Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Night Watchman At Harpo Studios

Oprah Winfrey is leaving Chicago, it's been said. There's a reason why she's moving away from the eerie sights and sounds of Harpo Studios---

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 29, 2010

Writing For Google

You can find out just about anything by searching the Internet, but did you ever wonder where the words come from that appear on your screen upon request?

The writer just might be in Dublin.

Here I was, thinking that Google linked me to scholarly articles or blogposts or the like, sending me to examine content that had been culled from the real world.

Turns out there are about forty people in an office on Barrow Street that crank out content for the web, so that when you Google something, there's your information.

John Slyne of content provider Populis is tuned to Google hits. An uptick in queries about tourist-related events in Ireland will have his employees cranking out words about Irish tourist sites. Those pieces are sold on to the hotel industry, for example, and if you click on the right links you're booking a hotel and a bus trip to the Cliffs of Moher.

Expedia and Ebay are in on the game.

Writing advertising copy on demand is a unique new field that's all about deadlines. After all, there's a limit to how long people will continue to be intrigued by Charlie Sheen's hotel-trashing antics. The New York hotels need search engine-driven content now, while web surfers are within striking range.

According to reports, the writers who slave away in the content-on-demand sweatshops earn about one-tenth of the going rate for freelance journalists, and that isn't much at all. And that in an industry that rakes in millions.

If you're desperate for pocket change, it's a way to earn a few euros, but considering how much effort you'd have to put in, it doesn't seem worthwhile at all. How can you whip up a little 750 word blurb about the sights and scenery of fabulous Las Vegas without doing a little research? In the end, you don't really get compensated for the time, let alone the effort of composing a stirring little tale that will entice guests to Sin City.

I'll never look at web content in the same way again.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Save Money, Waste Time

The U.S. Department of Education has some money to throw around, and they've tossed $783,000 to Bellevue College to promote the use of e-textbooks. The idea is to save the students some money.

Bellevue College is pleased to announce that they were the one and only college or university in the nation to make it to the top of the heap. They plan to use the funds to start up a pilot program of e-reader rental that will become self-sustaining. That means they won't have to go back to the Feds and ask for another hand-out.

And don't go thinking that the little Washington school got money to help boost the re-election of Senator Patty Murray.

Just because studies have shown that e-books aren't popular with college students doesn't mean that anyone at the Department of Education is going to not push for the "21st Century Bookstore" concept to be tested anyway.

According to Sandra Aamodt, former editor-in-chief of Nature Neuroscience, electronic books aren't read in the same way as hard copies. Reading is slower on a screen, and the student can't flip back and forth to check the end notes or study a figure.

There's no writing notes in the margins of an electronic textbook. There is the ability to jump around, to search key words and switch pages with ease, but to Gloria Mark of U.C. Irvine, the e-book is a fountain of distractions.

Hypertext can take a reader away from the topic and off into a link that defines a term  but distracts the reader from the subject matter at hand. What if there's another link embedded in there? It's easy enough to follow it, and before long, the student isn't studying the Great Depression but has discovered a site that lists the most popular songs of 1935.

To Ms. Mark, this all results in a loss of deep thinking. She's concerned that the on-line generation isn't learning how to focus because they're used to navigating their own way rather than stick with the linear thinking that is reading words on paper.

Does Bellevue College worry about the research done to date?

Not at all. They're going to issue e-reading devices to the most needy students so that those with financial difficulties can more readily afford their textbooks. Research indicates that those same students won't get as much out of the material as their more financially sound counterparts. Textbooks aren't novels, they are far more complex and the jury is still out on the ability of student brains to fully process the information.

Bellevue College, then, will use its students as guinea pigs in an experiment that may or may not turn out well. But look on the bright side, Bellevue students. At least you saved money on your textbooks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Members Of The Club

If you subscribe to PublishersMarketplace, you get a weekly listing of book deals that serves as an early alert to upcoming publications.

Will someone not hunting for a literary agent pay for advance notice? Would they pay to get their hands on a book galley before the lay-down date?

The Women On The Web are betting that many someones will.

Joni Evans, who once worked at big house publishers Simon & Schuster and Random House, has faith in loyal readers. To snap up Jodi Picoult's newest release, there are those who would pay a premium and the owners of WowOwow are ready to collect the admission fees.

