Saturday, October 31, 2015

Anticipating A Very Negative Review

Newcastlewest Books has given away advance review copies of books so that the books get reviews before publication. Marketing is very much word of mouth in publishing, and it isn't easy for small publishers to get the chatter going.

So we give away books at places like Goodreads, to reach a wide market. Members can read the book blurb, and if they like what they read, they can easily click themselves into the giveaway.

After that, we publishers sit and wait for the reviews to roll in. Often, the winners don't review the books. Maybe they don't even read them. But a few will take the time to prepare a review and post it so that others who might be considering a book can decide if it might be something they would like as well.

The upcoming release of Sean Gleason's debut novel, SAINTS OF THE NEW IRISH KITCHEN, is getting the giveaway treatment. The first installment of the giveaway, with books going to the States and Canada, garnered a nice response. Our office manager dutifully sent off the copies, and then I got curious.

What sort of reader wanted to win a copy? Are they readers of contemporary fiction, or are they just the sort who like to read whatever is at hand, whether it's the back of the cereal box or the list of ingredients in their morning yogurt.

As it turns out, one winner may have entered the contest because the title says "Saints" so it must be some sort of Christian inspirational thing?

You really can't judge a book by its cover, now, can you.

While the protagonist of the novel, Martie Smurfit, is a religious woman whose loyalty to her patron saint comes through in the story, she is also not exactly straight when it comes to sexual orientation. The plot device that puts the narrative into motion revolves around a reunion with the boy she gave up for adoption as a teen mom, which again isn't what I think of when I think of conservative material.

The saints in this instance refer to both St. Martha, to whom Martie bears a certain level of devotion, and her aunt who allowed her to discover her true nature despite the family's antipathy.

Is that sort of forgiveness considered acceptable? Will this ARC winner be offended by what the story is actually about? Can a fan of Christian fiction be inspired by the 'live and let live' philosophy of those around Martie, or are we about to get a zero star review because Martie doesn't go straight at the end and marry some nice young man who has shown her the error of her sinning ways?

There are always those who don't like a book while others love the same set of paragraphs. Tastes vary, and that is why there are so many genres and so many writers out there.

SAINTS OF THE NEW IRISH KITCHEN isn't Christian fiction in the strictest sense, but there are themes of forgiveness and a strong undercurrent of love for one's fellow human. In a way it is sort of Christian-y. The question is, will it be Christian-y enough to not offend a person who entered a contest and won a copy.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding: A Book Review

The premise has been used before, with a person thought killed in a war turning up on a relative's doorstep. In A DICTIONARY OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING, the arrival of a disfigured man claiming to be Amaterasu Takahashi's grandson opens the novel, but you just have to know if he is or isn't who he claims to be.

The potential grandson brings letters from a man whose significance in Mrs. Takahashi's life is slowly revealed, chapter by chapter. Coupled with snippets from a daughter's diary, the story builds as the novel's narrator revisits the months prior to the bombing as she blames herself for her daughter's death and wonders how she could not have found her grandson if he had lived through the bombing. As she comes closer to rejecting, or maybe accepting, the mystery man, she turns back time even further to expose her relationship with the novel's antagonist, and a complex relationship it is.

At times, the epistolary technique made it difficult to determine which character was telling the story as the narrator shifted from Mrs. Takahashi to her daughter to her nemesis. This is not a book to be read with distractions in the room.

The headings for each chapter are quotes from the reference work with the same name as the novel, a dictionary that does not just translate words but explains nuance and meaning. Sometimes the headings fit the theme of the chapter, sometimes you forget about them as the narrator reveals another secret. They do help immerse the reader in Japanese culture, however, and shape the way you perceive the characters.

Maybe the ending is a bit too contrived or too neat, but in general the novel is an entertaining, engaging read.

My copy was provided by Penguin Random House. In case you wondered how I managed to read a book before it is officially released. Oh, and Random House? The author's name is mis-spelled on the title page. Might want to correct that before releasing the book.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The End Is Near! Enter Now

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Saints of the New Irish Kitchen by Sean Gleason

Saints of the New Irish Kitchen

by Sean Gleason

Giveaway ends October 27, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Friday, October 23, 2015

When You Can't Trust The Reviews

Product reviews guide purchases in the online marketplace. After all, you're buying something you cannot actually see, so how else can you make a determination unless you put some faith in those who have gone before you?

