally like to apologize.

He could have taken them aside, backstage, and explained why there had to be three shows and not two, which Mr. Gates thought was reasonable. Bono could have spelled it all out, the income and the expenses and the profit and the loss. Such an elaborate production doesn't pay for itself, after all.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Try, Try Again

During the booming '90's, when the "Me Decade" began its slide towards the current economic decline, Thomas Frank put out a literary journal.

The rag ran for a good long time, considering the short life span of most literary publications. Mr. Frank and his contributors managed to annoy a great many people, but after a time, The Baffler came to an end.

It's coming back.

Thinking that it's just what's needed these days, when business and culture could stand a good skewering, Mr. Frank is resurrecting The Baffler for a November release, with bi-annual issues on the docket.

Conor O'Neil, who cut his teeth in Barack Obama's Senate office (on the rare occasions when the Senator was in the office and not out on the campaign trail), will be the publisher.

Mr. Frank feels the need to inject a Midwestern attitude into a publication, although his idea of Midwestern attitude was cultivated at the University of Chicago's graduate school. He has faith that his little paper will make it this time around, now that current events have proved his earlier philosophies correct. Isn't the financial world in a mess? He said as much on the first go-round and he anticipates a wider audience in this second incarnation.

If you've had no luck with the Boston Review, and you write from an edgy heart, there may be a place in the world that's looking for your caustic prose.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Court Is Adjourned

Since 2005, the Richardson family has waited for justice.

The trial has been going on for fourteen weeks, so what's one more day?

Back in March of 2005, Mr. Ian Richardson's family was kidnapped and held for ransom. The ransom? Whatever money Securicor, his employer, had on hand in their vaults. The vaults that Mr. Richardson had access to.

Five men are standing trial for the kidnapping and the subsequent robbery, but there's one thing more important than justice.

Some of the jurors have tickets to the U2 concert at the Croker.

Given that no self-respecting Irishman would have his priorities askew, the judge has declared that the trial will be in recess until Monday, so that the lucky ticket holders can get attend the concert.

What more in the name of love of U2?

It's More Of A Favor, Actually

The sweet young things of Ireland are facing restrictions that have nothing to do with the skankiness of Abercrombie & Fitch's notorious ads.

Imagine the shock of Eoghan Kavanagh, who wanted to purchase AF clothing for his thirteen-year-old son. How was the lad to be trendy and au courant without Ambercrombie & Fitch draped upon his pubescent shoulders?

Attempts at ordering were futile. AF insisted that the rags young master Kavanagh lusted after could not be shipped to Ireland because they were made in China, of Chinese cotton, and were banned from import by the EU.

Not so, Mr. Kavanagh came to learn. That restriction had been lifted at the end of 2008. There was no reason, besides a ban on poor taste, to prevent AF from shipping to Dublin.

As far as Ambercrombie & Fitch is concerned, they don't know a thing about the ban being lifted and they're not shipping to Ireland. End of discussion.

In reality, they're doing the Kavanaghs a great favor. The sweet young things in my part of the world wouldn't be caught dead in AF garments. No one of proper breeding wears that trash, except for the white trash who think it's so stylish.

Ireland is spared, as long as Ambercrombie & Fitch adheres to outdated regulations. By the time the mess is straightened out, there'll be some other fashion to follow, some other brand to wear like so much free advertising with logos emblazoned prominently.

Can't go wrong with Ralph Lauren's polo pony on your high-priced shirt.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Genetics Of Publishing

Perhaps this is a sign that Barry O'Callaghan has given up on selling Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's adult trade division.

When his minnow of a publishing firm, Riverdeep, swallowed up Houghton Mifflin and then Harcourt, he acted like a man who wanted to separate the educational wheat from the trade chaff. Times being what they are in publishing, no one was buying.

The adult trade division was rudder-less since December last, when Becky Saletan jumped ship. There was talk of deals in the works, three potential buyers, but seven months on there's no takers and it's time to make something of adult trade. It's not going to go away on its own, leaving a tidy profit behind.

Bruce Nichols was downsized at HarperCollins, his role as publisher of the Collins imprint gradually snipped away until he was reduced to executive editor. A man with some pride doesn't take such an insult kindly, not one whose veins run black with ink.

