Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bueller? Bueller?

Around the North Shore you can find a sprinkling of homes that featured prominently in one of John Hughes' films about teen angst.

And when one of those homes goes on the market, the realtor is certain to point out that the house now available for purchase was featured prominently in a John Hughes film.

It's the sort of marketing that inspired Jen Lancaster to pen IF YOU WERE HERE, which tells the story of a couple purchasing just such a home.

If you're of the right age, you swoon at the idea of owning a house you saw on screen, and just think of the possibilities for your Christmas card photo. Get the family dressed up in appropriate costumes, pose in an appropriate way, and your friends will be impressed. You'll have the DVD of the movie prominently displayed in your home as well, in case someone doesn't know or doesn't recall the movie that has immortalized your humble abode.

Except that the homes are not so humble.

John Hughes filmed around a very expensive part of town, where homes sell in the millions, not the thousands. Not just anyone can own a movie star house, and maybe those who can afford it aren't all that impressed by the home's cachet. They're more likely to be considering the age of the roof, the state of the furnace, or the chipping of the paint.

The people who let John Hughes film a car crashing through the glass wall of their garage tried to sell the house five years ago, and it was well known that this was the house that stood perched on a ravine, a picturesque setting where the fictional owner put a car on display like some rare jewel. If you wanted to see what the place looked like, you could rent the film on Netflix. The realtor broadcast the fact that it was the Ferris Bueller's Day Off house, and then sat back to wait for the offers to roll in.

Which, as it turned out, they did not.

The price was dropped from $2.3 million to $1.8 million, but still no one wanted to spend that kind of money on a house that was resting on a ravine. The bluffs aren't as stable as flat ground, there is no back yard for kids to play in, and you have to maintain the steel structure or it won't just be an expensive car falling into the ravine.

The house was pulled off the market after a couple of years without interest, and then re-listed at a lower price. The price was cut again and then again, with the sellers very keen to move, but the real estate bubble had burst and a limited field of potential buyers shrank that much more.

If you were waiting for the right price, maybe somewhere south of $750,000, you have waited too long.

The post-modern box made famous by Hollywood has just been sold for $1 million and change.

Someone is going to have a very unique party some day this summer, in a setting of verdant foliage and maybe, just maybe, a bright red convertible  in the middle of the room overlooking a forested ravine. And there would be money available for such a bash, since the new owners got the house for half of what the owners were originally asking.

Quite a bargain for a house made famous by John Hughes, an abode where the owner can walk in the footsteps of Matthew Broderick and Mia Sara.

Friday, May 30, 2014

An Accident In The Privileged Land

She said her parents were pressuring her. That's what parents do in the land of privilege. They push their children to succeed, to excel, to stand out and prepare for the future in which the children, in turn, will pressure their children.

If her parents had not been pushing her to get better grades, to work harder and be more, Carly Rousso would not have taken to inhaling chemicals to get high and escape her troubles.

In the land of privilege, it is someone else's fault.

The product of Chicago's well-heeled North Shore suburbs got high because her parents made her do it, then she got behind the wheel of a car. She passed out while driving, lost control of the Lexus (the car of the privileged) and plowed into a family out walking on the sidewalk.

The family that was struck by the car was not privileged. They were part of the unseen world that makes the land of privilege operate with such comfort for those with the money to pay someone else to clean their house, mow their lawn, or mind their children. They were walking because they could not afford a car, the sort of people you see all the time in Chicago neighborhoods where everyone walks or takes the bus because it's all they can afford.

There was no question that Carly Rousso was driving the car that struck the mother and three children. There was no question that she was high on canned air. The case, as they say, was open and shut. But in the land of privilege, things are not always so black and white.

Ms. Rousso's attorney argued a technicality because that is all she had to argue. That she was guilty of killing a small child and injuring the others was not in question. What mattered at trial was how severe a sentence she might receive, and in the land of privilege, prison is unimaginable.

The Mayor of Highland Park, where the accident took place, has said that she hopes this trial's conclusion puts the matter to rest. The Hispanic community of underprivileged was outraged when it happened, with Ms. Rousso granted bail and allowed to go home after she killed a child with her father's car.

They, however, will be watching the sentencing hearing to see how much jail time Ms. Rousso gets for running over a child while running from responsibility for her own behavior. The potential sentence drove Ms. Rousso's attorney to argue on a technicality to gain a conviction on lesser grounds, to possibly see her sentenced to nothing more than probation.

The story is not yet finished. The ending remains to be told, and only then will Mayor Rotering know if the matter is at rest, or resurrected.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pigging Out On Chocolate

I think nothing of buying the wee little ones a box of Cadbury Roses at Christmas or Easter. It's a tradition, to wind them up on a sugar buzz and watch them crash into a cranky heap by the end of the holiday.

But now I must wonder just what is going on at the Cadbury factory. Are these chocolates safe to eat?

Are they safe to eat, I ask, because it turns out that there may be porcine DNA in the candy.

Pig DNA? Piggish parts in a chocolate? How does anything pig-related end up in a chocolate which is supposed to be made of cacao, sugar, cow milk and chemicals?

It's not as if we're talking about chocolate-covered bacon here. No rashers au chocolat being churned out of the factory.

Now let us consider the source of this horror. Authorities in Malaysia claim they found pig DNA in some Cadbury Milk confections produced by a local factory, and since the authorities in question are in charge of ensuring that there is not a speck of pork in anything consumed by the Muslim nation, they are hyper-vigilant.

Or maybe just looking to stir things up and remind people that they are there and serve an important function.

Considering how well their search for a missing airplane went, you'd have to wonder if the Malaysian authorities are capable of locating much of anything, especially something microscopic. DNA is found in everything and samples are easily contaminated unless precautions are taken. False positives are too easily obtained, but that isn't enough to stop a bunch of bureaucrats from raising an alarm.

The Muslim Consumers Association Malaysia is now calling for a boycott of Cadbury and all products sold by its parent company, Kraft Foods. On the basis of a single test that has not been verified.

What are the odds that the lab technician indulged in a bacon-laced treat and introduced pork DNA into the lab? With the orthodoxy police ready to pounce on every sinner, you wouldn't expect that person to confess to a little dietary fall from grace. The consequences are no doubt dire.

