Friday, October 31, 2014

Sharpen Your Pencil And NaNoWriMo

It was a dark and stormy night....No, that's no good. It was the best of times....
Tomorrow being the first of November means it is time to start writing that novel you've been talking about writing for the past eight years if only you could get started. This is the time.

National Novel Writing Month has become quite a grand production, with a website and signing up and making a genuine commitment. If you hesitated to take the plunge before out of fear that writing was too solitary an occupation, you can join NaNoWriMo and get yourself into a community of people like yourself. People who are giving the novel writing game a go, that is, not professional writers. They know that it's impossible to write a novel in a month, but this is more about the process of beginning than the real work of getting published.

Sharpen your pencils, would-be writers. Yes, pencils. Or pens if you prefer the look of ink. A dip pen or a quill if you're planning to do the Jane Austen immersion technique. And paper, reams of paper. Typing away on a computer doesn't engage your brain in the same way as the slower process of physically writing. But this is a race to the finish, not a work of art. Maybe you'd be better off with a computer keyboard under your itchy fingers. Putting together 50,000 words or more over the course of a month is going to take some effort, and time-saving modern conveniences could make some difference.

What to write about? Write what you know, but be aware that what you know can be expanded by research. Do you think historical fiction authors are ancient folk who watched the British fire the shot heard round the world? You can write a great deal if you expand your knowledge, and as for your characters? People are people, largely unchanged over the centuries. Man is driven by greed and lust and all those other seven deadly sins, today and back then and on into the future.

Your topic is selected, your materials are at hand, and you must next undertake the most difficult part of NaNoWriMo. You have to sit down at your writing space and compose sentences that make paragraphs that make chapters. That means you can't do any of the usual things that distract you in everyday life. You can't let your family disturb you. And you can't go disrupting yourself.

At the end of the month, you can celebrate your accomplishment, whether it's a few paragraphs or something along the lines of a Russian novel complete at hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Just don't think you've got something brilliant that any literary agent would jump at. Chances are, it's not. The manuscript you flew through is far from polished. If you give in to the temptation to submit it, you're wasting a lot of time and creating some annoyance.

NaNoWriMo ends on the last day of November. The literary agents cringe, knowing that the first of December will see an uptick in submissions that have to be plowed through. Writers hoping to snag an agent would do well to avoid querying in December. The agents are all in foul moods with the slushiest slush and they're likely to reject you because they've had quite enough.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I Invented 'Operation' And All I Got Is This Lousy T-Shirt

What? No oral surgery option?
When John Spinello was a student of industrial design, he invented this game that involved some skill, a steady hand, and enough electronics to make some noise and light up a small bulb.

It was the early 1960s and games were a lot more simple, as were the abilities to amuse the younger set.

Mr. Spinello sold the rights to the game for $500 and went on with his life. He was a creative type and wasn't thinking in terms of marketing or potential sales. He got on with his life, while the man who bought the game for next to nothing sold it on to toymaker Milton Bradley Co., and earned a very tidy return on his investment.

Mr. Spinello kept the bragging rights, but he is not the bragging type. Few people knew that he had invented Operation, a game that is still popular, and still making money for the game's owner. As for the inventor, he took a severe hit in the recent economic downturn and ended up declaring bankruptcy, even as the Operation game kept right on amusing children, even in our more sophisticated times. Every now and then you need some silliness, like a plastic pencil representing writer's block or a little butterfly to be removed from a patient's stomach. And the desire to not sound the buzzer has not diminished, either. Fifty years on, and people are still a little competitive in that way.

Now it is Mr. Spinello who needs an operation but he's broke. Word got out, and the response has been overwhelming for the unassuming Bloomingdale, IL, resident.

A couple of game inventors who knew of Mr. Spinello's contribution to the industry got wind of his financial distress and set up a crowd funding site to raise money for some much needed oral surgery. In a little over a week, they nearly hit their goal of $25,000 so Mr. Spinelli can get the dental implants he needs. Hasbro, which now owns the game rights, has offered to buy the original prototype from Mr. Spinello. What could be more perfect for the company's archives than the mock-up that started it all? It's a museum piece. And considering how much profit they've earned on the game, they should be able to make a respectable offer.

If all goes well, the inventor of a classic game will get the medical care he needs, and have enough left over to help him through a rough patch.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Place That Works, or, A Room Of One's Own

Elizabeth Berg is an acclaimed author who has penned several novels. When she writes an essay telling you what you need to be a writer, her words are worth heeding.

What advice does she have?

You should feel things, she suggests. Have you ever read an account of some incident and found yourself burning with anger? It was anger that started Katie Hanrahan on writing THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES, and her anger comes through in the powerful emotion of the story. Children taken from their mothers for the crime of being poor? The government deciding which women were of suitable moral character to raise their children, and which were overstepping the bounds, as determined by a parish priest or a visiting nun? Young women enslaved for the crime of being pregnant out of wedlock, for the crime of being pretty? There is strong emotion running through the novel, and it came about from casual reading of newspaper reports that inspired a driving outrage.

That a writer has to notice things fits with the image of a writer as that person in the corner watching everything but saying little. John McGahern had a reputation in his hometown of mingling with the locals, watching them as they went about their normal activities, but always observing. His observations of small town Irish life fleshed out his novels. Readers can relate to characters that are familiar to them. As a writer, if you bring that element of reality, you have done well.

Wasn't it Virginia Woolf who said a writer needed a room of one's own? Elizabeth Berg reiterates that requirement, and if you are a man with a wife to do the housework and maintain you in comfort, you are a step ahead of everyone else.

To have a space to work is not asking much. You don't need an entire room. A corner somewhere. A desk where you can prop up your research documents, your pens, extra paper, maybe a laptop if you're doing writing the modern way. But what you need, as Ms. Berg points out in her essay, is uninterrupted time to think about words and then put them down before reading them and listening to them and starting over again.

What woman has that kind of luxury?

If you work full time, your day is filled. Then you come home and throw food on the table, monitor homework, entertain your spouse who has to tell you about something that happened during the day. Maybe you and your husband argue about finances and the need to squeeze another drop of blood out of the financial turnip that month.

