Friday, December 28, 2012

A Time Of Renewal

With a new year about to begin, it's time to consider renewal.

Time has a way of erasing a multitude of sins. The days go by and memories fade, and then one day you find yourself miles from where you started. It's like being reborn, as if the past never happened.

The New Year is around the corner. A time of new beginnings and renewals is at hand.

Or, if you're Dessie Ellis, a time to remember those things once forgotten is at hand.

The former volunteer in the Irish Republican Army has been reminded that the British authorities once linked him to fifty killings during The Troubles.

He left his past behind and came to fashion himself as an elected representative from Dublin North-West, a dedicated member of Sinn Fein who once served a sentence for possession of explosive material.

The area he represents is clearly not troubled by the part of his past that clung to Mr. Ellis, or they never would have voted for him. In many parts of Ireland, being an anti-Treaty advocate is a positive thing, even if that Treaty was signed back in 1921.

The partition of Ireland has not yet been relegated to the forgotten past, not will it be any time soon.

When asked, Mr. Ellis declined to comment on recently released reports that painted him as a cold-blooded killer. As would any dedicated nationalist, he scoffs at anything the Brits claim as fact.

A new year, a new beginning.

The accusations will be flung at Mr. Ellis during debates in the Dail, used as a weapon to silence him when he stirs up trouble for Fine Gael. Those opposed to all things Sinn Fein (their socialist policies are hopelessly mired in the past, as if the Soviet Union never fell apart under the weight of it) will cry out against such as Mr. Ellis sitting in the Dail, but those who see Mr. Ellis as a hero, a man of action even if that action was morally wrong, will be quick to vote for him again when next given a chance.

The debates will continue, the latest revelation will fade into the past from whence it came, and the economy will flounder and shudder through another year of austerity and budget cuts, higher taxes and stagnant unemployment.

Some things just won't be changing in the New Year.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Reality Does Not End On A Blackout

The last scene of The Sopranos series became the talk of the office the day after it aired.

Was Tony whacked? Was it just an abrupt cut to bring the show to an abrupt end, one that lacked any true closure?

Real life ends for real mobsters in a different way, one that is conclusive and definite. And without a blackout.

Frank Calabrese Sr. was the genuine article, a hit man with a string of murders on his record, along with a long roster of extortion, racketeering and other miscellaneous charges from the world of crime.

He died on Christmas Day, in a jail. Not in a local jail near Chicago, but in a secure facility far away in North Carolina.

His own son testified against him, aware that his father was a bad and dangerous man who needed to be put away forever. That, perhaps, was the abrupt end in the real world for a real mobster. The judge handed down the life sentence, the felon was chained, hauled away and then locked up in a cell until death sets him free.

It's not glamorous. It's not quite so comforting an image as that of a father sitting down to a meal with family. But then again, real life is usually pretty dull stuff.

That's why writers embellish and make things up, to take real life experiences and make them more interesting.

Who would watch a series about a mobster sitting in a cell, waiting to die?

It's boring. Dull viewing. Dull existing. Real punishment, as compared to the artificial world of Tony Soprano.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Way With Words

You'd think that a man who made a living by giving sermons on a weekly basis would have a way with words.

Cardinal Sean Brady does have a certain gift, but it's not the sort of thing that would help fill the pews in the largely empty churches of Ireland.

The government is scheduled to finally tackle the abortion issue, a topic that has been forced on those who were long able to ignore it. When the whole world is looking at you after a woman dies due to complications of a miscarriage, a death that could easily have been avoided with an abortion, you tend to take some action and get out from under the heavy scrutiny.

The matter is one of abortion to save the mother's life. Doctors shouldn't have to wonder if they'll be arrested for performing the medical procedure when it's their opinion that it's necessary.

Yet there is the Cardinal in the pulpit, urging Irish Catholics to march against abortion.

A woman just died when an abortion would have saved her life, yet the prelate is concerned that elected representatives might not craft laws that would provide "...the best possible care and protection to a woman struggling to cope with an unwanted pregnancy or by the deliberate destruction of another human life."

You're thinking that not providing the abortion was a deliberate destruction of Savita Halappaavar's life, but the Church hierarchy doesn't seem to consider a woman's life as having all that much importance in the greater scheme of things.

Better to let a hundred women die than to risk a non-therapeutic abortion taking place on Irish soil. After all, it's only the doctor's word that the woman needed one. What if he's skirting the law, making a claim that isn't true? 

A woman just died for no other reason than the lack of concern for the pregnant woman. Not much of a surprise, if you look back a few years to the horrors of the Magdalene laundries.

Old attitudes and misogynistic practices are not easily erased by those who would fight to keep them firmly in place.

Maybe it's not a way with words, but a dismal lack of musical talent. The Cardinal is sadly tone deaf.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Peace And Joy

If you're even thinking of sending a query today, or God forbid, tomorrow, you're mad.

The holiday season is a time for peace and joy, good wishes and hope for the future.

So hold off on the queries until next year.


Enjoy the season, and don't end up in the drunk tank this Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Young Adult With Sex

In essence, that is what this hot new genre is.

"New adult" is the old "young adult" but with sex in it.

It's what you once called "adult" but we can't have such a one-size-fits-all category in these modern times. 

According to the savvy publishing reporters at the New York Times, it's all the fault of the publishing houses that we are afflicted with yet another genre. Those same publishers are operating from the theory that they'd hooked future adult readers with the whole Harry Potter series, which got them to read in the first place, and what better way to hold them than to create a new genre?

If the readers who began with Harry were to jump right into standard adult fare, they'd be liable to become lost in the tangles of complex sentences and deep thoughts. They could be disoriented by the situations presented, in which there are no vampires or werewolves or wizards.

And so, they would wander away, to become former readers.

Publishers are always open to anything that sells more books and increases their profits, so if readers want a different label for an existing category, they'll go with it. If that something has demonstrated success in the self-publishing arena, indicating a new trend, then it's a sure bet the big houses will take notice and take action.

The protagonists of new adult books are new adults themselves. Not unlike the majority of low-level workers in the publishing industry, fresh out of college and still filled with ennui. To say nothing of their dreams of financial wealth trickling away, causing much angst.

Clearly, such new adults should not be exposed to books in which the main characters are older than them. How could they relate to such as are not like them?

That isn't what fiction is for anymore.

We don't transition from children's books to teen books to adult books these days.  We don't go looking for more complex writing styles as we mature, believing that we get smarter as we get older and so should our books.

Instead, we exist within our tribes, consuming tales about ourselves (ourselves being publishing interns in New York City struggling to make ends meet and pay off student loans and find love or at least a gratifying sexual relationship).

So there is "New Adult" for the new adults in the world, who don't want to risk reading about some middle-aged woman facing a crisis such as they have never experienced.

Wouldn't want to stretch the mind or expand a horizon. Who's buying that these days?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Don't Give Half A Gift

You're out there doing last minute Christmas shopping or you're sitting there thinking you're done.

Electronic gadgets are all the rage and you have the selection well in hand, ready to wrap, but don't be so quick with the pretty paper and ribbon.

An e-reader or a tablet without content is only half a gift.

Don't be the person giving half a gift.

Load that device with three of the best pieces of historical fiction that you're likely to find.

THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES will introduce your lucky gift recipient to the dark corners of Ireland's recent past, providing them with a compelling story of triumph against a government policy that sought to create perfect citizens from those most helpless.