For $15 - $30, you are made a member of the club that receives a hard copy for your reading pleasure. You gain bragging rights among your friends, if you're so inclined to boast, or you become everyone's best friend by lending the pre-release out among your clique.

What's in it for the publisher?

They'd like to sell more books, of course, but they can use the club as a focus group and test out different cover art and the like. Oddly enough, publishers haven't used market research or focus groups to help them shape their product, but that old-fashioned way of doing business may soon change.

On the down side, the pre-release reading group could all head over to Amazon and pan a book they didn't much like, which would kill sales. What if Steven King or John Grisham wrote a dog of a novel and everyone knew it before the book was released? It would make for a very weak bottom line. There's risk involved for the publishers, who are banking on their most highly marketable authors to bring in the profits.

Will pay-to-play focus groups help or hurt publishing? Or will the WowOwow situation make any difference at all? It's the publisher who decides what they'll be getting for their entrance fees, not the readers, and there's a chance that the pre-release reviews could do nothing more than boost sales for the big name authors, like Jodi Picoult, while the mid-list and genre folks go begging.

The focus group does not return publishing to the old days of nurturing a talent, before the bean counters took over and proven talent became a requirement. We may end up with nothing more than more of the same, a steady procession of books that are as alike as the parts stamped out of a punch press.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Results Not Typical

Adam Levin's debut novel is hitting the bookstores and every wannabe author who has penned a brick of a book will boldly declare that publishers are buying massive manuscripts from first-timers.

These results are not typical.

Mr. Levin studied creative writing at Syracuse University under George Saunders, who's a bit of a well-known author himself. No worries about the size of the debut novel, according to him. His former pupil has big ideas with lots to say.

You, the amateur and unschooled, have no one of equal importance to speak up for your massive collection of words.

The Instructions  covers but a few days in its many, many pages, detailing the antics of a young man who believes he is the Messiah.

No, it's not Christian fiction. The 10-year-old protagonist is Jewish, a Torah scholar.

According to Mr. Saunders, his student's writing and personality were as one, an important element to successful authorship. At over one thousand pages, you'd have to guess that Mr. Levin's a bit long-winded in real life.

The bottom line on this debut is one that doesn't apply to most writers. The author has solid credentials that give him more leeway in word count. He's a University of Chicago grad who went on to become one of only eight accepted writing students at Syracuse. By implication, he has to be good if he made it that far.

Don't think that you can get away with a similar mountain of pages with your debut novel. Publishing doesn't work that way. For you, a high word count suggests purple prose, verbosity and over-writing that the literary agent won't even bother to examine.

Want to write big books? You'd need a Master of Fine Arts or respected writers recommending your work.

Otherwise, it's revise and edit and cut and slice. With luck, your first book will get picked up, like J.K. Rowling, and then you can dream big.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another Week, Another Query

Monday morning and there's a new sample of St. Martin's Press' latest book in the inbox.

Isn't that inspiration enough to work up a new and improved query letter and bombard the literary agents?

But what does it take to get some attention?

It's being said that the fiction market is particularly tight because of the weak economy. Fewer people are being books in any form, so literary agents are firing off rejections (or just not responding in the modern version of the rejection) because they know the publishers won't be writing up contracts.

Fewer and fewer debut fiction announcements are heard from Publishers Marketplace, and those that are listed aren't really debut-like. An established author of short stories, or a journalist, or someone who's already published non-fiction are the ones getting the contracts these days.

But you can't win if you don't play the game, so the query letter will experience another revision. I've lifted the jacket flap copy from a novel that tells a similar story to the one I've penned, and if it's good enough for a published book, it's good enough for me.

I believe I'll approach the literary agents who accept snail mail, just for the sake of getting something back that closes the loop. The non-response business is irksome, to say the least, and it's nice to get something in the post that isn't a bill.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Isolation Of Mental Illness

I've reached an age where I'm attending funerals more often. The latest sad occasion marked the passing of a friend's mother.

We all knew the woman was odd but when you're young, you tend to think all older people are out of step with reality as you know it. She didn't cook or clean the house like our mothers, but her own mother always seemed to be there to handle the chores.

As we grew older, I noticed that my friend took on responsibility for his own upbringing. When it was time to go to university, he found a ride with someone going that way, packed up his own belongings, and that was it. He studied with a mind to taking over his father's business. Too old to require adult supervision when we got together over holiday breaks, we rarely saw his mother except in passing.

