Thursday, September 30, 2010

There's Fiction And There's Reality

In my house, there's a little buzz on Sunday evenings when HBO's Big Love come on. At its core, it is pure soap opera and somewhat addictive.

It is, of course, pure fiction. There are elements in the plot that suggest the writers have watched the news and used real events to craft the conflict in a program that examines polygamy among some of Utah's Mormon community, but the show itself is fiction.

This is in contrast to a reality show, which involves a camera crew following real people as they go about their interesting or unusual day.

And like all reality, unpleasantness can ensue.

Polygamist Kody Brown may have been inspired by Big Love's success and put himself and his many families out there to show that there really are people like those in the make-believe world of HBO.

But in the real world, there are laws against polygamy and if a polygamist calls attention to himself, he is likely to face prosecution.

The issue of polygamy is a touchy one for Utah. The entire state is almost uniformly Mormon, and their religion's past history makes it tough for them to come out strongly against a practice that was once preached. However, the other forty-nine states aren't pleased to see one state turn its back on a law that was enacted by the Mormons so that Utah could join the United States.

With Mr. Brown appearing on television sets nationwide, it would be extremely difficult for Utah's Attorney General to sweep him and his multiple wives under the carpet. The rest of the nation is watching, to see if the legal team has the intestinal fortitude to do what must be done, to prosecute a law-breaker.

If Sister Wives doesn't get yanked by the network, you might want to tune in and listen very carefully to the women involved. Behind their cheery demeanor you'll hear the bad side of plural marriage, the part that torments women into believing that normal human behavior is sinful jealousy to be conquered, that the male of the species is dominant and they are there to be subservient.

Makes for a chilling hour.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Public Case Of Sibling Rivalry


A band of brothers.

You'd think that two men related by birth would be closely aligned, given the perception of the bond between brothers.

Unless those brothers are in British politics.

David and Ed Miliband both wanted to be the leaders of the Labour Party, but there's only chief and more people liked Ed. Who'd want to be sitting around the family dinner table at Christmas after that bit of business? What's a poor mother to do, having to congratulate one son while commiserating with the other. Not a pleasant evening to be had.

Not satisfied with beating out his brother, Ed had to go and knife him in the back while giving his very first speech as Labour leader.

Labour was wrong to take Britain to war in 2003, little Eddie announced to much applause from the Labourites in Manchester.

And there was his brother in the audience, the former Foreign Secretary who pushed for Britain's entry into Iraq. Not clapping. Not smiling.

Rumors about David's departure from politics are swirling. He can't comfortably sit in the shadow cabinet behind his brother and save face, not after a public drubbing.

Colleagues in politics want him to stay on and stand for election, but others fear his presence would only encourage the journalists to report on every perceived flinch as another example of destructive sibling rivalry within Labour, and that at a time when Labour is struggling to return to power.

All eyes are on the Miliband brothers as the tabloid types hunt for cracks on the family foundation. One brother destroying another's career, making him irrelevant in politics when politics has been his life. That's the sort of sibling rivalry we're expecting to see in North Korea once Daddy passes away. Not very sporting of you, old man.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The View From The Ivory Tower

I was reading an article about authors and financial hardship in the Wall Street Journal, and a quote jumped off the page.

A graduate of the University of Georgia's English department was having a hard go of selling her debut novel, a work of literary fiction that the major publishing houses turned down. Much to the surprise of Jed Rasula,  a teacher in that very department, he was sure the manuscript would sell because it was "one of the most exemplary".

Or so the manuscript appeared from the pinnacle of the ivory tower.

There's a tendency these days to worship the MFA and the cookie-cutter format they follow to publishing success. The MFA knows how to use words and create lovely phrases and delve into the deep meanings of life and love and loss and all the rest.

Could it be that the major publishers are starting to realize that the reading public is sick to death of clever young things putting their navel gazings on paper and calling it art?

It's the denizens of the ivory tower who applauded Kirsten Kaschock's efforts, praising her from their perspective of how it should be done properly. The problem with all that lauding is that it doesn't translate to the real world.

The Wall Street Journal blames e-books for the suffering of the literary artists. The major publishers don't nurture the verbal seedlings as they once did in the days of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, so books go unpublished and the authors wither on the vine.

As anyone who's been to university knows, what the professors preach in a lecture rarely translates into the real world. It's all well and good to compose a technically splendid manuscript, but publishers know that the reading public is facing financial hardship, high unemployment and frightening uncertainty.

