Monday, December 30, 2013

For The Voracious Reader Without An E-Reader

Despite the Celtic Tiger and all the benefits of membership in the European Union, Ireland is not populated by fabulously wealthy people. Not everyone who loves to read has a smartphone with a Kindle app, or an e-reader that suck up novels from cyberspace.

The public library, in response to the instant gratification of immediate downloading that is not available to all, has come up with a system that mimics the borrowing of e-books. With real books. And a real trip to the building where those books are arranged on shelves.

No e-reader, but you're desperate for something to read and the library closed hours ago? Wondering what to do with your free evening when you can't abide the thought of watching some dreary television programme?

Get up off your comfy chair, o avid reader, and get thee to that library that appears to be closed, but is actually open. To those deemed worthy of access.

For members only, the doors will open at your command. It's a swipe of a membership card, but it's the same thing. Won't you feel special, like one of the select? No librarian to shush you. Just the sound of your footsteps echoing in the empty though hallowed hall as you peruse the stacks.

Don't indulge in your fantasy about having sex between non-fiction stacks. There will be security cameras monitoring your every move.

The same goes for using the library as an overnight place to stay. You won't keep your card long if you're spotted making camp and using the facilities for bathing.

Books will be fitted with various devices to prevent you from stealing them without first doing what the librarian usually does to check out the tomes. Try to leave without following procedure and alarms will ring, gates will drop and the door will lock automatically before the gardai swarm the place. You wouldn't want that, would you? So the State can trust you to behave and not try to steal the only copy of Fifty Shades of Grey?

Didn't find an e-reader under the tree this Christmas? You won't need one in the coming year. The library will be open for you, just like that electronic device you don't have would be like an endlessly open library. Except it will take a bit more effort to actually acquire a book, but at least you'll get a bit of exercise and isn't that one of your New Year's resolutions?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Speak No Evil, YouTube No Evil

Dominick DiMatteo started a grocery store and grew it into a chain of supermarkets that provided Chicagoans with food and imported items that weren't to be had at the nearest National or Jewel. He worked hard, responded to customer needs, and built up a grocery empire.

Then along came a gaggle of suits from out of town, loaded down with piles of cash. They made the DiMatteo family an offer that they couldn't refuse because retail is a hard business and if someone buys you out at the price you want, you'd be a fool not to take it.

Bob Mariano was working for Dominicks when Safeway came in and started changing things. Mr. Mariano was raised on the DiMatteo philosophy of putting the customer first. He found that Safeway was all about turning a profit to earn back their investment, so he left for the Roundy's chain of grocery stores up in Wisconsin.

Roundy's flourished while Dominicks declined, with Safeway focused completely on making money without investing anything in the stores. Sales continued to slide, until the fateful day when the beancounters said things would never turn around. The Dominicks brand that had become a Chicago icon had to be cut out of the corporate balance sheet because it was too much of a drag.

Those who owned Safeway proved their incompetence at running a once successful string of shops. They would prefer, however, that their disgruntled employees not speak evil of their idiocy.

And so, on his last day at work before the Glen Ellyn branch of Dominicks was set to close forever, Steve Yamamoto was suspended for the day. He had sinned against Safeway by making a YouTube video that "thanked" Safeway for closing up and putting 6,000 people out of work, a few days after Christmas.

Thanks Safeway. And Bob Mariano would like to say "I told you so". He is buying up eleven Dominicks locations and putting in Mariano's, a somewhat upscale grocer that is more what Dominicks was before Safeway, and the way Dominicks would have been if Mr. Mariano had been allowed to run things his way, rather than Safeway's way.

And 6,000 people would likely be facing the New Year with full employment, rather than a bleak job market. Thanks, Safeway.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

She Wanted A Chopper To Ride, Not To Actually Chop

Women do most of the shopping so it comes as no surprise that men are not very good at it. They don't know what the women in their lives would like for Christmas, hence the flurry of returns on the 26th of December.

How many husbands thought that some sort of kitchen appliance would make the significant other happy? Especially if she likes to cook, or maybe she mentioned in passing that she remembered her grandmother making french fries, so crispy and delicious. You like fries. What a great idea. Buy her a food chopper and she'd make fries for herself and for you. Everyone wins.

