Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Value Of Experience Depends On The Experience

You long to enter the publishing world but you can't get far if you don't know how the industry works. Without experience, you can't get a job to learn how the industry works because who is going to pay you for training? Your lack of skills just aren't worth anything.

Which means you would be expected to work for nothing, with the experience you gain having more value than some paltry salary.

All well and good, but what if your work experience consists of mundane office chores that don't teach you a thing about publishing?

Diana Bruk landed a non-paying job at Scribner during her days at university. She thought she was going to earn an education in the publishing industry by paying with her time, just like she was earning an education at school by paying with cash. Her employer would gain from the free labor, and she would show potential bosses what she was made of. In the long run, if all went as planned, she would shine and when she graduated Scribner would give her a real job and realize the expense of her training from the profits her dedication and hard work would yield.

To Ms. Bruk's dismay, she was given a stapler and told to connect the pages, when she was not shuffling those papers. There was nothing of the publishing industry inside knowledge to be gained from her chores. Indeed, she saw herself as a menial laborer who was being used. Instead of an industry intern, she was given the dullest tasks that had no relation to what she wanted to learn, and she didn't earn a penny from her time.

Not quite the return on investment that she sought when she landed the internship at Scribner.

Ms. Bruk is suing Scribner's parent Simon and Schuster, seeking back pay and whatever damages might apply to a victim of publishing slavery.

She is not the first intern to sue. Other publishing entities have been taken to court and later reached settlements with their former interns, while some cases are under appeal or have been thrown out. At the same time, publishers fearing future troubles have done away with internships completely, removing a very valuable source of education that is not to be had in a classroom.

The solution is simple, of course. Interns could be paid some sort of stipend so they are not taken advantage of. By offering a salary, the publishing company might feel more compelled to get something of value from the intern. Expectations would rise, and the intern would have the opportunity to rise to a challenge instead of dealing with the boredom of photocopying.

In the end, the loss of internships and the mentoring that is expected will not help the publishing industry develop new ideas with infusions of fresh and eager talent. The same holds true for the entertainment industry, where it's very much about who you know. If you can't get in to make some acquaintances, what hope do you have after you've completed your degree?

About the only industry that profits is the legal profession, in particular the law firm that is representing Ms. Bruk and several other former interns.




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Boy Who Believed

Female sexuality is such a complicated thing. Men are forever asking what women want so that they can provide what is needed and therefore have sex with the lady desired.

So it would follow that a boy in search of a clue to the female libido would look at what women seem to want, and then assume it's the key to unlock that mysterious portal.
I'll be Christian Grey and you'll be Anastasia Steele

Except reality is not the same as fiction, which is made up of fantasy that exists in the imagination. As Mohammad Hossain learned, the whole Fifty Shades phenomenon isn't really what women want. They might want to pretend they want bondage or submission in their secret yearnings, but when it comes down to real bondage, well, it's rape and the lady is going to go to the police to have you arrested.

The University of Illiniois at Chicago (Circle Campus for the historians) student was entertaining a guest in his dorm room. The story is murky, in that the couple had "been intimate" but were not dating. So they hooked up once, or something like that.

He decided that they would re-enact scenes from the Fifty Shades movie, just for fun. Once you're done studying, what else is there to do on a Saturday night when you're too young to hit the bars? Watch television?

The not-dating but once intimate co-ed stripped down to her underwear, which leads anyone to think that she might have been willing to play along. After all, the book was a huge seller so maybe women really do like the kinky stuff and you want to be like everyone else when you're 19 and inexperienced.

Once she was partially disrobed, Mr. Hossain bound her wrists to the bed with a belt and then tied up her feet. There was a necktie gag involved and a sort-of blindfold put to use. Those who are familiar with either the book or the film would be more familiar with the scene.

All good fun until Mr. Hossain replicated the punishment aspect by wacking his non-dating partner with another belt. She discovered that what looks like dirty fun on screen is, in real life, painful. She told Mr. Hossain he was hurting her and that he was to stop, but the scene didn't play out that way in the movie. No, the imaginary submissive only said stop when she meant keep going, and if you're going to play Fifty Shades, you stick to the script.

