Friday, January 30, 2015

My Battle Against Hitler: A Book Review

History is filled with stories of resistance fighters battling the Nazis, but it has forgotten those who fought with their intellect and their words. Dietrich von Hildebrand is one such warrior.

He was an ardent Catholic and professor of philosophy in Munich when Hitler started on his climb to tyranny. The professor recognized the danger that National Socialism represented, approaching his subject from the standpoint of Catholic teaching. He gave lectures, participated in seminars, and created a literary journal that were all put to use in combating what he saw as a deadly threat to the world.

The professor never got around to completing his memoirs, and what is presented in this book is a rather rough draft that can make for heavy reading. He drops countless names of his colleagues and acquaintances that will likely mean nothing to those who did not major in philosophy. Get beyond that and hone in on the heart of his story and you will find yourself in a world that did not recognize the danger that he saw with ease.

In his recollections, von Hildebrand describes his ongoing arguments, spanning almost the entire 1930's. He parries the points of those who found compromise with the Nazis as they gradually took over Germany, even as he counters what some saw as positive aspects of Hitler's gang. His influence is clear as he speaks of his need to flee from Munich and find refuge with a sister in Italy before landing in Vienna, only to watch with horror as Nazism drifted across the border despite his strongest efforts to combat the political movement.
What is perhaps most fascinating, as a Catholic, is his disgust with prominent clergymen and the bishops of Germany who either surrendered to what they felt was inevitable, found a way to live with Nazism, or went so far as to embrace National Socialism as compatible with the teachings of Jesus. Increasingly, his well-constructed arguments to the contrary fell on deaf ears and you can imagine him shaking his head in wonder at the inability of those with two good ears refusing to hear.

The book closes with a selection of von Hildebrand's essays that are of greater interest to an academic or a biographer, but are still intriguing. For example, he wrote an article that made the case for being against National Socialism, which only existed in Germany, without being against the German people. It rang of current events, as if he foresaw our present discussions about a stance against Islamic extremism equated to an anti-Muslim position.

The reader will come away with a deeper insight into the rise of the Third Reich, and how it could have enticed Catholics despite espousing values that were utterly contrary to Church teachings.

Female Authors: Advice Before You Die

Women writers, drop your pens and do something about your appearance before it is too late.

Don't end up like the talented author (and neuroscientist) Colleen McCullough, who has been memorialized first and foremost as "Plain of feature, and certainly overweight..."

Sure she penned The Thornbirds and Tim, a couple of outstanding novels that did more to generate interest in Australia than the country's tourism board ever accomplished. What "The Australian" newspaper put right at the top of her published obituary was a comment on her appearance. Don't let this happen to you.

If you have been as successful as Ms. McCullough, you can afford the extensive plastic surgery needed to shape your face into something that is not plain. As for your body that has been sculpted by years spent sitting in a chair (unless you write standing up but who does that?), there are plenty of diet programmes available. Why not ask your plastic surgeon to shave off the belly and the love handles clinging to your hips while he's re-making your nose? It would save time, especially if you're getting up in years and your time is short.

It isn't about your ability if you are an author of the female persuasion. At least not in Australia, where one of their iconic citizens was noted for not being a beauty. All of Ms. McCullough's accomplishments took a back seat to her looks. If she had only known, she could have done something about it.

So don't let your obituary open with a remark on your lack of physical attrributes. Take action at once.

That way, you'll just be another writer of talent who did not stand out because she looked like everyone else is supposed to look if they are female and write anything even faintly hinting at romance. Talent alone just won't win you a glowing obituary these days.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Query The New

Agents come up from the ranks, starting as interns at a literary agency to get a feel for the business. In time they might become an assistant to an agent and learn how it's done before moving up to the role of junior agent.

At some point, those who are eager to get ahead will move to a bigger agency. Some will leave that bigger agency and start their own firm.

Query the new agent who is looking to build a client roster. Query the newly independent agent who has a business to fill with clients.

Alex Glass has gone off on his own and he's open to queries. Not historical fiction, but if you have some literary fiction, family saga or YA, you might consider shooting off a query. While he may have brought most of his clients along with him in the move, he won't build up his business without fresh manuscripts from unknown writers. It's worth a try.

At Curtis Brown, Kerry D'Agostino has made the move from assistant to agent and she needs clients. You could be one of them if your query draws her attention and your manuscript is so highly polished that she can see her reflection in your words. I'd query her myself but I just can't make myself write up a synopsis for the manuscript I re-revised last summer.