Didn't she say something about a chopper at some point during the year?

If only men would read more than the sports news. They would  know that the chopper she wants doesn't fit in the kitchen. It belongs in the garage.

Yes, it's true. Women want Harleys. They want to ride.

Harley Davidson says so.

The famed manufacturer did a study that showed women want to ride because they enjoy the freedom that comes with trucking down the road, bugs beating against their face. Those who own Harleys are more confident and feel more attractive with that big hog between their legs.

You screwed up this year.

But now you're in the know. You've been informed. For 2014, put that Harley on the top of the Christmas list and you'll end up with a partner who looks good and feels good.

Assuming, of course, that she actually wants to ride a bike with no protection in the event of a crash. Some women are just cautious that way. They like all the air bags and anti-lock brakes. In which case, there's always the Ronco Vegematic.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Foot In The Door

What better way to get your manuscript under the nose of a literary agent than to get your foot in the door of the agency and work behind the scenes? If you're really determined to get published, you'll take this job:

We are looking for an ambitious agent’s assistant, who would be enthusiastic to work with a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction projects.

The assistant will organize and send submissions to publishers, draft personalized letters, edit client manuscripts, and read and review incoming queries and manuscripts. In addition, the assistant will write plot synopses, critical evaluations, and participate in editorial meetings with agents and authors. We are looking for someone to tackle all of these tasks, while also answering the phone and coordinating meetings and schedules.

Applicants must be articulate, personable, and hold a high level of interest in the publishing field. At least 2 years of relevant experience at a major trade house is ideal. Strong written, verbal, and computer skills are necessary. Advanced familiarity with Microsoft Office and online resources are essential. Applicants should be motivated, highly organized, tech-savvy, and have the ability to multi-task in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment. The assistant must be able to work with and without direct supervision.
 It doesn't sound very complicated or difficult. You've finished a manuscript, so you've demonstrated the ability to see things through to the end. As for answering a phone, you do it every day. And who doesn't know Microsoft Office? Especially Word.

Where is this job to be had, you ask?

No less an agency than Inkwell Management.

InkWell is one of the world’s leading literary agencies, proudly representing major literary prize winners as well as many of the world’s bestselling and best-loved authors. We enjoy a considerable international reputation as a significant and innovative player in the industry.
In addition to its full-time agents and their assistants, the InkWell team includes a tireless foreign rights department, a dedicated social media, marketing and publicity expert, and a meticulous contracts manager. We also join forces with leading literary agencies in every foreign market and have agents based in Australia, Boston, and Dallas. We continue to be excited by—and on the lookout for—original ideas, riveting stories and great writing.

Imagine yourself in their New York office, reading queries and casually slipping your own into the pile. Then you'd write up an evaluation that lauds your own work, which is praiseworthy anyway so it's no lie.

With great subtlety you slip that "requested" manuscript onto the desk of Kim Witherspoon or Alexis Hurley and you're on your way to a fat contract with a major publishing house.

Send your resume to the Hiring Manager and get ready to insert your foot firmly in the door. It's the first step on the smoother side of the rocky road to publishing. And don't forget who sent you. If a query shows up from a certain writer who told you about the job in the first place...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

And A Merry Christmas To You

As you gather with friends and family, enjoy this, the best Christmas song ever written:

Nollig shona dhaoibh.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Let Us All Do Are Part To Fill Our Quota

Those who are in charge of disposing of our holiday debris have informed us that we are going to create an enormous mountain of garbage.

So let's all do our part.

Irish revelers are projected to consume 60 million litres of alcohol over the coming weeks. We'll be in the pubs, drinking. We'll be at home, drinking. We'll be at parties, drinking.

Don't slack off. Do your bit. Have that extra bottle of beer, even though you think you've enough. You wouldn't want to disappoint the folks at Repak, would you?

Recycling firm Repak says we'll dispose of enough empties to span the distance from Dublin to Lapland. Not that you'd need to string them out for a return to use, what with Repak poised to handle the volume. Don't disappoint them this year. They have their staff in place, and if there aren't all that many bottles, there could be redundancies and you wouldn't want to be responsible for someone losing a job at Christmas because you didn't meet your quota.

Drink up, Ireland. Consume enough alcohol to fill twenty-four swimming pools.

