Sunday, November 30, 2008

No More Acquisitions for Publishing Giant

Some slightly terrifying news from Publisher's Weekly that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has instructed its editors to stop buying new books.

Joseph Blumenfeld, vice president of communications, reported that the publisher "has temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts." Naturally the biggest question is about the definition of "temporarily" and while Blumenfeld assures agents that the ban is "not a permanent change," no official explanation as to how long it might be in effect.

Rumors are swirling that this action might have more to do with HMH's "highly leveraged" state of affairs rather than with the decline of literature in general but these are countered by reports from established agents that the action is unprecedented. One agent called the actions "very scary" and said it was indicative of the state of the industry--the worst he has ever seen.

All of which does not bode well for any of us trying to sell our proposals, although my guess is that if you are Dan Brown or John Grisham, an exception would be made to the policy.

This is either the great big wake up call that publishing has been avoiding for years or it is a serious sign of things to come. If that is true, look for the biggest conglomerate to fall first.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Silver Lining

Here's a story to inspire all the would-be novelists out there. Matthew Quick, a former teacher, quit his job, sold his house and moved into what his in-laws called "the Matt cave" to write his book.

More than 130 agents and 70 rejections later, his novel, The Silver Linings Playbook, is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux this September. In addition, the book has been optioned for a Hollywood movie, although that is still in the planning stages. In addition, Quick, has written a young adult novel due out in 2010.

Please note the following statistic one more time: 130 agents!!!!!!! Staggering and actually mind-bending. I had always heard that one agent won't touch what another has already tried to sell. Perhaps the meaning here is that Quick auditioned for 130 agents before finding one who would take him on. Because in the scheme of things, 70 rejections does not seem like an overwhelming amount.

The lesson here: persistence, of course but also the belief in oneself. Quick was following the advice he gave his students: "Live the unconventional life" but he was also accompanied by a supportive spouse who never stopped believing in him.

For every Matt Quick there are thousands who follow his recipe and still never reap the rewards. But it is always good to hear about the one that does.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Limiting the Cattle Charge?

A pet peeve of mine--the enormous field of 20 usually entered in the Kentucky Derby--is being reviewed according to Bob Evans, president and CEO of Churchill Downs, Inc., said and as reported on the Paulick Report. Apparently the death of Eight Belles which occurred after the finish of last year's Derby has inspired the scrutiny.

I have long believed that the cattle charge that results when 20 horses break from the two starting gates at the Derby at full throttle, is an accident waiting to happen and it is ironic that an accident that actually happened after the finish of the race is what is inspiring the review. I actually don't think it was the demise of Eight Belles in isolation that prompted this second look. I think it was the Eight Belles tragedy on top of the Barbaro tragedy, on top of the George Washington tragedy on top of all the other recent televised racing tragedies, that has everyone reconsidering safety. There's no press like bad press and the racing industry got its share of it last year when Eight Belles died in the middle of a national telecast--even though the cameras did not hover.

In any event, in this economic climate no one associated with racing's premiere event, is taking any chances. Trainers may not be thrilled with a reduction in the size of the field since it is always a tight race to qualify for the Derby by being in the top 20 money earners in graded or group stakes races. And Churchill has already "given away" one of those coveted spots to the winner of the Kentucky Derby Challenge, being held on polytrack at Kempton racecourse in England on March 18.

And if the number of horses entered in the race declines, the handle (amount bet) will also decline--not a situation Churchill officials are likely to favor. And as Paulick notes, "A reduction from 20 to 14 starters would also cost Churchill Downs $300,000 in lost entry and starting fees."

If something is going to change with regard to reducing the number of starters, look for an announcement by January 1. Anything after that, is almost too late. And personally I don't think anything will change because guess what is going to take precedence over the safety of the horses?

You're right. Money.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sammy's First Birthday

So this Thanksgiving is Sammy Feldman's First Birthday and we cheated by celebrating early with a neighborhood dog birthday party.

That's me in the hat surrounded by some of Sammy's guests. You'll note Amos and Phoebe among the fray and if you're wondering what made them all so attentive, it was the "doggie birthday cupcakes" I made and was offering to well behaved friends of Sammy. Another invited guest is on the wall next to me, obviously amused by the goings on!

Of course if it is Sammy's First Birthday it is also Lucy's (his sister) and the pair celebrated in high style.

This is Boo--one of Sammy's friends, dressed for the occasion.

This is Tadpole, another guest.

And this is Amos, who had a very good time.

We are thankful for family, friends and our animals who make us smile.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Wild Horse Sanctuary

Madeleine Pickins is my new hero. By now, I'm sure you've heard that Madeleine Pickins has come to the rescue of the 33,000 wild mustangs who were threatened with euthanasia. She is planning on creating a horse sanctuary on a million acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

A horse breeder and philanthropist, she is also a true steward of the animals she loves. "Animals don't have a voice," she said. "As long as man is their protectorate, we have a responsibility to take care of them. We cannot abandon them."

