Friday, February 28, 2014

The Sting Of Rejection Meets The Twitterverse

Seth Rogen speaks to an empty room
Seth Rogen is a movie star.

A STAR, people. Famous. His name commands attention in Hollywood. He gets the best tables at the trendiest restaurants. He is somebody.

How dare the members of Congress not recognize his authority?

How dare they not sit and listen to his so-called testimony regarding Alzheimer's disease, of which he is clearly an expert because his mother-in-law has Alzheimer's.

The Senators walked out on the acclaimed actor and he was deeply offended. So offended that he took to the Twitterverse to call out Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, who is an expert on strokes because he's recovering from one. Mr. Rogen had a snarky comment for the disabled gentleman, implying a deep hurt at being disrespected after the Senator left the chamber to attend another pressing meeting. With Jim Lovell, an expert on space travel because he's been in outer space.

What did the mass exodus mean? What lesson could Mr. Rogen draw from the poor attendance at his speech, when he is a famous actor who commands much respect in his field and in his native habitat of Hollywood?

Clearly Congress is not making a priority of Alzheimer's research because they ignored the facts as presented by Mr. Rogen, an expert in the field. If America's elected representatives pay no attention to Seth Rogen it must be due to their lack of commitment to finding a cure.

It cannot be that the Senators recognize Mr. Rogen's complete lack of standing to speak on the issue. It cannot be that the Senators understand that the testimony of the electorate, who also have family members afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and are equally knowledgeable about the illness. will be given attention because they vote and appeasing the voters is more important than appeasing some actor from California.

The sting of rejection is forgotten after you've reached the top. It hurts that much more to be rejected again, when you think you're somebody, only to find out that you are not such a somebody outside of your little bubble.

And after the Congress fawned all over Ben Affleck, the handsome film star, hanging on his every word and acting as if he really is an expert on the Congo. Why, because he's been there? How is that more creditable than dealing with an illness in the family?

That rejection really has to hurt.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tuition Increases Anticipated At Chicago State University?

Is that a spruce tree in the logo? And if so, why?
More bad news for the embattled college on Chicago's south side...

The school has been saddled with an unexpected expense that will likely be paid by an insurance policy, but you know what happens when you file a claim. Right, the next bill is markedly higher.

If insurance costs go up, it stands to reason that Chicago State would have to boost tuition to cover the cost. And by doing it that way, no one has to tell Illinois taxpayers that the tuition is really going up because of cronyism and getting caught trying to stiffle a man who blew the whistle on shady business at one of the world's shadiest institutions of higher learning.

James Crowley had the audacity to let the public know that the school's president was guilty of misconduct. At issue were preferred parking spaces and travel expenses for one clouted student. He did not do his job in the crony way when he did not block the release of documents that reflected very poorly on the university's president. After he ratted about some odd contracts to the attorney general, he sealed his fate.

None of that was supposed to get out, and Mr. Crowley failed to go along to get along. So he was fired.

Being the senior legal counsel for CSU, you can see how Mr. Crowley would be familiar with legal issues. He also possessed some knowledge of the state's ethics laws which protected whistleblowers from retaliation, and so he used his knowledge to file a suit against Chicago State for illegal termination of employment.

Several years later, after the first-of-its-kind case wound through the court system, Mr. Crowley has been vindicated and the school has been ordered to pay him lost wages, with a penalty tacked on. He will end up with upwards of $2 million, and his job back. If he's still interested.

He'll be unwelcome, as you'd imagine, and the university's administration would wake up every morning with a new plot to undermine him or make him so miserable that he'd quit and stop snooping around. Things are very cozy there at Chicago State University, a bastion of the Chicago Way. Those who profit from the arrangement would very much like to keep things profitable for themselves.

And if costs go up because of the price of corruption, it's just another expense for the students and the taxpayers to cover.

Like the parking meter deal and the red light camera deal.....

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Drunken Sots Of Galway

Those who ride the train from Galway to Dublin are officially recognized as unrepentant drunks.

Iarnrod Eireann has spoken, in a very blatant manner. If I was from Galway, I'd be taking offense at the grave insult.
Teatotaler Express

The rail authority has instituted a ban on consumption of alcoholic beverages on the Galway to Dublin run. What's telling about the typical Galway rider is the fact that the train in question leaves Galway at one in the afternoon. How many people have a heavy feed of drink on them at lunchtime? Apparently, the people of Galway. Hence, the ban on further intoxication.