Better to encourage a boycott of Kraft and its Mondelez spin-off than face the holier-than-thou crowd.

Meanwhile, Cadbury is running its own tests and expects to have results within the week. Perhaps while they test their chocolates they could look around and see if someone related to a member of the Islamic food police is trying to start up a chocolate manufacturer. Nothing like eliminating the competition to get a leg up and move into an opening niche.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Building Boycott

Jeff Bezos owns but one newspaper and so he cannot control the message to the extent required. With Amazon squeezing Hachette Book Group for more discounts to the benefit of Amazon, the publishing industry is taking note and making noises about a boycott.

Other people are saying unpleasant things, therefore....
Amazon is acting the role of aggrieved party, having taken note of the negative publicity that its standard operating procedure is having. In a forum post on the website, the behemoth wrings its figurative hands and bemoans the lack of cooperation from HBG. Macmillan went quietly, the post declares, and it's such a pity that HBG couldn't do the same.

If you didn't fight the bully, you wouldn't get hurt, now, would you?

HBG is an important supplier, but it isn't the only one. In other words, the publisher is an insignificant player in the mighty Amazon universe, and if they won't come to heel, then it's too bad for them. Amazon doesn't need their paltry offerings. Amazon has all those other publishers, and then there are the countless suppliers of all things not books. Who is Hachette, to try to wage war?

If you are a customer considering boycotting Amazon, you are told to take comfort in the fact that very little of what you buy from Amazon will be affected by their battle tactics in the war on HBG. So you can't pre-order a Hachette book? Do you really need to? You can pre-order something from Macmillan or Knopf or HarperCollins.

Not that Amazon wants to control what you read, however. If you must have that HBG publication, you can always go buy it elsewhere.

If you can find an elsewhere.

Amazon's buying power has largely eliminated competition from small independent booksellers, and its closest competitor Barnes and Noble is struggling to survive.

But please, feel free to shop elsewhere if you can stand to wait for those others to deliver to you.

Go on. Boycott Amazon if you think you can get give up the ease of finding what you want in one place, and getting it into your hands in a timely manner. You aren't used to waiting like you were before Amazon came along. And Amazon knows it.

People outside of the publishing industry don't know much about Amazon's treatment of publishers and what that means for author royalties and the financial ability of a publisher to take a chance on an untested writer. They'll just keep on buying from Amazon because the prices are low and they don't see the link between the growth of Amazon and the decline of their local shopping district and the drop in tax revenue to their local taxing bodies.

Boycott if you like, but Amazon is not budging. It's their business model, and it has worked in the past and shows no sign of not working.

They aren't going to ease up on Hachette because  the other publishers would follow Hachette's lead and then where would Amazon be? Selling books for the same price as the competition, and why would a firm want to lose its competitive edge? Better to lose Hachette, which would have a harder time turning a profit if it couldn't sell through the largest book seller around.

Of course, the British landlords thought their business model was working well when they tried to squeeze their Irish tenant farmers. Until those same farmers refused to do business with them, and there was no one around to harvest the crops that the landlord had to sell to make money. Then the business model stopped working and the farmers won some important concessions.

Still want to hit "Buy"? Or would you rather see if some other vendor has the item you need?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Read Books, Earn Valuable Prizes

St. Martin's Press will send you an excerpt of an upcoming book each and every weekday morning, for free.

They want you to get a taste of what's coming so that when the book is released, you'll run out and buy it.

Does it work? Not in every case, because not all of us attracted to free things can afford to pay for the rest of that thing when it's available. By the time the book that was previewed by St. Martin's Press "Read It First" programme reaches the local library, it's been so long since I read the opening pages that I don't recall the plot or the characters.

The fact that the publisher continues to support "Read It First" suggests that it might be working. Or not. Are there focus groups or surveys that ask readers if they're going to buy the new book after they've read the first twenty-five pages? Is there a way to find out?

St. Martin's Press marketing department is nothing if not creative.

The publisher is going to launch a new scheme to attract readers, which it finds are largely of the female persuasion. The ladies love the shopping, right, and they love bargains of all sorts.

St. Martin's Press and Swagbacks are joining forces so that you, lovely lady reader, can read books and earn valuable prizes.

You sign on with Swagbucks to become a member so they can keep track of your reading. You earn points as you peruse the SMP offerings of book excerpts, author interviews, and whatever the marketers believe will entice you. There will be an entire channel dedicated to reading. It will be called the Read Channel, of course. No need to get fancy and confuse the audience.

You do what Swagbucks tells you to do in regard to SMP titles and promotions, and you gain points. Follow orders frequently and your points will accumulate, until you've built up enough to be given a gift card.

A gift card to be used towards the purchase of the book you sampled and liked?

Not exactly. But you could earn your way to an Amazon gift card, which is grand if you're not concerned about Amazon's brutish tactics to bring Hachette Book Group to heel. And your local independent book seller isn't helped along by a gift card redeemable at the behemoth that is driving them out of business.

But it's all about selling St. Martin's Press titles through whatever venue is open to them.

So let's get reading, ladies. There is a Starbucks gift card in your future if you obey Swagbuck's commands.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Come Back And Forgive Us

Katie Hanrahan's debut novel THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES  is fiction but it is so thoroughly researched that you could gain an understanding of the clerical child abuse crisis that is roiling the Catholic Church these days by reading it.

The story of an impoverished Irish family in the 1930s is based on survivor accounts of the industrial schools and Magdalene laundries, both run by the Catholic Church with the cooperation of the Irish State. The system was in place for decades and the incidents described in the novel can be found in numerous survivor stories from every one of those decades.

Sixty years on from the novel's setting, when the extent of the abuse was revealed, and the extent of the cover-up exposed, the Catholic Church in Ireland lost parishioners. They fled in droves, disgusted by the hypocrisy and the Church hierarchy's incredible rush to defend the criminal and shunt the victim to a quiet corner.

So it should come as no surprise that the deafness continues.

