Brown River Queen cover art

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bonus Wednesday Blog Entry -- Tax Tips for Writers!

Certain eldritch signs portend various significant turnings of the year. Birds fly south. Or maybe north. Frankly I don't spend much time outdoors with a compass charting the movements of indecisive waterfowl.

But even a dedicated indoorsman such as myself can observe the anguished human faces on the street, and hear the plaintive cries of agony borne on the night wind (and no, I don't know from which direction the bloody wind is blowing, let's leave that to the meteorologists, shall we?).

Even I can see the chalk outlines left by those poor unfortunates who at last cried 'No more, enough!' before shuffling off their mortal coils by way of extreme over-tanning or actually eating a truck-stop pickled egg.

Even I know what dread event these signs portend -- tax time.

That's right, gentle readers, if you are a citizen of the US, it's that time of year when Uncle Sam takes you fondly by your ankles and shakes you until every last cent you've seen in the last year falls out of your pockets, because let's face it, war ain't cheap.

Now, if you've made any money off your writing in the last year, I'm here to help. Because if there's anything the US government holds dear, it's the idea that every American is free to earn a profit by the sweat of her brow and the set of his jaw. Equally sacred to the American governing psyche is the idea that they've got dibs on the first and biggest slice of that sweet free enterprise pie.

The first thing writers need to know about filing their writing income is this -- FILE IT. That story you sold to Ominous Bathroom Squeaks and Eldritch Attic Squeals Monthly for 15 bucks? That pair of flash-fiction entries you pawned off on Public Transit Funnies, a Bus Station Free Magazine for three bucks and a coupon for $2.00 off any foot-long club at Subway?

Maybe you're thinking 'Hey, why bother reporting that, nobody knows about those!'

How wrong you are, Grasshopper.

They know. Maybe it's the Carnivore communication surveillance system. Maybe the CIA has an Obscure Small Press Reporting Division. Maybe that mean-eyed old lady down the street is on the phone with the IRS every day, after she goes through your mail and steams open all the envelopes -- it doesn't matter how, but believe me, they know.

So, the first thing?

Report it.

Now if you've made any serious coin you've been sent a 1099-MISC from the publisher(s). You should keep up with these things. I used to put them in a folder and then lose the folder and then move to Mississippi and assume a new identity as Frank Tuttle when I realized I'd lost them all, but then I got married and she keeps important papers in a brilliant thing called a drawer. I'll bet you have some of these drawers  in your place too. Open them up and put stuff in them, it's an amazing time-saver compared to identity theft.

At the end of the year, you take all these 1099 forms, wipe the tears from your face, and enter them in the boxes according to the helpful prompts on the TurboTax software. When the crying diminishes to a bearable level, proceed.

Next, let's consider deductions. The word deductions comes from the Latin dede, which means 'not for,' and uction, which means 'you.' In tax parlance, deductions are money amounts which everyone but you can subtract from the taxes they owe.

For instance, I write on a PC. I built this PC myself, from components I purchased separately, for the sole purpose of writing.  Now, if I were anyone else, I could deduct the total cost of the machine from my taxes owed, since it's a business expense -- but since I am demonstrably me, this deduction does not apply, and, notes TurboTax, 'ha ha ha.'

See how that works? It truly simplifies filing.