Don't forget to download A TERRIBLE BEAUTY for those who think they know how Ireland came to be a republic. It's a tale of one family in the business of rebellion, an accounting of their sacrifices and the pain of abandoning morality for a greater good.

Finally, there is LACE CURTAIN IRISH, another novel with an Irish theme but one that is set in Chicago among the diaspora, a stream of people who left their homeland and found success, but at a cost. For so many who were forced by economic pressure to emigrate, this one will resonate.

You can buy these novels up until the very last minute, with downloads taking almost no time.

And when you hand off that e-reader or that tablet, you're giving a real gift that provides entertainment right out of the box.

Don't give half a gift. Add books, at next to no additional cost. Your recipient will be that much more grateful for your consideration.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why The Catholic Hierarchy Is Ignored

So Ireland is a very Catholic country, a stereotype that has been around since England's Henry VIII tried to make them not so Catholic.

The hierarchy, lead by the four bishops of Ireland, have been trying their best to maintain the stereotype, but once the child sex abuse scandal hit, followed by revelations of what really went on in the Magdalene laundries, they've had a time of it.

In fact, they've lost ground, and now they've managed to take even more steps backwards.

The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar made international news, all playing out against a backdrop of that old stereotype of a nation mired in Catholicism. Ms. Halappanavar suffered a miscarriage that led to complications, yet she did not have to die. Because Ireland's abortion laws are more than restrictive, and not entirely clear, a life-saving abortion was denied her.

The outcry in Ireland has forced the hands of the Government to finally do something, to clarify laws and allow doctors to practice medicine as they were trained to do, rather than consult with solicitors or the local priest as to how to treat a patient.

And what do those four bishops say about all this?

"...the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed..." if new legislation is introduced, they have declared.

Under that carefully balanced current law, a woman died who should have lived. But for the bishops of Ireland, that's not a problem. Don't change a thing.

In a statement released before the government has even put legislation together, the bishops are sounding an alarm, warning their parishioners that they should be concerned that their elected representatives are thinking about changing the laws.

They must not realize that their parishioners are more concerned with the backward thinking of the Church hierarchy, and the growing irrelevancy of anything they have to say.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Vacations Start Early In Publishing

Not that I'm in that category, but things are quiet in the publishing universe these days.

Christmas is a week away, but there's less twittering going on. Not as much news to be had at Publishers Marketplace, either, which means there's not much dealing. Whatever books needed to be out for the holiday market were put out earlier. Spring business hasn't quite begun.

The proofs for KING OF THE IRISH are in need of proofing, but I'm getting in the publishing holiday spirit instead.

That, and my brothers are taking the day off as well so why not join them?

We're off for our semi-annual (at least that often, but probably more frequent) pub crawl, to toast family and friendship and the remarkable variety of beers that are being produced these days.

If you aren't so lucky, then you might as well curl up with a good book, say, some historical fiction related to all things Irish.

Download an ebook. Order a hard copy. Make it a Newcastlewest Books sort of Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Agent Submission To Amazon

Amazon has been making inroads into publishing by starting up their own house, with former agent Larry Kirschbaum at its head.

It didn't take long for bookstores to declare that they would not stock an Amazon title on their shelves. Why help the competition that threatens to eat you alive? Especially Barnes & Noble, which is going head to head against Amazon online and losing.

The first big release from Amazon Publishing, Penny Marshall's memoirs, did not fare well in hard copy, to the glee of those who need the venture to fail if they are to survive. As anyone in the trade would tell you, getting a book into an actual, physical store is what drives sales. People see it, pick it up, thumb through a few pages. If it isn't there for touching, it's out of sight and out of mind.

As an author, would that not cause you to think twice before your literary agent submitted a manuscript to Amazon Publishing?

Maybe David Shapiro is completely in tune with the online world. He's editing his magazine there, after all.

Now he's written a book, and his agent Paul Lucas has sold it...to Amazon Publishing.

It will make for an interesting marketing campaign, with no bookstores stocking the thing when it's laid down. All the buzz will have to be generated in cyberspace, but can digital experiences match that of picking up a book in a shop and cracking it open to read the first pages?

Thus far, it's all part of a grand experiment, to see which direction publishing will take and if a new competitor can make inroads.

Is Amazon hoping that demand for Mr. Shapiro's tome will force bookstores to stock it, pushed by their clientele who will demand it?

Or is it a case of Amazon outbidding everyone else, and Mr. Lucas taking the bigger payout for his client. After all, if the book goes anywhere, there's a better chance that a major publisher will pick up the next one, and then Mr. Shapiro can walk into his nearest bookstore and see his work sitting on the front table in a place of high traffic.

Mr. Shapiro has a platform to promote his upcoming debut, a large online presence with an audience. Whether or not that will be enough to generate book sales will not be known until it happens. Or doesn't.

Odds are, the losers in the auction for the book are hoping for the latter.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Viewing The World When Your Head Is Lodged Up Your Arse

The time has come for John O'Brien to step down as head of Dalkey Archive Press.

He's been at it a good long time and he feels that a younger person, someone with fresh ideas, should be at the helm of the publishing house best known for its offerings of literary fiction.

He's also a man with a sense of humour, unlike so many others in the publishing industry who are too intellectual and intelligent to get a joke. They've now been reminded that one should, on occasion, remove one's head from one's arse.

The job was posted on the company's website, and an army of the high and mighty flew into a tizzy of outrage. To wit, it said:

    The Press is looking for promising candidates with an appropriate background who: have already demonstrated a strong interest in literary publishing; are very well read in literature in general and Dalkey Archive books in particular; are highly motivated and ambitious; are determined to have a career in publishing and will sacrifice to make that career happen; are willing to start off at a low-level salary and work their way upwards; possess multi-dimensional skills that will be applied to work at the Press; look forward to undergoing a rigorous and challenging probationary period either as an intern or employee; want to work at Dalkey Archive Press doing whatever is required of them to make the Press succeed; do not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that will interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.); know how to act and behave in a professional office environment with high standards of performance; and who have a commitment to excellence that can be demonstrated on a day-to-day basis. DO NOT APPLY IF ALL OF THE ABOVE DOES NOT DESCRIBE YOU.

Do not have any other commitments, such as family obligations, Mr. O'Brien quipped. It's funny stuff, the sort of thing that anyone who understands the heavy weight of obligations that come with running a large company or keeping a spot when you've been looking for work for months. Why not have a bit of a giggle over something that gets joked about?

Salon.com thought it was a serious job posting. They took the thing literally.

That's how it is among the literati, thinking they are the smartest kids in the room, thinking deep thoughts.

All while their heads are stuffed up their arses.

Doesn't it sound like Dalkey Archive Press in London would be a grand place to be working? Who wouldn't enjoy being around people who don't take themselves so seriously that they can't see a joke coming straight at them?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nostalgia And The Business Model

Back when dinosaurs roamed the streets of Oak Park, local high school students found their way to a record shop that was tiny, cramped, yet packed with all the music their parents hated.

It was conveniently located near a head shop, to make that part of town almost notorious.

Forty years on, the head shop is long gone and Val Camilletti is struggling to keep her doors open.

Digital music publishing has all but killed the record store, where a kid could hang out, discover some new artist, and expand their horizons beyond the confines of the suburbs.

The 45 is long gone. The CD is almost extinct. As for vinyl, well, that's another story.

Young people who were raised on CDs are discovering the unique sound that comes from a vinyl record. They're buying those old albums, in a nod to nostalgia perhaps, but also to experience music in a different way.

