Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Many Books

"The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh."
Ecclesiastes 12:11-12

 It turns out that even the Bible has something to say about publishing, though I'm not certain I agree that "much study is a weariness"--it's got to be easier than farming, herding, spinning, weaving, and most other tasks in an agrarian society. On the other hand, there's getting enough shelf space for all of your books, not to mention the work involved in taking them all down and dusting them occasionally.

It is certainly true, however, that "of making many books there is no end." That's why I'm going to stop writing blog entries for a while so I can spend more time writing fiction. I've just turned in one story, and I've got a few more I really want to write.

See you whenever,
Elisabeth

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cliff-hanger Endings

When I finish a book I like to feel that the story is complete, or at least that the protagonist is done with this particular adventure.

I finished The Lost, by Sarah Beth Durst yesterday. The last words in the book, unfortunately, are followed immediately by:
* * * * *
Find out what Lauren discovers in
THE MISSING
by Sarah Beth Durst
Coming soon!
Can't you give me at least the rest of the page to enjoy the ending of this book?

Then there is Blackveil (Book 4 of Green Rider), which ends with the heroine shut up alive and conscious inside a stone sarcophagus. This strikes me as an awkward place to end a book (she would have been better off hanging from a cliff). Three years later we finally get the next book, Mirror Sight, in which she is released from the sarcophagus.

I am also currently reading Susan Mallery's latest Fool's Gold book, Until We Touch. This is book 15 in the series and is a sequel to Before We Kiss, which even had the first couple of pages of this at the end as a teaser. But the Fool's Gold books, as well as Nalini Singh's Psy/Changling novels (I just got Shield of Winter, read it twice in the first week after I bought it, and am already looking forward to the next book), have given the characters a satisfactory ending, and the next book will focus on different characters in the same town or world. While both series certainly have a long-term story arc (Shield of Winter is book 13), what I want to know is what is going to happen next to the society.

In The Lost and Blackveil, the reader needs to know what happens next to the character. If the readers care about the character--and if they finished the book, they probably do--it's a bit tough to wait for years for her to get out of the trouble she's in. That's why I hate cliff-hanger endings.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Standards of Proof

In Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land, one of the characters, a Fair Witness, is asked what color a nearby house is painted. She replies, "It's white on this side," which is all she's willing to say, because she can't see the other sides. I believe this is the most extreme standard of proof I have ever encountered. There are different standards of proof for different things; the criminal "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard is stricter than the one for civil cases. There is yet another standard for genealogy, the Genealogical Proof Standard.

I remember learning to write a term paper in school: being required to keep a bibliography on 5 x 8 index cards; learning to cite my references, and learning the difference between primary and secondary sources. A secondary source in genealogy is often a book called something like The Upham Genealogy, or, to be accurate: Upham genealogy; the descendants of John Upham, of Massachusetts, who came from England in 1635, and lived in Weymouth and Malden. This book was published  in 1892, so it's not as if the author had first-hand knowledge of exactly what happened in Massachusetts in 1635.

Primary sources are things that were created for purposes other than genealogy: vital records (birth, marriage, death), census records, church records such as baptisms, cemetery records, and so forth. While these are certainly more reliable than genealogies that trace your ancestry to some illustrious historical person on the basis of a similar surname, they may not be entirely accurate either.

Using last week's example, Jesus would have been listed on the Roman census as the son of Joseph. I don't think anyone wanted to tell a Roman official that the baby was the son of God--or to answer the next obvious question (for a Roman): "which god?" But it does illustrate the weakness of a census: the data is only as good as what the person supplying it provides. During the 1960 census the enumerator did our street on a day when one of the families wasn't home. The man was desperate enough to question a group of us who were playing in the street. We played with the family's daughter, so we did know what the inside of the house looked like, but I don't remember what we said for occupation of head of household. When the census comes out in 2022, I'll have to look and see, but I bet we got it wrong. He was, among other things, one of the two inventors listed on a patent for "Method for improving the in-vivo strength of polyglycolic acid." I'm not sure I understand that now, and I certainly didn't when I was seven. All I could say then was what I knew, which was limited by what I could understand.

"What is truth?" was a good question 2000 years ago, and it's still a good one today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Editing, Genealogy, and Bible Study

...or my work, my hobby, and my religion.

I have just received the last author contract for Sword and Sorceress 29. This year the postal service managed to lose two of them, so it took longer than usual. The next steps are to gather the author bios, decide what order to put the stories in, write all the introductions, assemble the book, and proofread, proofread, and proofread.

