Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Newborns Are Safe, Aren't They?

That is the question that women will be asking of the staff at University Maternity Hospital in Limerick from here on. If it's so easy for a thief to lift items from the maternity ward, it stands to reason that a mother would be worried about her most valuable possession being taken as well.

Recently, Jill Leonard went to the hospital to deliver her second child and things did not go as smoothly as anyone would have wished. She had carried well past her due date, and in the end, Ms. Leonard had to undergo a C-section. To say that she and partner Adrian O'Connor were stressed beyond reason is an understatement. There is little more frightening to a couple than to have a discussion with an obstetrician that entails things like fetal distress, surgery and potential side effects.

The last thing either parent were thinking about was the security of the ward where Ms. Leonard would recover after delivery.

After enduring the operation, and with the anesthesia wearing off, Ms. Leonard was keen to share the news with family and friends. Originally from the United States, she wanted to use her smartphone to send the sort of immediate pictures, videos and images that make the distance seem much smaller.

Her phone, as she soon discovered, was gone. Along with her wallet, and all her cash and credit cards contained therein.

You would think that the wards of a maternity hospital would be secure, given the threat of baby kidnapping. Apparently, the ward at the maternity hospital in Limerick is far from secure. Ms. Leonard's handbag was rifled and she was robbed while she was in the operating room.

While she recovers from what is a major operation, Ms. Leonard must deal with the theft of her personal and business credit cards. The thief has her home address, her business address, and enough of her identification material to steal her identity with relative ease. Knowing that some criminal knows where you live is not a pleasant sensation, especially for someone feeling particularly vulnerable.

The hospital's response is to recommend that women in labor not bring smartphones, money, credit cards, or anything of value to the hospital. This is not the first time a woman's things have been taken from the maternity ward, it has been suggested. You would hope that the gardai are at least taking a good, long look at anyone employed by the hospital with access to the ward, someone who would know that a patient was in surgery and would be gone for a certain period of time. It doesn't sound like a particularly difficult investigation. Unless the ward is open to anyone who happens to wander by.

What's next? Recommending that babies not be left unattended? Is it any wonder that home birth is growing in popularity? At least you can lock the front door to keep the thieves out.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Goodbye To Summer And Publisher's Hours

If you're thinking of submitting a query to some literary agent of your choosing, you might want to refrain. Perhaps you haven't taken a good look at a calendar. This weekend is extra long and heavy with significance. It is...the end of the summer.

Publishers have traditionally not worked on summer Fridays, as if the world has not changed significantly in the last hundred years. A gentleman's business, you see, and gentlemen like to head off for their summer cottages as early as possible, which makes it imperative that work hours be curtailed on Friday afternoons.

Because their contacts at the publishing houses are out of their offices on Fridays, literary agents tend to follow the example and they don't work much on Fridays either.

With the end of summer coming, many literary agents take their holidays and close up for a week or two to welcome the return of the autumn season. Chances are, that agent you are so convinced is ideal for your manuscript is not even in the office this week. When they return after the holiday, their inbox will be filled to overflowing. In modern e-mail terms, that means you might get an error message from the Mailer-Daemon that the inbox is full. So you've wasted your time in querying.

A full inbox is not pleasant, and as your ideal literary agent dives into the sea of queries on that first post-holiday day of work, said agent becomes annoyed. Patience wears thin, as query after dreadful query passes by their eyes. You don't want your perfect query to be read under that kind of circumstance, do you?

Of course not.

So instead of querying agents who aren't in and who will not look favorably on your query when they return to work next week, sit down and read a good book. Or four. Newcastlewest Books has a fine collection that could keep you entertained while you wait for the end of summer hours. And downloading takes no time at all.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Today's Trend is Tomorrow's Has-Been

Do not write to chase the current market, writers are advised, because today's trend won't be there tomorrow and you'll be left with a manuscript that can't be sold.

What you want to do is what J. K. Rowling did with her Harry Potter series: be the trendsetter and set the style. Then close up shop when it's clear that you've ridden your trend to the end of its natural life span.

Look at what has happened to Billabong, the Australian surf apparel firm that is, at this moment, all but dead. Only a few years ago it was at the top of its trend, its clothing line highly desirable by those who wanted to appear surf-ly.

Like an author hitting the market at the right time with something different, Gordon Merchant developed a product that resonated with a market segment flush with cash and willing to buy. Back in the 1970's, youth culture was going strong and the surfing scene had a certain cachet, especially among those landlocked youth who could only dream of riding the waves. But they could dress the part, if they bought Billabong apparel.

Mr. Merchant rose in the ranks of the world's richest, selling board shorts and hats, outdoor gear and whatever else the public would buy with his logo emblazoned on it.

Like any normal human being, Mr. Merchant wanted to enjoy what he had earned, and so he stepped down from the daily operation. Now, if he had imitated J. K. Rowling, he would have started up some other firm in a related field, perhaps a clothing range aimed at Australian hip-hop aficionados. He might have given birth to a new trend.

Instead, he pulled back and let his empire be run by others who decided that what was needed to expand market share was a large collection of shops in which young trendsetters could browse the offerings. Tricking out those emporia required cash, and cash came from debt financing because wasn't that the rage a few years back?

