Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Good Catholics And Good Citizens

When Edmund Rice opened a school in Ireland, he did so in violation of the penal laws that forbid Catholic education. He founded a school in Waterford for the specific purpose of educating the poor, and he built his facility in the middle of an upscale Protestant neighborhood.

The Christian Brothers he founded established schools throughout Ireland, bringing education to the masses, with a goal to create good Catholics and good citizens.

The message was lost between 1802 and 1922.

The Christian Brothers expanded their reach and became a by-word for child abuse and cruelty. In Ireland, the order is being sued by those who survived the nightmare of the industrial schools that the order maintained.

While Irish society comes to grips with the physical, mental and sexual abuse of young boys entrusted to the care of the Christian Brothers, a familiar pattern plays out in the United States.

The many Irish immigrants who made Chicago what it is also imported their religion, and the Christian Brothers followed. They founded secondary schools that carried a certain cachet among the Irish Catholics, who would point with pride to a son educated by the Christian Brothers at Brother Rice or St. Leo.

The Christian Brothers brought their philosophy of education and their ability to shift pedophile brothers from one place to another after complaints were lodged about sexual abuse.

Thirty-one men are taking the order to court, citing sexual abuse at the hands of brothers who abused in one place and then abused where they were transferred, never being turned over to civil authorities to be prosecuted for their crimes.

The order declared bankruptcy in 2011, knowing that the filth they hid for all those years was being exposed. The most prolific of the serial abusers was finally convicted in Washington. His victims in Chicago could determine easily enough that the brother who abused them at one of three Chicago schools was the same man who was moved around rather than arrested.

Even if the men win their lawsuit, the Christian Brothers say they have no assets. There is no money to pay for psychological counseling.

It isn't about the money. It's about stopping the Church hierarchy from destroying the Church. Parents still send their children to Brother Rice for the quality and rigor of the education. They don't want that to be lost. They just want the perverts out.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Taking Small Hostages

The Russians have discovered a resource in which they are rich, and which they believe can be used as a bargaining chip when they have to deal with thorny issues like human rights and internal dissension.


Orphan children, specifically. They make such charming little hostages.

There are plenty of them to go around in Russia, for reasons running from alcoholism to abandonment in the face of economic devastation.

The Americans were the first to be faced with hostage negotiations after the Russians decreed that none of their valuable orphans could be turned over to loving American homes because the American government had the audacity to question some of Putin's machinations. The mysterious death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison is not going away quietly, to Putin's aggravation. He's the new tsar, of course, and if he decides that someone is making things hot for him, well, off with their heads. Anyone who dares to question him? Off with their heads too.

Outcry from parents on the verge of adopting an orphan caused an uproar, but it was all negative publicity for Russia. Using children for political gain is seen as a step too far, an act of a psychopath, cold and calculating.

It must have worked, however, because Putin and his minions are at it again, but this time it's little Ireland in the cross hairs.

The Irish government is about to enact a law aimed to naming and shaming Russian officials involved in the death of an anti-Putin lawyer, following America's lead. They have been duly warned by the ambassador that there will be consequences, and that consequence will be a ban on adoption of Russian orphans by Irish parents.

Any slap to a member of the EU is felt by all, and so the EU is now being pushed towards making a gesture to Russia, to support Ireland's new legislation.

What next? Why, there'll be no adoptions allowed by EU residents, of course, and will Russia feel the pinch with its orphanages full?

No. Their orphans are hell-holes that make Ireland's industrial schools seem a relative paradise, and they don't care.

All those unloved, mentally-damaged young people can be fed into the armed forces and serve a purpose for Mother Russia. If they don't survive their childhood, it's less expense to the state. Either outcome is acceptable.

People know what becomes of the orphans if they don't get out of Russia, and the Russians play on loving hearts with a master's cynical touch.

They count on politicians like Olivia Mitchell to weaken and encourage her fellow legislators to back off and avoid angering Vlad the Child Impaler. There are many Irish citizens who would be heartbroken when the child they thought was coming isn't. Can't have the people sad, can we? Why worry about lawyer; he should have kept quiet about corruption and such.

Go along to get along. Keep the peace.

It's all about saving those poor orphan children. Or is it?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Competition In Digital Publishing

The digital age has given us the e-book, and with the e-book has come the need for publishers to format manuscripts into multiple formats.

For those who self-publish, it can be daunting to face the foreign language of this modern technology. And where there is confusion, someone finds a way to help writers navigate through the rocky shoals.

Sure you can turn to Kindle Direct Publishing and use their software to format your novel, but all you end up with is a Kindle-ready manuscript that can't be read on a Nook or a Sony e-reader or an iPad unless the app is installed.

Then you can use Nook's publishing site to repeat the process and end up in the same place.

Along came Smashwords to slice and dice word documents into multiple formats, all at once, and all for free, along with the means to get the e-books to market.

