Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Second Look At Digital

Lucky me, to have received an iPhone from Santa.

It's the old model, far less expensive than the latest fad, but it works just the same. It has the same features, by and large.

It has iBooks.

When it comes to reading on a screen, I'm not a fan. I like the feel of a book, the smell of the paper and the sound of a page being turned.

Clever little devils at Apple. Their reading app acts a bit like a book with an imitation of the visual aspect of page-turning. Then there's the screen on the phone. The letters are clear, and it's fairly easy on the eyes. I can't say how it is for extended use, but the few pages I've read haven't caused any strain.

The convenience of having a book with me at all times is making me reconsider the whole digital book thing. Right there in my hand is a book I can pick up when I'm stopped at a railroad crossing, or sitting on the train commuting to the city.

Any time I feel like reading, I can.

Sooooo.....maybe e-books aren't as unpleasant as all that. They serve their purpose, fill their niche. God help me, but I think I'm being converted. Not fully. Not completely, I'll never abandon the print book. But I might download a novel every now and then, to enjoy the pleasures of reading when I don't have a trade paperback at hand.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Distiller Should Be Jailed

A young man broke into a home and then proceeded to elude police. He was found hours later, sleeping on a couch. He was not, it should be noted, at home at the time of his arrest.

Howard Brundage has no idea what happened, or how he got there, or what he did.

His alibi?

He took a few swigs of marshmallow vodka and the rest of his night was a blur.

Marshmallow vodka? Honestly?

Whoever would distill such a disgusting product should be put behind bars and made to perform community service for inflicting such tripe on the public.

As for Mr. Brundage, it's not very likely that a judge will buy his "the vodka made me do it" excuse.

Lucky for him there is no marshmallow vodka in jail, which is where he will most likely end up for some time. He'll get a chance to clear his head....and his palate.

You Should All Stay Home

If you had some notions of being out and about on St. Stephen's Day, Iarnrod Eireann settled your hash this year.

They simply didn't run the trains. If you couldn't walk to your destination, you were out of luck.

There was a time when the day after Christmas was meant to be slow. You were supposed to do some visiting, walking all the way if your family couldn't afford a car.

Ah, nostalgia. Irish Rail has brought it all back.

The State can't afford to run all the trains it once did, and that's a large part of the problem. It costs money to send a train from Cork to Dublin, and if there's only ten people on board, it's money lost.

Until after the first of the new year, there's to be reduced services, under the assumption that unemployment is high and there's few in need of rail service to commute to non-existent jobs. That's my take on the situation, at any rate.

As for the retailers asking for more trains to bring in more clients for the after-Christmas sales, can you believe their optimism? Does anyone have a euro to spare on the 26th of December?

If you really have to get somewhere, climb out of bed at the crack of dawn and take a bus. That's the only option that's left.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Changes Coming As 2011 Is Going

Even though Monday is the official, legal holiday, it seems as if everyone's taking off today as well.

Christmas being such a huge day, it requires as much additional preparation time as possible. We're shopping far into the night, searching for bargains or searching for some sort of merchandise at all. The shelves weren't stocked to capacity this year, as the vendors recognized the decline in consumer spending.

I'm off, so.

We're taking a vacation and I'm not allowed to be using electronic devices that twitter or blog or e-mail. And then when I get back, there's the matter of a new computer to be dealt with. The current model is slowly expiring, struggling to load every URL and wheezing through its accounting tasks.

I don't expect to be back in the digital world until the middle of January, 2012. Upon my return, I expect I'll be faster (upgraded to Windows 7 from XP) and loaded with RAM and gigabytes aplenty, stuffed full of USB 3.0 ports.

Behave yourselves while I'm away.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

One Hundred Years After Writing To Santa

It's been one hundred years since Annie Howard sat down and wrote a letter to Santa. She was ten years old, residing in Dublin in 1911, and likely unaware of the turmoil that was soon to explode into bloody rebellion.

Like any other girl of her time, or indeed of our own time, she wanted a baby doll. Living in Ireland, she also wanted a waterproof coat with a hood and a pair of gloves to deal with the rain.

Oh, and don't forget the candy. Little Annie asked Santa to bring her a toffee apple and a gold penny and a silver sixpence. She then tucked her letter up the chimney where it would magically make its way to Santa, and who knows but that she received the much desired gifts on the 25th of December, 1911.

That letter sat in the same spot until John Byrne was re-doing the heating in a home he'd bought in Terenure, Co. Dublin. He kept it for a charming memento of a simpler time, but made his find public as this is the one hundredth year since Hannah penned her missive.

Hannah's son Victor read about the letter in the newspaper and it's hard to imagine how shocked and surprised and delighted he must have been to gain access to his mother's view of her world as a ten-year-old child.

We never meet our parents as children, but this was as close to such an encounter as anyone could have. There is no more unique Christmas gift than that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lean, Mean, Synergy-Realizing Machine

It's McGraw-Hill's turn to realize some synergies.

That's MBA-speak for giving people the sack.

In books, it's all about the digital as publishers see their sales climb in e-books while hard copies sink. There's nothing complex about what's happening. E-books are cheaper than hard copies, and people who love to read will find a way to feed their addiction in whatever way they can afford.

And when you say e-book, you're saying affordable, just like the paperback when it was first introduced. With e-books, you can download one to just about any device, from a phone to a computer, and access to these devices is surprisingly common.

So McGraw-Hill doesn't need such a large sales force to drag hard copies around the country, plugging the wares. A sales rep can sit at home in rumpled jammies and fire off e-mails with excerpts attached, fully ready to download to EPUB or PDF or whatever format applies.

Buy this book, all ye indie book shops, and there's the rep reaching all of them at one go. Highly efficient. Highly lacking in the need for many reps to perform such a simple task.

As for the shop owners who enjoy face time and discussing what's on offer, well, there's FaceTime on Apple's iPhones, isn't there?

And don't keep the rep on the line for long periods of time. They're doing the work of three or four in this future world of publishing, in which every publisher must be a lean, mean, synergy-realizing machine to stay competitive.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Value Added

When you hire an interior decorator to tart up your digs, you wouldn't know what said decorator is paying for your new furniture.

You assume that there's a considerable mark-up. It's how the decorator makes money. And you know full well that the person advising you on color schemes isn't actually cooking up the paint in their kitchen, any more than they are joining the panels for the doors of your new cabinetry in their shed.

You pay for the designer's creativity. The furniture company gets what the market will bear for the physical product.

What if you were only getting decorating advice? Are the decorator's ideas any less valuable if they don't put a physical product into your home?

Not quite the situation that author Michael Chabon sees in the publishing industry, but there are some similarities.

He's the writer of several novels, a few of which Open Road Integrated Media will be publishing in digital format. These older works were published before anyone heard of digital rights, and Mr. Chabon was thus able to market those rights to whoever would give him what he felt they were worth. Open Road.made him the best offer he was likely to get, not unlike the desperate souls in High Point, North Carolina when they set a price with an interior decorator.

It's just that Mr. Chabon is the one possessed of the ideas, but unlike the interior decorator, he doesn't get to set his price and reap the rewards of his creativity.

For his works that are still controlled by Random House and Harper Collins, he had to accept their royalty on e-books. The publishers don't have to run presses, buy paper and ink, or ship crates stuffed with books. There are no such costs to be recouped. Yet the royalty rate for Mr. Chabon's e-books is the same as that for a hard copy.

E-books sell for far less than hard copies, but when an author gets the same 25% regardless, it's essentially a discount on the author's ideas. The publisher then reaps the rewards of a popular author, in the form of larger profit margins on electronic editions.

Little wonder that Mr. Chabon is less than pleased with the deal. But unless he teams up with his agent to publish on his own, he's stuck with a reduced pay-out.

