Monthly Archives: May 2010

Taxation Without Representation

Everybody complains about taxes, that they pay too much, that our tax system is too complicated, that something needs to be done. Are we just complainers, or is our gripe legitimate? Have you ever really taken the time to figure out just how much you pay in taxes every day? 

When we think about taxes, we generally focus on income tax and sales tax, but most people don’t account for the dozens of other taxes we pay. I recently received my telephone bill and spent a few minutes scrutinizing it. The bill was around $25.00 and over $8.00 represented a tax, franchise fee, or some other charge. Fifteen cents here, twenty cents there, add it all up and the number will astound you. 

Consider that we pay taxes on gasoline, rental cars, prepared food (most states), hotels, utility bills, cable bills, self-employment, cigarettes, liquor, not to mention social security, medicare and disability. When you put a pencil to the whole tax structure, a working American likely pays more than 50% of his or her gross income every year. 

To be fair, our government does provide security, and a wide variety of other services. We do get a modest return on our investment. However, our deficit just hit the 13 trillion mark, so where does our money go? 

Basically, our government has gotten too big; ridiculously big. There is way too much fat at the top. The White House employs a staff of hundreds. Each of the 535 members of Congress has at least a dozen staff members. There are dozens and dozens of agencies and offices and special commissions, doing their thing and sucking the American taxpayer dry. 

I don’t support the Tea Party movement; they’re much too radical for me. But it is time for Americans to take a stand and send Washington a clear message. And this message begins in the voting booth. Let’s make the same proclamation Peter Finch made in the movie, Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m just not going to take it anymore.” If we yell loud enough, maybe, just maybe, our government will hear us.

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Running for my Life!

As Stephen King said in his book, Stephen King on Writing, if you want to be a successful writer, you must write a lot and read a lot. And of course, it makes sense to read your own genre. 

I write thrillers, and the supposed Granddaddy of all thriller novelists is James Patterson—at least based on sales.  Considering that Mr. Patterson has sold over 170 million books worldwide, I’d be a fool not to gain some perspective from his writing style and his overwhelming success by making his novels a frequent part of my reading diet. 

Until yesterday, when I started to read, Run for Your Life, which is a collaboration between Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, I had never read a Patterson thriller. At least a dozen people I know are diehard fans, and have told me his books are edge-of-the-seat fantastic. 

Well, Mr. Patterson, I’m only 48 pages into your book and am scratching the back of my head, wondering how in the name of literature this novel made it to the NY Times Bestseller list. I don’t pretend to be the most gifted author in the world; I’m far from it. And I also realize that I have a lot of work to do before I could consider myself even remotely close to your league. In fact, it’s unlikely I’ll ever come close. But seriously, did you really put your name on this dreadful book? Are there so many unsophisticated readers out there that a book like this can actually be successful? 

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear a ninth grade high school student wrote it. The narrative is riddled with clichés, ridiculous similes and metaphors, and overused adjectives and adverbs. The dialogue is unrealistic and limp. And the characters? Two dimensional and cardboard. And I’m only 48 pages into a 373 page novel! 

And then there’s the issue of point of view. When Mike Bennett, the good guy, is narrating the story, it’s written in first person. When the scene switches to the Teacher, the bad guy, it’s written in third person. This really compromises the narrative. 

You don’t have to be a scholar to figure out what’s going on here. James Patterson is on the money train. He could care less about the quality of his books or the criticisms. He’s created an assembly line for crappy novels and he’s ringing the cash register. Big time. And as long as readers by his books, he will continue to partner with wannabe novelists, put his name on the cover, and laugh all the way to the bank. 

Every writer wants to be successful. But everyone’s perception of success varies. Some measure it by positive reviews. Others by sales and royalties. And some writers might weigh their success based totally on personal satisfaction. 

The compelling question here is of a moral nature. If Mr. Patterson happened to stumble upon my novel and thought he and I could form a lucrative writing alliance, what would I do? If I had the opportunity to co-author books with one of the most successful novelists of all time, would I abandon my principles and sell my soul for the sake of success and money? Tough question. And to be honest, I can’t really answer it. What I will say, however, is that my name will never appear on the cover of a book unless I am absolutely positive the book represents my best writing. And that you can take to the bank.

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In the Fast Lane

Writer’s block? Lately, this term isn’t even in my vocabulary. As I sit in front of the computer every day and fire up MS Word, the ideas pour out of my head like an autumn rainstorm. My fingers literally cannot keep up with the brainwaves, plot twists, and birth of new scenes. This phenomenon, of course, is a good thing. Needless to say, it’s better for a writer to be bombarded with creative ideas rather than devoid of them. However, even though I’m constantly making notes as I write to ensure that an idea doesn’t slip away, I still feel a bit of panic when my brain is overwhelmed with inspiration. 