Her track record speaks for itself. After Hurricane Katrina, Pickens chartered a cargo plane and rescued about 800 dogs and cats, most of which she helped get adopted. The plight of the wild mustangs spoke to her the same way.

"Our wild mustang must be our national treasure. We must not be slaughtering it," she said on ABC News. "The horses have no natural predator. The only predator is mankind, when we do the wrong thing."

Pickens plan to buy a million acres of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management for her horses to roam. This is the same land that the horses already share with cattle, but which the cattlemen claim is being grazed clean by the horses. "They can have their land and we'll have ours for our horses. . . That way, I can create a sanctuary and we can take in all the horses that are homeless so that no one will ever be turned away."

Pickens plans to open this sanctuary up to anyone who wants to see horses in the wild. She hopes to have it open within the next year and then let in RVs and eventually build log cabins and little hotels.

"I can't wait for the day that the first horse is turned loose and you'll just see him kick his heels up and gallop away with this herd together. It's going to be so beautiful."

Well said and well done, Ms. Pickens. If the horses had a voice, I know they would say, "Thank you."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Obama's Brains

There is a great piece floating around the Internet that notes the American people may have trouble understanding their President Elect because he actually uses complete sentences when he speaks! In fact, every time he opens his mouth he uses correct grammar; the subject and verb always agree. "If he keeps this up, people may mistake him for an elitist!" the piece notes.

The jabs are subtle reminders of the tendencies of both the current president and Sarah Palin to butcher the English language. How refreshing to have a president who respects the lexicon and knows how to use it.

Maybe its because Obama reads a lot. On November 18, after he had announced that he had read two major book about Roosevelt, sales of these books spiked! The books in question are: Jonathan Alter's The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope and Jean Edward Smith's FDR.

In fact, the publisher of another FDR tome (Anthony Badger's FDR: The First Hundred Days), decided to reprint 5,000 copies last Monday in response to the FDR craze. And there is yet another one to recommend to the President Elect, Curtis Roosevelt's Too Close to the Sun, recently released.

There is reason to believe this quest for knowledge extends to most of the incoming members of Obama's cabinet. I heard a radio commentator note that nearly all of the presumed appointees went to either Harvard or Yale, prompting him to quip that if a crisis happened during the Harvard Yale football game, it might be hard to find anyone "minding the store!"

I am delighted about this new "intellectualism." I don't know when it became fashionable to debunk intelligence and I am thrilled our country will be in the hands of those with superior educations. My father always told me that the key to success is to surround yourself with intelligent people.

Looks like Obama is taking his advice.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Work for F(r)ee

Why is it that people who hire freelancers always think they can get a bargain? There is not a day that goes by that I do not receive some sort of email offering me some great "work at home" job opportunity. Or see job postings on Craig's list and other journalistic web sites offering opportunities to get in on the ground floor (translation: work for little or nothing) in a new exciting, publishing venture.

Or even get hauled into doing projects that I no longer take because the pay is just not worth it because they catch me in a weak moment.

The bottom line is when someone offers you exposure, you need to remember that exposure never bought groceries. Which is all fine and well when you are starting out and trying to build a portfolio of clippings, but which must come to an end when that portfolio is overflowing.

The problem is no one seems to take freelancers seriously. No one seems to understand that it often takes me the same amount of time to craft that "little, tiny story" you ordered than it does to write the longer ones. Interviews are interviews. Legwork is legwork. Research is research, regardless of how many words I actually write. Sometimes, in fact, it takes longer to do those tight pieces than it does to put together magazine features.

And in my business, time is money, but no one seems to want to pay for it.

So please don't offer me exposure. I'd rather get paid in cash. On time. Without having to submit six bills and then call you to bring them to your attention.

Being a freelancer, does not mean I work for free.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Palin Advance

OK, I don't want to be snide or ungrateful (lately a few choice projects have been going my way) BUT when I read that Sarah Palin is reportedly being offered $7 million to write a book AND that Joe The Plumber is close behind, well, I can get pretty nasty, pretty quickly. But just to show you that I am not the only one who is OUTRAGED at this ridiculous state of affairs in the publishing industry, I offer you Erica's Heller's take on the same subject. Erica is the daughter of Joe Heller, author of Catch-22.

"Aah, but the literary world was not always so whorish, swinish and unrepentant," she notes on the Huffington Report. (Told you we could get nasty. . .) Her father worked on his first novel, Catch-22 for 8 years, "evenings and weekends, since he had a full-time job, wife and small kids to support. It was a labor of love and although his belief in it was absolute, there was no guarantee of a publisher, an audience, an advance."

In fact, she relates, Catch-22 got off to a very slow start and poor reviews from a lot of influential publications. And then slowly it developed a following by word of mouth and the book ended up selling millions of copies. For all of this, Heller was paid an advance of $1500.

