Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You Have Nothing To Say At Your Age

So many budding young writers are arriving on the literary scene as graduate programmes churn out these masters of the fine arts. They know the angst of youth, and still recall the misery of their teen-aged years. They think they have so much to say, possessed as they believe they are with keen insight that must be shared with the reading public.

A life lived in the safety of academia, however, is not really one that anyone cares to read about.

Cynthia Ozick sees the relative lack of value in the work of a young writer, a person unformed because their wings are not yet dry.

Ms. Ozick knows a thing or two about writing. She has an impressive resume of work to her credit, and her voice resonates as she calls on new writers to go back to the old way of doing things. An apprenticeship must be served before the new writer can take their place at an equal level with the old writer. The current trend of MFA worship is only encouraging the young to flood the market with drivel that lacks the maturity needed to create great works of literary art. What would be better for these potential authors is time. Time to get out and live, to observe life and make a personal study of human nature and man's many foibles. To study what was done when literature was great and writing had the power to move people.

After all, neither Charles Dickens or Dashiel Hammett ever earned an advanced degree to learn how to construct a novel. George Sand never sat through a course on narrative arcs, nor did Edith Wharton study the finer points of plot development. Tolstoy was no student of creative writing in his Russian youth, yet he managed to compose some very complex novels that are still popular today.

As Ms. Ozick sees it, MFA graduates go on to become MFA instructors teaching other MFA students so that in time, they, too, will teach others how to write. The degree is no guarantee of literary success and tends to produce more failed writers. So what good is all the money spent to acquire the degree when you'd be better off sitting at your kitchen table of an evening, writing in your spare time?

Considering how difficult it is to land a job these days, why not just set up a writing area in your childhood bedroom and crank out some prose? Chances are, you are living with your parents and you need something to do to fill the time. Go to the local library and read the great books that were assigned reading in secondary school, and really read them. All the coursework you need is right there, and it is available at a greatly reduced price when compared to the cost of graduate school.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy takes exception to Ms. Ozick's thesis, noting quite correctly that the sorts of publishing jobs that put an aspiring writer into contact with an actual writer have become unpaid internships, so the old pipeline has dried up. New writers can't be like old writers.

Except that the writers Ms. Ozick mentions did not work in publishing. The pipeline to publication does not run through New York City.

It is also true that the business model for publishing has changed since the days when an F. Scott Fitzgerald could expect an editor to work with him and tweak a manuscript. When was the last time that anyone heard of a publisher taking on an author because an editor saw potential or raw talent that could be cultivated?

The publishing industry is in decline, it is said, and book sales are down. There are those who blame a weak economy and the numerous distractions, along with fierce competition for the entertainment budget.

Could it be that the publishing industry has been chasing the wrong trend, and has left readers behind? That a writer has a degree that shows they know how to construct a novel and edit the manuscript to decrease the publisher's costs does not mean that the writer is creative enough to entertain readers with a story cleverly told. Readers have not changed that much over time, to desire a novel that is structurally sound but not esthetically pleasing.

Are we bringing up the next generation of writers to believe that the business of publishing no longer has room for the art of prose? With investors running the show instead of leaving things to the old-style publisher, are we left with books that lack art because because there is no guarantee of profit in fiction?

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Verdict And The Books That Follow

The verdict in the sordid murder case was handed down three days ago and the printing presses were cranked up, running at full speed to get the first book into the shops while public interest is still hot.

For months, Graham Dwyer was on trial in the murder of Elaine O'Hara. The case had all the elements to captivate the general public: a woman's disappearance, the discovery of her remains months later, and a murder investigation that led to an underground world of kinky sex via online hook-ups, The characters in the drama were intriguing as well, with a well-heeled architect standing accused of murdering a child care worker with some mental health issues.
A guilty verdict, a last chapter written and the book laid down with no time to lose

Mr. Dwyer was found guilty of killing Ms. O'Hara as part of some sick sexual fantasy. Over the course of the trial, the whole sordid story was told from recovered text messages that painted a very disturbing picture.

Who wouldn't want to read all about it, including the bits that didn't make it into the daily newspapers?

Niamh O'Connor is first past the post. Her book is hitting the shops, ready to go, while the trial is still a popular topic.

The crime writer sat through the trial, tweeting and taking notes. She had only to organize those thoughts into paragraphs of more than 140 characters and there was the book that would set the mark for all other books to follow.

Why do we consume these tales? There is the titillation aspect, especially with the Fifty Shades phenomenon playing out in movie theatres. Bondage is supposed to be good, not-so-clean fun, but the relationship between Mr. Dwyer and Ms. O'Hara was nothing like that portrayed in a series of books that were best-sellers.