After all that, are you going to sit down and work on a novel and not expect to be disturbed by a phone call, the husband looking for the packet of crisps he thought he saw in the back of the cupboard, or a whining child?

Is there a writer out there who does not write full time, or work in academia where they don't work much at all, and who can tell female writers how they manage to write with all the normal distractions that a woman faces because, let's face it, if a man is working on a novel it's something of earth shattering importance. If a woman is trying to write, well, it's charming, what is it, dear, a nice romance like one of Cecilia Ahern's stories?

That attitude is even worse than the constant rejection you face when you try to get that novel published after all those years of squeezing in a paragraph here or a chapter there. Any writers out there who have advice on how to overcome that sort of frustration?

A supportive family could be of far greater importance than a room of one's own.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Spy Among Friends: A Book Review

The e-book was provided by the publisher.

A Spy Among Friends, by Ben Macintyre

Much has been written about Kim Philby, the notorious British turncoat who operated freely for thirty years. Author Ben Macintyre takes a different approach in his presentation, giving us a view from those who thought that they knew Philby because they were close personal friends.

The book is a page-turner, with the very spy craft that inspired Ian Fleming (himself a member of the club), but it is the old boys network that really stands out. To read about a man being recruited and then admitted into the highest echelons of British intelligence because he was a Cambridge man and public school boy is to realize that the class system was not totally wiped out by the social changes brought on by the First World War.

The case of Kim Philby is as much a cautionary tale of class privilege as it is a story about the privileged being used in ways that broke their social rules, and the shock that kept them blind to the betrayal of one of their own.

Using the words of those who thought they were Philby's great friends, the author explains how the false narrative woven by Philby protected him from being outed. The closeness, the camaraderie, all served to insulate him from exposure and furthered his career. What comes across in the narrative is the frustration and total befuddlement of the men of MI6 who watched every attempt to undermine the Soviet Union upended, aware that someone had tipped the enemy off but utterly unaware that it was the very man they discussed their plans with.

As the story concludes, Mr. Macintyre maintains the focus on the friends, those who were betrayed so thoroughly. How they reacted to that betrayal, and what changed in the espionage game, bring the story full circle.

A fascinating glimpse into the everyday lives of spies makes for an intriguing read that is difficult to put down once you've begun.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

When Free Amazon Prime Is Not Enough Of An Incentive

The buzz continues to ripple through financial circles where said circles intersect with literary interests. Amazon missed the mark this quarter, and Wall Street is punishing the monolithic marketplace.

Amazon has not shown signs of great profitability in its short existence. It's all about growing the marketplace, rising sales, but there comes a time when shareholders take stock and decide if their long term goals will be met, or if it's just a slow grind to insolvency. Those with a stake in the company tend to become alarmed when a new avenue turns into a dead end with a great deal of unsold stock piled up at the end of it. They often flinch when the firm they have invested in gets bad publicity, especially when that bad publicity is splashed in the pages of the New York Times and is written by a respected economist.

Why did Amazon miss Wall Street expectations?

In part, it's a trend that has been hurting book sales in general. Expensive college textbooks are available for rent instead of purchase, and with the cost of third level education skyrocketing, anything that saves on expenses is going to become the most popular option.

The book selling market has been in decline for a while, on a downward trend that coincides with the downturn in the economy. People had lots of money when Amazon appeared, and they were mad for the books. Now there is not enough cash on hand to cover the cost of tonight's dinner, and the last thing the average reader will splurge on is a book. They'll borrow from a public library or a friend. Or they'll download an e-book, maybe, but even that is not a fast-growing segment of the market.

It's apparent, after getting the numbers from Amazon, why it has been so fierce in its negotiations with Hachette Book Group. Amazon desperately needs every penny of discount they can wring out of a publisher, and the news from the investment world only serves to boost Hachette's position. You need us more than we need you, in other words. Amazon can't hide the wound and the hemorrhaging of cash is evident.

But what makes things particularly difficult for Amazon?

It just might be a misstep, a slight attack of hubris that is costing more money than the company can afford to lose.
Free Amazon Prime! Such a deal!

Competing with everyone, in every way, brought up the Kindle to take on Apple's iPad. But there is no exclusivity because anyone can buy an iPad and download the free Kindle app. Then they can use that Kindle app to download free e-books from the public library via Overdrive, and just because a reader has a Kindle account does not mean they are using it in a way that benefits Amazon.

Where else do people download books? More and more, they are downloading to a smartphone. So Jeff Bezos decided that Amazon would make smartphones as well.

Just because he wanted to compete does not mean he had a product that was equal to an iPhone.

The Amazon warehouses are stuffed to the rafters with Fire phones, unwanted by the general public because a free subscription to Amazon Prime just isn't enough of an incentive to make the purchase.

The phones cost money to develop. They cost money to manufacture. They cost money to store. And none of those costs are recouped by a phone that is not being sold.

Which leaves shareholders to wonder if Amazon has lost its way. And when they think a company is headed in the wrong direction, they dump the stock and when the stock gets dumped the price drops and when it drops precipitously, potential investors take notice.

All of which is likely to be pointed out by negotiators representing Hachette Publishing Group when next the parties meet to discuss the level of discounts offered on Hachette titles and who will determine the price of the e-books. Perhaps something along the lines of the deal struck between Amazon and Simon & Schuster, the one that resurrects a pricing model that Amazon said was a violation of anti-trust laws when Apple did it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Actions Most Positive for Positive Action

I'd call a spa treatment and a massage some positive action. An Garda Siochana, however, doesn't see the positivity in such things. They're under the impression that the charity organization Positive Action was strictly about raising money for women infected with Hepatitis C.

There's more to Positive Action than helping the sick. What about helping the stressed individuals working so hard to generate the funds and then distribute them? One for you, two for me, one for you, three for me...and so on until several hundred thousand euro go missing.

One employee of Positive Action must have become exhausted with all the support group development and the lobbying for the best care available, to say nothing of the advocating. A massage would loosen up the tension in the shoulders, and someone whose liver is gone due to Hepatitis C couldn't begrudge an hour of such therapy. So busy was she with her work that she had to send a courier to pick up the dry-cleaning, and Positive Action came through once again. Or she charged the cost to the office. Either way, she earned the perk, right?