After fielding complaints from riders about the anti-social behavior of some people, Irish Rail had to act and the easiest thing to do was to tell the catering company to stop selling beers, ciders and tasty Irish whiskeys. Galway residents apparently were unable to help themselves, being a clutch of raging alcoholics, and were drinking up the stock until they became thoroughly obnoxious.

Imagine being trapped on an intercity train with a group of pissed lads heading to Dublin, trying to pick fights and arguing over football or rugby. It's not like you could get off at the next stop and wait for another train. You'd complain, and loudly. And you'd expect Irish Rail to do something about the problem.

From now on, Galway residents will have to get roaring drunk before boarding, knowing that there will be no topping off allowed once they've taken their seat.

By the time they reach their destination, they should be relatively sober and better able to navigate the winding roads of Dublin town, no doubt in a search for the nearest pub.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New Currency, New Scam

Anyone with sufficient cash reserves can start up a bank. By the same token, anyone can offer pieces of virtual currency and call it real, with real value, and there are those who will buy up those make-believe coins and see themselves as riding the wave of new technology.

Then the wave crashes against the shore and the investors realize that they are just the newest victims of an old scam packaged in fresh wrappings.

Values climb until the scam runs its course
There has been no end to the hype recently about Bitcoins, the virtual currency that is said to be quite popular among international drug smugglers looking for a place to launder their proceeds. On a more intellectual level, the bitcoin is supposed to replace all the various national currencies with this international token. The value is not set by the Bank of England or any other government-oriented source. Instead, the value is set by the free market. If someone will give you X times 5 dollars for a bit coin and you think it's a profitable exchange, you and your trading partner set the value and it doesn't matter what the LIBOR is or any of that regulatory business.

It is the free market in operation, but like any free market business, it is essential that the buyer beware. In a time when governments regulate and control so much that we are thoroughly accustomed to being protected from our greedy selves, it can be a bit of a shock to discover that currency traded outside of traditional avenues also lacks the traditional protections.

As happens with non-regulated entities, there is no one to turn to when a bitcoin exchange suddenly disappears from cyberspace, taking investor capital with it. Mt. Gox is not to be found, and those who sunk real money into it are out of pocket.

The vanishing of $409 million is said to be due to a hacker, which is the problem with money held in less-than-secured vaults. It is no small feat to break into a bank and steal that much money. Doing it online, where the locks are only so much code, takes far less effort.

There is no government insurance policy to protect investors from the loss. Neither is there a private policy to be tapped. Mt. Gox is, quite simply, gone as if it never existed, and several people are going to have no other recourse than to write it all off as a bad investment. A bit like those who were taken by Bernie Madoff in his prime.

You might think that the perceived value of the bitcoin is a case of well-crafted fiction, in which smart people suspend disbelief long enough to be taken under the spell of the narrative. The story has come to an abrupt halt, with an ending not particularly palatable to the "readers". They can issue bad reviews, but that doesn't recoup the investment gone bad, and it may not kill off the bitcoin genre.

Because there's a sucker born every minute, right?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Flow Gently, Sweet Little Dargle

The Dargle's famed waterfall is not to be replicated on the Little Dargle
The Dargle flows out of the Wicklow Mountains and tumbles down the red-hued rocks on its way to the sea. At the Powerscourt Waterfall it cascades fromt he heights, one of Ireland's natural wonders and a local tourist attraction.

Who could blame Adam Clayton for wanting to replicate it, in small form, on his 44 acre estate?

The U2 bassist purchased Danesmoate Estate back in 1987, when the band was enjoying success. He fell in love with the place when the group was recording 'The Joshua Tree' album there, and if you have the cash and a dream, why not realize it?

Like any older home (as in built in the 1700's old), there were improvements and repairs to be made. This being a protected home, the repairs and renovations had to be done in a manner that preserved the structure and the grounds. Such residences are best held by those with a desire to preserve history rather than make their own, because every little thing you do requires planning permission and such permission is hard to come by.

As Mr. Clayton discovered recently.

