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.