Monthly Archives: February 2011

Tax Reform

The other day, I sat at the kitchen table in front of a mountain of paperwork wanting to organize all my receipts, 1099 forms, W-2’s, etc., so that my accountant can prepare my tax returns. Well, this year, unlike years in the past, it was a bit more complicated, so I felt extremely stressed out. As I shuffled through form after form, statement after statement, receipt after receipt, I clearly understood how utterly ridiculous our tax system is. 

I checked several sources and found that if the entire tax code were printed on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, it would be 44,000 pages long. Can anyone explain to me why regulations and guidelines need to be so complicated?  In reviewing issues pertaining to my particular situation, I discovered some things that punctuate the absurdity of our entire tax system. 

One issue that really pissed me off is how the IRS handles capital gains and losses on the sale of securities. Did you know that if you lost $15,000 on the sale of stocks or mutual funds, you can only deduct $3,000 per year for as many years as it takes to deduct the entire $15,000? But guess what happens if you sell some securities and make $15,000. Yep. You have to pay capital gains on the entire amount—all in the year in which you earned it! 

Here’s another tax regulation that screws anyone self-employed. As an author who earns his income in the form of royalties, I am treated just like a small business. Even though I’m a one-man-show with no employees, when I calculate my estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS requires that I pay both employee and employer contributions for Social Security and Medicare. So, essentially, I pay double what the typical employee pays. 

There are so many unfair and absurd regulations in our tax code that I could go on forever citing examples. But the last time I checked my blood pressure it was a little high, so I best not tempt fate. 

Why can’t our lawmakers simplify our tax code? By removing the loopholes from which only the super-rich benefit, wouldn’t some form of a flat tax yield more revenue? Of course it would. But never lose sight of the fact that wealthy men wrote the tax code to favor wealthy men. Politicians don’t care about you and me. Until we get rid of the career politicians who keep a stronghold on our pocketbooks, we’re screwed. The rich get richer; the poor get poorer, and the middle class, who currently picks up the tab for the entire country, will soon be extinct.  We don’t need tax cuts like the Republicans continue to push for. We need tax reform that eases the burden on low income and middle income families, and requires that the wealthy pay their fair share.

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A Bird in the Hand

After thoughtful consideration and weighing all the factors, I decided to publish Resuscitation  through Amazon Encore, which was where I published They Never Die Quietly. I was delighted when they offered to publish my second novel. It’s a scary world out there for a novelist trying to make a name for himself. It’s a long, bumpy road. When you consider that I wrote my first novel back in 1993, and it wasn’t until 2010 that my fourth effort was finally published, well, needless to say, if you can’t handle rejection and you aren’t willing to pay your dues, you’re in the wrong business. 

I had considered seeking publication from a traditional publisher. But here’s the problem. First off, online sales numbers are beating the crap out of the sales numbers through “brick and mortar” stores like Barnes & Nobel and Border Books, who by the way, will likely go out of business. 

Second, unless you’re Stephen King or James Patterson, it’s hard to get an equitable deal with a traditional publisher. Typically, if they do give your book a shot, the advance is minimal, it often takes 12 to 18 months before the book is published, and worst of all, they won’t spend one thin dime on marketing or promotion; it all rests on the author’s shoulders. 

So, the die is cast. I made what I believe is a sound business decision. I don’t expect that Resuscitation will be published until later in the year. But it’s time for me to get started on the next book, which will be a departure from the first two books. I don’t know how authors write series that go on forever. I’m ready for fresh characters and a different storyline. Fasten your seat belts because in the not-too-distant-future, I will launch a political thriller entitled, I Do Solemnly Swear

Stay tuned for updates.

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Power to the People

I applaud the people of Egypt for their courage and tenacity. With relatively peaceful, yet spirited protests (not one person was killed), they changed the course of history for their country. Tens of thousands of Egyptians voiced their disdain for President Mubarak and forced him to resign his thirty-year stronghold on the presidency. Mubarak, a former air force commander, rose to power by Islamic radicals shortly after the assassination of Anwar Sadat.