Then there are those who might have visited Val's Halla in their youth and have harbored a desire for some particular LP since those long ago days. If they find that album somewhere, in all its black plastic glory, they snap it up and add it to a collection that is as much a record of their life as any diary.

If you still have a spot in your heart for vinyl, for the old record store and the owner who possessed a wealth of knowledge about bands and music genres, you'd want to help support Ms. Camilletti.

At present, friends are trying to raise funds to help her keep her doors open, to pay the bills and perhaps improve her web presence.

Not everyone can get to Oak Park, Illinois, to browse her inventory. But anyone with a computer can click through a selection that was impressive then, and is extensive now.

Nostalgia among the baby boomers is a growing business, and Ms. Camilletti didn't survive this long without having a good business sense. But there is another aspect to this nostalgia thing, and that is the chance to introduce yet another generation to a sound that they just won't get from those earbuds stuffed into their heads, the sound that requires a turntable and speakers.

It's an experience worth preserving.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Britishness Of Northern Ireland

When solicitor Pat Finucane was murdered in Belfast in 1989, the Catholics knew in their hearts that the loyalists had killed him for his stance in support of the IRA hunger strikers. They knew that the loyalists had not acted alone, that the government itself was involved.

They couldn't prove it. The authorities denied it.

Mr. Finucane was simply not British enough to be allowed to live. In fact, he was the antithesis of Britishness in the the north of Ireland, where being Irish is crime enough to see a man killed.

Shot at the dinner table, to be exact, in front of his wife and children, shot by loyalist thugs who were hell bent on preserving the Britishness of their corner of the Empire.

So heinous a scenario as that could not be whitewashed or covered up by "official" statements and assurances at the time. Even after a man was tried and convicted, the Catholics wouldn't let the matter rest.

With a peace agreement in place and the unionists sitting in government with the nationalists, a new investigation was launched and a report has been read by Prime Minister David Cameron.

To the surprise of no one, this newest look into the crime has demonstrated that England colluded with loyalists to murder Pat Finucane, and then they diligently went about the process of hiding what they had done.

They couldn't let someone without the requisite level of Britishness continue to support others like himself, who wanted to end the partition of Ireland and reclaim their Irishness. So those in MI5 who knew the loyalists wanted to murder Mr. Finucane kept their mouths shut. The RUC protected the criminals, going so far as to recruit one of them as a Special Branch agent.

Mr. Cameron has apologized on behalf of his government. Mr. Finucane is still dead. Ministers, officials, or others who might have been involved but are still living remain anonymous and uncharged.

And the loyalists are reduced to rioting over the decision to not fly the Union Jack every day over the City Hall in Belfast.

Maintaining Britishness through brutality hasn't worked in the past. It won't work in the future.

Neither has maintaining Britishness through population mass worked, judging by the latest census figures. The Catholics are nearly equal to the Protestants in number.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Your Mileage May Vary

Every now and then, a literary agent or a publisher will get a query letter from someone who claims to have a great idea for a book.

All they need is someone to write it for them.

That is not how the writing business works. So please don't be confused by the deal that author Wilbur Smith recently struck with his publisher, to crank out his ideas as written by a select group of ghost writers.

Mr. Smith started out writing the old-fashioned way, by coming up with a plot and then putting all his own words down on paper.

As it turned out, his novels struck a chord with the reading public back in 1964, and he went on to sell over 120 million copies of his various books.

When you sell that much of your own work, your publisher is more likely to give you an advance of 15 million pounds for your next batch. And they won't object much if you get that next round out at a faster clip than is humanly possible. That is, if you have to hire other writers to actually put flesh on the bones of the plot you devise.

Despite the hype of NaNoWriMo, a good book is not penned in a month. Two good books can't be written in a year, either, unless more than one writer picks up part of the burden.

It's the formula that's worked for Clive Cussler and James Patterson.

It is not, however, the norm.

So don't read about Mr. Smith's big payday (and trophy wife) and think that you've found the publishing niche of your dreams.

More than rare is an author who has the ability to rise to blockbuster levels, and even rarer is one who can hire a stable of writers to put out best sellers.

And remember, those big names started out as nobodies, toiling away in solitude, hoping that what they wrote would resonate with enough readers to get them another contract for another book.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Spring Release From Newcastlewest Books

Less is more.

Presenting the cover of the upcoming release from Newcastlewest Books.

Simple, elegant. We're thrilled to bits with the artwork.

The novel is a work of art as well. We'll be posting more about it in the coming months, but suffice it to say that it is a work of historical fiction, set in Chicago in the 1890's, and the political shenanigans that went on then are still going on today.

How often can you read a piece of fiction, detailing a story that is over one hundred years old, and find countless connections to the present day?

Chicago politics was corrupt then, and it's still corrupt now.

It's a book that you'll want to read, and give to friends who would like to be enlightened as to what "The Chicago Way" means and how it came to be.

It's a story of the Irish diaspora that settled in the city and took over its government by means not always wholesome.

There will be free books given away but we'll be sure to let you know well in advance.

Friday, December 07, 2012

A Literary Catfight

While revenge may be a dish best served cold, getting back at the woman who you blame for your humiliation,is usually done in the heat of the moment.

Publishers will have to decide if they want to enter the literary catfight.

If there's money it, they will.

But would you read the wit and wisdom of "Tampa Kardashian"?

Jill Kelley famously styled herself as an honorary consul worthy of diplomatic immunity when she was named in connection with the David Petraeus adultery scandal.

She has fired off angry letters to the mayor of Tampa, Florida, reflecting her belief that she is an important person who should not be treated with disrespect.

At present, she is pushing a tell-all book to New York publishers, promising to reveal all sorts of juicy scandal about her arch-nemesis, Paula Broadwell. After all, why should Ms. Broadwell reap the benefits of writing a book? Two can play that game.

Perhaps Ms. Kelley is more upset about her personal finances getting an airing when her connections to General Petraeus and other high-level military figures were examined. When you're in arrears on your credit card bills, your husband is a well-paid surgeon and you live in a large home, people talk about you in ways that are not complimentary.

That being the case, it's easy to dismiss her attempt to sell a book as a bid to raise cash to fund her lavish lifestyle.

Sure there are publishers in New York who would buy her manuscript, doctor it and lay it down for a quick buck, but those aren't the sorts of publishers who pay large advances.

Maybe if Ms. Kelley can expose the seedy underbelly of McDill Air Force Base, or present a frightening picture of military readiness to engage in sexual hijinks rather than war, she might have something.

But if her book is nothing more than a literary catfight, there wouldn't be much pressure on the publishers to tussle over an auction. There wouldn't be much interest from the big publishing houses, especially when they'd have to consider legal issues of slander and the like.

So maybe there'll be a new book coming out soon, with Jill Kelley as author.

Then she can check her Amazon numbers against Paula Broadwell's, and the fight can go on.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Disrupting The Disrupted

After Barry O'Callaghan's attempt to create the world's largest educational publisher fell to bits, you'd think that the educational publishing market could be described as disrupted.

It wasn't exactly smooth sailing before he nearly drove Riverdeep, Greenwood, Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt to utter ruin, but the fall-out from his massive debt-financed deal did nothing to calm the waters of educational publishing.

There are still those who believe that there is profit to be made in educational publishing, in spite of ever shrinking school budgets that limit new purchases to few and none.

Joel Klein of News Corps' Amplify unit is one such starry-eyed executive who sees gold where others have found fairy floss.