In my spare time, of which I have very little, I do genealogy, which is probably one of the world's most fascinating hobbies. I didn't know until recently that one of my Swedish great-great-grandmothers bore six illegitimate children, and I'm betting that my grandmother never knew that either. If you want to find out everything about your family that your family didn't want you to know, take up genealogy.

Editing and genealogy, however, are an unsettling foundation for reading the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Chapter 1 begins with something labelled "the genealogy of Jesus Christ." It starts with Abraham and ends with "Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born." Matthew spends the remainder of the chapter making it very clear that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus (he was married to Mary when Jesus was born, so he was presumably his legal father). In genealogy, this is called a non-paternal event. This does not necessarily imply illegitimacy; adoption is another example of a non-paternal event, as is marrying a widow and raising her children from the earlier marriage as your own.

Editing is changing the way that I read; I find that I notice typos, missing punctuation, and errors in grammar much more than I used to. My eyes used to skip right over what was on the page and just pick up the meaning, but I'm starting to fear those days are gone.

As I re-read Matthew, I just hope that God arranged for Jesus to look like Joseph. If he actually resembled the paintings that show him as blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, or all of the above, Mary would have had to make explanations to more than just her husband.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Passing the Torch

The Bible readings for the season are still going through Moses and his leading the Israelites to the promised land. Last Sunday's talk was about how hard it must have been for Moses to have to give up his job to Joshua and to know that he would not enter the new land. I imagine that the last part might have been a disappointment to him, but...

Moses was now 120 years old. He had spent the past forty years wandering in the desert trying to lead the Israelites. This involved repeated fasting and prayer to keep God from killing them when they disobeyed. I don't think I could fast for forty days (giving up chocolate is about my limit), but Moses had to do so repeatedly. After living like this from age 80 to 120, I would expect him to be ready to retire and pass the job on. Also, he was going to die within the year, which really does require you to give up your job.

There was also a problem with the "promised land." It already had people living there: people who wanted to keep it and were willing to fight to do so. What the Israelites needed now was a war-leader, not a superannuated prophet. They needed someone like Joshua. It was time for Moses to pass the burden on to someone else. If he wasn't totally exhausted and ready to do so by then, he would have to have been superhuman, and there's no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that Moses was anything but a fallible human whom God had chosen for this job.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Praise the Lord Anyway

During the Easter season, which is still going on--Ascension Day is tomorrow, and Pentecost is a week from Sunday--the Old Testament readings tell the stories of Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness to the promised land. The readings are coming from both Numbers and Deuteronomy, and what is really making an impression on me this year is just how many times the Lord wanted to kill his people, not to mention just how many of them he actually did kill. Monday morning's reading ends with how he caused several men (along with their  wives and children, most of whom must surely have been innocent of the men's crimes) to be swallowed up by the earth, followed by his sending a fire that "consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense."

Right after that rather depressing tale comes the canticle Te Deum Laudamus: "We praise thee, O God...."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How to Annoy an Editor

It's the final week of the reading period for Sword and Sorceress 29, which means I've read a lot of stories and know that the pace will only increase over the next two days. I'm still trying to recover from bronchitis (it's doing much better than I am), it's late, I'm tired, I ache all over, and I'm still reading slush when I'd rather be in bed. Admittedly right now it's a bit easier to annoy me than usual, but the things on this list will annoy most editors.