They aren't about to put out books that ordinary, non-university denizens will not find appealing because they're not living in the ivory tower of academia and don't appreciate the exemplary in literature if it doesn't answer their questions about how they're to cope.

Look at the author bio on the backflap of literary fiction and you'll find a writer who also teaches writing. While that's a clear indication that one can't make a living with one's writing alone, it's also indicative of an incestuous relationship, and students of biology know that such inbreeding results in a lack of diversity which leads to a decline in the species.

What is truly sad about publishing today is the fact that only the bearer of the proper writing degree can be considered a literary writer, and who knows how many good books go unpublished because of a belief that creativity can be taught like chemistry.

It isn't the e-book that's lowering advances on literary fiction. It's the inability of someone fresh out of university, with precious little life experience, to craft a manuscript that's meaningful to a broad slice of the reading public. Publishers want books that sell and make them money. That which college professors find exemplary rarely shines so brightly beyond the confines of the classroom.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Drawing A Crowd With A Cod

By all accounts, Tim Robbins is a rather famous actor, and not just because of his association with Susan Sarandon. Who could forget The Shawshank Redemption?

The Law Society of University College Dublin wanted to recruit new members, and what better way than to host an intimate (only 600 seats at Astra Hall) gathering featuring Mr. Tim Robbins receiving an honorary life membership in the society.

Imagine the disappointment when Mr. Robbins failed to appear.

Imagine his shock at learning he was booked at a UCD event. According to the actor's manager, Mr. Robbins had no idea that he was supposed to be there.

All eyes are now on Kieran McCarthy, law society auditor and the man responsible for organizing the event.

At first, Mr. McCarthy claimed that the actor had to cancel on short notice, but it's since come out that he apologized to the law society and admitted that there never was an appearance scheduled. It was all, apparently, a cod.

The much-desired crowd showed up, so the scheme worked well on one front. The fact that the guest of honor wasn't there and never planned to be there might backfire, unfortunately. Lawyers have a less than savory reputation for truth and honesty, and Mr. McCarthy did the group no favors by promising an appearance that did not occur.

He can't help it, I suppose. How often does a solicitor or barrister claim that he's going to have Witness X testify and blow the whole case open, but come the trial, Witness X is nowhere to be seen?

It's a common enough ruse to get the other side to flinch or show their hand prematurely.

All things considered, then, more students should want to join the group. Imagine how much they'll learn, if this is the first lesson in smoke and legal mirrors.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent

On the Sobel Weber Associates website, there's instructions on how to send a query.

Pretty straightforward. Via US Mail, hard copy, to their address. They want exclusive submissions only.

So I failed to say that I was sending them a query and only them for the one month period they request. For that failure, it's a rejection.

Because of the recent influx of submissions, they write, from present clients and referrals from editors and other writers, they'll only consider material submitted on an exclusive basis.

Consequently, the rejection letter continues, they are unable to afford proper consideration to unsolicited or multiple submissions.

It isn't all about the exclusive or lack thereof.

Sobel Weber Associates don't want nobody nobody sent.

You want to query them? Someone has to let them know you're coming, that you're all right. You've been pre-approved by another author or editor who has the trust of Mr. Sobel.

Maybe you won't get that from reading their submission requirements. But now you know.

It's not what you know but who you know in the publishing world.

Or, it's just a way to reject a query without having to resort to any obscure prose that says thanks but no thanks, not for us, the list is full, etc. etc.

Unless you have connections, unless you have some clout, Sobel Weber doesn't want to hear from you.

The Cost Of Pulp

Memoirs can be dangerous manuscripts to publish.

County Clare-based Salmon Publishing has learned that memoirs can also be expensive to un-publish.

Rita Ann Higgins, Irish poet, decided to pen her memoirs in a combination of rhyme and verse. Salmon Publishing put her words on paper and bound the pages into books, 900 copies worth of paper and ink. The official launch was then set and Ms. Higgins fired off copies to her siblings.

"Brilliant" said her sister in Dublin.

What her brother in New York had to say may have involved profanity, but in any case, he was not at all pleased to see his name in print. The anecdote in which he featured may not have cast him in the best light, and what his famous sister thought was enlightening was not his idea of positive press.

Nine hundred copies of memoir have become nine hundred copies of pulp.

To avoid conflict in the family, or possibly a lawsuit, Salmon Publishing destroyed the existing copies and then edited the manuscript to delete family names. The opening essay in the memoir, which now everyone knows is about the author's brother Joe, has been rendered nameless.