The Little Dargle River runs through his estate, the flow tamed by the presence of three weirs. Clearly these are man-made structures, but as it turns out, mandmade structures fall under the guidance of the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. The Council determined that the weirs are part and parcel of the history of the place, and as such, cannot be removed.

Mr. Clayton wanted to turn those three weirs into a proper waterfall, which may very well have been how the Little Dargle was flowing when workmen first arrived at the spot to construct the house at Danesmoate. That, however, is not the part of the land's history that the Council is keen to save. If Mr. Clayton came along seeking a permit to raze the home and restore the acreage to its original form, he would be turned down as well.

Flow gently, sweer Little Dargle, tumbling over the weirs installed by the hand of man. The river was modified once and cannot be modified again because Danesmoate house and the surrounding grounds are part of Ireland's heritage, from the days of the Protestant Ascendancy, and like a museum exhibit it shall not be altered.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Make Ready A Welcome

Howard Morhaim is looking for a new agent to join his literary agency.

You're thinking you don't care because you don't live in New York City and you have no desire to take a position that is more sales than artistry. If you have a manuscript in need of a rep to do that kind of selling for you, you should be very interested.

A newly arriving agent, even one with clients following in her wake, is still looking to expand her stable of authors. Such an agent is more likely to be interested in seeing your work on the chance that an unexpected gem might land in her lap via the slushpile. That interest doesn't last forever, either.

At some point, the new agent will have a full roster of talent and will shift into stabilization mode. She might take on a new client if that writer is already published and looking to switch agents. Maybe someone with a laundry list of writing awards would send a query and she'd be all over it. But for you, the unpublished and untrained? Not so much.

Kate McKean was once a fresh face eager to take on new writers. Now? She's closed to queries. She's too busy. Which means that the Howard Morhaim agency is not entertaining queries at all, unless you come recommended and you write something that Mr. Morhaim reps. Chances are, you don't. On both counts.

Maybe you should put the Howard Morhaim agency in your list of bookmarks, to be checked with ease and regularity. Eventually, an agent will be hired and then there will be three agents, at least one of whom will actually accept a query letter from you.

This being a competitive business, you have to be ready. Think the Olympics, but in publishing. Polish your query. Shine up the manuscript. And be ready to hit the send key as soon as that new agent sets up an inbox at the Howard Morhaim agency.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Weary of the Crush

How much is Candy Crush worth, and would you pay that much for a piece of it?

You've tried the game, haven't you, and you have to ask yourself if you've reached the point where it's grown a bit dull.
For the hard-core addict

So how much is a digital game worth going forward?

The Swedish firm behind Candy Crush is going public, to make hay while the sun shines as the farmers might say. The game is still hot at the moment, but it's been around for a couple of years now and wise investors are not sure the game will keep on growing at the same pace. It's a game, after all, and people get bored with games after a time. When that time comes, do you want to be the one holding stock that is declining in value?

A figure of $5 billion has been suggested in some circles. If you're on the receiving end of that kind of money, you'd be hoping that investors will think of Facebook instead of Farmville as they consider making a purchase.

Will enough players continue to pony up their 99p for a set of extra lives? Can the game be as addictive in two years time as it is today, assuming that Candy Crush addiction hasn't already begun to wain as a distracted population with a short attention span notices some other shiny new object?

Games have a limited life online, with plenty of other developers hoping to cash in themselves with their own game. Competition is fierce out there. The King people will have shareholders breathing down their necks to develop new games or tweak existing games to stir up fresh interest and keep the pennies flowing in to the company's coffers. Those shareholders will be wanting a return on their investment and the inventors of Candy Crush could find themselves on the outside looking in if they do not produce the required dividends.

Of course, the outside would be far more pleasant with a few million in your pockets, assuming you could sell your shares before the bottom fully dropped out of the stock.

Facebook or Farmville? And wasn't Angry Birds all the rage not so long ago?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mr. Darcy On Skates

Canadian ice dancer Scott Moir felt the loss of the Olympic gold medal, but he is wrong to blame the coach he shared with the American couple who took gold.

There were some who thought the judging was fixed, with the pair of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir facing a rigged game. Scoring in dancing is bound to be somewhat subjective, and there is always someone who questions the eyesight of the judges. When you're a fan of the Canadians, you're going to criticize those holding power over placement, when all you need is a fan of Jane Austin and a lover of costume dramas to set your straight.

