Saturday, July 31, 2010

Always Potential, Never An Offer

The rejection arrived on Friday, late in the afternoon, just in time to start drinking heavily.

Unusual, to get feedback from the literary agent, so there's no discounting the advice. The problem is, as I read the critique, I get a sense that I'm wasting my time.

There doesn't seem to be story arc in the manuscript I submitted. I know what the term means, but I thought I had a line I was following. If I'm that far off base, it's obvious that I just don't know how to write a novel.

Most of the characters are based on people I know, and most of the plot is taken from the events of a real person's life, but as I wrote about them, the whole thing came off flat.

How is that to be fixed? If incidents that I'm familiar with don't project some spark, then it's a problem with the way I tell a story.

Lack of talent. That sums it up.

Of course, if I can fix the issues, I'm invited to re-submit, but it would take a skilled writer to take my ideas and plump them up. Someone who has a better ear then me might be able to round up the different plot lines and get them moving forward instead of standing still like a tableau.

Time to step back from the manuscript and research books on how to write a novel, I suppose. Teaching myself by voracious reading isn't cutting it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

There's Even An App For That

Subscribing to Twitter is of benefit to those who would like to follow the rocky road to publishing without falling in the potholes.

It's free. Agents tweet about what they're not looking for, what they hate in a query, or if they're closed to submissions so don't get on the black list by submitting.

There's now an app for that, available for free from iTunes. Download it to your iPhone. Literary agent Laurie Abkemeier's pithy tweets in all their Apple-organized glory can be found with a flick of the finger.

Under the name "Agent Obvious", Ms. Abkemeier has offered advice on Twitter with a touch of humor. If you have next to no idea how to approach an agent, what goes in a query letter, or you're curious about the publishing industry, you don't have to sort through old tweets to find the nugget of wisdom you need.

Don't own an iPod or an iPhone to dowload the app to? Not to worry. The price keeps dropping as competition heats up and new technology replaces old yet serviceable models.

On the other hand, you can go into your Twitter account and sort through Ms. Abkemeier's tweets manually. When you can't afford to pay someone to do the work, you just have to do it yourself.

Flying Off On A Tangent

The rough draft is put down and the idea that was kicking around in my head is fixed in place.

It isn't just a case of writing a story, however. The antagonist and protagonist need a reason to be at each other's throats.

What is the motivation? When writing historical fiction, it isn't always a case of looking up the past. Most unpleasant interactions wouldn't appear in a history book.

Reading the history is one thing. It's up to the author to read between the lies, to envision two people squaring off. Human nature doesn't seem to change from year to year. People will forever be jealous of a rival's success. They'll begrudge another's accomplishments, and sometimes they'll do what they can to pull the adored one from the pedestal.

There was the motivation, right in front of me. The antagonist in real life was an ambitious man, stepping on the backs of others to reach the top. Interaction with the protagonist took place early on, before the opening of my story, but the tension was set and bringing it out was as simple as inserting a few lines of back story.

No need to go into a big long exposition about how their enmity began. A short and sweet reference to an act in the past will be enough to set the stage and put the conflict into context. Of course they hate each other, the reader will say. It will make sense.

The logic comes from historical fact, coupled with a little imagination. As an author, you have to observe human behavior, and sooner or later you'll create a character who fits someone you've seen or heard before. Stealing from experience, you'll create a realistic, believable person.

You might think you're veering off on a tangent, wasting valuable time. Like a movie scene of five minutes that takes a week to film, you spend a lot of time reading and gain little more than a sentence or two, but that short piece of back story could make the difference between a cardboard character and a genuine, flesh and blood individual the reader can understand.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The End Doesn't Mean It's Done

The final chapter got a complete overhaul and I felt that I had said all I wanted to say.


The last word of the manuscript, stored in the computer's memory. Give it some time, let the head clear, and then go back for editing, I says to myself says I.

Until I happened to look up an old newspaper article that dealt with the main character of the latest manuscript. The information wasn't considered earlier because I ended the story before the real person's life ended, but I got curious about what happened after and I went back to the archives.