Are we seeking some insight into Mr. Dwyer's soul? If we could determine why he had a compulsion to kill a woman to achieve sexual climax, maybe we could find some clue that would help the authorities catch another, equally disturbed individual, before they killed some innocent woman who had emotional problems of her own. How could a man who had the intelligence to become a successful architect lead such a thoroughly concealed second life? Were there clues left behind as he played the master to Elaine O'Hara's submissive?

Were there other women gone missing years ago whose disappearance might be linked to Graham Dwyer?

The first book will not be the insightful expose. That sort of story takes some time to research and write. This is the first, the more basic presentation of the facts as heard in the courtroom, with the prosecution painting one picture and the defense painting quite another.

But the first book is the one that sells through when it arrives within days of the verdict. It won't be the Irish version of In Cold Blood. It isn't meant to be. This book is just supposed to sell a lot of copies so the publisher can make as much money as possible.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Wisdom Of The Clergy

She should have been home.

That was the wisdom offered by a parish priest in Melbourne recently as he spoke to a group of primary school children. Why did he mention the name of a woman who had been raped and murdered in 2012? Was he providing some lesson in Catholic morality that would give the wee little ones a firm foundation for their teenaged years when the hormones started to raging? Teaching them what the Catholic Church believed was proper behavior for the female congregation?
Murder victim Jill Meagher
He held up a picture of Ms. Meagher, a woman who had been walking home from a pub at 1:30 am after a night out when she was attacked.

People do that sort of thing, go out to nightclubs or pubs or concert halls to have fun. Men and women both are known to stay out late. But if you are a woman in Melbourne, you are doing what you have no business doing, according to the wisdom of an Australian clergyman.

She should have been home in bed, the priest told the children, and not out at all hours. It was her own fault, then, if you follow the clergyman's logic, that she was killed by a serial rapist. A woman should be living a faith-filled life, you see, kids, and all you girls take note. Never leave your homes. The Muslims have the best idea, don't they? Don't allow women to walk about without a male escort, or they are fair game for the thugs and killers. So there's the lesson for you boys. Women are not entitled to respect, unless they are cloistered behind the four walls of the family home, in bed by 10.

The Archdiocese of Melbourne has apologized for the comments, calling them inappropriate.

And offensive as well.

But what they failed to explain as they extracted an apology from the priest who upset the parishioners is why they continue to employee a priest whose mindset is so dangerously archaic . They never said the priest was a feckin' eejit for blaming a victim, yet that is what the laity thought of the man.

When a murder victim is called out for not living a more "faith-filled" life, there is a bigger problem than that of a single priest. That he would even think to instruct children on proper morality by using an innocent, brutalized woman as an example of what not do reflects a mentality that harkens back to the Dark Ages.

The same concept of morality led to the creation of a gulag designed to contain female sexuality in Ireland, a system that remained in effect until the mid 1990's. That mindset has not been erased with time or corrected with teaching.  It starts in the classroom, with the children learning the basic tenets of their faith. And so it is perpetuated ad infinitum, until the priests are taken out of the classroom and kept cloistered behind the four walls of the parochial house where they can't cause so much trouble for the public at large.

She should have been home in bed at that time of night, the priest told the impressionable children in a parish in Melbourne. What an incredibly stupid thing to say. What a pathetic way to think about women.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Dream Lover: A Book Review

Disclaimer: I received this book from Penguin’s First To Read programme.

I have never read any of George Sand’s books, and know little about her life. Perhaps her writing was too risque for young minds, and then avoided by those who did not study literature at university. So I came to the book with an open mind, and my lack of knowledge made Elizabeth Berg’s “The DreamLover” a pleasant introduction to a very remarkable writer.

The novel opens with George Sand leaving her husband, certainly a fateful day in real life and an intriguing point to begin a novel. For the first half of the book, the story is presented as intertwined narratives of Sand's childhood and her new life as a woman of letters, a woman with a small fortune who could afford the luxury of writing. After the two story lines merge, the remainder of the novel focuses on Sand’s career and her continuous quest to find love.

The contrast between a desire for female emancipation and a desire for romantic love is well presented in fictional form. George Sand might have been a feminist, but her numerous affairs as shown in “The Dream Lover” create a character of great depth. The complexity of Sand’s emotions makes for a compelling read as she searches for some impossible ideal in a man, the dream lover of the title. I am guessing that some of the action portrayed was based on Sand's own novels, in the guise of a writer writing what she knows. You may feel motivated to pick up one of her early novels and see for yourself. Or at any rate, to see how all the sex was hinted at in French literature of the 1830s and 1840s.

There is more than enough name dropping to thrill the literati, with appearances by Flaubert, Delacroix, and Chopin, among others. And then there is the actress Marie Dorval, who may have had a romantic entanglement with George Sand in real life, and enjoys a very brief affair in this piece of historical fiction.