Imitators came along and took some of Billabong's market share, imitators with less debt to services. And the Australian surfer culture began to fade into obscurity as well, with some other new fashion stylings becoming popular with a fickle crowd looking for variety.

Billabong is valued at approximately zero. The trend came, and it went, while the executives who ran the place thought the trend would last forever. They didn't bring in someone to introduce the next big thing, the craze of the near future.

So it won't do you any good to write about a boy, or a girl, wizard, no matter how perfect your prose. Write what you know, or what you feel passionate about, and maybe you'll get your manuscript into the right hands at the right time, like Billabong's surfer styles arrived in a timely manner. Then you can worry about staying on the top of the wave instead of being washed under.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Australia: Providing Jobs For The Irish Since 1788

Thanks a million, Australia. So said Ireland's Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan.

The Irish arrive in Australia

He credits the visa system that has helped well over 20,000 Irish men and women move to Australia to find work, what with there being not much of that sort of thing available in Ireland. Sort of like the way things were in the early 1800's, when countless Irish citizens were allowed to move to Australia without needing any sort of visa at all. They called it "transportation" back then, and the Irish who went weren't entirely eager to go.

In a recent speech in which he expressed his thanks to Australia, Mr. Deenihan mentioned the transportation of a large group of Irish women who were in desperate straits at the height of the Famine. Given free passage to Australia, they left all that they knew for the sake of survival, and not because they longed for adventure at the ends of the earth. If anything, they were encouraged to leave, or made to leave, by British authorities who needed women to settle in Australia and become wives and mothers, to further populate the British Empire. Not exactly the stuff of romance, but then, starvation usually is not.

How much better it is these days, when an Irish man or woman can actually choose to go to Australia for a job. In the old days, a man might be put to work in construction and a woman be hired out as a housemaid. Today, men travel to take jobs in construction and women find work as nannies or waitresses. So very different, thanks to the ease of the visa system now in use.

So thank you, Australia, for taking what the English considered human refuse and incorporating them into your society. It's a mark of honor, to claim a convict ancestor if you're tracing your Aussie family tree, and doesn't that show how far the Irish have come?

Thanks for welcoming the excess labor force that Ireland cannot absorb, to be incorporated into modern Australian society. They aren't pioneers, like the original Irish settlers. They know more about the country they are entering than their ancestors before them. And if they stayed in Ireland, they wouldn't have to be stuck in workhouses or left to starve in the boreens.

So thanks, Australia. Thanks for recognizing the benefits the Irish brought to your country, and for recognizing their usefulness today.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Communication Without Words

You've heard it said, that a picture is worth one thousand words. Often, you need only draw a picture or show an object and you can say more with that gesture than you could if you'd written out an entire paragraph.

What you lose by using images is control over the words that the viewer forms. What the picture means to you, what words are in your head, are not necessarily the same words that will be conveyed to someone else with a different set of life experiences to color their impressions.

"A Belfast Story" press kit

What do you see when you look at the items that were included in a press kit sent out to movie reviewers in the UK and Ireland?

If you're not Irish, you might see something you associate with criminals, but what is the significance of duct tape? The shamrock is the symbol of Ireland and that's a pleasant sort of thing, but the cassette tape? And nails?

If you happen to know something about The Troubles, or grew up in the era when loyalists and nationalists were busy setting bombs in an attempt to terrorize the other side into submission, what you see in the press kit is not a positive image.

Director Nathan Todd has apologized for the uproar created by the press kit sent around to promote his new film, A BELFAST STORY. His movie is not meant to inflame tension that exists to this day in Northern Ireland. He certainly did not wish to antagonize the critics he sought to woo, either, because his movie is all about life in Belfast after the peace accord that was reached thirty years ago.

The items in the gift packet were supposed to represent the two choices that the opposing sides in the endless war face with the end of armed conflict. On the one side, there is violence as represented by the balaclava and the nails you'd put in a bomb. Or you can study the family photos to get an impression of peace and harmony, a turning away from the conflict without rancor.

What Mr. Todd needed were a few words to steer his critic-viewers towards his interpretation. Unfortunately, they looked at the items in the press kit through the lens of their experiences, whether they lived in Belfast at the height of The Troubles or were looking over their shoulder every minute in London, wondering if the IRA was going to set off a bomb.

With the wrong impression created by the lack of explanatory words, Mr. Todd lost the good graces of a few critics. Instead, he provided them with a new filter, one that they will use when they watch his movie. That filter might alter their perception of the film, thereby skewing their reviews to the negative.

A picture may be worth one thousand words, but sometimes, a few words go a long way. It saves on all the words of an apology, as Mr. Todd has discovered.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Suckers Continue To Be Kickstarted Every Day

H. Drew Blackburn asks, what ever happened to the "Best Music Writing" book that was supposed to have been published last year after a successful Kickstarter campaign?

The required funding level was reached, so that Daphne Carr could resurrect a series that DaCapo Press had allowed to die. She started up her indie publishing company, complete with Facebook page and Twitter account and even a website. To date, there is yet to be a book produced as promised, with the original publication date set to last year.

So sad, to see the blinders of innocence fall from young eyes. You want to make the hipsters a nice cup of tea and hold their hands, pat their heads and say "There, there" to soothe them. They've been had, and it's a harsh lesson. It's the old saw about a sucker being born every minute coming real. That it's one of their own who swindled them, a music critic and writer and supporter of the Occupy movement, makes it all the more painful.