Bishop John Buckley of Cork wants to reverse those losses, and bring the abused back into the arms of their abusers. Oh, and he'll help you find a way to forgive your tormentor as well. Just doing God's work, no thanks needed.

The new scheme will not offer compensation to the women who toiled at slave labor in the laundries, incarcerated for no crime. Sure they're asking for their back wages and a bit of a pension in their old age, but the Church isn't letting go of any cash. It has prayers, of course. Lots of prayers and all for free.

No, the Church has determined that the turning away from the faith is a serious issue that must be addressed in a manner far more speedy than the manner in which the clerical sex abuse problem was addressed. The re-unification effort was launched in Cork on Sunday, but it will quickly spread throughout the island, to bring the lost sheep back to the fold.

And if it's not too much to ask, as long as you're back in the pews, could you dip into your pocket and drop a few euro on the plate?

Join the programme and you'll find that the priest is your spiritual companion towards healing, to make you feel better about the Church that ruined your life. Many of the industrial school inmates turned to the drink. Most of the former Magdalene laundry inmates went into hiding, filled with shame when in fact they had done nothing to be ashamed of. As for the forced adoption of children out of mother and baby homes, that issue has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way.

That's in the past, if you join up. Take the spiritual journey and before long you'll find it in your heart to forgive, and then you'll feel so much better.

The Bishop does acknowledge the difficulty that will be faced by survivors who are well aware that one of the sponsors behind "Towards Peace" is the Conference of Religious in Ireland, which has fought against compensating victims of religious abuse with a ferocity that would make a tigress look like a house cat. Would you attend a meeting staged by someone who is clearly not on your side? Would you trust a word they say? Not likely.

A bit of a lack of confidence issue there.

Or it's just another example of the blindness of those who cannot see an apparent conflict of interest, with an organization desperate to make the victims go away seen to be embracing a programme intended to brainwash those same victims to forgive the religious and therefore stop demanding compensation and inquiries and investigations by the UN.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Not The Only Game In Town

It's a habit, nothing more, or a lazy shortcut. You want to know something about a book, or you want to find a book, or you want to pre-order a book, and you navigate over to the Amazon web page.

There are other places to buy books. It is time to start using those other places.

Amazon is trying to squeeze Hachette Book Group, to extract further discounts so that Amazon can make more money selling books to you.

You might save a little on the price, but you aren't reaping the full rewards of Amazon's pressure tactic. Amazon is. You go along with it because you think you're getting a great bargain.

As for Hachette, is they cave in to Amazon's demands, the decline in revenue has to be made up somewhere, and the most likely place to make up that loss is by reducing the royalty paid to the writer. You know, the person who did all the work to create the book you are enjoying.

Then there are the reductions in staff that are made to streamline operations, to get by with fewer people. So two can do the work of three, if they put the old nose to the grindstone. Work they will, because there are no other jobs out there so those left after the rounds of synergies are realized will toil without complaint because they don't want to lose their job.

Hachette has not moved swiftly enough to meet Amazon's schedule, and so people are discovering that they can no longer pre-order Hachette books. Pre-orders are very important to driving sales, because pre-orders move books up the best-seller list where more attention is drawn and more readers make a decision to buy the book that's coming out soon.

That hurts Hachette, but it really hurts the authors. They can then move their future works elsewhere, of course, to be published by a house that isn't at war with Amazon, which would further harm Hachette. So Hachette must either admit defeat and obey, or hope that their authors will stand with them in the face of some fierce bullying tactics.

Book buyers can stand with Hachette as well, with a minimum of sacrifice.

There are other places to buy books. You can just as easily navigate to, or, to name just two. You can find a local independent bookseller at Indiebound and buy the book from someone who is contributing to your town. In the short term, you may cost you a little more, but consider it an investment in maintaining an open market.

If it's ebooks you're after, you can find what you want in other places with as much ease as you find things on Amazon. And if you are an author, you can publish your books through Barnes and Noble's Nookpress, or you can publish on Smashwords and reach as wide an audience as you could with the Kindle Direct option.

Amazon is not the only game in town.

But if you let it push publishers around in a bid to gain control of the market, there will come a time when Amazon has control of that market and they will, indeed, be the only game in town.

Then there won't be a need to pass the big discounts on to the buyer and that's the whole point of developing a monopoly. Just as John D. Rockefeller. He didn't get poor creating Standard Oil.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Smashwords Comes To A Library Near You

The Kindle app on my smartphone isn't used to buy books. It comes in very handy when I want to borrow a book from the library but I can't find the time to go to the building where the books are housed and browse the shelves before selecting one and bringing it to the librarian who checks it out to me and lets me know when it's due back, enjoy!

The app that gets a workout is the Overdrive app.

My local library is tied in with Overdrive, which provides a platform for ebook rentals. Whatever ebooks the library owns are accessible to the library-card-carrying public, with all the convenience of an Amazon download but without the payment at the end. The books are downloaded to my phone via the Kindle app, and if I finish a book before the two week rental period is over, all I have to do is log into my Amazon account and manage my Kindle. Even though it's not a Kindle.

Convenient, easy to use, and Jeff Bezos doesn't get my hard-earned money. What's not to like?

So it's a big deal for authors published by Newcastlewest Books to learn that Overdrive has signed an agreement with Smashwords to carry Smashwords titles.

More and more people rely on public libraries for their reading material because there isn't enough money to go around. If you're scraping by and wonder how you'll pay the electric bill, you aren't buying books. But if you are a library patron, you can read all you like.

The growing library niche is now open to small publishers or independents who use Smashwords to reach the digital marketplace.

A crowd of potential new readers has just been made available to authors who had little chance of getting a book into the library if they were not published by a powerhouse publisher with big marketing budgets. To build a fan base requires buzz and buzz needs readers to be generated. With the Smashwords catalog in Overdrive, independent authors and publishers have a chance to get noticed by those who like books but aren't out there buying them.

The library can expand its holdings without paying for a lot of expensive hardbound books. There is no need for space to house copies. Library patrons with a love of romance, to name a popular genre, will find plenty of new reads for their amusement, and authors looking to get the attention of the reading public will find the Smashwords-Overdrive link of great use.