To add insult to injury, Ms. Heller notes the following truths: Palin's and the Plumber's "memoirs" are "certain to be ghosted by some unsung schnooks" and these manuscripts will be "comprised mostly of little more than bragging, lying and recycling some vary stale air."

My point, of course, is that with $7 million going to NON-WRITERS like Palin and who knows how much to the plumber, is it any wonder there is nothing left for those who actually ARE WRITERS???? And what kind of a recession might we be in when a plumber earns millions off a memoir based on his fifteen seconds of television fame?

Far better, as Heller suggests, to consider how some of that money might have been spent: "For their efforts, they will be awarded gargantuan advances, piles of money that could feel several Third World nations for some time. or OUR nation since there are still so man hungry, weary, homeless, and wanting."

Or to note that "Not all of us are plucked from obscurity, wrapped in Valentino or held up as a poster-child for the working man. Some people have to actually work at it and at times, there is even talent, skill, and a magical, indefinable creative spark magnificently ignited in the process."

Shame on you publishing industry. Joseph Heller and Sarah Palin do not belong in the same business.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Keeneland Nose Dive

Not that we needed any reminding, but official word from the Keeneland November breeding stock sale confirms what insiders have been telling us. There were substantial declines in every category.

According to, "The Lexington sales company reported that 3,019 horses were sold during the 15-day auction for a total $185,552,300, which was down 45.6% from the 2007 record gross of $340,877,200 when 3,381 horses were sold. The average fell 39% from $100,821 to $61,462, and the median price of $20,000 reflected a decline of 42.9% from the $35,000 figure last year."

None of this is surprising, of course, given the dire state of the economy at the moment. I hear that most "luxuries" are up for sale these days, including yachts, second homes and pricey autos. What this means is that, at some level, there are bargains to be had--if, of course, one wants to purchase "frivolous extras" in this climate of belt-tightening.

I think it has gotten almost vulgar to spend money on things one does not really need. Groceries, medical supplies, even pet food, seem immune (for the time being) but a third car, a second home, a racehorse? Well, those hardly seem necessary and border on indulgent and ostentatious in a time of making-do with what we have.

Part of the decline in horse sales can be attributed to the lack of purchases from the international community (it seems no one is immune....) but part may also be this climate of austerity that has taken hold at every level. The irony, of course, is that we are a society based on consumption and when we stop consuming, everybody suffers.

What a strange conundrum. I, for one, am delighted at our new found tendency to evaluate our purchases rather than just buy for the sake of buying. But when this trend leads to unemployment and the demise of big and small companies, I question who we are benefiting.

The answer, of course, is to develop a new model of consumerism based on quality rather than quantity, and that will take time that many who are teetering, do not have.

Meanwhile, if you are in the market for a horse, there are bargains to be had for sure, but just remember you have to feed and house it even if it never runs.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Topsy Turvey?

When I was I college, I took a course on Chaucer with a very distinguished professor, one of the gurus in the field. His take on the Canterbury Tales, which I retain to this day which should give you an idea of how powerful it was, was that they were essentially tales of a society gone awry. All the symbols in the tales were turned on their heads, indicative of the dangers inherent when the world order is turned upside down.

For instance, most of the pilgrims in the tales are leading their horses, rather than riding them--an indication that man is not in control of the beast. And the bawdy Wife of Bath, well she is a a woman run amok--a woman who very much exhibits the characteristics of a man, which all become apparent when she does not remain in her "place."

I remembered this when reading the wonderful piece that Ron Suskind wrote in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine about the end of the Bush era and the beginning of the Obama one, entitled Change. How eras that begin with a "roar," end with a "whisper" and it often feels like the world order is being literally turned on its head.

Change is energizing but to many people it is also terrifying. And I think to many of them, this new grassroots world, epitomized by an African American president, is terrifying. That is perhaps why we are seeing increased incidents of racism on college campuses even as we are seeing galvanized youth, excited by promise.

I do think we are in the middle of writing a Canterbury Tale of our own and its interpretation may be up for debate. We are indeed turning the established world order on its head. Only time will tell if that is a good or bad thing.

For now I think it is so important to stress tolerance, respect and patience. Change takes time and this man did not get to be president without knowing not only how to play the game but how to be better than everybody else.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Smart Gift

Here's what you should be buying everyone on your list this gift giving season--I can't believe I am writing this prior to Thanksgiving but it's beginning to look a lot like you know what out there--BOOKS. The publishing industry will thank you; the bookstores will thank you but most of all you will be doing your part to create a smarter world.

How's that you ask? Well, according to Harvey Mackay, author of the bestseller Pushing the Envelope, 51 percent of the American population never reads a book more than 400 pages after they complete their formal education. Couple that with the fact that if you read just one book per month for 12 straight months, you will be in the top 25 percentile of all intellectuals in the world and you'll get my drift.

Knowledge is power, accessible to everyone, through the pages of a book.

Seriously, if you read just 15 minutes a day, every day for one year, you can complete 20 books. Think how smart you will be. Think how smart all those people on your list will be. Think how smart our country will be.