Have you ever tried to drive in Dublin? It's madness. So it's understandable that Positive Action would have spent €34,000 on taxi fares over a four year period. They must have had to do a great deal of traveling, what with all that advocating and ensuring the best care and such.

The organization also managed to spend €100,000 on such essentials as angel card readings and spiritual healing. Well, if the drugs aren't working, what's a patient to do? A little spiritual healing might be the only option.

Then there were the hundreds of thousands spent on overseas travel, and the astronomical sum that went towards legal fees.

Investigators are uncovering some phony invoices and inflated invoices and just about any scheme you could imagine to separate the cash from Positive Action. To help with disguising transactions, there was a secret bank account, to go along with a secret investment account.

The Health Service paid for all that lavish spending over a four year period, beauty treatments and groceries and whatever was wanted, because no one was minding the till. The employee entrusted with distributing the money to the women who were supposed to be reaping the benefits managed to reap the benefits largely for herself. Over a million of your hard-earned euro were thrown down the drain due to a lack of oversight.

The oversight is coming too late. The money is gone, and it isn't coming back.

Gardai aren't even sure where it all went.

The woman at the center of the fraud is cooperating with authorities, who have yet to charge her. They'll most likely wait to see how much cooperating she does before settling on a suitable charge.

For Positive Action, it was four years of living large on someone else's back, not unlike a pimp. That would make the Irish taxpayers the whores, apparently.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Democratic Strategist Integrity

The husband of political consultant Ann Liston quit his job yesterday, citing political interference and implications of pillow talk between spouses.

At the same time, Sun-Times reporter Dave McKinney resigned from the paper, citing political interference and implications of pillow talk between spouses.

These two sentences are essentially the same, but the description of the protagonist has been slightly altered to show, rather than tell. Dave McKinney is a political reporter for a Chicago newspaper, and his wife is a political consultant. Your head is now drawing lines from Point A to Point B and you're arriving at Point 'Journalistic Integrity'.
Are they talking politics?

Mr. McKinney penned an in-depth article about Republican candidate Bruce Rauner and Mr. Rauner's involvement in a lawsuit that touched on operations of one of the many companies his hedge fund operated. The article painted him in a bad light, which is what you'd expect from an investigative journalist.

But does it make a difference to your sense of integrity to know that his wife is a Democratic consultant whose firm works with Illinois Democratic candidates to get them elected?

The journalist blames the new owners of the Chicago Sun-Times, one of whom was Bruce Rauner before he gave up the investment when he decided to run for governor. Mr. McKinney says that the publisher was put under pressure by the paper's owners to kill the piece by the Rauner campaign, but the article ran anyway. The conflict of interest angle was then floated, but still the article was published.

But right after it ran, Mr. McKinney was relieved of his politcal beat and given other options at the newspaper, none of which he cared to accept.

The reporter defended his editor, in the belief that Jim Kirk would never do that to him. Jim Kirk has been defending his integrity by insisting that no one above him was pulling his strings and it was his decision to pull the plug on a good reporter who, it turned out, married into an enormous conflict of interest.

Ms. Liston herself is not working on the Quinn re-election campaign, but her company is, and the average reader would not believe that she is so isolated in her office that a word is never passed between her and her colleagues.

That becomes a problem for a newspaper that is concerned with journalistic integrity. The owners of the Sun-Times don't want to get a reputation as the spokes-paper for the Democrats, especially in Chicago where the Democrats are famous for corruption and one-party rule. They are competing with the conservative Chicago Tribune, and while a liberal slant is fine, a lack of independence from the politicians being covered is deadly.

Mr. McKinney believes his demotion was ordered by the paper's owner, Michael "Charles Foster Kane" Ferro, and he has retained some high-powered legal bulldogs to make a case that shows Mr. McKinney was the victim of political machinations at the highest level.

Is his wife the political strategist advising him?

What do they talk about when their heads hit the pillow? Should the readers know?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Take Back The (Halloween) Night

The good old days
The ancient Celts knew how to celebrate the dead. It's an art that, sadly, has been lost to our modern culture. Sure we still carve up the occasional vegetable and scare small children with grisly tales of the dead, but the true meaning of Halloween is lost.

Sinn Fein's Sandra McLennan wants to restore Ireland's former Celtic glory. She wants the government to do it, but she's Sinn Fein and they expect the government to do everything anyway. It won't happen, however, unless the Celts get behind her and stand up for their right to the night.

The old ones called it Samhain, the night of the dead, and they celebrated the holiday like it was a genuine holiday. It was also a date that marked winter's approach, an event of some importance to the ancients who had no government to offer subsidies or welfare payments if the crops were poor or a farmer didn't get his livestock secured before bad weather hit.

What was Samhain became Halloween as the ancient practices were absorbed into Christianity. Who doesn't enjoy Christmas, right, and it's just the old Roman festival in fancy dress. So here we are, us modern types, still celebrating all things that go bump in the night on the same day as the old Celts. Except us modern types have distorted Halloween into a time for terrorizing the elderly neighbors or engaging in acts of vandalism after some heavy drinking and drug use.

You might think it's all in fun until it's your dustbin that gets blown up by fireworks and you have to clean up the mess. And if your neighbor decides to build a bonfire that runs out of control, you won't be pleased to learn that the fire brigade is busy up the road and sorry about your shed burning down.

Sandra McLennan wants Halloween to become Samhain again, with a national festival that would run along the lines of Culture Night.

Her suggestion has hit a barricade in the form of Heather Humphreys, the Arts Minister.

As the Minister has pointed out, Ireland already has Culture Night so why try to clone it and then confuse people about which night is the big night. In addition, the State is already paying the costs of one Culture Night to draw in the tourists, and there isn't a lot of spare cash around to pay for another.

Then there are the many local festivals that would be lost in this nationalization of Halloween. That's a lot of toes to be stepping on, especially the toes belonging to those who work so hard to create the local celebration and organize the many activities. Someone from Dublin is going to waltz in and take over? The reception won't be warm, and the grumbling will be loud.