When he married, he fretted about his mother getting her teeth fixed and we came to find out that the woman was incapable of normal dental hygiene, and wouldn't see a dentist. Odd, but then again, there are those with a fear of the dentist.

The little eccentricities you don't notice as a child are magnified when you're older and have taken a course in psychology. Witnessing a woman wash a few garments, only to wash them again, and then again, left me wondering if I should suggest to my friend that his mother might be in need of help. Her napkin shredding, the way she made a ritual of eating that made a meal last for an hour, all hinted at mental illness.

What right does a son have to force his mother to do anything? Sadly, his father was a man of the old school who believed that a wife's job was to care for the family and if she didn't do it, she was fired. Rather than drag her to a professional for treatment, the father got a divorce. Not one of his social set criticized him. They wondered why he put up with it for so long.

My friend's mother lived by herself and turned her back on everyone. She alienated her extended family by not attending funerals of cousins who passed away, by refusing to speak to them if they tried to phone. With her husband footing the bills, she ate at restaurants every night. If we happened to see her, alone at a corner table, she turned away or hid behind the menu until she was finished, and then she slipped out through a back door. She needs help, we'd say to each other, but her son felt powerless.

He knew that his mother was living in squalor, by herself all day and night without a visitor. She made no social calls on anyone. My friend had to schedule his parents' arrival and departure from his children's birthday parties to avoid conflict. His mother regaled us all with bizarre tales of neighbors hiding knives in the hedges and she couldn't risk a walk in her back garden. She needs help, we'd say as we left the party, but our friend knew all that already.

My friend called on her every Sunday, desperate to convince her to see a doctor but getting rebuffed every time. One day he noticed that his mother had developed gangrene in her extremities. She had no choice but to be taken to a hospital before she developed septicemia and died a slow death.

Congestive heart failure was the diagnosis. My friend installed his mother in a nursing home under the guise of medical treatment. Like a captive audience, she had no choice in the matter when the staff psychiatrist came a-calling.

Help came too late. Medication calmed the worst of the behaviors, but no one came to visit and see the results. Mental illness left unchecked had robbed my friend's mother of her social contacts. In the hospital, she was as alone as she had ever been. My friend continued to visit every few days, relieved after a lifetime of stress.

She died alone. No dutiful husband was there to hold her hand at the final moments. My friend has his own family to care for, along with a business that is struggling in a weak economy.

Those who wouldn't speak to her in life because they took her derangement personally showed up to mourn her passing. She should have gotten help, they all said. Now, however, she's beyond helping.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Lifeline For The Rescuers

Not so long ago, Ireland's number one export was people.

A nation mired in poverty had no jobs to keep its own employed, and so the young left in droves. For decades, they finished school and were on a plane as quick as they could raise the airfare. Thousands of Irish men and women found work in America, then sent money home to support their extended families.

Through hard work, they rescued countless Irish who relied on money from abroad to keep food on the table. The jobs didn't pay much, and it often meant that once a child left, they couldn't afford to return. Family connections were lost and sixty years on, there's no one in Ireland who remembers the great-uncle who went to New York.

Dr. Elaine Walsh of Hunter College has received some funding from Senator Chuck Schumer to conduct a survey of the Irish diaspora in Queens, New York.

She felt compelled to do something following the lonely death of retired carpenterTony Gallagher, whose body was not discovered until a week after his passing.

Dr. Walsh plans to reach out to the Irish community in Queens, calling at pubs, churches and wherever the Irish retirees may gather, to find out how they are getting on. By identifying the old ones, she hopes to foster a sense of community among them so that if one should not be seen around for a day or two, their absence will be noticed.

For now, Dr. Walsh is confining her census to the Queens borough, but plans are in the works to expand the data collection to places like Boston or Chicago, where the Irish found work when there was nothing much for doing back home.

For all the money that they sent back to support their native land, Ireland doesn't have an extra euro or two to return the favor to her scattered children. The information that Dr. Walsh collects would most likely be of use to the Irish Centre in New York, a home away from home that represents a refuge from the obscurity found in big cities.

The Irish came for decades to escape poverty and lack of opportunity back home. The cheap housing they occupied is now taken up by the newest waves of immigrants who emigrated to escape poverty in their native countries. The Gallagher Initiative seeks to find those pensioners who stayed where they landed, and now find themselves isolated, no longer surrounded by fellow Irishmen.