As it turns out, many of those who seem to be extolling the virtues of that e-book you're considering do not actually exist. They never bought the book about losing weight in ten days or learning Spanish in a week. It's all made up, figments in the ether, and you, the fool, will soon be parted from your money.

The paid reviews that dot Amazon are hurting small publishers and self-publishers, who are doing things the old-fashioned way. Free books are given away in the hopes that the recipients will take the time to post a real review and generate sales through the little buzz that can be created. It costs money, but you can't get the reading public's attention without investing in promotion.

Like any other money-making venture, there are those who find a way to game the system and skirt the rules. Those who cheat hurt the honest majority. Just ask anyone who has seen their legitimate positive reviews pulled from Amazon because the Amazon review metric determined the review was not legitimate.

It comes as no surprise that Jeff Bezos sent one of his investigative reporting teams to probe deeper into the swamp. A man buys the Washington Post to get something back out of it, after all, so why not examine the seamy underside of Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing.

The reporters found that the faux reviews are used extensively by a few entrepreneurs who are slapping shite together and calling it a book, publishing it through Amazon, and then buying enough good reviews to move the drivel up the charts so it shows up at the beginning of a search for the topic of interest. A reader looking for such a book reads the glowing reports, and makes a purchase they will later discover was not at all what they thought they were getting.

Pseudonyms are used and false identities created to lend an air of authority, the entire scheme devised to trick readers into buying an unknown quantity, trusting the seller to be honest. When the book turns out to be worthless, the reader fires off a scathing review of their own, but for small sums of money they aren't likely to go to all the trouble of demanding their money back. And what becomes of the real reviews? The scam artist complains to Amazon about abuse and Amazon takes those reviews down.

Amazon makes money off the transaction, of course, and would not have a strong incentive to stop the practice. What drives Amazon to block the paid review resides in long-term strategy. If, over time, readers come to see Amazon's Kindle publishing arm as a vast carnival game skewed against them, they won't consider Amazon-published e-books. The model will fall apart as the leeches suck the life out of it with the lie of the false review and the fake author, and the money machine shuts down.

When it comes to e-books, you're safest with fiction because it's all made up. There are no experts to be trusted, just authors with a talent for telling stories. They'll let you sample the opening of the book, the digital equivalent of thumbing the pages in a bookstore. It's about the closest you can come to actually seeing what it is you're buying before buying.

Readers can help by leaving reviews for books they've read and enjoyed, to out-review the so-called catfish who are, indeed, keeping the rest of us on our toes and swimming for our lives.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Spin, or, What Ever Became Of Jay Carney

Where do spokes-folk go after they've had their fill of the Washington DC press corps?

In Jay Carney's case, they join Amazon and spin for Jeff Bezos. The perks are probably better and he doesn't have to stand before the clamoring masses flinging questions intended to trip him up.

Last August, the New York Times published a scathing expose of workplace conditions for Amazon's white collar workers. There had already been other reports about the slave-driving of the warehouse class, so why not give the office denizens their turn to vent. The story garnered attention, to be sure, with claims that anonymous employee reviews were used to stab fellow toilers in a battle to win promotions. Others sobbed at their desks, so pressurized to workworkworkwork for Almighty Amazon that they broke.

All in all, it was a nightmare scenario that was painted by journalists Jodi Kantor and David Streitfield.

Now, months later, former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has come forward with the rebuttal, and he is equally scathing.

A spin doctor who came under steady fire for his entire tenure knows how to dodge verbal bullets and lob a few literary grenades of his own, and so his reply to the NYT is filled with accusations of lies, lies, more lies, damn lies, and possibly statistics.

Spin it, Jay, spin it like your job depends on the spin. And stop crying at your desk
Who did the journalists rely on for their inside knowledge, one should wonder, and Mr. Carney tells us that the person who called out Amazon's wretched culture was actually a disgruntled former employee who was caught stealing and admitted his crime.

