Thursday, April 30, 2015

Is It The Writing Or Is It The Coffee

Will it translate into exotic, rare and exquisite prose?
Many a novel has been penned under the influence of caffeine. Check the Twitterverse and you'll find countless references to coffee in the short blurbs posted by those who are bent over a keyboard, creating literary magic.

Does it matter what kind of coffee you are drinking? If you drink better coffee, can you be a better writer?

It is said that J. K. Rowling wrote the first of the Harry Potter series while sitting in a coffee shop, where the air is rich with caffeine fumes. The brain would be under constant stimulation, which is what you want when you're trying to pull a word out of the dark recesses of your memory. A coffee shop sells better beans than what you'd find at the nearest McDonald's, so maybe your difficulty in getting a literary agent's attention has more to do with the coffee that fuels your creativity than your actual writing.

In other words, your writing would be better if you mingled with a better class of coffee beans.

The time has come, to take your pens and paper or your electronic writing device of choice, and park yourself in the nearest Starbucks. Empty out your bank account before you go, however. You are investing in your literary career, and this particular fix is going to cost you.

Better beans, better words? Can you get any better than a pound of the black stuff that sets you back $80?

Maybe you have to keep to a budget and can't avoid putting some gas in the car so you can get to your job. You could buy a single cup of "Starbucks Reserve" at $7.50 and linger over it until it's gone ice cold. Watch your fellow Starbucks clients and try to sit next to someone else with the cash to buy a very expensive drink. Remember the power of the fumes. Lean over and inhale deeply, if you can do so without drawing too much attention to yourself.

What is so special about these beans?

In part, it's a rare offering. Only 2000 lbs were harvested, so you've got a case of supply and demand setting the price at auction.

Did the beans come from some special and unique area of Brazil, a small corner of the country that has some unusual soil qualities that affect the coffee plants and alter the composition of the fruit?

Does it matter?

As long as the best coffee around is available, why not try the treatment to make your writing the best around as well?

Besides, they have free Wi-Fi, don't they? When you get stumped you can take a little break and check your e-mail, to see if those literary agents have responded with a request for pages.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Relentless Tick Of The Biological Clock

Tick, tick, tick
The clock starts ticking from the minute we are born. Our lives are on a single trajectory, heading straight towards death. It matters, then, what we do in between those two events. Build a career? Run for public office? Give back to the community, contribute to the community, add a new person to the community?

For women, the clock ticks so loud that they may lose their senses. The desperation kicks in, with the relentless tick, tick, tick of the biological clock and the looming shadow of menopause growing larger. You can't wait to have a baby until you are ready. Your body is going to betray you if you wait too long.

Hairdresser Jenifer Perik heard little more than that clock ticking away. She is 42, and her fertile years are fast approaching their sad ending. It is a fact that all women know. Some are glad to see that day, to be released from worry about unplanned pregnancies or the hassle of birth control. Free at last, they will say. But what about those who just never got around to having a child, or who see the approach of menopause and realize that they are running out of time?

Tick, tick, tick.

The average man does not want to father a child as a favor to a wannabe mother because he's likely to be tapped for child support at some point. Maybe the mother-in-waiting has assured him that she only wants his sperm, but the law is the law and why take the risk?

Casual sex could solve the problem, but how do you go about picking up men of good genetic quality? You don't want an alcoholic or someone with a history of mental illness. Hook-ups might get you pregnant, but you run the risk of not hooking up with a guy during that brief window of monthly fertility, and there's another month gone and the clock just keeps ticking away.

Ms. Perik saw the solution to her maternal problem in a sperm bank. No need to screen the donor when it is done for you. Select hair color, eye color, build, intelligence, and whatever else you are looking for in a perfect father, and the material is sent to your door. It isn't all romance and candle light, but you can get yourself pregnant in the privacy of your own home. You get a baby, there is no need to form a relationship, and you'll never have to argue about child-rearing practices with a spouse.

Her biological clock was ticking and she wanted a baby.

Sperm does not come free if you go through a sperm bank. Ms. Perik could not afford the fees. $3,000 is a lot of money for a hairdresser. Maybe she could have saved up that much, but there was that biological clock ticking and she didn't have the time to accumulate that kind of cash.

Someone else had it. One of her clients, an elderly woman who paid by credit card.

One reason to have children is to have someone who loves us looking after us in our dotage, when we are easily bilked by those we trust. If your mind is going, it is a relief to know that your offspring will mind your affairs so that you aren't taken advantage of. Ms. Perik did not realize that her client had a daughter who paid the bills and reviewed the credit card statements.

So when a statement showed a purchase at a sperm bank, it was obvious that a crime had been committed.

Ms. Perik has been arrested for theft, to the tune of $6000. She must have realized that she would need furniture for the baby and maternity clothes for herself, none of which she could afford on her income, and the old lady didn't flinch after the first time the card was used, so why not a little more? That clock was just ticking away, so loud that Ms. Perik could not hear her conscience.

She is now free on bond. She is also seven weeks pregnant.

Let's hope that the stress of going to trial does not lead to a miscarriage. The clock is ticking and it's not easy to get yourself pregnant when you're in jail.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How Not To Design Your Book Cover

Publishing has never been easier for those with the drive to tackle the process. Easier being a relative term, of course. You have to acquire some skill to properly format the book's interior, and that's after you have edited the manuscript until it is a highly polished gem. The title has to be catchy. There is marketing after you've completed those tasks, but there is one aspect that could trip up your book before it is launched.

Readers do indeed judge books by their covers.

Your novel needs a cover that will catch the eye, while at the same time offer some insight into the content of your story. Consider the romance genre, and the ubiquitous bare-chested, abs of steel male model featured prominently. You can spot a Regency romance by the image of an adoring couple in period costume, with the distinctive waistline favored by the Empress Josephine showing, rather than telling, what era the reader will plunge into upon purchasing that novel.

But let us consider the erotic novel, which is something you are most likely to find as a self-published oeuvre. The Fifty Shades phenomenon began in the self-publishing realm because traditional publishers are not inclined to handle pornography.