I learned a few things about motive and the emotional impact of events I hadn't considered. There was such a wealth of information to go through as it was, and here I had almost missed something that would create greater impact in the first third of the story.

So I won't let the manuscript sit around, gathering dust so that I can go back to it with a different perspective. I have to re-write most of the middle and a good part of the end, to bring in what I discovered after the fact.

THE END, it says on the very last page. It's not quite at the end just yet. There's more to be done, things I couldn't really see until the rough draft was down and the skeleton of the story wired together.

Not the end. I'll be going back to put some meat on the bones.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

No Quitting

I wrote the last words of the manuscript after midnight, knowing that the ending wasn't powerful enough and it would have to be re-written when I wasn't so sleepy.

From the very beginning, however, I wrote with a sense that I'd finally found the right story to get a literary agent's attention.

One manuscript after another, and there's plenty of compliments on the writing. In the end, however, the novel just wasn't right for the agent, wasn't what was selling. I knew that all along, of course, because what's out there in book shops isn't what I want to read, so we're not at all on the same page here.

The market for historical fiction is limited as it is, so not hitting on the exact most popular era or the top choice in locations meant I could write my heart out but it wouldn't matter. There's no market for art, just books that sell, and that's based on what's sold in the past.

This time, I've been telling myself, I've got the sort of story that should intrigue the reading public.No exotic locations but a familiar place, in an era not too far in the past. The lead character is portrayed differently than history has written him, and there's political gamesmanship and corruption at the top to add interest.

There's editing to be done, but already I'm thinking about the query letter. This is going to be the one, the break-out novel. Locked in the hard drive of the computer (and on a flash drive and an external hard drive) is the next step on the road to publication, the paved road that leads to a contract.

Why are we so gullible, my main character is asked. Because we want to believe. There's no quitting.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Passing The Agents

Major publishers don't accept unagented manuscripts. That's why you need a literary agent, to walk in a door that's locked to you.

Agents negotiate the contract and take their cut. It's in their best interest to get the biggest contract possible.

Wouldn't it be a more perfect world if the publishers could deal direct with the author? No middleman getting his slice of the pie. Easier to reach a cheaper deal with a new writer whose work might not pan out. A smaller advance, or no advance at all, means the publisher incurs less risk.

So it's not so good for the author. The publishers are going to look out for themselves when they can.

Bowker, the firm that sells ISBNs, is starting up a new service for publishers who are in search of manuscripts.

Someone will have to pay for the service. Either the author will be charged to download their manuscript into the database, or the publisher will pay for each manuscript they purchase. Still cheaper than an agent's 15%, most likely.

Submissions will be categorized based on subject, allowing the publisher to plug holes in their lists with the appropriate manuscript. Need a romance set on a horse farm in Texas? There it is, and if the author can claim that it's edited professionally, the publisher is half-way there.

Who's to sift through the slush, however? Authors will post a chapter as a writing sample, but that would mean someone at the publishing house doing the work that an agent does. Of course, the publisher can hire a cheap summer intern at a discount, so the Bowker system could make financial sense.

Will it help authors get published who are otherwise ignored in a market-driven industry?

Not likely. The publishers are risk averse and aren't in the market for literary art.

If anything, books could become even more cookie-cutter-like, without a literary agent pushing a piece of fiction that might be well worth the effort of bringing it to market, even in the face of a conservative industry that wants only blockbusters.

In the end, it's all about making money.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Crude Pawn Stars

Recently, BP's Tony Hayward was spotted in Las Vegas, engaging in a discrete transaction. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but it's possible that the following transaction took place this past week.

Tony walked into the shop off the famous Vegas strip, and the pawn broker asked what he had brought in. The BP chief executive laid out his papers on the glass counter, fanning them out to make them look large.

"Permian Basin holdings in Texas and southeast New Mexico," Tony said with pride. He was an engineer, not a salesman, and his awkwardness showed through. "Gas in Canada. Exploration concessions in Egypt. Half of Prudhoe Bay in Alaska."