Scott Moir didn't stand a chance, poor lad.

He was skating against Mr. Darcy.

Look at Charlie White over there. Does that curly mop of hair remind you of anyone?

Think Masterpiece Theatre, the quintessential authority on British period pieces. Their 1995 adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel has been the most enduring, the version that set the tone for Regency romances. Said to be the truest to the author's text, the show made actor Colin Firth the unquestioned master of the Darcy character. He owned Darcy, so much so that he played a similar character in Bridget Jones' Diary, in a nod to the romantic swoon-inducer that he owned in the television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. 

You won't find the likes of Lawrence Olivier or Mathew McFadyen rising up out of the lake in London's Hyde Park. No indeed. It's Firth's Mr. Darcy, recreating the wet shirt scene that sets many a lady's heart to fluttering.

So what would you expect when Mr. Darcy steps out onto the ice and dances with manly grace? The Canadians didn't stand a chance, not when the judges were looking at Mr. Darcy in the guise of Charlie White. A minor flaw here or there for the American team? Mr. Darcy was flawed, in his way, but still he won the heart of Elizabeth Bennet...and enough ice dancing judges to give the American team the gold medal.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Alone In A Crowd

Nobody noticed he was gone.

Nobody asked if anyone had seen Nicholas Barnes. Nobody knocked on his door or even so much as rattled the knob.

Until a foul odor wafted down the halls of the International House at the University of Chicago, student Nicholas Barnes was not missed. His body was discovered on the floor of his room after the nasty smell was traced there and the door was opened.
A typical room at U of C

The dormitory is a crowded place. The rooms are small and the student body large, but Nicholas Barnes was wholly alone in that crowd and nobody noticed that he was around. For days they did not notice. Enough days for decomposition to set in, for the stench to make things unpleasant in the dormitory filled with his fellow students.

He missed classes during those days after he died alone. Those he shared a classroom with didn't think anything of it. Or they had no idea who Nicholas Barnes was, so busy were they with their own course load and their personal pursuit of academic excellence.

Was Mr. Barnes a loner, so completely capable of isolating himself and insulating himself from contact? How is it possible for a person to go through two years at a prestigious university and not have any friends? Not mere acquaintances, but colleagues with a spark of feeling for another that went beyond the selfish interests and extended to a touch of concern for another.

Nobody noticed because nobody cared.

The University of Chicago is looking into the situation, but the administration will have to delve deep into the university's ethos to find an answer to the question. How could a student be so alone as to die and not be missed? How did it happen that a link on Facebook provided the news to other residents of the dormitory? Do none of them talk to each other, socialize or mingle, or are they all too busy in their own little worlds of study and scholarship? Do they see their Facebook friends as real people who care about them? Why go through the trouble of connecting with living, breathing human beings when you can click on a link and add a new friend to your collection?

And is this the sort of place that a parent would wish to send their child, especially one who might be gifted academically but socially retiring?

Friday, February 14, 2014

One Door Down From History

Ireland's history as a republic is a short one. Not even one hundred years old yet, and already there is talk of demolishing an area that played a key role in the 1916 Easter Rising. It isn't in the poshest part of town. It's quite rundown, really. Wouldn't it make a better shopping mall?

 Despite the disaster that was the property market meltdown, there are developers who long to develop something and what better something to develop than an area in need of refurbishment? Sprinkle in a little talk of jobs gained, taxes acquired, improved living conditions, and planning boards across the island sit up and take notice.

Do that to an area that should be sacred and you'll find people who cherish their history, the history that their great-grandparents saw in the present tense, and you get an uprising of another sort.

Next to the historic building at 14-17 Moore Street is Paris Bakery, a thriving establishment that gives work to 70 people. They've been told by the authorities in charge of redeveloping the area that they have to go. The reason given? The bakery has to be torn down so the historic building next door can be shored up.

Which would remove the historic building entirely from its context as a terrace building, making the location of the rebel headquarters the only thing considered worth saving. Seal the building into amber, and put a shopping center around it. Maybe 14-17 Moore Street could become an exhibit within the shopping center?