If you've written a bit of mommy porn, you want a cover that hints at the steamy contents within, but you don't want too much explicit art on the cover. You want subtle, to appeal to women who are not comfortable leaving a book out where the wee little ones can see pictures and ask questions and cause no end of trouble.

You want beautiful people, of course. Pretty faces are more marketable than your own plain features gracing the cover. But where do you find pictures of such youthful beings?

If you want to avoid a lawsuit, go find a young couple willing to participate or buy some stock photos. Do not go to the Internet and download whatever picture strikes your fancy.

An author of erotica threw together a bunch of words and then picked a title that was pithy and timely. A GRONKING TO REMEMBER traded on an American footballer's name that became synonymous with a post-score celebration. People searching for information about the athlete just might be directed to the novel, and who knows but some of them would make a purchase on a whim, to see what erotic fiction was all about and did their sports hero play a role in the novel.

Said author found a photograph of a couple and downloaded it for use on the cover.

The couple saw the picture, which they had snapped as part of a photographic montage of their experiences from engagement to marriage.

The book cover caught the attention of the media, and suddenly the engagement picture was all over, associated with a pornographic novel. That's more than embarrassing, and worse, once something is out there online, it's there forever. The humiliation just goes on and on.

How do you track down an author using a pseudonym? And after you've forced the author to pull the book, how do you make it go away so people can't purchase the thing?

The publisher in a traditional setting would get sued. Publishers have in-house graphic artists to do book cover design so they avoid problems like this, but in the world of self-publishing, there are no such legal checks unless the self-publisher is aware of the restrictions. Just because there is a picture on the Internet doesn't mean it's there for the taking.

The couple whose faces are forever associated with a gronking to remember have sued Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble, suing them as the "publishers". The defense claims that they are not publishers at all. It is the self-publisher who is the publisher. The online marketplaces are just shops that sell an item. They don't have any control, or legal responsibility. Amazon pulled the book from its list, but that is all that it can do. Jeff Bezos didn't buy the manuscript and design the cover, now, did he? Go sue the person who did the publishing work, not the messenger.

The case will be heard in the U.S. Federal court because the issue is one of those things that has cropped up because technology is moving faster than the legal system.

Who is a publisher, in this day and age? A group of judges will have to define the term. While we are waiting for their answer, don't post pictures online that you wouldn't want to see on the cover of smut. And be very, very careful when designing the cover of your self-published opus.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Free Speech For The Intolerant

The French satirical rag 'Charlie Hebdo' was attacked and the art world decried the senseless murder of cartoonists.

PEN American Center jumped on the Je Suis Charlie bandwagon as well, and decided that this year it would give its prestigious award to 'Charlie Hebdo'. The award goes to a worthy body involved in protecting free speech, and isn't that what the magazine was all about?

Or was the French journal just an outlet for anti-Muslim hate speech?

Six writers, members of PEN, have turned down invitations to the annual dinner where the award will be presented. Their reason? They believe that 'Charlie Hebdo' was just a big bully picking on France's minority Muslim population. The magazine is guilty of oppression in its own way, according to novelist Rachel Kushner. 'Charlie Hebdo' tries to force secularism, much like the Islamic fascists try to force their version of their religion down everyone's throats. It isn't so much free speech in the face of oppression as the other side of the intolerance coin.

Peter Carey suggests that the attack was not unexpected, given the level of French arrogance about their culture. They're all intolerant, those froggies, thinking that their culture is so feckin' superior. Sure the food is superb and when it comes to fashion you'll not find anyone more chic than a Parisian woman, but does that make France so much better than, say, Saudi Arabia?

Even the likes of Gary Trudeau, who could never be accused of conservatism, criticized the magazine for presenting what is little more than hate speech. 'Charlie Hebdo' attacks the powerless minority, he noted, forgetting that the magazine also goes after Judaism and Catholicism with equal vehemence. But that aspect touches more on Mr. Carey's remarks in regard to French arrogance about their culture. They have been so obsessively anti-religion since the revolution that they take great pride in their secularism.

It was the French, after all, who turned Notre Dame cathedral into a secular theatre after royal heads rolled into the gutter.

The artists and writers who produced 'Charlie Hebdo' were just French people being French, in France.

They weren't speaking truth to power locally. The French government was not cracking down on them. Not so much, at any rate.

'Charlie Hebdo' is not worthy of recognition by PEN American Center, according to the six writers who voiced a protest. In fact, the magazine is guilty of bringing an attack on itself. So if Pope Francis sends in the Swiss Guards to shoot up the place, we'll know why. An assault on the journal's offices by the Mossad? It would be due to French arrogance and a religious group getting mocked that brings on retaliation. There can't be speech that is completely free, if someone can define your version of free speech as hate speech.

Those who demonstrate intolerance are not entitled to say whatever they like. Someone might take offense.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The House Of Hawthorne: A Book Review

Happy families are all alike, said Leo Tolstoy in the opening of a novel about a most unhappy family. Unhappy families make for better novels because they are unhappy in so many different ways.

To read THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE is to read of a happy family, but the alikeness will draw in readers of romantic fiction who crave the reveries of great, passionate love and a couple devoted to each other. They are poor, then they are comfortably well off, and they never lose their passion despite the ordinary difficulties of life in the 1840's.

The novel approaches the tale of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia Peabody through her eyes, the wife whose creative talents were suppressed so that she could be a mother. This is no feminist screed, but an historically accurate depiction of a choice made. Ms. Peabody was a gifted artist who put aside her brushes for motherhood, at a time when women were expected to retreat into the background and support their husbands.

There is no definable plot. Rather, the novel is a timeline of events that reel in the literary world of the Transcendental period. Thoreau and Emerson have their time on author Erika Robuck's stage, a 'Who's Who' of American letters set against a backdrop of turmoil as the country lurched towards the Civil War.

THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE leans more towards the romantic side of romantic historical fiction, and it can drag in the early going. Sophia's time in Cuba did not really add much to her character's development, and I was left wondering why so much space was given over to that part of the narrative.