St. Stephen's Day is in place so that you can recover from the overindulging. That's why the tradition of hunting wrens started, you know. It was a group of hung-over partiers with pounding skulls who couldn't stand the chirping another minute.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mixing Media

Performance art is supposed to be equal to the physical thing that hangs on your walls. Why, then, would it be wrong for an artist to mix the media and present a work of art that exists in a particular space while also being performed in other places?

Jason Pallas has been punished for doing just that. Which proves that the jury of experts running the West Chicago City art museum are a bunch of philistines with no concept of what real art is.
By Jason Pallas

What would you expect, though, from a town that doesn't even have an original name? They could have called themselves anything, but the town founders tried to piggy-back on Chicago's fame. They didn't copy the city's vibrant art scene, or highly evolved attitude towards modern art.

The mixed media art presentation that Jason Pallas put together arose from a project that asked artists to create something based on an object in the museum's collection. Mr. Pallas found inspiration in a 1930's playbill for a minstrel show.

Controversial, to be sure, but art is meant to make us uncomfortable. Being reminded of the old Jim Crow days is definitely not pleasant, but neither should we shy away from reminders of what we would not wish to repeat.

At any rate, Mr. Pallas did his art thing and the museum put it on display, not realizing that what was in the museum was only part of the overall piece. The rest of it was an installment of performance art that was spread out over a wide area.

He crafted false press releases, inviting all to a minstrel show to be put on by a fictional glee club at the local high school.

And he got a reaction, which is what performance art is meant to elicit.

The plebeians in charge of the museum promptly removed the physical portion of the artwork from their exhibit, and have been exhibiting high dudgeon ever since. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by looking at the artist's other pieces, and reading a bit about his attitude towards art, but when all you know of art is that nice big painting hanging behind your couch, you won't be prepared for what is being done these days.

Of course there was no minstrel show, but in the 1930's in West Chicago there was a minstrel show and Mr. Pallas used his talent to bring the bad old days back to mind. He made the museum people very, very uncomfortable.

His mixed media artwork was a success. Even if no one can see it now at the West Chicago City Museum.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

Sorry, Shia, but your film? It's been done before
Actor Shia LaBeouf can't spend his entire career playing Transformer-style characters. A fifty year old man doing action adventure just isn't going to be box office boffo. So, wisely, he's dipped his toe into the behind-the-scenes portion of his industry and made himself a little film.

What he could not possibly know, being an actor capable of memorizing lines written by others, is that the writers actually have to come up with an original idea, or get permission to use another author's work. Then when the credits roll at the end, the audience can read the card that gives that author some credit for coming up with the plot and some of the narration. Oh, yes, and the author gets paid for the use of his work.

But what would an actor know of such backlot antics?

Because no one ever told him how the script got into his hands, Mr. LaBeouf failed to follow protocol when he lifted "Justin M. Damiano" and turned it into a short film that he calls "".

The title was his own idea. Doesn't that make the whole thing his own as well?

The title was about all that was original. The story and some of the spoken words were first composed by Daniel Clowes, a Chicago-based writer of graphic novels. He wrote and illustrated "Ghost World", which was made into a film for which he received credit and payment. Apparently Mr. LaBeouf never stayed to watch the credits, or he was not a fan of actress Thora Birch. THen again, he might have people to do his research and it's nearly impossible to get competent help these days. It's not as if everyone is familiar with Google searches.

At any rate, he made his film and absorbed the applause at the Cannes Film Festival and then found himself on the receiving end of a fierce backlash. His first attempt to branch out into production has been met with charges of plagiarism.

His first attempt at film production will soon give him an education in copyright law and lawsuits and settlements. He may also be schooled in the art of editing, in which he makes corrections to the credits so that the real author, Daniel Clowes, gets what he's due for being the true creative force behind the movie.

It's all a learning process, when you switch careers. Sometimes, as in this case, it turns out to be a very expensive and humiliating education.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Linguistics Professor Who Could Not Speak

Linguistics is the study of language. You would think that someone qualified to teach linguistics would be well-equipped to express thoughts, to speak clearly, but you would be wrong.