Unless everyone were on board with Ms. McLennan's idea, that is. The local groups would have to be brought in under the national umbrella, and what better selling point could Ms. McLennan have than the need to eliminate anti-social behavior on Halloween? The ancient Celts weren't blowing up dustbins or throwing firecrackers at the gardai attempting to keep order. Wouldn't everyone in Ireland like to be more Celtic for one night of the year?

The Irish essentially invented Halloween. Why not make it a cultural event and then promote it as a tourist attraction? The Druids are always up for a good party.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Extortion At The Pharmacy

Pay up or the cigar gets it
You fill your prescriptions where it is most convenient for you. A pharmacy near your job, or where you wait for the bus to take you to your dull cubicle or the dish-washing station at the greasy spoon. Maybe it's next to the dry cleaners so you can consolidate the pick-ups to save a few minutes.

CVS doesn't care if you're inconvenienced. If you have Caremark running your benefits show and your preferred store is still selling cigarettes, you are going to pay more for your prescription.

It's extortion, in essence, at the corporate level. CVS wants all shops in its Caremark network to stop carrying tobacco products because it's not a product designed to promote health. It is an addiction, not unlike those addicted to prescription meds, but pills are so clean and they don't smell when being used according to the doc's orders.

The idea behind the extortion plot is to force the pharmacy in question to remove the cigs because their clients are going to go elsewhere to buy their meds and the pharmacy will be forced out of business.

If you're doing business with CVS directly, at one of its 7700 pharmacies, you've already adapted. You get your ciggies elsewhere because the pharmacy doesn't carry them any more. If your health insurance plan contains a prescription drug benefit plan operated by CVS-owned Caremark, you will either pay up for your pharmacist's stubborn refusal to be told what to do by some big faceless corporation, or you'll go elsewhere to avoid paying the extortion.

The Mafia makes millions from shop owners who pay the goons to not burn down the store. Now CVS is going thug and making everyone pay if the pharmacy doesn't follow orders.

The company you work for wants all the employees to give up smoking because health care costs are higher for long-time smokers. They have an unpleasant tendency to develop cancers after prolonged use, and if you get sick while still employed, the health insurance provider has to pay up and they really, really hate that. You can still sneak the smokes, of course, but it's going to be made more inconvenient because you can't just pick up a pack when you get your blood pressure meds. You have to go to the nearest gas station or the convenience store on the corner.

What can you do, to keep doing things the way you've been doing?

Walgreens doesn't care if you smoke or not. They're competing with CVS to get prescriptions. So it's up to you and your fellow smokers to put pressure on whoever at your place of employment picks the insurance policies. Down with Caremark! Up with liberty! Down with extortion! Don't tread on me!

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Question Of Celibacy

Father "Do As I Say Not As I Do" Rosbotham
Two men dispute ownership of a holiday cottage. They both claim ownership rights.

Not a particularly earth-shattering revelation. People can be found in courts everywhere, arguing over who owns how much of what if they own a piece of it at all.

Such disagreements between two people in a relationship that does not have the legal framework provided by marriage are often contentious. What a wife might get in a divorce settlement is not what a lover can expect to automatically receive when the relationship ends. Then the courts have to wade in and calculate how much each party invested in the asset in question, and the feuding couple has to testify in court about various aspects of their personal life that would otherwise never become public knowledge.

For instance, there could be two men arguing, and the next thing you know, everyone is made aware that the lads are not just old friends or work colleagues but homosexual lovers.

And where did our subjects here work? They worked for the Roman Catholic Church. One used to be a Franciscan. The other is still a priest.

What of the vow of celibacy, gentlemen?

Parishioners in Kilmoremoy, in County Mayo, were a bit stunned, at least those who attended Mass on Sunday. Their bishop read a letter to them, which itself was a shock. You don't often see the bishop at a Mass at a small local parish. But there he was in all his majesty, letting the faithful know that their curate was being given a time-out to reflect on the things he preached about. Things like sin and fornication and the like. The things Father Gabriel Rosbotham was doing for years with his Franciscan lover.

Father Rosbotham makes no apologies for being gay, and in keeping with the Pope's call to not judge homosexuals, the Church hierarchy isn't saying anything about his sexual orientation. What has the Church upset is this latest example of hypocrisy, which is doing more to drive people away from the Church than the most boring series of sermons ever could.

Priests must be celibate, and let someone suggest that the celibacy issue is part of the madness of the institution and you'll be told it's tradition, a gift, a sacrifice, or whatever excuse will do to stop any mention of ordaining married men. Don't even get them started on the suggestion that women be allowed entry.

The sexual relationship between Father Rosbotham and Hugo Crawford was exposed in court when the two argued over a cottage in Donegal. Father Rosbotham ended up with a legally decreed 27% share, and the Catholic Church ended up with another fire to extinguish. A pair of clerics were getting up to all sorts of fun in a scenic section of Donegal for ten years, and their superiors knew nothing, or at any rate, Bishop Fleming says he knew nothing. Women can't preach from the pulpit but a hypocrite can because he's male?

A gay priest? Not shocking at all. But a priest who lives a lie? That's not shocking either.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Star Spotting

What does Ireland have that can be used to generate jobs and tax income?

Not much in the way of precious gems, major manufacturing, lumber, gold, and the list goes on and on. What Ireland does have is beautiful scenery. And what does Hollywood want and need? Beautiful scenery that hasn't been used as backdrops so often that film-goers instantly recognize the actual location of the shooting.
Filming Star Wars 7 On Skellig Michael

Hollywood is also looking for discounts. The industry is facing a decline back home in California because it is too expensive to work there. Watch the credits of your average movie and you'll notice a lot of thanks going out to varioius foreign countries who provide some hefty tax incentives, along with a cheaper supply of labor.

The Double Irish is going away, but there's nothing to stop the State from modifying its tax credit scheme to draw in more Hollywood productions, which means more Hollywood A-listers arriving and more tourists following on their heels to get a glimpse of Brangelina and their menagerie or maybe George Clooney and is he escorting the missus or do they seem to be having a little spat there?