Then you've got Susanna Einstein who split with her partner and is going it alone. That's half the clients gone with the old partner, so why not got into line as a replacement?

The older, established agents can choose their clients because they don't really need to add to an already full stable. They'll go after the MFAs with a string of awards to their credit, and send you a quick rejection if they reply at all. Try hitting the agents who are hungry and possibly willing to take a chance on someone who is unpublished but shows talent.

Just make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors in anything you submit. No one is that desperate for a new client who requires an enormous investment of time to edit what has to be perfect before getting any kind of consideration.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Sales Shrink While The Rent Remains The Same

Eason's has been having a tough go of it, as have most other book sellers. The market is down as people struggle to meet critical bills which means they aren't buying books.

Last May, they shuttered the shop in Drogheda. The site had been losing money, and when the landlord wanted to take over the spot to install a cinema, it was not a difficult decision to make. When you are operating at a loss, you look around to see the source of the negative cash flow and you stop the bleeding.

While in search of savings to stay afloat, Eason realized that their location in the Liffey Valley shopping center was not as profitable as necessary. A large part of the loss was due to high rents. Fees that made sense in the glory years of the Celtic Tiger are out of line in our modern day of austerity. The owners of the shopping center were giving all sorts of discounts to newcomers willing to fill empty storefronts, even accepting pop-up type shops. At the same time, they held Eason to its lease, glad that they had someone paying full freight.

Eason was plagued by the fly-by-night operators who competed with its offerings but at a greatly reduced cost. Then there was the type of businesses that were opening and closing all around it. Who wants to shop at Eason and Sons if they have to navigate through a maze of vendors appealing to someone not likely to browse the stacks at Eason? It's all about the foot traffic and neighboring shops driving that traffic to your door. Eason and Son simply did not like doing business in an area that was in decline.

There was a bit of jealousy over the accommodations made to HMV as it fell into receivership. Like Eason and Son, the music vendor was losing to tough competition from Amazon and Apple, and the owners of the Liffey Valley center were willing to restructure HMV's lease while inventory was liquidated.

Where was the love for Eason and Son?

Ignored by the landlord, Eason and Son took matters into its own hands and held back 25% of the rent due. When that failed to generate any further discussion, the Liffey Valley location paid no rent towards the first quarter of 2015. Can we re-negotiate the lease now, the book seller shouted, and the landlord has finally responded.

By hauling Eason and Son into court over unpaid rent. Eason and Son owes over 400,000 euro in back rent, according to the suit, and the landlord wants to be paid.

Eason and Son is planning to ask for arbitration to settle the matter because they have a litany of complaints that the landlord has failed to address. Besides letting the neighborhood go to the dogs, there is an issue with smelly toilets that has put many a shopper off the browsing. The smell of raw sewage isn't amenable to a pleasant thumbing of books, and Eason wants the landlord to pay for the inconvenience and loss of business.

The biggest problem is not of the landlord's doing, or Eason's for that matter. Books have become a luxury and readers don't have the money to buy them. If the landlord were to adjust the rent to fit this modern hardship, Eason and Son would have the space free of charge.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ireland's Loss Was Rosemont's Cost

Garth Brooks wanted to launch his comeback in Dublin, where his adoring fans would have welcomed him to the historic Croke Park with sell-outs and adulation. The location was perfect for attracting European Union residents who would have flocked to Ireland. Indeed, many of them had already booked hotels and made plans to spend a few glorious days awash in country music.

Those who manage Croke Park, however, could not meet all of the musician's terms, not the least of which was the number of shows that would be permitted on consecutive evenings. Despite feverish negotations, no middle ground could be found, and so the hallowed ground was abandoned as the site for the much-anticipated return of Garth Brooks live.

Not only did Ireland lose the financial opportunity that the concert series represented, but all of Europe was not given a second glance. Instead, Mr. Brooks looked to the States to find a venue that would give him what he felt he had to have in order to stage a successful return to the concert circuit.
Garth Brooks and the Mayor of Rosemont. Note absence of Rosemont taxpayers

He found what he wanted in Rosemont, a mobbed-up suburb west of Chicago.

The town owns the indoor stadium where the concerts took place, and after all the stir in Dublin, some people wondered how Rosemont managed to appease the singer after Dublin's city council refused to budge on something as minor as the number of shows allowed but could not reach any sort of accord or compromise. Clearly the singer was being stubborn.