"What are you looking to get for them?"

"I need to raise twenty billion," said Tony. "Things were going great until the accident. The repair bill has been growing larger by the day, and we've run through out little savings account. Well, we spent a big piece of that on campaign contributions and wasn't that throwing away good money? If we don't give in to the government's demands to set up a slush fund, who knows what the bullies in Congress might do?"

"You looking to sell them or pawn them?"

"Oh, sell, sell. In fact, I'll throw in some oil fields in Pakistan and Vietnam. Do we have a deal?"

"I'm in this business to make money," said the broker. "I don't have a lot of customers walking in the door looking for oil fields and drilling rights. But I can see you're in a bind and I'd like to help you out. I'll give you eight billion."

"No, I can't let it go for that. Fifteen billion? I'm getting desperate here." Flop sweat beaded on his forehead. He hated to beg, but a man in his position had little choice. "The bosses have given me the sack and my retirement fund depends on this transaction. Can you go ten billion?"

"It's a deal. Let's go sign some paperwork."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Your Bail, M'lord

What constitutes honest services? The Supreme Court of the United States decided that legislation making it illegal to deny "honest services" was too vague. His Lordship in the Florida prison heaved a sigh of relief.

Because of questions surrounding the legality of the honest services law that was used to convict him, Conrad Black, Peer of the Realm, has been granted bail.

Off with the orange jumpsuit. Back in to finely tailored suits and silk boxers.

At the close of His Lordship's trial, the judge instructed the jury as to the honest services portion of the fraud charge. The Supreme Court, in finding that the law isn't clear, determined that Mr. Black's trial might have been tainted.

He would, in that case, have to be tried under under some other statute that fits the crime of robbing shareholders blind and using the corporate accounts like private banks.

On the other hand, the appeals court could determine that there was plenty of other cause for the jury to convict the man who brought down Hollinger International and very nearly killed the Chicago Sun-Times. In that case, the conviction stands and it's back to the orange jumpsuit.

His Lordship will want his legal team to seek as many continuances as possible. The longer this drags out, the longer he can enjoy his former posh lifestyle as Lord Black of Some-Obscure-Place-In-England.

He looks spectacular in scarlet and ermine. He simply doesn't look good in orange.

Monday, July 19, 2010

This Week's Crop Of Debuts

Alex Gilvarry has a novel coming out, his first.

He's not an ordinary person like you. He's a Normal Mailer fellow, right out of Mr. Mailer's writer's colony on Cape Cod.

What's it about? What's selling in New York these days? A story about an up and coming fashion designer who gets kidnapped and shipped to Gitmo. Yeah, I'm right there with you. The story's about three years too late. It's almost historical fiction at this point.

Conde Nast has a couple of representatives in the debut column. Again, they're not ordinary writers like you. They have a platform strong enough to support the heaviest pile of words. They know people who know people in publishing.

A novel about a woman reading her dead friend's journal? I picture long passages in italics filling out the manuscript, or being used as transitions into changing scenes. I'm picturing Cecilia Ahern's P.S. I Love You in fancy dress.

As for the debut of Jennifer Close, editor and writer? Chick lit isn't quite dead yet. Any book that deals with a group of women in their twenties and has bridal showers in it couldn't be anything less.

The ordinary creative types aren't gaining any traction these days. It's the economy, it's the tight fiction market, it's corporate caution taken to its boring and dull extreme.

The new fiction section at the public library has shrunk by one third. What's coming out next year isn't going to fill the empty space.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Writing Ain't Beanbag

Test them in math and science. Test them in reading. Who cares if they can write.

Illinois students won't have to take a writing exam that was originally put in place to measure educational progress in grades three, five, six and eight.

Everyone's texting anyway. Why find out if the kids can write?

The Illinois Sate Board of Education has figured out that if they eliminate the test, they can save a few million dollars and it's all about cutting the budget. Okay, it's all about cutting the budget in places where voters won't notice the pain come election day.

It's not as if the Feds require the test. If it wasn't for some universities requiring it, the eleventh grade test could be eliminated as well, at a cost savings that wouldn't upset voters who don't realize how important writing skills are.