Unfortunately, the novel loses steam in the end. Following the defeat of the Communards in 1848, and Sand's own advancing age, the pursuit of love came to an end and so too did the driving force behind the novel. A reader will see that Sand's emotional outlook matured as she aged, and the closing chapters plod along as if waiting for Sand to die.

All in all, the book is well worth reading for fans of historical fiction.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Onward Christian Soldiers With Payments In Arrears

No money in Christianity
The Family Christian chain of bookstores has gone into receivership because there is no money in Christian books, apparently. Look at Christ's teachings and you see that there is no money in Christianity in general. It goes against the general set of beliefs. If you're giving away all you have to follow Him, there's no room in there for you to accumulate wealth.

What happens when a firm goes under?

There are unpaid bills to be balanced against what little might be in the till, which means some creditors get nothing while others get next to nothing. And when it comes to Family Christian, there is quite a line of Christian publishers realizing that they are about to be left out in the cold. After all, you can't squeeze blood out of a turnip, no matter how religious it might be.

Vendors who supplied Family Christian shops with product did so under the assumption that they would be compensated for their goods. As it turns out, the best of intentions doesn't create profit. After the rent was paid and the utlity bills managed, there was no money left over to pay for the books and gift items.

The publishers who provided the books sold at Family Christian stores had expenses of their own that were going to be recouped by payments that, it turns out, will never materialize. Where does a publisher then get money to keep its own doors open when it gets hit with a loss?

For many of the Christian book publishers, that moeny comes from royalties due the authors who wrote the books.

It isn't just a chain of shops that has gone bankrupt. A chain of authors who thought they had made it in the industry are discovering that a corporation's word is not guaranteed to be kept, no matter what the Bible says.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Render Unto Caesar The Things That Are...Stephen King's

Stephen King contemplates his next novel's antagonist
In Stephen King's next novel, there will be a character who will suffer some horrible fate. The victim of the author's pen will be a thinly veiled version of the current governor of the state of Maine, and that character will die in an excruciating way, and only after readers have come to thoroughly despise him. Indeed, they will cheer when the character who is remarkably similar to Paul LePage gets what's coming.

Mr. King lives in Maine, a state associated with rocky soil and people hardened by a perpetual struggle. And lobster, of course. When you think of Maine you think of lobster but that's only along the coast. Other than that, it is the sort of place that is not an economic powerhouse like New York, or quaint tourist haven in a Vermont sort of way.

Given all those negatives, it is no wonder that the government is quite sensitive to people trying to avoid rendering unto the state that which is the state's. In other words, Governor LePage tends to criticize the tax-dodgers.

A popular tax dodge in many of the United States is to move to Florida where the taxes are low, and thereby keep more of your money. Caesar's cut is smaller in Florida and as long as you reside there for six months and one day, you are an official resident subject to the local tax rules. You could keep your house in Maine, which would be of use in the summer when it is too hot in Florida. You'd linger into the autumn for the foliage, and then head back to your official place of residence to prepare your annual tax return, happy that Maine isn't getting as much as they would if you were a full-time Maine-iac.

Mr. LePage called out Stephen King as such a tax dodger recently. The author is, of course, fabulously wealthy after finding success in writing, and fabulously wealthy people employ tax accountants who tell them to move to Florida and save a few dollars. He just happens to have a home in Florida, and someone in the governor's office connected a couple of dots and drew a line that did not actually connect to reality.

There is no love lost between author and executive. Mr. King has criticized the governor in the past, and it's likely that Mr. LePage was so happy to be handed something negative to say about his nemesis that he forgot to check the facts before presenting his theory.

Now Mr. King is demanding an apology that will most likely not be forthcoming. About all that Mr. LePage did was to delete the anti-King comments from the version released to the press, as if the words were never spoken.

Without the apology, Mr. King is free to retaliate in a way that only he can, because he is a highly successful author with a huge coterie of fans. Few will have heard Mr. LePage speak, but many will read Mr. King's response.

As Mark Twain once noted, it is not wise to pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. But then again, who ever said that Governor LePage was a wise man?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Take Advantage Of The Favorable Exchange Rate

The euro is nearly on parity with the US dollar, which means the bargains in Europe are there for the taking. What better bargain could you find than a castle? Yes, your very own castle.

All is not perfect, of course. You would be the proud owner of a pile in County Antrim, but if you are part of the Irish diaspora that fled Ireland to escape Protestant rule, this could be your best chance at revenge for your unfortunate ancestors. Antrim was once the seat of the clan O'Neill, but the native Irish were booted off their land so that the Ulster Plantation could take root and wash out Irish culture. Wouldn't your people be proud of you if you re-inserted a little piece of Irish-Catholic culture back again?