And if you don't think it is important to be smart, consider how quickly our world is changing and how critical it is for you to be able to keep up--not only with technology but with the ideas that technology creates. The late management guru, Peter Drucker, noted that "the demands of a knowledge-based society [require] organized learning to be a lifelong process."

Mackay says it better than I can: "Individuals need to take stock and realize they're in school for their entire lives. Companies need to create a corporate culture that strives for continuous improvement. Human beings are not like a package of Jell-O. You can't add water and achieve a reformed human being."

No, you have to add words, ideas and passion, paste it between two covers and offer it to the world. Pass it on.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Houston Horror

I thought we were done with dogfighting after the Michael Vick horror but according to KPRC in Houston, fifty five people have been charged in what is believed to be one of the largest dogfighting operations in the United States.

Harris County District Attorney Kenneth Magidson reports that more than 100 dogs, bred specifically to fight, were seized along with a horse and a snake that may have been used for "training." The yearlong investigation into this group's illegal activities was headed up by the Texas Department of Public Safety's Criminal Intelligence Service.

According to the investigators, the fights were staged regularly (weekly or bi-monthly) at one of eight secluded sites and fifteen to 100 people attended these events. "The spectators were there for the entertainment value. The people who were putting on the events are there to make money," said Lisa Block of the Department of Pubic Service.

Apparently the leading perpetrator maintained the "front" that he was showing and hunting his dogs, and managed to fool most of his neighbors. However, the investigation began when someone called in a tip.

"This is the largest dogfighting investigation that the USDA's office of Inspector General has worked on in the Southwest," said Abelino Farias, Jr. the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture's Special Agent in Charge. Forty one felony charges were filed, mostly for engaging in dogfighting but forty-five other charges were also filed for the misdemeanor of being a spectator at a dogfight.

It is absolutely vile and disgusting to believe that people engage in this type of illegal activity and even more horrific to realize what some people will do for money.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dolphin Cruelty in Japan

News from Japan that the Taiji Whale Museum is conducting cruel experiments on dolphins that involve the removal of a newborn calf from its mother (often prior to weaning) so that its sale can be expedited. The first attempt at this early weaning resulted in the death of the calf.

The Taiji Whale Museum is far from a model aquarium in other ways, according to According to Hardy Jones, a member of the watchdog group who is filing reports, "This dreary facility violates an uncountable number of international norms on how marine mammals should be kept." These include confining Bottlenose and Pacific Whitesided dolphins to a tiny cement tank where they are compelled to do tricks and isolating a female killer whale in another small tank, never permitting her contact with other creatures.

The worst offense, according to Jones, is the confinement of three Pan Tropical Spotted dolphins to a former sea otter exhibit, so small that they can barely move.

Jones writes: "Pan Tropical Spotters are animals of the open sea. They do not know confinement or barrier. They are also known not to survive long in captivity." In fact, this is the second set of Pan Tropical Spotters at the Taiji Whale Museum; the first set died in 2006.

Dolphin come cheaply in Japan and are routinely slaughtered for food. If this situation appalls you, you can join the protest by emailing the Ministers of the Environment at: Apparently calling the Japanese "uncivilized" is one of the worst insults you can use.

I doubt anyone would disagree with the claim that the treatment of dolphins is "uncivilised."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Applause for Artists

Two outings this week have me pondering the fate of wonderfully talented artists in these dire economic times. I went to both the Philadelphia Craft Show as well as a marvelous production of A Winter's Tale at Penn. It featured five actors from London who managed to play all the parts by just changing a hat, flinging a scarf over one shoulder, or pulling up a skirt to reveal leggings. Presto! They were someone else.

The Crafts Show was equally awe inspiring. Amazing works of art produced by incredibly dedicated and talented artisans, many of whom were surfing the net on their laptops while waiting for customers. There is nothing so sad as a booth at a Museum quality show with the proprietors reading a book.

There is no doubt about it. The economy has hit a standstill and I truly worry about the self-employed who need to make sales to eat. It is tough enough to be an artist in good times; it is absolutely frightening to ponder how they manage to survive in these times.

Wait? I'm talking about me too! No joke--it is getting tough out there but my clients are managing (so far) to keep their heads above water, (KNOCK ON WOOD LOUDLY) and I just take it one assignment at a time.

Meanwhile, Son #1 is watching his colleagues bite the dust every two weeks and is living in fear that his time may come, literally anytime. That, too, is no way to work.

So hurry up Mr. Obama. I truly believe you need to fix the big guys fast because everything does ultimately trickle down to those who need it most.

In the meantime, go buy tickets to a local production of anything and give the actors a standing ovation.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Power of Persistance

Thursday morning on Good Morning America there was a segment on the importance of having a support group when you are looking for a job. They are even sponsoring Job Clubs in cities around the country for people in the midst of a job search. The bottom line: support is crucial when you are in a situation in which rejection can happen on a daily basis.