Unlike Amazon, Smashwords doesn't take a huge cut of the writer's profits, selecting to turn a profit via slim margins on high volume. For writers, they can earn back a larger share of the sales than Amazon is willing to give, and reach more readers who don't own a Kindle.

It's such a popular system that someone else has come along to compete with Smashwords at the same game.
A fictional tale of a true story about Irish nationalists in Chicago and the plot to overthrow an empire

Draft2Digital is the new kid on the e-publishing block, offering writers a place to go when they want to turn their manuscript into an e-book and get it out there on the market.

D2D will take a 15% commission on your sales, and like Smashwords, they only make money when you do. Like Smashwords,they will get your e-book listed at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks or Kobo.

So which one is better? They seem very much alike, offering almost the same access to multiple e-book stores, although Smashwords is working towards a library lending program to get its authors greater access to the reading public. With libraries becoming more popular as the cost of books goes up and disposable income goes down, it could be an important portal for new writers wishing to get noticed.

For now, Smashwords is a known commodity, with founder Mark Coker out there promoting his invention and generating buzz, to attract more users.

A newcomer to e-publishing has to overcome the headwind he's created, and do something either better than Smashwords, or differently than Smashwords. Doing the same thing for the same cost, in other words building an identical mousetrap, won't make much of a dent.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Violence Of Chess

Chess is a game of war.

The object is to capture your opponent's king, using your army of pawns, your knights and your bishops, all characters that would have comprised a Medieval court.

Normally, there is no blood shed in a chess match.

However, when one is playing at war, do not be surprised if a genuine physical attack takes place.

All's fair in love and war, but chess has its rules of engagement and those who try to bypass the rules may find themselves getting hauled out of a toilet cubicle by the scruff of the neck and throttled.

Gabriel Mirza was playing (fighting might be a better term for a war game) a match against a sixteen-year-old at a tournament in Limerick when he grew suspicious about the lad's frequent bathroom breaks.

Before every move, the opponent had an urge to use the toilet. Nervous bladder? Irritable bowel syndrome? Easy enough to check out the reason.

Mr. Mirza discovered the boy was hiding in a cubicle with an Android tablet, using it to research chess moves. Cheating. Playing dirty.

He was having none of it, not someone so dedicated to chess that he runs the St. Michael's Chess Club in Limerick in his free time. Mr. Mirza wanted to bring attention to the cheat, to have the lad tossed out of the tournament in disgrace. Then he could go back to playing chess against humans rather than computers, matching wits insteads of battling bytes.

How does a man get someone out of a cubicle that's locked? Exactly, he kicks in the door, an action that had the added benefit of getting everyone's attention. Those alerted by the row held Mr. Mirza back, because it just doesn't look good to have a grown man beating a sixteen-year-old chess aficionado. You just know the lad was slight, probably wearing glasses, and wouldn't know how to clench his fist properly.

Of course the cheater was expelled from the tournament. Unfortunately for Mr. Mirza, his noble act resulted in his expulsion as well. Apparently he should have called the guards rather than take matters into his own hands.

In his official reprimand, it was mentioned that his action could bring the game of chess into disrepute.

This wasn't a hockey match in Canada, after all. We cannot tolerate violence in games of war.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Breaking Into Literary Circles

Publishing is all about art, isn't it? You write a masterpiece of exquisite prose and you will surely be published, garner media attention, and quit your day job to pursue writing.

True, as long as you have the right connections.

How is it that Nathaniel Rich managed to get no less than five mentions of his book in a short period of time?

Two separate reviews in the New York Times, an article in the New York Times referencing his novel, a starring role in the Editor's Choice section of the New York Times, and another plug for his novel in an article about his family. In the New York Times.

While you're polishing your manuscript, you'd be well served to improve your family if you want to sell your novel.

It's all pure coincidence, they say, but when your mother is an executive editor at HarperCollins, you can't discount her influence among the literary circle that spins in New York City, the center of the publishing universe.

Even short story writers hoping to get themselves noticed via Amazon's Kindle Shorts store have to be in good standing with the man who runs the shop. David Blum picks what gets put out there, and he's picking from a select pool. You have to wonder if he's paying back those who stuck with him when he was sacked by The Village Voice, those who didn't kick him when he was down, by getting them the golden opportunity to promote their writing.

Writers who make the cut for the singles selection aren't in it for the money, because there isn't much to be had. What they want is some publishing history to put on their resume as they construct a platform to get a literary agent's attention. It's a way to break through the clutter, to stand out from a crowded field.

Is it worth your time to perfect your manuscript, re-writing and editing for years upon years? Or would you find your path to publishing success by breaking into the right literary circles and developing connections that could tie you in with the right kinds of people?

Remember that publishing is a business, and business is about who know who and who owes a favor.

The boom in self-publishing should come as no surprise, as the common folk seek venues to make their art available to the reading public. Not everyone comes from a family of publishing editors, and not many have friends in the heady world of the New York City literati.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Therapeutic Shopping

It's a small sum, all things considered.