There are no longer any family names in Hurting God. All references to Higginses living and dead have been altered to protect the innocent.

Salmon Publishing is out of pocket, having to eat the cost of producing and then destroying and then editing and then reprinting the books, and all of it getting done in time for the official lay-down in Galway on Saturday.

Ms. Higgins is sorry for the added expense to her publisher, a small operation in the west of Ireland. She is no doubt sorry for causing strife in the family, having never harbored an intention to alienate one of her siblings.

In the future, she may think long and hard about what she writes, which would be a shame. Self-censorship can block up the flow of creativity, the life blood of a writer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Architect Vs. The Engineer

They are a creative bunch, the architects. They draw pictures for a living, after all, and go around imagining buildings that aren't there.

What they don't know how to do is construct what they've dreamed up.

Sometimes, the architectural engineers whose job it is to translate dreams into reality don't quite know how to construct imaginary objects either.

The Art Institute of Chicago is suing the engineering firm that took Renzo Piano's vision and turned it into an actual structure containing priceless works of modern art.

The museum claims that Ove Arup & Partners made a mess of things, to the tune of $10 million worth of needed repairs. There are concrete floors cracking, windows fogging up, and an overwhelmed air conditioning system.

You might wonder why the Art Institute didn't go with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, a Chicago firm, to handle the engineering. They'd be more likely than a London firm to know that the Art Institute is built on landfill on what was once a swamp, and if you like humidity, you'll love Chicago in August.

The lawsuit is going forward because the Art Institute claims that Ove Arup & Partners failed to offer any financial concessions when presented with a bill of particulars. Someone has to pay for the errors in engineering, after all, and it won't be Mr. Piano or the well-heeled benefactors.

Unfortunately, engineers are the ones left holding the bag when an architect's vision isn't readily translated into brick and mortar and steel beams. The firm makes its best estimate of costs, lands the contract, and then prays that someone on staff can figure out how to make a flying carpet roof that doesn't whistle due to air turbulence.

Lawyers will go into court to argue over who is at fault, and try to convince a judge that the engineers were tasked with the impossible and it's the architect's vision that's flawed, while the other side claims that promises were made and no one said it couldn't be done.

Money will change hands. The repairs will be made. The engineering firms who bid and lost will sit back and gloat, savoring an 'I told you so' moment.

Musuem guests won't know the difference. Whether the floor is cracked or not, the Modern Wing is a beautiful space filled with beautiful (and a few ridiculous) objects. On the surface, Renzo Piano's vision and Ove Arup & Partner's execution has accomplished what was desired---an impressive building.

Albeit one that gets a bit steamy during a hot Chicago summer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Reason To Take Up Fishing

Salmon is always on restaurant menus. No matter where you go, you can get a piece of pink-fleshed fish for your day's supply of protein.

On the face of it, eating salmon or ocean pout wouldn't be appreciably different. They're both aquatic creatures, swimming along until caught and pan-fried.

I shouldn't have any qualms about consuming salmon that also contains the genetic material for the anti-freeze gene of the ocean pout. But I do.

By inserting pout genes into the part of salmon DNA that regulates growth, scientists can make the salmon grow faster, which means more profit for the salmon farms.

The salmon-pout hybrid then reproduces, replicating its man-made genetic code, and there you have what is essentially a new species of salmon that goes to market quickly. That translates into an abundance of pouty salmon for all.

However, the anti-freeze in deep water fish is special fat that doesn't freeze in the cold water, so will the salmon taste of this pout fat? By inserting the DNA in the middle of a salmon gene, does it get read in a different way and no longer code for fat but for protein-building enzymes?

To me, it makes no difference. I don't eat farm raised salmon because it's tasteless. It's wild caught or nothing. Might as well open a can of tuna and enjoy the savory richness of mercury with lettuce and mayonnaise.

What might happen if this man-made creation escapes into the wild and intermingles with those delicious Copper River salmon of Alaska? Will the genes be dominant and swamp the natural populations? Will an overpopulation of fast-growing fish overwhelm spawning grounds and further drive out the natural-occurring population?

When there's money to be made, some questions don't get answered thoroughly.

It's being touted as a done deal, that the fish not found in nature will soon be available in local grocers everywhere.

I won't be eating it.

I'm not getting any younger, and by the time enough data is collected to determine if the genetically modified salmon is thoroughly safe to eat, it will either have escaped cultivation and destroyed God's own salmon, or it will be found to be hazardous after twenty years of consumption.