At Northeastern Illinois University, John Boyle was not granted tenure as a professor of linguistics because his speaking was not what the school's president was looking for.
Sharon "Don't Tread On Me" Hahs

John Boyle was not a close personal friend of Sharon Hahs. He dared to use his linguistic skills in criticizing her regime, citing various examples of what he saw as poor management when it came to the linguistics department being chopped up to set the Teaching English As A Second Language curriculum up as its own department. Normally, he would be free to say what he thought, but this being a small college located on Chicago's north side, it seems that Ms. Hahs took a page from her colleagues at Chicago State University and tried to quash all that free speech that was aimed at her.

All of his fellow professors at NEIU thought Mr. Boyle deserved tenure. Everyone in the chain of command thought he'd earned it. Until the promotion landed on Ms. Hahs' desk, it looked as though Mr. Boyle and fifteen other teachers would be granted tenure and they could relax in the comfort of job security.

Alas, it was not to be for Mr. Boyle and only Mr. Boyle.

Ms. Hahs rejected his tenure application, claiming that Mr. Boyle failed his students by steering them towards a study of linguistics rather than advising them to learn how to teach English to non-native speakers. That's probably where the money is, job-wise, but a man who specialized in linguistics would be expected to be partial to his passion.

The official body that watches over university faculty took a look and determined that Mr. Boyle's rejection was a case of retaliation. His decision to speak freely was punished by Ms. Hahs, who had no legitimate reason to deny tenure. The committee believed that the linguistics faculty's vote of no confidence in Ms. Hahs may have fueled her decision to keep Mr. Boyle from achieving the career landmark.

Mr. Boyle is currently without a job, having lost his case before the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board which sided with Ms. Hahs.

He has his pride intact, however, and can bask in the glow of vindication (from the Latin, I believe).

Whether he can land another university teaching job is unknown, however. There are few if any tenure track positions around these days, and there is this blot on his record that other schools might see as a red flag that warns of a potential troublemaker. Such is the cost of free speech at the collegiate level.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Pot Of Gold At The End Of The Rainbow

In a field somewhere in County Limerick
The Little People are said to safeguard their gold at the end of the rainbow, and it's a rare person indeed who can find it. So if the gardai come upon you digging up a field in County Limerick, you'd better have your excuse, or your captured leprechaun, handy. Or you'll find yourself under arrest.

A convicted drug dealer was spotted in a field near Portcrusha, operating a digger. It's not all that odd, to see a digger being operated on farmland, but only if it's being operated by a farmer and not a man who is known to have made a small fortune selling drugs but gardai haven't located his stash.

As it turns out, the stash of over one million soggy euro was sitting in a pot. Or a container of some sort. At any rate, all that money was buried where the criminal thought the authorities would never find it.

The gardai had been watching the man for some time, what with his history and their desire to ensure that no one profits from criminal activity. They knew that he hadn't bought anything large, like land or a mansion or a posh car, so the money had to be somewhere and eventually their target would need a little something to pay a few bills and then they'd have him.

And have him they did. As the drug dealer was attempting to dry off some of the cash, he was nabbed. It is the biggest recovery of drug money in the history of the State.

The drug dealer is under arrest and is being questioned. It's not likely that the gardai will believe a story about catching a leprechaun and thereby gaining rightful ownership to the pot of gold. The man has some explaining to do, what with the Criminal Assets Bureau very interested in how he came to acquire that much money, and then there's the other branch of government that will want proof that he paid taxes on his business enterprise.

Maybe it's the government that's caught one of the little people in the drugs trade, and they've laid claim to the pot of gold at the end of a narcotics rainbow.

The old story needs a bit of revising, it appears.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Butler, Retired

James Gray earned his keep as a butler.

For his entire career, he looked after others and kept other people's households running smoothly. He never had the time to start up his own home, what with the demands on his time. So involved was he in the lives of his clients that he never took the time to create his own life.

At the age of 85, Mr. Gray has outlived his relatives, or at least those he might have kept in touch with. Now living on his old age pension in London, he is quite thoroughly alone.

Surely, Mr. Gray thought, there are others just like him. Others who went into service when that was the best job an Irish immigrant could find, others who threw thremselves into their work and lost the links to those they left behind. To find them, Mr. Gray took out adverts in London newspapers, seeking the solitary who would rather not spend another Christmas alone.
Mr. Gray's advert

Until the newspapers and the BBC picked up his query, he received one reply, and that from a person who had someplace else to go and would not be joining him after all.