Like Mr. O'Callaghan, he is convinced that education is crying out for electronic devices and digital content, a niche worth billions.

It sounds lovely, to create a world in which students have tablet devices where now they have dated, rotting textbooks. Imagine the children of America, learning from material that can be updated with a simple download. Where teacher training is a click away.

Mr. Klein intends to drum up sales for Amplify and become the industry leader. Sure the group is losing money now, but once the Federal government starts funding that Race To The Top program, that's when Amplify will turn the corner.

Amplify is going to change education, he says.

Those who once toiled at the publishers that become EMPG have heard that tune sung before, but with a distinct Irish brogue.

Education needs changing, and Mr. Klein has noted the dismal record of achievement that American taxpayers are currently getting for their money.

At present, however, there is no money.

It doesn't matter that the current President has a plan for education reform. The unit of government that approves the use of government funds isn't exactly on board, and there is no stomach for more spending when the national deficit is equal to the nation's gross domestic product. And over-all unfunded debts are equivalent to approximately the wealth of the planet.

As much as Amplify might plan to increase market share, the market is highly competitive with other educational publishers who are all heading towards a digital future.

Whether Amplify will win the race or come in dead last, only time and improvements to economic outlook will tell. If such improvements don't come to pass before Amplify has lost so much money that the Murdoch clan decides it's time to kill the unit, it won't matter how much Mr. Klein wishes to bring order to disruption.

He'll be out of a job.

Like Barry O'Callaghan.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Kobo Comes To Ireland

As you'd expect, this deal has come just in time for holiday gift-giving, but isn't that always the case?

Kobo e-readers will now be available at Hughes & Hughes locations across the island. Mostly in Dublin, but it's a smallish sort of island after all.

So if you're wandering around Ennis (that's across the island right there), wondering what to get for a special someone in your life, you could walk into Hughes & Hughes, purchase a Kobo, and download three excellent works of historical fiction in no time.

You wouldn't give an empty e-reader to someone, would you? It's only half a gift without books inside.

If you've hesitated to purchase from Amazon because you support local book sellers, then the Kobo e-reader is for you.

Then there's the Kobo app for your smartphone, which will allow you to download books to a device that is always in hand. Next time you're waiting somewhere, whether it's the kids or a long commute, you'll appreciate the convenience. And with Kobo, you can link to your e-reader so you can pick up in your reading where you left off, wherever you find yourself.

Digital publishing is a growing piece of the market, and partnering with Kobo will give Hughes & Hughes a bit more of a chance to carry on. If they can't sell you a book, they can sell you the reading device and link to your account so that they derive some benefit.

Reading on a tablet device isn't as fulfilling as a physical book, with the feel of the paper and the slippery sheen of the cover, the physical sensation of turning a page, holding your place with a finger and feeling the weight of the pages. But when you're sitting on a train or a bus, it's rather pleasant to have something to read in a smaller form.

Christmas will be here before you know it.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Fighting Against The Current

In A Terrible Beauty, author Katie Hanrahan presented a vivid picture of Ireland on the precipice.

Before the Easter Rising of 1916, two sides were manning their respective barricades, to fight for their beliefs.

Those two sides are fighting today, fighting the same battle, almost one hundred years after the world thought that the issues were settled.

Over time, the faction in Northern Ireland that wishes to remain a part of Great Britain has been losing ground. The Empire isn't what it used to be, and the world doesn't look on empires with the same admiration and awe that was visible when Victoria reigned.

Now another blow against loyalism has been struck, and the unionists turned to the streets, to violence and rioting, in a throwback policy meant to show their strength.

It worked for them back in 1914, didn't it? They created themselves an army, ready to take up arms to prevent Home Rule. Except that these days they've got Stormont and Northern Ireland's own assembly doing a bit of governing, putting a little distance between Belfast and London.

The Union Jack doesn't always fly over the government buildings at Stormont, and the Belfast City Council decided that they wouldn't fly the Union Jack over the City Hall on a daily basis either.

The result was a riot by unionists, outraged that a symbol of their power will come down.

Gangs stormed the building, attacking anyone who got in their way. To make their point even more clear, they attacked a Catholic Church in a nationalist area, just to show that they are the lords of the Six Counties and the Catholics shouldn't get any ideas about equality.

The nationalists learned years ago that violence didn't win them any friends in the international community. The unionist politicians recognize that fact as well, which is why they condemned the violence.

There is no sympathy these days for a faction that seeks to suppress religious liberties, that attempts to segregate a group of people because of their faith. Still the loyalists fight to preserve their ever shrinking turf, fighting against a current that is running against them.

The beginning of the fight is laid out in A Terrible Beauty.

As for the end, it's yet to be written, and it looks to be a long way off.

Monday, December 03, 2012

An Apple By Any Other Name Would Not Smell LIke Garlic

What with Ireland being desperate for cash, it's no wonder that the Revenue probe has reached into every possible crevice in search of tax dodgers.

It's also no wonder that anyone who can is trying to dodge their tax burden. For businesses, margins are slim and if it's a question of not paying the government or not paying your employees, it isn't much of a choice.

The employees will notice the empty pay packet. The government, not so much.

Businessmen do get caught, however, and the courts throw fines and custodial sentences at them, but the latest case has raised some legal eyebrows.

Paul Begley runs his family-owned produce firm, the largest in Ireland. Being a savvy man, he noticed that the import duties on apples from China was next to nothing, while the fees for importing garlic were astronomical.

Where to cut costs?

He had the garlic labeled as apples, paid the apple fare, and thought he'd been rather clever.

Not so clever as he needed to be. Mr. Begley was found out, he admitted his guilt, cooperated with the Revenue people, and stood ready to take his punishment.

The judge, apparently more incensed over the fraud than previous such cases, handed down a sentence of six years.

Mr. Begley wasn't trimming expenses during the downturn, unfortunately for him. He was manipulating labels during the boom years, back in 2003, and he called his apples 'garlic' at least four times through 2007.

Even so, the sentence seems a bit harsh.

Mr. Begley certainly thinks so.

He has appealed it, the longest stretch ever given for deceptions such as his, citing the severity that is not in keeping with previous practice.

Whether or not the judiciary panel will have mercy is hard to determine. Things being what they are these days, with weepy tales of grannies facing a frigid winter because their heating allowance must be cut, Mr. Begley may face a steep uphill climb.

The taxpayers are angry, and their mood is not improving with all the talk of austerity budgets and cuts to welfare programs. The politicians will look to appease those voters, in the hope of retaining their comfortable seats in the Dail.

Mr. Begley's time for his crime may become the new normal for the next round of miscreants apprehended for dodging their taxes. Heads on pikes are always good for the business when business is attracting votes.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Agency Moves Du Jour Part Deux

It wasn't so long ago that the talk of Andrew Wylie fusing his agency to the likes of ICM was floating through the publishing air.

Now it seems as if ICM couldn't wait on Mr. Wylie.

Rafe Sagalyn, based in Washington D.C., agent to the high-powered who reside there, is forming an alliance with ICM.

It's to the benefit of ICM to be allied with an agency that represents the big names in politics. Once Mr. Sagalyn handles their book deal (and there's always a book coming out of those Washington insiders, isn't there), ICM can move the property along through speaking engagements and movie treatments. There's a vast foreign market to be tapped as well.

For agents employed by Mr. Sagalyn, it opens up those same markets to their clients, which in turn makes the agency more appealing. It also means that the agents can focus on agenting, without worrying about the side jobs that line up TV appearances and get manuscripts in the hands of book scouts.