The co-ed, now wiser in the ways of fiction, managed to escape and file a rape charge against Mr. Hossain, who was then arrested. His bond has been set at $500,000 and he cannot return to campus if he manages to post the required ten percent.

What is that women want sexually? The boy who believed in fiction and the power of the best-seller blockbuster has discovered that just because a lot of women read something or go in droves to a movie doesn't mean anything.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Partner Who Came In From The Cold

Before E.L. James was a shocking success, she was a self-published author of mommy porn. She turned to The Writer's Coffee Shop to get her bondage fantasy series in front of the reading public. Not much of a story there. Writers use several means to achieve their publishing ends, but it is not often that a book takes off like the Fifty Shades trilogy.

So The Writer's Coffee Shop sold the rights to what was clearly becoming a phenomenon to Random House. It was as much a boon for the indie publisher as it was for the author, one of those unexpected wins in a very difficult game.

Again, not much of a story in the transaction. Rights are sold on a regular basis. The publisher gets a cut, the author gets their royalty, and the new publisher does the promotions to boost sales to get a return on the investment. Random House picked a winner and expects to see continued income now that the first book has been made into a movie which expanded the market of interested women over 25 who did not buy the book the first time around.

However....

The Writer's Coffee Shop was a partnership formed by four people. Being a partnership, all four partners get equal parts. When the publisher sold the Fifty Shades rights to Random House, all four partners were supposed to get one quarter of the money pie.

Partner Jennifer Pedroza did not get her check as expected. Her cohorts, apparently, got a little greedy when the cash cow started giving money by the bucket full.

She took her colleagues to court, to force them to pay up what she was owed. As the case played out, the book sold like fur-lined handcuffs and then the film was released to big box office numbers. Her legal team continued to argue that she was entitled to a portion of all of it, a pot of gold that kept growing.

The court has decided that Ms. Pedroza was played for a fool by her fellow partners. They tricked her into signing an agreement that prevented her from an equal share, giving themselves more. Failure to provide her with all the particulars, and misleading her into signing away her rights, constituted fraud.

Ms. Pedroza won her case and will eventually be given what is owed to her, as soon as a forensic accountant can figure out how much she should have made.

The partnership is clearly over, and it is unlikely that she will ever again speak to anyone connected with The Writer's Coffee Shop again.

Do you think she might invest her windfall in a start up? Having gotten a taste of publishing success, who knows if she doesn't go and start up another independent publisher in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle yet again.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Time And Time

The question is not one of time, but of the kind of time.

I have the time in the course of a full day. What I do not have is the time alone, without distractions or the press of others' needs.

While I write this, I could be working on a new idea for a novel. There is too strict a limit on the kind of time I need to let the ideas rumble around in the brain. I have time, but not much of that time.

So instead of trying to craft a paragraph in a few minutes that will drive a narrative that I cannot quite follow because I need more than a few minutes to get my head back into the early Nineteenth Century, I will just note that Susan Golomb is packing up her literary agency and moving it to Writer's House.

Ms. Golomb has had her own agency since 1990. Twenty-five years of agenting. A long time. And we do not grow younger as the years slide by.

The cost of operating an office is a burden to anyone whose industry is declining. Fewer books are sold these days, as compared to twenty-five years ago, and the competition among literary agents to acquire those blockbusters so much in demand has only increased. It's a young person's game, perhaps, and Ms. Golomb has seen the wisdom in sharing some of those costs with a bigger agency. She may end up making more money in the long run, reducing her expenses by abandoning her own office, even if a portion of her commissions will go towards office maintenance. By sharing, it is likely to be less, and there is a benefit in reducing a financial burden as you get older and the energy starts to decline.

At some point that she can see more clearly because the horizon is not quite so distant anymore, her stable of clients will need a representative to tend their needs while she eases into retirement. Even literary agents don't live forever. What could be more considerate than to put them into a safe place, where they will be looked after when she can no longer look after them?

That's what happens with time. Eventually, it runs out and you have to move on to other things. You just hope that you don't leave anyone dangling, alone in the cold, cruel world of authors without agents.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Take What's Her Name To Be My Wife

If you're going to scam the immigration authorities with a faux marriage, the least you could do is ask the bride-to-be what her name is. You know, in case someone were to ask? Just to be sure it wasn't a wedding scam?