The people who own the bakery cannot afford to move. They have equipment that would have to be dismantled and installed elsewhere, which involves costs that require money and the cupboard is bare. Assuming they could locate something with rents equally affordable that suited their needs.

The National Assets Management crew wants to move the parcel on to someone else so that the government can recoup some of the money lost when the banks went belly-up and the State moved in to shore them up. To the beancounters, shifting as much of Moore Street as possible would be a good thing. Irish history? That's in the past, and aren't they saving the one single structure that really matters?

History is, unfortunately for NAMA, priceless. The area they are willing to see torn down is an area that should be protected and preserved. Instead of encouraging a developer to tear it down, they should be looking for a developer willing to restore and rehabilitate.

That way, 70 people could keep their jobs. Real jobs that actually exist. As compared to the rosy projections of a developer who is most interested in his own profit, even if it comes at the expense of irreplaceable artifacts.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Only Irishman In The Parade

It's the sharpest edge of the knife that Enda Kenny is walking these days.

An Taoiseach wants to be seen as "in touch" with the common people, but it's near impossible to know where those common folk (that is to say, the Irish voter) stands on certain key issues.

It was easier last year
The man who leads Ireland would of course be a popular guest at anyone's St. Patrick's Day parade, and Mr. Kenny has enjoyed his visits to New York City in the past. He's all about promoting the Emerald Isle for business and tourism, and his face is suitably Irish to get him noticed during a parade that features more politicians than Irish-Americans.

The non-politicians who organize the parade, however, are still closely aligned with the Catholic Church and their rules for parade participation reflect that fact. Groups promoting homosexuality and related causes are not welcome, and are not allowed.

So they're angry because the New York parade is one of the most prominent in the nation. They can't get the sort of free publicity for their issues that they'd like, and all because the public parade isn't run by City Hall and they don't have the same strong voice.

The rainbow of groups that wants to march has called for a boycott (another fine Irish word) and New York's mayor answered the call. He proclaimed that he wouldn't go. Which left Mr. Kenny in a tight spot.

With the gay/lesbian/etc. community divided on strategy, it was no wonder that some who were upset with New York's restrictive parade told Mr. Kenny to go right ahead and participate. In their minds, the boycott is not the right way to gain support. Let the parade organizers have their parade, filled with politicians and trade union VIPs. To make a huge fuss is to annoy the straight community that is looking for any excuse to point at the other and complain about the tactics and how they're spoiling things for the rest of us and who do they think they are, that tiny minority.

Besides, Mr. Kenny isn't running for office in the States and Ireland remains a morally conservative country. He could have faced more damage at home if he didn't go than if he did. By receiving the approval of a segment of the non-straight population, he gained enough cover to keep the peace. If there's anything an Irishman is after it's about keeping the peace.

Now the mayor of Boston, another corner of Irish-Americanism, is going to boycott the parade unless the homosexual groups get to parade with banners that trumpet their cause. This being Irish people we're talking about here, you can guarantee that the organizers are digging in their heels a bit deeper and hardening their resolve further in an act of stubborn refusal to bend.

Anything to tweek the party in power. Labour is calling for a boycott and criticizing Mr. Kenny for attending, while his party is talking up the importance of an appearance along with a wish that things were more inclusive but what can you do.

Does he stay or does he go?

With the parade about a month away, there is not much time to change plans without costing the government money, and there are those in office who make complaining about such expenditures their life's work. And Mr. Kenny dare not ignore another segment of the voting public. He'd have to answer to Mrs. Kenny if she doesn't get her shopping trip to NYC.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Big Day Coming

You might have glanced at the calendar recently, or even gone so far as to give yourself a reminder.

Friday is a big day. This Friday, two days hence, is the day on which you can begin entering the free giveaway at Goodreads.

The one linked just to the right over there --------->

Right, yes, it's also Valentine's Day and there is no better gift for your significant other than a bid on a copy of Katie Hanrahan's third novel, one that will arrive well before the book is available to the general public.

Not sure if a novel about a relationship set in the tumultuous years of the American Revolution would suit? There is a strong romantic element in this particular bit of historical fiction.