Shouldn't be so surprising, then, that more and more literary agents are entering the e-book field.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Adjusting The Itinerary

Piano, piano, we've been told. Going to Italy means rolling with the punches. Don't put too much stock in an itinerary.

Even the Pope is going slow, rolling down the aisle on a moving platform.

Reports are that His Holiness is very much showing his age, and it's more than the motorized contraption that ferries him for short distances. He's worn out, they're saying, without the spark he once showed in audiences. And with all the pomp of Christmas services to deal with, we're figuring the old man will be totally spent by the Epiphany.

With that in mind, we're skipping the Papal Audience. We'll be sure to took a long look at the Vatican Museum, at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the magnificence of St. Peter's basilica.

The only risk there is if the Italians go on strike and the trams aren't running and the taxis are idle. And considering how angry the Italians are with their politicians who live like princes while the commoners tighten their belts, it's a pretty good bet that someone will walk off the job in the first week of January, but there are ways to work around wildcat strikes here and there.

On the other hand, it seems like a pretty reasonable assumption that the Pope will be dragging that same week. You wouldn't expect much in the way of stirring sermons or inspirational messages from an elderly priest who really should be taking a nap to conserve his limited strength.

Following suggestions from friends who have been there, we're keeping most dates open on our vacation, ready to roll with the punches. That's going to include Wednesday.

It would be just too depressing, to see a shadow of a clergyman and realize that he's running the show, a show that's losing audience share at a startling rate.

Friday, December 16, 2011

In Memory Of Hitch

He knows now.

Author Christopher Hitchens knows if there is a God or not.

The writer has succumbed to cancer at a young age, and if there is a God, he's met Him. If not, he's none the worse for his atheism.

At the end, did he regret his lifestyle with its abundance of drink and cigarettes? Or was he glad that he'd enjoyed himself to the full, rather than yield to the guilt inflicted on us all by religion.

Did he have another short story or essay working itself up in his brain? Was he sorry that he'd not be able to write it down and thus the last thoughts were lost?

None of us can say with certainty, because no one's come back and told us what death is like and what it's all about....what happens after the last breath is drawn.

Certainly, Mr. Hitchens never held back his opinions on anyone or anything. He never feared making enemies of those he felt were worthy of his scorn. His writing was enough to get many to purchase a copy of Vanity Fair, whether to be outraged or incensed or delighted by his rhetoric. He was far to the left until he went to the right, but wherever he wandered, his prose was always well-crafted.

The man has left us, but his words are left behind.

Whether there is or is not a God, Mr. Hitchens has found a level of immortality.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Becoming Scrooge

I'm aware that the time I steal for writing means there's less time I spend with family and friends. It's the nature of this obsession that drives me to put words on paper.

Now that the holidays are upon us, I find that I can't steal enough of those precious minutes to suit me.

Christmas cannot be postponed or pushed aside for a day or two until I can fit it into my schedule.

I resent Christmas.

At the moment, I'm trying to put together the cover art for Newcastlewest Books' upcoming release, and the last thing I want is to have to go out shopping for prezzies.

I'm not interested, not in the least.

If not for Christmas, I'd be happy with my computer and all its fonts and clip art. If not for Christmas and all the required family time, I'd get the cover art done in a more timely manner.

Hurry Christmas. Hurry up and get over and done so I can get back to my project.

Bah. Humbug.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Analysis Of Water Volume And Pond Capacity

There was a time, and it may still be going on somewhere, when the local fire department would connect their hoses to the nearest hydrant and flood the baseball field or the tennis courts.

Large volume, high pressure, and that worked out to a short time needed to create an ice rink for the local kiddies. Sure, the rec department could have gone out with garden hoses, but it would have taken hours to accomplish the same task, and at pay rates of time and a half, it could get to be expensive.

Tony Nelin and Timmy Ryan clearly have some understanding of the physics of water flow. The enterprising lads skipped the garden hose step and went right to the fire hose when they wanted to create a hockey rink for them and their pals in Tinley Park, Illinois.

Physics they understood, but as for the law----well, that's another matter. They were caught filling their skating pond when someone followed the hose that was illegally connected to the fire department's hydrant, through woods and straight to the site of a soon-to-be-skated-upon rink.

Tony says one of his relations gave him the loan of the hose, a relation who happens to be a fire fighter. A relation who, by the way, is complicit in the theft of water and tampering with public property, but we can only hope that the fire fighter relative explained how to open and close the hydrant without creating an air hammer that would rupture the main.

The two young men are due to appear in court to answer charges on the hydrant tampering, and they'll be made to pay for the water they used. All of around $125, which isn't much to spend when you want a place to play hockey without a load of little kids getting in the way of flying pucks.

Here's hoping the weather turns cold so all that water freezes up to a smooth, hard surface. There's nothing better than hockey played outdoors, in the cold.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shortening The Distance Between Agent And Publisher

Literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen, nee Alspaugh, has moved chairs once again. Formerly with Judith Ehrlich's crew, she will hang up her coat in the offices of Stonesong.

Sorry, with who? A literary agency, you say? But they say they're also a publisher.

Several literary agencies have branched out into e-book publishing for their clients. There are countless reasons given, usually having something to do with money or control of an author's catalogue. No matter why it's done, it has blurred the boundary between literary agent and publisher.

Stonesong not only blurs that line but seems to have done a fine job of erasing it. How can a firm that publishes on demand also act as a representative for authors seeking a publishing contract with a major house?

The Association of Authors' Representatives is concerned with ethics in their industry, and agents becoming publishers is often considered a violation. It's a bit of a conflict of interest for an agent. If they can't sell something, do they then publish the manuscript through their own company? So why would they want to work really hard to sell something?

To date, Stonesong has been largely dealing with non-fiction, and judging by their on-line listings, they're big in the cookbook world. Ms. Morgen plans to continue representing women's fiction and all the other genres she's familiar with.

That means Stonesong is looking to expand, but are they more interested in doing more representing, or more publishing?

The industry is surely in flux. Who can state with certainty where it's going, or where it will end up?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

May The Dew Glisten Again In Tullamore

The whiskey was named for the town in which it was first distilled, but there is no distillery in Tullamore, County Offaly, these days.

Like so many other iconic brands, this one was bought out and then moved away to a more modern, convenient location.

Sipping Tullamore Dew is to quaff little more than a memory, a wee drop of nostalgia that sets it apart from John Jameson's brew which comes from the heart of Dublin.

And it's Jameson's Irish whiskey that the tourists observe being made, because the distillery is a popular attraction. What does Tullamore Dew have to offer beyond a guide pointing to the spot where the liquor used to be made?

All that may change soon.

New owners William Grant & Sons, Inc. are in talks with Offaly County Council to find a proper site on which to construct a distillery. They control the heritage center where the brand was founded, but that doesn't exactly resonate with the potential buyer of Tullamore Dew.

With their brand at Number 2, they'd like to take it to Jameson's, and what better way than to get some face time with a distillery tour and tasting room?

The firm has plans to develop the heritage site and bring in people, which is all to the good for the little town. Everyone would like the tourist dollars (and it's largely Irish-Americans who make up the audience) and a town needs a reason to be visited.

You can bet that the council will be very, very amenable to anything William Grant & Sons cares to do.

It's not only the influx of tourists that will help, but the distillery will require employees to run the place and bottle up the water of life. A thriving distillery, back in the soil from which it sprouted, is the answer to many problems plaguing the Irish economy, at least in County Offaly.

More important to those who enjoy a wee drop, a distillery in Tullamore will be using the local water, and it's the water that makes a huge difference in the taste. And being able to market a product as a genuine import, a direct competitor to Jameson's, could make all the difference in sales figures going forward.