Daphne Carr was in charge of the $17,000 fund that was generated by those who believed in her vision. The music writing series was popular with those into the music scene, and when they saw a chance to keep it alive, for a donation of a few dollars, they sent their money and then waited for the book to appear.

Now they are asking what happened to that money, which clearly was not used as advertised. A Twitter account is free, like a Facebook page, and a website can be had for a reasonable price that doesn't approach $17,000.

Attempts to reach Ms. Carr, to ask after the money, resulted in a lack of substantive response. That's how it usually ends up. Ask anyone who's fallen victim to a scam. They usually can't contact the scammer either when they want to know where their money went.

What recourse do donors have?

They can take to the internet and malign Ms. Carr. They can speak ill of her and launch a campaign to trash her reputation. They could also take her to court, which doesn't seem likely. The costs would far outweigh the potential benefits. If you've lost $20, you aren't going to spend $200 to get it back.

It's like giving money to a panhandler. You don't know if the apparently homeless individual is genuinely homeless, or is making a comfortable living by begging. Maybe you're only helping a drug addict obtain their next fix. But maybe you're helping someone in dire need to cover the cost of a meal or buy a pair of warm socks.

You pay your money and you take your chances. That's Kickstarter. Don't be surprised if the cause you supported turns out to be a professional beggar making twice your salary by pretending to be what they are not.

Remember, there's a sucker born every minute. And it might be you.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Corboy & Demetrio And The Grand Gesture

There are two biological imperatives that drive us. We act to preserve self, and then we preserve the species.

Men facing infertility for any reason, whether it is a genetic malady or cancer treatment, can now preserve their sperm so that they can do their part in preserving the species. Faced with illness or disability that threatens the second biological imperative, they are utterly dependent on modern technology to salvage their chance to have children.

A cryogenic tank filled with sperm samples broke down recently at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. What safeguards and safety checks were in place all failed, and the frozen sperm defrosted. Because that piece of equipment broke down, as many as 250 men who thought they were cheating infertility will not be able to reproduce as planned.

For those who dreamed of having children, those dreams are gone. The samples, once thawed, would deteriorate rapidly. The frozen sperm were living things, held in suspended animation through the wonders of cryogenics. After the equipment failure, the sperm cells began to die rapidly and once dead they are useless.

As you would expect, anger followed the notification to the patients whose sperm was in the freezer. At least forty men were so upset that they filed a lawsuit against the hospital, to make them pay for the heartache and inexpressible grief that must have felt like a death in the family.

Corboy & Demetrio is perhaps the largest personal injury law firm in Chicago, if not the world, and they will be representing those forty plaintiffs.

The lawsuit is, in large part, a grand gesture of outrage over something that cannot possibly be made whole with all the money in the world.

The law firm will win a huge settlement, of course, because what jury or judge would not have the deepest sympathy for the plaintiffs? Families were counting on Northwestern Memorial to do what they said they would do, which is to preserve and protect the ability to procreate for those who would otherwise be childless. The safety measures the hospital put in place were not enough to ensure that the promise was kept, and if the only thing that can be given is money, then money will be given.

But in the end, the men whose sperm samples were killed know that they cannot restore what was lost. Ultimately, the cash settlement will not change the fact that they cannot contribute their genes to the human race. They cannot be part of the biological imperative that drives us to have children whose faces remind us of ourselves.

Northwestern Memorial must be punished for their failure, but the punishment will do absolutely nothing to fix that which was broken due to the hospital's negligence.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Best Advice A Writer Will Ever Have

"...leave out the part the readers tend to skip."

The man who defined the crime writing genre has died. Elmore Leonard was 87.

His voice was unique, his prose spare. His volume of work was large.

When asked about his rules for writing, he mentioned a few key ingredients such as limited use of dialect in the narrative. If you've ever read a story in which the author uses some very creative spelling to express a regional accent, and uses that through the whole novel, you'll understand exactly why Mr. Leonard said not to do it.

He was not in favor of long passages of description that paint a character. That, he realized, was the job of the reader, who is perfectly capable of imagining the imaginary. If you've ever read a book written by a journalist, you'll see what he was driving at. When you're reading, do you really need to know exactly how tall the character is, hair color, eye color, weight, clothing described down to the buttons? It's boring.

Which leads to the best writing advice you'll ever get.

Leave out the parts the readers aren't going to read, the verbiage that they skip in their search for interesting elements that move the narrative forward.

That is the secret to good writing.

Rest in peace, Elmore Leonard.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Civil Disobedience In The Bog

During the height of the potato blight and resulting famine, the Irish lacked food but they were warm. The bogs provided them with plenty of fuel that burned hot and seemed to be in endless supply.

Burning peat is part of the culture, as much as cead mile failte and a pint of Guinness.

People still use peat to heat their homes, especially in the west of Ireland where the peat bogs stretch for miles and families continue the tradition of cutting the bog with traditional tools. And because this is the west of Ireland, where civil disobedience has become ingrained in the psyche, those who like to cut peat for fuel are not being stopped by a directive from some gaggle of bureaucrats in Belgium.

The European Union has imposed restrictions on bog cutting in Ireland, based on a notion that habitats need to be protected and we can't have people slicing up the sod without the proper protocols and permissions and such.