By fifth grade, the writing skills of Illinois pupils have tanked, so why test the students and give the voting parents evidence of the disaster that is public education. That adds to the "throw the bums out" mentality, and for the bums, they like their jobs thanks very much.

Why bother to teach writing if there's no test for it? Aren't the teachers supposed to teach to the test so the scores look good and the politicians can get re-elected?

The kids aren't learning how to write, which means their reading skills are being hurt as well. They'll come out of the primary grades with limited communication skills, and when they head off to college, they won't get into the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign because they'll be competing against kids from outside Illinois who were taught how to write.

And all those out-of-state kids pay a much higher tuition which helps plug the holes in the budget that the politicians created through mismanagement and outright fraud.

To paraphrase "Bathhouse John" Coughlin, writing ain't beanbag.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thinking The Unthinkable

Move the parade.

That's the word from Downing Street in the wake of serious rioting in Ardoyne.

The Orange Order wants to parade past the Irish Catholic area of Ardoyne, just to remind them who won that battle in 1620 that put the Protestants in charge. Imagine the Ku Klux Klan demanding the right to parade through African-American neighborhoods, just to remind them who's on top.

Little wonder that the minority group doesn't want the parade and has done everything in their power to stop it. After so many years of discrimination and abuse, they're fighting back with bricks and petrol bombs.

We need more money to quell these disturbances, goes the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Move the parade route, says Downing Street. Move the feckin' parade out of the nationalist areas and there won't be any riots and you won't need more money that isn't there to put more police on the street.

The very idea is unthinkinable. Unimagineable to a Unionist. London telling them to give in to nationalist demands? Surely the world is coming to an end.

For centuries, the unionist element dug in their heels and London gave in. Times have changed, however. Brittania doesn't rule the waves and there won't always be an empire.

The Orange Order that loves a parade isn't getting any traction from pointing fingers at the nasty rioters. They aren't getting support from Downing Street in their stubborn refusal to meet with local citizens to reach a compromise on the parade route, to avoid rioting.

The Six Counties is a financial drain on the Exchequer. There's no real purpose served in hanging on to the port at Belfast. Bad news all around for the unionists.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Moral Equivalance

Amid much fanfare, the Vatican announced the latest policy on handling clerical sex abuse cases.

Former victims feel that the rules and regulations don't go far enough. There's no official mandate making it clear to the local bishop that he's to inform civil authorities when a pervert's been caught. The new rules are only the old guidelines now put into code.

Curb the perpetrator's public ministry says the Holy See. No mention of driving him to the nearest police station for arrest and trial by a jury of his peers.

You just know that some clever type will make a remark about the lack of women in the priesthood, and wouldn't the Church be better off with women priests? It's not as if there's no women in the world so how can the Vatican hierarchy be so uniformly unisex?

Put that thought away. Anyone who dares to consecrate a female of the species into the priesthood is as evil as the priest who abuses children. So says the Holy See.

Quite a stretch, that bit of moral equivalence. Make a woman a priest and you're as bad as the man who goes from parish to parish abusing children and destroying lives.

They've made it clear, the red-robed cardinals and the white-clad Pope, they've left no doubt about their regard for women. And it's rather obvious what they think of the parishioners.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Literary Smoke and Mirrors

Authors in search of publication usually have no experience with the publishing industry. They don't know what to do with the manuscript they've spent months and years to create.

Google is your friend, would be author. You can check the bona fides of agents and publishers and even the offers that don't sound quite right.

Reading your local paper, you might see that that a neighbor has found publishing success with PublishAmerica and you think, that's for me. Google first. You'd be amazed at what you'd find.

So many people have Googled and discovered the truth about the scam that is PublishAmerica that PublishAmerica has taken to blowing a lot of literary smoke up the ass of naive writers.

So bad is the reputation that they've taken to masking themselves. For a time, at any rate. Until this scam, too, is rumbled.