Friday, December 09, 2011

A Little Secret Between Friends

Archbishop McQuaid & his pal Dev
It pays to have friends in high places.

Like if you're the Archbishop of Dublin and you have a fondness for abusing would be good to have Eamonn de Valera at your side to ward off those pesky accusers.

Funny how those friendships linger long after both mates are dead and gone.

An allegation of child abuse levelled against Dublin's former Archbishop John Charles McQuaid in 2003 should have been reported to the Murphy Commission that was recently charged with revealing all that had been hidden, but somehow or other, HSE forgot to include so prominent a clergyman in their report until the Murphy Commission was all but finished.

In 2010, another complaint was lodged with the archdiocese, and current Archbishop Diarmuid Martin reported it to both the gardai and the Murphy Commission. Clearly he has been cooperative, aware of the fact that the Church must make a full confession if it is to be taken seriously by the faithful whose faith has been weakened.

Sadly, but not surprising, the allegations were never investigated. The Department of Justice has apparently had enough of the child abuse issue as well, because they have no intention of investigating HSE to find out why it failed to investigate.

There's not much to examine, actually.

Like so many of his colleagues, the Archbishop was more interested in protecting his priests than worrying about a bunch of children. Sure Ireland was full to the brim with the wee little ones, but there were never enough priests.

Whether or not Archbishop McQuaid was a pedophile will never be determined. The Church can safely sit back and claim it's all conjecture and rumour and idle gossip, while the parishioners will grumble under their breath about the powerful taking care of their own and ignoring the damage left behind.

Archbishop Martin didn't care that his predecessor was a friend of Dev. He did what he was supposed to do to clear up the issue. It doesn't help his quest to clean up the mess if the Irish State won't follow through on their end.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Flying Too Close To The Sun

Icarus made the fatal mistake of flying too close to the sun with his wings made of feathers and wax. If only he'd been more cautious, the poor lad would have soared on into eternity.

So, too, falls Garrett Kelleher, a man once wealthy by his own hard work and sacrifice.

He left Ireland in the 1980's, along with thousands of others who couldn't find work. In Chicago, he went into the trades and with a bit of luck, managed to land in the middle of the property boom.

With his skill, he was able to rehabilitate old buildings in gentrifying areas, and then flip them at a profit.

And what profits he made.

He lived in style in Chicago, owning a mansion in an area equivalent to Dublin 4 on steroids. His property portfolio grew, encompassing parcels in the States, Ireland, England and Europe.

In Chicago, he went about developing the tallest residential building in the world, an enormous spiral skyscraper designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava. He borrowed even more money to finance the project, a structure that would fix his name in the firmament.

Like so many other high flyers, Mr. Kelleher leveraged properties so that he could fund more development ventures. Flying high, and then the property market burned up and his wings melted away. The land wasn't worth so much anymore. The rents were insufficient to meet expenses and interest due and loan payments.

His Chicago mansion is in receivership, with millions owed on the mortgage. His Chicago Spire parcel was taken over by the banks when he failed to make those payments.

Now his Irish branch, Shelbourne Development Group, is on the verge of being placed into receivership. Bank of Scotland is owed E200 million and they'd like it back, one way or another.

At the moment, the only way appears to be confiscating the assets and selling them for whatever the market might bring.

Once worth E500 million, the Irish developer is rapidly falling back down to where he started as an emigrant in America with little more in his possession than his own two hands.

Mr. Kelleher is in talks with the bank, trying to salvage something on which to rebuild his melted wings.

If he comes out of this disaster with something on which to build a future, you can be sure he'll never fly so close to the sun again.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Something Old, Something New, Something Plagiarized, Author's Blue

Publishers Weekly said "This is an impressive, original work that illuminates its subject."

Jeremy Duns says it isn't hardly original at all. In fact, he's found several passages that are pure plagiarism.

Publisher St. Martin's Press says it isn't plagiarized. Those passages that seem to be almost word for word? Coincidence.

Lenore Hart, author of The Raven's Bride, says she did extensive research and gave a list of sources to her publisher as proof. She also says she didn't read The Very Young Mrs. Poe by the late Cothburn O'Neal until after she'd submitted her final manuscript, so she couldn't possibly have lifted whole passages from Mr. O'Neal's book and put them into hers.

Except that Jeremy Duns, who outed plagiarist Q. R. Markham, has posted some matching copy on his blog and it's hard to suspend disbelief, so similar is the wording.

It's not just the prose, as Mr. Duns has pointed out. There are things that Mr. O'Neal made up that appear in Ms. Hart's novel, and fiction isn't exactly historically accurate research material.

Perhaps Mr. O'Neal's estate will make a fuss, and it's certainly possible that St. Martin's Press will pull The Raven's Bride from its catalog. The anguish of the literary community will fade, as it did in the wake of the phony memoir scandal that passed through a few years ago.

For the author struggling to land a literary agent or a publishing contract, it's another drop of bile to flavor the latest rejection letter for a manuscript of entirely original prose.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

New Skills, New Direction

As we move forward with our publishing venture, Newcastlewest Books, we've all had to develop new skills to meet the challenge.

We are all skilled in writing and editing. We can handle manuscript formatting. There's a team member who's got a handle on writing flap copy.

It will take all of us working together to create an eye-catching cover.

Photoshop isn't part of anyone's skill set, yet it's critical to the development of cover art. Unfortunately, the learning will take valuable time, which means publication of our second novel will be delayed until after the new year.

Better to take the time and do it well than rush.

Newcastlewest Books will be going with a new distributor in future, to better reach the reading public around the world, and we aim to give that reading public a product that is excellent, from cover to cover and every page in between.

If only one of our partners were an artist and a writer, but alas, it's not so. We can only put our minds together and be as creative with pictures as we are with words.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Don't Cry For Me, Italian Pensioners

No need for tears, those of you collecting your old age pensions. Italy's welfare minister has shed them for you.

Elsa Fornero could not deliver the harsh news with an impassive face. This is Italy, after all, where passion is a way of life.

Having spent itself into penury, Italy must now cut back or go under, and the government has found ways to cut back that are going to hurt. After such a very long free ride, the carousel has ground to a halt.

Old people accustomed to an annual cost of living increase in their stipend will have to get by on less.

Ms. Fornero has good reason to weep. It's quite likely that the additional burden of higher taxes needed to get the budget out of the red will lead to price increases, and that means those who are retired will have to make their payment go further.

Having gone into retirement with government promises at their back, it's unlikely that the pensioners have a comfortable cushion in the bank to fall back on. For those not yet retired, they'll have to wait until they're 66, and even then, it isn't likely that they'll be able to afford to stop working.

So Ms. Fornero gave in to her sorrow, that the government can't afford to keep promises that were made for the sake of garnering votes. She may weep again, when the first stories of nonnas surviving on cat food hit the newspapers.

All she will have to give are tears. The Italian coffers are empty.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Where Are You Mark?

The advert was placed in the Corkman News, but this urgent message needs to reach as large an audience as possible.

We have to find Mark.

Not just any Mark, of course, but the Mark who went to the GAA match on 26 August 2010.

Is there any man who would remember that he was in a particular pub after 18 months have gone by? Especially if that man had been drinking. He'd likely have no memory whatsoever.

Why does classifiedadvert120511 need to find this man so urgently?

That's what everyone's speculating about.

Why is the petite lady with dark hair and skin and brown eyes, who apparently took Mark home on the night in question, why does she urgently need to contact the man?

She's HIV-positive? She's looking for child support?

Or did a fortune teller inform her that she'd met her soulmate already and had let him get up in the morning and walk out the door without leaving a forwarding address?

So if you're Mark, or you know Mark, contact the poor woman and put her mind at ease.

And then let us know what all the fuss has been about.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Keep Your Lips Off

How did it come about, that tourists keen to do all and see all in Paris must include a lip-planting?