The EU wants to limit how much of Ireland's bogs can be harvested because of concerns regarding biodiversity and its maintenance. The European Commission is serious about this flagrant violation of their rules, and is threatening to come down hard on the Irish State in the form of fines. So not only is too much turf-cutting dangerous for the environment, it is dangerous to Ireland's financial health.

Local gardai watched the turf cutters but did nothing to stop them, which is a pretty good indication of their opinion in regard to the EU trying to restrict an Irish tradition. That, and times are hard. People genuinely need the peat for winter fuel because they can't afford anything else. The turf, at least, is free for those with the strength and willingness to do a little hard work to obtain it.

The bogs that were cut in County Galway are on private property, which makes it a little more tricky for the State to regulate. It's one thing if someone is sneaking onto public property to lift a few sods. It's a different picture when the land is owned by a private party and there are all sorts of procedures to be followed before the guards can set foot on that land.

When a family is cold, you can't argue biodiversity with them.

Instead of threatening to take Ireland to court for failing to rein in its own citizens, the EU would be better served to trade compliance with their regulations for the cost of the fuel that would substitute for the turf. Pay people to not cut the bogs and harvest the turf, and the EU provides an alternative that could do more to protect the bogs than a lot of hot air blowing out of Brussels. By the time that hot air reaches the southeast of Galway, it's gone cold, and what does the cold air do for someone who's already shivering?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Illinois Makes Literacy Illegal

Statewide ban on books
In an effort to cut down on distracted drivers, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has also signed into law a statewide ban on books.

As reported on the front page of today's Chicago Tribune, the governor is trumpeting his animosity to those who talk on the phone while driving, but there is obscure language in the law that has also had resulted in a ban on books.

References to this incredible attack on literacy are hard to find in news reports, with the attack on books hidden behind such obscure phrases as "hand-held devices" which is clearly intended to prohibit not only hard copies, but electronic books as well. Unless, of course, the reader puts the book or e-reader on a flat surface and does not hold it. With one stroke of the pen, it is now illegal in Illinois to lay back on the grass or in a hammock and hold a book overhead.

In an amazing development, Illinois' Secretary of State, and keeper of the State's library, has not spoken out about this unprecedented attack on the written word. Jesse White is, thus far, silent on the matter. Neither has a voice of complaint arisen from any of Illinois' many public libraries, which have suddenly become holders of quasi-illegal devices lining their stacks.

Lovers of literature can be expected to openly defy the law, in the quiet way of the bookworm. All over the state, expect to spot normally law-abiding citizens sprawled on the grass of public parks, or resting on blankets at picnics or beaches, with books in their hands.

Like most unpopular political actions, the statewide ban on books was put into law on a summer Friday afternoon, in an effort to garner the least amount of attention.

Readers are now advised to put down their books, or risk an expensive fine.

Friday, August 16, 2013

To Commemorate The Dublin Lockout

In Dublin City, in 1913, the boss was rich and the workers slaves. In 2013, the workers want to go to work so could those in charge of Dublin City commemorations please not close down O'Connell Street on one of the busiest shopping days of the year?

To bring in the tourists, Ireland would very much like to hold all sorts of special events surrounding the upcoming centenary of the Easter Rising, a rebellion that can claim some origins in the labor dispute of 1913 that galvanized support for a change in government.

Naturally, there is talk of staging re-enactments, but most people would not recognize the artfully staged reproduction of the tram drivers walking off the job as anything other than a modern strike, which is so common in Europe that tourists are often advised to be prepared with an alternate plan in the event of some transport group downing tools.

Parades bring in the out-of-towners who spend money, but a parade requires a street be closed and if the street is closed people are not driving on that street and parking and calling in the shops. Business is down these days, with the economy still faltering, so the last thing the modern-day bosses want is to make things worse. If they don't sell things, the VAT isn't created or collected, so it's not in the government's best interest either.

Grand, bringing in more warm bodies to the shopping district, but what use are those warm bodies if they aren't parting with some cold cash? When Michael D. Higgins waxes prolific, he'll hold the tourists spellbound with that adorable brogue of his and where does that leave the shop clerks? Leaning on their counters, not making sales, that's where.

You'll have parents racing to purchase back-to-school necessities for children on the day of the commemoration, and those parents vote. They won't look favorably on their elected officials if they're inconvenienced when they least have the patience for that inconvenience.

Why not Sunday? Why must the event be commemorated on Saturday? After one hundred years, does it really matter if the event is held a day later?

The trade unions are keen to stage the commemoration because it's all about them. Attempts to deny them their day of glory could lead to industrial action.

But of course, no one will notice because they'll presume it's part of the show.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

With A Prominent Role For Liam Neeson

Who can forget the intensity of Irish actor Liam Neeson as he delivered a threat to the thugs who had kidnapped his fictional daughter in Paris?

Put that sense of tension in your head and consider this story line as you ponder your next plot for that novel you'd like to write.

An Irish girl who'd gone to Ibiza for work was reported missing by her family when they could not contact her. Taken, perhaps?

Within days, the Peruvian government announced that they had Michaella McCollum Connolly under arrest for drug smuggling.

How did she get to Peru from Ibiza, and how did she get arrested with a woman from Scotland whom she did not know?