  1. Don't read the guidelines. Send the editor something she would never buy while there is a breath in her body. 
  2. Ignore the instructions on how to format the subject line, so that the editor has to fish your submission out of the spam folder. (My e-mail program looks for a subject line starting with "SS29," and puts that in the to-be-read folder. Variations, such as "SS 29," can go anywhere, and usually do.)
  3. Make it obvious by what you submit that you have never read a single volume of the anthology, even though there are 28 of them, and the last six are readily available in both paperback and eBook formats.
  4. Spell the editor's name wrong (bonus points for this if it's in the guidelines as well as on previous volumes of the anthology).
  5. Explain your story in your cover letter. You can't expect the editor to understand how brilliant you are if all she reads is your story. (The fact that all she's going to buy is the story is irrelevant.)
  6. When your story is rejected, write and ask the editor exactly what she didn't like about it. She's only reading about a dozen stories a day; she's sure to remember one she rejected over a week ago because it didn't catch her interest.
  7. Don't bother to proofread your manuscript. Isn't that what an editor is for: to catch your spelling errors and the mistakes in grammar you should have learned not to make in elementary school?
  8. Tell the editor how much your mother/spouse/children love your story. Ignore the fact that (a) they may not be the usual audience for the book, and (b) they're probably biased in your favor.
  9. Have a signature in your e-mail that's longer than the body of the e-mail. Make sure it has "Author" after your name. After all, maybe you're a non-author submitting to a professional market. Then add your website, Facebook page, Twitter account, blog, etc.--plus the reviews and/or descriptions for your last six stories--especially if they were self-published.
  10. Have a cute e-mail address. "sex_kitten@aol.com" will assure the editor that you are a professional who takes her work seriously. OK, if you're submitting to a market for erotica, you can get away with that one, but there's always "worldsgreatestwriter@yahoo.com" to tell the editor that you're wonderful.
The editor doesn't care how wonderful you are. She's not judging you (or at least she's trying not to), what she is trying to judge is whether your story will work well in the collection of stories she's assembling for this year's anthology. So write a good story, and don't convince her that you'll be a total pain to work with. Remember that this is the start of a relationship; she may be paying royalties to you for decades to come. Ask anyone who sold a story to The Keeper's Price, back in 1980.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Delegation

Last Sunday's reading was about Moses. The people of Israel had left Egypt, and they expected Moses to solve all their problems and disputes. This meant that he sat all day listening to their cases and deciding them. As there was no court calendar, it also meant that a person who wanted to be heard could easily spend all day waiting (the pastor compared it to going to the DMV without an appointment). Moses's father-in-law Jethro told him that this was not a good thing. Moses protested that he was the one God had talked to, so he was the only one who knew what God wanted. Jethro told Moses (1) to teach God's law to the people, and (2) to appoint capable people to hear the cases so that Moses only had to deal with the things nobody else could handle. (The original talk is at http://www.epicsf.com/get-connected/media; it's the "One Life" message of April 27, 2014.)

Delegation is a good thing, but there are some things a writer can't delegate, such as writing her books. Things that can be delegated include website design and updating, social media, newsletters, answering fan mail (or e-mail), etc.

There are certainly parts of producing an anthology that can be delegated--I know this because Marion delegated everything she didn't want to do to me: sending contracts; paying advances; sending contributors' copies; keeping track of royalties, authors' changes of address and names; and paying royalties. Her death added choosing the stories and the final line-up, assembling the manuscript and sending it to the publisher. Vera's/Norilana's bankruptcy added producing the book to the job. At least the Trust is willing to pay to have someone else do the book covers, because I'm horrible at that.

Then there's all my work for the Trust. At the moment, we have 20 anthologies in print, with two more coming this year, and two more planned for 2015. Most of them are paying royalties, and I expect the ones that aren't yet to do so in the next year or two. Given the number of authors involved, paying royalties is becoming a big job. When Marion was alive, she had a staff of four people in her office, plus another two in her household. Since her death, we've lost that staff to death, jobs that provide the salary needed to live, other interests, other responsibilities, and the fact that all of us are getting older. Only two of the staff were younger than I, and one of them is the one who died. So I'm the next-to-youngest, and I'm eligible to collect Social Security this year.

I need to delegate. I also need to train a replacement, because the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust is going to outlive me. Even if I believe I can do my job better than anyone else, I won't always be able to do it--or even be here to do it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Reading for Sword and Sorceress, week 1


Last week I said that reading for Sword and Sorceress 29 would be a change from all the praying and Bible reading I was doing around Easter. I may have been less than 100% correct about that. There's an awful lot of fighting in the Bible, along with things like Moses calling down plagues on Egypt, and one of my least-favorite Psalm excerpts: "O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy the one who repays you for all you have done to us; Who takes your little ones, and dashes them against the rock." Sometimes the Bible is pretty grim, as a father who thought reading through the whole thing at bedtime with his five-year-old son discovered all too quickly. The book inspired by his experience, The Harlot by the Side of the Road, is a good read--for an adult. Some Bible stories are not suitable for children.

When Marion Zimmer Bradley first started editing Sword and Sorceress, she got a lot of the type of stories she referred to as "rape and revenge." Since her goal was providing what she called "a satisfying reading experience" rather than having readers finish the book and want to slash their wrists, she didn't buy many of this type of story, but she did buy a few, such as Mercedes Lackey's first Tarma and Kethry story, "Sword Sworn."