He is willing to prepare a nice Christmas lunch for any guest who would like to share a holiday meal with someone like themselves, someone who is alone and in need of a bit of company on a holiday that is all about family and friends getting together. Given his experience as a butler, it's a reasonable assumption that Mr. Gray could prepare a respectable repast. It's also possible that he has a lifetime's worth of stories to share, a trove of juicy gossip from below stairs. No names will be named, of course. A good butler keeps secrets.

It would be grand if a few other singles could take up his offer of gathering at the hotel in Sutton, to offer each other a bit of companionship for a few hours of the day. 

The Irish Post, London's voice of the Irish, is accepting Christmas cards and will send them along to Mr. Gray, who hasn't received a card in ages.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Words Were Spoken But The Actions Spoke Louder

Important people from all over the world gathered in South Africa to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. They made speeches, spewed forth a tsunami of rhetoric that washed over the assembled crowd and moved the listeners to cheers as the dignitaries behaved like restless children. The words brought forth reactions that did not match precisely what was being said.
The missus is not laughing

The man who inherited the mantle from Nelson Mandela was soundly derided as he spoke, his words lacking the power to pull the wool over the collective eyes of the masses. The cameras in FNB Stadium pointed at the American president and the crowd cheered his image on the big screen. When their own president was featured, they expressed their disapproval. They are the ones living the legacy, and the ones who are discovering that not all men are created equal when it comes to leadership and talent.

For the deaf, the South African government that Nelson Mandela helped to birth provided an interpreter. It turns out that the interpreter was a fraud. The hand gestures were nothing more than random movements that said nothing but expressed the government's inability to perform the most basic and simple task. The government is run by those who followed Mandela. The government is a part of his legacy, in spite of the lofty praise heaped upon him.

The former archbishop of South Africa, the storied Desmond Tutu, gave the closing speech to a thinning crowd. He had to shout at them to sit still and listen, when the crowd indicated that it had had its fill of words piled on words. While he spoke, his home in Cape Town was being robbed. It was not the first time someone had broken in to help themselves to the Anglican minister's possessions.

For all the glory and accolades, the lasting legacy of Nelson Mandela depends on what happens now that he is gone. He started something he could not finish because none of us are granted enough time to do all that we would like to accomplish in our lifetime. His enduring legacy will not be shaped by the words spoken over his dead body, but by the actions of those who carry his flag.

Those people now have the right to select their leaders, even though those leaders are unlikely to be part of the political party that Mandela founded.

That, ultimately, could become the greatest success realized from his years of struggle.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Happy Now, You Great Cow? or, A Message From Chip Wilson

You there, with your enormous arse, are you happy now? I've resigned my post and I won't be heading Lululemon anymore. Satisfied?

The yoga pants weren't made for you, but who am I to stop you from committing a fashion sin? The board of directors wouldn't try to limit purchases of our lovely yoga pants to those with the body to carry them off. They are all about the profit, you see, and if some cow trots in to a shop and buys a pair she can just barely squeeze in to, it's money in the bank.

When your oversized and lard-filled buttocks stretched the fabric beyond normal limits you complained that the fabric was too sheer. It was your own fault, for spreading it until it was like tissue paper. And your fat thighs rubbing together made the fabric pill. The pants were not designed to endure that much friction, for feck's sake.

All I did was state the facts and the next thing I know, there's outrage from the oversized. Listen, just because the pants have stretch built in doesn't made the pants stretch to fit your body. The stretch is there for thin women doing yoga, not for a tub of lard bending a knee to walk a dog to the nearest chipper for a snack of curry chips to tide her over for the walk back home.

I was simply being honest with you. Someone has to tell you how bad you look in Lululemon yoga pants, and suggest that you not wear them out in public. If you'd seen my comment in the light it was given, you'd be thanking me for sparing the rest of the world the sight of your enormous arse jiggling down the public right-of-way, every roll of fat and lump of cellulite accentuated.

For that, I have been hounded out of my job, so I hope you're satisfied. The pants aren't going to get any less sheer just because I'm gone. It's up to you to lose a few stone, and then you'll understand why Lululemon pants are all the rage in the tonier districts, where the women are model thin because they can afford to be.