Now to suggest to my library that they add THE LIBERTY FLOWER to their Overdrive options...speaking of romance of the historical variety.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Serving The Community One Forgery At A Time

Be of service to others, St. Ignatius Loyola advised his followers, and to this day the Jesuits instruct pupils in this very philosophy. Work and don't look for rewards or ask what's in it for you.

What's a parent to do if they can't afford a Jesuit education for their little darlings?

Public schools are bringing in "character counts" elements to the school curriculum, to instill a little of that Jesuit teaching into a secular program. Students at Oak Lawn High School, therefore, were expected to perform a few hours of community service every year, to teach them some of the things that the Jesuits were busy teaching over at St. Ignatius College Prep  in Chicago.

There is a problem when you teach only part of the lesson. The concept gets lost and, ultimately, the lesson isn't taught. So it's up to the school administration to teach a different lesson to reinforce the importance of the original lesson.

Hence, 47 seniors will not be allowed to attend their graduation ceremony.

The students who are being taught that thou shalt not cheat on requirements thought they were being clever when they found a way to forge their community service paperwork. One extremely artistic student was able to do a very passable copy of an adult signature, and suddenly, dozens of Oak Lawn's future leaders had an easy way to claim they had done their community service without having to actually do a lick of work.


However, one can go to the same well too often and before you know it your well has run dry. Too many students turned to their colleague with the pen, and far too many students turned in paperwork that showed they had all done their service hours at one place in the town. Far more students than would have been needed for the amount of volunteer hours available at the venue.

A check with the adult whose signature was forged brought down the scheme. He had never seen the kids who claimed they had been of service to others under his guidance, and once caught, the seniors confessed to the crime.

Not very Ignatian of them, but if you aren't teaching character from the start, it isn't something you can instill in a few years when the students are busy with raging hormones and college prep and sports.

As you'd expect, some of the parents were upset and demanded that their poor, suffering child be allowed to graduate with the others who had put in the time to get their service hours completed by actually putting in the time and being of service to others.

The school administration is holding fast.

A rule is a rule.

Be of service to others, toil without counting the cost, and you get to wear the cap and gown, smile as you are handed your diploma, and generally enjoy the grand occasion. Cheat, and you lose.

Lesson learned. Now, how to teach the parents who thought their child was being unfairly punished for cheating.....

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Anywhere You Want To Go

If you could go anywhere you wanted to go, and then write about your experiences, where would you go?

To the decks of the USS Constitution during the War of 1812? To Gettysburg, to the pounding of the Golden Spike that signalled the formation of the transcontinental rail line?

We can't go back in time, but you could find civil war on the streets of Chicago every Friday and Saturday night. You could head on over if you chose, but you wouldn't want to become one of the victims and who could provide you safe passage?

No gunfire erupting on a train, right? You could sign up for one of Amtrak's writer's residency slots and travel cross-country, but the rest would be left to your imagination. No buffalo roam these days, the prairies are under cultivation, and the west isn't at all wild. If you want to actually experience something, you have to stick to the present.
Floating city

Writer Geoff Dyer experienced the modern version of Old Ironsides and wrote a book about his observations. Another Great Day At Sea is the result of his dream to go someplace where he normally would not be allowed to go, coupled with a fascination for the military.

Mr. Dyer won himself a residency of sorts on the USS George H W Bush, which is the modern equivalent of the battle frigate. How do the sailors live day by day, what do they do and what exactly is life like on board a ship that sails for months at a time? The questions he wondered about could only be answered if he sought out the answers himself.

The result is a book, which is the point of a writer's residency. The New York Times provided him with a platform to promote it with an interview that does not get into much detail about his time aboard ship. It's just enough to stir some interest in the hope that you'll buy a copy. Riding on the new book's coattails, Mr. Dyer's publisher is also re-releasing two of his earlier novels, again in the hope that some new readers will like what they see in a work of non-fiction and then sample something that was largely made up or embellished.

Interested in life as a policeman, perhaps one of those who clean up the mess after another shooting? Wonder what goes on in the station house, what happens after hours, and how does a typical day run for a uniformed officer?

Maybe you'd like to follow Mayor Rahm Emanuel around to experience life as a Chicago politician....No, wait, CNN did that already. That didn't work out as planned, but when the subject controls the message, there isn't enough reality for a writer to build a book around. And that CNN documentary was far too much fiction for a writer to use as the basis for a work of non-fiction.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Literature On The Label As Penned By Dr. Bronner

Isn't it exciting, the literati are cooing, isn't it cutting edge to cover a disposable cup with brilliant prose!

No less than Jonathan Safron Foer had this brainstorm, to cover the drink cups at Chipotle with phrases to give the diner something to read while they scarf down a 1700 calorie burrito. The fact of the matter is, there is nothing new to his brainstorm. Dr. Bronner started doing this decades ago.

The writer of New York City-ness says he was sitting at a Chipotle with nothing to read, and thought, wouldn't everyone just love to have a short essay to amuse them? Not only of his composition, but other authors could be convinced to write little blurbs of inspiration. Like, 'If you eat that whole burrito you've consumed more calories than you need for the day' sort of inspiration?

Inspirational literature on the label
Long, long ago, a soap chemist escaped from the mental health center in Elgin, Illinois, and ended up in Haight Ashbury, where he went about producing the soap he had long dreamed of producing. Dr. Bronner then designed the labels and added phrases of inspiration to those who were busy cleaning and might like a little break in the work. So you see, as far back as the 1960's, there has been a product label that is covered, literally covered, with words.

If you don't have access to a bottle of the soap that is all natural, you can read the text here. It's not a short blurb that you can rush through while inhaling a quick lunch, it's a genuine prose poem from the mind of a genius. Or a mad man. His sister did have him committed, after all. She thought he was out of his mind.

Sorry, Mr. Foer. Your idea is far from original. Not quite cutting edge. Just a new incarnation of an existing idea.