The book tells the story of American partisan Sarah Mahon and the man she would marry, if forces beyond her control had not interfered. Her intended, Jack Ashford, fights for England while harboring a secret desire to leave his homeland behind and settle down in South Carolina. Politics keep them apart, while determination keeps them together in a bond that frays but never quite breaks.

You can read the opening pages here.

You can pre-order the e-book here.

What do you have to lose? Go on. Take a chance on the free book, a lovely trade paperback that will be available when you'll most need a happy distraction. On that other big day. The one where you have to be sure to have paid the tax on your hard-earned income.

It's appropriate, isn't it, to go back to a time when taxation without representation had people so enraged that they took up arms and ended up creating a brand new style of government.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Can You Hear Me Now? Sister? Hello?

Fair play to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. He's still trying to get in touch with the nuns who once ran Ireland's notorious Magdalene laundries.

Slave labor
The Sisters just won't pick up the phone.

For decades, Irish girls were thrown into a workhouse that was essentially a prison, but without the usual legal preliminaries like a trial and a set length of their sentence. Many of the inmates never left. Their only crime was often that of being too attractive to men, or of keeping house for a bachelor brother because that was the first step on the road to incest. Some of them were pregnant outside of marriage. Some of them were rape victims. It didn't matter. Women had to be contained.

They were made to work, backbreaking work, and received not a cent in compensation. The nuns who benefitted from the slave labor failed to pay into the government's pension funds. The women who survived the harsh regime are now elderly, and have no pension coming to them. Financially strained, many are afflicted with mental problems that go unaddressed because they cannot afford the help they need.

Mr. Shatter politely asked the religious orders who ran the laundries to be good enough to contribute to a a little fund he hoped to establish, one that would compensate the abuse victims. Is it any surprise that the nuns cried poor and declined the offer?

After the UN issued their rather scathing report, he's giving it another go, hoping that the nuns have had a change of heart. When the UN says you're guilty of abuse, you might sit up and take notice. At least that's what he mentioned in his letter to the four congregations, offering them a gentle nudge (these are nuns he's dealing with and you can't get cheeky with them) to remind them that they are expected by the world to take responsibility for what happened under their reign of terror.

Alas, the nuns are remaining behind the tall walls of their various fortresses and they're emptying their noses in Mr. Shatter's general direction. Instead of money, they provide records, except so very often the records were lost in a fire. Convents are notoriously combustible in Ireland.

While it's grand that a former inmate can get her hands on records to prove she was incarcerated and thus eligible to receive compensation, those pieces of paper won't make up for the years of slavery and an old age without a pension.

The Sisters have yet to respond to Mr. Shatter's most recent missive. They may be too busy grading his penmanship and grammar to comprehend the actual contents.

Monday, February 10, 2014

You Are Being Mocked

The Starbucks culture has become a punchline, shorthand for hipsters following trends without considering the expense. When you get right down to it, the coffee isn't all that good and it costs a fortune. But still they line up, for the chance to parade along the street with a paper cup emblazoned with a mermaid.

Long lines, so who is the dumb one
Where else but in Los Angeles would people get in line at a shop that has all the earmarks of Starbucks, with a clever little addition to the sign? This isn't your ordinary coffee shop. This one is dumb. Are you dumb, then, for going there? Are you trying to get in on the very latest trend in a city where trends come and go in the blink of an eye?

Little is known about this place that just appeared one day. Is it owned by Starbucks? But why would they call the place "dumb" as if they are trying to insult their clients? That doesn't sound like good corporate policy.

Might it be a piece of art?

Performance art takes many forms, and isn't this whole set-up a perfect gesture of mockery?

Instead of fancy baked goods, it's commercial products served out of the box. There is coffee, of course, but is it the real thing or did someone stop at the nearest supermarket for a five pound bag of the cheapest beans on hand?

Then there is the line out the door, with people waiting to buy something that is maybe new or maybe not and is it actually Starbucks or is someone playing a prank? In the meantime, the people who conceived this parody can sit back and laugh their heads off at the trendinistas making fools of themselves over a beverage.

If Starbucks is not behind it, you can expect a flock of lawyers to descend and drop legal writs in an avalanche meant to bury those who mock the mermaid. If they are actually trying to get some publicity for themselves, in a down economic period when the first advice on how to cut expenses is to stop going to Starbucks every day, the lawyers will hover with menace but never actually do anything.

