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.