The novel is a good choice for a summer beach read. The characters are not quite three-dimensional, and they don't do much besides live an ordinary life, but there is a place in publishing for books that exist only to entertain.

Disclaimer: This is a First-To-Read copy from Penguin.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Minnow Dines Again

Thar she blows!
Has it been so long since little Riverdeep Publishing swallowed up Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin that the publishing world has forgotten the disaster that followed? The little minnow choked on those two mighty whales, and those who lost their jobs as the merger sank ever deeper will never forget those days.

The Celtic Tiger was on the prowl and there was money to be had, until suddenly there was not, and working people became synergies to be realized.

What remained of the debacle became Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and the shrunken whale, back to minnow size, fought for life in a sea of declining sales as hard-pressed school councils cut back on purchases of educational materials. The money had dried up and there was little to be had. Competition in the educational materials publishing world grew ever more fierce. HMH struggled on, and managed to exit bankruptcy.

While the economy never came roaring back, HMH managed to turn itself around in a leaner form. Like any dieter, however, HMH has a craving that can only be satisfied by eating.

A snack for the hungry minnow
HMH is buying the Educational and Technology Services wing of Scholastic. The resurgent minnow dines again, swallowing up an entity that fits in with the current trend towards digital products in education. 

As you would expect, HMH is trumpeting the wisdom of the transaction, with the key elements of Scholastic's digital unit meshing so beautifully with HMH's existing products and sales staff. All it will take are a few synergies realized and the newly acquired unit will generate capital in abundance. The deal is good for HMH, in other words, and stockholders should be well pleased with the move. Share prices will rise, and the annual dividend can only increase.

What's not to like in this deal? It isn't anywhere near as astronomical as Barry O'Callaghan's former meals. At around $575 million, that's almost equivalent to a little bite of whale. More like a single serving, in fact. The diet is not broken. The restored minnow has learned its lesson and will not get fat and bloated again.

Those who will not like this can't-miss deal are the people who, as their colleagues at Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin before them, will come to discover just what a realized synergy is.

It is you. It is your job, especially if you work at Scholastic and someone at HMH does the same thing you do.

When you are about to be made redundant, in an environment where job creation is sluggish and jobs in publishing are not available, you don't care about the boost to HMH's bottom line. You worry about putting food on your own table while the minnow tackles a full plate.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

To Protect The French Fashion Industry

Pictures are worth thousands of words, they say, but some people use the wrong words for a picture and they end up with the wrong message. Words have an important use, especially when the picture can be misinterpreted.

Such a misinterpretation has cost the Bouches-du-Rhone council in France tens of thousands of euro.

The local governing body produced a booklet to help new mothers track the progress of their newborns. If you're going to be bragging about the wee little ones at the park, you want written proof of your assertions, or you might need a log to keep records of rapidly changing progress. You would feel foolish if you boasted that little Pierre had grown two centimeters since last week when in fact he had stretched out another two and three-quarters centimeters.

You don't want your friends to think you're not paying attention to the bebe's progress, now, would you.

The best of intentions, then, were behind the production of the book. The council even had a picture for the front cover that spoke volumes about how French mothers should raise their children, but the feminists gave it a good perusal and cried sexism.

Look at that, they screamed, using some of the thousands of words that the picture replaced. A girl is measuring her waist. A girl is looking at the circumference of her torso and she is near to tears! Mon Dieu! What is the French government trying to do to our daughters but encourage them to develop eating disorders.

The French government is only trying to maintain the French fashion industry, and today's little girls are being asked to step up and do their part. That means a focus on body size, unfortunately, but someone has to do it.

Fashion models are tall and slim, and that fact is well reflected in the cover art for the health brochure. Be tall, be thin, and the celebrities will continue to flock to the ateliers and French seamstresses will continue to find employment.

The feminists just used the wrong words, and the local council pulled the booklet rather than try to explain the hidden message behind the photograph. It's a complicated issue, and it would take far too many words to fully explain the image. And when you are dealing with feminists, they are not huge fans of the fashion industry to begin with, so even an explanation would still result in cries of sexism.

The feminists are not looking at the bigger picture of an industry that employs thousands of people, from those who design the fabric prints to those who grow the cotton or the wool or the spandex. There are shop clerks selling the fashion and they have families to support. The French government just wants to keep the industry alive and thriving with the subliminal message to new mothers.

Don't let your babies grow up to be fat, lumpy Americans or dowdy Irish types. Keep the French look for your infants, or the world as we know it will cease to exist.

Then it will be nothing but Italian designs coming out of Milan, and that would be intolerable.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Tragedy Avoided

The case of the missing barrels has been solved and the world breathes a sigh of relief
Bourbon was disappearing from Kentucky distilleries. Not evaporating, which happens during the aging process. Actual, unexplainable, disappearance. Would the world soon run out of bourbon?

It was a nightmare for the distillers, who noticed that some of their priciest barrels were being tapped. There was no evidence of leaking, no pools of expensive bourbon puddling on the floor. In the shipping department there were no broken bottles or packing cases soaked with runaway bourbon. With the pilfering, of course, went some profit, because that stolen alcohol was not available for bottling and sale. What was not for sale was therefore not taxed, either, and the government was losing out on the theft as well.

You have your moonshiners in Kentucky, as well as surrounding areas that are home to the descendants of the Ulster Plantation who left Ireland to make a new life in America. They have their own mindset when it comes to the law, so when there is a chance to avoid paying a tax, there are participants on both sides of the equation.

Several people who worked at the affected distilleries were recently charged with stealing bottles of bourbon and then selling them on the black market. All the profit went into their pocket, with no expense. The scheme ran for a few years, providing some extra income for those stupid enough to think they could lift a few cases and never be noticed.

Sooner or later, someone is going to keep an eye on the warehouse to watch what comes in and goes out. When someone goes out with something they aren't supposed to be taking, well, that's how thieves usually get caught.

Gilbert Curtsinger, bourbon specialist
Gilbert Curtsinger worked at the Buffalo Trace distillery, where the brand enjoyed such a surge of popularity that it was rationed for a time. Short supplies tend to lead to higher prices, we've been told, and at some point Mr. Curtsinger realized that he could be benefiting from that delightful aspect of supply-side economics.