Why is it de rigeur to leave a lipstick stain on the tombstone of Oscar Wilde?

Visitors to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery have left so many imprints on the stone that the grease in the lipstick caused severe deterioration to the stone itself.

Starting today, with a massive restoration project completed, your lips will no longer touch anything but a glass covering put in place to protect the monument.

Pas de s'embrasser, s'il vous plait.

The Irish government paid for a good portion of the repair work. While they might not have loved the man in his lifetime, the nation has embraced the troubled playwright in death.

The gravesite was re-opened, so to speak, by Dinny McGinley, the Minister of State for the Arts. He was joined by Oscar Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, who had first approached the Irish government about fixing the grave marker.

The sculpture is restored, and now it's under glass, to preserve it for all time and protect it from a bizarre fad that may or may not die out, now that lips will no longer meet cold stone but shiny, easy to clean glass.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lord Of The Canvas

A man's feet don't continue to flame well into middle and old age.

Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley has taken steps (!) to move on into a field more suited to his abilities.

Yes, he did indeed paint this with his feet. And if your bid is the highest at Sheppard's Irish Auction House, it could be yours.

Christ Church in Dublin is crumbling, as are so many ancient structures, and Mr. Flatley has created and donated a work of art to be auctioned off to the benefit of the rebuilding fund.

There aren't many Church of Ireland members left on the island to meet all the expenses of maintaining a house of worship, but the building itself is of historic importance for all the people of Ireland. Clearly, it's worth saving no matter what religion you might be practicing.

Mr. Flatley donned his dance slippers, applied paint, and proceeded to dance a number from his Celtic Tiger production. The result is an intriguing visual representation of the movements of the dance, a radically different perspective than what you've had as a member of the audience.

I suppose you could consider it a work of performance art, in that it was created during a performance.

The Irish-American dancer could craft an entire collection of such images, all by painting his dance moves. Each one will be unique, given that no other dancer has the moves of Michael Flatley, and no other artist has his unique skill either.

The Lord of the Dance has become The Lord of the Canvas. And whether you appreciate his talent for Irish dance, you must admit that his painting reflects movement and the intensity of those feet of flames.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Most Valuable Company

Facebook is where the kids maintain contact without having to use a telephone and actually speak. Who would have guessed that it might be worth $100 billion?

Rumours are floating out there about an Initial Public Offering for stock in the Facebook company, with a plan to raise $10 billion for various purposes.

No doubt Mr. Zuckerberg could use an influx of cash to expand his social media website into other areas of modern technology. After all, things change quickly and a man has to be a step ahead of the herd if he's to avoid getting trampled and left in the dust.

You have to wonder if Mark Zuckerberg saw what happened to Groupon's IPO, which sold strongly and then tanked.

For a long time, the Facebook founder said he wasn't interested in going public, but like Groupon, his offering could be on the verge of growing over-ripe. Investors who were burned by Groupon are going to be wary of another flash in the tech pan. If he's to reap some large profits out of his invention, he can't wait too long. Any sort of competition for Facebook, such as hurt Groupon, could damage his chance to strike gold.

I'm too cautious of an investor to jump on the Facebook bandwagon. You never know how long Facebook will thrive, whether the economy picks up or stays flat.

The money to be made by investors comes in buying the IPO early and selling into the teeth of a run by an excited second wave. They made a killing with Groupon. They'll do the same with Facebook.

It's those who end up holding the stock who may or may not be seen as prescient, as those who were as wise as the savvy few who snapped up Microsoft when no one knew anything about PCs or laptops or smartphones.

The rest of us will hold our blue chips and be glad of the annual dividend.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Social Media Meets History

You might think of Twitter as a bizarre mix of social interaction and advertising.

You'd be right, of course, but there are those who use Twitter in clever ways that end up creating a story arc.

Chicagoans recall the fake Rahm Emanuel tweets that were a study in brilliant parody and political commentary during the recent mayoral election.

On a serious note, we can now follow along with events leading up to a conflict that became known as the Second World War ( The Emergency for those of you in Ireland).

As a history fanatic, I'll be following @RealTimeWWII.

The premise is intriguing, given that we all know what eventually happened, but we don't know what it was like before that outcome was anywhere on the horizon. In short burst of 140 characters, those who follow the twitter stream will be able to put themselves in the shoes of their ancestors.

Read each installment and you'll find yourself wondering what they must have thought, as the world teetered on the brink. You might find that you're thinking the same thoughts yourself as you watch the protests against government austerity budgets, the long lines at job fairs and the high unemployment figures.

Is history repeating? Go back into that history and judge for yourself.

Friday, November 25, 2011

When Black Friday Comes

Okay, so Steely Dan has nothing to do with shopping, but it's a good song.

This Black Friday is all about shopping.

The news stories are full of advice. The traffic reporters are giving updates on traffic jams in parking lots around shopping malls. It's madness. It's about being sucked into a store by clever marketing.

Barnes and Noble is just one of many brick and mortar stores that wants to bring in paying customers who will provide them with profits. To do so, they will offer goods below cost, take a loss, and count on you the consumer to buy other stuff at regular long as you're there.

The price of gas and all, the added expense to find that item cheaper elsewhere, not such a savings when you consider the fuel burned....

So you could buy your dearly beloved a Nook for $79, and that's $20 off retail. Then your special someone would become a B&N customer when they started filling the Nook's memory with books. All to the good for B&N in the long run.

There's deals on games for the kiddies, DVDs, and books, but you have to walk into the store to acquire these low-priced gifts. Because once you're in the store, looking around, you might spot a little something that would be perfect for Uncle Elmer and that's why all the stores are putting out loss leaders.

Enjoy your shopping experience. I'll be sitting at home with the remnants of an apple pie and a real book, not spending money and not buying into the insanity that is competitive shopping.

The best bargains are not to be found today anyway. Patience and not buying into the herd mentality will prove to be most cost-effective.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Studying For The Travel Test

I start from the belief that I'll never be able to afford to travel to the Continent again.

My dear uncle only died the one time, and the legacy was left just this once, so there's the financing for our journeys in a nutshell.

That being the case, I want to see all I can see in five short days.

One doesn't embark on such a campaign without studying up first. It's going to be a test, of endurance perhaps, and to miss an answer to the question of "Where to next?" would be akin to flunking the vacation. For the next month, it's study and cram and study and review.

No guidebook can go unread. No rerun of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations can go unwatched.

There are restaurant reservations to be made...and none of us speak a word of French.

Google translate, anyone?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Or You Could Fly Southwest

When airlines decided to charge their customers for a checked-in bag, the customers took to stuffing their belongings into a carry-on.

The average flyer isn't stupid, after all.

Southwest Airlines has made a name for itself through an ongoing advertising campaign, decrying the checked bag fee. Bags fly free!

They aren't charging their customers extra to bring enough clothes to last for the full ten day vacation. The suits who run the company aren't stupid, either. It's a perk they can afford to offer, and it attracts paying customers to the no-frills flights. A profit can be turned on slim margins if there's volume. 

For the rest of the industry, it's been added income to the profit and loss statement. Not as much as they might have calculated, but better than squat. For the Federal Government that has to inspect each and every one of those additional carry-on bags, however, it's been an added expense to a money-losing venture.

Up pops Senator Mary Landrieu of the great state of Louisiana (home of New Orleans and the beignet). She's been watching those Southwest Airlines commercials---Bags Fly Free!---and she's decided that the government should step in and liberate all luggage.

She's proposed new legislation that would ban a fee on the first checked bag.

It's not out of the goodness of her heart. Everyone knows that the airlines would find some other way to recoup their costs, either by raising fares or finding something else to charge extra for.