The two agencies have little choice but to align, considering the pressures these days.

There are only so many publishing dollars to go around, and landing some hot commodity (the likes of a David Maraniss, say, right before an election) is key to making a profit. ICM wants in on that niche, and Sagalyn wants to snag even more of that particular talent pool.

If you are an author with a manuscript, however, don't bother querying unless you've got a platform built of solid credentials, sturdy and popular with the public.

The powerhouse agencies that are forming up to skim the cream of the writing crop have no need to consider debut authors with their little fiction manuscripts.

Get someone else to publish you, become a success in the vein of Stephen King, and Sagalyn/ICM might come calling on you.

Or go have an affair with some four-star general and write a tell-all book. There's nothing that sells like a good scandal.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

For The Small Thrill Of It

What are you doing, reading this?

Why aren't you out there buying your Powerball ticket?

Of course you aren't going to win, but you can get a small thrill to make this Wednesday more tolerable by purchasing one ticket.

You can't get much for your dollar these days. Why not waste it on a little excitement, a little dreaming?

There's no harm in it.

And you might match five of the six numbers, which isn't a big jackpot, but you'd earn back your buck and a little more besides.

Have a little fun imagining what you'd do with all that cash.

Tomorrow, reality will intrude and it will be back to the old slog, the worry and the budgeting and the scrimping.

For a dollar, you can have a little vacation from all that. Up until the time the numbers are drawn.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Agency Moves Du Jour

There's nothing like a new agency, eager for clients, when you're looking for someone to query.

That being the case, it's time to polish your queries and rev up your writing engines. Be ready to rumble on the first of December because that's the day when the Booker Albert Literary Agency is open for business.


The principles, Jordy Albert and Brittany Booker, come from the Maria Corvisiero Agency so they have some experience. They have clients, according to the list on their website, and you would of course want to check them out to see if that's the sort of thing you write.

Will the pair succeed?

Who can predict the future of publishing these days?

But if you write romance, it might be worth a try.

The agents have a track record you can verify, they have experience in agenting and they should have contacts in the publishing industry to get your manuscript into the hands of the people who buy those manuscripts. That makes a difference when you compare it to others who have started up agencies and can list only a love of reading as their qualifications.

The market is tight, you've probably heard, and with the merger of Random House with Penguin, and the likely combining of HarperCollins with whatever Rupert Murdoch can buy, it's only going to get tighter.

Maybe you'll stand a better chance if your agent is under pressure to make some sales to pay the bills on a new business. That's a good incentive to push manuscripts, and isn't that the attitude you'd want to see in your literary agent?




Monday, November 26, 2012

Cyber-Monday And The Choices Are Endless

You might be considering the gift of electronic gadgets, and this being Cyber-Monday, you're shopping online and you've noticed that there's no end to the things you might purchase.

Apple products are always popular, and the iPad mini has come out just in time for holiday giving.

Amazon is promoting its Kindle. Sony is plugging its collection.

But you can't give someone an empty reading device, now, can you?

So fill it with novels from Newcastlewest Books.

No matter what device you might purchase, you can download three excellent pieces of historical fiction via the Smashwords portal. All formats are available, to suit whichever device you might choose. And the recipient of your generosity will thank you.

After all, it's grand to be given a new gadget that is so portable yet so functional. It's even better if that device contains reading material so the giftee can fully enjoy it, right out of the box.

You can buy it all online. You never have to leave the comfort of your cubicle. Just don't let the boss catch you. They're sensitive about this online shopping during work hours sort of thing.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Before The Book Is Published

Everyone at Newcastlewest Books is excited about our next project.

We've been excited about the others, of course, but THE KING OF THE IRISH has been particularly intriguing, if only because of the confluence of the modern and the historical that leaps off the pages.

The novel, due for release in Spring, 2013, is a thoroughly researched telling of an unsolved murder that fueled an ongoing fire of anti-Irish sentiment in Chicago back in 1889.

What we found most appealing about the story was the point of view taken, that of the man who stood accused of the crime.

You read about such crimes all the time in the newspapers, of course, but what Jack O'Malley has done is to view all those historical reports with an eye for prejudice. The news reporters, parroting the editorial slant of the owners, were blatantly biased against the newest wave of immigrants who threatened to overwhelm the status quo of Protestantism and Anglo-Saxon dominence.

Unlike the reporters, the author brings in facts pertaining to the time period, all of which he uses to build a substantial case for innocence and a rush to judgment.

Underlying the story, however, is a cauldron of political dealing that is unchanged to this day.

The political class in Chicago is still dominated by the Irish who were rising to prominence back in 1889. Some of them are descendants of the same hacks who cut deals and parceled out patronage jobs and cemented their power through graft and corruption. The novel could be set in the present day and still be an accurate portrayal.

I recently had the opportunity to walk the streets where THE KING OF THE IRISH is set, to see some of the buildings which are still standing, although now put to other uses.

That's the power of historical fiction. It can take us back and show us one event from many angles. It can make the past as current as the present, to show us where we've been repeating the same mistakes.

And it can remind you that some of those names you'll see on bronze plaques affixed to walls of expensive public buildings are the names of men as corrupt and dishonest as any common criminal. The difference is that they just never got caught.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Plenty Of Publishing Fish In The Sea

When word of a possible merger of Random House and Penguin first appeared, Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp was lingering there on the sidelines.

NewsCorp already owns HarperCollins, so it wasn't as if they had no experience in book publishing. What the Murdoch clan wanted, and what Bertelsmann wanted, was to create an enormous publishing firm that might out-compete the competition.

Bigger is always better, unless you're creating your behemoth with debt financing. In which case you end up like Barry O'Callaghan, with his educational publishing conglomerate severely reduced and the good people at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt left reeling.

But not to worry.

As Mr. O'Callaghan knew so well, there's plenty of fish in the sea.

NewsCorp has its acquisition eye on Simon & Schuster

The publishing house is part of the CBS family, which is just like any other big corporation. If the price is right, they're selling off components.

For NewsCorp, the price must also be right. They'd be investing in an industry that isn't demonstrating big growth. It's an industry that's facing the new medium of digital publishing, where the future direction isn't clearly marked.

By combining HarperCollins and S&S, NewsCorp could cut costs by....yes, you guessed it!...realizing synergies. Cut the employees, cut expenses, and profits are boosted.

It's no sure thing that the Random House - Penguin merger will be approved by government regulators who may not be so keen to help firms realize synergies when unemployment is already high.

So it won't be an easy matter for NewsCorp to buy up Simon & Schuster without the anti-trust crew probing the deal. Approval is no sure thing.

Beyond the loss of jobs, however, is the loss of variety. Fewer and fewer options would remain as the big houses join forces and shrink overhead. Fewer imprints, fewer chances taken on unknown authors showing talent that is not guaranteed to sell in blockbuster units.

The deals are good for the stockholders. Is there any benefit to anyone else? Anyone?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don't Drink The Water

In a remarkable new study, scientists have found that people who come to the States will become obese.

The best advice you can give an emigrant, then, would be to not drink the water. What other common denominator can there be?

Thus far, the study has been limited to people of Mexican descent, which means an expansion of the study pool must be undertaken. Knowing that Hispanics migrated to all parts of the United States, it's clearly not a regional issue.

Can it be the air? Should immigrants not breath the air?

Not only do recent immigrants tend to get fat, but their descendants are far more likely to become obese than those distant cousins who stayed behind in Mexico.