Aware of the stigma that is PublishAmerica? They have an app for that. It's called Independence Books. See? Not PublishAmerica at all. Those who would have laughed at you for signing with a scam outfit won't realize that you've been made a sucker.

"It will not show as POD" goes the announcement from PA. Your book will look a little more like it was published by a house that vets all its publications, unlike PA that prints up anything that comes in the door.

It won't make it any easier to sell, because it's still Print On Demand and there's still no sales and marketing departments to get your book into the shops.

It still doesn't make sense to consider PublishAmerica in any of its forms.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tripped Up In The Details

The book club is reading Jeannette Wells' Half Broke Horses this month.

Better than some of the selections that have been explored this year. The novel is almost a biography of the author's grandmother, a woman who lived a hardscrabble life but found ways to survive and thrive.

The reading was going along smoothly until Ms. Wells' grandmother decided to move from her birthplace in Arizona to Chicago.

Some things set my teeth on edge. Things that spoil an otherwise good book.

I know it's fiction, but if an author is using a real place in a real time, shouldn't they at least do a quick Google search to ascertain the facts?

The main character in the novel goes to Wrigley Field as a young woman before the First World War.

Nice touch, but Ms. Wells didn't notice that the ballpark where the Cubs play baseball was built in 1914 and it was called Weeghman Field. After the Federal League folded and the Cubs moved from the West Side Grounds, the place was called Cubs Field. Until 1920.

The average reader wouldn't notice that her subtle reference to Buckingham Fountain was a pure flight of fantasy, as the fountain wasn't built until 1927.

Such glaring errors pull my focus completely out of the novel and then dance around my head while I try to read the rest. It's more than merely a distraction.

As a reader, we suspend disbelief so that we can accept the author's premise. Events and characters merge in ways that aren't entirely possible but for the most remote circumstance, but we'll accept it if the author keeps the whole fantasy intact.

Make glaring errors in period detail and I might as well be reading science fiction or steampunk, neither of which I like.

I'm trying to finish the novel, but my heart's not in it. I went into the reading with a notion that the events depicted were based on a woman's real life, with names changed or characters merged for the sake of good literary flow. Turns out it's not all that. Turns out that the distraction of mistakes has me thinking that the book's getting boring and I don't really care how the story ends.

Wrigley Field before the First World War. Everyone knows that's not true. How can you suspend disbelief of a fact that's part of your personal history?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Creative Writing Gone Awry

The genre would be flash fiction. The length of the piece would be under five hundred words, the ending not so much stated as left to the reader's imagination.

The author herself had no idea how her little bit of fiction would end.

Chances are good that Aishling Madden was under the influence on the night she composed a short piece and posted it online.

She did some research on her characters so that she could make a more accurate portrayal. While working as a temp at Accenture, she found the CV of a receptionist and lifted it from the company's files. She'd be sending out her own flurry of resumes soon enough, since she didn't want to be a temp forever.

That took care of the female protagonist. What of a male character? Miss Madden was inspired by a man who worked at Office Angels, a recruiting firm. He interviewed her for positions, but she didn't suit. All the same, she kept an e-mail from him.

She typed up her story and posted it on Gumtree, where other would-be authors and sex workers posted their tales. Gumtree, as it turned out, wasn't an online journal of literature but an online marketplace where those interested in performing various sex acts could run an advertisement.

The woman whose CV was stolen started getting phone calls of a disturbing nature. Quite a few men were willing to take her up on the offer. The gardai were notified and they tracked the posting to Ms. Madden's computer.

They found all sorts of evidence on Ms. Madden's hard drive. She tried to compose another piece of flash fiction on the spot, but lost the plot line and ended up presented scenarios that didn't mesh.

She saved the CV for research purposes. She wrote up the ad but didn't post it. Some people came to her house and they posted it, but she couldn't recall their names or addresses. To link the various plot lines, she said that it had only been a practical joke.

No one found it funny, especially the two people whose names and phone numbers were put on the Internet, where nothing ever goes away.

Ms. Madden has been found guilty of defamation and publishing grossly offensive materials. She's been remanded on bail and returned to her parents. She's expected back in court at the end of the month for sentencing.