I am now 20,000 words into Resuscitation and the story is developing nicely. If it seems that I am not contributing enough to my blog, I truly apologize. But for now, I must focus my attention on finishing the sequel to They Never Die Quietly

Stay tuned for more updates.

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TGIF

Before I retired on April 1st , TGIF had a profound meaning. It meant that the workweek was almost over and that I was entitled to a weekend of freedom from the corporate grind; two days to recharge my battery and unwind. For me, TGIF now means squat. 

When you retire, it is very difficult to distinguish one day from the next. They all seem to blend together. It’s like being stranded on a desert island where the day of the week has no significance. If a particular day is associated with an activity like attending Sunday services, or if Wednesday evening is pasta night, you can associate these events directly with the day and not lose your sense of time. 

It’s wonderful having the choice to get up in the morning when you want to or going to bed whenever you feel like it. I love the luxury of taking an afternoon nap, or going for a walk or bike ride whenever my little heart desires. However, in spite of this feeling of total emancipation, I must admit that I miss the rush of excitement I felt every Friday afternoon as I walked out of the office and headed for my car, knowing that the next two days belonged to me. I miss that feeling. But not so much that I’ll be searching for a job anytime soon.

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Continuity

Thus far, I’ve written 16,178 words in the novel entitled, Resuscitation, the sequel to They Never Die Quietly. I try to average 1,000 words a day, but am often distracted by a number of things. No matter how detailed a novelist’s outline, as you write and the story begins to take shape, new ideas and plot twists pop into your head. And more often than not, these fresh ideas enrich the story or create more dramatic tension. But there is a price to pay for these modifications. 

When you add a scene or flashback or plot twist, it often requires that you go back to a prior chapter and change something that is not consistent with the new twist. This is, of course, a tedious but crucial process. You can’t tell the reader that a victim died of gunshot wounds on page 37, and then claim that the same person died of strangulation on page 162. 

Needless to say, continuity is critical; it lends credibility to the story.  The reader will catch the author every time he makes a technical error; even when that error is relatively inconsequential. I’ve had my readers call me out on some of the most obscure things. So if you’re going to write fiction in a world of astute readers, you’d better be sure you do your homework.

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Juices Flowing

As a writer—and I believe I speak for all writers—on certain days the words pour out of your head so quickly that your fingers just can’t keep up. On other days however, you can hardly write one meaningful sentence. 

Today, the juices are really flowing, and as the old worn-out cliché suggests, “Make hay while the sun is shining.” So, I’m off to make hay!

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Broken Judicial System

From time to time I can’t help but expressing my political, religious and social opinions. Today, I’d like to rant about our legal system. Several months ago, Chelsea King, a San Diego 17 year old high school student, was jogging through a park and abducted, raped, and strangled to death by John Gardner, registered sex offender.

Through a plea bargain and the promise that Gardner would not get the death penalty, but instead spend the rest of his life behind bars with no possibility of parole, Gardner also admitted to raping and murdering Amber DuBois over a year ago. In 2000, Gardner was convicted of molesting a 14 year old girl, sentenced to 6 years in prison, and was released after 5 years.

In contrast to this, David Kernell, who was convicted of hacking into Sarah Palin’s e-mail during the time she was a vice-presidential candidate, was convicted and faces 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

So, let me get this straight. A sick, twisted scum-bag molests a 14 year old girl, is sentenced to 6 years in prison and released after 5 years, and a guy who hacks into Palin’s e-mail is facing 20 years in prison?! Am I missing something here?

Seems to me that Gardner should have gotten 20 years for molesting the 14 year old girl and Kernell should be facing 6 years in prison, no? I think they got it backwards. This is merely another example that illustrates how twisted our legal system is. It also points out that rank has its privileges. If David Kernell would have hacked into John Doe’s e-mail, do you really believe he’d be facing 20 years in prison?

And more important than Kernell’s fate is the leniency of our courts when sentencing a sex offender. We need a dramatic overhaul of our system. Gardner shouldn’t have been walking the streets. And this may sound barbaric or uncivilized but I hope and pray that when Gardner goes to prison he fears for his life every minute of every day. Because even hardened criminals have a code of ethics, and they have little tolerance for monsters like Gardner. I hope he gets what he deserves: a pine box preceded by lots of pain.

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