Therefore, Ms. Landrieu has an alternative plan.

Yes, it involves raising taxes.

Airlines could continue to charge for checked bags, but they'd have to kick in to a fund that would help cover the rising expenses incurred by the TSA. When baggage inspection costs to the taxpayers were calculated, no one was figuring on a huge influx of non-checked bags, and with flyers saving money by not checking luggage, the Fed has taken a hit financially.

Either way, the cost of flying will go up. Expenses are passed down to the consumer eventually, because corporations exist to make a profit.

Next time, take the train.

Or you could fly Southwest. Bags Fly Free!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Countdown To Publication

The manuscript looks like a real book. That would be because it's been set up for printing, all formatted and spaced and margined. Chapters are headed, pages are numbered, the ISBN is assigned.

So I could work on a short story that's kicking around my head, but it would be better for the production schedule if I finalize the blurb that goes in the catalog.

How else will potential book buyers know what Lace Curtain Irish is all about?

The pressure is on.

Those few paragraphs have to contain the plot, and contain it in an intriguing manner. This blurb is all about catching interest, catching fire, catching hold. It must, absolutely must, be good.

Before long, I'll have the physical book in my hands, one for me and several others to be given away for publicity. That's down the line, in the near future, and anyone who wants to read about love, betrayal, loss and redemption in the first generation of Irish immigrants to call Chicago home will want to watch the website of Newcastlewest Books for information.

What to say? How to say it? Like writing a novel, there will be a first draft, a revision, an edit and more revisions, all compressed into a couple of days.

Writing is a job, isn't it?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Titanic Writing Prompt

Writers see stories everywhere--- in a glimpse of two people saying good-bye, in a conversation between sisters queued up for train tickets. In a photograph. The final photograph.

The woman looks careworn, old before her time, worn down by life as a widow with young children to care for. Her five boys are robust, healthy, well groomed and a bit bored by the whole process of photography. They surround their mother, a tableau created by the photographer in the studio in Athlone.

This very photo is going to be auctioned by George F. Mealy next month in Dublin. He expects the picture to bring in around E1000.

The value of any other family photo would not be so high, with the true value of such a memento to be found in the emotional link that is priceless. What makes this picture of the widow Margaret Rice and her five young sons so valuable is the fact that it was likely created as a keepsake for her family that she was leaving behind in Ireland.

Mrs. Rice boarded the Titanic for a better life in America. She and her five boys drowned.

It's known that she lived in Spokane, Washington, for a time. While there, her husband died in an accident and the widow returned to Athlone where she no doubt had family. She took a job as a housekeeper, but after a time she decided that she'd rather be in the States after all.

There's a story in there, a tale of a woman struggling to provide for her children. What hardships might she have faced while skivvying for a well-to-do family? What did she do with her sons while she was working?

What drove her to buy third class passage on the largest steamship to sail the Atlantic, and did she choose the Titanic because it was marketed as unsinkable?

There is a story there. A sweeping epic or a tragic romance, it is up to an author to put meat on the bones of a story that exists within a gold coloured frame, a family photograph that was snapped in 1912 and left behind by a woman who had no idea that she was sailing to her death.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Canada Welcomes The Irish----Again

At the height of the Famine, countless starving Irish fled their homes for the great unknown across the water, and they found Canada.

Thousands first set foot on their new homeland on Grosse Isle, a quarantine facility set up outside of Quebec City. Already weakened by starvation, many of them died and were buried there.

Canada would like the Irish to come again, please. Unlike the last great influx, they don't except to be overwhelmed by a tsunami of desperately needy people. In fact, they're after some healthy specimens who, like their ancestors before them, are looking for work and opportunity.

The Canadian fisheries industry and construction sector needs people to fill jobs because there aren't enough Canadians available. The Irish speak English, they aren't afraid of hard work, and they have skills that are going to waste in Ireland. You don't hear about any housing construction booms any more, do you?

Canada's ambassador to Ireland, Loyola Hearn, believes that as many as 30,000 to 40,000 construction workers are needed, and Canada is ready to welcome them with open arms and reasonable rent on a comfortable flat.

From the rain forests of British Columbia to the wind-swept islands of the Maritimes, Irish workers can find paying jobs in a country where the people are noted for their polite manners.

Irish migrants should keep in mind the fact that much of Canada was populated by British loyalists fleeing the successful American revolution back in the 1780's. Being partial to the Crown, it might not be the ideal location for those of the Sinn Fein persuasion.

Or, one could just avoid discussing politics. Learn the rudiments of ice hockey and you've got a safe topic to argue over at the local pub. Well armed with your shovel and your appreciation for Robert Luongo, there's no telling how well you'll fare in the Great White North.

Friday, November 18, 2011

No Smoking, No Eating, No Fun

You can't have a cigarette with your pint anymore.

Medical experts and those who don't want anyone smoking applied enough pressure to the politicians, and the smoke is now outdoors. Even the non-smokers head for the smoking section. The people out there tend to be more interesting, for some reason.

The New York Nannies have taken the control doctrine up a notch, however, and it's only a matter of time until some other government in some other part of the world sees it and thinks, Why, that's brilliant. We should follow New York's lead.

I've been in restaurants that provide a mound of cheese spread and crackers for patrons waiting for tables, or even for those who stop in for a drink. I've been in many a fine establishment that features a bowl of salted snacks at your left hand to pair with the beer in your right.

The New York City health police have decided that such communal food, left in the open as if it's all a big cocktail party, is not sanitary. There will be no free cheese and crackers any more. If you want nuts, you'll have to purchase a bag.

It's not as if someone has contracted some dread disease from eating the shared cheese or dipping fingers into a communal bowl of Chex Mix. What has the health police fired up is the possibility that such an event might occur.

A little more of the fun of a social evening has been removed by those who don't want us having too much fun in case we might laugh ourselves silly or bust a gut. A little more salt is removed from the bar and there goes the incentive to have another beer to quench a thirst.

Some people still resent the whole repeal of Prohibition thing, apparently. All that exuberance over demon alcohol...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Penguin Press On The POD Wagon

Riding to the rescue of publishing comes Penguin Press. They must be thinking that the literary agents aren't doing the gatekeeping job in a fiscally sound manner.

Yes, that Penguin Press, the major publishing house that doesn't accept unagented submissions is starting up a new program that's remarkably like Amazon's CreateSpace, only more expensive. Authors self-publish their manuscripts using Penguin's platform, and are granted access to Penguin's distribution network. Penguin gets their cut, the authors get published, and even more books are released to the reading public.

It sounds like Penguin is admitting that the old system just doesn't work.

All those blockbuster books brought in by literary agents aren't always such blockbusters. Readers aren't responding as anticipated, sales are down, so what to do?

Turn the authors loose and maybe something will come out of the slush. If not, well, there's always that piece for Penguin that drips in from every sale. Why let Amazon get all the income?

Book Country is an online writing group writ large, with authors providing feedback for each other. It is also going to be the business entity that will allow authors to download their fully prepared manuscripts for publication, hard copy or e-book.

Like Amazon's venture, the author is responsible for the whole book, from content to cover and promotion. Unlike Amazon, Penguin's unit will distribute the book to wherever the author can manage to get them stocked.

Of course, when you've paid $99 as compared to Amazon's $0, you'd expect something in return.

Don't think the bean counters at Penguin won't be watching the sales figures in case there's someone out there in Book Country who manages to sell a large quantity.

They know there are authors in existence who can't compose a captivating query letter but can write intriguing prose, and those are the authors who are overlooked by literary agents at the gate.

In a way, Penguin is allowing the community at large to act as readers of the slush pile, a gatekeeping job of old within publishing houses looking for the next F. Scott Fitzgerald. Penguin isn't so sure the literary agents are doing it any longer, and they may be beginning to suspect that their own acquisitions editors aren't doing it anymore.