Zubair Khan of Pakistan did not want to be deported from England, so he thought he could just marry someone for convenience and then go on his merry way. They could divorce when the time was right, for example, after Mr. Khan had gotten the papers he needed to remain in the UK. Wasn't there a very romantic movie about such a thing in America? Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell were the couple involved in some sort of harmless obfuscation of immigration status or getting a green card in a less than honest way.


Could Mr. Khan not have taken the time to rent GREEN CARD and do a little studying to see what he was going to be up against when he showed up at the registry office with his wife-of-convenience?

He arrived for his appointment prior to the wedding ceremony, and the registrar asked him to name his bride. A simple question, to be sure, but one that the groom could not answer. He rang up the man who had arranged the marriage to find out, and the registrar promptly called the Home Office. Mr. Khan and the marriage arranger were arrested, along with Beata Szilagyi of Hungary.

In a way, Mr. Khan got his wish. He will remain in England for the next twenty months as a guest of Her Majesty's prisons. After that, he will most certainly be deported back to Pakistan.

Due to security concerns, the British government is cracking down on the sham marriage industry, and registrars are now interrogating couples they suspect of fraud. And it is security concerns that would see a Pakistani male under a bit of scrutiny, in case he is a Taliban operative.

Apparently, Mr. Khan never thought about any such possibility or potential pitfall to his little scheme to avoid deportation.

All he had to do was conduct a little research and be prepared to answer the sort of questions that any couple would be able to answer if they have indeed been in any sort of relationship.

Like her name, for example. It's the first thing you learn about a lady you're smitten with, isn't it? 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Start At The Bottom, Give Your Friends A Leg Up

Ann Rittenberg is looking for a literary agency assistant. This could be the opportunity you've been waiting for.

First, you'd have to move to New York City, which isn't entirely a bad thing if you thirst for adventure. Because you wouldn't be making much money, you'd have to find a flat in a more downscale part of town. Plenty of adventure just walking around your new neighborhood!

Ms. Rittenberg would like to find someone who loves reading. Sure your first love is writing, but you know that every good author must also be a voracious reader. Part of your new job will be to read incoming submissions, so how easy would it be to insert your own brilliant prose into a pile? You couldn't submit under your real name, of course, but once a literary agent fell in love with the manuscript, you could come clean.

Or just learn to live with a pseudonym and tell your friends that the new blockbuster is actually your work, but don't tell your boss who is also your agent.

You can answer a phone and take a message. You can shuffle papers with the best of them.

If you aren't ready to publish yet, what about your friends? Why not get their words under an agent's nose? You would gain an ally who would owe their literary career to you, and when it's your turn, well, they'd have a relationship with an editor at a publishing house and they'd be owing you a favor.

Jump on the opportunity now, before someone else edges you out and gets a publishing contract that could have gone to you if you'd shifted a little faster.

Opportunity does not always come knocking. Sometimes you have to go out and find it and then wrestle it into submission.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Legal Treatise On Bondage, Valentine's Day Edition

Wondering how to keep his mother from seeing his name plastered across the front pages of Ireland's newspapers
The whole world, or at least all of Ireland, now knows that Robert Cullen Jones is "Dublin_Master" on a website where the kinky like to come calling.

Would it be safe to say that Robert Cullen Jones is one very humiliated man who will be slagged to death by his friends and co-workers, if indeed he manages to hold on to his job?

Mr. Jones once linked up with the late Elaine O'Hara, having made a connection with her on alt.com. Her profile indicated that she was quite interested in submissive behavior in a sexual context, and Mr. Jones was clearly keen on the domination half of the equation. He responded to her post and they met at a mall before retreating to Ms. O'Hara's flat. After their first tryst, he realized that he was well below her in bondage knowledge, and the relationship did not last.