Although it's doubtful that Chipotle will accept phrases like:
"The 1st law of God's tremendous Universe is order! Absolute all-embracing, ever- evolving, ever-recreating, ever-loving order! Exceptions eternally? Absolute none!
2nd, every body in God's tremendous Universe must eat or there is no body! To shine on, eat must even the sun, consuming every second 4 million metric ton! To shine on, eat must even the sun! Exceptions eternally? Absolute none!
3rd, every ton of good food requires teamwork in harmony with God's law, timing-team-work- wisdom-power-mercy-love can reap 6 million more fruit above, above! Exceptions eternally? None!"

Although something like that might better fit the atmosphere at Chipotle, where people go to eat, than a short ode from Toni Morrison.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Control The News, Control The Message

Amazon Is Not Enough
Why did Jeff Bezos buy the Washington Post?

Where is the connection between his start-up e-tailer online store and an influential newspaper? Sure, he could sell subscriptions to the rag on Amazon, but that wouldn't require the purchase of an entire news organization.

Now we know.

There's been all sorts of coverage about Amazon's attempt to squeeze ever bigger discounts out of publisher Hachette Book Group. It was obvious that negotiations were not going Amazon's way when people in the publishing industry noticed that Hachette books were suddenly not so readily available via Amazon.

Delays in shipping arose from nowhere, and as for the recommended books that Amazon lists for the buyer, Hachette works were not making the cut. Others who bought this also liked these, Amazon tells you when you buy, and you might also like these but they aren't published by Hachette and it was no coincidence. Want it now? If it is published by Hachette, you'll have to wait extra long. And if you have to wait extra long, maybe you won't bother to click "Buy" and that's one less book sold.

Amazon sent a signal to Hachette, a power play that was intended to bring the publisher back to the negotiating table, and with an awareness that the publisher did not hold many cards at all.

The story was covered and much discussed because Amazon has become a powerhouse of book selling. When it comes to digital editions, Amazon is far ahead of the rest. That a judge thought Apple should be punished for unfair pricing that hurt the consumer when Amazon is putting the more powerful squeeze on suppliers, you would think that some editorial writer would take note of the inequity and say something.

The Washington Post has some influence, particulary in its home market of Washington, D.C. What are their business reporters reporting? What are their editorial directors writing?

The dust-up between Amazon and Hachette, according to the WaPo, is not such a big deal. No, not at all. It's a very good thing for the consumer because our hero Jeff Bezos is driving down prices for them. He is their champion.

As for questions of creating a monopoly via predatory pricing, there is no mention. That's the other side of the monopoly coin that, for some remarkable reason, the WaPo seems to have forgotten.

Forgotten? Perhaps not forgotten, exactly, but conveniently ignored because the owner of the WaPo, our hero Jeff Bezos, is in a position to put his spin on his activities.

Citizen Kane is one of the most brilliant films ever made, but it was based on a real person who built up a real news empire and used the power of his presses to influence public opinion.

Does Jeff Bezos have an old sled stored away in his cellar somewhere?


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Write To The Market

Literary agents tell you not to write to the market, but then you'll find tips all over Twitter that ask for stories featuring more diversity.

The subject of diversity came up at a book group discussion recently. Our book was one of those ridiculous New York fairy tales featuring a wealthy woman of privilege who then must face an unavoidable decent into genteel poverty. The author's idea of genteel poverty sounded pretty plush to our group of genuinely struggling women who share one book among them because it's not financially feasible for all twelve to buy the same book.

Diversity came up because there were some token gay men in the story. Their sexuality had nothing to do with moving the narrative, they were more like window dressing. Look, diversity. Look, gays being just like the rest of us.

Well, yeah, so? The gays I've met are just average working guys, involved with boosting the local business community. They're not out there clubbing every night or jumping from partner to partner.

Then I looked at a manuscript I am polishing and started to wonder. What if I made my characters more diverse in that same way? Homosexual window dressing, some gay people living and working amongst us just like the couple who run the boutique in town.

If I wrote to the market, instead of just writing what I know, would I generate more literary agent interest in the manuscript?

In a way, I would still be writing what I know, but writing to the market as well.

What I know, of course, is what is shown to the public by the handful of homosexual couples I have encountered in my life. The way that the gay characters moved through the book club novel, I'd say that the author didn't have any more insight into the lifestyle than that. But why wouldn't lesbian couples with children share the same concerns as their straight sisters about schools and nutrition and after-school activities? Isn't that what an agent would look for, this evidence that equality is right because we are, at heart, equal?

You can't call it a theory if you haven't tested the hypothesis. I'm going to rewrite the manuscript and make a few subtle changes, to alter the sexual orientation of a character and see if that improves the odds of getting a piece of women's fiction on a bookstore shelf.

This is a test. This is only a test.

I can't wait to see the results of this fun little experiment.

Monday, May 12, 2014

For Sale Or Lease With Views Of Bono

Would you like to live down the road from Bono and the lovely Ali Hewson? Don't have much money for such a posh address? Look no further than Killiney Beach's very own crack cocaine hell hole.

Handyman special
The place needs work, but when you're squatting, you don't expect a palace. There's a lot of debris left behind by former tenants, such as cans used as crack pipes, used condoms, and sleeping bags. Oh, yes, you might have to share the place with whoever drops in, unless you can do more than the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council to secure the fencing.

Councillor Victor Boyhan has described this lovely site as a hell hole, which is not the sort of marketing you'd want if you're looking to shift a property. The council needs to rethink their campaign and redefine the former tea rooms in a more positive light.

Like any property to be had on the cheap (or free, more or less, if you can get past the irate neighbors), this one lists as a fixer-upper, but imagine walking out your back door and running into Van Morrison out for a stroll on a fine summer evening. Or opening your windows (you'd want to replace the glass there) and in floats Enya's lovely voice, rolling down the strand.

Long ago, when the Irish were poor, the now derelict building housed tea rooms where those spending a day at the beach could pop in for a little refreshment. Once the people stopped coming, the business went under and the building sat unused. With no one paying any attention, even though some very wealthy people moved into the neighborhood, those down on their luck found shelter.

For over a decade, the building has stood vacant, and with the push to bring in more tourists, the last thing the Council wants is a building covered in graffiti sitting in a prominent spot on what they're calling a beach resort area. A resort of inner city thugs more likely, a visitor would say as they fled the beach with their hand clamped on their valuables.