The former HarperCollins publisher has been hired by HMH, to be their adult trade and reference publisher. It will be his job to take the red-haired stepchild of HMH Riverdeep Greenwood et al. and make it into a success.

Mr. Nichols was a victim of downsizing and reorganizing at HarperCollins, which might suggest that his performance was seen as lacking. He may have been on the losing end of a political squabble in spite of talent. With his new post at HMH, he can demonstrate which theory has merit.

Not only can he redeem his reputation as a publisher, but Mr. Nichols is under added pressure to do well. Turns out his grandfather was the president of Houghton Mifflin, back in the day when publishing was publishing. What could be more humiliating than failure in such a situation?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Don't Forget The Gay Character

While you're working on your novel, you might want to consider the type of character that will be interacting with your protagonist.

Since all stories involve a quest of some sort, you'll need people who help the main character along their journey to resolution.

Make one of those characters gay and you'll have a better chance of getting published.

In her debut novel, Atlas of Unknowns, debut author Tania James draws on the East Indian culture that she rose from. Her plot is not entirely uncommon, dealing with two sisters who are divided by a misunderstanding. The treatment in this case is fresh, in that the sisters are poor Indian Christians and when was the last time you read a story about that particular minority?

And, there's a lesbian, a pariah in Indian culture.

The minor characters who interact with the two sisters have some common baggage that the reader knows about while the girls, of course, do not. The baggage is opened and displayed in bits and pieces, like any good story, so that the reader will keep turning the page to see the whole set of luggage.

There's the man who might have married their mother if not for some mystery, but it's hard to keep a lesbian's longing under wraps without having her jump out of the closet at the close of the novel in a sort of "gay-us ex machina" treatment.

So from early on, the lesbian is painted in a tragic light, evoking sympathy as she stands in the shadows, aiding one of the sisters in her struggle to re-unite with the family. If not for a terrible misunderstanding, if not for the lesbian falling in love with the sisters' mother, things could have been so very different and they'd have a rich father.

Gay characters are popping up often in novels, now that cell phones and e-mail render outdated the old way of creating a misunderstanding between characters that drives the plot. How better to drive a couple apart than to drop in the gay person who is seen as a rival?

Jane Austen used the slow pace of correspondence in her works to create divisions that would later be repaired as the record was set straight. Modern writers can use homosexuality and unrequited love in the same way.

Keep in mind that literary agents and their assistants are young, hip and liberal. Gay characters that a reader can feel sorry for will only add to the lustre of your manuscript.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The More The Merrier

Dr. Edward Horgan is outraged. The international secretary of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance would like the world to know that he's really incensed about American Army personnel walking on Irish soil.

The cause of this apoplectic fit? Wouldn't you know it was U.S. soldiers and the Shannon stop-over.

The transport plane that was ferrying soldiers to points Middle East was down for repairs and three hundred G.I.s were left to wandering around the Clare Inn Hotel near Newmarket on Fergus. As the stop was entirely unanticipated, the soldiers had nothing to wear besides their uniforms.

They also had little to do, so they drifted about the hotel, stopping in the bar and just looking around since they were curious about Ireland and wanted to find out what cead mile failte was all about.

A wedding was underway at the hotel and some soldiers arrived, only to be told by their senior officer that it wasn't a public gathering but a private affair and they were to get out of the banquet area.

Go on and stay, says the groom. That would be the groom whose wedding was being celebrated. Stay and welcome from the U.S., this is what an Irish wedding is like. This is what Irish hospitality is like.

Pity that the groom didn't first ask permission of Dr. Horgan, who is using this incident as yet another example of Irish neutrality being breached. Soldiers in uniform, you see. They really should be locked up in their rooms and kept out of sight.

The soldiers were in great form, according to a guest at the wedding, someone who again failed to consult with Dr. Horgan. Indeed, they seemed to enjoy themselves, which must really infuriate Dr. Horgan to no end.

In future, any Irish person holding a celebration near Shannon's airport is to consult with Dr. Horgan before extending any sort of warm welcome to overseas guests. This hospitality really must cease at once, or the soldiers will get the idea that people in Ireland are friendly and generous.

That Was Then, This Is Now

A talking head was expounding on the brilliance of the higher minimum wage the other day.