But beyond that, it's far more cost effective to let the author do all the work without costing Penguin a dime. It's pure profit, no editors or proofreaders needed. If a book sells, Penguin makes good. If a book doesn't sell, it hasn't cost Penguin anything so what difference does it make?

Book Country may be the future home of the mid-list author.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The American Heiress In Review

St. Martin's Press provides the opening chapters to anyone who might be interested in their upcoming releases.

As a member of their "Read-It-First" program, I discovered The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. The first twenty-five pages, delivered to my e-mail inbox in five installments, was enough to pique my interest.

If you are a budding author, struggling to find representation and a publishing contract. DO NOT use this piece of debut fiction as a template for success. Daisy Goodwin is the product of a heavily clouted family, and her novel is by no means a perfect example of what it takes to get published these days.

The premise of the story is nothing new. Certainly Edith Wharton did a fine job building fiction around American heiresses of the late Victorian period, all on the hunt for a titled European husband.

Ms. Goodwin takes such a buccaneer and paints Cora Cash in a sympathetic light, the victim of an overbearing mother looking to add more gilt to the Gilded Age. Then the author fashions a mean girl rival that no good romance can survive without, and sprinkles in some conflict with a beast of a mother-in-law. All the makings of a good story.

What's lacking is the steady hand of an editor, to slice out a character (a milliner's assistant who appears in one chapter and then disappears) that serves no purpose whatsoever. The manuscript would have been well served if an editor had wiped out much of the redundant emotions so that readers wouldn't feel as if they're being beaten over the head with constant reminders of Cora Cash's animosity towards her husband's mother and the nastiness of her arch-nemesis, the scheming Charlotte.

This is the sort of book that I finish and think how glad I am that there's a public library available. I would have been disappointed if I'd spent $25.99 for the novel, but for free, it's not a complete waste of resources.

If you're into historical romance and don't mind cartoonish characters, the book isn't half bad. If you're looking for Edith Wharton-type insight into an era, you've come to the wrong place.

Monday, November 14, 2011

From A Whale To A Minnow

Once upon a time, an Irish lad dreamed a dream of the world's largest educational materials publishing firm.

Barry O'Callaghan parlayed a minnow of a publisher, Riverdeep, into a whale of a publisher that was soon drowning in a deep ocean of debt. What is now known as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is all that is left of his once mighty empire, a crash diet of redundancies turning the big whale into a skeleton of skin and bones.

Hedge fund manager John Paulson looked over what was left of O'Callaghan's creature and saw something on which to rebuild. A steady diet of sound business decisions was supposed to restore HMH to robust health.

Not unlike the dreamer, Mr. Paulson's eyes turned out to be bigger than his stomach. The good ship Houghton Mifflin Harcourt didn't turn around as anticipated. The overall economy worsened, sales in both trade and education slid in the wrong direction, and the skeletal whale must now be put on yet another diet.

The various divisions that Barry O'Callaghan created by merging multiple publishers are now to be merged into a single entity. Using techniques she likely honed at Microsoft, HMH CEO Linda K. Zecher will pick over the bones in search of scraps of redundant meat that can further shrink HMH in size.

There's nothing left in trade, which had once been put on the market as a going concern when O'Callaghan was desperate for cash. In fact, trade publishing is generating most of the profits, especially now that state governments are so skint that they're not buying new textbooks for their schools.

That being the case, it's the education division that's going to face the sort of cuts that were first instituted by Barry O'Callaghan (although he called them synergies and didn't he do a grand job of realizing them?).

Via mergers and leveraged debt, a whale of a publishing firm was created, and in short order, it proved to be too large to survive. Not unlike the dinosaurs, which grew too big to keep themselves fed.

What was once a whale is reverting to minnow status.

For the hard-working employees who are made to suffer because one man had a dream and another thought he could make it work, the irony is no comfort. Not when HMH anticipates yet another round of redundancies.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

SNL Flexes Some Literary Muscle

The Republican debate parody fell flat, as happens so often on a comedy show that cannot hope to dazzle every week.

Running short on humor, the writers turned to a subtle reference, almost an inside joke for the literary set....even if that literary knowledge is derived from a movie.

Did you wonder what was going on when the Mitt Romney character soothed a distraught Rick Perry impersonator with promises of rabbits, only to pull out a gun?

While John Malkovitch may have shone in Hollywood's updated version of a classic film, you can't beat Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. For your edification and enjoyment, we present Of Mice And Men.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Little People Fight Back

You'd think they'd all be happy to have celebrities in their midst. The beautiful, the famous, the fabulous, jetting in and out, spending lavishly....and the little people get to catch brief glimpses of the stars. How could that not satisfy the little people in their meek little hovels?

It's said that Paris Hilton blew through E300,000 for a single bash at La Voile Rouge, located on the perfect sands of St. Tropez.

Sadly, it looks to have been her last party. The little people, the residents of Ramatuelle have had more than enough and they've shut the place down. All those celebrities with their noisy helicopters and raucous parties and rattling sports cars will have to find somewhere else to go.

For the past eleven years, the non-celebrities of the area complained about the noise. The local town council refused to renew the lease on the beach property as a means of getting rid of a nuisance, but only recently has the court case wound down.

It took eleven years, but the little people of insignificant means who cannot afford the cost of a drink at the bar put an end to a situation that had plagued them.

They had little in their arsenal to fight the vast wealth of the owners, who kept the place open while paying lawyers to fight the town council. Little beyond the power of the law that they, as residents, were able to put into place to protect them from being used and abused by those with financial muscle.

The final appeal was denied this week, and the gendarmes moved in. The club where Bruce Willis danced on the tables is no more. The good people of Ramatuelle have their peace and quiet back.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Rough Sketch Of A Protagonist

There has been no shortage of novels about the recent economic crisis lately.

If you want to wallow in the misery of others, and feel a bit better about your own troubles, you can pick up a book and read about the hedge fund manager who's gone bust and finds that his wife only stayed with him for the money and the money's gone and so is she and he's hit rock bottom etc. etc.

Comes a new protagonist for some author's pen. We'll call him Sean.

He's of humble stock, familiar with the trades, and he sees an opportunity to make a bit of cash in the gravel business up in Fermanagh. A good author could instill some tension relating to The Troubles or sectarianism as our Sean finds a little success.

He parlays his gravel pit into cement and from cement he's into construction and that leads to investments in hotels and chemicals and he's rolling in it. The writer composing this little novel would make Sean a gambler, possessed of certain instincts and not averse to risk.

Quite a page-turner in the making, as the protagonist climbs to the top with his wife at his side, raising five children and supporting her man through all the nail-biting. For a good novel, there must be some squabbles with the children, perhaps a little sibling rivalry between Son #1 and Son #2 over who will take over the empire, or whether it's wise to sink so much capital into Anglo Irish Bank.

But a good protagonist needs a tragic flaw, and Sean has grown blinders as the novel progresses.

He believes that the skyrocketing values of real estate will go on forever, that there is nothing but light ahead. Our character invests in hotels and then banks, but he's blind to the shaky foundations that underpin his empire. Like many a gambler, he starts to lose and then throws more money into the kitty, thinking that he'll hit a winning hand on the next deal, or the next.

When he reaches into his pocket to cover his bets, he finds that his pockets are empty and the billions of euro he thought he had have all been pissed away. The writer puts the family into turmoil, a roiling mass of conflicting emotions and anger and pity. Even Sean's business partners, men he'd kept in the dark while he tried to right the sinking ship, turn against him in a bid to save their own skins.

No good novel should end on such a sad note. There must be redemption.

Sean Quinn, our protagonist, was Ireland's richest man. Today he is bankrupt. But all is not over in his story.