Situated within yards of the Vico Road and all the storied properties that stretch of pavement can boast, Councillor Boylan is praying that someone will come along and raze the dangerous eyesore before someone finds a dead body in it.

Or maybe Bono will stop looking for poverty in Africa and find it just up the road. A little fundraising concert, and surely the likes of Van the Man, Bono and Enya could generate the funds needed to turn the former tea rooms into a hostel for the homeless or a drug treatment center for the crack heads who already know how to get to the place they've been using for shelter for the past ten years.

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Tomb Of The Daily Egyptian

Colleges publish newspapers that are put together by students who are learning how to publish newspapers. It makes little sense to train journalists if the best you can do is show them how to do the job, but never let them gain any actual experience at the profession. Knowing how to do something is not the same as doing it.

However, the cost of publishing a daily newspaper is going up. Just ask the folks who try to keep the Chicago Tribune afloat. It takes a lot of employees to get that daily rag out on the streets every day, and advertising revenue has been declining for years. The price of a subscription doesn't come close to covering all the expenses.

The same issue has hit the Daily Egyptian, the newspaper created by students at Southern Illinois University.

Because advertising revenues figure so strongly in the school paper's budget, the decline in those revenues is causing some severe financial difficulties. To control costs, the paper is issued only four days per week rather than five. That's one-fifth less paper needed, and one less press run to pay for. One less delivery cost to get the papers to the stands scattered around campus. One-fifth less hours for the professional staff managing operations.

The cuts are small and not enough to ensure that the paper can continue to exist, with its life ending just short of its upcoming hundred year anniversary.

Where is the money to come from in Illinois when the state is broke?

Over at the school's Edwardsville campus, students are hit with a fee of $8 per semester to cover the costs of publishing a school newspaper twice per week. SIU's finance committee considered doing something similar for the Daily Egyptian, only to table the motion. It's hard enough to attract students to the smaller sections of the Illinois university network, with all the glory going to the Urbana-Champaign campus. Why make it harder, with some fee designed to prop up a dying form of communication?

Why not just publish online? Even Jet magazine is going all digital to try to stay alive.

Online publications draw online advertising rates that are far lower than print rates. While cutting the cost of printing, the Daily Egyptian's revenue stream would be shrunk as well, and the publication would be in the same place, begging for money to stay alive.

Will future SIU students be willing to kick in for something that they probably don't know they need? Do they know where the online news stories come from, or do they think that well-meaning volunteers are spending all their time compiling and tracking down sources and leads? Do students who live on Facebook get a chance to learn how important journalism will be to them when they have finished college and have to make informed decisions?

Isn't that worth eighteen dollars a year?

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Cost Of Personal Hygiene

Share a bath, cut expenses
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has been out and about, trying to ensure people that they will indeed be able to afford the new water charges once the scheme is fully in effect. What each household pays will depend, of course, on the number in that household. The more people, the higher the annual rate. And if you have several teenaged children residing in your abode, well, start thinking of ways to cut things out of your budget or you'll be getting your water cut off for lack of payment.

Once you have to pay for something, you become more aware of how much you're using and that is exactly what the government wants people to do. Pay attention. Don't waste water. There isn't enough to go around if it's just running down the drain.

What is it going to set you back every year, just to keep yourself clean?

Perfume to mask body odor is far more dear than the price of a daily shower, according to Mr. Hogan's rough estimates. A good quality scent, not something nausea-inducing, would set you back far more than four hundred euro per annum.

Using Mr. Hogan's figures on a per-litre basis, it's been estimated that your daily shower will cost you twenty-five cent.

A shallow bath could cut that figure down to eighteen cent, and look at that, you're saving money already.

Use that same water for everyone in your household and there's no telling how low your water charges could be. The old nuns used to do just this very thing, back in the industrial schools when the inmates were dunked once a week. Everyone in the same tub, and hope you're lucky enough to be the first one in. Sure there were all sorts of skin diseases spread, but you've got your medical card to deal with that issue. We're only concerned with water rates here.

When your new meter is installed and you have to start paying for something that used to be free, you will have to adjust your thinking and start conserving. No more handing out drinks of water to everyone who claims to be thirsty. It's 0.2 cent per litre, plus extra for water to wash the glass. Or would it cost less to use disposable cups? How much is the bin charge and what's the displacement of the cup?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

It's All About The Reader

You could ask if the major publishers are really looking out for their readers, or if it's all about the bottom line.

If you are the publisher, on a limited budget, Paige Crutcher suggests you keep your readers' interests in mind. It isn't about you or what you want when you decide to do it yourself. It's what your readers want, the experience that they will have. Because if they don't have a good experience, no one will talk about your book and there goes the free publicity that you so desperately need.

Ms. Crutcher had an agent but things didn't work out. Just getting representation is a big step, but agents don't sell every manuscript that lands on their desk. She wanted to get her book out there to the reading public, sure that it had a place in the market. So she is self-publishing, and writing about it for Publishers Weekly.

She offers the usual advice about lining up a core group of beta readers who won't just tell you they love what you've done but will give an honest assessment. And then the manuscript needs to be seen by a good copy editor to correct the misspellings and typos that even the best eyes miss until you're perusing the galley and the errors pop like fireworks.

Unless you have some grammatical skills, you might consider taking on an editor to examine your content before you download that manuscript.

Perhaps her best advice in this month's installment of her adventure is the one most easily overlooked. When you write, you are writing for an audience. Give the people what they want, and they will buy.

It is possible to find success, especially if the big publishing houses are not putting the reader first and the readers are looking elsewhere. Put yourself there and your book will be found...we can assume that Ms. Crutcher will deal with marketing in the coming months.

Self-publishing is a viable option these days, with the ease of creating an e-book almost too tempting for those who see a shortcut where shortcuts do not really exist. Not if success is the goal.

Writing? Write for your readers. If you and your readers are of one mind, then you can write for yourself.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Prose With (Literal) Firepower

The enemy will turn tail and run when this ship approaches. Screaming in fear, they shall flee before the mighty battleship, the very name of this new vessel striking deadly terror in the hearts of literate sailors everywhere.