Declan Behan stopped off at an ATM here and an ATM there and removed 7000 euro over the course of a couple of years.

The problem he's run into is that the account from which the ATMs obtained the money belonged to an Irish charity that he was running at the time. The Irish Association of Suicidology does not fund therapeutic shopping, apparently. Or Mr. Behan was not particularly suicidal when he padded his salary.

No reason has been given for the theft. That will come out in court later in the year, when Mr. Behan will have an opportunity to explain why he needed more money than he was being paid to run a charity that needs as much of its donations as possible to help those in need.

With the economy in the tank, there's more need than ever. Bankruptcy and mortgage arrears have put many into a tailspin of deep depression.

Noted author Tana French used that very theme as the backdrop of her novel Broken Harbour.

Like the characters she depicted, was Mr. Behan hoping to avoid losing his status, his home, or his family?

Or was he simply greedy and saw an opportunity to help himself to something that wasn't being carefully minded?

He's not working at the moment, and won't have a chance at a position of trust, even if there were jobs available. No work means no income, which means he can't repay the money as part of a deal to avoid punishment.

Desperate times calling for desperate measures?

Perhaps not as desperate as the scenario depicted by Ms. French, but who else but a desperate man would think to steal from the organization that employed him? Possibly one who felt so glum that he needed a little therapeutic shopping to lift his spirits and avoid making use of the anti-suicide services.

Wouldn't it have cost more than the 7000 he took, to cover more extensive therapy? It was cost-effective treatment, wasn't it?

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Wheels Of Justice Need Greasing

People get mugged every day in Chicago. The police have their hands full in dealing with all the cases. The prosecutors don't have time to dwell on individual incidents. And so the criminals sit in jail, waiting for their trial to be heard, hoping their attorney can cut them a good deal on a short sentence.

In time, the jury pool will consist of those who have largely forgotten the news coverage of Natasha McShane's brutal beating that left her in a coma.

She was visiting Chicago from her home in County Armagh, a place that has known violence during The Troubles.

Someone decided to rob her and her friend, a couple of girls not likely to put up a fight.

Ms. McShane was beaten with a baseball bat and now sits in a wheelchair in her father's house, unable to talk or walk. Her brain was damaged so severely that she's all but a vegetable now.

Her father wants to know why the case has yet to be tried. They are accustomed to British law up there in the north of Ireland, where judges and solicitors wear powdered wigs to this day.

They aren't accustomed to the scenes at 26th and Cal, where not a powdered wig is to be seen. Only harried public defenders with too many cases and slick defense attorneys drumming up clients in the hallways.
A story of Irish nationalism in Chicago, 1889

It's been three years since Ms. McShane's life was taken from her.

Why the delay?

The defense lawyers wish to prove that their clients are unjustly charged because the baseball bat in question doesn't have Ms. McShane's DNA on it.

Right, so the defendant's DNA was found, so maybe he touched the bat, but the victim's head didn't come into contact with it or it would be marked with her DNA so it can't be the right bat. Not guilty.

So they head to court to ask a judge to throw out the evidence and the prosecutors counter with their own argument and the judge continues the case until he or she can decide. And then the defense finds another issue with the evidence and they go to court and the next thing you know they've spent three years battling before the actual trial is ever heard.

Justice will be done eventually. In the end, though, it really doesn't matter how long it takes.

Natasha McShane won't ever be the same. A conviction won't repair her brain and get her up on her feet, back to the University of Illinois at Chicago to complete her degree in urban planning.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How To Instill Hatred Of Science Fiction

Disclaimer: I do not like science fiction. I tried it when I graduated to chapter books as a child, but I don't like it. I studied science at university anyway.

I just don't care for science fiction or fantasy. It's a personal preference. I have nothing against scientists.

Just because I'm a fan of Plan 9 From Outer Space doesn't mean I could be induced to enjoy reading science fiction.

Perhaps if I had been forced to read books about space travel and aliens and dystopian futures I'd be devouring sci-fi as we speak?

There is no better way to turn children against a body of literature than to force them to read it, but West Virginia representative Ray Canterbury (no relation to Ray Bradbury) plans to make it a matter of law that schoolchildren read science fiction.

He is obviously a fan of this much maligned genre, which is a niche market associated with geeks. As such, the cool kids won't touch it and those on the fringes are afraid to be seen with Robert Heinlein tumbling out of their backpacks lest they be labeled.

Sci-fi is not as popular as mysteries or romance, and if you're a writer seeking a literary agent who reps it, you'll find a small population to approach.

For some reason, Mr. Canterbury believes that if malleable minds had to read Dune or The Man In The High Castle, they'd grow up to be scientists and mathmeticians.

He's not a teacher, or he'd know that you can only introduce the subject, not make it mandatory, or it takes on a certain cachet. Required reading is not much beloved. When was the last time you read Beowulf or the Canterbury Tales (in Middle English)?