What did Rosemont give to Garth Brooks to entice him to stage his comeback there, rather than any other city in the entire United States? Sure the town borders O'Hare Airport, making it easy for out-of-town guests to arrive and not have to travel too far to reach the concert venue. But it is not the only place to have a similar arrangement.

The Chicago Tribune asked that very question, taking things a step further by requesting financial documents from the town. Since it is taxpayer money that is involved, all the records should be available to the general public under a Freedom on Information request.

Except this is Rosemont, and the town council swiftly passed a law that declared any financial dealings of their local indoor stadium were not public after all. The information that Rosemont gave to the newspaper's reporters was, therefore, so heavily redacted that it was impossible to determine what was given in terms of financial incentives or perks to lure the concert promoter.

Garth Brooks has his fan base, but not everyone cares for country music. Especially watchdog groups that are more interested in corruption than a song about dogs, rain and pickup trucks.

The town is now being sued by the Better Government Association, which is asking for complete records that will show how much the promoter recieved in a rebate. That was the public's money being thrown around, and the public has a right to know how much and where it was tossed.

So Ireland lost the Garth Brooks comeback concert series. Maybe it was the taxpayers of Rosemont who really lost on the deal.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's A Hard-Knock Life

Literary agent Sarah Megibow recently announced that she was opening her own agency, with the blessing of her mentor Kristin Nelson.

Thus was the Megibow Literary Agency born, as the year 2014 closed.

Here we are in the third week of the year 2015 and Ms. Megibow has announced that she is joined KT Literary Agency.

It can't be easy out there in the trenches, battling competition and a downturn in publishing that has editors demanding nothing but blockbusters. But only three weeks in business? Is it all that bad?

Did she not start her agency with sufficient capital to manage for the first few months? Unexpected expenses, a deal falling through that would have funded the operation until she got over the hump?

RIP Megibow Literary Agency. We hardly knew ye.

The Rush Of Bingo

The secret life of the bingo enthusiast
Does your grandmother frequent the bingo halls? You better check her nose when she comes home.

Gardai have alerted the public to the latest trend among our elderly, and it is a danger to their already precarious health. Yes, it's drugs. The old ladies with the sheets of numbers spread before them are playing bingo under the influence of cocaine.

Clearly the thrill of bingo is no longer enough of a rush for these grannies.

Helen Heaphy was arrested outside of Ireland's popular Rock Bingo emporium. Where bingo rocks, indeed. It's the whole rock 'n roll culture with all its excesses, the drug-taking and the binge bingo-playing far into the night when a respectable gran would be home in bed. Instead, they're snorting a line and buying another game card, burning through your inheritance by the way.

Ms. Heaphy is one of those grandmothers, although she claimed to be "holding" the cocaine for someone else who was supposed to take it off her hands. The quantity in her possession was small, indicating that she is no major player in the illicit drugs trade. In her defense, she said that she was not intending to bring the drugs into the bingo hall, but was only delivering them to some unnamed second party.

Delivering the cocaine to another grandmother, you can be sure, and most likely an entire party of retirees out for a night of wilding.

The judicial system cannot conceive of these supposedly innocent women seeking more stimulation than they would ordinarily find in the joy of winning a game, to say nothing of the thrill of waiting for that one critical number to be called.

The judge accepted Ms. Heaphy's expression of guilt and remorse without ever probing further. Who was she holding the cocaine for, and why was she waiting outside a bingo hall to deliver it? Who goes to the bingo halls but our grandmothers, those self-effacing angels who can't get out of the house fast enough on bingo night.

You thought it was all about bingo, didn't you. It's the cocaine they're after, delivered by one of their own who was just following the Jesuit axiom to be of service to others.

After little more than a slap on the wrist, Ms. Heaphy is again allowed near the Rock Bingo building. She has been given three months to pay her fine, a considerable sum for a grandmother separated from her husband, and with a family to tend.

There are other bingo parlors in Ireland where grandmothers need a little snort to liven up the night. Will the scourge of cocaine-fueled bingo binges be allowed to continue now that the door into this sordid world has been cracked open?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

For Love Or Money...Just Money, Actually

Money makes the world go around
The rich are different because they have things to fight over that the rest of us don't have. Namely, money. And when it comes to money, they fight like jihadists.