So far this year I've been getting stories more along the lines of "murder and revenge," where the protagonist's loved ones will be murdered and she will seek revenge. I feel this is another case where a little of that sort of thing goes a long way, so I'm not going to fill an anthology with them. While I am trying to stay true to Marion's original vision for these anthologies, I'm afraid that I'm of a more frivolous bent than she was. I like stories that are a bit more light hearted.

One thing Marion always did that I have continued, however, is the practice of ending each volume with something short and funny. Deborah Ross and I have been doing that for the new Darkover anthologies as well, both Music of Darkover and Stars of Darkover (coming out this June) end with short, funny stories. When people finish reading an anthology I edited, I want them to be glad that they read it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

From Tax Season to Anthology-Editing Season

Tax season ended on Tuesday; thanks be to God. It was made more challenging this year by the fact that I caught a cold six weeks ago and didn't get over it. I've been coughing for weeks, and I think I'm making people nervous. I'm not contagious, but I must sound awful; a woman whose tax return I was preparing on Tuesday was worried she'd catch whooping cough. I assured her that she couldn't catch it from me; my vaccines are current.

I went to the doctor's on Wednesday, and all I have is bronchitis. I don't need antibiotics, but I now have prescription cough syrup. It's helping the cough, but I'm getting headaches as a side effect -- and I thought that codeine was a painkiller. Sigh.

For years I have set the reading period for Sword and Sorceress to start the Saturday after tax season ends. This year Easter is the next day, which means that I will be starting during Holy Week when Thursday, Friday, and Saturday have their own volume of the Monastic Diurnal (The Monastic Diurnal Revised: Part II).  The services include long sections of Lamentations, and nine lessons interspersed with the psalms at Matins. The Little Hour (Terce, Sext, and Nones are combined -- after all, we need to have room for the three-hour Good Friday service) has all 176 verses of Psalm 119. While we say the entire psalm every week, it  is usually spread out over more than three services. Reading the submissions for Sword and Sorceress certainly will be a change of pace.

I'm setting up the spreadsheet I use to keep track of all the manuscripts for this year, and I've been reading some of the notes from last year. The guidelines clearly state that maximum word count is 9,000 words, so the manuscript that was 150,000 words long has "RTG" in the notes field -- short for "Read the Guidelines." A few lines above that one is a note: "subject, verb" that means the writer made a grammatical error, putting a comma between the subject and the verb. I will reject stories for bad grammar. The occasional error is one thing, but a writer who has no clue how to use commas is quite another. I'm an editor, not an elementary school teacher. I'm also not going to buy a 2700-word story that has three point-of-view characters. I don't care if your protagonist is a squirrel as long as she is somebody I believe my readers can identify with. Some comments become cryptic even to me a year later; I don't know what I meant when I wrote "let's talk about the weather" other than it probably had something to do with The Pirates of Penzance.

I don't have quite the passion for the slush pile that MZB did, but it does have its moments. I love finding a terrific story or a new author, and I do get terrific stories. I bought sixteen stories last year for Sword and Sorceress 28 and reluctantly rejected twenty-four I would really have liked to buy. I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing what I get for Sword and Sorceress 29.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

You Are NOT Immortal: Death and Taxes

The first year that I volunteered for AARP Tax-Aide, I got all of the clients with Railroad Retirement Statements instead of Social Security. This year I seem to be getting all the widows.

Unfortunately, there are men who act as if they're immortal and their wives will never need to know how to file a tax return (or even use an ATM card). And men tend to die more quickly than women--I can think of three right off the top of my head in the "dead before they hit the ground" category. Then the widows land in front of me: grieving, stressed out, and clueless. I spent a good deal of time one morning telling a woman that she is not stupid for not knowing things her husband never told her. (I refrained from expressing my opinion of her husband's intelligence.)

There are things that your wife (or husband, if you have a marriage where the wife handles the finances) really needs to know. You are not immortal. Even without a sudden fatal heart attack, there are always traffic accidents and other ways in which to die "suddenly and unprepared." Having had one parent die instantly with no warning ("he can't be dead; I was talking to him this morning!") and the other die after a nine-year struggle with cancer, I can say from personal experience that sudden death is much harder on the survivors. And decisions--or non-decisions--made beforehand can make it even worse.