Through the Gallagher Initiative, Dr. Walsh intends to find them and extend a lifeline to those whose financial assistance just might have helped to trigger the Celtic Tiger that launched Ireland into the western world.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Update The Database And Move On

After the better part of a year, the editors of the Baltimore Revue were good enough to let me know that they'd taken a pass on the short story.

So I updated my submissions database, searched for three more literary journals, and sent out more submissions.

Literary agent Jenny Bent encouraged me to keep trying, but I'm not entirely sure if she meant to keep sending queries to her, or to other literary agents. A lovely rejection, but there's no time to waste on parsing her sentences.

Katie Kotchman of the Don Congdon Agency tells me not to be discouraged because many best sellers were passed on by literary agents many times before being published.

I'll keep trying and I won't get discouraged.

I've become completely numb to the rejections.

This is all about a business that is run by the numbers from the top but by emotion at the bottom. From literary agents to acquisitions editors, it's all about falling in love with a manuscript. Love is lovelier if the author has credentials because it's a subjective business and who cares about the beauty within the manuscript when everyone wants the outward attraction of the MFA.

Today, I'll revisit the query letter and change it around, hoping to create an intriguing hook but having my doubts. Oftentimes, it isn't the query letter but the plot that doesn't resonate. Publishers are looking for particular stories and if I get lucky, one of them will be looking for something like what I've written.

Until then, I can only keep submitting in the hope that I get my manuscript in the right place at the right time.

No point in dwelling on what a particular rejection letter means because they really don't mean a thing. I have writing to do, another possible line on a piece of historical fiction---Regency period, hot, hot hot!---and there's another short story working away in the deep recesses of my brain.

Keeping too busy to worry about getting rejected is one way to get past the rejection.

Friday, October 15, 2010

You Can't Always Publish What You Want

Mary Jane Schriner thought she had a memoir in her. The estate of George Steinbrenner wants her to keep her memories to herself. Or else.

Long ago, when the grandmother was Mary Jane Elster and George Steinbrenner was a young man gone a-courtin', the future owner of the New York Yankees wrote often to his sweetheart. She, in turn, saved the letters, for what sixteen-year-old girl with a college boyfriend wouldn't cherish such missives?

After Mr. Steinbrenner's death, Mrs. Schriner wrote a short essay which was published in the New York Times, along with one of the letters.

Lonn Trost, CEO of all things Yankee, fired off a letter of his own but it wasn't the least bit sweet.

By law, Mr. Steinbrenner holds the copyright to the letters because he wrote them. Mrs. Schriner is nothing more than a holder of the sole copy. That means she has no right to publish them. That right rests with the estate, and the estate isn't letting anything Steinbrenner get loose.

Michael Schriner can't understand what the problem is. He says the manuscript is nothing more than a sweet re-telling of a long ago age, and presents George Steinbrenner as an average eighteen-year-old who's quite taken with a girl.

But the Steinbrenners are having nothing of it. They're claiming that publication would damage their business interests and embarrass the family. Wouldn't want it to get out that the old man was once young and charming and capable of penning sappy love notes. Why, the value of the Yankess would plummet. The players would fall apart on the field and get swept in the pennant series.

The potential damage is so great that Mr. Trost asked the Baseball Hall of Fame to not display the letters, least a few syrupy words drip out and people start thinking that Steinbrenner wasn't such a horse's ass after all.

Curious about what the fuss is all about?

Mrs. Schriner is going to sell the letters. She's 77 and losing her sight. She has no use for the letters anymore. You could buy them and read them and write a thinly veiled roman a clef, then claim it's all fiction and you made up the epistles and aren't quoting Steinbrenner directly.

Or you can read Mrs. Schriner's blog, and decide for yourself if her tales of going to a movie with George Steinbrenner are too racy for print.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

That Was Fast

All that talk by the talking news heads about the rescued Chilean miners getting book deals and movie treatments? It's already in the works.

You can bet that George Lucas at Inkwell was sending out feelers on behalf of Guardian reporter Jonathan Franklin within hours of the rescue operation getting underway.

Mr. Franklin has a proposal already making the rounds in New York, and yes, the last of the miners was hauled out of a hole in the ground only a few hours ago. His potential manuscript has already sold to Transworld in England.