Aspire to that, and don't think an outfit that costs a small fortune is going to do it for you. Instead of yoga, why not try something a bit more strenous, and wear sweatpants. Or a burqa. Cover up until you've met Lululemon standards for body type.

Monday, December 09, 2013

This Is A Case For Kickstarter

Where do you go when you need a small amount of money to start up your new business when you don't have a chance of getting so much as a cent from any bank?

That's where former drug kingpin John Gilligan finds himself.
The handcuffs are gone but so is the fortune

He's apparently never heard of it, but you'd think that someone would explain things and help him launch a Kickstarter campaign.

John Gilligan made so much money by selling drugs, and grew so powerful, that he was able to order the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin because she threatened his empire. He was not powerful enough to escape public outrage over the murder, and the authorities managed to tumble his criminal enterprise to the ground. The State even laid claim to his beloved Jessbrook Equestrian Centre, and when Mr. Gilligan was recently released from prison, he couldn't go home again.

So he's lost all that he built up (illegally) and he's looking for a fresh start, but he's in need of seed money to jump start his next venture.

Thus far, asking around among his former associates for the loan of 20K has done nothing but get him targeted for death. Asking for cash personally is clearly not the best approach for a man with an oversized ego and no underpinnings to support it. That's where Kickstarter would be the perfect venue for this form of begging.

Money is tight these days, and by going through Kickstarter, Mr. Gilligan would not have to pressure a few big men for the whole sum. His many friends and associates could donate what they have on hand, perhaps a five or a ten or as much as ten thousand euro, depending on their circumstance. They could give without having to explain, face to face, why they aren't giving more to a man who is clearly capable of killing those who stand in his way.

And considering the demand for illegal drugs around the world, those who donate could expect a return on their investment, unless the gardai are keeping a particularly close watch on Mr. Gilligan's comings and goings, in which case he'd be arrested again and there goes the 20,000 euro. Aren't there always risks in any new investment?

The man's just out of prison after ten years and he's behind when it comes to modern technology and all that the Internet has to offer. But it's only a matter of time until he discovers the wonders of crowdsourcing, and then he'll be back on his feet in no time. Or laid out on a slab in the mortuary.

Anyone starting up a new business could tell you there's risks involved.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Your Fast / Diet Plan Does Not Move Me

If you wander over to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., you'll see a group of people who are trying to shame the Congress into changing a law. They are following in the footsteps of Bobby Sands. Up to a point, that is.
Northern Ireland memorial mural
Bobby Sands was a member of the Irish Republican Army during The Troubles of the 1970's. A resident of Northern Ireland, he did not want to be a British citizen. The treaty that was signed to end the Irish rebellion in 1922 left a border that is contentious to this day, but more so in the 1970s when armed insurrection was seen as the only way to reunite the Six Counties to the rest of the island nation.

For his actions, he was jailed, along with several others of like mind. They saw themselves as soldiers, not common criminals, and their determination to have the conflict recognized led them to a hunger strike.

Ten men died of starvation to make their point and alter public opinion. Many believe it worked, in a way, and resulted in the current form of government in which loyalists and nationalists share power. Just as many see the hunger strike deaths as pointless. The political changes did not happen overnight, but took decades, and may have occurred anyway, without loss of life.

Assuming it was a successful gambit, it is no surprise that another group of oppressed people are calling for attention to their plight, a mirror image of the cause for which Bobby Sands gave his life. While the IRA men starved to escape citizenship in the UK, these modern hunger strikers are not eating so that they can become citizens.

They are the illegal immigrants who came to America looking for the American dream, only to find that Americans see them as law-breakers who should be sent back from whence they came. Congress ignores their demands for a change in status, to remove the illegality of their residence, but to no avail. But surely the Congress will be moved by the hunger strike diet plan.

Not eating for a few days is not life threatening. Not eating for three weeks, subsisting on water, is a diet plan that you'd find promoted among the Hollywood glitterati. To say you've gone on hunger strike, only to tag out and be replaced by someone else after a week, is not a hunger strike.

Not eating until you're dead, that's making a statement. Not eating until you've lost twenty pounds? That's almost laughable, considering the lengths to which the IRA went, and the sacrifice that ten of its members made to make the world notice what was going on in Northern Ireland.