A man's home could literally be his castle if he had one million dollars on hand, plus a little loose change to cover the difference. As mansion go, it almost sounds too good to be true. But, again, this is in Antrim and not London or New York City.

Craigdun is the second castle to sit on the site, with the original castle torn down in the 1860s. The stones, however, were recycled, so in a way you'd be getting something from the time of James I.

At one time, the occupant of Craigdun was a fierce unionist who once threw a book at his nemesis, Winston Churchill. How delightful would it be to accept the keys to your new abode and then promptly have the local parish priest come in to exorcise that particular demon?

And it would not require much sacrifice to move in. The home has been renovated and brought up to modern standards, making it eminently comfortable for an old house. At the same time, the gardens maintain the feel of baronial splendor, where you could walk in the evening and imagine that you, too, are a lord of the manor.

Looking for an investment? The castle is currently used for destination weddings and appeals to those looking for a unique venue for their party. Book enough groups and you could pay the mortgage from outside income, while keeping an apartment for yourself. It's how it's done these days, to make such places affordable. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

You Can Cancel That Trip To Ireland Now

As a publicity-garnering gambit, the 15 euro air fare rumour got people to sit up and take notice of Ryan Air. When the New York Times writes up a piece about it, you've arrived in the land of free publicity.

Sure you'd be made to pay extra for a sip of water or the key to the jacks, but fifteen euro to travel from New York To Dublin? You could manage to travel light and dehydrated. Look at the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro! How could you go wrong? That return to the homeland was suddenly within reach for the millions with a drop of Irish blood and a yearning to see what their ancestors left behind.

Now that Ryan Air has your attention, they wish to announce that they were not, actually,planning to offer such impossibly low rates for trans-Atlantic travel.

Something just slipped out of the board room, or something like that.

Michael O'Leary, who founded the cheap airline, was just dreaming and his flights of fancy turned into actual flights. He wants to expand his little airline that has all but killed off the old Eurorail pass that was once the cornerstone of gap year travel. Students fly Ryan Air all over Europe, and what CEO would not want to expand on that success? The trans-Atlantic route is the obvious place to go next.

Unfortunately for corporate relations, the banter in the board room leaked out. In truth, they say now, the executives discussed adding the new service and then realized that they couldn't afford it within the limits of their budget. As for a fifteen euro fare, that might be a nice price point, but it is not realistic. Imagine the loss on a single, full flight of 15 euro seats and you start to wonder who came up with the figure in the first place. It's not as if the till is filled to overflowing and something has to be done to spend all that money.

The low fare was hyped and now the low fare has been declared a misunderstanding.

Wavering in financial matters does not endear a corporation to the flying public, and for Ryan Air it is doubly unfortunate. Their no frills flights, awash in gimmicks that annoy the uninitiated, have plenty of detractors who don't really enjoy the Ryan Air experience.

So when the airline does come up with some sort of loss leading offer, the flying public is likely to ignore it as another attention-getting device with no substance.

No firm wants its clients to lose faith.

There are always competitors ready to capitalize on such mistakes and siphon off a few travelers looking for a bargain and willing to fly like a kipper in a tin.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Fully Integrated Literary Agent

Is she still a legitimate agent some asked when Emmanuelle Morgen left Wendy Sherman's agency to join a book packager. Would there be conflicts of interest for a literary agent becoming a component of another firm that was aligned with the publishing side of the business?

Stonesong was expanding when it took in Ms. Morgen, tacking on literary representation to an established packager. Naturally there was concern that someone seeking representation would be steered towards the custom publishing side of the office, suggesting that clients would not be getting the best possible deal because the literary agent would have some incentive to not heavily push the book to other publishers.

It is an ongoing dilemma in these days of digital publishing and authors doing it themselves and literary agents helping their author clients publish things that the major publishing houses don't want. The industry is changing due to technological advances that are coming up too fast for the normally slow-paced publishing world to adapt.

But what about the final phase of the process? After the literary agent has sold a manuscript and the publisher has created a book, who sells the book?

If you are Emmanuelle Morgen, you point to yourself.

Ms. Morgen is joining two other women in opening up a book shop in her native town of Hoboken, New Jersey. By going into the selling trade, she has integrated herself into every phase of publishing, doing just about everything but reading books aloud to the buyers.

Little City Books is slated to welcome book buyers at the beginning of May, to fill a niche that the owners see in the local market.

The shop will host author signings and readings, as you would expect, but wouldn't you love to be represented by an agent who could get you and your book into a brick-and-mortar store? Would that not be a huge bonus in signing with her?

Not only can she get you a publishing contract, but if things don't work out as planned, her agency could still get your book published. And then she can get you some publicity via an appearance at Little City Books.