Someone tipped off authorities, who found several barrels of ill-gotten gains in Mr. Curtsinger's home. Sure there's no honor among thieves. All it takes is one cohort getting greedy and the whole scheme is blown up.

By taking the costlier product, Mr. Curtsinger worked his way into a more serious charge because the value of the stolen goods will dictate the severity of the crime. A six-figure theft will hurt more than the taking of a bottle or two. On top of the stealing, however, is the tax evasion business because he failed to collect and deposit all the different levies placed on demon alcohol. You could say he's got more than enough troubles.

The bourbon theft ring has been rumbled and the supply of bourbon is once again safe.

A tragedy of epic proportions has been avoided, and just in time. The Kentucky Derby could not be run without the requisite mint juleps, and you can't make mint juleps without bourbon.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Freelance Opportunity For Non-Fiction Writers

You aren't making much money as a freelancer, so you might as well adjust your business model. Take a page from the supermarket industry and look to volume on those slim margins to turn a profit. and could use your skill and knowledge. They will pay you €50 per hour. Not a bad rate, especially if you can write for long periods of time. Imagine how much you might earn in a full day, while still having time to pursue other, less profitable but more respectable projects.

Think of all the university students out there in the English-speaking world who have papers due but don't want to invest the time to research and write those papers. You could write them. You could get paid to write something that you might have scribbled in your own university days, in fact, and get something out of all those words besides a degree.

By signing on with sites that put freelancers and needy students together, you will be handed assignments without having to chase down an editor to beg for a little work. Instead, the work would come to you.

If you are considering such an option, you should be warned that this particular opportunity is not going to be available for much longer.

Teachers who assign written papers are realizing that their students are paying places like Odesk to provide them with the required piece, which is quite contrary to the purpose of assigning the project. Students are in school to learn, not spend their study hours doing things that they see as "fun". A purchased paper means the student did nothing to advance learning in whatever topic, whether it be science or current events.

In addition, a student submitting that sort of thing under their own name could technically be accused of plagiarism. Using a ghost writer is frowned upon in academia.

University administrators are also not happy about the service because members of their community are accepting the fees to write assignments to supplement meager incomes, and what good does it do to pay an instructor to teach if that instructor goes ahead and writes the papers for a few hundred euro each? Every student gets high marks on the brilliance, and there's your grade inflation. The student, then, learns nothing, the instructor makes enough to pay rent for a few extra months, and the graduates arrive in the work world unprepared to do the work.

Strike while the iron is hot, the blacksmiths say. If you can find a way around the plagiarism software that many universities are now using to detect pay-to-write work, your fortune is made if you act quickly.

Just remember to not sell the same paper to students in the same class at the same university, and be sure to jumble those sentences around. The software looks for 20% repetition. 

But it's work, isn't it, and it pays. That's what freelancing is all about.

Let the universities deal with the issue in their own way. You have to earn a living, and you can't be too particular. That's also what freelancing is all about.

Friday, April 17, 2015

If You Build It, They Will Raze It

Your new home here----if Wicklow County Council approves
A man's home is his castle, inviolate, protected under the Irish Constitution. Man has the right to own property, and that would include owning a piece of land and/or the house sitting on it.

A man can, therefore, build a house on his personal property if he likes, and live in it with his family. Family is also protected under the Constitution. Put a family in that house and you're safe twice over.

Or so you might think.

After the Constitution was ratified, a government sprang up to manage all the rules and regulations. Among those rules were planning ordinances that defined where and how man could exercise his natural rights regarding personal property. The Irish State stumbled along in its moribund state for decades with those laws, and the next thing anyone knew, prosperity came knocking and changed everything.

Men started building houses all over the place, wherever they thought other men would pay generously for amenities like a lovely view or a fishing stream or the nearby roar of the Irish Sea.

The authorities looked at the hodge-podge of homes taking up valuable farming land, or blocking lovely views to the detriment of others, and devised more rules and regulations to control where man could exercise his natural rights.

But this is Ireland, the land of the conniving colonist with centuries of practice at skirting laws seen as unjust. At least the laws were unjust when the British were making them. The habit just never quite faded out with time.

Gary Kinsella bought a plot of ground in County Wicklow, conveniently located along a major road. It's all about location when you're in the real estate game, and who wouldn't want to be near easy access to the motorways. There was some sort of structure already on site, but it did not suit Mr. Kinsella's needs, so he tore it down and then built himself a charming little chalet. He moved in with his partner and their child, and by all appearance they were quite happy.

Wicklow County Council notified Mr. Kinsella that he was in violation of local planning laws. He could not build anything, much less a home, without their permission. He said he would come in and file the proper forms, but it was just talk. Hadn't the martyrs of 1916 shed their blood so that a cold bureacracy couild no longer deny a man his natural right to a home for his family?

Mr. Kinsella never got that back-dated permission. He just went on ahead with his building project. The Constitution, he was confident, would protect his family home once he had it up and was living in it.

We're razing it, said Wicklow County Council, to which Mr. Kinsella shrugged and went back to puttering in the shed.

We mean it, the Council repeated, and they took Mr. Kinsella to court where he threw himself on the Constitution and its promises. Mr. Justice Kearns listened to both sides, and stood with the Council.

People cannot just erect homes wherever they like, the judge determined, or there would be bungalows surrounding the GPO filled with people claiming their natural rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. If a home is inviolate to that extent, anyone could slap up a lean-to or erect a shed and say it was home, sweet home, and the authorities could do nothing to move them out.

The Kinsellas will be given a timeframe for their removal, followed by the demolition of the family home.

The government has the authority to enforce its rules regarding where a man's inviolate home can be placed. If you build it without that approval, they will raze it.

The days of the Penal Laws and all the cheating that went on to get around them are over.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

South Park: The Literary Version

Writer retreats are often situated in places where the writer can avoid distractions. You'd like to be free of distractions when you are reading as well, so that you can sink into the prose and let the rhythms echo inside your head without someone trying to strike up a conversation because, well, you're only reading, it's not like you're doing anything.