This year I have seen widows who didn't even know that they needed their social security number (as well as their late husband's) to file a tax return. Death, incidentally, is the exception to the "your marital status on December 31 is your marital status for the tax year" rule. If your spouse dies during the year, your filing status is still "married filing joint" for that year. This means that you need to take both your social security cards as well as documentation of any income earned by either of you during the year. This means W-2s if either of you had a job, Form SSA-1099 if you got Social Security payments, Forms 1099-R for any IRA or pension distributions, bank and brokerage statements (1099-INT, 1099-DIV, 1099-OID, 1099-B, 1099-MISC, and/or an year-end brokerage statement that replaces all of these forms), Form W-2G if you gamble for recreation (and if you must do that, be sure to have the casino or whatever withhold taxes from your winnings--see my blog entry from 2012 about gambling). You should also bring the tax return from the previous year, especially if you have a long-term capital loss carryover--and if you don't know what this is, you really need to bring the tax return. If you want direct deposit of your refund bring a check, not a deposit slip, from the account you want the money put into. (Deposit slips have different routing numbers than checks, which is one of the many odd little details that make no sense, so it has to be a check.) If you itemize deductions, you need things like mortgage interest statements, property tax bills, records of charitable contributions, and medical bills, although medical expenses must be both unreimbursed and greater than at least 7.5% of your adjusted gross income in order to be deductible.

If in doubt, bring the paperwork. It's better to have things the tax preparer doesn't need than to be missing something they must have. One woman brought in birth certificates for both spouses, their marriage record, and their naturalization papers. I didn't need those particular documents, but she certainly had everything I did need.

But really, your finances and taxes are something best discussed with your spouse while you're still alive. Just do it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

God's Not Dead

"The fool hath said in his heart: 
There is no God."

That is the first verse of Psalm 14, which was one of the Psalms appointed for Vespers last night. What makes it rather odd timing is that yesterday morning I went to see the move God's Not Dead.

I'm not certain whether this really counts as Lenten reading, both because it's a movie and also because part of the reason I went to see it was because I was curious to see what Kevin Sorbo did with something other than Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. I had seen the trailer, and it looked interesting. The basic premise is that a college philosophy professor requires his students to write "god is dead" on a piece of paper and sign it. This is worth 30% of the grade for the course, so it's not surprising that most students just go along with what the professor wants. Refuse, and you'll have to ace the rest of the course just to get a C. But one Christian student does refuse, and the battle is on. The fascinating thing about the movie isn't so much the arguments for and against God's existence. Given how much this subject has been debated over the centuries, most of them are not new. For me the best thing about the movie was seeing all of the other characters whose lives touched the main protagonists: classmates, girlfriends, families, pastors, and others. It serves as a reminder that none of us lives--or believes--in a vacuum.

There's also something fundamentally wrong with the professor's demand--in addition to the immorality of demanding that his students believe as he does, instead of teaching them to think. If you are really an atheist, as the professor claims to be, you don't say "god is dead." For an atheist (or, according to the Psalms, a fool) there is no god, so his life or death is irrelevant.

As a Christian, I fall firmly into the "God is alive" camp, and I was lucky enough to attend a Christian college. (Chapel attendance wasn't mandatory, but the chapel was right there.) Today I would not sign a statement saying that God is dead. But what I would have done as a college freshman, especially after having been brought up to respect my elders and my teachers, is something I don't know. It takes tremendous courage to stand up against those who have authority over you, and I suspect that I didn't have it back then.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why do you let them put those covers on your books?

Marion Zimmer Bradley repeatedly said "a cover is not an illustration; it's a marketing poster for the book." I find myself quoting that a lot recently, as long-time Darkover fans encounter the cover art for Stars of Darkover, which will be published this June, beginning a new series of Darkover anthologies. The most common complaint is that it looks like a gypsy girl gazing into a crystal ball, followed by "that's not what a matrix crystal looks like!" Both comments are perfectly true, and if the cover were intended to be an illustration, they would be valid complaints.

But the object of a book cover is to get a reader first to pick up and then to read the book. The cover is supposed to give someone who doesn't automatically buy every new Darkover book--someone who has never heard of Darkover and has no clue what it is--an idea of what the book is about. This particular book is an anthology of stories set on an alien planet where some people have paranormal abilities and can see and do things ordinary people can't. I think this cover does convey that message, which means it's doing its job. And I hope that it will encourage people who have never read anything set on Darkover to give the world a try.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Remember the Sabbath Day

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work..."
King James Bible, Exodus 20:8-11

Of all the ten commandments, I think this is the one most frequently broken. This year my Lenten reading is Dr. Matthew Sleeth's book 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. Almost as soon as I started it I realized that my "flexible" schedule had given me a 7-day work week. I have no idea how I failed to notice this before--I had certainly noticed that I was exhausted. Each morning when I woke up, the first thoughts in my mind were "what day is this?" and "what do I have to do today?"