Avast there, matey. It's your Modern Literature nightmare come back to sink you.

What sounds more threatening, more deadly, indeed, more fierce, than a naval vessel named after James Joyce?
James Joyce as a child, demonstrating a love of the sea
The Irish navy has christened its newest patrol boat and has chosen the famous scribbler whose name can still send chills down a scholar's spine.And what might they paint on the bow to appear even more menacing? A text to wrap around the hull, stem to stern and back again? How about this bit of prose to show the Irish Navy means business?

"I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."

Would you stand and deliver on that sort of command yes I will. Yes.

The LE James Joyce is a sister ship to the LE Samuel Beckett, which was put into service quite recently, and by all accounts has terrified those who still don't understand what "Waiting For Godot" was all about and seeing it again brought back terrible memories of sitting exams. Smugglers trying to bring in illegal ciggies have most likely turned around and gone back to Russia with their contraband, the very thought of encountering Samuel Beckett being enough to protect the Irish coast from foreign danger.

We can only guess that the old way of naming ships after women of Irish myth was not lending the right amount of testosterone-fueled threat to Ireland's reputation at sea. Who can say with pride that he serves on the LE Niamh? "I'm on the Eithne," some sailor might say, and what's the reply except "Is that the singer Enya you're riding? Isn't she a bit old for you, son?"

So there's the navy, trying to butch up the place, and along comes filmmaker Neil Jordan to express his outrage that Irish literary lights are being associated with war and violence. He plans to organize a protest of fellow writers and playwrights who will state quite clearly that they don't want their names on weapons of war. Or on weapons designed to protect their homeland, for that matter, because you wouldn't exactly consider the Irish naval fleet an attack-ready battle group.

Never will the LE Neil Jordan patrol Irish coastal waters. Whether or not Colm Toibin or Roddy Doyle would object remains to be seen. Although Erin Hart has written a couple of books with nautical-sounding titles...but then again, she's a girl and it's the men getting the naval glory.

Monday, May 05, 2014

There Is Stealing In Baseball

It's a good thing. The crowd loves it. Sit through any baseball game and if one of the players steals a base, everyone applauds. Announcers get excited, wondering if the steal sign is on. There is stealing in baseball.

So how was Porsha Summeries to know that stealing at the ballpark isn't legal in all circumstances?

The steal sign was on
One of Ms. Summeries' fellow employees noticed that her cash drawer was a little light on more than one occasion. When that happens, the holder of said cash drawer is responsible for the shortage and is expected to make good on the funds. Anyone who works in the restaurant industry for any length of time soon learns to keep a close eye on the cash drawer because you can't trust anyone these days.

At Wrigley Field, on a chilly spring evening, Ms. Summeries thought the steal sign was on.

Her co-worker had no idea why the case drawer was short on at least three occasions, for a total loss of $1400. A considerable sum to a food worker, and as you'd expect, management questioned all the people working at the restauran. Ms Summeries admitted to taking the cash. She gave $200 to some other guy working at the ball park, she said, but failed to indicate if he was the coach who told her to steal. Perhaps she was a rogue base runner thinking she had a clear path to extra funds.

After signing a statement admitting to the theft, Ms. Summeries learned that the punishment for stealing beyond the confines of the actual field is a felony, which means prison. There's no baseball in prison. The cells are too small.

She gave back what she still had on her, but unfortunately, it isn't a case of "no blood, no foul" in America's sport. A felony is a felony, and the fact that she tried to make it look like someone else did the crime is not exactly cause for consideration. At some point, Ms. Summeries realized this. Probably when management called in the police and she was arrested for felony theft.

The young lady is due back in court on Friday to face charges. In the meantime, she's out of a job.

That's what happens when you try to steal when it isn't allowed. Who would have guessed that you would need that much baseball knowledge to work at a Wrigley Field restaurant? Surrounded by people chattering excitedly about stealing? Is it her fault, Your Honor? Or is it management's fault for extolling the glories of stealing without fully explaining to its employees that stealing is permissible within certain boundaries that were not defined for Ms. Summeries' edification?

Saturday, May 03, 2014

In A Fit Of Rage

Characters in fiction need some basis in reality or the readers will not suspend disbelief long enough to let you get your story going. Someone you portray as mild-mannered cannot suddenly jump up and stab another player in your drama for no apparent reason, and with no previous indication that your protagonist is capable of such fits of rage.

What if you start your novel with the protagonist committing a murder, before you have established cause? That is a classic maneuver to grab a reader's eyeballs. You've probably noticed it done many times in thrillers and mysteries. The author starts strong and then proceeds to lay out a case that either shows the protagonist to be evil, or to be a person drive over the edge.

How about if you are a lawyer and you are called on to defend a woman who stabs her live-in boyfriend to death for no apparent reason?

There you have your writing prompt for today.

The premise? Taken from real life. Tell the story from the point of view of the murderess or her attorney, and see if you can create a plausible defense for Miata Phelan.

The very pregnant Ms. Phelan has been arrested for murder. Police say she plunged a knife into her boyfriend in the heat of a fierce argument, but crimes of passion are rarely about a single incident. Supposedly, she was angry that he did not buy her anything on a shopping trip when he purchased things for his son and cousin but nothing for her.

According to her sister, Ms. Phelan was being abused by the victim. Do you portray your protagonist as a woman driven to the edge by constant abuse that she cannot find a way to escape? Can you write a narrative that makes a reader believe that a woman just shy of a bachelor's degree could be mentally ground down until she sees no way out? A reasonable person would assume that Ms. Phelan could have walked out of the apartment at any time and taken refuge with a family member, or made her way to a shelter.

Defense attorneys are aware of the narrative arc. The good ones have mastered the art of storytelling, where they convince the jury to suspend disbelief just enough to accept the premise that Ms. Phelan is not guilty of murder, but was driven to lash out in a fit of rage that was induced by the victim.

No wonder lawyers are so good at writing legal thrillers. They pretty much do it all the time.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Will There Always Be A Harlequin?

In an effort to keep pace with Random Penguin House, HarperCollins has bought up Harlequin from Torstar.