Scenery has its place, but to Hollywood's beancounters, it's all about the money.

Ireland will now make it about the money as well, if Arts Minister Heather Humphreys has her way.

Film crews can make use of a tax credit for the first 50 million they spend, but the major Hollywood blockbusters spend far more than that, and if you're competing with Prague for the business, you'll lose out to Prague. Ms. Humphreys would like Ireland to recognize the fact that the more desirable business is the more costly business, and the tax incentive should be upped to cover the first 100 million.

She throws in the usual bit about job creation because every tax scheme needs a job creation number to support it. That film production could generate 2,000 new jobs is most likely the absolute best case scenario that's more wishful thinking than hard numbers, but it is not easy to calculate the knock-on effect of star spotting as a new tourism draw.

After all, we speak English in Ireland, we have beer that we think is better than what you'll find in Prague, and we have all that cead mile failte to throw around.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I'll See Your Double Irish And Double Down

The Double Irish tax scheme has been under fire from non-Irish countries, like the United States, that do not wish to lower their corporate tax rates and insist that Ireland raise its rate so corporations stop flocking to Ireland to save some money.

The grumbling has verged on extortion in America, where AbbVie has just decided to drop its acquisition of Shire Pharmaceuticals because new laws meant to punish Double Irish consumers would have made the deal less profitable. All to the good of Shire, which stands to gain a break-up fee of something around one billion dollars, which it will then use to buy another company so it can grow while AbbVie can go explain to its stockholders why things just didn't work out in the pending marriage.

Enticing foreign corporations to locate on Ireland's shores brought in so much money that the Celtic Tiger was born. There was no need to produce anything, and on an island without a lot of natural resources, that means a great deal. It was the tax inversion that brought prosperity to a poor country for the first time in its existence. Under pressure, Ireland has had to scrap the scheme.

At the same time, governmental types are well aware of the benefits of tax inversions, and just because they have caved in to the pressure on the Double Irish, they aren't going to not offer special deals and various bargains for foreign corporations willing to set up a small office in Dublin. And hire a couple of Irish nationals to shuffle the paperwork.

So the State will see your Double Irish rate of 12.5 percent and double down.

Have a patent, perhaps? Register it in Dublin and it's Irish intellectual property. Your tax rate? 6.25 percent.

It will be called "The Knowledge Box", as in computer technology knowledge that might be used by Amazon, Apple, Google, or Ebay. It's new drugs that might be developed by any of the big pharma companies that already have a presence in Ireland, and might therefore be enticed to stay.

Government is working with the very executives of these multinational firms affected by the death of the Double Irish, and together they will develop a policy that will save those multinationals some money. You don't see anyone in Government consulting with foreign heads of state on the new scheme, do you? It's being done to keep the tax inversion money flowing in, and what those foreign heads of state competing for the same pile of cash want is the opposite of what would be best for Ireland.

If the EU doesn't go for it, then there are other schemes in the works that can be modelled on similar tactics currently in force in other EU nations that were hoping to siphon off Ireland's tax exiles who would leave when the deal wasn't so good, and go looking for a more welcoming tax levy.

The Double Irish might be gone but the notion of attracting foreign investment via tax savings is still very much alive and well.

All that chatter out of Washington DC will not kill off what brought new life to a poor country. There is always a way around whatever barriers are erected, especially when money is involved and the Irish taxpayer is stretched to the limit and can't be asked for more.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Small Press Publishing Is Another Word For Non-Profit

On the heels of his success as an author, Dave Eggers wanted to share more of his sort of writing with the world. After all, the average publisher was looking for sales, not artistry, and he wanted to bring more artistry to readers whose brains were not being stimulated by the likes of THE DA VINCI CODE or other such drivel. It was a diet of cake when a reader needed more substantial verbal nutrition.

He started McSweeney's, a small house publisher that provided an outlet for the writerly writers who crafted beautiful prose or had something to say that wasn't being heard.

Mr. Eggers discovered something along the way.

There is no money in publishing.

McSweeney's has just gone from being a small publisher to a small non-profit.

We here at Newcastlewest Books can sympathize.

We started our small publishing company because we weren't finding the kinds of books that we liked to read coming out of the major houses. Knowing that we were not alone, we organized around the realization that we would not make money in providing books for a small niche market. We did not go into the publishng game to turn a profit because it is next to impossible.

Operating a firm with volunteers has its limits, and McSweeney's grew too big to be operated by dedicated individuals working for love alone. You need a few editors if you're cranking out more than three books per year, and fair play to you if you find quality editors who will work for free. There are not all that many indepedently wealthy individuals in the world, and not enough to create a full staff.

Mr. Eggers had the added burden of additional staff to put out a quarterly journal. If you are familiar with literary rags, you know that they are generally published by universities who are offering students some practical experience in publishing and creative writing as part of a degree-granting program. The costs are met by the school, which does not have to turn a profit. Its mission is to turn out competent professionals, and that is a far different mission than anything Mr. Eggers set out to do when he launched McSweeney's.

He found that he was operating on a shoestring that was normally frayed. Meeting salaries can be a nightmare when sales are down, and with not enough spare change in the average reader's pocket to buy a book, sales are down these days. Digital publishing is less costly, to an extent, but then there is the marketing expense and a publisher just can't make ends meet.

Instead of relying on income from sales, McSweeney's will rely on donations from people who want to become members. Those who believe in what Mr. Eggers is doing can donate to the new non-profit McSweeney's, and he hopes to see the publisher's finances turn around so that he can complete some projects that are languishing for lack of funding.

Without the pressure to generate capital, Mr. Eggers can return to what he does best, and what he wants to do more than chase dollars. He can concentrate on his writing, instead of fretting about the empty cupboard and the employees expecting to get paid at the end of the week.

Some of us at Newcastlewest Books know exactly what he means. But we're not ready to turn into a non-profit. We know we're non-profit already, but sometimes it isn't about the money.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hi-Yo Silver! Get 'Em Up Scout!

Me write 'em novel. You vote me best. Me sell soul to Amazon
Crowdsourcing Platform just didn't have the ring that Amazon needed for its new crowdsourcing platform.