The Rocky Mountain Land Library is that place.
Your next novel could be born here
Bookshop owners Jeff Lee and Ann Martin of Denver, Colorado, have invested their life's savings in an old ranch up in the thin air of the Rockies. With additional funding provided by the South Park National Heritage Area, they are going forward on a plan that is a writer/reader/artist dream.

They have quite a collection of books that they have amassed over the many years they have owned The Tattered Cover in Denver, and they are stocking a library on site. Maybe you are writing a research paper on cowboys or cattle ranching in the Old West. You would book a stay at the Land Library. Maybe you want to write a novel about the human condition, something filled with isolation and longing. What better place to set out your paper and pens than in a quiet room high above the bustle of everyday life?

Mr. Lee and Ms. Martin envision their retreat as a place filled with creatives. Artists will be welcome to enjoy the peace and also the beauty of the surroundings, finding inspiration in the rugged scenery. School groups can take advantage of both the library and existing nature for educational purposes, adding some much needed life to what might otherwise be a too quiet enclave. Then there are the tourists who might be looking for some peace and quiet instead of skiing. What reader would not enjoy a week in the mountains with a well-stocked library, a comfortable chair, and snow-covered mountain peaks just outside the window?

It is an expensive proposition, and one that is not yet fully funded. Existing buildings are in need of renovation and repair, and the savings of a couple of book sellers is not enough to complete the project.

The owners are looking to the future, as their retreat is discovered and paying guests provide a cash infusion.

Here is a library for those who still love the smell and feel of a book printed on paper instead of pixels. Who says that the book is dead? In Colorado, it is getting its own shrine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jacksonland: A Book Review

A lawless President, a supine Congress, political manuevering and a group of people used as pawns to ensure a desired election could be modern America, but it is not.

To read Steve Inskeep's JACKSONLAND is to read about one Presidential era while surrounded by the very same underhanded skullduggery that forms America's present-day political fabric.

Andrew Jackson is a fascinating character, in large part because of his ancestry. A product of the Ulster Plantation migrated to America in search of religious freedom, he brought with him the same mindset that led to The Troubles and the oppression of Catholics in Ireland for centuries. Land taken by conquest, followed by punitive laws, worked for the British as they took the property of Catholics who refused to give up their faith. And so too did Andrew Jackson set out to take the land of the American Indian nations who happened to be living in a part of the expanding United States that Mr. Jackson wanted for his fellow whites.

The book can be dense in places, but it is well worth crawling through the forest of details to get a strong grasp of the underhanded methods employed by the Jacksonians, and the brilliant strategies employed by the Cherokee leader John Ross in doing all he could to stop the land grab.

Mr. Inskeep traces the relationship between the two warring parties from its origin, the War of 1812, when American rule over the North American continent was sealed with England's retreat from its former colonies. Andrew Jackson is shown as a ruthless man who would use any tool available to him to achieve his goal, and he used an alliance with the Cherokee in that war to further his own aims. The way in which he then turned on a former ally forms the heart of the tale, and it is not a pretty story.

The author does not shy away from presenting a less-than-admirable treatment of the real estate sales that Jackson arranged to his own benefit, making himself wealthy in the process, leaving the natives to an ever-shrinking world. Honesty between whites and Indians was not seen as a necessary component in business transactions for those who saw pots of gold strewn across Cherokee territory.

Indeed, the book is a litany of abuse that was accepted by those who believed that they had a right to land. Where the past meets the present is in Jackson's complete disregard for the law, including a refusal to abide by a Supreme Court ruling on the rights of the Cherokee to not be forced off their homeland.

JACKSONLAND is a very timely read in this era of political gamesmanship, with various tribes in use as pawns by politicians who seek to retain the power they hold. At the same time it is a history that has its roots in Ireland, where a similar scenario played out and followed the same path charted by another mighty empire that sought to wipe out the existing culture.

The book is worth reading for its lessons in history, which tend to repeat because so much of the history has been forgotten.

(Dear FTC: My copy of JACKSONLAND was provided by Penguin's First To Read Programme. In case you're wondering.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Poacher

Historical fiction can sell in today's market says Clare from California Times Publishing.

It can of course. Newcastlewest Books published historical fiction and we've found that it does indeed sell. Our authors took to writing historical fiction because they couldn't find it when they wanted to read it so they wrote their own, indicating a shortage of historical fiction titles.

So what Clare from California Times Publishing has observed is not new to us.

But she was not writing to one of our authors to share wisdom. She approached one of our authors in the hopes of poaching someone who was in need of...a publisher? Or is it a marketing offer? Clare read a summary of the book and would like a hard copy or a PDF.

If she wanted a copy for review we would be happy to send it off to her. Getting reviews is key to generating interest in a novel, which is why a cottage industry sprang up to provide positive reviews for the small houses that tend to be ignored by literary editors. So lucrative has that new industry become that Amazon is suing to put them out of business.

Clare's e-mail was short, without a sales pitch or the slightest suggestion of what she was about. Why would a publishing company approach an author whose book has already been published? You might conclude that Clare was representing a marketer, rather than a publisher.

As it turns out, California Times says it is a marketing and management agency, publishing books and then promoting them while paying the author only 15% in royalties.

They use some of that income to monitor author-related forums like Absolute Write, where they recently demanded that the forum moderator remove the thread that criticizes California Times Publishing for being a waste of an author's time.

Clearly, the book that Clare wants to poach is already published, with an ISBN and a cover and everything. So there is no need for her firm's publishing services. What else is left? Why, it would be marketing of course.

And the marketing package is a paid service.

It all comes together. Clare wants to poach a Newcastlewest Books author to sell a marketing package.

Our author is not interested.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

They Like Me. They Really Like Me. Because They Were Paid To Like Me

Real, or false advertising?
Publishers understand the power of positive reviews. Anyone with a blog (yes, that includes us here at Newcastlewest Books) can obtain free copies of books prior to publication, with the supposition that said blogger will post a review so that there is a substantial body of buzz-generating comments when the book is laid down.