Will Harlequin remain the same, or will it be absorbed into HarperCollins? Will that be good for unagented authors, or bad?

A marriage of convenience?
Profits at the publisher of porn for women romance have been sliding for the past several years, and like all the other publishers, Harlequin blames the shift from paperback books to digital books. Harlequin's readers are facing the same everyday budget concerns that befall non-readers, and if a woman can get her smut romance fix on her smartphone for much less than the price of the paperback, she goes digital.

As for HarperCollins, they see the global reach that the Random Penguins have created through a recent merger, and no smart publisher will sit back and let the competition get a leg up. In purchasing Harlequin, HarperCollins gains access to markets it does not currently have. In addition, there are things that Harlequin does, like its book club, that appeals to the suits who run HarperCollin's parent company. News Corp has not done badly for itself, so it must see something in the Canadian-based publisher that could be massaged and nurtured until it blossoms into a voluptuous, heaving bottom line.

What might all that nurturing involve? For now, romance authors can submit to Harlequin and join the slush pile with a very small chance of getting published. All that slush requires readers, and is there really any benefit to HarperCollins to maintain that much staff to hunt for a readable needle in a haystack?

Harlequin is supposed to remain at its Toronto headquarters, but will HarperCollins executives keep their hands off, or will there be decisions made that bring Harlequin more into line with the new owner?

Of course, authors with HarperCollins' Avon line must be wondering if they are going to be shipped across the northern border to become part of the Harlequin family. After all, a big publisher doesn't need to maintain duplicate lines when "synergies" can be realized by combining departments and reducing staff.

Changes are coming because a new owner never lets an acquisition stumble along on its own well-worn path. Harlequin employees can only hope that they won't face the same disruptions that employees of Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin endured when Barry O'Callaghan started merging with a vengeance and hundreds of people lost their jobs.

The Tale Of The Gun

A fourteen-year-old girl was shot dead in Chicago by another girl. The police are saying that the pair were fighting over a boy.

How did a young girl get her hands on a weapon?
.38 Special revolver

The answer to that question has evolved into a winding tale of the gun, from its purchase by an adult through a string of related owners, all adults. All capable of stopping the gun's journey. All capable of marching on the street, demanding an end to gun violence against children. But, in the end, the gun traveled anyway, in spite of all the outcry.

Reporters with the Chicago Tribune have been tracking the gun, to determine where it came from and how it got into the hands of a girl upset over something tragically unimportant. There are so many laws in place to keep weapons out of the hands of children, so how did the law fail?

The law can't do much on its own. Laws are just a bunch of words, and if responsible people don't follow the law, it makes no difference how many ministers decry violence from the pulpit, or launch protests at Police Headquarters. They are barking at the wrong people, it turns out.

A man bought a gun legally and then sold it illegally. He then said the gun was stolen, a lie. The buyer moved the gun along on its trip, and maybe there were more buyers in between. At any rate, the gun ended up in the possession of Donnell Flora.

Donnell Flora uses a wheelchair because he was left paralyzed after getting shot four years ago. He thought it was a brilliant idea to arm his niece with a .38 Special when she declared she was going to fight a friend over a boy. Donnell Flora could have told his niece she was stupid or foolish. To forget about the boy, he wasn't worth it. Instead, he gave her a gun. Got himself on a bus to deliver the gun to her.

Laws against guns do nothing to stop gun violence if people don't follow the law. From every point in its journey to the Back of the Yards neighborhood, that gun was helped along by those who did not care about the law. They did not see themselves as players in a deadly journey.

It's easy to write laws that don't work in the end. So how do we change a culture?

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Spotlight On An Individual In A Crowded Field

Not that e-book readers are taking over publishing completely, but the digital market is an important component of modern day book publishing. The ease of creating an e-book provides authors, and in some cases their literary agents, with a simple way to get a worthwhile book published when the traditional houses aren't interested.

Authors are discovering the benefits of going straight to digital and skipping the expensive printing option. No physical books to store and best of all, no physical books to ship at even more expense. Readers are discovering the instant gratification that comes with downloading an e-book, and it has been found that the fan base for downloads to smart phones is growing.

The result? Thousands of books are published every day and if yours is one of them, how do you make your book stand out in a crowded field?

Sure there's Smashwords to find e-books for every possible electronic device, and there's Goodreads or LibraryThing for free books, but how can you find a book in a genre you like at a discount unless you're somehow hooked in to some information network that lets you know which books are currently on sale?

BookBub provides the spotlight that a publisher can shine on new releases. For a price, of course.

Hosting a free e-book giveaway to generate some word-of-mouth buzz? BookBub can do that with its newsletters and marketing strategies that were developed by tech-savvy entrepreneurs who saw a niche and then filled it. Selling your books at a steep discount to boost sales? BookBub can let readers know, via its network of subscribers who are actively looking for just such deals.

Readers need some guidance to find their way to your book, and small independent publishers just don't have the financial means to launch expenisve marketing campaigns. For them, BookBub is the marketing department on a budget, running small scale promotions that get the book noticed by the reading public. Once the public has taken up a book, it will all but sell itself. It's the getting to that point that has BookBub drawing interest.

The investing world sees the benefit, and thus potential profit, that the start-up will bring to small-scale publishers and large publishers who are looking to cut costs where they can. BookBub has raised $3.8 million to expand its reach.

The firm will act as a gatekeeper, with an editorial staff choosing which books will make the cut and which will be deemed unworthy of inclusion. Once accepted, a publisher will have to pay for the privilege, but if BookBub works, the investment should pay for itself through higher sales.

Authors who are now expected to do much of their own promotion may turn to BookBub to do much of the work that they cannot do because they are authors who write, not marketing gurus who develop campaigns. For the small publisher, it's another way to reach people once you've exhausted your e-mail list and need to find other readers who otherwise won't know you exist.

How much longer, then, until some other Internet entrepreneur sees the idea and decides to create a rival, offering the same services at a lower cost? Will the market one day be awash in promotion options, creating a crowded field in a crowded field?

Then someone else will come along and find another way to shine a spotlight on the dimming spotlight and thus are Internet millionaires born.