Let's look at some other deductions which you, as a writer, cannot claim:
  •  Home Office Deductions. Oh, you have an office, in which you write? Well, let's have a look. It can't be attached to your house. It can't house a TV or other casual entertainment device. It can't possibly, under any circumstances, be even remotely suited for any purpose other than writing, and it can't be very good at that. So you have a detached office which contains nothing but a chair, a desk, and a PC running nothing but Word? But it has a roof?  'Ha ha ha,' intones TurboTax. 'Trying to pull a fast one, are you? DENIED.'
  • Office Expense Deductions.  You're a writer, and even the IRS grudgingly concedes that the act of writing might in some way involve putting down words on some medium, be it electronic or paper. Okay, this looks promising. You bought a printer to print out manuscripts. You pay for internet service because 1950 was 65 years ago. These seem to be legitimate deductions, so let's investigate further BUZZ HA HA HA NOT SO FAST, TAXPAYER! Those deductions are only valid in years  where acceptable total solar eclipses occur in northern Peru (see Schedule 117863-E, 'Solar Interruptions, South American Totality Table 167-75E, lines 46 through 78), and guess what pal, this ain't it.
  • Other Deductions. Mitt Romney has a 376 page embossed-leather-bound acid-free paper book with gold-gilt edges filled with 'Other Deductions.' Are you Mitt Romney? Didn't think so. Move along.
Sadly, that about covers it. You've toiled over every word, you've poured over ever sentence, you've labored long into that good night trying to illuminate a single tiny facet of the flawed jewel that is the human condition.

Or, in other words, you've earned slightly more than minimum wage. 

Bon appetite, my friends!

And for the love of all that is holy, don't miss the filing deadline. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Something very strange is going on out there, in the dark void beyond our galaxy.

Image via New Scientist

Odds are, you haven't even heard of it. Mainly because the mainstream media is obsessed with celebrity divorces or the latest political nonsense. But also because the story involves a lot of technical jargon.

But this may  -- and I say 'may' -- be actual evidence of an artificial (i.e., non-natural) radio signal, one created by entities unknown for purposes we simply can't yet fathom.

But let's back up a bit, all the way to 2001.

In 2001, astronomers first discovered a phenomena they would label 'Fast Radio Bursts,' or FRBs. These FRBs were very brief, quite intense bursts of unique radio noise that seem to originate from the deep dark between galaxies.

At first, they were considered a natural oddity. Analysis of the initial data suggested the source would be a small body (probably no more than a few hundred kilometers across) that somehow managed to emit brief bursts of radio waves with an energy equivalent to a month of our Sun's total energetic output.

What could do that?

No one knew. Theories abounded.

By 2014, nine of these FRBs had been intercepted and recorded. The tenth FRB was caught live by an Australian radio telescope, and that's when the mystery got suddenly much deeper.

Analysis of this tenth signal revealed something utterly unique -- there is a clear pattern embedded in the signal itself. You can read the article I linked below for the particulars, but aspects of the signal appear to be arranged so that the delay between the first waves of the signal and the last ones occurs on precise intervals which are ALWAYS a multiple of the number 187.5.

Think about that for a moment. Yes, we've seen other celestial bodies which appear to emit cyclic radio emission. Pulsars, for instance. But the deal with pulsars is this -- they only appear to be cyclic because they're spinning. Say some kids leave a laser pointer on a merry go round, and you're at the far end of the park. You might see a flash of light every second or so, and think someone is turning the laser pointer on and off. Actually, you're only seeing the beam when it turns to point at you. It stays on all the time, and only the motion of the merry-go-round grants the beam the illusion of a cycle. There's no one on the switch in the middle of a pulsar, so to speak.

We know that now.

But the FRBs aren't spinning. Something may -- and I'm saying may again -- have designed the FRB sources so that this mathematical ratio is maintained within the signal, for anyone with the technology and brains to figure it out.

Which would a monumental discovery. We would, for the first time, know that something somewhere was shaping radio signals.

Is that the case here?

It's way too soon to tell. People thought the first pulsar might be an alien radio beacon too, until closer observation revealed a massive stream of radio energy spewed out of a rotating magnetic field around an exotic celestial body.

But we don't know of any body that might produce FRBs. Heck, we don't know of any physical model that might account for FRBs and their odd mathematical qualities.

But it's exciting, because it might represent the beginning of a fundamental change in the way we perceive the universe.

Who knows what else might be hidden in that brief burst of radio noise? Maybe 187.5 is just a 'Hey, look here' tag, and the real meat of the message is encoded in what might at first appear to be nothing but noise.

I would love that. And I'm glad people are digging into this, even now.

Read the New Scientist article here.