A stint in jail would do wonders for her literary career, providing plenty of real-life experiences that aren't to be found sitting in her bedroom in her daddy's house.

Paying a fine could pose some difficulty for the budding author. Unemployment doesn't pay much, and the two victims of her literary tour de force will be looking for compensation for the misery Ms. Madden put them through.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Losing Steam

My head's in the 1890's.

Louis Sullivan's architecture is celebrated, his buildings still smell of wet plaster and paint. Electric street cars share the roads with horse carts and buggies. People walk to destinations because it's cheap transportation.

Two literary agents are considering full manuscripts and I wonder where they are at with the reading and the possibility of offering.

I should compile a list of small press publishers to submit the manuscript to if things don't work out, but when do I pull the plug and figure these agents aren't falling in love with the story? So it's not a blockbuster, but maybe it would fit into a small niche where authors don't receive an advance and the royalties are next to nothing.

Work is piling up as clients race the ticking tax bomb clock.

No wonder I'm in the 1890's. The pace is slow because speed has yet to be invented. Time is short.

I have to leave for work soon.

Sorry if I seem distracted, or rush you to finish the conversation. I'm in the 1890's with the characters of a novel I'm writing, and they're more interesting than the fate of Lebron James.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Confession

Jerry Hobbs and Sheila Hollabaugh had their problems. They argued too much. Weren't getting along like a pair of love birds.

When police in Zion, Illinois, a rustbelt town down on its luck, found the bodies of Laura Hobbs and her friend Krystal Tobias in a park, they questioned the parents first. Didn't take long to learn that the couple had some serious relationship issues.

Turns out that Jerry Hobbs had gotten out of prison in Texas about a month earlier, and came up to Zion to be with his honey. Once a felon, always a felon. The cops brought him in.

Cops see horrific crimes all the time. They've had enough experience to know that even the father of a little girl can't be ruled out as her murderer. Even when semen was left on the child's clothes. There's some sick men out there. No scenario can be eliminated until the evidence shows otherwise.

A simple man is easy to crack. Long before the semen was analyzed for DNA, Mr. Hobbs confessed to killing his own flesh and blood. He confessed to stabbing two nine-year-old girls multiple times, sticking the knife into his daughter's eyes.

Fingernail scrapings taken from the two little corpses was tested and failed to match Mr. Hobbs. The DNA from the semen failed to match Mr. Hobbs.

No problem for Lake County Prosecutor Michael Mermel. He had that confession, you see, and to hell with DNA. That semen could have come from the child rubbing up against a tree in a spot that was a popular lover's tryst.

What the fuck, you say?

Due to errors, the first attempt to match the DNA to a national database turned up blank.

Mr. Hobbs, meanwhile, sat in jail. Mr. Mermel had his perp and he wasn't going to let him go. No bail was granted. The father was locked up in 2005 and left there while Mermel rounded up enough evidence to make a solid case. Clearly, the semen on the tree scenario wasn't going to fly with a jury of reasonably intelligent people.

The DNA match was repeated and wouldn't you know but there was a match. To a man who was already in jail in Virginia. Who lived two doors down from the Hollabaugh residence at the time of the murders.

Mr. Hobbs is due in court, and it's anyone's guess as to whether or not he'll be released.

It's not the first time that Mr. Mermel has ignored DNA evidence that didn't come from the man he wanted to prosecute. Given that track record, it's not likely that a Lake County judge would continue to hold Mr. Hobbs.

How likely is it that Mr. Mermel will continue to be gainfully employed by the County of Lake? Does he get canned before or after Mr. Hobbs sues the County for prosecutorial misconduct and every other error a greedy lawyer can think up?

In the meantime, the Lake County Board will be meeting with their insurance agents to make sure the County's coverage is up-to-date. There's a big claim for damages coming.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Finger Of Blame

Didn't the nuns always tell us that we shouldn't point a finger of blame because the other three fingers were pointing back at us?

Adam Clayton is learning the truth of the old adage.