Literary agents are getting into the publishing business with increasing frequency these days, if only to stay on top of the game. How long before some of them start investing in local book shops to provide a forum for their authors to get a little attention? Publicity budgets are tight in this bean-counting era, where art is pushed aside in a drive to reap the maximum profit from blockbuster bestsellers that may or may not be worthless drivel.

Today it is Stonesong extending its reach. Who will be the next literary agent to follow in the same track?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Books To Look For Next Year

Two years ago he was a graduate student working on his Master of Fine Arts degree, getting an honorable mention at Cornell University for a piece of short fiction that he had written.

Yes, that Cornell of ivy-covered walls and proximity to New York City where the publishing business resides.

Next year at this time, Adam O'Fallon Price will watch his first novel arrive in bookstores. A rapid trajectory? Not really. He has a plump resume of writing credits to his name, and when you're querying literary agents it never hurts to mention publications like "Glimmer Train" or "Paris Review". It shows that you've been vetted by the industry that churns out MFAs.

What if you can't make claim to that sort of history? What if you aren't interested in the more literary aspects of fiction, but the more commercially-oriented?

Do not be discouraged. There is room in publishing for those who teach writing as well.

Midge Raymond will have a novel coming out next year. She has been teaching creative writing for a long time, and even published a book about writing tips that was aimed at people like you who have a story inside but don't quite know how to get it out. Of course, Everyday Writing was a work of non-fiction, so MY LAST CONTINENT will be considered her debut in full-length fiction.

Don't fit into either category of debut fiction writers who have publishing contracts while you do not?

You could try picking up a copy of Ms. Raymond's book and doing a little studying. It might be less time consuming than the old-fashioned idea of reading a lot of novels in all genres to absorb the skills that Ms. Raymond's students learn in a classroom setting.

Have you reached the point where you think you'll have to suck it up and enroll in a graduate program to get your own MFA and then get noticed by literary agents who will land a publishing contract for you?

Ryan Boudinot says no.

He believes that if you are born with talent, you can become a writer. Just because you want to be a writer doesn't mean you can go to school and learn the craft like it's plumbing. Some people want to be dancers but they don't have the body for it, and no amount of education will alter the fact. Creativity is like that. It's built in and you can't just insert it into your head.

And don't forget that if you are determined to be published, you can just go ahead and publish yourself. There are more than enough platforms to use, and more than enough forums to give you all the advice you need to manage the unpleasant tasks of formatting and marketing. Based on a recent article in The Guardian, you might have more luck as a woman writer if you avoid the old-school publishing industry, which appears to be heavily skewed towards male authors.

In essence, there is no well-marked road to follow that will lead you to a publishing contract and possible fame. It's a rock-strewn path that could as easily send you off on a dead end as direct you to the door of HarperCollins.

What does it take to become a published author? A touch of insanity would help.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Preparing To Be Irish For St. Patrick's Day

No, everyone is not Irish on the 17th of March. Marketers of alcoholic beverages would like you to believe that's the case, but you must then assume that the Irish are heavy drinkers and to be Irish is to drink large quantities of beer. Stumbling out of a bar at eleven in the morning does not constitute Irishness.

But you'll likely be in a bar somewhere, lifting a pint, so why not acquire some genuine Irishness in the form of useless trivia to sprinkle into a conversation?

Your textbooks can all be found here. Or here in their electronic versions. Or if you like Amazon, here.

Where to begin?

The Irish left Ireland in droves over the centuries and many arrived on America's shores to make new lives where they could worship freely without took sides with the rebels back in 1776.
having to pay a tax in support of the Anglican church. They brought with them a general dislike of England and the monarchy, and many of them

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, the British were not willing to relax the countless penalties put on the native Irish-Catholics. For a time, Catholics could not own land, and those who did had to leave it in equal parts to all their sons, unless a son converted to Protestantism. He would then inherit all, an act designed to wipe out the faith. It ended up stoking further anger, which in turn lead to a long-lasting unrest that found support across the world. The Irish diaspora had its revenge, even though it took a long time.

Speaking of the Irish diaspora, the group was well represented in Chicago at the close of the Nineteenth Century. Their covert activities got England's notice and the secret societies that had formed to raise money for armed rebellion were riddled with British spies. An attempt to send a message and oust one such infiltrator led to a murder that was called the crime of the century in its day. The murder, by the way, has never been solved, and the case so divided the Irish community in Chicago that it still resonates today. Brush up on the details before you head out and you'll have no difficulty in making conversation or debating with the best of them.

Prefer the more current version of Ireland?

It isn't all about the cead mile failte, and if you stumble upon an argument regarding the role of the Catholic Church in government affairs, you can best be prepared by reading up on the nightmare that was Ireland until 1996, when the incarceration of women for the crime of being unmarried and pregnant finally ended.