Potential readers look at the reviews to see what others thought of the book they're considering buying. Books are too expensive to buy on a whim, knowing that you might not like it. That's a lot of money wasted for the sake of building a bigger library, and who wants to keep something that was found to be unreadable?

If you are not a publisher, but an author, you want good reviews to get your book noticed. It's a crowded field. New books arrive every Tuesday, all competing for reader eyeballs. The big publishing houses do the review thing, but how can you achieve the same results?

You get others to review your books, of course, but it's the reaching of those others that generated a new marketing business.

You want positive reviews if you can get them, and if you could get your novel in the hands of someone who would give you four or five stars on a review posted to the Amazon page where most people find their reading material, you would be quite happy indeed. So you pay your money to a company that promises to get you those reviews, placed where you need them placed.

Jeff Bezos is not happy about this cottage industry.

He wants his Amazon baby to be pure as the snow, but too many of the reviews getting posted are little more than shills for the listed product. The item could be anything, from a novel to a fruit knife. Someone looking to buy said product sees a collection of glowing reports, and makes the purchase. When they are unhappy with that purchase, they blame Amazon for misleading them. That is not the sort of buzz that any storekeeper wants to see surrounding his shop.

Amazon has taken some of the review sellers to court, citing consumer fraud and false advertising.

While Amazon could go through every product and cull the obviously fake reviews, it would be cost-prohibitive and largely impossible. Family and friends of authors often post a five-star review to be helpful, and the author would be very upset if Aunt Brid's "A Must Read" headline was erased from the page because it sounded like a paid review.

Amazon tried to control the problem by limiting reviewers to those who had actually purchased the item being reviewed. With so very many customers, how could Amazon really determine who among them is part of the paid reviewer cabal, buying a product with money paid to them to buy it. A paid review costs around $20, which would more than cover the price of an e-book with plenty left over for the reviewer to earn a small living. What would be next? Limiting the number of reviews per reviewer? The paid reviewers would only have to set up a new account with a different name, and be back at work.

In their defense, the paid review sites claim that they are providing nothing more than honest reviews, performing a service that big companies can do in-house because they have the marketing department that Amazon's third-party vendors could never afford. It seems hard to believe that the business model would prosper, however, if the reviews were not overwhelmingly positive. Why pay a lot of money to get panned?

It's 'Caveat Emptor' out there in the wilds of cyberspace. You just can't believe anything you read these days. It's all so much fiction. Some of it, however, is very good, just like the reviews say.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Money To Burn...Literally

Real fire
Did you hear the campaign ads last week, warning Chicagoans of pending financial disaster if they elected Chuy Garcia? Remember all the talk about Chicago becoming Detroit, forced to declare bankruptcy, the city gone broke?

That was before Tuesday when Rahm Emanuel was re-elected. Now the city has money to burn. Literally burn.

Last October, the city had $100,00 to spare from its special events budget of 2013, plus another $250,000 from the 2014 allocation. The special events grants are supposed to be used to provide entertainment for the masses, especially the masses living outside of the city limits. The idea is to get them to come in, pay for parking, pay for drinks, and pay for food, all of which involves paying an entertainment tax that helps fund day-to-day operations that cannot be met by taxes alone. The system works, as long as enough people come to see what the city is staging, and buy enough stuff to more than cover costs.

What burned money looks like
The Redmoon Theater staged a spectacle that famously fizzled. What was supposed to be barges on the river representing Chicago on the night of the Great Chicago Fire failed to burn. Despite the infusion of all that cash lifted from the pockets of Chicago taxpayers, the system intended to ignite a conflagration did not work. Someone left the barges out in the rain. No one considered the fact that wood will not burn when wet, and when wood is allowed to get rained on, it gets wet, and so it does not burn. The fire in 1871 blazed spectacularly because, as any historian would tell you, the city was experiencing a severe drought. That's dry weather over a long period of time for those not schooled in meteorological terms.

Okay, so it failed. But lessons were learned, and next time... Well, just wait 'til next year.

Michelle Boon, the city's special events director, has promised that this time they'll get it right. The prop buildings will go up in flames, and not just smolder.

The city is supposed to be broke, but there is still a little bundle of cash that is going to be used to burn plywood cut-outs while tourists congregate along the river banks to watch. The city, or at least Ms. Boon, trust that tourists will come again, despite the previous fiasco, because there's an unfilled demand for bonfires in the greater Chicagoland area.

The tourists might even come just to see if the Big Burn fails again. It could become a regular event, like watching the Cubs and hoping they'll make it to the World Series.

The city of Chicago is sending another $100,000 to Redmoon Theater because it's all about second chances. Just ask Rahm Emanuel, who was given a second chance to get things right by the voters.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

When The Author's Platform Is Murder

It seems like only yesterday that we learned of the first book to be published about the infamous Graham Dwyer, Dublin's freshly convicted killer architect. The cell door was only just clanking shut when Niamh O'Connor announced the release of I'M SORRY SIR. The author was wisely getting her work out there while the public's interest was high, to better assure solid sales figures.

Ms. O'Connor isn't the only author out there seeking to capitalize on the publicity that still surrounds the bondage-tinged murder case.

She had her platform, as a crime writer with credentials. Now we have a pair of authors with a very unique platform. The authors are, in fact, the brothers of Graham Dwyer.
The plot involves murder but has nothing to do with bondage

Not that they wish to trade off the relationship. James and Brendan Dwyer are upset, actually, about all the free publicity coming their way since their brother was sent down. They are clearly novices in the publishing game.

The Dwyer brothers co-wrote CULT FICTION, a science fiction novel that features a woman accused of murder, and then published it themselves when they could not convince a publisher to pick up the manuscript. They did their own promotion and managed to sell about 600 copies in both hard and digital forms, which is not the makings of a best-seller.

James Dwyer was bitten by the writing bug and penned another novel, staying within his genre of science fiction/fantasy. FIREBORN was published in March of this year, while his brother Graham was sitting in a courtroom as the prosecution aired the most depraved details of a sick sexual relationship that led to murder. A man would want something to occupy his thoughts at such a time, when the family name was getting blackened on a daily basis.