My bet is on the performance artist getting away with a clever parody because you can't sue an artist for making fun of some corporate behemoth sellling burnt grounds as a tasty brew. The thing won't last because performance art is about the performance and in time the show does not go on. The funding eventually runs out and there's rent to pay at the storefront that is mocking Starbucks fanciers.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Things You'll Learn On Twitter

The first rule of novel writing regards the opening of the novel. Never, ever, unless you're an established author and can do what you like, open your story with one of the characters waking up from a dream.

Editing and revising
To literary agents and publishers, it's a cliche opening and one that they consider lazy. It's too easy to create a spark of interest in a reader because a dream is not your character's reality so you can manipulate things in ways not possible in ordinary circumstances. The reader is then left disappointed when they discover it's all a dream and the time they invested in reading the sequence is wasted. To punish the author, they abandon the book, and that's no way to boost sales.

If your novel starts with a dream sequence, go back and rewrite it. Scrap that whole first chapter and start over.

But wait, there's more.

Who knew there were other openings that will land you on the rejection pile? I didn't know all of them until I checked Twitter.

Alec Shane is a literary agent at Writers House, a fairly prestigious and large agency in New York City. He's on Twitter these days, chatting in 140 characters about the things that agents often chat about. That is, he's promoting his authors when they have new books coming out or responding to writers who wonder what he's looking for.

Then there are the tweets that offer tips to writers. Little pointers that MFA students might learn early in the creative writing program but you don't know about because you're not in a position to go back to school. Here it is:

"Overused opening scenes for books:at a funeral, running/getting chased, waking up/getting woken up, on a plane/car on the way to a new place"

And here I am with a manuscript ready for submittal, and the opening features the protagonist on the way to a new place.

Using travel opens up a host of possibilities to drive the narrative, including meetings between characters that will then set the novel in motion. Until Mr. Shane tweeted it, I never would have noticed, and as a voracious reader you'd think I would have noticed it before. But then again, I don't confine my reading to debut novels and it's a fact that established authors get to break the rules which misleads those of us still learning the craft.

The writing idea I had before will now have to be stored away while I take out the manuscript and completely rewrite the entire opening. A new way has to be found to bring the key characters together. A different approach has to be taken to introduce the protagonist and present the first hints of the conflict with her parents that will make her later actions logical.

All because of a short burst on Twitter.

You can learn something from amazing sources. Like the fact that Twitter is more than a place for advertising or your friends' announcements of where they are or what they're eating or how hungover they are. It's definitely educational, in between the drivel.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

It Takes A Computer To Make A Computer Game

Femi Adekele had a problem on his hands. He had a brilliant idea for a computer game, but he had no computer.
In support of downtrodden pigs

At least that's the excuse he gave to the gardai when they nabbed him for stealing computers and related equipment from Dublin City University.

At the time of the burglary, Mr. Adekele was a student there, so you'd expect that he would have access to the computers that he tried to steal. The purpose of the computer lab is to give students access to computers so they have what they need to complete their studies. All the student needs to add is a flash drive on which to store their work so they can keep what they've done until they come back to fine tune the code.

That, apparently, was insufficient for Mr. Adekele. He had to have the computers in his possession.

From there, you'd have to assume that Mr. Adekele and his assistant consumed a few alcoholic beverages because their caper smacks of drunken antics.

The perpetrator entered the premises, armed with tools to remove the equipment. They filled a couple of shopping bags with Apple products (still the best graphics and beloved by graphic artists) but that sort of work done by a non-professional tends to generate noise. A security guard caught them, and the pair of thieves thought it best to make their escape.

The escape route was a window which, unfortunately, was not on the ground floor. Mr. Adekele broke his leg in the fall, and his trustworthy companion hid him in the shrubbery until the heat died down. It only went further downhill from there.

It took twelve hours for the assistant to locate a means of transporting a man with a broken leg, and as bad luck would have it, the only item available was a wheelbarrow.

Unless you're Molly Malone, a barrow being pushed around Dublin is instantly suspicious, especially when the contents are not mussels and cockles but a Nigerian man in some pain. Gardai stopped them and then the story came out.