The so-called expert settled on Ireland as an example of a country that raised the minimum wage to a respectable level, and didn't the economy take off? Based on history, it would make sense to increase the minimum wage in the U.S. because that would help the economy, not hurt it.

That, as they say, was then. In the days of an economic boom, Ireland did enter into social partnership agreements that saw an ever climbing expense for wages. The well-educated workers were able to do the work for a lower cost than in other countries, and multi-national firms flocked to Ireland.

This, on the other hand, is now. By lifting wages annually, Ireland has lifted the workforce to a level where they can no longer compete against Eastern European nations. Those same multi-nationals that flocked to Ireland are flying off to Poland, to set up shop where the workers will work for less.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School, Dr. Peter Bacon has stated that wages in Ireland would have to be trimmed by 10-15% to restore competitiveness. Large firms are closing up at an alarming rate, all citing the high costs of doing business because the mandated wage is too high. To have any hope of economic recovery, salaries must be slashed or the jobs will continue to migrate overseas.

So when you hear a talking head speak of the Celtic Tiger, keep in mind that the Celtic Tiger was laid off a year ago. Raise wages during an economic downturn? Yes, by all means, look at Ireland as an example, but consider today's Ireland.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Just To Confirm

Several agents have adopted the "no response means no" style of reply.

That's fine, and we all understand how busy literary agents are these days. They have clients to tend, and it's those clients who pay the bills and are rightfully given top priority. With hundreds of query letter arriving every week, it's difficult to shoot out a reply to each and every one.

Here we sit, the authors in search of representation, wondering if our query letter was caught up in the spam filter. Never received. Should we send it again? Take it as a no and move on? What if this dream agent didn't read the perfect query that took weeks to compose?

I know that Donna Bagdasarian of Priot Entertainment Group got the query. After submitting, my inbox popped open with a confirmation that the agency had received the letter.

I know that Julie Barer has my query letter in her cache, since her assistant (I presume) sent me an e-mail a week after I submitted, to let me know that they had the material I'd sent them.

Whether or not Ms. Bagdasarian will have anything more to say remains to be seen, since she's just started her own agency and doesn't have a track record in regard to query policy. But at least she's acknowledged receipt, so I know that the letter I spent days personalizing will get a fair chance.

No reply means no? Yes, when we know that the query got to where it was supposed to go and a rejection can be tallied after four weeks of silence.

A Voice Silenced

Frank McCourt came to literary fame later in his life, after years of teaching creative writing.

He dabbled at first, putting together a little bit of theatre with his brother Malachy, before finally setting out the story of his life. Mr. McCourt's memoirs were masterful, if only because he took an uncommonly miserable life and turned it into a running comedy.

Following a long illness, Mr. McCourt succumbed to melanoma on Sunday.

The novel that he was said to be writing may never exist, or will never come to be as he would have heard it rattling around in his head.

A gifted storyteller is gone and the stories will never be told in his unique style, with his combinations of words that entertained and enlightened and inspired.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The End Of The Line

The rejection came back on the full. The literary agent mentioned her reasons, both very vague and not providing guidance for improving the manuscript.

Taken all together, the rejections I've accumulated on the manuscript don't point to any one particular problem. Each agent had something different to say, which is hardly a road map to edit by.

No problem with the writing itself, the composition of sentences and paragraphs. Some didn't fall in love, some couldn't relate to the protagonist, or maybe it was a case of the narrative moving too quickly. Or too slowly, depending on the agent writing the rejection.

Once the last couple of rejections come in, I will surrender. There'll be nothing more to do than try a publisher in Dublin who accepts manuscripts from authors. If that fails, it's time to publish the novel myself.

Not that I expect to sell many copies, but I'm not getting any younger and what's the point of leaving the manuscript under the bed for my heirs to find? Might as well store the words with Amazon and move on.

At this point, I'd be satisfied if even ten people read the novel and enjoy something that literary agents don't think is publishable.

Or I could go back to school and get an MFA. Now that opens doors these days.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gay, But Witty

Not all gay men are evil and worthy of being shunned. The Vatican has decided that gay men who are noted for their wit aren't totally worthless in spite of their deep moral failure.

L'Osservatore Romano has devoted an entire article to Oscar Wilde, so famous for being a homosexual when homosexuality was a crime.