There was a time when it was easy to keep the Sabbath. Chapter 16 of the book of Exodus describes a very simple system: God provides "daily bread" and the Israelites are commanded to gather a one-day supply on the first five days of the week and a two-day supply on the sixth day. They are told that there will not be any bread to be found on the Sabbath, even if they disobey God and go out to search for it. (Of course, some of them just have to go out and make sure this is true.) In that time, people reached the seventh day of the week with their food already in hand and nothing they needed to do.

To say that things are different today is an understatement. Instead of a less than a million people, all located in the same place, we live in a world with more than 7 billion people spread across 24 time zones. There is always someplace where it is day, not to mention someplace where it is tomorrow. It may be the Sabbath where you are, but you can easily reach places where it's not. All you need to do is turn on your computer. And if you're a writer, as soon as you turn on your computer there's work to be done.

It can also be hard to find a day to take off. Sundays are the day that Ann Sharp and I get together to handle the business of the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, so that doesn't work well for me. I'm trying to take Saturdays off, but at least once a month I have a meeting then, and if I'm attending a convention I'll be working all weekend.

But I'm making a point of having one day each week where the answers to the morning questions are: "What day is this? Sabbath. What do I have to do today? Nothing." It's a wonderful feeling.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tax Season, again

I should have done my weekly blog entry yesterday, but during tax season I spend Tuesdays and Thursdays doing volunteer tax prep, and I just didn't get to it last night.

Tax season is when I find out all the things people don't know about income taxes. It is unfortunate that they generally discover them in conjunction with a tax bill they weren't expecting, instead of the refund they were.

I wrote about gambling income/loss two years ago when I started doing this. The standard deduction has changed since 2012, but the rest of the information has not. I also wrote about unemployment compensation then. So far this year I haven't seen the problems with that I saw two years ago; people seem to be getting jobs again, rather than spending over a year on unemployment.

But there are still two things that confuse a lot of people:

  1. Reportable income and taxable income are not the same thing. For example, interest income is reported by the bank that pays it when it reaches $10 in a year. This does not mean that it isn't taxable until you get that much. The IRS rounds to the nearest dollar, so as soon as your interest goes over 49 cents, you have $1 of taxable interest income. Of course, given the rates on interest checking accounts these days and the balances most of us carry, our total interest is likely to be less than 25 cents, let alone 50. But the same thing applies to other income, especially for those of us who are self employed. We don't get a Form 1099 until somebody pays us $600 in non-employee compensation, which means that a lot of our income does not get reported to the IRS. But anyone who thinks this means we don't have to report it ourselves and pay taxes on it is going to have major problems when the IRS catches up with them.
  2. An extension of time to file your return is not an extension of time to pay your taxes. You can get an extension that stretches your filing date from April 15 to October, but you need to pay the tax due by April 15. I know that if you need an extension you're probably missing some vital paperwork and don't know how much you owe, but the IRS doesn't care, so give it your best guess. If you don't pay in April you will have to pay interest on the tax you owe, plus a penalty, which can be up to 25% of the tax. The penalty for failure to file is much worse than the one for failure to pay, so always file your return even if you don't have the money to pay the tax.
The IRS is not the enemy. They will work with you, but you have to do your part too. And, despite what many people seem to believe, they are not looking to throw you into jail (unless you are committing tax fraud or identity theft, in which case you need much more help than AARP Tax-Aide can give you). The people who work for the IRS know that the tax code is complicated and that honest mistakes happen. If they happen to your or your friends, however, make sure you learn from them.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Virtual Friendship

Between Disney's Words of Wonder and another online game from the same company, I have 78 virtual friends. I'm allowed up to 200, but help requests don't work very well if I have more than 100. (I had to unfriend some of them a while back when the help requests failed completely.)

These friends are people I have never met and probably never will meet--not that I would know if I did. I don't know their real names; we have usernames instead. I don't know what they look like; the games use avatars, which can be varied if you want a different hairstyle, dress, shoes, etc. I don't know how old they are, or what country they live in--although the help requests in French or German that arrive at dawn my time allow me to make some guesses.