There'll be competition for book buyers, however. The New York Time's man on the spot, Alexei Barrionuevo, is being represented by super-agent Esther Newberg of powerhouse agency ICM.This manuscript not being ready yet, it's suggested that Mr. Barrionuevo may lean more heavily on the aftermath which is just now coming into being.

One book of before, and one of after. Will the public wish to purchase them both for a full and complete telling?

First out of the gate is Mr. Franklin, who saw the potential of the story and lined up representation early on. Non-fiction needing nothing more than a proposal and a few sample chapters, he may have begun his manuscript from the minute the rescue team contacted the miners back in August.

Before publishers hand out big advance checks, however, they have to decide if the public has had its fill of Chilean miners, thanks to the 24/7 news coverage. Or do the gentlemen have compelling stories to tell that would flesh out an entire book and make it interesting?

Certainly the player whose wife met his mistress at a prayer vigil has a compelling tale to tell. Sitting in the dark, waiting for help, did he suffer the pangs of guilt and apprehension over the unavoidable confrontation?

What of the man who could only watch on a video feed as his daughter was born? Did he suffer untold misery because the moment was meant to be witnessed with a degree of privacy that was unavailable in an emergency shelter?

Are there enough readers out there who simply have to know how the shift foreman held it together and kept his underlings fit both mentally and physically?

Guess right, and the publisher will turn a tidy profit on holiday sales. Guess wrong, and it's a lot of pulp and newly signed authors getting tiny advances to compensate for the loss.

It is indeed a highly subjective business, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Radio Station Makes A Fine Platform

Literary agents want authors with a platform.

That means you have a soapbox of your very own on which to stand, hawking your book. You provide a great deal of your own (free) publicity by using this venue of yours to plug your book and boost sales.

Did NPR host Michele Norris have a particulary interesting life that was worthy of the memoir treatment?

Maybe and maybe not, but she has a solid platform from which to sell her wares.

Using the power of the national radio station that employs her, Ms. Norris had fifty-eight minutes over the course of two weeks in which to plug her recollections. She appeared as a guest on four different NPR programs to talk about the book, and that's a tremendous amount of hype that didn't cost the publisher a dime.

For her part, Ms. Norris stands by NPR, in the face of criticism from listeners. They like a variety of topics, apparently, and hearing Ms. Norris tout her prose four times was a bit too much for some.

But Ms. Norris had so much to say that was interesting, said the talk show hosts who hosted her.

Of course she did. My colleagues at work are an interesting bunch as well, but what passes for brilliant conversation among an insular group may not be so brilliant on the outside of the box.

It's a good excuse, of course. Ms. Norris was on so much because her book is the delight of NPR's staffers and they wanted to share. No professional courtesy given, not at all. Not even a subconscious desire to do a favor for a friend. Not at all wrapped up in a colleague's excitement at being published. They're cold as stone there at NPR, cool and collected and introspective and all the rest.

They can tell themselves all they like that they did nothing wrong, but the Chicago Way has infected Washington, D.C., and it's running rampant through the halls of NPR.

It's not what you know that counts, it's who you know, and Michele Norris knows a lot of people with national airtime. She got more because of who she knows, while an equally worthy author doesn't get invited to the party.

Do you think that Pantheon was the least bit disturbed by the preferential treatment given Ms. Norris?

Not unless potential book buyers turn their backs on a purchase because they're upset at a blatant display of favoritism by NPR.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Spire Gets Spiked

What started with so much excitement has fizzled out like a sparkler, leaving behind nothing more than ashes and dust.

And a very large hole in the ground.

Garrett Kelleher's grand dreams of architectural glory have died with the economy and the proclaimed Chicago Spire designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava will not rise up on the banks of the Chicago River.

The project was a long shot at best to begin with. Mr. Kelleher wasn't talking, but no one could figure out where he would get the funding for such a massive structure, a mixed use building that would be the world's tallest when completed.

Like so many Irish property developers, Mr. Kelleher turned to Anglo Irish Bank. At the moment, Anglo Irish is waiting on European Union approval for its restructuring plan. The bank is currently owned by the Irish taxpayers, and they have no interest in building anything besides their own economy these days.