Why is he not all bad? Because he became a Catholic and turned his back on the Anglican Church. In your face, heretics.

Scholars are forever studying the works of dead writers, picking at what meat is left on the dried old bones. Paolo Gulisano has found some scraps in Wilde's conversion to the True Faith.

Any man who sees the light can't be all bad, and there's no denying that Oscar Wilde was a master at observing the polite society of his time and then skewering the same. He made a living at pointing out the ridiculous and the hypocritical, displaying a level of wisdom that rose above his personal troubles. His writings display his quest for truth and justice and the reason for man's existence on this earth.

Oscar Wilde is on the ascendant in the Vatican, elevated above his former position of pariah. Yes, he was brilliant and his body of work is still popular. Even so, one has to wonder about the attempts by the Vatican to embrace a very much out-there homosexual whose legal battles are as much a part of his legend as his plays.

The Pope continues to denounce homosexuality as a sin, but there's plenty of priests in parishes all over the world who are just as gay as Oscar Wilde and living with the same prejudices that sent the noted playwright to jail. Are they hoping for their own patron saint?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Solution To The Heavy Backpack

Some time back, there was a flurry of experts up in arms over school backpacks. The little wee ones were going to be crippled for life, we were told, because they were carrying far too much on their slight bodies. Too many books to tote.

The fuss has died down as we found other things, like terrorist attack, to worry about. The argument may be resurrected, however, under a new banner.

Thomas Z. Freedman of the New Democratic Leadership Council would like every American child to have a Kindle.

As one would expect, he cites the cost savings of a download versus a print run. This assumes that e-book publishers would charge less for a new edition of the maths text in electronic format, which doesn't sound like any business model being taught at the Wharton School.

The poorest districts could have the same educational materials as the wealthier ones, but somewhere down the line the Kindle will go through an upgrade or two and the poorest schools will have outdated equipment that they can't afford to replace. Finding equality between the haves and the have-nots may not be so easily achieved.

Unless, of course, the poorest districts plan to follow the lead of Matthew Geise, who is suing Amazon for somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million. It seems that the Kindle has a problem with cracking around the cover attachment clips, and Amazon has been less than helpful in providing a solution. According to Mr. Geise's lawsuit, the Kindle merchant wanted to charge him another $200 for repairs, on top of the $399 he'd already paid for the thing.

Adding insult to injury is a good way to get slapped with a lawsuit by the injured party. Mr. Geise is one unsatisfied customer. Imagine thousands of unsatisfied school board customers, all demanding satisfaction. The proceeds of the suit could help defray all sorts of educational costs for hard-pressed taxpayers.

A Kindle in every backpack, a lawsuit in every district, no more weary backs among America's schoolchildren. Everyone wins.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sinking Like The Titanic

Yesterday's Twelfth of July festival of sectarianism resulted in some of the worst rioting in Belfast in a very long time.

While the Orange Order complained about being compared to the Ku Klux Klan and claimed that Protestants were facing ethnic cleansing in the north of Ireland, the Real IRA let everyone know that they haven't gone away.

People tend to fly off the handle when the economy is bad, jobs are being lost and the unemployed have little more to do than toss petrol bombs and rocks.

Ambitious plans to turn the Twelfth of July into "Orangefest" and make it a fun-filled tourist attraction have fallen as flat as another project that has gone nowhere.

Back when a film reminded everyone of the tragedy that was the Titanic, the movers and shakers of Belfast figured out that such an interest would translate into tourists flocking to the old Harland and Wolff site to see where the doomed ocean liner was constructed.

Like all public works projects, this one was done by committee and there should be little wonder that the papers are not all signed, sealed and delivered.

The Titanic Quarter would bring new life to the empty dockyard. The Titanic Signature Project would bring in millions of pounds in revenue, with a huge exhibit of ship-related artifacts and history, all up and running in time for the 2012 centenary of the sinking.

Belfast City Council won't sign until the Northern Executive and the Belfast Harbour Commissioners sign the agreement for the funding and operating of the Titanic Quarter. No one, it seems, wants to go first. No one wants to be seen as rushing in, should the multi-million pound project turn out to be a fiasco.

At the present rate, it is estimated that there isn't much chance that the Titanic Quarter will be operational by 2012, not when construction has yet to begin in the middle of 2009.