Generations of Irish children were locked away in industrial schools as the new nation sought to create a perfect society free of the ills of poverty. The result is a large population of mentally ill adults who were scarred by experiences that would be unbelievable if they were not true.

Toast to the reparations for the Magdalene laundry survivors and you're likely to draw a bit of attention. Can you explain the significance? Only if you go out prepared.

Study hard. The test is coming in a few days and you don't want to masquerade as Irish without a solid foundation in the soul of the land.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Gone With The Wind But Blowing Back In

Elizabeth I and her trained waist
A tiny waist was once the symbol of feminine beauty. The tiny waist was a fashion trend for a very long time, and women dutifully constricted their mid-sections to achieve the desired figure that was, of course, thoroughly unnatural.

You've come a long way, ladies
From Her Majesty's reign in the Seventeenth Century through the Victorian Era of the late Nineteenth Century, woman have damaged their abdominal muscles and internal organs with constriction devices meant to make their waist look thin. Wasn't Scarlet O'Hara so proud of her tiny waist that she decided not to have another baby because it just ruined her figure?

Women were happy to be rid of the corset when fashion and world politics collided during the First World War. No more was the abnormally small waist the ideal. A girl could breathe again, and do things like walk fast or even, if she dared, run, without fainting due to oxygen deprivation.

You would think with all this modern concern in regard to health and fitness that the last thing anyone would do is to lash themselves into a corset to make their waist look narrower than biology intended, but you would be quite wrong.

The waist-cinching corset is back and the celebrity crowd is crowing about how CUTE they look in their corsets that are now called waist trainers because that recalcitrant body part needs some serious discipline.

Is this where decades of fighting over women's rights have brought you? Have women really reverted to a fashion must that was declared dead decades ago?

Of course, if you write historical fiction you'll want to snap up one of these modern corsets to really get inside a character's head and feel for yourself how restricting that whalebone appliance really was. No need to imagine, writers. You can experience the constriction for yourself and your fiction will be the better for it.

If you don't pass out before getting the words down on paper (or hard-drive).

As for actually buying one, there will be plenty of young ladies who will emulate Kim Kardashian and take to wearing a corset so that they, too, can have that skinny waist that was SO CUTE for so many generations of women who wore the things because society put the pressure on them to conform.

One step forward, ladies. And two steps back.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Dry Niche Not In Need Of Filling

It's a cold winter evening and you realize a short whiskey would warm your old bones. That bottle that's been sitting in a cupboard for years will still be drinkable when your desire for a wee drop strikes. Liquor doesn't spoil. It won't go bad waiting for you to drink it.

Then why do we need powdered alcohol?

What the creator is calling Palcohol has just been approved for sale in the US, which means every other nation in the booze drinking world will follow suit.

You the consumer would purchase a packet of this freeze dried product and then rehydrate it. Just add water and stir...or should it be shaken? That must depend on what sort of cocktail you're mixing.

What could go wrong?

For those in Muslim countries, it might be a little easier to smuggle in the forbidden. Some powder in a tin masquerading as talcum powder, for example, could fuel a nice little party.

if you have a drinking problem you could use Palcohol like those flavored sugars we used to lick up as children. No need to carry around a flask. Dip your wet finger in the pouch and there's your liquid-free drink. You could get thoroughly pissed and never touch a drop of fluid. Trips to the jacks would be greatly reduced.

Then there are the teen-aged set of curious thrill seekers. How much easier it would be for them to sneak alcohol into a party without the vigilant parents noticing. Imagine the fun after one drunken guest crashes the car on the way home and his or her parents sue the adult who hosted the bash. Will parties for the under aged set soon require strip searches to safeguard the legal rights of the host?

And if one packet is good, what would stop some fool from gulping down two or three or one dozen packets in one sitting just to see what happens?

Imagine the fun the doctors and nurses would have with a steady influx of alcohol poisoning cases presenting on a busy Saturday night.

Does the world really need powdered alcohol? Isn't the real thing better, not needing anything to improve it?

Monday, March 09, 2015

In Celebration Of Irish-American Movies

Ireland is full of film-makers so an American of Irish descent can't get noticed there. It's a frustrating fact for Mike Houlihan, who makes great movies but can't seem to crack the shamrock ceiling.

The Chicago-based director received great reviews for a documentary he created, but what's rave in Chicago didn't translate to admission into an Irish film festival. So he did what any other American would do. He's doing the film festival thing himself.

Mr. Houlihan has launched a film festival for the Irish-Americans who share his frustration at not being shut out of a festival that would fit their genre perfectly. These are the small independent film makers who have something worth seeing, but find it difficult to get noticed because they are small and independent. A film festival that showcases their works is the best way to reach the public, and Mr. Houlihan is doing what he can to provide the venue.