There was also lots of advice about keeping a positive attitude, generating good job karma and staying focused on your goal. Similar to the Randy Pausch mantra that brick walls are only there to inspire us to find a way to go over them.

All of which brings me to the psychological effects of rejection which happens to most writers on a fairly regular basis. It is hard to keep a stiff upper lip when you work in a solitary profession, pour out your heart and soul to an inanimate object and then proffer it up for the world to critique. And most of the time those critiques are based on things that have nothing to do with the quality of your work; the person on the other end is simply having a bad day.

Writer's groups are helpful; so are online editorial groups and just getting out of the house to do something not related to writing. And so is the knowledge that rejection happens to everyone and it is not easy for anyone.

It is very difficult to keep plugging but often there is no other way to beat the odds. You have to believe that there is someone who is going to like what you write just like you have to believe there is someone who needs your services.

And very often the difference between belief and reality is plain old persistence.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Horses and Cancer

As many of you know, before I was swept away in the Barbaro current, I was working on a book in conjunction with Penn Vet Hospital about treating pets with cancer. I learned a lot about treatment options that are available to pets with the disease and also about the lengths to which some people will go to care for their pets.

I was also surprised to learn that horses, for some unknown reason, do not get cancer as frequently as dogs and cats. (Actually more dogs get cancer each year than people, but that is another story...) Because of the relatively infrequent appearance of cancer in horses, there are not as many protocols for treating the disease when it does occur.

News comes from Washington State University, however, about its success in treating horses with certain types of tumors with radiation. Their biggest (on many levels!) success story is that of Ghostbuster, a Clydesdale/Thoroughbred cross who was treated with radiation in 2005 and whose cancer has not returned.

First of all, Washington State University has a linear accelerator, a very expensive piece of equipment that is able to deliver a precise amount of radiation to the tumor with minimal impact to the surrounding skin. Second of all, the vets at Washington State developed a method of anesthetizing horses and moving them to and from the linear accelerator in a safe and rapid manner.

Ghostbuster was anesthetized and treated twice a day for five days, according to Dr. Kelly Farnsworth, a WSU professor and equine surgeon. "Typically the procedure from the time he was anesthetized to the time he was back in the recovery stall was around 12 to 13 minutes," she elaborated. "The treatment in the linear accelerator lasted only about 25 to 30 seconds and the rest of the time was spend transporting him to and from the linear accelerator. He came through the treatments without any problems at all."

These radiation treatments have been most successful in treating common skin tumors such as melanomas, sarcoids and squamous cell carcinomas but any tumor that has not metathesized and that fits under the beam should be considered.

So file that away in the back of your brains because Penn Vet also has a linear accelerator although I think it has only been used on small animals.

At least so far.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Book Deal--Not For Me

From the "I Can't Believe She Gets a Book Deal" department, news that publishers are lining up to offer Sarah Palin a book deal about her recent experience being plucked from obscurity as McKain's Vice-Presidential candidate. Please note that I cannot look at the woman without channeling Tina Fey and I cannot imagine why anyone would want to read about her shopping sprees or cameo appearances on Saturday Night Live.

On the other hand, no one, and I mean no one wants to publish the memoirs of our current president. He is being advised to "wait a while" before even thinking about putting pen to paper.

So let's get this straight. People are willing to pay for a book by someone who lost the election for vice-president BUT NOT a book by someone who actually held the office for eight years. Anyone wonder why publishing is not exactly a straight forward business?

Let's also get it straight that I don't think EITHER person should write a book that would be worth reading, BUT that is not the point. Once again, it is all about celebrity and popularity which just goes to show you how important it is to have national recognition BEFORE you write that best seller.

Which leaves me angry, jealous and disgusted once again with the entire industry. By the way, I have a great title for her, Drill Baby Drill. Maybe people will think its about root canal.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I am concerned about the state of the economy as it applies to all things but in particular as it applies to all living things that are sold to make a living. Think horses.

My sources tell me that the Keeneland November Sales have been a huge disappointment and many, many yearlings have not been sold, not only because they have not met their reserves but because there were no buyers. Now these yearlings are the property of the breeders who depend on their sale to make a living. This also applies to the bloodstock agents (middle men) who earn a commission on their sales. No horses sold. No commissions. No earnings. And living breathing horses that need to be fed, groomed, cared for. You know that drill.

So what happens to these horses? Some find their way into private hands. Some end up in less prestigious sales. Some never find homes--and then what? These are yearlings that have not been broken so in theory they could be trained to be pleasure horses BUT these are yearlings that have been bred to race. And what happens if they don't because they can't?

I don't know the answer but I am concerned about their fate.

In theory this might be a great big wake-up call to an industry that has been over breeding for years (read greed). It just might be that rude awakening many have been predicting. But it concerns me that it is at the expense of living, breathing beings through no fault of their own.