Where did I put my fishing pole and tackle box?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who Needs A Book Tour When There's Costco

Marketing departments in publishing houses rely on the book tour to promote a book. The author goes from city to city, gives interviews, sits in book stores and signs books, and the book sells.

Not necessarily the case in the modern era of the big box wholesale discount megastore.

Debut author Shilpi Somaya Gowda is tracking at Number Two on the Canadian publishing charts and HarperCollins is a bit stunned.

The author resides in California, where the book isn't to be found in every book store. A novel about a California couple (who would have guessed) adopting a baby girl in India (write what you know!), sales were in the mid-list range until the book buyer at Canada Costco thought it would be a good fit for the discounter.

The book took off.

HarperCollins marketers, being a savvy bunch, pushed the fact that Ms. Gowda was a native of Toronto, giving it the Canadian angle. With that, they published the Canadian version as a trade paperback, which costs less, and pushed the author's connection to the Great White North.

Odd for Costco to sell a book that isn't already a best-seller, which makes you think that the the buyer got caught up in the Canadian author business and might have some connections to India that sparked his or her interest in the novel.

A touch of marketing and a drop of chance brought success to Ms. Gowda. The Secret Daughter is moving quickly, and sales are expected to continue to climb as copies are sold to holiday shoppers buying prezzies for their reading friends.

Those in the know say that the plot of the novel follows along themes popular with Canadians, dealing with family conflicts across multiple generations with immigrants in the mix. Will it play well in the States, given a little more publicity?

Considering the fact that HarperCollins is on the fourteenth printing, you'd have to say they've turned a profit and could afford to budget a few dollars for promotion in the States.

There's a second novel in the works. Don't be surprised if Shilpi Somaya Gowda appears on morning television shows to plug it. She's a proven commodity for HarperCollins, and that's what they want when they take a chance on a debut author.

Friday, September 17, 2010

For Your Penance, I Mean, Your Sentence...

What price would you expect to pay for conviction on a public disorder charge?

A fine wouldn't be out of line. A public apology to the person you insulted, absolutely. Community service seems appropriate.

How about a penance to atone for your sins?

Joseph McElwee had a few pints too many one night and decided to spew venom at a garda standing outside the pub that had over-served him.

There was no reason to curse and swear at the officer of the law, but a man under the influence is capable of great feats of stupidity. Needless to say, Mr. McElwee was promptly arrested and then had to explain himself to Judge Seamus Hughes.

He was drunk, the solicitor for the defendant said. Not much of a defense, but it was the truth. In addition, the defendant had apologized personally to the garda, but once a man's been charged with certain crimes, an apology isn't enough.

Judge Hughes sentenced Mr. McElwee, not to jail, but to a pilgrimage.

In a month's time, the chastised gentleman is to climb Croagh Patrick and do the four stations. He must say some prayers and think about his actions on the night he drank himself stupid. Having berated the garda who hailed from Mayo, Mr. McElwee is to go to Mayo and atone for his sins.

How will anyone know that the penance has been made?

How did the nuns know you'd studied your catechism? Yes, it will be question and answer time in the dock come 11 October, when Mr. McElwee will be quizzed by the judge.

Already, he may be preparing for the ordeal that he hasn't experienced since his First Communion preparation.

All together now: Who made the world? God made the world.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blame The Victim

The trial of Kayla Narey and Sean Mulveyhill has been scheduled, and their lawyers have already indicated that they intend to blame Phoebe Prince for her own death.

It's a classic approach, one that has been tried and succeeded. A group of American teens will claim that Phoebe Prince hanged herself because she would have anyway, whether they bullied her or not.

The trick is to convince the jury that the relentless, cruel bullying had nothing to do with Ms. Prince's suicide. Attorneys must present medical experts to claim that the young lady, recently arrived from Ireland, was so fragile mentally that she was suicidal long before Mr. Mulveyhill sweet-talked her into his bed. Young Phoebe, they will say, had serious issues that were absolutely not exacerbated by Ms. Narey and her cadre resorting to vicious cruelty to win back her boyfriend.

Convincing twelve people that the actions of a small army of bullies on someone already on edge is a tricky proposition. The average jurist is familiar with bullies, and probably recalls someone in their past who liked to pick on the weak ones.

A bully doesn't pick a fight with someone who'll pound them to a pulp. They choose someone they can intimidate, and that someone is often a child with a weakness to be exploited.

In Ms. Prince's case, it was a weakness to fit in with a new group of people in a new country with an entirely new culture to navigate.