No one is saying what the problem is, exactly, or why the various political entities won't make it legal. Is there a problem with allowing Catholics into the old Harland and Wolff shipyard? So difficult to break with tradition, and isn't it all about tradition in Belfast?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Nothing To Add To The List

Since I read a great deal, I'm always on the hunt for new books to add to my list of things to read. There's book reviews to give a few suggestions, but there's nothing better than being able to read the opening pages and get a feel for the prose.

This week's offering from the St. Martin's Press Read-It-First program won't be making the list.

When you're an editor with Vanity Fair, chances are that you know people who know people in the publishing world. You're in a better position to get a literary agent, or possibly in the right spot to hand the manuscript over to an editor friend and get a contract for publication.

Laura Jacobs' second novel, The Bird Catcher, is set in Manhattan, like most every other novel you may have run across. The tale opens with a long paragraph of description that encompasses stones shifting, the protagonist's hair and the students at Columbia. From there, the story shifts to a description of a wall that's all full of touchy-feely New Age images, and after that, it's a question of skimming through the rest of the sample in search of something interesting.

What's there? More description, of Riverside Park and overgrown paths, the protagonist's inner thoughts and dull ponderings.

And then it comes to the end.

Maybe it will get better in the next segment. Or maybe I'll be deleting the upcoming e-mails while grumbling about the lack of decent writing that's coming out of the big publishing houses.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Michelle Obama Takes The Veil

Who would have guessed that one visit to the Vatican could turn the First Lady into a nun?

Men and women both are expected to dress in a conservative fashion when meeting His Holiness. Conservative black, conservative covering of the arms, conservative covering of the knees for the ladies, like a nun who would never consider any other color than black.

The severe hair-do takes us back to the old days, when we wondered if the good Sisters had any hair on their heads, underneath those veils. We learned, after Vatican II, that the old girls didn't shave their heads or anything so drastic, but they did keep it short and avoided trends. No time for a nun to fuss with her hair, not when there's poor to be served.

After Vatican II, lay women didn't have to cover their hair anymore. The clergy figured out that the notion, still so popular in repressive Muslim countries, didn't make sense in a modern world. That was for the laity. Nuns continued to wear a veil, although the wimple went the way of the dinosaur and the veil itself become a perky little bonnet sort of thing.

Catholics have photographic prove that Michelle Obama has left her Baptist roots behind and become one of us, a Catholic, a super-Catholic, a Sister.

Why else would she have donned what looks for all the world like a nun's habit?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Authorities Are Stumped

The people of Rathkeale in County Limerick are proclaiming a miracle.

People outside of Rathkeale are probably grumbling about residents of a certain town partaking of far too much poitin.

Has Mary, the Mother of Jesus, paid a call?

At the moment, there is a continuous vigil being held at the stump of a tree on the grounds of St. Mary's Church. Folks are convinced that there is an image of Herself on said stump, and the religious-minded are flocking from all around, to say a rosary in this miraculous place.

The image was discovered earlier in the week, and already Rathkeale is overwhelmed with pilgrims who flock from all over.

Scientists will tell us that the human brain creates imaginary pictures, driven by some biological urge to interpret shadows and light as a face. The man in the moon is used as an example, where we all know there's no eyes up there but our minds play little tricks. There's been images of the Virgin Mary perceived in water stains on concrete. The face of Jesus has been viewed on a grilled cheese sandwich.

Carmel Conway, visiting Rathkeale with her mother Brigid, put it best. While she thinks it really is the miraculous image of Mary, she's aware that it doesn't matter if the stump face is merely imaginary. It's brought people together to pray, and in the end, that's all to the good.

As for the good people of Rathkeale, they may be thinking of the benefits that fell to the town of Knock when Our Lady made her appearance. There's not much for doing in the west of Ireland, and if the Church authorities would put their stamp of approval on the stump, there's no telling what kind of tourism explosion the little town would see.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Making Life Difficult For The Librarian

Fiction or non-fiction? It should be fairly straightforward for the author to choose which category their manuscript fits. It's got to be one or the other. What you've penned is either real or imaginary.

The Library of Congress will then catalogue the book and provide guidance to local librarians everywhere. Can't very well shelve a book without its proper code, without the numbers and letters that Mr. Dewey was clever enough to invent.