CULT FICTION is getting talked about, and you would think that buzz generation would be a good thing, but people read the book's synopsis and start to think it's a murder mystery, not a sci-fi action yarn. The Dwyer brothers put their hearts into their prose. They don't want people to talk about their novel as if they put into words what their brother was about, like some sort of private family confession. Their story has nothing whatsoever to do with brother Graham's troubles.

With all the notice of late, who could say but some publisher might take an interest in their self-published opus. Author interviews or a book tour sort of thing would follow, however, and the brothers would have to decide if literary success was worth the pain of being asked about the family and the infamous brother, instead of their book.

Publishing is a cold-hearted business. There isn't much art about it, once you get past the product being made.

Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Be Like F. Scott Fitzgerald And Boost Your Pension

What would F. Scott Fitzgerald do? He'd choose a pension from Irish Life.
You have long wanted to be a writer, but you feared that the required lifestyle would damage your health. You would die relatively young and you'd never recoup the cost of the pension you paid for with long hours at a day job.

It would be grand to live like F. Scott Fitzgerald, boozing and smoking and staying up until all hours of the night. Party, party, party, so that your imagination would be fired and you would have something interesting to write about. After all, you want to write what you know. How can you  know about wild nights in the south of France if you don't experience them?

Yet you have held back because you did not want to contribute thousands of euro to a pension scheme that would not benefit you. The F. Scott Fitzgerald lifestyle is one that promises an early demise, and there goes all your investment. put towards the support of some dullard who enjoys robust good health and will be getting payments for the next forty years.

Welcome Irish Life's brilliant scheme. This is the pension for you, budding author.

Living that unhealthy lifestyle that is fueling your creativity? Go on and light up another cigarette. Guzzle down that bottle of gin. Irish Life has your short life covered.

If you can demonstrate your ability to live less than the expected life span, you could receive a bonus in the form of a larger monthly pension pay-out. Irish Life will give you the additional income, under the expectation that you won't live to see seventy and it isn't fair to expect you to kick in to a pension fund unless you get the return on investment.

Wouldn't you like a ten or twenty-five percent increase in your annuity payments? Sure you could use that kind of cash to fund your Fitzgeraldian way of life, given the high price of alcohol and ciggies.

No longer would you need to worry about taking care of yourself. Irish Life has you covered for the brief period of time that you burn the candle at both ends.

Develop high blood pressure, Type II diabetes or cancer from your writing research project and the pension goes up. Should you become obese, there is a benefit financially, but the Jazz Age was a time of slim figures so you really should consider going to the other extreme. Being very underweight will also come up a winner for you in this plan.

Die young and leave a good-looking corpse, along with a body of brilliant literature that will live on after you've gone. You can do that now, with a pension plan from Irish Life.

Martini for breakfast? Why not? You're covered by Irish Life, the pension that pays for those who have more to do than worry about their health.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Taking The First Steps On The Road To The Rising

The clock is officially ticking. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, Ireland will gear up for the centenary of the Easter Rising.

You'll hear a great deal about it as it gets closer. Tourism is critical to the Irish economy and what better attraction can a country have than the one-hundredth birthday of its, well, not so much birth as a pipping, the first crack in the shell before Ireland emerged.
Dublin, 1916
Those who would like to understand what this road is all about would do well to read A TERRIBLE BEAUTY. It was rather a long road, you see, and the rocky path is best walked in fictional form. Readers can delve into the root causes that sent a group of well-educated gentlemen to take up arms against their colonial overlords despite the overwhelming odds. An easier approach than plowing through a history book.

Ireland's national television network is involved in stirring up the general public. It would never do to have the residents of Ireland less than enthused about the centenary of the Rising, especially when the tourists descend and expect some level of excitement based on the publicity releases that are going to influence their thinking.

Stroll over to O'Connell Street today and you will step into O'Connell Street as it might have looked one hundred years ago. RTE is creating an imaginary setting with actors and a stage set on a reproduced tram car. Various performances will be presented live, with broadcasts for those unable to reach O'Connell Street.

There were many unable to reach O'Connell Street in 1916, but that's another story.

Local shops are participating, with window displays or readings that reflect Edwardian life in Dublin. It's to be a family-friendly event, quite unlike the actual Rising that featured live ammunition and very real death. Rebellions are not pretty, but hindsight has the ability to blur the unpleasantness and focus on individual acts of heroism.

Hindsight also allows the current crop of politicians to argue over the remembrance of the event and how best to commemorate it. Celebrate the military aspect or criticize the founders who took up guns prematurely? Play down the bloodshed or play up the bravery of those who acted while others stood still and complained about the state of Ireland in 1916? Invite British royalty or keep them away from the surviving relations of the rebels who might still resent the fact that their ancestor was executed by order of the British government after the rebellion failed?

All that, however, is in the future. Today, O'Connell Street will be in the past.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday In A Dry Country

The Catholic Church in Ireland is under fire for its history of child sex abuse, forced adoptions, the Magdalene laundry gulag to contain female sexuality, and general hypocrisy. Church attendance has fallen off considerably and many claim no religion when asked about their faith.

But still.....

The pubs in Ireland are closed on Good Friday.

There is no drink to be taken on this particular religious holiday, in a country that goes dry for the day.

It has become, quite simply, a habit, and we all know how hard it is to break old habits.
The door to a Good Friday pint
Drinking being all but illegal in Ireland on Good Friday, you should not be surprised that the more clever among us have found a work-around to the alcohol restrictions. Every year on Good Friday, several intrepid souls purchase a train ticket, and never board a train. They remain in Dublin's Connolly station, one-way ticket in hand, and pretend that they are waiting for the next train to Drogheda.

You have to have a ticket to drink in the railway station bar. No one says you have to actually use it.