The defense attorneys are poring over Ms. Prince's medical records, school transcripts and police reports, all in an effort to find scraps of evidence that will fless out the skeleton of their theory. Then will come the psychologists and other experts who will state that the teens accused of driving a young woman to suicide were just normal teens, doing normal things, and it was Ms. Prince who was at fault.

When it comes time for jury selection, you can bet that the defense team will challenge anyone who was ever bullied or has dealt with bullying of their own children. And then they'll dismiss parents of teen-aged daughters who won't shrug off Sean Mulveyhill's sexual affair with Phoebe Prince as youthful exuberience.

It's one thing to prove that the victim was psychologically predisposed to suicide. It's quite another to convince an adult that sex with such a fragile girl could possibly be consensual. The penalty for statuory rape is more severe than that for bullying a young lady to death.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

There's Promotion And There's Ethical Promotion

With HBO picking up his book for adaptation, Judge Nelson Johnson is riding high.

His superiors, however, have taken him down a notch.

His Honor wrote Boardwalk Empire, a work of non-fiction that laid out the corruption and shady goings-on in Depression-era Atlantic City. With illustrious actor Steve Buscemi playing a starring role in the upcoming television series, it's a sure hit and there's going to be a big uptick in sales of the original book.

Selling is all about promotion and the Judge was doing his bit to bring in the royalties. Apparently, his bit has run him afoul of ethics rules governing judicial behavior.

While he's allowed to write a book, he may not be permitted to do the book tour thing. Then there's his docket, which must take precedence over any other outside activities. There's no taking a long recess so that Judge Johnson can sit for an interview to plug his prose.

The publisher, Plexus Publishing, is wringing its ink-stained hands. The firm is small and was counting on the bump in sales to bring in some highly desirable profits, but if the Judge can't promote his book, they expect sales to suffer.

Not everyone gets HBO, after all, but an appearance on a morning talk show would make some difference in the marketing department. An intriguing tale, related by the man who put it down on paper, would go a long way to increasing the bottom line at Plexus.

Sadly, like most bureaucratic wranglings, it will take a long, long time for the Judge's rebuttal to be heard and a decision reached. In the meantime, the initial buzz will fade and the urge to buy Boardwalk Empire will slip away.

You'd get the impression that someone on the New Jersey Superior Court is green with envy over their colleague's sudden success. You'd think that jealousy is driving the promotion ban. How can plugging a book when time permits be contrary to proper judicial conduct off the bench? When someone else stands to make more money and mingle with Hollywood celebrities, do you think?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Evolution Of The Book Launch

The plan has evolved and is now changed.

Minister for Science Conor Lenihan will not be attending a book launch in an official capacity after all.

One would find it rather odd that a man whose portfolio deals with all things scientific would be present when a book that purports to refute Darwin's theory of evolution is released to the general public.

The fact that author John May asked Mr. Lenihan not to come suggests that Mr. May figured out that Mr. Lenihan was showing up to have a good laugh at May's expense.

Mr. May, you see, is not an educated scientist but a crank who has decided that there is no evidence of evolution. He's calling on someone, anyone, to prove to him that there is a link at the biochemical level. Otherwise, he'll carry on about the hoax that he claims is evolution.

To say that Mr. May has gained a tremendous amount of free publicity is unquestionably true. He might even sell a few more of his self-published tomes to those who otherwise would never have heard of him, thanks to the dust-up surrounding Mr. Lenihan's expected attendance and hasty reconsideration.

There's to be an actor dressed up like King Kong at the launch party, which is scheduled for tomorrow evening at Buswell's Hotel in Dublin. (After party at Lilies Bordello. You must admit, Mr. May knows how to have a good time).

And if the book doesn't sell through, he has his other occupations to fall back on. A man who's a D.J., an actor, a marriage counselor, and a poet has nothing to worry about. Except being ignored, perhaps.

Never-Ending Uncertainty

The first three chapters have been requested and I'm thinking the opening pages just aren't good enough. Maybe it's too much backstory too early? Too many names being introduced?

I've hesitated completing the submission because I've had to read over the pages, again and again, wondering if I'm blowing another opportunity with writing that doesn't meet all the rules.

You know the rules. Noah Lukeman's rules for the first five pages, that is.

The book is readily available second-hand, since it's often used in writing classes and the students don't always have an urge to hang on to the textbook.

Once you get past the chapters about spelling and grammar, you arrive at the more esoteric regulations for good novel openings. Not too much backstory, and not too many characters.

Naturally, you'll find plenty of novels that break the rules. You'll also notice that those novels are either not debut fiction, or they're written by MFAs with a string of awards who get to write their own rules.