Men who make money by the millions are very appealing to women who would like to enjoy the lavish lifestyle that comes with wealth. No matter how not handsome a man like Bill Gates is, he can still command the admiration of the female sex. It's supposed to be all about resources for child-rearing, something hardwired into our prehistoric brain centers that helps the fittest survive. Just because said ugly man has a life partner, however, does not take him off the market for those who lust after money.

Ken Griffin made a tidy fortune by managing a hedge fund, and if all a lady is admiring is the size of his bank account, he's one of the best looking men in the world. His wife is equally driven to succeed, and managed her own hedge fund before settling down with the man of her dreams. They made a nice little family, with three children, over the course of an eleven year marriage that went wrong.

Chicago socialites would have noticed that the power couple stopped appearing together at various functions in 2012, when Mr. Griffin moved out of the family's home. Being polite, they wouldn't have talked about it, except among themselves. Who wants the servants gossiping about a person's private life?

Then the money entered and the divorce proceeding is very, very, very public and the servants, along with the rest of us non-1%ers, are shaking our heads in amazement.

There's little children involved, we say, and all these people care about is who gets the most money in the end? What's best for the kids? It doesn't seem to matter. Unless, of course, the kids can be used by the parents as pawns in this game.

And it is a game, one with winners and losers. These are high-powered, driven people engaged in a fierce battle over assets that go far beyond a bungalow on Chicago's south side. Millions of dollars in property and art are at stake, with the winner coming out of the war with the most trophies to display as evidence of their victory.

You might wonder what sort of marriage it was anyway, if the wife was paid monthly in accordance with a pre-nuptial agreement. Is it really a union if the missus tracks the required monthly payments that were her compensation for abandoning her own hedge fund to be a stay-at-home mother?

The court case is playing out in the newspapers, with every "He said, She said" dutifully reported. Pettiness is on parade as the aggrieved parties lob their little arrows that are meant to do damage. Accusations and counter-points fly, while those of us who cannot imagine taking a vacation beyond the Wisconsin Dells watch people with far too much money slug it out in a determined effort to keep as much of that money as the best lawyers in Illinois can manage.

And they haven't even started to fight over custody of the three children yet.

Maybe a price could be set and one of the other of the warring factions could buy them?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Memoirs Are As Real As The Reader Wishes Them To Be

Only days ago, we discovered that the boy who came back from heaven never went there at all. The memoir that was supposedly penned by Alex Malarkey is a work of pure fiction that was heavily promoted by those who were making a load of money off the book. It was a bestseller and flew off the shelves because readers wanted to believe what little Alex told them about the afterlife, reaffirming their beliefs in what awaits us after death.

Shin Dong-Hyuk wrote about his time as a prisoner in a North Korean camp. His readers believed what he said because it reaffirmed their theories on life in North Korea under a brutal regime. It is a land of human rights abuses as a way of governing, and the author provided plenty of evidence to back up that theory.

Except that everything he wrote isn't exactly true. That would make his memoir a work of fiction, not unlike the Malarkey memoir or the James Frey memoir or the memoir written by the woman who said she survived the Holocaust when she wasn't anywhere near where she claimed she was in her book.

ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14, as told to author Blaine Harden, is riddled with holes that the subject might have inserted in an effort to make his story all the more horrific. Were there lapses in memory that Shin Dong-Hyuk is only now recalling, or did someone do some fact-checking after the fact to puncture the human rights balloon? Certainly North Korea would have an interest in discrediting the memoir. As for the former prisoner, he's claiming that his recollections were too painful so he had to alter things a little. Is that true, or did he embellish to reinforce his argument about North Korea being a land of pure evil?
Another memoir, another scam?

The Guardian is now running an equally sensational memoir on its pages, written by an inmate of the notorious Guantanamo Prison in Cuba. Like other memoirs, it is being heavily promoted by those who believe every word written because it fits into their narrative. Mohamedou Ould Slahi reveals his inhuman treatment at the hands of his American captors in stirring prose that has been heavily redacted to avoid revealing classified information. His memoir is being used to lobby for his release from the prison, and strikes a chord with human rights groups who are at war with the conservative element that shouts them down with cries of "Security".

Has it been fact-checked? We've been down this memoir road before, with the book getting published amid a flurry of promotion, only to have the publisher pull back when certain elements of the story don't hold up to scrutiny.

You can't believe everything you read, especially when it's a memoir. They're not the most reliable narrators, the people who pen their life stories based on recollections. Sometimes they have an agenda and the whole, unvarnished truth just doesn't fit in as neatly as a writer would like.