That's quite the accusation, to name names and cast aspersions on Bo Olson. Defrauded vendors, tried to cover it up, and when caught he quit his job.

But did Ms. Kantor or Mr. Streitfield mention that little bit of back story? No, indeed, those pathetic excuses for journalists who soiled the Old Grey Lady's reputation for probing investigative reporting. Didn't do the proper fact checking, those two, and didn't Jay guide them through the Amazon headquarters out in Seattle and treat them well? Probably kept them supplied with plenty of coffee and witty anecdotes of his Obama years, but where was the gratitude?

Gratitude aside, where was the spin that Mr. Carney put on his presentation, and where was the puff piece he thought they would create? Why, he was tricked, he claims. What he thought would be written was the opposite of what did get published, and all because the journalists relied on a would-be thief instead of former White House official Jay Carney.

What does the New York Times think of his screed? Well, as you'd expect, a lot of words are getting tossed across the ether in a digital exchange. Dean Baquet has parried the thrust, informing Mr. Carney (and everyone else) that the reporters spoke to a great many people and a great many people expressed similar comments about grueling work conditions so it wasn't just the one disgruntled employee it was many employees and the reporters found a pattern. Not a one-off, Mr. Carney, so there, take that and spin it.

Where will the next assault come from? Will Amazon return fire? Jeff Bezos does, after all, own the Washington Post and there's no telling how he might use his arsenal of ink.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How Not To Say Hi To The Cop

You would think a lawyer would know a little something about law enforcement, as well as the law, but those attorneys who toil behind the scenes managing contracts and human resource issues probably are totally unfamiliar with those who serve and protect. Maybe they've seen a bailiff or two, but chances are, they've never been in a real courtroom at 26th and Cal.

So you would have to excuse James Liu for not knowing how to properly say Hi! to a police officer.

The Logan Square hipster was cycling to work, as Logan Square hipsters are known to do, and he was using the bike lane thinking that it was for his use alone. No car dare enter. He is a lawyer. He knows his rights.

Wouldn't you know it but some car dared to veer into his lane, ignoring the painted lines that were designed to protect the likes of James Liu from attack by large vehicles. It's on the books, isn't it, that cars can't travel in the bike lanes? He has his rights!

Cars do sometimes creep into bike lanes, either because the motorist is trying to avoid something like a pothole in the car lanes, or because he's trying to get around slow moving traffic. There are any number of reasons. Sometimes you just don't see the paint job on the asphalt, especially if you're focused on the other vehicles around you.

Let us digress for a moment, to insert a comment from Chicago's mayor that may appear unrelated to lawyers from Logan Square riding bikes, but it actually fits in. Rahm Emanuel said his cops had gone fetal, so afraid of being accused of police brutality that they hesitate to make an arrest. They feel like they're in the crosshairs these days as well, handy targets for those who think they have been disrespected by the cops and believe that they are entitled to shoot them.
Help, help, I'm being repressed

Take one hipster Logan Square lawyer and put him in the same space as a Chicago cop who is under stress like the lawyer can never imagine, and you get a very toxic mix. So poisonous, in fact, that James Liu got himself arrested for not saying Hi! to a cop in the best way.

The cop was driving an SUV, maybe on the way home after a long night shift. Logan Square might be hipsterland, but it's not far from some very mean West Side streets. The policeman was tired. He wanted to get home and decompress from the stress of watching his back for eight hours, of filling out paperwork on drug sellers he'd arrested. Of wondering if he'd survive his shift.

Driving along North Desplaines, the driver swerved into the bike lane that was James Liu's territory. Mr. Liu, knowing his rights, pounded on the car, to alert the driver that he was not allowed in the space sacred to hipster bike riders.

Not the right way to bid a pleasant good morning to a policeman who sees such things as a potential attack.

Chances are good that Mr. Liu used his verbal skills to criticize the policeman's driving skills. Maybe he threatened to make a citizen's arrest. After all, one cannot permit such egregious violations of bike lane law to go unremarked. Mr. Liu has his rights, and those rights must be defended.