Once again, when horses are viewed as commodities, the end result is not in their best interest. No one can rescue all these horses. Perhaps no one can find homes for all these horses. Perhaps the entire industry should declare a moratorium on new breeding until the results of past breedings have a reason to have been born.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Library Card

The economic meltdown has hit Philadelphia with a vengeance. Our new Mayor had great dreams but they all went up in smoke when Wall Street went South. Last week he revealed his new budget complete with serious cuts. Although he said that few offices escaped, there are some proposals that are meeting with rightful protests.

I am speaking of his plan to shut down 11 public libraries, predominantly in lower-income areas. Big mistake. And I mean big. These libraries are often the only safe haven kids in these neighborhoods have. They go there after school, before their working parents come home, and do their homework or better yet, read books. Most of these branches are in areas where public schools have no libraries of their own.

What's worse--these 11 targeted branches are being closed permanently and the buildings sold. State Representative Mark Cohen (whose district contains 2 of the branches slated to be closed), called the idea "outrageous and deeply wrong."

To be fair, the mayor also plans to close most of the city's public pools--another big mistake in my opinion--and comparisons are being made between the two necessary services. It truly isn't fair to have to decide which is more important--a swimming pool or a library--because BOTH are critical to keeping kids happy, safe, busy and off the streets.

Libraries have the power to change people's lives. I used to hang out in the school library so much, it felt like I knew the title of every book. Even today, one of my most favorite places to go is the library, especially Penn's, where the sheer volume of the collection is often staggering. Regardless of its size, the amount of knowledge contained within the four walls of a library is astounding. How can you deny access to a kid?

I have always said that whatever you need to know, you can probably find the answer in a book. Mow the grass a little less, charge more for parking violations but please don't close the doors to a child's universe, especially in a city that ironically sponsors a "One Book, One Philadelphia" campaign.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Onto the Web

More news that the publishing industry is coming into the 21st century. US News & World Report, the number three news magazine behind Time and Newsweek has abandoned its print format and will become a Web-based publication.

This decision comes on the heels of the recent announcement by the 100 year old Christian Science Monitor daily newspaper to end its print edition and become the first national newspaper to become entirely Web-based.

"We're accelerating this transformation in response to our rapid growth online where our audience is now about 7 million a month and growing," said US News president and editor Brian Kelly in a memo that announced this decision. The magazine had reportedly been steadily losing readership and advertising for its print format.

The current plan is for the print edition to become strictly "guide" oriented, as in the Best Colleges, the Best Hospitals, to be published once a month. The web version will be a "multi-platform digital publisher of news you can use and analysis."

No mention of lay-offs so hopefully the reporters who wrote for the print edition will now write for the web. It's just one more indication of how Americans are getting their news these days: online and all the time.

As a features writer, I can't help but mourn the loss of full-length features that often had a shelf life of longer than the weekly editions (think doctor's offices). Those were always the stories that held up even when the rest of the news was out of date. And I just don't think that people like reading thoughtful, longer features on-line.

Chalk another one up for sound-bite journalism.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Reinventing the Wheel

I heard an interesting story on NPR (yes I have abandoned Sports Radio now that the Phillies are in the history books) the other day about the re-packaging of books in print. Apparently things are so tight in the publishing industry these days, that many literary agents are simply re-branding the books on their back-lists. In other words, they are changing existing titles to fit the times. The Coming Financial Collapse simply becomes After the Fall.

Which goes to show you that it's all about branding and putting the proper spin on things.

So how does my Barbaro proposal, still unsold, change to fit the times?

One answer may be its current reincarnation as part of the hero study that I am working on for my thesis. Making Barbaro a part of the Seabiscuit, Secretariat triumvirate may make his story more "brand friendly" since he is being lumped with known commodities. Another may be that over time his story may gain appeal. A third is simply that it fades into oblivion.

I'm liking the re-branding approach at this moment since I think you can make anything fit your needs if you are clever enough. Which also goes to show you that writing a book proposal that sells requires you to tell a great story and have a great marketing plan. The two skills are like oil and water and it is rare, I think, for a naturally born writer to be a naturally born salesperson.

So time to appeal to experts and I'll begin with you my loyal readers. How would you re-brand Barbaro to fit this market?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Celebrity Power

Here's how important it is to have a celebrity associated with your book. Last Tuesday morning on Good Morning America, James Patterson appeared to promote his new tome: a non-fiction book about the son of his friend Hal Friedman, who has Tourette's Syndrome, entitled Against Medical Advice.

There is no way that Hal Friedman would ever have been able to get his story published without the participation of James Patterson and while it is commendable for both to attract national attention to Tourette's Syndrome, the exercise also serves to underscore how difficult it is for the rest of us, talented and well-intentioned as we may be, to get to the next level.

I know I have written about this before and you can hear the bitter aftertaste of rejection, but this episode only highlights the problems in the industry. I am not thrilled that the arbiters of literary taste continue to publish more of the same and I am especially not thrilled that more of the same is essentially what sells to People magazine readers.