Awaiting trial, Ms. Connolly has claimed that she and fellow victim Melissa Reid were duped by some stranger in Ibiza who then essentially kidnapped them. He instilled a certain fear in the two women, who came to believe that they would be killed if they did not do exactly as their kidnapper commanded. Over the course of several days, they were held against their will and that gave their kidnapper plenty of time to terrorize them into submisison.

Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid
Ms. McCollum Connolly was moved around Spain by the gang, her passport and phone confiscated to prevent her from escaping. Ms. Reid was held separately until the pair were united in Mallorca before being made to carry packets of cocaine in their luggage.

All the time, they thought they were being watched by the criminals who had taken them captive. They did not know who in the crowd at the airport might be the gunman. They did not know if a passenger on the plane was there to kill them if they sought help from authorities, or if some agent of the drug runners was waiting in Ireland to gun down Mr. and Mrs. Connolly if their daughter stepped out of line.

The pair were, according to their statements, used as drug mules by a vicious gang and they went along with the plan because they felt they had no other options. Not only were they afraid for themselves, but the kidnapper voiced threats against their families.

As you'd imagine, they were nervous going through customs and no doubt attracted plenty of attention from the officials examining bags. The drugs were easily found, and the two were promptly arrested. They are now awaiting a court hearing while sitting in a Lima jail, where conditions are said to be harsh.

The family of Ms. McCollum Connolly is trying to make their way to Peru while arranging legal representation for their daughter. Their best hope, barring an appearance by Liam Neeson to rescue the girl, is a change in Peruvian law that would allow the women to be immediately paroled and booted out of the country.

The story is there for your version of its telling. All you need do is sit down and write.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In Memory Of A Literary Agent

Writers of romance, be it modern or historical, would have literary agent Pam Strickler on the top of their list of agents to be queried.

She started out as an editor before opening her own agency in New Paltz, New York, which has never been the heart of the publishing world but she was comfortable there. The world of electronic communications was just blossoming when she opened her agency, which allowed her to work without having to live in New York City.

As an agent, she represented romance authors like Kimberly van Meter and historical fiction writers such as Kate Quinn. Not prestigious literary lights, but women capable of telling entertaining stories that were popular with their audience. For those who wanted to join the ranks of those authors, Ms. Strickler was concientious about responding to their queries. She did not subscribe to the no response means no school, a nice touch that aspiring writers appreciate.

Ms. Strickler recently passed away after a four month bout with cancer.

Before her death, she closed her agency, although the only indication that most would have received was an autoresponse to their query that stated the agency was closed to queries. Her clients will move on, to find a new agent, although their future interactions with a replacement will always be colored by recollections of Ms. Strickler's way of doing things.

Her clients were lucky, to have an agent who knew how to edit. Their manuscripts were that much better when presented to publishers, which made them more sellable. To replace that talent will not be easy.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Constructing A Novel

According to her back flap biography, author Sarah Butler develops literature projects. It's fitting, in a way, because her debut novel TEN THINGS I'VE LEARNT ABOUT LOVE is very much like a construction project.

The framework of her story is made of lists of ten things. Each chapter opens with the ten point list that is pertinent to the material covered in the chapter, with chapter narrators alternating between two characters. Their words and actions then become the walls and floors of her novel, following the blueprint of how to construct a novel.

The story opens with a daughter returning home for her father's last days. There is nothing like a funeral, or a wedding, or something similar, to bring characters together. Authors use the trick often, because why else would an estranged daughter bother to return to her dying father's side? You have to write that which a reader can believe, and so authors rely on the usual excuses.

Alice comes back to confront her father who she thinks did not love her. After a couple of pages, we leave her to look at the other side of the novel's structure, and find that the first person POV narrative is coming from someone else. Confusing, yes. To sort us readers out, Ms. Butler opens Daniel's chapter with a clarifying statement, in which he says he is an old man. That can't be Alice, who we know is female. And not so old as all that.

Beam by beam, the novel is built as Alice and Daniel work on their sections. He is clearly mentally ill, a homeless man. Alice is clearly following the usual pattern of family outcast who does not get along with her sisters. You'll keep reading to find out how these two are connected, because they must be. They are building the same novel, and at some point, their stories must merge.

Daddy dies, the funeral is held, and the sections built by Daniel and Alice are as close as a connecting beam. Then the beam is put into place and you'd be hard-pressed to know which character is telling the story at that point because it's been first person all along and suddenly those two first persons are both together but which one is narrating.

The connection between the two proves to be Alice's mother. It's a dicey connection at best. There is no sense in it, unless you the reader can suspend disbelief enough to accept that a doctor's wife would just pick up some loser hanging around an art gallery and commence an affair.

So the beam is warped and can't hold its own weight, but it serves as a bridge. Alice and Daniel finish the novel around it, in part because the beam's flaws are not communicated between the two characters. What Daniel knows he does not reveal, although the reader has probably seen that beam hanging over the novel from page 12. What is it? Well, you'll have to read the book to find out.

TEN THINGS I'VE LEARNT ABOUT LOVE is eminently skimmable, a quick read that doesn't demand your full attention. Ms. Butler explains that she wrote it in part as an ode to London, a city she loves, but names of streets and places seem to get in the way. Unless you plan to visit London, or wish to reconnect with happy memories of an old vacation, you can skip the travelogue parts and move along.