From this day forward, writers---Get 'em up, Scout!

The initial buzz has become a reality and Amazon is now providing information on a new strategy to get itself into publishing. You might think that Amazon is a bit behind the times, given the considerable decline in popularity of the popularity contests that made Simon Cowell wealthy. For a time, it was thought to be a good way to assess talent, by having people perform and then letting the audience choose their favorite. If the public had what they wanted, the reasoning went, surely they would then buy what the talent produced.

As things turned out, the public did not support what they elected. Winners of past televised competitions could fill an entire "Where Are They Now?" programme.

But Amazon is not deterred. Their new addition will take that popularity contest and apply it to the written word. It will be called Kindle Scout.

No one is going to spend money on printing books that may not sell. An e-book is the most economical means to test the system and see if a popularity contest can result in a best-seller.

The author has to come up with the costly items, like a book cover and back copy that will intrigue and captivate readers. The author has to do the spell-checking and the editing, or pay an editor to do it. The writer has to create a logline and a short synopsis, which means the author has to have some powerful marketing skills. An extremely talented writer without those skills will lose the contest even though their novel is far superior. That's why authors want literary agents to represent them to the Big Five publishing houses. So if marketing isn't your thing, there's another expense for you.

Did no one at Amazon notice that their Breakthrough Novel Award hasn't produced any blockbuster best-sellers yet? But still the mighty behemoth pushes ahead, to do the same thing with digital books.

As was already described, the Scout scheme has an author competing against fellow authors to make the cut. They then have to convince their friends and friends of friends ad infinitum to choose their novel as the best of the bunch. The winner than gets to have their book published by Amazon Kindle, which you could do for free without going through the work of the selection process but everyone loves a competition.

The winner then sells their soul to Amazon in the form of a five year deal in which Amazon holds the rights. Again, you could keep the rights yourself if you just went and published the book yourself, but there's a temptation tossed in. Amazon will give the winner an advance of $1500. Sell more books than are covered by the advance on royalties and you'll be raking in the money.  That will be a lot of e-books.

What an author gains is what publicity Amazon will deliver to promote the contest and make it appealing to more authors who in turn bring in more of the public to Amazon's digital world. All it takes is one best-seller to get things going for Amazon, which has not shown any sort of success in its publishing ventures.

So get 'em Scout!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Public Works Used To Be Heavy-Duty

Old school
Think back to the Days of Rage, when Chicago was hosting the Democratic National Convention and the war protest movement arrived to, well, protest. Some of the unwashed masses climbed the statue of Civil War general John Logan and did their protesting from an elevation. The statue didn't break, did it?

Of course not. Because back in the day, civic leaders ordered memorial statues that were built to last. The statue is still there, in fact, still standing proud and tall in Grant Park.

The new trend these days is to slap up a monument that isn't going to be permanent. Change them out every year or two, and then advertise like crazy to get the tourists in to see the new series of memorials. The statues aren't intended to last forever because tourists don't come back to see the same painted cows or furniture or even a giant Marilyn Monroe.

There is a slight problem with these temporary installations.

Tourists take pictures with them, in part to memorialize a trip to Chicago and in part to preserve an image of an object that's going to be taken off the street in a short period of time.

And when tourists take pictures, there's no security guard there to yell at them when they decide to pose themselves on the statue.

Not exactly Days of Rage posing, but isn't it cute to put little Junior on the back of that colorful horse statue that commemorates one of Chicago's fallen police officers?

Modern throw-away culture
And isn't it funny to mount up when you're drunk and have your friends snap your photo while you do your impression of the 1968 protesters climbing all over John Logan's horse?

When that equine objet d'art is made of fiberglass, you can bet that at some point things are going to get broken. And that is exactly what is
happening to Chicago's horses on parade.

A horse decorated to look like Pegasus lost its wings when a man at the age of foolishness (twenty-something is a dangerous time for the developing male brain) climbed up and sat on the horse. The wings, unfortunately, were right where a rider's legs would be, and, well, this isn't a bronze replica of a horse. The wings broke off and Darius Moss is looking at three felony counts of criminal damage to property. News reports don't say, but we all can assume the man was under the influence of intoxicating beverages at the time. Or he just thought it would be funny. Not that he's laughing now.

Then there was the horse that the cast of "Chicago PD" was good enough to sign. At the conclusion of the exhibit, the horses are going to be auctioned off for a charity benefitting the families of fallen police officers, and that horse was likely to bring in some big money. Someone saw all those signatures and thought the art would be improved with graffiti. Somewhere there's a cell phone with a picture of the art and the artist, If the photo finds its way to the police department, there'll be a second individual looking at a felony count or two.

There's the horse-tipping incident that resulted in some serious injury, to the statue. A family was doing what they were supposed to be doing, but who knew there was a load limit on the statue? Did the John Logan statue buckle under the weight of the hippies? No. But the horse statue went right over. What's next? Some prankster will find inspiration and decide to reproduce the horse head scene from THE GODFATHER, but with fiberglass. Halloween is coming. What could be more fun at the end of a night of binge drinking?

They don't make art like they used to. Nothing is made to last.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Clever Word Play Is Not Always Appropriate

Alex Lyons is not the first person to have problems with Ireland's health service. The man was so unfortunate as to fall ill in the first place, and then found himself in a tangle of bureaucracy that left him so frustrated he lashed out. It was the lashing out with his tongue that got him in trouble.

Mr. Lyons is a comedian who has written for radio artists. You may have heard some of his cleverly scripted banter on the radio, but you'd never know it of course because there are no credits rolling at the end of a radio programme.

The gardai who were given a performance at St. James Hospital had no idea they were dealing with a man who had a particular affinity for the spoken word. They clearly did not get the joke. Mr. Lyons got arrested.

The comedian-writer was upset at being discharged from hospital following treatment for a stroke, not because he was not properly treated, but because he was not properly sent off with the required paperwork that he needed to get financial assistance to tide him over until he was fully back on his feet and able to compose humorous sentences once again.

When you're not well, you don't have much of a sense of humour and when that's your bread and butter, you're in for a hard time.