This is not about the book, which I am sure is a very good read, but more about the concept of what it takes to get a good book published. And about the people who are supposed to be helping you along the way.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Wondering what to get that hard-to-buy-for person on your list this holiday season? What about a thoroughbred? With a little re-training, racehorses can make wonderful pleasure and companion animals.

This data base is actually the brain child of my brother-in-law, Antony Beck, of Gainesway Farm in Lexington, who is hoping to find homes for thoroughbreds retired from the track as well as from the breeding barn or sales ring. Apparently the economy is making horse sales increasingly challenging and many horses are not being sold. They need to find other homes and new careers.

Any registered thoroughbred of any age is eligible to be placed on this database of FREE horses. The link for the list is here and the effort is being sponsored by and All transactions will be the responsibility of the owner of the horse, who will be contacted directly by those interested in adopting the horse.

It is recommended that anyone placing a horse up for adoption find as much as possible out about the adopting party to avoid the list becoming used by those who might sell them for slaughter. The recommends giving the horse away to someone you have met or thoroughly researched and then following up with a visit or phone calls. Beware. It is easy to be taken.

With that in mind, peruse the list and tell your friends and families about the opportunities. You never know....

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Obama Puppy

The buzz on most animal friendly sites is all about what kind of puppy the Obamas will bring with them to the White House. Yes indeed, the President-Elect upheld his promise to his daughters to get them a puppy regardless of how the election turned out. And he even mentioned the promise in his victory speech on Tuesday night.

I was struck by this, of course, but not for the reason you might think. Or course it is adorable to ponder those cute little girls with an even cuter puppy (rumor has it that they will try to adopt a pet from a shelter but they will have to find a hypo-allergenic one), but to me this sounded more like a dad upholding a promise that the kids had to earn. Did anyone else catch him saying that his daughters had "earned" this puppy?

I can see the value of such a promise. "If you girls put up with all the distractions of the campaign, including the fact that mommy and daddy might not be around as much as you would like, and you do what we ask when we are in the spotlight, such as wear things you might not like all that much, and if you continue to keep up with your schoolwork despite some late nights and lots of time away from your friends, we'll get you a puppy. But you have to keep up your end of the deal and we will keep up ours."

Sounds like a fair exchange to me. Demonstrate responsibility and reap the rewards. Sounds like a great way to parent--work for something you really want rather than have it handed to you--and an even better way to govern. Could we be sensing a trend here?

In other words, this president-elect will uphold his end of the promises he made but its a two way street. We are gong to have to make some changes as well and be patient. Those girls waited two years for that puppy. And I am sure they will tell you it was worth it.

I hope we have similar fortitude because the future, as bright as it looks, is going to necessitate a lot of give and take on every one's part.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hope Over Fear

Allow me a moment of gratuitous reflection. This has been quite a Fall in Philadelphia. First the World Series and now the city helps deliver Obama to the White House. As I have written before, we truly have felt like the center of the Universe here in Philly and it has been wonderful.

For all those who are not thrilled with the President-elect, I offer you the following advice. Listen carefully to what he is saying. Get past whatever kept you from voting for him and pay attention. I think you may be surprised that what you hear is not as "liberal" as you may have thought. Example: Education is critical to success. Parents, turn off the television. Read to your kids; get involved in their schools and help them with their homework. Doesn't sound too radical to me.

For those who are thrilled about the election, do not gloat. Offer your hand to your neighbor with the McCain lawn sign and don't ever forget the spirit in which this man was elected: hope over fear.

And for those of us who have raised members of what I believe is a truly a color blind generation, give yourselves a pat on the back. It has taken a long time but I think we have indeed taught our children well. Now the challenge is for them to convince their grandparents that the world truly is flat and we all are connected. Clinging to the old vision is just not going to cut it anymore, no matter how insulated your personal world remains.

I'm feeling very good about the future of our country these days and grateful to be living in such a vibrant city that for a few shining months really did sparkle!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On Hero Patrol

I've been back in the glory days of horse racing, doing a lot of research lately for my Master's thesis which is going to be about three heroic thoroughbreds: Seabiscuit, Secretariat and Barbaro. My argument is how the changing concept of the American hero from Superman to Everyman, is reflected in the horses we choose as heroes.

It has been really interesting--which is a great thing because it has also been a lot of work--and I am just in the beginning stages. At the moment, I am intent on finding an overriding definition of hero that will be a starting point.

So which dictionary should I use? Merriam-Webster? Oxford English? American Heritage or something else? Actually even a great definition of hero from a philosopher, historian or writer would work. I'm still looking for the perfect one to suit my needs.

Which is actually what is so interesting about some of my work. We writers can actually make most quotes suit our needs if we have enough time to dig them up. It's amazing how you can shape an argument with the proper ammunition.

So you tell me: what is a hero and who says is best?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

From the horse's mouth

There is a reason why political candidates are sometimes referred to as "dark horses" and elections are called "horse races" that often come "down to the wire."

Nothing is guaranteed in politics or in horse racing.

With that said, please cast your vote today for the candidate of your choice.