The "Movie Hooley" is scheduled to run in late September at the Gene Siskel Film Center. He's looking for films with an Irish-American touch, whether that come from a director or actors or even the style of story-telling. And Mr. Houlihan is looking for submissions.

The basic premise of the festival is to showcase three films with some Irish element. It could be written by an Irish-American, produced by a descendant of the diaspora, or starring some budding actors with Hibernian roots. Your film might be something that draws on Irish story-telling traditions, or it might be an Irish-American story (like LACE CURTAIN IRISH. Just a suggestion).

All you need are a couple of DVD copies of your film and the courage to give it a try.

Who knows? Maybe the luck of the Irish will be with you and your little labor of love could be showing on the big screen in Chicago's Loop this September. Isn't it time that someone besides your immediate family and friends had a look at it?

Friday, March 06, 2015

Medical Research

Mortality rates were high back in the old days, when a simple cut could be a death sentence if bacteria took hold. For women, the risks of premature death were even greater when the danger of childbirth is factored in. After all, the existence of bacteria is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the concept of washing hands prior to assisting a woman in labor was completely unknown.

There are other considerations as well when you write about historical characters who are undergoing childbirth before the days of anesthesia and basic hygeine. Complications of labor and delivery exist today as they did in the early Nineteenth Century. Do some research on any aspect of post-partum problems and you'll find enough detail to really add some insight into a character you are developing.

So many germs, so little chance of avoiding infection
Take, for example, some historical character who features prominently in your manuscript. You read up on what is known of her life and you encounter some opinions as to the cause of her death, but those opinions are just that. What would a doctor think if such a patient presented at hospital?

The cost of such a consultation to discuss complications of delivery could make your research cost prohibitive. Unless you are lucky enough to have a friend in the medical field.

My character took leave of this earth soon after delivering a baby. Not immediately, like from hemorrhage. Several weeks later. Was there some connection? The historical record, such as it is, has her dying of tuberculosis. A common disease of her time, to be sure, but nothing in the letters she wrote at the end of her life gave any indication of consumption.

The closing chapter of the novel I am roughing out will not take the expected route. No, my conclusion is going to be based on a chance discussion I had with a friend who happens to be a doctor.

Sure my book is fiction and I could have my protagonist's husband could suffocate her with a pillow if that was a logical way to tie up the loose ends, but why not write something that could actually fit with what really happened in those weeks after a difficult delivery? The symptoms would be the same as they are now. In our modern times, there are ultrasounds to diagnose and antibiotics or minor surgery to treat conditions. That type of care was not possible in the heroine's lifetime, and so she died.

My conclusion is logically possible, but I might have not put it all together if not for the advice of an expert in the field. 

If not for a little research and a few questions I might have gone with TB and been done with it. Now there will be some fresh insight into an old story.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Bonds That Remain Unbroken

From the perilous days of failed uprisings in 1798 and 1803, through the famine era and on into the years of struggle, the Irish have left their home and gone to America to make a fresh start and find the prosperity that was denied them.

We're talking of a time both long ago and not so long ago, as recently as the 1950s and 1960s when people left in droves. There was nothing much for anyone beyond poverty and repression, and so the people boarded planes or boats. Bound for America, the land of hope.

They left physically, but emotionally it seems as if the Irish never really left at all.

That fact played out in Chicago in 1889 when the Irish-Americans set up secret societies that were intended to funnel money to the land of their ancestors' birth. It played out in violence and murder, charges of espionage and infiltration, a scenario that frightened the staid Protestant leaders who were distrustful of Catholics to begin with.

The descendants of Ireland's diaspora continue to funnel money to Ireland. More specifically, Irish-American largesse fills the coffers of the political organization that continues to promote Irish freedom and the restoration of Northern Ireland to the republic that was born from the ashes of 1916's uprising.
Gerry Adams and the power of friends

Sinn Fein's very own Gerry Adams makes an annual sojourn to America every year around St. Patrick's Day, when everyone is Irish in so far as the drinking goes. He comes hat in hand, asking for donations. Just like those who came before him, he turns to those who were raised on tales of hardship and discrimination at the hands of the British overlord. Campaigns to bring about change cost money. And Mr. Adams has been very successful in raising a big pot of money to finance the work of Sinn Fein.

Martin Sheen and Anjelica Huston have ties to Ireland, and they have donated. Businessmen like Donald Keough have given money when Gerry Adams came calling. Friends of Sinn Fein host fundraising dinners to make it even easier to submit a generous sum.

It is not a case of contributing to some charitable cause. Everyone knows what Sinn Fein is about, what they have been about since the days of The Troubles.