Ireland recognizes the presence of tourists, who are either not Roman Catholic or do not come from the stifling traditions that make the Irish version of Catholicism what it is. Or what it was, to be more accurate. People visiting Ireland to take in the sights have not reacted well in the past to the shuttered pubs, closed only because of religious beliefs that are handed down by the same system that turned a blind eye to the incarceration of women for the crime of being too attractive to men.

A few pubs, therefore, are allowed to serve beer on Good Friday, and if you forgot to stock up your personal beer cooler on Holy Thursday, you'd be looking for just such an establishment. Not that you are an alcoholic, or could not live without a pint on one day of the year. It is the notion that an unelected body of men has such influence on secular legislation that you are denied something for no good reason beyond an outdated practice. So you pay your fourteen or fifteen euro for the chance to thumb your nose at the theocracy.

Think of the ban as Mardi Gras in New Orleans, only in reverse. If you are partying in the States on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the party comes crashing to a halt at the stroke of midnight. As abrupt as that.

In Dublin, the party starts at 12:00 pm on Good Friday, marking the almost-end of Lent. And if you're young, midnight is just about when the party usually starts anyway. It's only the old ones who belly up to the bar at ten or eleven at night. 

Them, and the radical heathens who buy a one-way ticket to anywhere in Ireland just so they can sit in the station pub and drink when they aren't supposed to be drinking.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Old Librarians Never Die, They Just Turn The Page

The Library of Congress - IT-free zone
James Billington has been First Librarian for longer than most people have been alive. He must know a great many secrets about American politicians, because they want him gone but no one is doing anything to push him out of the Library of Congress.

Mr. Billington was appointed by Ronald Reagan, back in the days before we all had smartphones and could not imagine life without Internet access. He rose to the top of the librarian pile when computers were fairly big and bulky and slow.

Thirty years ago, computers were not seen as critical components of business infrastructure. If you had to look something up, you went to a file cabinet and rifled through index cards or folders that someone was paid to file in proper order. If you had to ask a question, you walked up to the person with the answer and spoke to them directly.

The Library of Congress continues to operate at a technological level that fits in with the era that Mr. Billington is comfortable with, namely, the time period when he took charge of America's library. He does not use e-mail. Nothing can replace the feel of a piece of paper, or the personal contact of a phone call.

The gentleman receives a considerable salary, allowing him to live quite comfortably. That the job has grown well beyond his capabilities does not matter, because this is a government post and no one gets fired from a bureacracy. He likes going to work, if only because it gives him something to do. Clearly the man has no hobbies. Or maybe the thought of being stuck in the house with a nagging wife is too unbearable to consider resigning a position he continues to fill in the same way he always has, and to hell with those young whippersnappers and their new-fangled gadgets.

An examination of the Library of Congress has revealed some startling deficiencies in the technology area, and Mr. Billington is under fire for not hiring someone to manage IT matters.

Safe in his job, Mr. Billington brushes off the criticism and suggestions and demands. Members of Congress think he's grand, so why worry about some accounting office whinge?

His library fields questions from those same representatives, but you do not hear any of them complaining about the long delays in obtaining old documents or other reference material. Bureacracies move at a slow pace. Why bring in some IT professional to speed up one cog in the machine? Things were fine in 1985 without all this technology, and everything will continue to be fine going forward.

Why, if Congress wanted a quicker response they would be demanding that he pack up his desk and go. Unless, of course, in all that catalogued and filed research material is a private collection of items that might be of a more, shall we say, personal nature. Make a move to fire the librarian and documents thought lost could suddenly appear. They say that J. Edgar Hoover guaranteed his tenure with secret files intended to silence those who thought it was time for him to step down and turn the FBI over to a younger, more vibrant director. When a system works, why re-invent the wheel?

A man in his 80s is not in any particular hurry. Where is he headed, after all, except to his final breath? Why rush?

Don't you just love the smell of paper in the morning? It smells like nostalgia.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Stephen King's Book Service, Literal, Arrives

Stephen King doesn't do anything small, except for the occasional short story. With collaborators Dave Barry, Amy Tan and Scott Turow, to name a few, he has been entertaining audiences with something other than words. The Rock Bottom Remainders have merged prose and song for many years. Enough years for Mr. King to gain some useful insight into the music industry, and how one business model can feed off another.

The surprise announcement is expected later today, when the author will reveal an audiobook streaming service.

Jay Z isn't the only one to come up with this concept. He just happened to get to it first, but without books.

For listeners willing to pay $19.99 per month, they can download as many audiobooks as they like. The details are unclear at this point, although there have been rumours that Mr. King and his business partners intend to make their books available exclusively via "Literal". At some point, ebooks may be added to the service, along with video book trailers.

An earlier incarnation of the streaming service failed in beta testing when the Pandora model was tried. A software glitch cut stories up into chapters and then shuffled them, intermingling them with other chapters from authors similar to Stephen King, leading to confusion and a sense that the acclaimed author was converting to literary fiction in which a lot is said but nothing happens.

In a run-up to the official press conference, the Twitterverse will be blanketed with advertisements based on the #LITERALforALL hashtag. An appearance on the morning talk shows was called off when publicists realized that authors are a reclusive group and do not do well in public speaking venues. Other means must now be found to get out the message: "This is like the beginning of a new world", one that does not involve writers mumbling under the interogation of a perky presenter with five minutes for the segment, not enough time for a writer to compose a sentence that is grammatical, lyrical and compelling.

According to Weber State University's Eric Harvey, the pre-released photograph of the authors involved in "Literal" looked like a Davos economic summit deciding the future of books in some form or fashion. If the buzz surrounding "Literal" is any indication, this new method of book distribution could alter the publishing landscape in a profound way.

Ownership rights are unclear at this point, but author Scott Turow has indicated that writers will make more money from "Literal" than from sales via Amazon, which will in time be cut out of the book market completely by "Literal". The majority of the shares in "Literal" will be set aside for the literary artists whose works are added to the catalogue. Publishing houses are angling for their positions in the new landscape of digital book distribution, and have issued numerous warnings about the importance of gatekeeping and quality control, things that authors know nothing about.

The question remains, will readers pay that much per month for books, or will "Literal" go the way of the quill?