I would have expected that these virtual friendships would not readily lend themselves to the sort of misunderstandings and hurt feelings that real-world friendships do. If I accidentally click the wrong button and send everyone a sharpening file instead of the energy I intended to send... Well, if I get a gift, I usually return the same gift, because I think that's what the person who sent it to me wants or needs. It's possible that they clicked the wrong button, but in that case I expect them to understand and just go back to sending me energy, which is what most people want. I do not expect people to take a gift of something other than energy as a mortal insult, but anyone who does is free to unfriend me--and probably will.

I try to be a good virtual friend. I log in at least twice every day and send gifts to all of my friends, including the ones who haven't sent me a gift since I sent out the last batch. There are some people who play all day and send gifts every hour. I'm not one of them; I have other things I have to do with my time--and my bandwidth. If I do nothing but play computer games all day I'm either procrastinating (see last week's blog) or so depressed that I can't cope with anything more intellectually or emotionally demanding, such as whatever I'm supposed to be doing. (Currently I know I'm missing at least one Form 1099-MISC, which I need to find to do my taxes. I expect to find it somewhere in the papers piled on or around my desk, whenever I get around to sorting through them.) In the meantime, I'll play with my virtual friends, who will never choose me last for their team just because I've managed to serve a volleyball over the net only twice in my entire un-athletic life.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Procrastination

I should have finished Chapter 20 of my current novel yesterday.
(pause to open file, go to end of document, and add two more sentences)

Chapter 20, unfortunately, is not going well at the moment. What I have done instead of writing my novel:
  • this blog entry
  • added the Kindle edition of Red Sun of Darkover to Marion Zimmer Bradley's website, Facebook, and Goodreads
  • read all my e-mail--not to be confused with answering all my e-mail
  • backed a Kickstarter project for something I really want to read--two new Sylvan Investigations stories by Laura Anne Gilman
  • eaten way too much chocolate--which at least got me away from my computer at intervals
  • played I don't know how many rounds of Disney's Worlds of Wonder--I tell myself it's good for my vocabulary
  • downloaded free novels from the Kindle store, read some of them, deleted a couple as "not on my wavelength" (I will never finish reading this), and added some to my to-be-read list. 
If I could write as quickly as I read my life would be so much easier.
It would also help if procrastination included useful things like exercise, cleaning house, and doing laundry.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The People We Honor

When I started school, we had two holidays in the first two months of the year: Lincoln's Birthday on February 12, and Washington's Birthday on February 22. (Washington was actually born on February 11, 1731, but that was according to the Julian calendar, and his birthday moved to the 22nd when the British Empire changed to the Gregorian calendar in 1752.) Lincoln's birthday was a state rather than federal holiday, but I grew up in Connecticut where it was observed, so I didn't know the difference.

We still have two holidays in the first two months of the year, but now they are Martin Luther King’s Birthday on the third Monday in January, and Washington's Birthday (also called Presidents' Day) on the third Monday in February.

Washington is called the father of our country. Lincoln is credited with ending slavery and keeping the United States one nation. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for civil rights. None of these endeavors was a one-person job, but it is useful to have a single person to serve as a symbol for the struggle. All three men risked their lives for what they believed in, and it is ironic that the one who actually fought military battles died in bed, while the two who sought peace and justice for all were assassinated. I wonder what this says about the relative popularity of war and peace.

I really don't feel the need for a holiday less than three weeks after New Year's Day, which is a week after Christmas, giving us three federal holidays in less than five weeks, especially when the next holiday on the calendar isn't until the end of May. I do feel, however, that it is important to honor Dr. King's memory and to continue his work. The fight for civil rights isn't over yet.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This Year's Schedule

I think that a certain amount of agoraphobia can be a positive trait for a writer. It does encourage one to stay home and work. This year, however, I am planning to attend at least two conventions. There is no CONduit in 2014--it's being merged with Westercon--so I can spend Memorial Day weekend at BayCon, which I don't think I've done in this century.

I have registered and submitted my programme questionnaire for the Worldcon, which is in London in August. I've also made my hotel reservation and bought my plane ticket, so now I have loads of time in which to get nervous about it. I think this will be my third Worldcon, but all the previous ones were in the US. Oddly enough, this convention is being held in the part of London that my great-grandfather emigrated from: East London. Yes, my great-grandfather was a Cockney. Sometime I wonder what he would think about a great-granddaughter who has a Master's Degree and is a published author and editor. He died about the time I was born, so I'll never know.