Those who support Sinn Fein in Ireland tend to be closer to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. The organization's socialist message resonates with them, but the poor can't help you much when it's time to pay for election posters and campaign advertising and office rent.

Over the course of the past twenty years, Sinn Fein has raised $12 million from Americans of Irish descent. The donors include people in the trades, as well as those in the professions. What unites them is the same sense of outrage that saw Chicago's Irish-American factions organize secret societies like the United Irishmen. Back then, it was all about raising money to pay for an armed rebellion. These days, it's all about raising money to pay for a peaceful upending of a treaty that was signed in 1922, ceding control of six Irish counties to Great Britain.

Why is the fundraising so successful? Sure the Irish have long memories and carry grudges. For centuries.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

When Free Becomes Paid If You Don't Pay Attention

If someone offers you something for free, you're likely to take it if it's of interest to you. Let's say that a company like Amazon said you could have free shipping on their goods. You'd take them up on the offer if you were a frequent user of Amazon's marketplace and saw the deal as a way to save some money.

Would you then be shocked when your credit card was billed for Amazon Prime after a month of free Amazon Prime?

The devil's in the details

You would if you didn't read the fine print, which many people do not. If they did, it's less likely that Amazon and other corporate entities would bother promoting the free trial period. What good does it do you to have free Amazon Prime if you have to watch the clock very carefully to be sure to cancel the thing before Amazon could start ringing up charges that you would have to pay because, well, you did agree when the offer was made.

British citizens read about as far as the part where Amazon said "that's all there is to it". Sign up, and that's it? All right then.

Six people complained about the misleading offer. They accepted thinking the thing was free for a month and would then just go away. Instead, Amazon charged them for not cancelling the membership because it did not go away but became a regular, paid service.

Just six people, and it was enough for the Advertising Standards Authority in Great Britain to ban the advert. In the minds of the authorities, the language was not clear enough to make potential clients realize that once they signed on, they were there for life if they did not take action. The implication, of course, is that Amazon was trying to trick people into parting with their money, and that will not be permitted in Her Majesty's realm.

If Amazon wishes to try again, it will have to rewrite the offer so that it is made quite clear to the consumer that the free offer does not automatically cancel. Oh, yes, and Amazon will have to spell out right there in the advertisement that the consumer is going to be charged seventy-nine British pounds per annum. That little item was also missing from the original offer, and only showed up after a person had gone online to accept the offer they thought was thirty days for free but was more like an indenture for life.

How likely is that sort of highly informative ad copy expected to reel them in like hungry fish? If you spell out the details, you'll just create more sceptics who will determine that there is, in fact, no free lunch. Or free Amazon Prime.

Monday, March 02, 2015

What Is The Convenience Worth To You

You could create your own spreadsheet to track your queries. That's how it was done ten years ago, before tech-savvy types created websites designed to track queries. Back then, the sites were free and all you had to do was tolerate the pop-up ads.

So you signed up and took advantage of the convenience. You did not have to set up the columns and insert the different boxes to have all the functions you wanted in your spreadsheet. It was there for you. Click on a link to the agent's name and there was everything you needed, from e-mail address to genre preference.

In time, the tech-savvy thought aspiring authors would want statistics to tell them that they were not alone in their quest, that others were doing the same thing, and here are their results. How long to wait for a response? Which agents respond and which go the "no response means no" route?

Hooked you, didn't they?

Now that you cannot live without instant access to your query list and the data you so love, Querytracker has invested in their agent-centric website and you will have to pay for things that were once free.

Only $25 for a full year of statistics, genres, and the ability to organize your queries in just about any way you like.

Is the convenience worth it to you?

You could find agents and their genres on AgentQuery and it won't cost you anything more than the time it takes to cut and paste the info into your personal spreadsheet. 

What you'll miss is the statistical data that doesn't really serve a critical function. You know you're not alone. All you have to do is follow any writer's forum and see that you're in plenty of frustrated company.

You could come up with a couple of dollars each month. It's pennies a day, and you could easily meet the expense by dialing back your thermostat a degree or two, or opening the windows instead of opting for air conditioning. You could eat less and forage more. Dumpster diving is always an option if you want to lower your food bills and have money left over to buy the comradeship you get from a website dedicated to would-be authors in search of representation.

How much is the convenience worth to you?

I haven't decided yet, myself. Maybe it's a bargain. Maybe it's a waste of money that will make the website developer rich on the backs of those who want to break into the publishing world. Like most other things, I could live without it. But will I happy without my regular dose of statistical analysis and comments from fellow seekers of literary representation?

What do others in this same situation think about paying someone else to do the grunt work? Will we end up with more time to write if we pay for a small convenience? And will that up our odds of getting a foot in the door?