The gentleman has been testifying in court in the trial of Graham Dwyer, who stands accused of murdering Ms. O'Hara. He has been treated as the resident expert in bondage, and has been asked questions by counsel that work up into a veritable treatise on bondage practices. This is not Fifty Shades soft-core porn, but the real thing, and you can only imagine the humiliation that Mr. Jones is undergoing as he identified sex toys for the edification of the courtroom.

That's the problem with the Internet and the chat rooms. You think you're in disguise with some made-up name, and you think it's all very discreet and no one will ever know that you were trawling for a woman who liked being tied up as part of foreplay. Then someone kills her and suddenly the gardai have search warrants and they can identify you so easily. Before you can explain things to your family you are in a court room testifying about activities you thought were utterly private.

As it turned out, it was not a private matter at all.

And now Mr. Jones will have a most difficult time facing his family when they next gather for a special occasion or a holiday. Not that anyone will say anything to his face, but he will feel their discomfort. Just like he'll feel the smirks and snickers that his co-workers are exchanging behind his back.

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Wages Of Sin Is A Suspended Sentence

Where can an experienced playwright/actor go to make a few bob when the acting jobs dry up and the plays aren't getting produced? Sure a man could go tend bar or take orders at some restaurant, but what if that same man was not interested in anything quite so full time?

For James Gantley, the answer came in the form of an acting gig. Acting, after a fashion. A crminal enterprise hired him because he was good at doing different voices and they needed a man with a good, clear speaking voice who could maybe talk like someone from Leitrim or The Liberties to throw off the authorities. A good disguise is often critical to a successful crime when it comes to getting away with it.
James Gantley
Mr. Gantley was promised some portion of the proceeds of an extortion operation, and all he had to do was make the phone calls to arrange payment for the return of stolen goods. The goods, as it turned out, were legal documents that the criminals threatened to burn if they didn't get the ransom as demanded.

The bags were prices at one thousand euro each, for a grand total of €100,000, a very nice haul. Mr. Gantley was in charge of ringing up the transit van company after the thieves had stolen one of their vans, using his talent as an actor to demand payment and his ability to write fiction to create an entire scenario of deadly menace. All those documents going up in flames! Important data never to be seen again!

The manager of the transit van company was not fooled by the mellifluous tones of James Gantley. He asked for proof that Mr. Gantley and his associates even had the bags of documents. The thieves sent him three bags, and then Mr. Gantley was back on the phone to haggle the price down a bit since the manager didn't seem to be budging.

All that time on the phone allowed the gardai to trace the call back to James Gantley, who got himself arrested and never did get paid for the acting gig, or the play he wrote and performed on the telephone. The bags of documents were eventually recovered and nothing came of the caper beyond arrests and trials.

The judge suspended the sentence he imposed on Mr. Gantley, in large part because the idea of making money by stealing legal documents seemed like the most stupid of crimes. It isn't as if copies of those same documents don't exist in computer files, scanned for all time and readily reproducible.

Even though Mr. Gantley has a rather checkered past, with previous convictions for robbery, he was sent home to take care of his infirm spouse. A man in poor health himself, he also will not be burdening the jail system with the cost of his medical care.

In the end, he earned nothing from his little caper, and will somehow have to find the money to pay his legal fees.

But he should have the nugget of a plot after everything he endured, and if he could turn that into a clever little comedy, he just might have gotten something worthwhile out of an act of remarkable stupidity.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Bias Against The Big Mac

No golden arches and no love from Temple Bar residents
You can drink until 2:30 in the morning if you do your drinking in Temple Bar. There are plenty of establishments open late, providing enough alcohol to ensure that you are thoroughly inebriated before you head off in search of something greasy to soak up some of that booze.

A Big Mac from McDonald's would do wonders for your head. Stave off the hangover and have a good gastric purge. That's just the cure for a long night of indulgence, but the Dublin City Council won't let you have that small measure of relief.

Clearly, they have a strong bias against McDonald's.

McDonald's sought permission to extend their opening time to 3:00 am, to provide the necessary junk food to those who have spent the night in the various pubs and nightclubs that make Temple Bar such an attraction. The members of the council, however, are of the opinion that there are already too many places that are open all hours and the people who live in the area have enough to put up with without adding another late venue. Spewing is a big issue for those walking along the streets the morning after.