Very cleverly, he declared bankruptcy in Northern Ireland, where English law will allow him to go back into business in a year, rather than waiting for twelve years as decreed by Irish law.

For now, he's down. But by God, the man's not out.

Now there's a positive note on which to end our story.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Turmoil With No Refunds

Ciao, Silvio.

You're stepping down, you've said, for the good of Italy.

Except that Italy is still on the brink of bankruptcy. The near future of the Italian people doesn't sound all that promising. Not with talk of austerity budgets, service cuts, pension cuts and higher taxes.

That sounds like strikes and people protesting in the streets. Would you be insane to even consider traveling to Italy for a vacation in the middle of all that?

What if you've already booked your flight to take advantage of some early-bird discounts? There's no going back. You can't get a refund on what you've already paid, even if turmoil reigns in Rome.

What is the prospect for students studying abroad? The last thing they (or their parents need) is a sudden bout of inflation that raises food prices, an added expense that could blow the budget.

Do you take a chance and plow ahead, make a reservation at the Borghese and hope it's not shut down due to a nationwide strike? Buy a nice new pair of walking shoes suitable for an evening passeggiata and trust to luck?

The money's been spent, the tickets issued, the hotel booked and the deposit paid. You were looking forward to a certain experience, but you might end up living an entirely different way of life than you originally anticipated.

There's no refunds to be had. Stay or go?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Too Much Information

Ballymascanlon House Hotel
Apparently, those who googled "Ballymascanlon House Hotel" were led to believe the place was on the verge of closing down.

Who'd book a room if there was a chance that room wouldn't be available when needed? Where's a guest to go for a night's sleep?

The problem, as far as the hotel owners are concerned, is all on Google's end, and they've sued the search engine for the misleading data.

The autocomplete feature on the search engine was adding "receivership" to the search terms, which naturally would lead the inquiring party to assume there was something wrong. There's nothing amiss out there in County Louth, but who knows how many potential tourists ticked Ballymascanlon House off their list of potential lodgings.

That's all lost business to the Quinn family who own the property.

They've taken action in the High Court, but like so many other cases involving modern technology, there isn't a set precedent for the courts to follow. It isn't as if Google Ireland set out to cast aspersions on the resort, or that the electronic entity wanted to drive the hotel out of business. More likely, it's the way the program works, and it clearly isn't perfect.

The Quinns would like the courts to make Google fix the bug, which Google didn't do when the Quinns complained in the first place. The judge in the case is forced to drag out proceedings, but only because it's gone off on such a new tack.

There's defamation, to be sure, but is it defamation when a computer randomly inserts words based on something someone might have inquired about when using the service to see if the hotel was definitely still open?

Or is it a case of Google being too lazy to make an adjustment unless forced by law?

The lawsuit may get fast-tracked to the Commercial Court, but there's the risk of setting a dangerous precedent to be considered as well.

Don't expect a quick resolution to the problem, unless Google determines that it is cheaper to fix the glitch in the program than to continue litigating the suit.

Monday, November 07, 2011

History Meets HBO

So there I was, watching Boardwalk Empire and marvelling at the writing process (every episode has a different writer and each episode has a slightly different flavor because of it) when a reference to one of Ireland's most shameful institutions was tossed out.

There was the character of Margaret, an immigrant who fled from Ireland under a cloud, confronting her unforgiving brother.

From earlier episodes, we all know that she was pregnant and unmarried when she left home, and in the latest installment, we find that her brother and the parish priest all thought that Margaret should have been locked away by the....the Magdalene Sisters?

Close, but no cigar for Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki and Bathsheba Doran.

And those places weren't workhouses. Not at all.

The laundries run by the Sisters of Mercy or the Good Shepherd sisters were little better than jails, in which the period of incarceration was entirely outside the boundaries of the legal system. The women who worked there were slaves.

To gain a true picture of what drove Margaret to steal her mother's savings to escape, a desperate act indeed, read The Leaven of the Pharisees.

You'll gain a different perspective on the character, an insight you might otherwise miss if you're relying on the passing reference made by the dramatists who penned the incident.

And you'll find yourself looking at her interactions with clerics through a different, more informed lens.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Poetry Slam Gets Slammed

Literary agents love writers who teach creative writing. Look at the author biography on any piece of fiction and you're likely to find a writer who is a professor at some university, teaching others how to write just as well so they, too, can get published.

It's the teaching bit that gets a bit convoluted at times, when the professors exit their ivory towers and venture into the real world.

Denise Duhamel of Florida International University went up to the Bronx to teach a class about poetry to a group of second level students.

That was likely her first mistake, in thinking that teens filled with raging hormones and immature brain wiring would be able to handle a lesson that is suitable for twenty-one-year old MFA candidates.

Along with a colleague, she read words from index cards, and showed the students how a poem might be created. Just words. So harmless. So charming. So charged with meaning.

The teaching team used anti-black and anti-gay words, perhaps to make a point about the power of words. Instead, they gave the students permission to be derogatory and insulting, and the wee little ones took off running through the world of poetry. They, too, took up the cards and created their poems that hurled thunderbolts at the diverse student body for a full thirty minutes.

David Schiller, headmaster, has been using every word at his disposal to apologize for the ensuing debacle. The students are trying to deal with their own involvement, especially those who went along with the mob and read out words that made them uncomfortable, words they knew were insulting to their peers.

Instead of a poetry slam, Ms. Duhamel unleashed a stream of profanity and hate speech, and she truly had no idea it was coming.

Such a bruising introduction to the real world, beyond the lush confines of a Florida college campus. Perhaps it's best to keep them confined in their ivory tower where they can't get into so much mischief.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Downton And Out

Whoops. Spoiler Alert!

If you're a fan of Downton Abbey, you've been sitting on the edge of your seat, wondering who has died in the great influenza epidemic.

You may have been quite pleased to learn that ITV will be broadcasting a third season of the popular drama. How else would you know who actress Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess is mourning as the final scene ends?

Due to a slight blunder by ITV yesterday, those who stay on top of such events already know who's not coming back.

By releasing the cast list for the third season, ITV telegraphed the third season's opener in a press release.

Newspapers are not printing the list in the hope that they won't exacerbate the spoilage for those who didn't hear the news. For those of us who don't follow all Downton Abbey events closely, we missed the reveal and we're just as much in the dark about who's gone as we will be after the final episode of season 2 airs on Sunday night.

Keep your ears open. Someone read something, and it will be the talk of the queues and fodder for chatter in offices across the U.K.

Or you can avoid all such talk and just sit on the edge of your seat until Season 3 hits the air. No spoiler in that.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Not Satisfied To Own The Book Market, Amazon Takes On The Library

With finances stretched beyond their natural limits, more and more readers are turning to the public library for free entertainment.

Not entirely free, of course. Taxes collected from those same people cover the cost of running the library, but there's no added costs involved when you borrow a book and return it on time.

Along those same lines, if you've already signed up for the Amazon Prime program, in essence, you've paid your taxes that cover the cost of borrowing a book from...Amazon.

Yes, that Amazon. The online vendor that has driven many a small brick and mortar to the wall.

Those who pay extra for quicker shipping on their orders can now borrow a book from Amazon and download it to their Kindle.

Only the Kindle, or the new Kindle Fire tablet device. The borrowing program will not work on any other device with a Kindle app. The borrower can keep the book as long as desired, and the book then disappears when another book is borrowed.

That's one book at a time, unlike the public library where you can help yourself.

Libraries aren't overly concerned. Not all their patrons can afford a Kindle, and not many would then cough up another $79 to cover the cost of the Prime program. Besides, libraries have begun lending e-books and the selection is much better than Amazon's offering.

It should come as no surprise that the major publishing houses are NOT participating.