The property that would have boasted of a two thousand foot spiral tower will end up in Anglo's hands. The bank has filed a foreclosure suit against Mr. Kelleher, seeking the return of the $77 million they loaned to him.

Sure he doesn't have that kind of cash around. So the Irish people gain possession of a piece of ground with a big hole in it where a foundation was supposed to go. The property market in Chicago is as bad as anywhere and no one will be buying the ground from Anglo Irish any time soon, and not for $77 million.

Anglo Irish may end up with the property, but the bank is so distressed that's it's likely to be wound down in the near future. All sorts of dodgy loans were made, in particular to the "Golden Circle" of ten prominent Irish businessmen who backed the loans with bank stock...which is now all but worthless.

Goodbye to Calatrava and the publicity the Spire would have brought to the city of Chicago.

Someday, something else will go up where the Spire once existed in the photoshopped world of the dreamer. It won't be the world's tallest building and it won't be as unique as Calatrava's original designs.

Sic transit gloria.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Freelancer And Publisher

College professors have long been in the habit of creating their own course textbook and then charging their students a small fortune to purchase it.

The professor gets a small cut of the action. After all, he or she went to all the trouble of pulling the material together, compiling information and charts and illustrations, so they're entitled to be reimbursed for their labors. In essence, they act as freelancers and like freelancers they don't get much in return.

In the past, the university had to send the manuscript off to the copy department to be bound and collated, adding another expense that the student had to cover through their book fees.

It is now so much easier, but possibly not less expensive.

McGraw-Hill's higher education unit offers university teachers the opportunity to compile a course text through McGraw-Hill's database. The instructor has access to all of the publisher's textbooks, along with countless articles that are accessed via the publisher's special search engine.

Point and click. An article here, a chapter from an existing textbook there, and the specialized copy is created. McGraw-Hill then whips up an e-book for the teacher to peruse and approve, and once the galleys have passed muster, McGraw-Hill prints to order.

If it sounds like vanity publishing, it is.

The difference here is that the professor is compiling a book that fits a very tiny niche. Never would McGraw-Hill use the traditional publishing platform because they'd lose a fortune on such a small run. However, printing on demand makes plenty of sense.

It also means that McGraw-Hill doesn't lose those hundreds of little bits of market share. By using modern POD technology, they can make money in an area that used to be a loser for them.

The university no longer has to tie up their printing department to crank out the myriad special texts required, and the instructors have the ease of use that McGraw-Hill has built into their system. The student has the option of purchasing an e-book, which is more efficiently produced by McGraw-Hill than the school itself, particularly if it's a small, two-year college with a limited budget.

And the student?

As always, they pay the going rate for their books and if McGraw-Hill has to earn their fare share, it means the student will pay a premium over what was once a fairly cheap enterprise in which the university wanted to cover their costs and not turn a profit.

The most popular students on campus may end up being the computer geeks. Anyone who can get hack into the system and download expensive e-books for free may find their skills in demand.

Students, as ever, are always looking for a way to economize.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

At Risk Of A Broken Hip

No one can deny that partisan politics is dividing the nation. The "us against them" mentality seems to be stronger than ever.

Yard signs touting politicians running for office are springing up like mushrooms after a rain, and there are always those who will swipe the signs of the opponent to make a point. The bigger the crop of signs, the more likely neighbors will think Candidate A is the way to go since half the people on the block are in support. Good enough reason for followers of Candidate B to get rid of the things.

Then there's the good citizen who simply will not allow those wily political operatives to get away with placing signs on public property. Why, it's illegal, and someone has to do it because the police can't be bothered with such petty crime.

An 85-year-old man was walking along Sheridan Road in Wilmette, Illinois when he spotted a sign promoting Bob Dold, Republican, for Congress. Outraged, the gentleman shuffled over with his walker and yanked the offending sign out of the ground.

The owner of the property, who lives next door with his daughter, saw what was going on and ran to the rescue of his civil rights. Ran slowly, one would suspect. The man is 92, not exactly spry.

Mr. 85-years-of-age-with-a-walker took to yelling at his elder. Needless to say, the property owner's daughter jumped in to protect her father, and the man with the walker proceeded to beat her about the head and shoulders with the sign as she tried to wrestle it away.

You just know that the sign vigilante fell during the struggle, but it's better to risk a broken hip than allow signs to be posted on the public right of way.