He gave his assistant, Carol Hawkins, free rein to his bank accounts and she in turn robbed him blind. The lawsuit is still being heard in court, but as far as anyone can tell, the money has been spent and it won't be coming back again, whether Mr. Clayton wins his case or not.

More recently, the U2 bassist has sued his bankers and financial managers. Didn't they notice that there were large sums of money going missing? Where were their keen eyes?

And where were your own two eyes, Mr. Clayton, ask the bankers. Couldn't be bothered looking over the balance sheets, you lazy sot. Don't go blaming us for your lack of oversight.

Not so fast goes Mr. Clayton. You, Mr. Banker, called me in the first instance, back in October of 2009, to alert me to certain odd banking transactions that were caused by Ms. Hawkins' pilfering. You could have checked into it sooner and I'd not be out over four million euros.

Who was it who kept the woman on after she confessed in 2008 to helping herself to your bank accounts, says the bankers. If you'd given her the sack then, you could have prevented a large part of the fraud yourself.

In the end, it's the employees of Bank of Ireland Private Banking Ltd. who have more to answer for. Their job, for which they were paid, was to mind Mr. Clayton's money. That includes asking questions about odd transactions and sums of money going missing when the money's owner is nowhere near the bank from which the money is being taken. They were supposed to be minding the till so that Mr. Clayton could go make music and not worry about his financial future.

It's a matter of due diligence for the money's owner to check up on things from time to time, but a man who plucks metal strings on an electric bass guitar knows his limitations when it comes to money. Investments, tax dodges and the like can be complex and tricky, and so a smart man hires a smarter man to do the heavy lifting. Would Mr. Clayton have understood the balance sheets if he'd tried to read them?

Mr. Clayton's desire to fast-track the case into the Commercial Court has been denied. Instead, the High Court can listen to the bickering and watch fingers of blame point in all directions. Then the judge will have to assign the proper proportions of the blame pie to the musician, the bankers and the accountants. No one's hunger will be satisfied.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Of Course It's Only Fiction

Revenge is a dish best served cold, with a side of literary hash.

Tim Waterstone, owner of the book chain bearing his name, has weathered some fierce financial storms of late. Sales have declined, profits have dropped, expenses have climbed, and he had to sell out before everything he'd built up had tumbled down.

He's an angry man indeed, still fuming years after his chain of book stores was taken over by WH Smith and later EMI but it's all a tangled web of buying and selling and take-overs that you'd need a scorecard to keep track of the players.

Mr. Waterstone is getting back at those who did him wrong. His first novel in ten years is due to come out in September, and already people are suggesting that the thinly veiled characters in the novel are readily identifiable.

According to pre-publication rumor, Mr. Waterstone put his enemies in the novel, where he could parody and mock them to his heart's content. It's all fiction, after all, so no one can sue him for libel.

In the pages of a novel, he gets back at those who foiled his attempt to buy back the Waterstone book chain after EMI merged with HMV and the new company's focus was distracted from the traditional book business. Sales within the British publishing industry will be huge, fueled by a curiosity to discover who's in the book and how they are portrayed. Sales to the general public will be boosted by the buzz. A book that lifts the veil on the publishing industry? Gotta have it.

Authors have gotten even with their enemies through literature since mankind first started telling stories. With Tim Waterstone's solid platform as a mover and shaker in the industry he's writing about, he can expect a very good return on his investment.

Those who are parodied in the pages of his new novel, however, will have to grumble in private. It's all fiction, isn't it?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Still Crazy After All These Years

Thought he'd gone away, didn't you?

Assumed he'd quietly retired, to live out his golden years with his subservient wife.

The paper-mill Reverend is still spewing fire, still crazy after all these years.

He's front and center, leading the protests against a visit by a Catholic prelate. What more would you expect from a man who once called the Pope the Anti-Christ, and to his face?

Using the sex abuse scandal as an excuse to excoriate British authorities for inviting His Holiness, Ian Paisley is complaining mightily that Pope Benedict will soon set a red-shoed foot on British soil.