Naturally, scientists want to uncover the cause. If they can figure it out, they'd have a strong clue as to the source of American obesity, now at epidemic proportions.

When the armed services can't get enough recruits to meet fitness standards due to obesity, it's a matter of national security more than health.

It's being suggested that American food plays a large role, but in ways not yet clear. Sure there's McDonald's on every corner, and the sugary drinks, but has no one considered what is in the water and the air in the U.S. as compared to Mexico?

Or is it not quite so simple a solution?

Maybe it's more to do with all the cars that allow people to not walk, and the steady income that allows people to not go hungry. It's the affordable video games that allow kids to not engage in physical play, and it's the fear of lawsuits against primary level schools that allow the kids to not have outdoor recreation during the school day.

It's a lot of things, not one simple thing like super-sized fizzy drinks. It's about having the money to buy all that you couldn't afford when you were scratching out an existence on a small plot of land in Mexico, where you knew you'd go hungry if it didn't rain on your maize crop.

But if you're planning on an extended stay in the U.S., you'd best exercise a bit of caution and not drink the water or breath the air and, perhaps, stay away from the food.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I'm Taking Over This Town, See?

There are a few powerful agencies out there.

Those are the ones you'd never query because you just aren't rotating in the same galaxy as the likes of Martin Amis or Elmore Leonard. No indeed, you're not the profit generator, with your little manuscript and no platform.

When those mighty forces of agenting move, the business world takes notice.

Hence, the buzz that's vibrating through publishing circles with rumours spreading of uber-agent Andrew Wylie's interest in selling his agency, and it's Creative Artists Agency that's come a-courting.

Such a merger would create a more worthy opponent to William Morris-Endeavor, which was itself created with a happy union of two agencies.

As for the truth of the tale, Mr. Wylie says he's not selling, nor is he interested in selling.

He has looked at partnerships in the past, he admits, but that's not a sale, is it?

CAA would swallow up Wylie and then they'd have a nice little literary agency to attract more heavy hitting clients. On the other hand, WME or even ICM might be amenable to one of those partnership deals that Mr. Wylie has entertained before. Such a move would pretty much sew up representation for the biggest authors around, and publishing houses would certainly take notice. And feel the effects when the time came to negotiate a contract.

They'd take over this town, see, and mugs like you would be finished.

But there's always the danger that those big firms would simply poach talent, rather than buy it up by purchasing the Wylie Agency. And would that, then, be the end of Rico, err, I mean, Andrew?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

If You Think Authors Are Writers

Fashion models are not clothing designers. What they put on their backs, to parade down the catwalk, are items that were handed to them.

So why can the same not be said for "authors"?

Fashionista Kate Moss has launched her book amid much book launch partying. The volume is a retrospective of her career, and it features never before seen photos to entice those who have seen it all. Those who want to know where she came from and how she got where she is today will want to find the volume under their Christmas tree next month.

Just as she did not make the clothes she modeled, so too did she not write the book she is said to have authored.

Her name is there on the cover. If you believe everything you read, you'd believe she's the author.

But she didn't write anything.

It's no different than the way her real job functions. Someone hands her a dress, someone else does her hair, another paints her face, and that dress becomes more than a piece of fabric when she brings it to life.

So someone else took words, another selected photographs, and draped it on Ms. Moss' slight frame, and it was a book.

It will sell because she is a celebrity. It may not sell through, especially given the high price, but Rizzoli can expect to benefit from a ghost-written tome. That benefit comes from book buyers taking a look at other offerings from the publisher famous for the lush photography in their books.

Have you ever cracked open one of their cookbooks? Kate Moss could gain ten pounds just from looking at the pictures of the food, they are so spectacular.

So not all authors are writers. Especially at this high end of the publishing stratosphere. It's more about beautiful pictures with Rizzoli. And with Kate Moss, it's always been someone else behind the camera.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When The Government Stands Between Patient And Doctor

The tragic tale of Savita Halappanavar has already spread far beyond Ireland's shores.

She needed an abortion to preserve her life when her pregnancy took a bad turn. As anyone who's been through such a situation knows, there is a real risk of infection if the fetal tissue is not removed from the uterus when the fetus dies. The woman's body does not always expel the tissue.

In Ms. Halappanavar's case, the doctors at the university hospital in Galway detected a fetal heartbeat, even though they knew that the pregnancy required termination to safeguard her health.

So there they were.

The baby wasn't dead yet. To terminate the pregnancy could be seen, in some legal circles and perhaps even in the local Garda station, as an illegal abortion.

There was a heartbeat, you see.

Doctors are not lawyers, but they'd have to be to parse the language that regulates maternal health issues in Ireland.

Given a choice between prosecution for performing an illegal act, or hoping against hope that the fetus would just die and make matters simple, they wagered and lost. Badly.

Ms. Halappanavar died because the government of Ireland is trying to straddle the fence and have things both ways. They want to be against abortion, but if it's a case of a woman's life, well, maybe, if the bishops say it's acceptable.

It's a Catholic country, after all.

The government stands between the patient and the doctor, and the doctor cannot make medical decisions with a statute book hanging overhead. What is a simple choice, one that should have been made by the Halappanavars in consultation with the obstetrician, became a tangled muddle because the government was in the way.

Start writing legislation for the treatment of heart attack victims and there'd be changes made after the first man died in hospital, waiting for a decision on the legality of an angioplasty.

But when it comes to health issues that are unique to women, all the protests go unheard.

Maybe now, with an international outcry, someone in the Dail will hear.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Burning Away The Memory

Convents once dotted the landscape of Ireland, stone buildings that held much mystery.

Some knew, of course.

Some knew what went on behind those thick walls, where young women went in and many never came out.

Where children were taken if they had been convicted of the crime of being poor, of having a parent deemed unsuitable by the morality police.

Bit by bit, those convents that contained Ireland's darkest secrets have fallen into ruin. The nuns are gone and not replaced by a younger crop of women who have more options in life. Buildings lie empty, no longer filled with the evidence of a culture of containment.

The former convent of the Good Shepherd sisters in Cork has gone up in flames, and with it goes another piece of evidence.

The building has been empty for a long time, sold to a developer who was going to create hundreds of apartments for Ireland's growing population. Like so many other developments, this one too fell victim to the property bust.

Despite the concerns of the Cork City Council, the site was never secured. They may have been somewhat interested in preserving a listed building, but were they keen to preserve the memories of what went on in them? Does anyone in Cork truly regret the loss?

If all the Magdalene laundries and all the industrial schools would burn away, then the memories might disappear as well.

The women who were incarcerated against their will are asking for help in their old age, with no pensions given for the work they did as slave labor for the nuns. The State is stalling, in the hope that the last of the Maggies will die and take a memory with them, at no further cost to the government.

The convent at High Park is gone. Now the Good Shepherd convent in Cork is gone.

But when will the last memory of the industrial schools and the Magdalene laundries be gone?

The memory will remain, as long as there are books and films to remind us of what damage can be done by a government that sets itself up as the absolute authority over the citizens and the way in which they conduct their lives.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Film Scouts Take Notice

The post-apocalyptic young adult thriller is all the rage these days, and you'll be needing someplace to film that story set somewhere in the future after the world as we know it has fallen into chaos.

What better place to set that dystopian drama than in the middle of a place that descended into chaos and is the epitome of dystopia?

Architect Merritt Bucholz won an award for the design of Elm Park, situated on prime real estate in Dublin 4.