The novel doesn't break new ground in storytelling. It's all about the device of the lists at the start of each chapter, of alternating narrators. It's a happy ending as well, when the novel is fully built and then topped off. It is a short and pleasant diversion, a beach read kind of book with more appeal to those who like their heartstrings tugged than those who like a good thriller to amuse them.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Not So Desperate For Development

Before the Irish economy collapsed, Bono and The Edge thought they might invest in some real estate in Dublin. Everyone was doing it back in 2007, tearing down old and stodgy buildings so that fresh, new statements could be made.

U2's version of the Clarence Hotel
So they bought the stodgy old Clarence Hotel, perched on the edge of the Liffey, and found Norman Foster, an architect who was all about fresh new statements.

That thing on the roof was called a 'skycatcher', which might have been intended to work as a Native American dream catcher. Wouldn't want guests of the revamped Clarence Hotel to have nightmares, now, would we? Whether or not residents of Dublin would have liked a flying saucer-looking thing hovering over the Liffey is a different matter. They might have had nightmares about that saucer slipping into the river and creating a tsunami that would wipe out the Guinness brewery.

At any rate, the Dublin City Council granted approval because they were all about property development back in 2007, and it was U2 doing the development and how can you say no to Bono? The man does such good things for the downtrodden.

Then the real estate market took a bad turn and the development never happened. Knowing that what went down would go up, the Irish band mates waited, keeping the planning permission active through the years in anticipation of better times. After 2009, with nothing done, the council thought better of the building's height---and probably the whole flying saucer on the roof concept--and pulled their earlier approval.

The council determined that the hotel was nothing more than another commercial development, which could not exceed seven storeys, and U2 wanted to go to eight.

Bono and The Edge have now challenged that ruling, hoping to go ahead with their development now that things aren't as dismal as they once were. Their legal counsel says that the hotel is not just another commercial structure like some dowdy office building, and therefore the refusal was made in error. A judge has seen the merits in the argument, and the Clarence Hotel revamping group can now go ahead and challenge the ruling of the Dublin City Council.

A flying saucer may yet land on the banks of the Liffey.

Assuming the money is right and the prospects for hotel occupancy are sound.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Facebook Trail

Welsh police have been trying to find Emeline Essertel since last March, when she jumped bail and disappeared through the porous European Union borders.

Bonjour from Dublin's Grafton Street Bridge
Ms. Essertel was working as an au pair and discovered that her salary was inadequate to her needs, forcing her to steal her employer's debit card. She used it to purchase telephone time, which is only to be expected. A native of France, she probably missed her family and needed to talk. Maybe she despised the family she worked for and had to vent to someone.

At any rate, she was caught and then granted bail. It wasn't as if she'd stolen valuable paintings or cleared out someone's bank account. A petty crime didn't call for incarceration.

Set free, Ms. Essertel missed her court date and the police couldn't seem to find her where she said she would be in London.

How to find a person in these modern times? Check their Facebook page. And so, the police did.

The nanny-on-the-run claimed in a Facebook post that she had left England to go into rehab, having stolen from her employer to buy drugs. Apparently there are no rehab centers in England. Or Ms. Essertel saw what happened to British anti-rehab singer Amy Winehouse and thought that she would have better luck in a different country.

Judging by her Facebook postings, the poor woman is going from country to country in search of rehab opportunities, and finding them in unusual places. She went to Dublin for the Heineken Cup last April, for example, and toured the city of Dublin with someone because she clearly did not post selfies to her Facebook page. She also returned to her native France, where she spent some time drinking with friends. Or perhaps it was a photograph of an intervention and the police merely mis-read the image.

If you happen to spot Ms. Essertel, the police service in Wales would like to hear from you.

She is available for hire if you're in need of a nanny who cannot be entirely trusted with your personal items. And the further away from England you reside, the more likely it is that she would accept employment. Just keep your valuables locked up. And keep her away from your children.

She hasn't completed a stint in rehab, by the looks of things on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Soft Light Of Printed Knowledge

Before long, there won't be printed textbooks if the prognosticators are right. The move to digital is surging, pushed along by those who make tablets as you'd expect, but we seem to be heading away from printed textbooks.

Or maybe that's a prediction that's gotten ahead of itself.

According to a study done at Indiana State University, e-books are beloved for their convenience. It's far easier to lug around an iPad than it is to haul three or four massive textbooks. As for cost, they can't be beat. Without the added expense of the paper, the ink, the typesetter and the delivery, a digital version of a college text is well below that of the print version. Parents footing the bill, or students paying their own way, cannot help but appreciate that benefit.

E-books are easy to update, which is a plus for the professors who like to have the latest information included in their teaching material. A study guide can be added to a textbook with a few keystrokes, and the students can then download the updated version in less time than it would take to photocopy and distribute the new pages.

Sounds like a promising future, with printed books unable to compete.

Except for one small problem.

E-readers are screens that are illuminated, while books are made of non-glare paper that emits only the soft light of the knowledge printed on it. Students at Indiana State all complained about eye strain when using the iPad as compared to reading a hard copy. The human eyeball just can't tolerate that much light on its delicate little rods and cones.