They're in the business of selling books, not letting Amazon pay them a flat fee for use of a copy which gets loaned out to thousands of potential buyers. With Amazon reaping the profits.

The lending idea is too new to know if it will work. Amazon has found many niches where others thought none existed, but how large is the market of voracious readers who could read enough to make the $79 fee cost effective?

And when you can go online to your public library's website and download a book from a bestseller list, why would you bother with Amazon?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Not The Usual Book Tour

To generate buzz for a new book release, publishers have been known to send the author out on tour, to meet and greet the readers while signing paid copies of print editions.

So how does Houghton Mifflin Harcourt promote a new edition when there is no single author?

The publisher is set to release the latest edition of their American Heritage dictionary, and it doesn't come cheap. At $60, it's more like a long-term investment. But does anyone really need a physical dictionary these days?

You sit down to write an essay and you've got a dictionary within Word. If you set up the program the right way, you'll have your spelling checked as you go along.

HMH is using marketing to get around the way things are getting done. They are going to convince the reading public that they need a dictionary, and they'll do all that with a virtual book tour without a living author.

You can follow the dictionary on Twitter, just like you might follow an author. It will share new words with you. Look, you can expand your vocabulary! You don't need Bill O'Reilly's word of the day after all.

There is a website filled with interactive activities that make words so much more interesting than you might ever have imagined. A word cloud! Let's try it!

The bottom line on the campaign is aimed at households with children. Those who are learning how to read are also building a vocabulary of new words. "Look it up in the dictionary" is an oft-heard phrase when the kiddies run across a word they've never heard before. Armed with a good dictionary, they'll learn the many meanings and even a bit of the nuance that goes along with communication.

For Mom and Dad or their high school-aged offspring, there is an online edition that they can access for free if they've bought the $60 version, or anyone can buy access for around $25. It's the reality of the marketplace these days. Print and digital are both in demand.

We still need dictionaries full of words both common and obscure. It's expensive to compile and verify all those words. HMH is turning to some heavy-duty marketing to get that point across so that they can recoup their investment in the new edition of the American Heritage dictionary.

Notice how it's coming out just in time for holiday gift giving?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

A day off from work is always welcome.

You can't control the weather, all you East Coast residents, can you?

So let it snow.

If you have a Kindle, a Nook, a computer or a smart phone, you can spend those leisurely days with the e-book edition of A Terrible Beauty and The Leaven of the Pharisees.

Leave the wintery weather behind and travel in your imagination to an Ireland that was buried under the dust of denial and shame, of heroes forgotten and bravery lost to time.

Books are the ultimate escape from reality, and the a novel can make for a very affordable vacation. So download a copy and get lost in some well-written historical fiction that is far from the snow and downed trees that you can't do anything about anyway.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Long Slog Through "The Bird Sisters"

Reading for pleasure is a luxury I have no time for.

If I read a book, it has to serve a purpose. That purpose is one of research.

Who represents? That's the question that matters. Who represents the author who has a book sitting on the shelf at the public library? It doesn't matter what the book is about. All that matters is whether or not there's an acknowledgment page with a literary agent listed.

For that reason alone, I picked up "The Bird Sisters" by Rebecca Rasmussen.

I skimmed through "The Bird Sisters" to get a sense of the plot, and realized that my novel is similarly constructed. Both novels take family stories as the inspiration and then flesh out those bones with an overarching theme of personal sacrifice and redemption.

Surely Michelle Brower would be attracted to something that she's picked up already. Not that my novel is identical, but it's in the same vein.

Can you hear the silence?

That was the response to my query.

Has "The Bird Sisters" been a flop? Was it not the right book to reference in the query?

I must admit, I didn't care for it and wouldn't have kept reading after the first fifty pages if it wasn't for the research I was conducting. Neither have I recommended it to friends, who wouldn't be interested in something that tends to drag along on the uphill climb towards resolution.

The library is full of books, and I'm keeping a list of debut fiction (sparse list there) which I'll nab once the new releases are available for borrowing. As for the manuscript, I've found a publisher on my own.

But I'll keep on writing, and keep on researching who represents whom for future reference. Some fine day, I'd like to be published by a company that has a long reach into the book vending business, a reach powered by financial backing that the small indie publishers can't match.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Seismic Shift

Long ago and far away, a king wished to divorce his queen so that he could marry a younger woman and father a son. He had a daughter already, but a girl wouldn't do. The people needed a man to lead them, a man to be the head of their army and sitting on the throne.

Divorce wasn't allowed, and the Pope said no way, Hal, you're tied to Kate and no man can put those bonds asunder. So England's Henry VIII quit the church, set up his own faith, got his divorce, and the rest is history.

In spite of the king's declaration, however, there were those who clung to their Catholic faith, and they were persecuted mercilessly for it. Yet no matter how many Catholics were assassinated, there were those too stubborn to give it up.

In the pages of A Terrible Beauty, you'll find glimpses of the vicious retaliation faced by Ireland's Catholic population. The onslaught against Catholicism led to rebellion, repeatedly, and Katie Hanrahan's novel lays out the threats to Queen Victoria's life that led to the lifting of some of the more petty penalties inflicted on Ireland's Catholic population.

The threat of a Catholic coming to power in England was too great a threat to the Anglicans in power, so it was decreed that a Catholic couldn't become king, or marry one, or even get close to any position that would upset the carefully contrived dominance of the Church of England.

Over four hundred years after Henry launched his church, the much reduced United Kingdom has put aside the rules that forbid Catholics from ascending to the throne.

It seems like a seismic shift, but in reality, it's a reflection of modern times.

Few people go to church at all anymore. Religion isn't any sort of issue at all. In short, no one cares. The British monarchy is a charming anachronism, a tourist attraction. So a firstborn girl can become queen while her second born brother has to find other employment. She can marry a Catholic and it won't influence the rights of succession.

A Catholic could sit on the throne once again. That would send Henry VIII spinning in his grave.

Friday, October 28, 2011

America, Meet Ireland's Next President

Don't confuse the titles of office.

The President of Ireland doesn't have the power that the President of the U.S. has. The Irish version is more symbolic than that, responsible for putting a public face on Ireland when visiting dignitaries come calling.

 It was the outgoing President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, who hosted the Queen of England recently when herself visited the former British colony for the first time since the micks threw off those English shackles back in 1916.

Early election results point towards Michael D. Higgins as the next President of Ireland. Who is Michael D. Higgins? The Saw Doctors explain him best. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Two Dollar Offer

If I had money to spare, I'd buy shares in Exelon.

The Illinois legislature just granted them permission to raise electric utility rates, supposedly to cover the cost of upgrading to a "smart grid", but it was the shareholders who pushed hard for the right to bypass the Illinois Commerce Commission and its regulatory powers.

Only about $2 more per month, they say, for electricity. Sounds like such a small amount.

And for another $2 per week, if the Chicago Tribune goes along with their latest money-making scheme, I can have an expanded book review section along with my regular delivery.

$2 seems to be the acceptable quantity of choice these days.

For the price of a cup of coffee, subscribers would receive what looks like a magazine. Apparently, those who run the newspaper believe that book reviews, a piece of fiction, lists of bestsellers, and a roster of author appearances is something that people will pay for.

Not enough people are paying for the newspaper, unfortunately. Cost-cutting moves that slashed news reporting and the number of pages printed daily didn't help matters either.

Now the Chicago Tribune is trying to add what was removed, but tack on an additional cost. So instead of paying $390 for a year's worth of news, I would have to pay nearly $500.

The problem is, I'll be paying more for my electricity, and it doesn't take a smart grid to tell me that $2 a month isn't the bottom line figure.

As much as I love books, I won't be taking advantage of the Trib's offer. For a lot less than $2 per week, I can read their book review section at the public library.