What can I do about my particular opening? Some backstory is needed to set up the premise, to get the reader interested in what's to come. How much is too much? Damned if I know.

The plot of the novel turns on a conspiracy with a huge number of people involved. Quite a complex proposition, and how can I set up the conspiracy without naming names? I could re-write the first chapter, I suppose, and have two characters discuss things without resorting to appellations. Refer to their colleagues by number, perhaps, like a secret society?

Should I re-write the first chapter? Should I stick with what I have and send it off anyway? I like the way it reads. I like the way it presents the protagonist's conflict between his duty to himself and to his country.

What else can I do but take a chance and hope that if the pages are rejected, I get some tiny fragment of feedback to give me a clue about which way to go.

Might as well hit send and hope for the best. It's all so subjective anyway.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reading In One Form Or Another

Words are words. If an audience is reading a publisher's words, doesn't it count as publishing?

That would seem to be the theory at work at Sourcebooks. The independent publisher is busily developing apps for Apple systems. Reading, in whatever form, is where they've gone to survive.

The publishing world is struggling, now that books aren't the main source of cheap entertainment. Those with money to spare are spending it on adult toys like iPhones and iPads. It makes sense, then, to create an app for the hardware that will get people using a book, albeit in non-book form.

If the world of reading is going digital, Sourcebooks is positioning itself to be there ahead of time. Download a Sourcebooks app and you can study for the SAT. Like taking quizzes with your significant other? You can obtain an app from Sourcebooks and ask all those important questions to help you determine if you should marry that man of your dreams.

Married and expecting a blessed event? Sourcebooks has a book of baby names that you can store on your iPhone and browse while you're in labor. Who'd think to pack the book in the bag of important labor-related items, next to the tube of tennis balls? But you know you'll always have your phone with you.

Will all the digital hype play out into reality? No one can predict the future of publishing. No one can say if the antipathy some express towards reading tablets is indicative of a trend or just a personal opinion being spouted.

Not knowing which way the wind will blow, wise publishing houses are prepared to go in any and all directions that sales will take them. Being flexible is the key to survival in an uncertain business climate.

Getting reading material out to the general public in every possible way is where publishing is at right now. How much longer before there's an app for a publisher's complete list of e-books, for those times when you fell like reading but miss the experience of browsing in a bookstore?

Or will the tactile, sensual nature of paper and ink win out in the end?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Further Redress

The abuse of the industrial school system and Magdalen laundries in Ireland has been well documented and publicly investigated. It turns out that neglect wasn't limited to institutions run by the Catholic Church.

Niall Meehan of Griffith College discovered a trove of unmarked graves at Mount Jerome Cemetery. His investigation showed that the bodies buried there came from Bethany Home, an institution run by members of the Church of Ireland.

Times were hard in Ireland during the Great Depression, made harder by the destructive public policies of Eamon De Valera and his colleagues. That women would turn to prostitution rather than starve would be no surprise. That they were detained in Bethany Home fits the overall pattern of social experimentation that was intended to rebuild Ireland's morality.

So it wasn't just the Catholics who locked up women who strayed from the desired path of prudery and repression. Those who survived Bethany Home would also like to be included in the redress scheme that was initially worked out with Catholic religious orders. The Protestants ask that they, too, be compensated in some small way for the misery inflicted on them by members of their own faith, with the tacit approval of the Irish Free State.

Like the unnamed Maggies whose graves were discovered twenty years ago, so too were infants and women of Bethany Home buried in a cemetery without notification given to the proper authorities.

From Mr. Meehan's probing of old records, he's found that more deaths occurred than were reported, and several of the children who died succumbed to convulsions and malnutrition. The home was required to report incidents of infant mortality, but they didn't. In spite of regulations that required the government to inspect such facilities, nothing was done.

Illegitimate children were adopted out to American families, just as was done in the Catholic-run mother nad baby homes. And just like the Maggies, the government claims that inmates entered voluntarily, and therefore they have no right to redress for the wrongs done.

Except, of course, for those whe were arrested for infanticide or prostitution. For them, Bethany Home was a prison where they were sent to serve their civil sentence.

The past was well-hidden, but public perceptions change over time and the public is no longer so tolerant of lapses by the clergy. Good intentions don't cut it anymore. It's all about the deed, and the deeds of the past are dark and dirty.