Backlit screens are relatively bright as compared to a piece of paper that is lit by either sunlight or a lamp. To adjust light levels when reading a book, all you have to do is don sunglasses or move away from the lamp. You can physically alter the intensity, which you can't do with an e-reader.

Dr. Dennis Siemsen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester calls it computer vision syndrome, in which the eye gets weary from being bombarded with so much light. For a student trying to study for hours at a stretch, it's a problem that results from using an e-reader instead of reading a printed book.

Sometimes new technology opens up new opportunities. Sometimes, it isn't all as advertised. Whether the digital textbook makes the printed book as extinct as the dinosaur has to yet to be seen. Until the manufacturers of backlit screens can make their devices more friendly to the eyeballs that stare at them, there is room for old-fashioned books.

And you can't sell back your iPad, or the downloaded textbooks you bought, at the end of the semester.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Jeff Bezos Promises Changes To Washington Post

Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos has purchased the Washington Post for a reported $250 million in cash. The price was determined by the value of the loose change that he had accumulated on his dresser top in the previous week.

Speaking of change, Mr. Bezos told newspaper staffers, "there will of course be change," and the first order of business after the sale concludes in sixty days is step up the pressure on Amazon's nemesis. With the Post's reputation for shaping the nation's politics, Mr. Bezos plans to use his new bully pulpit to bring down Apple's bookstore and restore his own Amazon to e-book supremacy.

The Department of Justice has laid out a road to bring Apple to heel, Mr. Bezos mentioned off the record, but too many Amazon haters could exert influence by writing letters of protest to their elected representatives. He has not invested heavily in Democratic circles, and the current administration, to see his efforts undone by the American people.

"We need to invent," he continued, indicating his desire to re-work the newspaper's format to make it more Kindle-friendly. In addition, new tiers of subscription status will be put in place so that those already paying for Kindle Select can download the daily paper without the advertising. He intends to reinvent the notion of gatekeeper in regard to the field of journalism, by banning any stories that reflect poorly on whichever political candidate he supports, which is to say, whichever political candidate will join him in his quest to destroy Apple.

In conjunction with the Kindle Direct Program, Mr. Bezos plans to empower all writers. At no cost to the author, any writer can download and publish their reports to the Washington Post. The success of the Kindle Direct platform will translate into increased online circulation of the Post, as authors promote their work among family and friends. With anticipated sales of approximately 100 copies per self-published author, there is no telling how many more daily editions will reach the reading public. The potential for advertising revenue will expand in parallel, providing a new revenue stream that can be put to use in destroying Apple's iPad and promoting the Kindle Fire.

The "open system" will revolutionize journalism, with the general public empowered to do their own reporting in their own way. Mr. Bezos envisions an influx of bold experimentation at no additional news-gathering cost, beyond the usual overhead that is required to maintain the Kindle Direct website.

Employees of the Washington Post, while initially stunned by the unexpected announcement of the sale, are hoping for a brighter future under Mr. Bezos' leadership and access to very deep pockets. No word yet on the possibility of extending Amazon's free shipping option to the newspaper's employees, or the banning of all Apple products from the newsroom.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

To Russia With Child Porno Love

The Irish are welcoming and hospitable but they are not willing to accomodate the needs of a child pornographer. It should have come as no surprise that Eric Eoin Marques was denied bail once the authorities had him locked up in a jail cell (without a computer) while the U.S. argued in favor of his extradition.

Eric Eoin Marques arrives at the High Court
Mr. Marques, of dual American-Irish citizenship, has been described as the world's most prolific purveyor of child pornography. Even making allowances for the sort of overblown rhetoric that you'd expect from the people seeking to extradite him, the man has made a fortune providing material to the sickest of perverts.

American authorities issued an arrest warrant when they determined that Mr. Marques was the source of an enormous amount of on-line porn, but Mr. Marques was living in Ireland where he may have thought he was safe from detection. At the least, he was closer to various escape routes to countries that would not be so willing to entertain an extradition request.

A court in Ireland listened to testimony and Mr. Justice Paul Gilligan was quite intriuged by the accused's recent travels. As it turns out, Mr. Marques has friends and financial support in Romania, where he recently spent a little time and moved a great deal of his savings. Most likely he was wishing he had stayed there, instead of returning home to Ireland, where there is no sympathy for a man who trades in pornography.

He's not a flight risk his solicitor said, but if a man has recently flown, well, it stands to reason.

And you can bet that Mr. Justice Gilligan did not want his name to be linked to a bail-jumping miscreant like Eric Eoin Marques, thus negating any consideration of granting bail to the world's biggest porn merchant.

Then there were those Internet searches about Russia and obtaining a visa and Edward Snowden getting asylum. Connecting those dots led the judge to conclude that Mr. Marques was giving serious consideration to seeking asylum as well, claiming that he was running from the same government that was persecuting Mr. Snowden.

Without question, Vladimir Putin is enjoying his little game, making Barack Obama appear impotent and weak, powerless in the face of Russian might. But even the Russians would not use a notorious child pornographer to further skewer the American President. To offer asylum to Mr. Marques would be to approve of what he did, which would not reflect favorably on Mr. Putin.

The High Court will hear the case in the coming week, and will in all likelihood hand Mr. Marques over to the FBI agents who came calling. He'll face trial in an American court, and then do time in an American prison.