As you'd expect, sci-fi writers are all in favor of the new curriculum guidelines. They'd like to expand their audience, as would any other business person with a product to sell that doesn't sell itself.

Do you think that the law could work, and increase interest in the sciences through fiction?

Watch this and then decide if you're feeling a hankering to study astronomy....

Friday, April 19, 2013

Saint Or Fascist

Somewhere in the more obscure corners of the Vatican, someone floated the notion of elevating Pope Pius XII to sainthood.

The rumour resulted in an outcry of anger, and the canonization was tucked back into its obscure corner.

Many claim that Pius XII stood by and did nothing while the Nazis over-ran Italy and rounded up the Jews. He was all about saving the Vatican itself, protecting its art work, and there was no price too high to pay.

Those who refer to Piux XII as Hitler's Pope may have an opportunity to look at the documents that have previously been locked away from public view.

Rabbi Abraham Skorka thinks the new Pope, the first Francis, just might be interested in clearing the air, even at the risk of raising a stench.

Did Pius XII let the Holocaust go on for the sake of preserving physical artifacts? Or did he have a great deal to do with saving thousands of Jews when it first became clear that Hitler meant to annihilate them?

Father Hugh O'Flaherty operated out of the Vatican, under the noses of the Gestapo, and there is no evidence that the Pope ordered him to stop. Then again, he was aiding POWs, not Jews bound for the gas chambers. Easy to look the other way when an Irishman is disguising a British pilot as a priest so he can slip away undetected. It says nothing about the Pope's attitude in regard to the Holocaust.

Rather than allow the question to linger, Pope Francis may be amenable to letting scholars come in and hunt through the records, to ascertain the facts and expose the truth, no matter if it is good or bad.

Hypocrite or saint, it is time to be open and honest about the Church's past.

That is the fresh air that Pope Francis would like to bring into the Holy See, to abandon the old practice of secrecy that leads to assumptions of misdeeds going unpunished.

Secrecy has nearly killed the Catholic Church, with poedophile priests shifted around to hide their crimes out of a misplaced desire to protect the Church.

Examining the Papacy of Pius XII is a first step in open honesty, a means to strengthen a weakened institution by facing unafraid what was done in the past in the name of the Church.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rained Out

The streets are closed, the expessways are under water, and you can't get to work.

It's a rain day.

It's a good day to be reading if you're in Chicago where the skies have opened up in an effort to compensate for last year's drought.

All at once.

THE KING OF THE IRISH is avaiable for download to any e-reader you might have. You can even download a copy to your computer and pretend you're working from home while you delve into Daniel Coughlin's nightmare.

It's based on facts and drawn from archival records of the infamous Cronin murder trial, the one that pitted Irish Catholics against the Protestant majority that wanted them gone. A rush to judgment was in full force as an overzealous prosecutor manipulated the jury and the witnesses, while the newspapers of the day had Coughlin convicted before the trial even began.

Chicago history buffs will discover the connection between Coughlin and the Haymarket Riot anarchist trial, a connection that brought in a flurry of new laws, a pardon that brought down an Illinois governor, and a question of clout influencing the entire process.

Get a copy for your Kindle or your Nook. Download a copy to whatever device you're reading on, including your smartphone or tablet.

Enjoy the rain day.

You'll never look at a murder trial, or the newspaper coverage of it, in the same way again.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

David Mamet Joins The Club

The trickle of literary agents acting as publishers is growing into a torrent.

ICM, one of the most powerful agencies in the literary universe, is making the move. Can you feel the earth shifting there under your feet?

They are not using the self-publishing platform for an obscure author who wishes to re-introduce a backlist to a new audience. They are helping David Mamet publish an original, never before read piece of prose.

You're feeling the rumbling now, aren't you.

Mr. Mamet is going to join the club and publish an e-book using the digital publishing services offered by his agent. His reason is simple. No matter who publishes his next work, he has to do the marketing himself. Publishers don't do that expensive sort of thing any more.

If he has to plug his own work, why not just publish it himself and get the 70% royalty instead of some small advance that has to go into promotion anyway?

The time is coming when a literary agent will be needed to connect an author to a good editor and publicist, and then step aside while the author goes forward.

Available as a trade paperback or e-book
Once again, agents cite the lack of support their non-blockbuster clients receive from publishers. Agents love books and want to see them published, even those that fill a small niche that the beancounters at the big houses don't care to fill due to minimal returns on investment.

So you'll be wanting a literary agent, even in this brave new world of self-publishing, because they know people who know how to create an eye-catching cover. They can get the blurbs for the back cover, they can get publicists to promote your self-published book, and they can do what the publishers used to do.

The publishers aren't worried, or maybe they are just whistling past the graveyard when they declare that Mr. Mamet isn't going to be followed by a stampede of big name authors going their own way.

An author wouldn't dream of leaving their editor, the person who breathes life into dead words and understands where the author is coming from and going to. So as long as the editor doesn't do something rash, like start up their own editing firm, the authors will stay and accept their advances and pay out of pocket for publicity if they don't like what the publisher does for them.