In the end, Mr. Liu pissed off the cop to such an extent that the cop pulled over, told Mr. Liu to assume the position, and cuffed the lawyer. He then sent for a marked car to drive Mr. Liu to the nearest jail for processing as a criminal. Clearly, the police officer had had enough for one day, and the last thing he needed was some smart-ass hipster busting his chops.

The officer will no doubt be reprimanded by higher-ups, while his colleagues on the force will applaud him. As will plenty of ordinary motorists who go to work every day and have to deal with the arrogant hipsters who feel ever so superior to the hoi polloi.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Saints of the New Irish Kitchen: A Book Review

In short, SAINTS OF THE NEW IRISH KITCHEN is a delightful, complex, and very funny novel...

The hero of our story is Martie Smurfit, and she has a lot on her plate (and that's the last culinary pun I swear). The child she gave up for adoption 16 years earlier is coming to meet her, she has been sacked from her job as executive chef, and her partner is pushing her to go into business together.

She takes advantage of Brendan McKechnie, a clueless contractor with his own set of wild dreams, and eases herself into position to take over his failing gastro-pub, hiding out in the kitchen so he does not learn anything about her personal life and fire her. 

If you haven't figured it out yet, Martie is a lesbian. Her sexuality is part of the background, however, which makes the novel one that features diversity without beating the reader over the head with the concept. She's just as ordinary as any other woman you might meet, with problems in need of solving. So one of her problems is girlfriend-related. It adds texture to the novel.

At any rate, all that hiding leads to unintended consequences as Brendan brings in a financier who gets outed by the bartender in a case of The Troubles of Northern Ireland visiting the States.To protect her investment, her career and her future, Martie call in favors from a wide cast of characters, all somewhat off-center like herself, and puts the criminal in a place where he can be found by the police, to be arrested far from her restaurant.

The police don't make an arrest, however. They don't seem to know a thing about any Irish thug with wads of counterfeit American dollars in his pockets.

Hilarity ensues, as they say, and the novel becomes flat-out funny as Martie and Brendan try to cover up a crime of battery after losing the Irish gangster. Jumping at every noise, fearing arrest at any minute, they carry on with the pub's grand opening while praying that the patron saint of cooks can work a miracle.

Perfect for a weekend's entertainment, the story has plenty of twists and turns, along with a storyline that tugs a bit at the old heartstrings. Not quite a romance in the typical sense, but the novel has all the elements of a romantic comedy that makes for a lighthearted look at a cut-throat business.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Self-Publishing, Self-Selling

For some reason, Jeff Bezos longs to publish books as well as sell them for a lower price than anyone else. He is not satisfied with wringing concessions out of publishers who must then squeeze a few more drops of financial blood out of writers' advances and royalties. No, he wants to be a publisher.

The problem he ran into rather quickly was the result of his hard-ball tactics in dealing with the publishing industry. The writers used their skill at wordplay to generate all sorts of negative publicity about Amazon and the behemoth's pricing structure, and the publishers let it be known that they were not at all pleased either.

The book shops that were hurt by Amazon's ability to cut prices had no love for the Bezos baby, and when you add up all the grumbling you arrive at the bottom line. Brick and mortar stores refused to carry books published by Amazon, and as many know, more books are discovered in a store than browsing online. For Amazon to succeed, it had to get shops to stock its offerings, but they wouldn't do it.

Who willingly sleeps with the enemy?

Rumours are floating around Seattle, Amazon's home town. The online giant is going old school.

From Kindle Direct Publishing to Amazon Book Emporium?
A corner shop in a posh shopping area has been undergoing renovation that is so cloaked in secrecy that even a clever reporter could not get so much as a glimpse of the interior. It's been said that the interior has shelves and perhaps books, but who can be certain? The windows are covered so thoroughly that a casual observer can't tell a thing about what's being done.

It is not a flight of fancy to presume that Jeff Bezos would turn to a do-it-yourself model. He's done more through the Kindle Direct Publishing platform for self-publishing authors than any other venue. The concept bypasses the traditional publishing industry with its gatekeepers and heavy reliance on MFA graduates, and has shaken the industry to the point that many literary agents help their clients self-publish manuscripts that are not deemed blockbuster enough by the Big Five houses.