Except that McDonald's does not serve liquor. The American fast-food icon serves food that is high in fat. Would a late-night craving for burgers and chips really be that disruptive? I mean, have you been to Temple Bar after midnight?

McDonald's has taken their case to An Bord Pleanala, citing a few other spots that are open late. Places like Supermacs, which is not an American-owned takeaway outlet, is churning out burgers until the wee hours. Why not add McDonald's to the selection of food offerings available to those who are stumbling out the doors of all those bars?

A few local residents complained when McDonald's asked permission. Are they displeased with yet one more spot open late, or are they stockholders in Supermacs or any of the other spots that serve junk food and stay open late? Is this really a case of citizen outrage, or just blatant discrimination against a foreign invader?

An Bord Pleanala will have to answer that question of fairness. After all, if you let others do something, can you really deny that same status to the next one coming in for permission to keep the grills hot for a few more hours?

And if not, then by what right do the others get to do it?

It's not fair, to deprive the drunks of that secret sauce and the slices of cheese-like yellow product that resembles the real thing if you've had about ten pints in the span of two hours and you can't see clearly, let alone taste anything.


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Fifty Shades Of Censorship

Sorry, Buncrana.

No Fifty Shades of anything for you while the rest of the world is watching soft-core porn this Valentine's Day.
Not playing in Buncrana's church hall

The anticipated release of Fifty Shades of Grey is receiving all sorts of free publicity. The novel was rather explicit, but how explicit will the film be? Twenty minutes of sex and pseudo-bondage in a one hundred minute movie? That's a great deal of the naughty business, and it is far too much for the owners of the cinema in Buncrana, up there in the hills of Donegal.

Buncrana is a small town in the back of beyond, and the only cinema is located in St. Mary's Hall. On St. Mary's Road. And if you haven't already, guessed, it's owned by the church.

Local resident Mary Doherty is relieved to know that her objection to the film's viewing has born fruit. She has a point, in that the plot revolves around sexual violence against women. It's the female getting bound and gagged and spanked and what have you. Among those who practice bondage or sado-masachism, they laugh at the depiction of BDSM in the novel and expect more of the same in the upcoming film, but even the lighter touch supplied by Hollywood does not sway Ms. Doherty.

The Fifty Shades phenomenon is not grounded in reality, but is meant to be a sexual fantasy aimed at women. There is that promise of fulfillment, as opposed to what happens in the average bedroom. The foreplay and hints of romance in exotic locations is a large part of the appeal, filmed in carefully framed scenes that are charged with orgasmic potential.

The reality of bondage and sex toys is somewhat different. Just ask Graham Dwyer, now on trial in the death of Elaine O'Hara.

The women went missing and when the gardai examined her flat for clues, they found plenty of items that showed Ms. O'Hara was part of the BDSM scene. Perhaps some of the sex toys that viewers will discover on the screen were similar to those found in her flat and the pond near where her body was found. The prosecution hinges on contact made between Ms. O'Hara and Mr. Dwyer, who shared a mutual interest in the sort of sex that is depicted in soft focus in a film that won't be shown in Buncrana.

Sometimes the sadism goes too far. The bondage isn't harmless fun.

The people of Buncrana won't know unless they travel outside of town, but it's the middle of winter and it's cold and the nights are long and the film will be available on DVD so you can watch it at home in the bedroom after the wee little ones are fast asleep.

But as they watch the forbidden erotic adventure, will they think about Elaine O'Hara and how she died?

No, likely not. Death isn't part of the fantasy.


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Go Set A Watchman: Harper Lee Opens An Old Trunk

So there's to be a new novel by Harper Lee, the reclusive author who wrote one book and never gave us another.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was an enormous success, and the reading public waited for Ms. Lee to write more. As it turned out, she was far from prolific. One and done could be used to describe her literary output.

She did not put down her pen, however. Somewhere in the detritus collected over a lifetime there was a manuscript that was written in the 1950s, a manuscript put away in a trunk and forgotten. It was not the sequel to her first novel, but the first effort at writing a story that ended up getting altered by a publisher's suggestion to take a slightly different approach in the story.