Is all that changing, or is this a one-off scenario?

No one can predict the future, but you can watch for signs. If big publishing houses start putting more money into promotion of smaller runs, and if the number-crunchers take a different approach to cost accounting, then you'll know that Mr. Mamet and his agent at ICM were on the cutting edge of the next big thing.

Which meant the literary agents who change with the times, making themselves relevant in an industry that began without the need for an agent to introduce an author to a publisher, will survive the ongoing evolution.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dublin, Monaghan and Boston

Forty years ago, loyalists from Northern Ireland went to Dublin on a busy Friday. The car they drove was packed with explosives.

The car bombings of Dublin, and then again in Monaghan, were part of a reign of terror instigated by a group that did not want their world to change. The Irish Catholics of Northern Ireland were fighting for their rights in a British colony where prejudice and outright abuse of Catholics was allowed to flourish. The Protestant loyalist who benefitted from the system were willing to murder innocent people to maintain the status quo.

Someone placed bombs on a crowded street in Boston yesterday.

Theories fly as to who and why, but the answers do not come quickly, even though we live in a time of instant news.

Authorities will ask who had a reason, who had a grudge against the United States government, who chose a violent message against the most defenseless? Who was so cowardly as to plant a bomb intended to kill and maim civilians?

Like Dublin and Monaghan, the bombing of Boston will have some political link, whether it is terrorism imported from abroad or grown at home. Someone held a grudge, or did not like the way the world was turning.

Boston and Dublin have long been sister cities, bound by Irish roots and traditions carried across the ocean by the Irish diaspora.

Ireland's history is replete with incidents of bombings used as a weapon to achieve political change.

Now the two cities share another commonality, one that will stir up memories for those who were shopping on a May afternoon in Dublin in 1974.

It is not a commonality that anyone would have wished to share in an age when the use of terrorism and hidden bombs are universally recognized as barbaric acts of senseless violence that achieve nothing.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Dishes And Phones For The Unreachable User

Once upon a time, Nextel put together a nationwide system of towers that allowed contractors to maintain contact with their employees by pushing a button and turning their cell phone into a 2-way radio.

Direct Connect was an invention that filled a very empty niche.

Phones were pricey and the minutes were prohibitively expensive when Nextel started offering the service. For a flat monthly rate per phone, contractors could get in touch with employees in the field, as often as they needed, and talk as long as necessary.

Need material? Equipment failure? Truck breakdown? A potential new client asking for an estimate? Push a button, no minutes used, and the work get done more easily than before.

You couldn't go anywhere without hearing the distinictive chirp that announced the call. Wherever contractors gathered, one chirp and they'd all lunge for their phones.

In time, technology outpaced Nextel's ability to evolve and the firm's ability to afford a massive upgrade. Enter service provider Sprint to rescue a struggling corporation, with bold proclamations of improvements to come, new cell towers, better service, clearer calls, etc. etc.

The familiar chirp was soon replaced by an annoying buzz and an error message that declared "User Not Available". Even if that user was sitting right next to the person trying to contact them.

Contractors found that the service went downhill after Sprint launched their so-called upgrade, and they bailed. Verizon came out with their version of the 2-way radio and tradespeople switched carriers. Stock in Sprint fell and fell again, becoming nearly worthless.

Underperforming stocks to be had on the cheap are juicy targets for take-over, so it comes as no surprise that Dish Network is looking at buying up Sprint. It would allow them to bundle their satellite television and internet service with phones, and put them in a better position to compete with AT&T and Verizon.

Japan's SoftBank Corp made an offer to buy Sprint earlier in the year, and Dish Network topped it. Sprint shareholders, their holdings already battered by mismanagement, would be more amenable to the higher offer and be happy to get out from under a bad investment. If SoftBank Corp really wants Sprint, they'll have to offer more. Whether they think the struggling wireless provider is worth more remains to be seen.

Beyond the larger pay-out for the shareholders, however, is the merging of cultures when two large corporations become one. Dish Network is a natural fit with Sprint. Satellite reception is spotty during storms, not unlike Sprint's spotty Direct Connect service. It sounds like a perfect corporate marriage.

Friday, April 12, 2013

But You Said The Short Story Was Dying

Literary journals spring up like weeds, and follow roughly the same life span.

Those who are enamored of the short story start up those magazines, publishing twice a year, once a year, every other month, or however many they can manage. They want to share their love with the reading public who surely wants their reading in small, bite-sized nuggets.

Look, that commuter there, reading on a tablet. There's the perfect audience.

The person waiting for a train to arrive, for the traffic light to change, for the wee little ones to finish their ballet-football-piano lessons. They need those small pieces of fiction to entertain them.

Except that literary journals routinely fade away after a few years, with no one buying.

The major journals that manage to carry on, largely as part of a university creative writing program, bemoan the death of the short story.