From self-publishing, then, to self-selling. Jeff Bezos just might be using his financial resources to start up a chain of book shops that will indeed carry Amazon-published titles, so there, Old World publishing houses. He outflanked them with KDP, and now he thinks he can win with a similar tactic on the ground.

No matter that Barnes and Noble is closing up shops right and left. That can be ascribed to poor management or bad decision-making in the corner offices. As for the pain experienced by independent shops, well, that's been inflicted by Amazon so the Amazon book shops won't get hurt. They may not be able to offer pricing as low as the online model because stores have expenses to be met and clerks to be paid. You can't very well put a gaggle of robots in a store and expect people to laud the customer service.

More interesting may be the location of the store. Pick an area where people have ready cash and a pre-existing tendency to read and buy books, and your shop has a better chance of making it than if it were located in a less well-to-do area where sales might be slow.

Market to the higher echelons who would enjoy finding a bargain and sell more Amazon published titles.

Will it work? Perhaps. Or perhaps it will be an expensive undertaking that will eat up cash until the costs far outweigh the benefits. It seems like a rather expensive undertaking, just to get books into a building. And it certainly isn't something that the average self-publishing author could do, unless they are very, very wealthy.

Amazon has the wealth. But can a few scattered shops be enough to turn the tide for Amazon books?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

If The Textbooks Are Free, Who Pays The Writers?

College costs continue to climb year after year, and politicians continue to offer legislative solutions to the problem. Either those bills are never passed, or the new laws don't help, because there is no end in sight to the rise in tuition and associated expenses.

Senator Dick Durbin has come up with a plan that he must think is a genuine solution. On its face, it is brilliant. Why not cut one aspect of the out-of-control issue and make the textbooks free?

Those evil, greedy publishers are charging hundreds of dollars per book, and why should they get away with it? Why not give the various colleges and universities a grant that they can then use to create educational materials that can be distributed at no cost to the students whose families struggle to meet the fees?

So, does the grant money go to the freelancers who will write that material?

Or will it be spent on office staff and IT people with a chunk going to the professor who has to put the thing together?
Freelance writer after passage of The Affordable College Textbook Act

It costs a lot to create a textbook. There isn't enough money to go around because Congress is not going to write a blank check, so who is going to end up with the short straw when it's time to compensate those who put time and effort into making that textbook.

Publishers will, of course, get as much as they can out of educational materials. Then it's up to the sales force to promote those books and make college professors believe that their product is the best and you'd be a fool to consider a competitor's tome on English Literature or Calculus. It's competition that keeps prices in check, not an act of Congress, but competition depends on those who do the selecting. Often the person teaching the course had a hand in writing the text, so they have an added incentive to pick Publisher A over Publisher B. The student then has to pay because they can't pass a class without reading the textbook that has all that material that is going to be on the final that counts towards 75% of your final grade.

A professor might find some particular book meets all criteria for material to be covered. They won't think about how much the book will cost because they are concerned with teaching and learning. Let some other publisher come up with something just as good at a lower price, and then push that lower price as a benefit for the students, and the course material would come down a notch.

But not all that much. It's a very limited market and there are few publishers printing textbooks. So what can be done?

Bring textbook creation in-house and the professors will have to make their own books, which they won't take kindly to. They could hire the freelancers, but a teacher of philosophy isn't going to know who to hire, or what qualities are important, or anything else about a foreign industry. Isn't that why God created publishers?

So who picks the freelancers? The universities?

Instead of literary journals, the MFAs could learn how to write and edit textbooks, which would go a long way to tackling two thorny issues. Literary journals are expensive to produce and don't sell, so forget that literary nonsense and turn the graduate students into freelance writers whose course credits would require them to write all the chemistry and biology texts.

Now the university is looking at some real cost savings.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


Available 8 December, a brilliant debut novel from Sean Gleason....

Sometimes you need more than divine intervention when too many secrets are about to spill. 