Author Rita Cosby isn't doing the librarians any favors with her tell-all book, Blonde Ambition. Ms. Cosby claims that her creation is non-fiction, a biography of Anna Nicole Smith. The late Ms. Smith's constant companion claims that the book is pure fiction. It's up to a judge in New York to decide.

Howard Stern believes that Ms. Cosby's book libeled him in seventeen instances, including an assertion that Ms. Smith had often viewed a videotape of Mr. Stern engaged in homosexual acts with the father of Ms. Smith's baby. He's suing to the tune of $60 million to clear his good name.

As for Hachette Book Group, the publisher of this biography/novel, their legal counsel is dumping it all in Rita Cosby's lap, since it's her book and her scholarship that created it. If there's fiction between the pages, it's her fault entirely. And isn't there some other corroboration somewhere about the gay sex?

Ms. Cosby's attorneys believe that Mr. Stern has no decent reputation to uphold, not since he was implicated in Ms. Smith's death, so how could the author possibly downgrade that which is at the bottom already? She stands by her research; the book is a biography.

One side claims it's a work of non-fiction, while the other insists the book's no better than a cheap novel.

Judge Denny Chin will be the one to catalogue the book, as he decides if Mr. Stern has a valid case.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

You're Not In Texas Any More

The idea of tramping about with no fixed abode might be all well and good in Texas, but don't be bringing that nonsense to Ireland.

Three Texas lads, aged between 19 and 21 and clearly up to no good, arrived at Dublin airport and were told that no, they couldn't come in. Ah sure there's cead mile failte up and down the island, but not so much welcome at the terminal as far as immigration is concerned.

Where will you be staying, the officer wanted to know, and isn't that the most reasonable question?

No doubt the Texas drawl was off-putting, when the gentlemen explained that they weren't staying in a proper hotel, but had made arrangements to crash on Irish sofas. With so much in the news lately, who would fault the immigration agent for not knowing about

With plans to backpack across Europe for a year, Clin Zwirko, Ben Whitehurst and Gavin Sides thought they'd begin in Ireland and then ferry across to Scotland. From there, it's the Chunnel and all of Europe. They had no return tickets because they were going to move around and be gone for a long time.

What about visible means of support, the immigration man then asked. Three lads of the on-line generation had no copies of bank statements, but they were more than happy to log on to their bank's website to show that they had thousands saved up for this trip.

Ah sure Ireland's promoting a technologically savvy work force, but this is immigration we're talking about and they understand pieces of paper, not computer screen images. So there you are, the lads are skint and doesn't that prove that they're coming to Ireland for the social welfare or to steal jobs away from the hard-pressed Irish. To say nothing of attracting the cutest colleens and leaving Irish men to go stag.

The would-be travelers were deported and sent back to the States and now the Dallas newspapers have picked up on the story.

The Irish Tourism Bureau would like Garda National Immigration Bureau to explain itself. And spluttering about requirements being the same as those required of Irish people visiting the States isn't an acceptable reason.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Online and Free

Publishers are seeking new ways to reach readers, and they've turned to the Internet where people are said to be.

Hachette Book Group has taken advantage of their website to add a new feature that, it is hoped, will entice people to buy more of their books.

Want to read The Heretic's Daughter but haven't the time to run over to the library? Don't have a Kindle but you're longing for a novel to pass the time and all you have is a laptop?

Try OpenAccess.

There's a reasonable selection to choose from, including science fiction and biography, non-fiction and fiction.

The books are complete, including the flap copy, and for literary types trying to compose a query letter, there's nothing better than imitating the flap copy of a book that's on the market.

I'll try to get around to reading one of the novels, but for now, that marketing prose on the inside of the book cover is what's gotten my attention. The opening pages have their importance as well, to study the narrative arc as I electronically turn the pages.

Doesn't cost a thing beyond the price of the electricity to power the computer. And it's available at two in the morning, which is more than you can say about the books stacked in any library or book shop.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Cutting Out The Tax Man

Rather than cut spending, several state governments went off in search of new revenue streams.

That means new things to levy taxes upon.

What better than the online retailer, who pays tax only in the place where its headquarters are physically located? Something like Amazon, for example. They sell books in California and North Carolina and Hawaii, but there's no sales tax paid to the states where the buyers reside.