Which proves that the current administration is very much biased against the small business entrepreneur who found a niche and filled it. He can commiserate with all the drug dealers and gang-bangers for the next thirty years, as he watches his business enterprise crumble. Assuming he'd be allowed access to a computer...

Friday, August 02, 2013

Before You Post To Facebook

Ruth "Kill The Shinners" Patterson
Look over the words you've typed on the screen. Read them carefully. Have you expressed what you intended to express?

Now look at what you've written. Is it the sort of thing that you want the Facebook-reading public to see, or have you composed a rant more worthy of private airing?

In Ruth Patterson's case, she skipped over the second step and put her screed out there into cyberspace, where her suggestion that Belfast loyalists attack a planned Sinn Fein gathering and kill some of the senior leadership could be seen by those who might take the DUP poliitician's remarks as marching orders.

The last thing the politicians in Northern Ireland want these days is the slightest hint of continued trouble between the Protestants and the Catholics. Businesses looking to invest in an area don't like fighting and bloodshed and riots. It just doesn't offer much in the way of a return on said investment.

Every year, a gaggle of loyalists demands the right to parade through Ardoyne, a Catholic district in Belfast, and every year they protest this denial. They have a certain dislike of the Parades Commission for denying them this opportunity to antagonize their enemies, and so they jump at the chance to make a scene over Catholics being granted the right to march.

The Parades Commission has allowed the Shinners to hold a rally to honor a couple of IRA volunteers who blew themselves up thirty years ago when the bomb they planned to place went off early.

At last, an opportunity for payback. Let the Commission ban the Catholics for a change and see how they like it.

Alas, the Commission did little more than restrict the route of the Sinn Fein march to their gathering. The parade would go on as planned on Sunday. And Ruth Patterson was livid.

She put down her angry thoughts into words that she then posted on Facebook. Using her fertile imagination, she penned a bit of speculative fiction in which the Sinn Fein parade was attacked, a unionist's dream scenario in which the leaders of Sinn Fein would be killed. She called it a great service to the world, and to Northern Ireland, which is the world to the unionists who firmly believe in bigotry and blatant prejudice.

The Facebook post has been deleted, Miss Patterson issued an apology, and then she was arrested for intimidation and inciting violence.

She'll get a slap on the wrist, and solid support for her position from those who elect her to office for her strong anti-Catholic stance.

From her party leadership she'll get a stern reprimand, because it is clear that Ms. Patterson has failed in a critical portion of the politician's creed. What she says to her constituents cannot be aired in public where corporate leaders might hear. The facade of peaceful coexistence must be maintained, even if the structure holding it up is crumbling. It is all about keeping up appearances.

At the least, she might consider a few courses in creative writing at Queen's University Belfast. Her prose could use a little polishing to take the edge off.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Niches Will Ever Be Filled

A bit late to the party, but the New York Times has noticed that the recent flurry of publisher mergers is going to reduce the number of available imprints and we are going to lose literary lights before they can be sparked.

They take the case of Donal Ryan (Limerick Abu!), an obscure writer residing in the west of Ireland whose literary merits should have been recognized when the publisher read the gentleman's return address. It's obvioius that Mr. Ryan, imbued with the aura of Limerick and its abundance of incredible storytellers, would write something worth publishing.

Alas, not everyone is aware of the brilliance of Limerick writers. Mr. Ryan went the usual route and received the usual rejections. He is a civil servant, without a Master's degree in Fine Arts. He does not teach creative writing. He has no platform. In short, he was deemed unlikely to have created a blockbuster novel that would sell a million copies. Therefore, the big houses had no place for him.

Yes, New York Times, this is a problem but it has been a problem before the merger mania took hold. It is a question of who runs the publishing houses, not how many there are. The blockbuster mentality rules these days because publishing is less about art than ever, and all about business. If good books go unclaimed, it does not matter, as long as those that are published sell through.

Mr. Ryan's novel was picked up by a small publisher without a large budget for substantial advances and publicity and book tours. They took a chance because there is a niche market for good books written by unknown, ordinary people with a gift for storytelling. As the big houses leave those niches unfilled, independent publishers who are small enough to consider art as well as business step in and fill that niche.

Lilliput Press has a microscopic back list and they accept submissions from authors who have not garnered the attention of a literary agent because literary agents aren't interested in small advances that don't yield a decent commission for them. The Dublin-based publisher acts as its own gatekeeper, to select the sort of books that the editors like. It doesn't have to be a blockbuster, just good.

Major publishing houses have not been searching for hidden gems for a long time because they want to cut costs, and buying a manuscript from a graduate of the Iowa writing program promises a savings on editing expenses. It is cheaper to go with a known commodity than take a chance, or invest in, someone with talent in need of polishing.

The small indie presses fill that niche. But without a large advertising budget, it is difficult to get such literary prose into the public consciousness. What works in Ireland, a small nation, is not readily translated into the massive market of the entire United States. So yes, publisher merger mania is reducing the odds that a gifted writer of no credentials will be discovered. But there are entrepreneuers out there with enough love for books over-riding a love of profit to give those authors a chance.

For an author like Donal Ryan, you have to prove yourself before the big houses take notice. As long as indie publishers exist, those "internships" can give a writer the opportunity to get ahead in a difficult industry. And provide avid readers with a wider variety of writing styles to enjoy.