Just like Paris, Martie didn’t see sabotage coming up behind her. Someone spread lies about her and got away with it because she didn’t look over her shoulder, too focused on the road ahead. It was a cut-throat business and she should have learned from experience but it happened again. Just like Paris, she was too stunned to open her mouth and counter the claim that she was going in a different direction. She had been so sure, so confident that the financing for her own restaurant was in place. So certain, and the next thing she knew she was meeting her replacement. Never again. Standing in front of the ‘Help Wanted’ sign, Martie vowed to turn it all around and crush anyone who stood in her way.
If it meant starting over from the bottom, going back to the line, she would start at the bottom. And she would be ruthless. No more being nice. Where did that get her, but where she was, at a restaurant that was scheduled to open in less than a week but was not even close to meeting the deadline. Maybe it was a mistake, to apply. Maybe the place would never open and she was wasting precious time. Maybe she would be turned down for being overqualified like she had been at every other place she’d tried for the past two months. And maybe not. Martie walked around the ladder leaning against the wall, where an electrician was tussling with a light fixture. She was nearly impaled by a falling screwdriver.
“Hey, watch it,” the electrician said. “Can’t you read the sign?”
A strip of yellow caution tape barred her way. Looking up, she noticed a banner draped over the entryway. “Sign? ‘Grand Opening’, that sign?” she asked. “Not grand, or not opening?”
“The sign on the f-ing door, the one that says not to use the door. The door behind the caution tape. That door,” he said. He reached for a drill while holding up the fixture but his arms were too short for the job. The lamp came away and swung from a thin wire while the bright yellow tape across the doorway parted, to flutter on the spring breeze. Martie turned her head away before the end snapped in her eye.
What had been grunts muffled by the door exploded into a full scale screaming match that was more profanity than useful words. Threats and curses flew, accusations of slave-driving countered by assertions of sabotage. The dangling light fixture swung like a pendulum in the spring breeze, scraping away at the freshly painted facade. A combatant in dust-coated jeans took note of the damage and yanked the lamp down. Standing in the open doorway, he shook it as if he meant to club his adversaries.
“Everyone’s being careful, Mac? Everyone’s being careful? This is what you call careful? All this care is bankrupting me, for Christ’s sake.”
He marched back outside to confront the electrician, who was too busy tugging at wire nuts to pay the madman much attention. “Hey, Riordan, you lose something?”
“Thanks, Mr. McKechnie,” Riordan said, returning to his task as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. “You done for the day?”
“For the day? I’m done for the fucking rest of my life,” McKechnie said. Turning to Martie, he barked, “You want something?”
“Just curious,” Martie said. She canted her head towards the sign in the window. “You must be the man I should talk to.”
“Yeah, lucky me.” He looked her over and the hint of a smile creased his cheek. “Come on back.”
Sawdust drifted from his brown hair and settled on his shoulders, adding a touch of red oak to the grey haze of plaster and stone. His right hand looked swollen, as if he had punched something. Or someone. “You might want to ice your knuckles,” Martie said.
“No big deal,” McKechnie said. “Air compressor fell on it.”
The front door opened into a small entry that was common in the Midwest, a spot to trap the cold air in winter and keep a draft out of the restaurant. Martie pulled on the handle of the inner door and took note of its etched glass inserts, partially hidden by a large sign. It was easy to read, even backwards. Big letters scrawled with a thick black marker declared that no one was to use the door until further notice. It was signed by Brendan McKechnie, President, McKechnie Construction. She almost crashed into the ladder, and the painter standing on it, that blocked the way.
“Are you sure it’s not broken?” Martie said as she skirted the hazard.
Piles of debris created an obstacle course from the foyer to the bar room, a clear indication that the pub was not close to meeting the opening day deadline. A hostess stand stood forlorn and alone, out of place in a small forest of plastic sheeting that covered what Martie guessed were stacks of chairs. A group of carpenters were putting their backs into shifting pieces of an antique bar into place. An older man, probably the foreman, filled a nail gun but paused in his chore to give McKechnie a look that was not anger, but pure mockery. He made a show of connecting the hose to the air gun and McKechnie swore under his breath.
“The kitchen is state of the art. Come take a look,” McKechnie said.
“Thank you, I’d like to see it,” Martie said.
“But I can’t take the credit. I’m following the advice of a restaurant consultant,” he said. “Did I introduce myself? Brendan McKechnie. Proud owner of McKechnie’s Pub.”
She had heard of Brendan McKechnie from her former employer, a force in the local restaurant industry, who regaled his culinary staff with tales of a clueless building contractor who thought he could be a restaurateur because he watched the Food Network. An idea took shape in Martie’s mind. If she played it right, she could be back where she wanted to be in no time. She would have to be cold-blooded, calculating, and as callous as the bastard who ruined her plans, but she had to do what was necessary to salvage her future. There would be one less restaurant in town before she was finished, and it would not be hers going under.
He steered her to the left, and Martie slowed her pace. Something about the room’s layout felt very familiar, with a small stage tucked into the corner near the front window. When she reached the back she saw a pair of snugs exactly where she expected them to be, but she could not have known they were there because she had never been in the place before. The kitchen doors opened on a corridor, and Martie was certain that if she kept walking straight ahead she would find herself in a dining room half–paneled in oak, with walls an earthy tone of green. A shiver crept up her spine.
With confidence that was all for show, she pushed the swinging door with her hip and entered a kitchen in absolute anarchy. A battle for control was being waged between three cooks, a sure sign that the pub was not going to open on time, if ever. With Brendan’s hand growing puffier by the minute, she ignored the shouting and snatched a towel from one of the warriors. She headed towards the ice machine, realizing that she knew where it was because she had sketched out the kitchen plan for her ex-boss when he asked her to design her ideal kitchen. So he had used her again, made her think she was doing all that work for herself when he only intended to sell her plan to someone else and keep all the profit. Never again.
While she settled the ice onto Brendan’s knuckles, Martie gave the kitchen a quick glance. She could make it hers, and establish a base of operations that would be unassailable, but could she get that far before the reunion? The baby she had given up for adoption was expecting to meet a birth mother who had climbed to the top of the cooking industry, and to get back to where she was when he first contacted her, she would have to get Brendan wedged firmly under her thumb. She had skill and knowledge, but there were other chefs out there who were hungry for acclaim. Martie had something else that Brendan needed, and needed desperately, or so her sources said. Without an influx of cash, the place might not open. And Martie had the money, a lifetime’s worth of scrimping and saving so she could open her own place. Brendan was going to be in her debt, and once she had him pinned, the restaurant was as good as hers.