Mr. Lyons was so worked up over the frustration of dealing with paper pushers that he thought he was having another stroke. He raced back to the hospital and jumped out of his car, only to be ordered to move the car by security personnel who did not like people parking where they shouldn't. The man wasn't stabbed or shot or otherwise bleeding profusely, so it wasn't much of a real emergency, was it?

Hilarity did not ensue, but the fight was on. Mr. Lyons had to be forcibly restrained, and the next thing he knew the gardai were called. He wanted to be seen by a doctor, but instead he was being given the boot. Is this how to treat a sick man?

Mr. Lyons reached the boiling point. He turned his fury on the garda and called the man a Nazi. Not just any sort of Nazi, but a cabbage, bacon and spud-munching culchie Nazi. The garda took great offense at being called a culchie. And a prick. The abusive language was just too much to let it roll off the officer's back.

If Mr. Lyons can scratch up 150 spare euro he can be cleared of all charges. The judge decided that the offense was not particularly serious and anyone who's dealt with the health service could understand the display of temper. As for Mr. Lyons, he's not rolling in dough. Few comedians make it in a tough industry. He'd just like the whole thing to be tossed out so he can go home and write some clever banter for Marty Whelan.

Maybe if the judge enforces the charitable donation deal there'll be some jokes written about jackeen judges that are none too complimentary....

Friday, October 10, 2014

Is This Name Taken?

When literary agent Laurie McLean needed a name for her new agency, she wanted something clever but also something that could be used in marketing her business. She was after attracting authors who are sensitive to words and so she could not just slap any name on her agency. Laurie McLean and Associates sounds dull and plodding like the old school agencies, and she planned to be different.

After much thought, Foreword Literary was born.

It said a lot in a few letters. Foreword to imply going ahead, onward and upward, leaving the past behind. Foreword to suggest thinking ahead and what author would not want their agent to be thinking ahead to the next deal and the next novel? On foreword thinking a career is built. Foreword to hint at the agent's aggressiveness when dealing with recalcitrant acquisitions editors, because you want your agent to be foreword in their approach. Getting a foot (metaphor for manuscript) in the door of a major publishing house is not accomplished by the shy, retiring type.

Sorry, but this name is taken.

Apparently there is also a small publication called Foreword Magazine, and they hold a copyright on their name.

And because they hold a copyright, they informed the partners of Foreword Literary that the agency was in violation of the law. There's a nice bit of showing instead of telling. The magazine showed the literary agency that they would take them to court and sue them for using the name Foreword in conjunction with a literary endeavour. Just by noting the existence of a copyright and a lawyer.

The agency could have made a case for itself. It's Literary, not Magazine, so technically it's not the same. Arguing that would take money to cover legal fees, however, and the agency is too new to have very deep pockets. Then there is the fight itself, which might not have been worth fighting at those prices.

Foreword Literary is about to become Fuse Literary. Still has a little cuteness to it from a marketing angle, with a suggestion of lighting a fuse and blowing a hole in the wall of Random Penguin House or HarperCollins to get your manuscript under the nose of the right people. Lighting a fuse to get your career started with a bang, perhaps. It's all a bit more violent than being foreword, which could mean rude, but after you've used up your best selection it's hard to get very enthused about the second place finisher.

There'll be an updated website in time, and updated e-mail addresses to go with it. Planning to submit to one of Foreword's agents any time soon? Be sure to mention the changes in your query opening, something about hoping the e-mail you have will work because, you know, the name is taken and Foreword has to sit somewhere else in cyberspace.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Patrick Modiano wins Nobel Prize for Literature

You can read the story here but there isn't much to enlighten you about the man who won the Nobel Prize of his writing.

Patrick Modiano wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Ever heard of him? Neither have I.

This is like watching the Academy Awards and realizing that you've not seen one of the movies that are in the running, and have no real interest in seeing them, either.

So Patrick Modiano has a talent for writing "the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation". So says the Nobel committee. What the fuck does that gibberish mean?

I did see Lacombe Lucien and thought it was a brilliant film, but that's a screenplay, isn't it? There were subtitles. I did read something, so maybe that's where the literature came in. Mr. Modiano helped the director write it, but was I misguided in thinking it was more Louis Malle than anyone else? The music was brilliant. I'm a fan of Django Rheinhardt.

According to reports,Patrick Modiano is well known in France, so the French are delighted that he won the Nobel Prize. The rest of the world? It's a collective shrug of the shoulders before moving on to the art of survival in the life-world of an economic recession without end. Some will be curious and seek out Mr. Modiano's books, at least those that are available in English. Other than that, we'll carry on and move towards our ungraspable human destiny. And hope to find a friend to line us up with a publisher, like Patrick Modiano had a break early in his career thanks to a connection in the industry.

That's pretty ungraspable there, isn't it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Queen's University Lecturer And Academic Excellence

Queen Victoria founded a college in Belfast when she was a but a youngster, shortly before one million of her Irish subjects starved to death in a country that was exporting food. You could say that her namesake university was born under a dark star, in that case.

Queen's University Belfast is not one of the top 200 universities in the world, and it might be due to the school's lack of skill in hiring the lecturers who do the teaching who drive the scores of the league tables.

If they had any sense, would they have hired a lecturer who had already been given the sack at another school for harassing women?
Walking the walk, not just talking the psychology talk

Professor Patrick Martens was given a police caution back in 2008 after the women complained, and so he moved on to another school. Instead of remaining in England, he crossed the Irish Sea and found employment at another British institution. He had not learned from his earlier escapades, and managed to repeat them. He was a psychology researcher, so clearly he knew a thing or two about the mind. Not so much about his own, apparently.

At Queen's, the professor went about his teaching duties and just couldn't resist the urge to make someone's life a misery. There was something about women and Mr. Martens that he just couldn't get away from. A woman at Queen's lodged a complaint shortly after the professor arrived. Mr. Martens took umbrage, but he went after a fellow academic whose duties included investigating such harassment complaints. 