Readers don't seem all that interested. They want full length novels.

The short story is supposed to be dead, but people want to read, just not short stories, and publishing wisdom still says they want their reading in bits and pieces. Ergo, they must want a novel in serial form, a variation on the short story theme.

Do readers really want that?

Amazon thinks so. Other publishers are following suit, taking advantage of e-publishing to crank out novels one chapter at a time.

Charles Dickens did it. Why not bring it back?
Available as a trade paperback or e-book in all formats

In the Victorian Era, life was not so hectic and a person could actually retain a plot line for a week, stored up in a head that was not cluttered with endless tasks, phones ringing, calls to return, e-mails to return, schedules to meet, carpools and playdates.

Dickens could publish his novels a chapter at a time and everyone waited for the next installment because there was no other way to read the novel. There was no Netflix, no central storage place that gathered up the chapters and released them all at once so the reader could sit down on a Saturday afternoon and binge on a full season of David Copperfield.

Maybe modern readers do a lot of reading while commuting, having only an hour at a stretch. But if the short story was a perfect fit for them, the short story would not be dying out, but would be blossoming. Yet it isn't.

Is the serial novel filling a niche that's gone unfilled of late, or have publishers mis-read the public's sentiment? Maybe they say they want something quick, but once they've consumed a chapter, and they want more, there isn't any there. And then they get upset, they get frustrated and they turn on the publisher, refusing to be aggravated further.

That's the other thing that the Victorians didn't have. Instant gratification. It's the sort of sentiment that could keep the serial novel from really becoming a financial windfall for a publishing industry that isn't sure where it's headed.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

James Joyce, Edited For Grammar

Fans of the late Irish writer will of course flock to their nearest collectible coin purveyor to purchase their very own commemorative coin.

The 10 euro silver coin will sell for 46 euro, but only 10,000 will be minted so the value is sure to rise to nearly meet that sale price.

That is not the issue, of course, for those who so adore James Joyce that they would want to own a piece of memorabilia being produced by Ireland's Central Bank.

Oddly enough, that has become an issue.

The word 'that', that is.

Mr. Joyce's hair has been depicted as the flowing words of a quote from his masterwork Ulysses.

You would think, in Ireland, that someone would have the sense to pick up their (unread) copy and turn to the proper page, copy the quote verbatim, and then give the exact words to the person who was making the die for the coin.

But no, that was never done.

You would think, in Ireland where James Joyce is a national treasure, that someone would have taken the time to check the verbiage before the coins were struck in Germany.

But no, even that was lost in the shuffle---or whoever approved the model thought they knew Joyce inside out, top to bottom, and didn't need to verify their memory.

One word was added that did not belong. One small 'that' was inserted, as if some editor took a red pen to the text and inserted an extra 'that' to correct a grammatical error.

The coins have already been produced and it's too late, and too costly, to turn back.

So how does that 46 euro investment look now, knowing that only 10,000 coins with a misquoted line are out there? Starting to look like a veritable bargain, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Yet Another Way To Publish Digitally

Barnes and Noble has opened a new site for writers looking to do it themselves.

As you'd expect, they are doing things a little differently than Amazon's Kindle Direct program. If you're going to compete with a giant, you have to offer something other than what is already available. The trick is to find those somethings that the market needs.

What is so special about NOOK Press? Why should an author consider it above the Amazon e-book creator?

Both venues are free of charge. Both provide a way to download a file that gets converted to the right format so you don't have to learn a new computer language to do it yourself. Both put your e-book on their website so readers can purchase and download it to their appropriate device.

Where Nook once was missing out, it has now noticed that the majority of people are going with tablet devices rather than single-purpose e-readers. If no one is buying their Nook, and they still want to reach customers, they won't last long. For that reason, Nook is going to introduce an app, just like Amazon's Kindle app that lets you download their books to any device you own.
Trade paperback or e-book now available

Of course, Amazon has been there and has been doing that for some time. Getting people to jump on board another train that's late leaving the station will not be an easy task.

Nook Press is going in a slightly different direction, however.

You can download your manuscript and leave it there for your beta readers to peruse. If you've hired on an editor to help you polish up the work, they can access it through Nook Press and virtually red-ink the thing into submission.

Is that enough of a benefit to draw self-publishers away from Amazon?

Or is the fact that Amazon sells the most books going to be the driving force in the digital publishng industry?

The only way to find out is to wait and see what happens. If Amazon follows Barnes and Noble's lead on the editing feature post-download, you'll know it's a winner. Then it will be up to Barnes and Noble to keep topping what they've done, always a step ahead of the competition.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Meeting Obligations Cut By Cut

A cut here, a cut there, and the victim is soon bleeding to death. Slowly, painfully, in a scene reminiscent of the Eighteenth Century, when the ill were bled to improve their health...the Field Museum is in decline and bleeding out its treasures.