Quite futuristic, the office buildings and apartment blocks. And all of this modern, forward thinking architecture covers over 14 acres. Plenty of room for a good chase scene, perhaps a little "Hunger Games" dash for the protagonist's life through deserted streets.

Imagine how much could be saved by using existing structures, rather than building an entire set to match the unique style of Elm Park. It's a small town, with streets and everything. No producer in the world could turn down that sort of cost effectiveness.

In spite of the awards, Elm Place could not out-dazzle the crash of the real estate market. The expensive apartments failed to sell, there was no demand for office space, and the project sits unfinished. The few who bought there are stuck, with no one interested in buying their flats.

The architect has proposed some alternative uses for the property, like turning some of the empty land into a farm or a concert venue. Attempts to have a hospital locate to the site have failed.

So the government, which owns the foreclosed project, has considered offering to rent the place to any filmmaker who would like to set his scenes against a backdrop that is unique in all the world.

All it will take is a little imagination.

And isn't that what the magic of Hollywood is all about?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Most Intimate Biography

Took things a little too far did biographer Paula Broadwell.

Knowing the subject of whom you write is critical to an in-depth analysis, missus, but did you really have to know all about your subject's sexual proclivities?

It makes the title All In a bit of a double entendre, does it not?

Things are devolving quickly in Washington, D.C., where the news of General David Patraeus' resignation hit like a bunker buster bomb.

He'd had an affair, cheated on his wife, and he couldn't be the head spook at the CIA when he himself was holding a big secret that could be used to blackmail him. In the interest of national security, the storied general quit his post.

Before the day was over, the details trickled out. The FBI, it seems, was investigating Ms. Broadwell because she was dipping into the general's e-mail without proper authorization. Once that first domino fell, it was only a matter of time until the whole row tumbled and there at the end was an embarrassed man.

A skilled biographer demands access to the subject, but did that access really need to include the bedroom?

Unpublished authors need to know these things. If there's something they're not doing that is preventing them from landing a publishing contract, don't you think they would like to correct such an omission?

More books may be coming at us. Consider how the conspiracy theorists are lining up, to describe a plot to rid the Obama administration of an unwanted bureaucrat.

It's the sort of thing that's right up David Axelrod's alley, after all. It would make for a gripping read, to have the political junkie probing another man's sexual escapades.

Over the course of the next weeks, the full story will be pieced together and someone else can then write another biography, about hubris perhaps or ego.

Or the lengths one author would go to uncover all there is to know about the subject of the biography.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Most Popular Video Game Of The Year

We're fans of the Medal of Honor games because they're so realistic.

It's like being a soldier, but at the safest of distances. The video games provide entertainment, of course, but the sense of being there in the heart of the action is what puts Medal of Honor above so many other similar offerings.

Now we know why those games are remarkably accurate. Seven U.S. Navy SEALS are in hot water (not that it would trouble such hard men who can tolerate exposure to all extreme elements) for helping EA Sports make the game as real as real can be.

So if you want to buy Medal of Honor: Warfighter, you'd best get to it. The game is going to be the most popular gift for this year's holiday season.

Every Al-Qaeda operative with a game console will have to study the action sequences as part of their basic training. How better to discover the hidden secrets that the SEALS use in combat?

That's what the U.S. authorities have implied. The former military members have been reprimanded for giving away secrets when they helped EA Sports develop the game. Put on half-pay for two full months, and slapped with a letter of reprimand---you just know there was a serious, serious breach of classified information with that kind of harsh punishment.

Imagine the advertising copy that could be developed. EA Sports can promote a game so authentic that seven men were punished by their government for helping to create that authenticity. A game can't get any better than that.

Pretend you're an elite warrior, a Navy SEAL, making the world safe from those who would kill us if they can't force us to convert to their religion....who can wait until Christmas to start playing? Maybe it would be wise to start queuing up immediately.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Welcome To The Dysfunctional Family

U.S. Cellular has sold its Chicago clients.

Welcome to the Sprint/Nextel family, former "Cell" users. You won't be with us long.

In fact, I won't be with you much longer, but I digress.

Competition is furious in the cell phone market, and U.S. Cellular has given up on increasing its base in the Chicago area. The likes of Verizon and AT&T cannot be beaten, so the loser is folding up its smartphone tent and moving away.

They won't go empty handed.

U.S. Cellular made $480 million in the transaction, which will help them expand in another area where they have a chance to make it.

They are shrinking down now, with a long-range plan to grow in the future. That's what they did before, but they tried to grow in a market where there wasn't any room, so they've backtracked and are looking for a new route.

Their stockholders are not pleased with the concept, and the stock took a beating.

What of the clients who were sold away?

They'll soon be receiving all sorts of information from Sprint that will paint a glowing picture of quality service and hey, look, we have iPhones too.

Every contractor in the Chicago area had phone service with Nextel. The direct connect feature that made every cell phone a two-way radio was the key feature. Then Nextel was bought up by Sprint. Now every contractor in the Chicago area is leaving Sprint as soon as their contract expires, and looking to Verizon.

Sprint was eager to buy up 10% of U.S. Cellular's client base because Sprint is losing clients at an incredible rate. They haven't had any luck in keeping users by improving a system that is proving to be a dismal failure, so they're trying a new tactic. If they can just convince you to sign that two-year deal, they've got you for two years and maybe, just maybe, they'll fix the bugs that are driving Sprint clients to seek other service providers.

Intense competition has driven down the cost of cell phone services, but at the same time, that competition drives the weakest out of business until only the strong survive.

The Chicago White Sox will still play in U.S. Cellular Field. You just won't be able to get U.S. Cellular service there.

You may not really want Sprint service as a substitute.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Tea Time Express Is Leaving The Station

Since 1938, when everyone in Ireland was poor and the Celtic Tiger an impossible dream, a bakery opened in Dublin.

Tea Time Express offered confections that were typically consumed with tea, hence the name. As for the Express part, that came in because the goods were sold door to door. If you wanted a cake, you only needed to answer the knock, have a few coins to cover the cost of the bun, and you'd be a little less hungry than you were a minute ago, without having to expend much energy.

When most people didn't have many spare coins for such a luxury, being able to buy a cake became an occasion, a rare treat that took on a certain status. Perhaps the cakes tasted that much better, flavored as they were with emotion.

The brand is so well known that it's become available in the U.S., the cakes and bracks sealed up in Dublin and flown across the ocean, to provide a taste of home for the diaspora.

If you want to see what it's all about, you'll have to act fast.

After struggling with a dying economy and rising costs, Tea Time Express is going to close its door shortly before Christmas.

The firm that survived the long slog of hard times in Dublin for over seventy years has become a victim of a new round of hard times. This version, however, is fatal.

Sugar and flour, dried fruit and nuts, everything has become more costly. Employee wages have gone up over the years, while the amount of money that people can spend on an indulgence like a marzipan cake has declined.

Tea Time Express can no longer sell enough baked goods at a profitable price to meet all their expenses. The owners have no other choice but to close their doors.

Someone else may buy up the equipment and give it a go, like the founders of Tea Time Express back in 1938.

But it will never be quite the same.

Monday, November 05, 2012

To Query Or Not To Query

Timing a query is not exactly a fine art, and it does involve a lot of luck.

Would it be unlucky to fire off a letter to a literary agent in New York City right now?