Except that it was private property and the old fool had no business removing the signs. When so informed by a policeman, the old man took offense and called the peace officer an idiot and a liar.

The instigator in the fight was spirited away to the hospital by his wife. No charges will be filed. The signs have been restored to their proper place and the Republicans continue to lead in the polls.

Friday, October 08, 2010

My Child Is Exceptional

Friends in the teaching professions tell me they hear it all the time. Parents insist that their offspring are "exceptional" and should be in the accelerated program.

Most often, the kids aren't. They're average.

The parents put their little darlings into training at an early age, looking to the distant future when it's time for college and who wouldn't like to boast that their child was accepted at Harvard or Dartmouth or Sarah Lawrence?

Hence, the demise of the picture book.

You won't get into an elite Ivy League school if you spend your childhood looking at pictures. Reading is where it's at, and recent studies claim that parents are pushing their kids to read at an early age. Publishers like Simon & Schuster have noticed the drop-off in sales of picture books for the young.

By the time kindergarten comes around, parents expect their children to be able to handle chapter books. Wandering around in imaginary worlds of vivid colors and images, in that case, is a complete waste of time.

The publishers will respond to what they see as diminished demand and diminish their output. That's bad news for children's book authors and illustrators, but it's worse news for the kids.

A picture tells one thousand words, but if a well-meaning parent deprives their child of the opportunity to develop the skill to interpret those words, the child misses out. It isn't all about printed words. The brain has two sides, and overloading one won't strengthen the other.

Critical thinking skills come into play with picture books. It's a different situation with reading words, where a parent can hear the progress as little Johnny reads aloud. Figuring out what's going on in a picture, and making sense of the world, are internal actions that cannot be monitored.

So there will be a generation of little Einsteins, skilled at memorization and rote and able to get good grades that will lead to acceptance at elite universities.

And there will be a generation lacking in imagination and creativity, incapable of drawing pictures in their minds because they never learned how. Who will be the architects and designers and engineers and writers and artists?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Second Time Around

You rarely get a do-over in the submission process, so I spent three months sweating out revisions before I approached the literary agent who offered to read the manuscript a second time.

The suggested revisions weren't highly specific because so much of storytelling is vague. That left me with the task of interpreting phrases designed to improve the flow of the narrative.

So I took some time and read.

How do other authors keep the tension from chapter to chapter? Where did I drop the ball with a particular subplot as compared to books that are already out there, doing what the literary agent wants me to do?

I developed my own interpretation of the suggestions. I says to myself, says I, that the reader needs a little reminder here and there about the issue that's driving the narrative. Sure the main character can go off and do what she does, but as the author I have to insert a sentence or two here and there to remind the reader that she's still got her problem on her mind.

A book on family conflicts doesn't have the siblings fighting on every page, but one or the other of the combatants might have an internal thought about the ongoing feud. By phrasing it the right way, the author plants a seed of curiosity in the reader's mind, to get that reader to keep going because they have to find out how the problem gets solved.

Did I figure it out, or was my study time all in vain? It's possible that I failed to properly analyze other works to see how a novel is constructed in a linear fashion. After the literary agent gets through the reading for the second time around, it will be either more revisions because I'm on the right track, or a rejection because I just don't get it.

Nothing left to be done but wait it out and see if I passed the test.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Living Out Of A Locked Suitcase

Finances being what they are, I rarely spend time in hotel rooms. I certainly don't attend designer trunk shows at trendy boutiques, either, but it never hurts to be prepared for any contingency.

Apparently, if you bring clothing with you on a trip that involves a hotel stay, you just might be putting on a trunk show of your personal wardrobe, and there's no telling who might show an interest in your fashion sense.

Dayanara Fernandez had packed for a wedding, so you would expect her suitcases to hold some elegant, dressy pieces of apparel.

Lingerie, of course, would be fancier than the day-to-day variety. If you're getting dressed up, you're dressing up through and through.

So imagine Ms. Fernandez's surprise when she walked into her room and found a Hyatt Hotel employee in the bathroom, trying on one of her outfits, complete with underwear and shoes.

Shocked? Probably. More like an extreme "eewwwww" moment.

The employee was a he, not a she, and either Ms. Fernandez has big feet or the gentleman in question is on the petite side for males.