Some time back, when the boom was booming and money seemed to be growing on trees, the Museum directors thought it was the right time to expand the museum. Build it and they will come, or so it was thought.

As it turns out, the people did not come.

The economy turned down and the price of admission for a day's entertainment was unreachable. The tourists couldn't afford to travel to Chicago to visit the museum. The locals were pinching pennies.

The debt on the loan still had to be paid. The creditors had to be made whole.

Where does anyone get money when they have debt obligations and there's not enough income?

The Field Museum has been selling its assets, its treasures. What might once have been put on exhibit for the edification of museum-goers has gone elsewhere, and it won't be coming back.

The last remaining George Catlin paintings of Natives Americans were sold off to meet salary obligations. It is believed that private collectors are enjoying them now in their private abodes, far from the eyes of the general public.

Even the millions of dollars brought in from that auction are not enough to keep the museum solvent. That is how deep in debt it is, and how very wrong the board members were when they crunched the numbers and came up with a figure they thought was manageable.

There are rumblings about selling a rare book collection that might fetch $50 million.

Unlike the artifacts, the books are not critical to conducting scholarly research. Everyone Googles these days, don't they? As long as Google has a chance to scan those books before they go out the door. Private collectors generally don't make their valuable holdings available to anyone who wants to conduct a little research.

What is left of a museum if it has sold off its most valuable items to pay for a loan that has turned into a life-threatening illness?

Like the patients of old, the Field Museum could kill itself through a self-inflicted hemorrhage that was intended to cure. The unintended consequences may prove fatal.

Monday, April 08, 2013

A Cargo More Dangerous Than Bombs

The vehicle was filled with material so dangerous that it had to be destroyed.

Anne Smedinghoff was killed in an act of unconventional war, the one that is waged against those who are the most defenseless. She posed a deadly threat to the Taliban, with her cargo of books.

She was on her way to a school, to deliver books to girls. Books result in learning, in the expansion of the mind. Books lead to thought and thought turns into questions that upset the grand scheme of the Islamo-fascists who would like to control Afghanistan again.

Ms. Smedinghoff rode through the war-torn country with books. She carried the threat of learning and she had to be stopped.

She herself was vulnerable, a bright young woman full of idealism. She saw the good in people, too untouched by life to know that evil exists under a pleasant smile.

It's not that she was trying to destroy the Taliban outright. However, she ported the means to do so, to those who would carry out the assault. Educated women give birth to children who they educate in turn. Once intelligence and thinking take hold in a culture, it is not so easy to control it and near impossible to eradicate it.

One has only to look at the Arab Spring uprising, with protests featuring educated people questioning authority, to see how frightening the prospect of education can be to the powerful whose power relies on a lack of knowledge to preserve their little kingdoms.

It was the books that needed to be destroyed. That a woman died in the process makes no difference to the Islamists who have no regard for women, for the innocent or the most vulnerable in society. For them, it isn't really about religious beliefs. If they can achieve their goals by crushing the weak, so much the better. A smooth road is preferable to a rocky ascent.

Books and learning are not tolerated in some corners of the world. Schools for girls are anathema. And anyone trying to promote those causes becomes a soldier in an unconventional war, a battle of ideas about freedom and human rights.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Another Friday, Another Weekend Read

The staycation applies to weekends in its own fiscally conservative way.

As your funds have decreased, you've discovered the joy of staying at home on a Friday night.

Ticket prices for the films are a bit beyond your reach, but you can't sit and stare at the four walls all night without going mad. Some form of entertainment is still required.

Dinner out? Who can afford much beyond fish and chips, and the smallest portion at that. But all that grease isn't healthy and you know it.

The locavore movement fits right in, what with that cooker of yours going unused and we all have to eat. Compared to restaurant dining, it's economical to prepare a meal at home. We're all looking to avoid horsemeat on our plates, right, so you can't miss if you buy a chicken from the butcher and see that it's a real chicken.

What to do with the rest of the evening?

Reading has always been a cheap form of entertainment. Even the poorest wretch can escape the misery of poverty in the pages of a book. You can forget that you're stuck at home if your mind is fully engaged in a novel that transports you to another time and place.

You could order a copy of THE KING OF THE IRISH and wait for delivery, but it's Friday already and you want to delve into the murky world of Chicago politics and Irish nationalism, dive into the muck that arose when the sons of immigrants tried to export rebellion to the auld sod.

THE KING OF THE IRISH could be yours in digital format, right now. You can download it to any e-reader you might own. You could download it to your computer.

Take the plunge. Once you've begun reading about Daniel Coughlin, the Chicago police detective whose ambition brought him to the edge of the gallows, you won't stop until you've reached the end.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Next J. K. Rowling But With A Job

J. K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter books at a coffee shop, she says. At the time, she was out of work and on the dole, which could have provided some inspiration. She had the luxury of time, at any rate, and a coffee shop might not be a room of one's own, but it's not half bad.

Who will the next J. K. Rowling be?