It's been a week since Hurricane Sandy took out the power in Manhattan, where most of the agents work. What you have to ask yourself is whether or not that agent you'd like to query has power at home, which could be in New Jersey or the Upper East Side or perhaps Brooklyn.

Unless you have inside knowledge, you can't be sure that this is a good time to query.

Consider instead all the agents who don't live in New York, and whose lives were not uprooted.

Kristin Nelson is out there in Colorado, safe from the hurricane. Sandra Dijkstra and her crew are located in California, along with Laura Bradford And there are others.

They can't get much done as far as submitting to editors in New York, for hurricane-related reasons. The major publishers are only now getting e-mail back, and it was not until Friday that some reported their electricity restored.

Those agents need something to do, to keep themselves occupied while waiting for Manhattan to come back to life. Without the distractions of phone calls to editors who aren't there, or don't have phone service, they can devote their full attention to your plea.

When will it be a good time to query an agent based in New York?

Who could say?

But maybe you'll get lucky and hit one who would like nothing more than to see an inbox full of query letters when they finally get back online, just so they can begin to feel normal again.

Of course you could be unlucky and overload those who are already overwhelmed with storm clean up and the need to bunk with Mom and Dad for the past week.

It's always a matter of luck when it comes to querying.

Friday, November 02, 2012

In Tragedy Are Tragic Characters

The waters have receded from the shoreline communities of New Jersey and New York, revealing tales of great tragedy.

Among those who died are homeowners who either did not think the storm would be so bad, and those who were determined to save their homes from a force they could not comprehend.

From these people comes the tragedy that is the worst of the devastating storm.

How could someone, after watching the images from Louisiana, not make a run for it?

As an author, it is your job to make sense of the mindset of such a person. If you can get inside that head, and present it to a reader, you have done your job.

What is it about a home, about that shelter, that would compel a man to remain behind to protect it? To be sure the pumps were raining in the cellar, to keep the place dry and safe for the family, why is that more important than saving one's own life?

Then paint another character, that of the politician who makes a calculated decision to stage a planned marathon in a city brought to its knees by a powerful storm. What is the mindset of such a man, who would redirect electricity-producing generators to power facilities for runners, leaving the residents to the chaos that is the loss of power.

There is much for a writer to mine, to explore deep within and then paint their protagonists and antagonists with realism that the reader can relate to.

The stories are all around. It's a matter of sitting down and putting some of them on paper, using real human experiences to put flesh on the bones of an imaginary person. Giving such a person life will depend on the author's ability to take reality and put it into fiction.

That is what is meant by writing what you know. You've seen it. Now you know it. So go write it.


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Write A Novel In Thirty Days

It's impossible, but only those who have actually written novels know that an author cannot write a book in one month.

That's the premise, however, of NaNoWriMo, or the national novel writing month.

Literary agents cringe as November closes, knowing that they'll soon be inundated with queries for these rough drafts.

For those who think they have a story in them, however, it may be a good thing. They can sign up and engage in a more interactive experience than the average writer is accustomed to. Rather than write, they can interact with others just like them, because writing is a solitary activity and it helps to have friends for commiserating.

You can follow @NaNoWriMo on Twitter, and really feel as if you're in the middle of this mad dash to pen 50,000 words. It's short for a novel, but then again, November is a short month filled with short days.

If you participate, you might not finish or your book might not be what you thought it would be. But you'll come away with a better appreciation for the craft of writing and how much work it is to complete a full manuscript.

Maybe the experience will make you a better reader, or at least a more voracious one.

Getting more people to read is always a positive benefit, even if the notion of writing an entire novel in thirty days seems trivial.

The problem is, it ends on November 30.

Why not make December National Beta Readers Month, in which NaNoWriMo participants read and critique manuscripts? Then January could be National Edit Month, followed by second beta reading in February, with March opening like an editing lion and exiting like a stronger lamb, with plot holes patched and narrative arcs sweeping in graceful curves.

The key to success in your NaNoWriMo adventure? Sit your arse down with a writing implement (I'm partial to fountain pens myself) and write. It doesn't get done any other way.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Too Smart, Too Stupid: North Shore Edition

They are said to be among the smartest kids in the Chicago area.

Their parents are well-heeled and high-powered, the leaders in society and business. Children from the New Trier district are expected to achieve, to go on to Ivy League schools, and then come back to replace their parents as well-heeled and high-powered parents of the next generation.

Turns out those offspring of the North Shore are just as stupid as any other high school kids out there who don't have all the privileges that money can buy.

Six students from New Trier Township High School snapped some racy pictures and then used social media to spread them around. Maybe they used the latest iPhone, rather than some cheap model, but in the end it made no difference.

Not the first time kids have done it, but you'd like to think that kids with so many advantages in life wouldn't be so dumb.

No one has described what the subject of the inappropriate pictures was, but it was enough for the police to be called in to launch an investigation. Six young men were charged with distribution of harmful materials, in other words, they shared what an intelligent being would not have shared.

The group will face a jury of their peers rather than a judge in juvenile court. The school will scramble to add some instruction on proper use of phone cameras and social media to prevent someone else from acting on a lapse of good judgment. In a town where gossip flows freely, the parents are already facing a jury of their own peers, and nothing is more punishing than to suspect that your neighbors are laughing at you behind your back and questioning your abilities as a parent.

Whatever punishment is inflicted on the miscreants, it cannot be worse than the knowledge that they are not as special as they might have thought. They are just as capable of idiocy as the kids from underprivileged backgrounds.

It's like putting a little crack in the North Shore bubble and getting a whiff of ordinary air.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Good Deal For Authors...If They Own Stock

Assuming that the deal to merge Random House and Penguin passes anti-monopoly rules, two of the Big Six publishers will make the biggest one out of five.

The biggest publisher the world has ever seen, to be more precise.

Markus Dohle of Random House, which is being acquired by Penguin, has stated the case for the merger from the stockholders viewpoint. As you'd expect, a deal done at the higher levels is done to benefit the stockholders. That's how business goes.

But he also inserts a positive note into his remarks on the merger. Random House isn't going to change its ethos, he claims. At least that's his view at this point, before the actual fusing process causes unexpected results that could make his assertions moot.

This deal, Mr. Dohle says, is going to be good for authors and their literary agents because nothing will be different as far as Random House acquiring new books. The imprints will still be there, still looking for the same sort of book, still buying. The editorial focus will not be altered just because it's now Random Penguin or Penguin House or some computer-generated name.

Neither will there be synergies (mass firing of employees). He expects the big publisher to grow. This will not be a case of two big companies shrinking at all.

This will not resemble the merger of Riverdeep and Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt, which was intended to make the biggest educational materials publisher the world had ever seen.

But how can it not?

Penguin's sales are down. The industry, in general, is selling fewer books.

Digital publishing is changing the old ways of selling books, but can an even bigger, more unwieldy corporation come up with better ways to "reach out to even more readers around the world"?

Whatever is decided in the boardroom, you can bet that it will be a strategy to maximize shareholder value. Does that sound like more opportunities for new authors to break into the field? For more chances on unknown writers being taken, rather than focusing on the blockbusters and big names?

Time will tell, of course. A change of administration in Washington could bring a change to the mindset of the Justice Department, which may or may not look favorably on a mega-merger that could threaten American jobs. The current administration may not be keen to let jobs go, either.

In these early days, it's a lot of talk, and like any other romance, the talk is sweet.

No one will be fired. More books will be published. Authors won't be hurt. Assuming that they own stock in Random Penguin House, that is. Then they're assured of getting the maximum value from their holdings.