Caught in the act, Mr. Hyatt Employee changed back into his own clothes and handed Ms. Fernandez back her garments. Being on the receiving end of your own panties that were just stripped off a strange man's derriere would be enough to send you to the nearest fire, to burn the thing.

The employee was arrested, since it's illegal for workers to act as if a hotel guest was doing a trunk show in their room and all were welcome to try on the fabulous outfits.

As for Ms. Fernandez, she wasn't satisfied with the settlement that the Hyatt chain was offering. Replacing the clothes isn't enough, not when the woman was traumatized by the event. She has filed suit seeking damages for emotional distress.

No word yet from Hyatt, but if their employee looked better in the outfit than Ms. Fernandez did, there's more emotional distress involved than they can handle. Especially if they're facing a female judge who would understand full well just how upset the victim was at the time.

Monday, October 04, 2010

There Are No Tudors Here

I came home from a weekend away to find a rejection waiting for me.

A rather complicated conspiracy, the agent says, and I'd have to agree that it was a most complicated conspiracy that was hatched in that bygone era. That would explain why the ringleaders and the real assassins were never found. Hence, my desire to put the facts in fictional form and lay out a case of injustice. I found it interesting and challenging but worth the effort to figure it out.

Alas, rejected. There were no Tudors in my tale.

From St. Martin's Press in my daily sampling of new releases I have a new work of historical fiction and who would have guessed that yet another book dealing with the Tudors has been published. Carolly Erickson had success with novels about Mary Queen of Scots and Henry VIII's last wife, so why not publish more?

Isn't the world in need of a story about Elizabeth I and her cousin Lettice Knollys?

You want complicated? Try following the many characters who appear in the courts of Henry VIII and his lovely daughters. The plots to put aside a queen weren't complicated? The devious doings that put Elizabeth I on her throne are simple and straightforward?

I've read novels that had to include an index of characters so that the reader had something to refer back to when things got complicated, but what is acceptable for the Tudors isn't allowed for other time periods that lack royalty.

You the reader might feel that the time period has been done to death and you're tired of stories about the British royals who made life a misery for the Irish and the Catholics, a misery that resounded down countless generations.

As a mere reader, of course, your interests don't resonate with publishers who see one blockbuster and assume that one subject will produce an endless string of financial successes. The literary agents respond to the publishers, not the readers, because there's no real way to know what readers want.

I know what I want as a reader, and I started writing novels to create something I'd like to read but have yet to find on the shelves of my local independent book seller.

Sorry, St. Martin's Press, but I'll take a pass on Rival To The Queen. I'm no Anglophile, I'll admit, but I'm really tired of the Tudors.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Words Live On

You might dedicate your book to your spouse, your children, or someone of importance in your life. If you're a child of privilege and wealth, you compose your dedication in a way that's intended to draw more attention to yourself and underline your status as a spoiled brat with influential parents who bought you out of trouble.

The words that you wrote as a cocky douchebag don't go away as you mellow with the years and drift into obscurity. If you're Bill Ayres, former Weather Underground radical, you find that the dusty old words still carry their sting.

In spite of Mr. Ayres' past involvement in bombing government buildings, he was able to land a job as a professor at the University of Illinois's Circle Campus in Chicago. His daddy was a close personal friend of the first Mayor Daley, and Circle Campus was Daley's pet project.

Like anyone else with clout, Ayres got a job he otherwise wouldn't have gotten, and he behaved himself and taught education (Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.).

The time has come for retirement and Billy wants what he considers his due. Since his father ran Commonwealth Edison, that which he believes is his due is whatever he demands.

Christopher Kennedy sits on the University board that determines whether or not retiring faculty get emeritus status and therefore get to use the library. It was his father who was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan, who just happened to be mentioned in the dedication of Bill Ayres old book from the 1970's.

Mr. Kennedy, it seems, didn't forget the insult to his father, to have a book dedicated to a murderer with the murderer labeled a political prisoner. No to emeritus status, he said. Mr. Ayres isn't deserving of the privilege.

Now the faculty's Senate Executive Committee at the Chicago campus are grumbling and asking the board to reconsider. It's a personal matter between Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Ayres, they believe, and should have no bearing on emeritus status. Why, it's a conflict of interest. Mr. Kennedy used an emotional cudgel to beat the board into submission and get a unanimous no.

The honorific is to be based on merit, after all.

And the point of the UIC Senate Executive Committee is?