Publishers want to find such an author. The Harry Potter series brought in tremendous profits, and what business wouldn't want to match one success with another?

According to literary agent Marianne Gunn O'Connor, that author would be Shane Hegarty.

The fantasy author brings plenty of experience at writing fantasy, what with his being a journalist.

Let's hope he wasn't making things up when he worked with Fintan O'Toole on their piece of non-fiction that explored Ireland in 1916 at the time of the Easter Rising.

Mr. Hegarty can now leave his job at the Irish Times and focus on his graphic novels for young adults.

His "comic adventure" in its first draft was picked up after a bidding war at the children's book fair in Bologna, for a reported six-figure sum. HarperCollins has signed him on for a four-book series that is aimed at the pre-teen set.

So we shall see if the story of Finn the legend hunter can appeal to the same demographic that gobbled up Harry Potter novels as fast as Ms. Rowling could write them.

HarperCollins is banking on it. To the tune of six figures.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

How Many Anecdotes Does It Take To Make A Fact

What is the state of publishing today?

According to the Washington Post, it is what their panel of intervewees say it is.

But can you just go ask a person their opinion and declare that to be the facts of the case?

There are still book shops in existence, albeit a tenuous one. There are still big publishing houses, which are merging to realize synergies of scale (reduce number of employees needed to generate increased profits). There are literary agents acting as publishers for their clients' e-books, just as there are authors publishing their own e-books without further assistance.

You can read the article linked above, and draw your own conclusions, but you won't have a firm notion of where publishing is headed once you've finished. At least you wouldn't feel compeled to buy stock in the Random Penguin or HMH. Or sell your holdings, for that matter.

How many people would the Washington Post have to talk to in order to form a more clear image of publishing's future?

Would it take ten percent of all involved? Ten percent of the publishers, both major and minor? Ten percent of the self-publishing set? And it doesn't count if they only considered those writing science fiction and fantasy. There are their own subset.

There are no definite trends showing up just yet.

For publishing, that is the problem. Manuscripts are like trees to be planted. The planter has hope for the future when they cannot predict that climate that the manuscript will encounter.

Technology is moving too fast to predict where e-readers or hard copies will be in ten years time.

Who can say whether or not some nostalgia craze will drive an upsurge in real books, leaving digital editions far behind? Will the Washington Post then declare e-publishing is dead?

In the end, what matters is that people continue to read, for information or for pleasure or a mixture of both.

Now Available:

  From Kirkus Reviews: "History and politics buffs will appreciate the novel’s blending of research on the real-life Cronin murder trials with fictional forays that highlight the discrimination and legal duplicity of the era."

Set in Chicago in 1889, THE KING OF THE IRISH presents the infamous Cronin murder trials from the perspective of an innocent man caught up in a nightmare from which there is no waking. A gripping tale of political chicanery, politics and greed, the novel examines the price of loyalty and honor in a city long known for dirty politics and crooked politicians.

Trade paperback and e-book.

Monday, April 01, 2013

A Call To All Southern Illinois Alumni

Just because your alma mater wasn't located in Champaign-Urbana doesn't mean you don't know how to read.

You love books as much as any other graduate of the Illinois university system.

Perhaps even more. Edwardsville isn't exactly a hot spot of vibrant night life and reading passes the time.

As a former resident of Edwardsville, back in your wild college years, you must have wandered the downtown shopping district at some point.

Maybe you were only looking for a bar that didn't card minors.

But you appreciate the existence of such an area, and you want those who follow in your footsteps to experience the same sort of vitality when they venture out of their dorm rooms for the first time. You don't want them facing an array of boarded up storefronts, do you?

AfterWords Books needs your help to keep the doors open.

The store has relocated to a smaller space, in large part because the market for new and used books is suffering. Being a university town, you'd expect people to be tech savvy. The e-reader is popular here, and so the hardcopy book is not. Ergo, the bookstore is hurting, but owner LuAnn Locke has hopes that she can make it catering to the smaller niche market of those who like to turn pages.

Ms.Locke has turned to crowdsourcing to raise the funds needed to bring her new building up to code. 

What could be more charming, more small-town-southern-Illinois than a store where the owner lives upstairs? That is the scenario Ms. Locke envisions, but she can't live upstairs until she has a kitchen installed and that will take money she doesn't have.

If you attended SIU-Edwardsville, you owe it to the town that put up with your nonsense. Donate a few dollars; it doesn't take much from an individual. The power of crowdsourcing comes from the crowd, like a shop that survives on slim margins through high volume.

In a smaller setting, Ms. Locke hopes to keep the bookstore alive for the incoming classes of English majors needing cheap used books, and the residents of the area who like to read but don't want to shell out big bucks for brand new copies when used are perfectly functional.

A bookstore brings life to an otherwise dull business district. It's a great place to browse for treasures on a cold or rainy day. It represents civilization in an otherwise cold and sterile environment.

Do it for your school. Donate a little and save a lot. Go COUGARS!!!