There is not enough money in all of Ireland to compensate those who suffered. There is certainly not enough money to run the country. Given time and delay, the victims will die of old age and the problem will solve itself. Doesn't it seem as if that's the government's policy?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

It's Not The Titanic

The subject of film and fiction, a doomed icon, there's been no end of interest in the Titanic. No one much cares about the Lady Elgin.

It's been one hundred fifty years since the Lake Michigan steamer went down just north of Chicago, taking the lives of three-hundred-fifty people. Yet the shipwreck is all but forgotten, part of the lore of fly-over country.

The wreck is owned by Harry Zych, who clearly did not dive in search of treasure. Those who sailed on the little ship were traveling inland waters, not wealthy robber barons hauling their jewels and treasures about. Mr. Zych brought up about three hundred dollars worth of coins, the pocket change of those who drowned.

What he'd like to see is some recognition of the worst shipwreck in Lake Michigan history. He has artifacts in storage which would make a fabulous display in a museum, but no museum is much interested in paying for the cost of preservation.

Offer them a plate from the Titanic and they're all over it. Offer them plates from the Lady Elgin and they don't have the money to mount an exhibit.

The Irish Union Guard of Milwaukee was on the ship, returning from a fund-raising trip to Chicago. They'd gotten on the wrong side of Wisconsin's abolitionists and had their weapons confiscated. Seems they weren't in favor of slavery, but they wouldn't support Wisconsin's secession if the U.S. didn't abolish slavery outright.

In spite of the captain's concern with the weather, the ship set off for Milwaukee. It wasn't the weather that did her in, but a collision with a lumber ship that was sailing under a full press of sail, out of control. The Captain of the Irish Guard lost his life, but only after he'd rescued several victims.

Northwestern University student Edward Spencer swam out into the pounding waves to save as many as he could, ending up permanently injured. Could there be a more romantic figure than him? Yet no one would know of him if not for the lifesaving station that was constructed in Evanston, to be manned by students of the nearby university.

No millionaires or robber barons, but Irishmen willing to fight to preserve the Union and ordinary families traveling between Chicago and Milwaukee. A brave young man, risking his life to save others. The saga of the Lady Elgin is a story more worth telling than that of an ocean liner hitting an iceberg, but it's largely forgotten.

Memory fades, and history is often lost. The tragedy of the Lady Elgin is not so much the sinking as the fact that museums in Chicago and Milwaukee don't seem to notice that their local lore has as much merit as a British steam ship that sank in the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles away.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Missed Homework Assignment

I signed on to St. Martin's Press book promotion program for the sake of study, but lately I've been missing my homework assignments.

What better way to understand what's getting published than by reading the opening of a new release?

At no cost, the opening pages of a brand new novel are placed in my inbox every weekday morning. I can let the snippets accumulate until the weekend, and then sit down with the first twenty-five pages and dissect the paragraphs.

It is not an easy task, especially when the plot or genre isn't my cuppa. There's been wretched chick-lit tripe that's poorly written, and it takes determination to sift through the detritus to get at the hook and the tid-bits of character development that would snag a reader's interest. If I have to read one more story about budding writers in New York City, I may gouge out my eyeballs.

Yes, I know that mysteries and thrillers are the most popular. The fact is, I don't enjoy reading that sort of book and I have no intention of trying to write one. So I'm not doing my studies this week, when St. Martin's Press is touting a thriller.

The thriller usually opens with someone being murdered. That's an easy way to snag the reader. Who done it and why will entice a person to turn the pages.

I'm better off using my time in an examination of other bits of commercial fiction that don't open with blood spilling down the page. So this week, I won't be reading the offering in the inbox.

Wonder what next week will bring? All you have to do is sign up and get down to the difficult task of learning how to write in the way that published writers do.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Writing Of Autumn

The days get shorter and there's something rather sad about climbing out of bed before the sun is up. A mood is created from the start of the day and it filters into the writing.

Such gloom has me thinking this morning of a new novel I could write. Not that I'd really write it. More like lifting someone else's and then submitting it to see what happens.

In part. I'm not advocating plagiarism.

Patricia Engel's novel Vida is reviewed in the New York Times today, and I am inspired.

The coming of age story is wildly popular if the person coming of age is a young lady of foreign birth, preferably from an ethnic group that is facing prejudice at the hands of the right-leaning.

Ms. Engel has created an Hispanic character who endures all the same sorts of difficulties that children of immigrants always experience. It's the same things the Irish found when they landed on American shores, but of course they're accepted now and the markets for historical fiction are limited. Publishers don't want to print books that remind people of how things were exactly the same a century ago as they are now and what the Hispanics face isn't any different than the discrimination leveled at the Irish, the Italians or the Eastern European Jews.