Went after is too weak a term. Professor Martens barraged his victim with hate mail for months. At trial it was revealed that the professor's colleague received over 500 bits of correspondence, including phone calls and e-mails and good old snail mail. Oh, yes, and he threatened to slaughter the academic and the academic's family.

Is this the sort of person you'd want teaching your offspring about psychology? He doesn't seem to have much grasp of the topic, does he?

Who thought he was the right man for the job? Was it his own experience as a patient in a mental hospital that added weight to his CV? Was it the treatment he received in England for mental health issues that made him the perfect candidate for the post?

The prof was quickly barred from the university campus and had to keep his distance from the colleague's home in County Antrim. So there he was, without a job again and facing a stint in prison.

But this is a political psychology wizard, and Mr. Martens managed to get out of Belfast and back to his hometown in Germany by using a clever ploy. He threw himself on the mercy of the court, citing an urgent need to get back home to be with his son who was seriously ill. The judge fell for it. Maybe the professor was a better instructor in psychology than his bizarre actions suggested.

Professor Martens was back in court yesterday to face charges that he lied through his teeth about having a critically ill son. There is no son. Mr. Martens just wanted to get out of jail.

He will no doubt find himself behind bars soon enough. Lying to a judge is not an offense that the courts take lightly, especially when the victim of the stalking crime was roaring about the injustice in letting Mr. Martens go to Germany in the first place.

It makes you wonder, if the lunatics are running the asylums. And the universities.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Opposite Of A Criminal Mastermind

Why are the bad guys always masterminds in crime novels? Would you like to have a criminal in your novel who is more like the regular sort of criminal that authorities see every day?

Perhaps you'd want to rethink that.

Literary evil-doers have to outsmart the characters who are in pursuit, and it's asking too much of a reader to believe that all police detectives are bumbling idiots. Unless you're writing farce, your characters need to interact in a way that keeps the reader interested, and ordinary criminals just are not particularly clever.

Writing about a drug kingpin? You would not want to model one after the likes of Peter Shaw, who thought he was a bit of a mastermind himself.
Your assurance of purity...and a guilty verdict

Mr. Shaw had a nice little business going, a home-based operation that brought in the money he needed to support himself. Living in Nottingham, he may have been inspired by the Robin Hood legends, all that taking from the rich to give to himself...the poor. Whatever.

At any rate, Mr. Shaw was selling drugs and processing his goods at his kitchen sink. A good drug lord keeps a tidy establishment. Wouldn't want the clients falling ill. That would be bad for business.

He was so proud of his set-up that he asked a friend to photograph him as he went about his work, to show potential buyers that the drugs they were taking were prepared in a clean facility. There he was, in gloves and mask, not unlike a laborer in a pharmaceutical factory. No worries about purity from Mr. Shaw's drug supply. It was a fact worth memorializing on a cell phone, especially if a client balked at prices. Take out the phone and display the photographic evidence of cleanliness and it's worth a few extra pounds, right?

What Mr. Shaw forgot is that the local constabulary are not at his level of intelligence, which is apparently low. He tossed out a bad batch of crack cocaine using his regular dust bin, and it did not take long for the police to determine whose dust bin it was. One of the first things that police do when they catch someone they suspect of a crime is to check the cell phone for further evidence, and there it was. The advertising photos became evidence that Mr. Shaw was a drug dealer.

Your drug dealing character could fall prey to an act of negligence, but to make him or her as reckless as Mr. Shaw would not give you much room for the narrative arc to run any distance. No, your criminal character should be a mastermind, a person with enough intelligence to know how to cover their tracks and outsmart the authorities on their trail.

Your ordinary, everyday drug lord could only last through a short story, and you'd be hard-pressed to make the chase particularly interesting at all. Not too many twists and turns to a story where the evidence is sitting on a cell phone in a pants pocket. Once the police do a basic pat down and confiscate that phone it's over and would your readers stick with you to the end of that?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Where Thrillers Come From

You've read GONE GIRL and you wonder where an author could get an idea like the plot of that book. A woman goes missing and it's presumed to be murder but it's something quite different. Where does that kind of inspiration come from?

Here's a writing prompt to help you get started on your own thriller. The ending is not written. Neither is the solution to the question of who did what to whom. That's your task as an author.

It's the cops task as law enforcement, but they can't make it up as they go along. Yes, this is a real case.

Start with a man. An ordinary man, the sort of person you'd pass on the street and not notice.

He's not satisfied with his life. Maybe he's bored to death, living in some non-descript corner of Chicago's south side. Maybe there's no work and he's ready to move on.

He will be a White Sox fan. You want that touch of authenticity to your story, to create a setting without going into a lot of dry detail about the location of his home. Do the showing instead of the telling.

He goes to Las Vegas to make a new start. He loses contact with his family. There could be squabbles or bad blood going back years. It's whatever you want it to be, but you need a little mystery to his past to make a thriller work. Bit by bit, as you write the story, you reveal the cause of the rift. That's what keeps the pages turning.

So he's in Vegas and he meets a woman. That happens all the time. They get married. That's a common enough occurrence. The next thing anyone knows she's back at her home in small-town Indiana. No one knows if her husband is with her.

That's the opening. Once you have the reader hooked on the mystery of why this man left his home and cut off contact, and what became of him post-Vegas, you charge straight into the core of the mystery driving the narrative.

The man's sister calls police because she hasn't heard from her brother since he took off for Vegas, except to let her know he was marrying this lady from Indiana. When she goes to this woman's house, she is denied entry. Her new sister-in-law won't even speak to her.

A few days later, a friend of the wife call to say they haven't heard from her and they're worried, can the cops check on her? Oh, and her mother's been visiting so it's all a bit odd that no one answers the phone.

When the police arrive, they find the wife dying from a stroke. She's rushed to the hospital but she's gone before the cops can question her.

Her mother is nowhere to be seen, even though her clothes are there and her medicine is there and her car is there.

The husband? Not a trace.

The police in Fowler, Indiana, are working on this case and they don't have a clue as to where Milan Lekich or his mother-in-law Nena Metoyer have gone. They are asking the public for help in locating the two, who could be alive. Or they could be dead.

Gone Girl? Gone Boy and Gone Mother.

Now sit down and write.