It is a right we often take for granted.

And we should never look a gift horse in the mouth.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Rumor Mill

Lots of rumors are flying around about the death threat that Team Big Brown apparently received prior to the Belmont. The Nassau County Police Department has confirmed the existence of the threat that Michael Iavarone made public during the Breeder's Cup telecast.

According to Lt. Andrew Mulrain, "A couple of days before the Belmont, an unsigned letter with obviously no return address, was received by the Tallahassee Police Department. . . which they faxed to us. . . Inside was a totally unsigned letter that said someone is going up to the Belmont Stakes and is going to kill the owner and trainer of Big Brown--and Big Brown was underlined--if the horse gets hurt or killed, indicating it was probably an animal rights activist. It ended by stating that no one is going to be safe there. . . We did, in fact, assign detectives to be in the area of the Iavarone family as well as the trainer of Big Brown."

I have reason to believe the death threats were indeed true but I am very curious why this tidbit has only now "come out." It seems to me that the police protection, the extra security, the added stress could all have been presented as logical explanations for a lot of things, including Iavarone and Dutrow's extreme behavior following the race. Who knows if the jockey was also in on this info, which could also explain why he pulled the horse up if he thought just the smallest thing was wrong?

And I know the horse sensed all of this added tension. Perhaps that explains the extra sweating prior to the race. It surely explains the pre-race "quarantine" in the stakes barn and the disruption of routine. Horses are creatures of habit and I am sure Big Brown sensed the added pressure of all this hoopla, on top of the already over the top excitement of the possibility of a Triple Crown.

So were they sworn to secrecy until now? Why spill the beans when it no longer matters? And then why doubt those who don't believe you--after all it is a bit over the top coming as it did, so late in the game. Or perhaps they were waiting until Big Brown was safely delivered to Three Chimney's and his safety is no longer their responsibility.

Whatever the reason, I have to believe this behavior did little to exonerate Iavarone's reputation for "grandstanding." If his true intention was just to mention Big Brown's name on national television in hopes of winning a few Horse of the year votes, then shame on him.

Once again, he did little to advance the cause of the sport, especially on a day when everything else seemed to be going so well.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Take that Mr. Grinch!

According to Son #1, the entire city of Philadelphia is going to slip into a deep depression come Nov. 5. The World Series is over. The election will be behind us (and we are getting a lot of visits from the candidates around here since Pennsylvania is a battleground state) and the long winter looms...

Not a pleasant prospect to be sure but it may very well be possible. We've all been riding high on national attention and it surely will get a bit routine when the spotlight turns elsewhere.

But that is precisely the point. Fame, celebrity and attention are so fleeting in our plugged-in, wired-for-sound age, that we barely get time to savor great moments before we are on to the next.

I remember when Bet Twice won the Belmont, my sisters and I would scour the local news stands for copies of obscure papers to see how the victory played out across the country. When we no longer were headline news, there was the prospect of weekly magazines that carried the story. And after that, well we were has-beens. Our fifteen minutes of fame were gone in the blink of an eye.

The bottom line, however, is that memories do last forever. And while they may not be public or carry with them the potential for "celebrity-hood," they are more genuine and lasting than anything you might read in the papers.

So it is indeed possible that resuming our normal lives may not feel as glamorous or as celebratory, but then again in the middle of the worst ice storm or blizzard, the memory of this special season will surely thaw the scowl of even the grouchiest grinch.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I Love a Parade!!!

Way back when, when son #1 was about 11 or 12, some Philadelphia sports team lost yet another pay-off bid. He stormed around, stomping his feet, announcing that "It just wasn't fair." He was sure he would never, in his life time, see a Philadelphia team win a national sports championship. And to make matters worse, he went to summer sleep away camp with a bunch of kids from NYC who were always rubbing it in. The Mets or Yankees, or so it seemed, never lost.

Fast forward a lot of years. Son #1 took the train in from NYC to soak up the atmosphere on Broad Street yesterday where indeed, the Philadelphia Phillies were showered with the affection of a city starved for winners. Son #2 took the train in from Washington to join him and the two brothers celebrated the event they thought they would never see.

This is but one of a million--yes, they estimated the crowd at a million--stories that were circulating around the city yesterday. A million tales of dreams fulfilled, family traditions honored and departed loved ones toasted. A million people who might as well have gone to bat each time the Phillies did. A million reasons to believe, once again, in the redemptive power of sports.

So it is with every victory--especially the major ones. A million stories of why it should happen, at this particular moment, to these particular people. Think Kentucky Derby--think those up-close and personal back stories--think of the power of winning--that it somehow makes up or take away from all those losses or also-rans.

Think also of the extreme losses--the inches away valiant efforts or worse, those that end in injury, severe disability or even death. Think of the power of competition to determine life changing events. It is indeed awesome and frightening to realize how much we Americans love a winner.

So here's to the Phillies and to my boys--who should remember this for the rest of their lives! And to the baseball gods who saw fit to let it happen...