Too many Americans have been on fad diets that left them weak, hungry and cranky, to feel much sympathy for someone doing the same thing for whatever cause. They know that after you end your diet, you put all the weight back on and wonder why you struggled so hard for no real, lasting, results.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Spring 2014 Release From Newcastlewest Books

We're pleased to present the cover for Katie Hanrahan's third novel, scheduled for publication in Spring, 2014.

It's a slight departure from some of her earlier works, although her theme of strong women facing the limits of their freedom and overcoming obstacles continues. In THE LIBERTY FLOWER, Katie presents a romance of two well-matched individuals, one the daughter of an Irish immigrant who found success in Colonial South Carolina, and the other the son of a British peer who secretly supports the rebels.

Readers will be transported back to an era of revolution and unrest, with the novel spanning the years between the American and the French Revolutions. Through it all, Sarah Mahon and Jack Ashford maintain connections that are sometimes tight but often tenuous, their future together all but erased by one rash act of rebellion that alters the course of their lives.

More to come as we get closer to the publication date, including free book giveaways and sample chapters posted at Newcastlewest Books.

Until then, why not pick up a copy of THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES or A TERRIBLE BEAUTY? They make lovely Christmas gifts, tucked into an e-reader of your choosing. And they are available in hard copy for those who enjoy the feel of real books.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

A Museum If Someone Else Pays For It

Walt Disney slept here
It's an ordinary house, as houses go. Walt Disney did not come from wealth, and his childhood home is a reflection of his humble origins. That's how it goes. When you don't have much, you use your imagination to create what you can't possess, and so the Disney empire was born.

The neighborhood has always been working class, a place to get a foothold on the American dream. These days, the residents are Hispanic. When Walt Disney's father built the house in a newly developed section of a growing city, the residents were also immigrants who came in search of opportunity. The World's Columbian Exposition was under construction and there were jobs for anyone willing to work hard.

The house where Walt Disney grew up was on the market for a long time. Those who might have jumped at the chance to own a piece of Disney's past were not jumping to buy once they took a look at the neighborhood.

It has taken a couple from California to see beyond the run-down surroundings and envision a tourist attraction.

Brent Young and Dina Benadon have a dream, something they might have concocted while working at their animation studio. They bought the home and would like to turn it into a museum that celebrates imagination and creativity, a place to bring children to fire up their imaginations and inspire them to dream big dreams. If a boy could make up Mickey Mouse in such a humble place, so could anyone from equally meager beginnings start up an entertainment empire.

So if you're on board, how about a nice little donation to their dream? The museum won't happen unless someone else pays for it.

There might not be a return on your investment. The place could fail and the museum fold in short order, and the house could be put back on the market with the profit (or loss) to the couple holding the deed for the property.

Mr. Young and Ms. Benadon are turning to Kickstarter to raise half a million dollars to pay for the renovations.

They must have a lot of friends, or a few with a lot of money. Maybe they're relying on all those Disney-philes who might want to see the home preserved as a museum, rather than allowed to decay and fall to pieces.

Even so, it is a great deal of money to get from strangers. The city of Chicago and the State of Illinois are flat broke and deep in debt, so there's no public funding to be had.

The California couple have big dreams, like Walt Disney. Whether or not they can make them come true is another matter, in a time when there isn't any extra money to go around no matter how worthwhile the project.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

And Your Protagonist Is An Escaped Convict

Your story opens with a woman and her younger lover attempting to rob a petrol station with a knife, and failing.

It's not all that easy to commit a crime with a knife, especially if the victim has another weapon, like a hurley, which would knock the knife right out of your hand and then where are you? Or the station attendant could just lock himself in the station and ring up the police, leaving you with nothing but a free tank of gas if you drive off, but you can't buy anything with that.

The woman has a small child, perhaps in need of milk or a bag of crisps and that is the reason why the desperate mother goes along with her lover to steal money. You could make her motivation one of fear, with the lover a particularly cruel man who threatens the child with bodily harm if the mother doesn't participate.

In your first chapter, you skim over the arrest and the pre-trial stress of sitting in a British jail, the protagonist fretting about the care of her little girl. The chapter closes with the couple being granted bail and then skipping out. A taste of incarceration has convinced your lead character that jail is not to her taste. And there's the daughter to consider.