It's the first official visit for the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the same church that the British tried with all their might to wipe out throughout the not-so-united kingdom.

Having met with no little success, Ireland excepted, it must be a mistake to invite the Pope to come and meet the Queen. Such an official meeting indicates British acceptance of Catholicism, and to Ian Paisley, that's heresy.

He's taking some comfort in knowing that Her Majesty will be on Scottish soil, not in England, when the meeting takes place. And he's insisting that there's not a single minister in all the land who wants "anything to do" with His Holiness.

It must really irk Mr. Paisley to know that he's singing in the chorus with gay activists and atheists, who all plan to protest when Pope Benedict arrives in England's green and pleasant land. He hates them, too.

A Taste Of Chicago Violence

After decades of taking care of his cronies, Chicago's mayor Richard Daley has been forced to cut back on the city's lavish spending. With that in mind, the spectacular Fourth of July fireworks has to suffer the consequences.

Rather than the big production on the third of July at Grant Park, readily accessible to those attending the Taste of Chicago festival, there's to be a clutch of smaller, cheaper displays at three different locations.

It may be more than finances that are driving the revised celebration.

Huge crowds gather at Grant Park in a nightmare scenario for the under-manned police force. Gang violence is worse than ever, and it tends to spill out where special events draw rivals into close proximity.

Tourists who might have been departing from the eating orgy last night would have walked into the middle of a pitched brawl on State Street, only blocks away from the fun and frivolity of music and food. They might have witnessed a young man get carted off to the hospital for treatment of a stab wound in his back. They may have seen the man who resisted arrest get Tasered.

Not what you want anyone to think of when they think of the city's tourist attractions. It's very bad publicity, coming on top of a string of news stories about multiple shootings that make Chicago sound more like the Wild West than a civilized city.

How's that hand gun ban working out for you, Chicago? Not at all, judging by the numbers.

Out of town guests want to feel safe and secure when they wander around, and they aren't getting reassured when they read about gang fights and running gun battles. Who'd want to find themselves in a crowd, when you never know who might have a gun and decide to use it? Little good is a ban on hand guns when the only ones with hand guns are those who routinely break the law.

With that in mind, those on Chicago's South Side can get themselves over to Rainbow Beach (i.e. the African-American folks) to observe the fireworks display that will be coordinated with another at Navy Pier (white tourists) and a third to the north at Montrose Beach (miscellaneous including Asian and Hispanic).

Divide and conquer. Keep the crowds down to a manageable size at separate locations and pray that the gun slingers confine themselves to their neighborhoods and don't threaten the tourists with their precious dollars.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's SuperKindle

Television adverts for Amazon's Kindle feature catchy pop tunes that stick in your head, coupled with clever visuals that promote the imagination, rather than the actual chunk of plastic.

Now comes the new and improved and lower-priced SuperKindle. Along with a new and remarkably uncreative promotion.

The big improvement, according to Amazon, is the remarkable contrast on the screen that makes it easier to read. You see, with a book, you adjust the contrast by turning on the lamp over your shoulder and shifting either yourself or the lamp to get the best illumination. With a Kindle, there's no shifting that would help the letters stand out better from the screen.

To demonstrate how perfect this new and improved display is, the commercial opens with a very clear image of a book page on the new device. As the camera pans back, we see a lady sitting on a beach, and there's her significant other next to her with his own Kindle.

What's missing?

There's no curling up. There's no book placed on the lap while the reader watches the waves for a minute or two and digests what's just been read. The significant other doesn't have an open book stretched over his face while he takes a brief nap under the summer sun.

Sure the image is one of summer heat, but it's cold. Stiff, inflexible, and uncomfortable would best describe the poses of the Kindle owners in their beach chairs.

Grand that you can download an entire library and store it in a flat little rectangle of plastic. Brilliant that it's been modified to make it easier to read in bright sunlight.

I'll take a book any day. It never needs to be recharged. It won't be damaged if I should drop it in the sand. It's always been readable in bright sunlight.

The new and improved Kindle. Still lacking in the sensory experience of books.