The legal issues have been much discussed, and it's pretty clear that a physical presence is required to collect state sales tax. Hence, a few states decreed that the Amazon affiliate program equals a physical presence.

Anyone can set up a little Amazon shop online, giving out suggestions for books to buy or recommending music titles or the like. If you, the shopper, then go through the affiliate's "shop" to make your purchases, the affiliate gets a little bit and it could be a nice little work-from-home business.

Then you must pay sales tax, mighty Amazon, said the legislature of North Carolina and Amazon said, good-bye affiliates. We're out of here.

By trying to weasel around the law, North Carolina managed to hurt those who were profiting from the affiliate program. By eliminating their physical presence, Amazon isn't liable for state sales taxes so that income stream never produced a drop, and the affiliates are paying less in income tax because they're out of business.

Hawaii's governor figured it out and realized that it was a losing proposition. Amazon didn't much benefit from local affiliates, but the affiliates derived some benefit from Amazon. Governor Linda Lingle vetoed the legislation that would have levied sales tax on Amazon in Hawaii, rather than see Amazon cut out the affiliate program.

There's still no indication that the legislatures are looking at ways to save money rather than rake in more. The push to tax on-line retailers goes on.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Summer Reading

The holiday weekend is here and you're doing the stay-cation thing. Where can you go to escape the kids who cry boredom? Maybe you're luckier and you've got a long weekend booked at a summer cottage in the North Woods, where the days are long and lazy and you'll be crying boredom before long.

Take along a copy of Sophie Kinsella's new novel and get away from it all.

Having made her name with the Shopaholic series, Ms. Kinsella uses the pseudonym "Madeleine Wickham" for non-shopping tales and that's the case in The Wedding Girl.

The story opens with Milly agreeing to marry a gay man so that he won't be deported and separated from his lover. You just know, when you get to the second chapter, that this wedding of convenience is going to spell trouble for her impending marriage to a very eligible, wealthy bachelor.

Milly's fiance is a pure cartoon, battling it out with his father for independence, but when it's hot outside you don't want deep character development. It's tried and true, easy on the mind, and nothing more than entertainment.

Proper chick-lit needs more complexity in the main character's life, and Ms. Kinsella doesn't disappoint. Milly's sister is unmarried and pregnant, and Milly's parents are coming apart. Mummy is obsessed with the wedding, and Dad is feeling left out, and you've probably heard it a million times but it's always fun when handled with the subtle humor that Sophie Kinsella brings to her novels.

With all the wedding prep filling out the backdrop, Milly must find her pseudo-spouse to obtain a divorce, she has to reconcile with her fiance who's stormed off upon learning that she married someone before, and she will uncover the traitor in her camp who ratted her out to the minister just as she was about to commit bigamy.

There's plot solutions that you can see coming from a mile away, but who wants to puzzle over anything when the sun is shining and the hubby's toiling away at the barbecue grill.

Empty-headed it may be, but The Wedding Girl is a cold drink on a hot July day when your brain is over-heated from work and life's ordinary responsibilities.

Can't get away for the weekend? Escape to Madeleine Wickham's England and the requisite happy ending of The Wedding Girl. You'll be glad you made the trip.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Tower's On Hold But Here's The Recording Studio

Finances being what they are, and An Bord Pleanala being stubborn about knocking down landmark buildings, U2 Inc. couldn't put their spaceship-like recording studio on top of the tower they were planning to build in Dublin.

So here it is, on stage. It is the stage, actually.

See those tiny figures under the spotlights?

That giant Bono above is a big screen, so that those in the hinterlands of the concert venue can see what's happening on stage.

The lads have dubbed it "The Claw", this enormous space ship of a setting for their 360 degree tour. The show opened in Barcelona, Spain, and will travel the world. Imagine the logistics of transporting and setting up that Claw. The road crew and the engineers deserve some sort of reward.

Why 360 degree? U2 performs in the round from 'The Claw', so there's no seats lost behind a stage. As is the current trend, walkways radiate from the center so that the audience can feel as if band members have come out to join them, to bring the performance off the stage.

The old-fashioned, big slap rock 'n roll outdoor concert has returned. Or landed, in the case of U2's spaceship.