Pans rattled on the burners and a pair of cooks faced off in a culinary battle, each vowing to show the other how to cook chicken. The rest of the line cooks stood off to one side, not sure which camp to join. A third contestant for the role of head chef demanded mirepoix, but no one raised a knife to the pile of celery and carrots on the cutting board.
“I think I need a drink,” Brendan said, examining his injury.
“Are you sure? Do you want to get that x-rayed or anything?” Martie asked. A plate crashed to the floor and a shouting match erupted. “Too many cooks, right?”
Brendan shrugged. “I figured they could sort it out.”
“If they don’t stab each other to death first. I wouldn’t count on any of them knowing enough to make a peanut butter sandwich.” Martie glanced at his hand. “Still pretty swollen. Can you make a fist?”
The sound of air hammers cut through the cacophony of battle. Martie followed Brendan back to the bar, where the carpenters were nailing trim around the bar back while a crew of painters followed on their heels, filling the holes with putty. A sharp prick of deja vu made her shudder. Even the bar itself was familiar, with a century’s worth of Guinness rubbed into its finish.
 “Might as well pull off the molding and crate up everything,” Brendan mumbled. “This is all headed to foreclosure.”
Stacked in the far corner was a forest of marble-topped tables that brought to mind Bewley’s Oriental Cafe in Dublin, where she once lingered over coffee with fellow prep cooks, dreaming of culinary glory. She made a circuit of the room, taking in the scene. A shaft of sunlight sparkled on the etched glass of the front door, a lovely work of art featuring twining ivy and shamrocks. This was the first time she had seen it, she was certain. Then there was the bank of French doors separating the bar room from the patio. Poking her head through an open door, she realized that the patio was not at all familiar, just an area that looked like every other outdoor dining venue. It was common to use French doors in a restaurant, to give a room some spatial flexibility, and there were probably hundreds of establishments that had banks of French doors. Her imagination was getting the best of her. The notion that she had been in this place before was the result of stress and low blood sugar, not reality.
Brendan waved a weak, defeated farewell to the laborers as they stowed their tools, the bar installed with such skill that it seemed to have always been there. The empty liquor shelves were out of place, and Martie had an urge to put a few bottles out, to set the stage and imagine how the place was going to look in a few more days, when she was running it. She peered over the edge of the bar and found a trap door in the floor that led down to a storage room. Someone was rattling around in the basement, another worker finishing up, but she didn’t feel comfortable enough to climb down the ladder and help herself. Not yet, at any rate.
“Can I ask you a huge favor? Could you hang out a minute, until I make sure I can move my hand?” Brendan asked. “Might need a ride to the hospital if I can’t grip the steering wheel.”
A turn to the left, to enter the waiting area for the dining room, and Martie gasped in shock. She had been here before. Not here, of course, in this new building, but in another place exactly like it. The wood paneled wall and the stairs that climbed to the second floor had been copied, down to the millimeter. The fireplace with its glass fishing floats from the beach at Spanish Point, the upholstered armchairs drawn up to the hearth, it was the pub in Miltown Malbay where they stayed last summer. Separate rooms. Separate planets would have been a better idea.
Walking up the stairs brought it all back, the fierce argument followed by a lapse in judgment that was beyond stupid. She entered the office, too disoriented to sit still, while Brendan stretched out on an old sofa. The lace curtains hanging in the windows were identical to the ones that hung in her room above the Miltown pub, although the accommodations were not replicated in Brendan’s version. What if he had been there at the music festival and overheard everything, all those everythings she could not fully recall because she drank herself blind to erase the misery and ended up in bed with a man she’d only just met. She could not dare comment on the similarity or say a word about Miltown Malbay.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Trouble With Freelancers