GO SET A WATCHMAN is, as it turns out, a sequel to the first. The same characters are there, but older, and moved on with their lives.

Somewhere in the detritus of a lifetime's accumulations, Ms. Lee's attorney found the old manuscript that the author did not know still existed. The acclaimed writer is nearing the end of her life, and that may have given her the incentive to share the story with friends to see if it was worth publishing.

Was it fear of the second novel failing that kept Ms. Lee from pushing her publisher to take another look at the first manuscript, or did she believe that she had told her story, although in a slightly altered form, and the original would have been the same story repeated in a slightly different way?

She is allowing this book to be published before she dies, which means she can edit it to her satisfaction instead of letting someone else try to shape the words in a way that would not be exactly true to Ms. Lee's vision.

Do you have a manuscript stored away in a closet, or collecting dust under a bed?

Maybe it's worth taking another look at the thing....in about sixty years or so.




Monday, February 02, 2015

Stab City Meets The Gun

People who hail from Limerick City don't appreciate the name that's been pasted on their town. Limerick has a reputation for violent crime, but in Ireland, most of the violence comes from a knife.

Garda Brian Hanrahan may be familiar with that sort of violence, but at a distance. He works in Newcastlewest, County Limerick, which is far more rural and peaceful than the big city of Limerick. A murder is quite rare, and the gardai are more likely to be dealing with cases of cattle rustling or a battle between Traveller factions. As he has recently learned, Newcastlewest criminals are a far cry from their American counterparts.
It isn't all floats and beads during Mardi Gras

Mr. Hanrahan thought it would be brilliant to vacation in New Orleans during the Mardi Gras madness that draws in tourists who aren't quite so aware of the crime problem in the unique city. Certainly the local authorities would prefer that tourists be safe while partying, but the notoriously corrupt police force can't keep all the criminals in check. The criminals, for their part, see Mardi Gras as their best season, with all those drink-impaired out-of-towners stumbling along like little lambs unaware of the wolves.

So there was Mr. Hanrahan in New Orleans, drawn away from the crowds by some friendly-sounding lad who told him about an after-hours bar. A trusting sort from a small town, the garda proceeded to withdraw money from an ATM to cover the costs, and off he went with his new mate, without an escort, in company with a stranger. The new mate had an accomplice who pulled out a gun and demanded Mr. Hanrahan's wallet, now refreshed with 200 American dollars. Mr. Hanrahan was having none of it. He's a guard himself and deals with criminals all the time. He refused to hand over his wallet. He told the robber to go fuck himself.

However, in America, the criminals do not use knives, but guns. It doesn't matter how illegal it might be for them to own a weapon. They break the law on a daily basis, and gun ownership is such a small crime in comparison to the armed robberies.

When the Newcastlewest garda failed to give up his money, the robber shot him and then rifled his pockets, taking the wallet and the money.. Lucky for Mr. Hanrahan that his assailant was such a poor shot or the man would be dead. As it is, he is in hospital recovering from gunshot wounds to the legs and lower back. Even more lucky that he was shot in front of a residence where a dog started barking on hearing the commotion, alerting the homeowner who then called the police.

New Orleans police have identified one suspect as a 40-year-old black male who is known to them. This particular crime was not his first, nor is it likely to be his last. They are also searching for his accomplice who did the shooting. Both will be charged with attempted murder, a serious crime intended to get them off the streets for more than a few months.

New Orleans detectives are going to solve this case. They are motivated, in part, because Mr. Hanrahan is one of them, a man who serves and protects the people of his community. But more than that, Mr. Hanrahan is a tourist who will go home and tell his friends about how dangerous New Orleans is, and the story will spread through An Garda Siochana and the number of visitors from Ireland will shrink.

The city desperately needs the tourists and the money they bring because there isn't much industry in a city that sits dangerously below sea level. The last hurricane showed how precarious commerce can be when everything can be wiped out with one storm.

If Mr. Hanrahan had asked me before making his trip, I could have told him about friends in Chicago who were debating a long weekend holiday in New Orleans until they checked the calendar. It's Mardi Gras, they said. People get shot in the streets during Mardi Gras. And they cancelled their plans.