Naomi Mothersoul did just that. She took part in a botched robbery, and then made a dash across the Irish Sea with her partner as soon as she bonded out. That was in 1994. She was not found until this past August, when she was returned to England where the warrant for her arrest had been collecting dust.

For most of the time she was hiding from British justice, she lived quietly in a small Kerry town, keeping to herself and raising her three children. As you'd expect, the relationship between Ms. Mothersoul and her partner deteriorated under the strain of the fugitive's life, and she became a single mother. The Irish taxpayers funded her housing, which Ms. Mothersoul decorated with some privacy shrubs. You can't be too careful when you're hiding from the authorities.

If you find this real life incident useful as a writing prompt, you could generate a thrilling bit of fiction by imagining Ms. Mothersoul's nerve-wracking life, never knowing if someone was going to discover her presence. You would have her move cautiously at first, jittery at the most innocuous question from the lady behind her in the queue at the local market. Then she would shift a bit, straining at the self-imposed cage of fear, and volunteer at a local charity bookshop just to get out of the house. At the same time, she would be trying to raise her children in as normal an environment as possible, adding further strain to her mind.

There is a strong story in there. And how does it end?
Naomi Mothersoul's home for the next several months

Ms. Mothersoul was found out, by a British detective who never gave up on his quest to bring the guilty to justice. He was cleaning up his outstanding cases prior to retirement, and Ms. Mothersoul was a loose end to be tied up. The woman lived under her own name, and twenty years removed from The Troubles, there is cooperation between An Garda Siochana and their English counterparts. An international warrant was issued and that took care of that as far as the detective was concerned.

She went to trial and was given eighteen months. It's not so bad now, since her children are largely grown and don't need their mammy at their side. Ms. Mothersoul plans to return to Kerry after her time is served, to live freely, without fear of the gardai knocking on the door.

Your story could have a happy ending. Everyone likes a happy ending.

Monday, December 02, 2013

It's Cyber-Monday. Buy A Book And Read

Today is the big day for online shopping, according to all the news reports. All those people who went out to the shops on Friday and Saturday are now going to buy the items they saw on display through online sites offering steeper discounts and free shipping.

It's stressful, all this holiday preparation. There's too much pressure to find the best prezzies.

So take a break from the mad world. Buy yourself some books online, sit back with a nice cup of tea, and escape the modern era in the pages of a good book.

Newcastlewest Books has four to offer, each book set in the past when there was no cyber-Monday or large screen televisions to fight over.

Maybe you're thinking of a trip to the local movie theatre complex, to see what Dame Judy Dench is up to in her latest film, PHILOMENA. Before you go, you'd want a little background into the world that the Judy Dench character moved through. You'll find an intriguing story in THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES, a tale of a young woman returning to her father's past to uncover his family's dark secrets. You'll find yourself in another world, the world of the industrial schools and Magdalene laundries that were designed to shape Irish children into model citizens, a nightmare world that actually existed.

Fond of spies and well-researched historical fiction? For next to nothing, you could download a copy of A TERRIBLE BEAUTY and wander the streets of Freemantle, Western Australia, and Dublin, Ireland, as the island nation churns with unrest, labor strife and rebellion. Experience events through the eyes of a family deeply entrenched in rebellion and espionage, where you won't know who is on what side until the stirring conclusion. That's more fun than clicking your way through a series of online shops looking for the best price.

There is LACE CURTAIN IRISH for those of you with Irish roots who wonder what it was like to be the first generation in America, trying to break free of the old ways but not sure where the new ways were taking you. Set in Chicago in the closing decades of the Nineteenth Century, you'll be moved by the heartwarming tale of sibling bonds that endure down the years of struggle and success and decline.

Fans of real life crime will enjoy THE KING OF THE IRISH, which is based on an infamous and still unsolved
Chicago murder that captivated a nation engulfed in rampant bigotry against the Irish and the Catholics. Coupled with dirty politics and a struggle for control of the Irish vote, the story of Dan Coughlin and his quest for justice will keep you turning the virtual pages. You'll forget all about the dilemma of what to buy Granny, and isn't that the kind of escape that we all need on this cyber-Monday of shopping insanity?