I just added a page with my 2014 schedule to my website. In addition to the conventions, I have volunteer work doing tax preparation until April 15, followed by the four-week reading period for Sword and Sorceress 29. There is a reason why the reading period runs from mid-April to mid-May. It fits right between tax season and Memorial Day weekend.

Sword and Sorceress 29 will be published on November 2, at the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. After that, I'm planning one more trip: to spend the season of Advent in a convent. By then I'm certain to welcome the peace and quiet.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2013 Writing Income

Jim C. Hines has a new blog post about his writing income last year, and he cautions that it is a sample size of one. In the interests of making it a sample size of at least two, here's my writing income for last year.

I sold my first short story to the Darkover anthology The Keeper's Price in 1980. There have been twelve more Darkover anthologies since then, and I have a story in each of them as well as in #14, Stars of Darkover, which will be out next June. I sold four new short stories last year, and re-sold one previously-published story. My most recent published story is "Fire's Daughter" in Elementary, an anthology in Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters world. Advances against royalties for these stories came to $585, and I do expect to receive royalties.

I sold my first novel, Changing Fate, to DAW in 1994. It earned out its advance, paid royalties, and eventually went out of print. I got the rights back, and it served as the MZB Literary Works Trust's test volume for Kindle, so I'm still getting royalties on it in both eBook and print-on-demand formats. Actually, I'm still getting royalties on every story I've ever written, thanks to self-publishing--and a prospective reader knows that an editor liked the work enough to pay for it (and that it was copy-edited and should have decent spelling and grammar). Royalties came to $3,480.

In 2013 I also edited two anthologies and a story collection, The Complete Lythande, and co-edited another anthology with Deborah J. Ross. Advances from editing (I'll get royalties on these books, too) were $2,800.

So my writing income for 2013 totaled $6,865, broken out as follows:

  1. 50% from royalties for prior work
  2. 41% for editing
  3. 9% for new fiction sales

If that were my only income, I wouldn't have to worry about paying income tax--in fact, I believe I would qualify for the Earned Income Credit.

I suspect that there are a lot of writers in this "don't quit your day job" bracket. Comparatively few people make a living exclusively from writing.

While I love the TV show Castle, I don't know any writers who could afford (a) that much space in Manhattan--they had five people living in Castle's apartment earlier this season, (b) that many cool toys, and (c) that little time spent actually writing. It's a lovely fantasy, but it is fantasy, which is they call it fiction.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Meditations on a New Year

You know you've been reading too many Regency romances when you wake up on New Year's Day and think it's 1814 instead of 2014.

Of course, when you're a writer and don't have a day job, you don't really have to know exactly what day it is, but this is the first time I've been off by two centuries. And it's not that I have the slightest desire to go back in time. One of my hobbies is genealogy, and it is a sobering thought that there was a time in Massachusetts when they hanged Quakers. My father's ancestors came from England to Massachusetts in 1635, as a church group with their minister. My mother's ancestors were Quakers; they came to Pennsylvania in 1682 as part of William Penn's "Welcome" fleet. (The Welcome was his ship; they were on The Lamb, which sounds funnier if you say it out loud.) As far as the English were concerned, both sets of ancestors were criminals. Having grown up in a country with religious freedom, I have trouble thinking of religious dissent as a criminal action, but England collected taxes to support a state church (to which, ironically, I belong). My paternal great-grandfather came from London, and the women who married into the family all took their husbands' religion and raised the children in it.

Another thing floating through my mind today is that January 1st is a very arbitrary time for the New Year. It would make more sense to set it back eleven days to the Winter Solstice, when the days begin to get longer. Or there's always the Spring Equinox; there was a time when the year started on March 25. This gives us dates like 26 Feb 1750/1751, which was when my 5th-great-grandparents got married. For us it was 1751, for them it was still 1750, and to make things more confusing, they were married in a Quaker meeting. Quakers did not approve of days and months named after pagan gods, so for them it was the 26th day of the 12th month of 1750. Some of their confused descendants think they were married in December. (One of my friends quoted some Elizabethan prophecy about the "ninth month" after 9/11, and I pointed out that at the time of that prophecy, the ninth month was November. Just look at the prefixes: Sept; Oct; Nov; Dec.)

I don't really make New Year's Resolutions, but I do have a goal. I would like to be more organized and less exhausted by the end of 2014.