The purported story, that is. In court, Mr. Adekele's counsel offered up the "computer game inventor" theory, in which his client intended to make his fortune in a game that competed with Angry Birds. To be called Angry Pigs. Retribution from the unfortunate victims of the original app; the pigs strike back, and Mr. Adekele would be rich, rich, rich.

He's pleaded guilty and will await his sentence while his broken limb heals. There'll be no healing of his pride, however. That's damaged beyond all hope of repair.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Walking In The HMH Shadow

After Barry O'Callaghan swallowed up a string of mighty behemoth publishers and promptly choked to death, the scraps of an educational publisher that remained went into a period of debt restructuring, sackings and reorganizing that led to bankruptcy court.

That was in 2012. A bit less than two years on, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt emerged from bankruptcy as a slimmed- down version of its former self, under new management and with fewer employess. But it survived, to the relief of those fortunate enough to hang on to their jobs.
Publisher see, publisher do
Back when Barry O'Callaghan was an acquisition machine, Thomson Learning decided to follow in his footsteps, under the assumption that he was getting too far ahead and would leave the educational publisher in his wake. So they bought Houghton Mifflin's college division when Mr. O'Callaghan didn't need it anymore, and they picked up a few other bits and pieces to cobble together something that was big like the O'Callaghan creature that he named EMPG.

And like the wreck that was Education and Media Publishing Group, Cengage found that it was drowning in an ocean of debt, an ocean of its own creation.

The corporate suits walked in O'Callaghan's shadow and ended up in deep financial trouble. They're still trodding the same path. Cengage has just announced that it, too, is going to undergo the rigours of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding to restructure their debt. Their creditors will become their owners, just like HMH.

And in time, they hope their situation will mirror that of HMH, which came out of the process still breathing. Cengage will reduce its debt load by turning the debt into shares, but in a way, those owed the money essentially owned the failing publisher. For the debt holders, the arrangement gives them some slight chance of getting back more of their investment than they might otherwise have gained in a sale of assets.

That's how it worked for HMH debt holders, at any rate. So if you're following along in HMH's shadow, why not finish the journey and hope for the same success?

That success will depend on the folks in the corner offices making the right decisions, which is what happened in Boston at HMH headquarters. A misstep, and Cengage won't emerge from Chapter 11 with a pulse.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Protection Of Power

They feared they would not be believed.

For the hundreds of Irish children who were abused by priests, they feared they would not be believed. They feared the power that the abusers held over them because the abusers were people of influence.

Influential, with a clutch of worshippers at their backs, to refute the allegations and tear apart the victim. Clergymen. Doctors. Television actors. Film stars.

Woody Allen.

Dylan Farrow, daughter of actress Mia Farrow, made accusations against her stepfather many years ago, when she was a child. She came forward and her mother believed her, and then they met the juggernaut that protects the powerful. It was not the famed film director/writer who was demented, no, it was the girl. Making up horrific stories. Likely a figment of Mia Farrow's imagination. Using the daughter to get back at the husband over some marital spat.

The man is a great writer (clergyman). A brilliant comic (priest). Not capable of the actions of which he stood accused.

In a letter to the New York Times today, Ms. Farrow states quite simply what it was like, to not be believed and then to have the protective force behind Woody Allen turned on her.

The abused children of Ireland had the power of the Catholic Church turned on them. For Ms. Farrow, it was the power of the Hollywood elites who held her stepfather in such high regard that he was proclaimed blameless. After suffering abuse, she was made to suffer further. Woody Allen continued on with his life, to win great acclaim from his colleagues who deflected criticism so that there would be no retribution for his sins. The abusing priests continued on with their lives as well, untouched, adored by the parishioners for their apparent godliness.

The Catholic Church rallied around its pedophiles and shielded them from prosecution. Hollywood rallied around its pedophile and shielded him as well, and in both cases, the children who were harmed were left to fend for themselves, to be seen as liars or psychopaths, fantasists looking to bring down someone of influence, someone important, someone beloved by the masses.

Now the abused has come forward, to speak truth to power at a time when her abuser is being lauded for his body of work. Can you blame her? But will the protectors of the powerful take another look at what they've said and done, see that they are complicit in a crime by their silence? Or will they shrug like they did when Woody Allen married his adopted daughter, and go back to heaping praise on a talented man?