Why not take the bones of Ms. Engel's novel and make the young lady coming of age a young lady from a Muslim country? How about The Kite Runner with a female protagonist?

I read a great deal, and that may be why I have the impression that there's nothing new out there to read. One novel is the same as the next, the plot and the character's dilemma and the resolution.

Books are beginning to look like factory-produced widgets, each one stamped out on the same press.

Or maybe it's just the shorter days and the first of the falling leaves skittering across the lawn that create a sense of mourning over the loss of summer's brightness.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A Brief Rest

The hurricane has passed New York City and the literary agents are free to head off to the Hamptons for the weekend, without fear of being rained out.

No queries are being read, by and large. It's the end of the summer being mourned, and grief over the coming of winter is occupying every mind.

It's a good time for authors in search of representation to get their submissions together and send them off via snail mail where appropriate. The e-mail submission should be stored away in the drafts folder, ready to go on Tuesday.

However, you would want to check the agent's website to be sure they're accepting queries and verify that the end of summer holiday isn't extended into the following week.

Newcomers to the query game won't know that, you see, and they'll end up on the black list while you earn points for style. Every little bit helps, especially when unemployment is high and there's a crowd thinking they could write a book to make a buck it's so easy and they're wasting the agents' valuable time while your well-done query gets a brief glance by someone in a foul mood.

The window of opportunity is opening, and it's only open until Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays come around. Let the querying begin.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Opening Markets For Brazilian Beef

The all-you-can-eat meat buffets have vaguely Portuguese names, to put the diner in Brazil where such dining is said to be popular.

Like anything else, there's a limit to how many Brazilian restaurants any one town can support. The South American meat producers need more markets for their product.

How about the Home of the Whopper?

Burger King has been taken over by 3G Capital, a New-York based firm with Brazilian money behind it. Four billion dollars worth of money, according to reports.

Not a bad investment for the group that bought Burger King from Diageo back in 2006. An initial investment of $1.5 billion sure did provide a nice rate of return.

Jorge Paulo Lemann, Carlos Sicupira and Marcel Telles have big plans to take the King global. They must believe that they have something to offer that could knock McDonald's off of its international perch, and what could that be besides Brazilian beef?

A steady supply of ground animal parts at a low price could spell discount burgers for everyone around the world. Except for India, that is. The Hindus wouldn't touch a burger no matter where the bovine flesh came from.

Imagine O Rei in Ecuador or Chile, Russia or China. So much more intimidating a mascot than the wimpy Ronald McDonald. Burger King can't miss.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

You Need A Literary Agent To Take The Blame

A deadline is set and the author is supposed to deliver the manuscript by that date. With so many personal organizer programs available for every computer, it shouldn't be so hard to set a series of reminders.

Even so, sports writer Adrian Wojnarowski missed his deadline to deliver a biography of the late Jim Valvano. That was three years ago.

Penguin Group had saved a slot in their catalog, and they were somewhat perturbed that the book would not be laid down as promised. Sales reps who might have been touting the new work would have had to go back to their contacts and explain, and that's never a good thing for the marketing department.

Can we have it now, Penguin asked. Ready yet? Next month, if it's not too much trouble?

To get Mr. Wojnarowski's attention, the publisher sliced $75,000 off the deal, but still, no book. Finally, they'd had enough and the contract was declared null and void.

Oh, yes, and the author had to return his $140,000 advance. No book, no pay-out.

Deadline? There was a deadline? asked the sports writer. My agent would have told me if there was a deadline. My agent never told me.

While Mr. Wojnarowski cuts a check to Penguin to reimburse their expenses, he might want to let his literary agent know what he's up to. The agent might have been counting on his or her share of the royalties of the $400,000 book deal, and that money is never going to materialize.

Of course, it's quite likely that the literary agent cut the writer loose long ago, when it was apparent that no manuscript would be forthcoming. The lack of communication between agent and author could have been due to a letter of cancellation, declaring their contract null and void. Unbeknownst to Mr. Wojnarowski, he might not have a literary agent at the present time, and it isn't a lack of communication that saw the deadline slip away until Penguin filed a lawsuit.

And there you are, desperate to land a literary agent and get your novel published. You'd settle for the tiniest advance, just to get your foot in the door, while a book about a dead coach gets a six-figure deal and a six-figure advance that's tossed aside like it's nothing.

Just remember, publishing is a business and it's not at all about the art.