Your average textbook is written by freelance writers, in large part because it is cheaper for the publisher to pay a pittance to a freelancer than to keep a staff of writers on hand. It takes a lot of writers to cover all the many topics, and what publisher can afford a science writer, a grammarian, a math expert, a geography wiz, etc. etc.

So publishers like McGraw-Hill accept the work of independent contractors, and then use those many paragraphs to create a textbook that meets the requirements of multiple school districts. The idea is to sell as many copies as possible, of course, so the words have to be carefully selected to avoid offending some group of parents or the local curriculum guidance committee or whoever is making the decisions.

Fraught with peril, as they say.

We's happy workers, massa
Sometimes the in-house editor doesn't catch an error and the book goes out to the students. It's the parents, helicoptering over their offspring, who find the mistakes that might be minor, but could be significant. In the case of a McGraw-Hill history text, it's one word that's wrong, but that wrong word makes a huge difference in the history lesson.

In explaining immigrant migration patterns, the freelance writer employed by McGraw-Hill used the word "worker" to describe the Africans who 'migrated' to America. Sure, they worked in agriculture. But it wasn't as if they left Africa willingly, part of the masses yearning to be free.

No, wait, they were yearning to be free, but that was after they arrived, not before.

One mom in Texas saw the bizarre passage and called out her local school board for using such a misleading text. You'd think it was written by a Confederate apologist, to read that Africans migrated to America and found work. The term 'worker' doesn't have the nuance of 'slave', which is such a negative word. We don't want our children to be exposed to such harshness, do we?

Why, if those huddled masses on the Ivory Coast were workers, what was the point of the Civil War? Not to free the workers, I dare say.

As the aggravated parent discovered, however, once a book is printed it is finished and complete. There is no going back to reprint it after making a slight adjustment to a single paragraph. The costs are more than prohibitive. The digital edition can be easily repaired, and McGraw-Hill has promised to make the correction, but the book and its error will live on in Texas schools until the book itself falls to pieces from repeated use.

Until that time, then, Texas children will read about all the people who came to America and be led to believe that the Africans were just another ethnic group following a well-worn path. Unless their teacher provides the correction in a lesson, that's where their little heads will be placed, and when it's time to study the Civil War, they can comfortably believe that it was just a matter of states' rights in the War of Northern Aggression.

And the South will rise again!