It was well documented that throughout his rule, Mubarak showed a near obsession with stability, rigged elections, and a hated police force accused of widespread torture to ensure his control. He resisted calls for reform even as public bitterness grew over corruption, deteriorating infrastructure and rampant poverty in a country where 40 percent live below or near the poverty line. And to further illustrate Mubarak’s total disregard for his people, his fortune is estimated to exceed eighty-billion-dollars. While his people starve, he counts his riches.

Can we all learn something from this stunning demonstration that the people do have the power to effect change? Even under the most extreme dictatorship, it’s possible to promote democracy without the use of guns, bombs, or missiles. It is utterly amazing that a Middle Eastern country accomplished such a feat without any meddling from other countries.

This historic event begs a very significant question: could the people of Iraq and Afghanistan accomplish the same thing without intervention from the United States and other allies? We do have egg on our faces, don’t we? Tens of thousands of people have died. And to what avail? There is no peace in Iraq or Afghanistan, and democracy is nothing more than a distant dream. Perhaps Saddam Hussein could have been ousted in the same way?

There is a profound lesson here; one that history will write.

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I Just Don’t Get It

The first two commandments any serious novelist must follow are: Read a lot and write a lot. And of course, it’s important to read the genre in which you write. As an author who writes thrillers, I should be reading James Patterson, David Baldacci, Michael Connelly, John Grisham, and other similar novelists. Although I’ve really tried to “read a lot”, I don’t read nearly as much as I should. It’s not due to lack of effort or laziness on my part. How do I say this diplomatically? Well, it’s just that many of the bestselling thriller novels really suck. There, I’ve said it. 

Now I don’t want to take cheap shots at the “masters” of thriller fiction, but hey, I simply call it like I see it. Let me offer one stunning example. David Baldacci has written over 17 novels, and each of them hit the New York Times Bestseller List. I’m currently reading First Family, Baldacci’s latest book. I’m 166 pages into the story and as I Iive and breathe, I’m struggling to continue. To his credit, the plot is compelling, he’s very good about leaving a cliff hanger at the end of each chapter, and he doesn’t overdue it with his descriptions. 

But here’s the problem. The grammar, sentence structure, and awkward phrases he uses make this book seem like a tenth grade high school student wrote it. Seriously. One of the first rules a writer learns in Novel Writing 101 is to minimize passive voice. For example, instead of writing, “He was kissed by her”, write, “He kissed her.” It is the writer’s job to remove the dreaded “was” word whenever possible. Active verbs move the story forward. 

Here’s a sentence from page 6 of First Family. “While it was true that the president of the United States was the world’s ultimate juggler of tasks, it was also a fact that the First Lady, traditionally, was no slouch in that department either.”  Are you kidding me? How did this get past Baldacci’s editor? This is merely one of many examples of awkward sentence structure and overuse of the was word. 

I am so distracted with a book written so poorly that I find it nearly impossible to engage myself in the story. Given the sales numbers, I cannot dispute Baldacci’s overwhelming success. But I sure wish he—and many other bestselling novelists—would dedicate as much effort to language as they do to plotting. 

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California Drivers

I’ve lived in San Diego since 1993, and I can tell you first hand that there are a lot of things to love about California.  For example, the weather. Come hell or high water, 300 days a year it’s clear blue skies, no humidity, and the temperature is in the mid-seventies. That’s pretty hard to beat. Right now as I write this post, it’s sunny and a chilly 60 degrees. Compare this to the Midwest and Northeast. They’re getting hammered with one of the worst winter storms in years. No thanks. 

Another thing great about California is that you can surf, snow ski, scuba dive, and climb a mountain all in the same day. If you have kids, we’ve got Disney Land, Magic Mountain, Lego Land, Knotts Berry Farms, and California Adventure. And although a few Texans might argue this point, we have the best Mexican food in the country. You haven’t lived until you’ve devoured two or three fish tacos! 

Yes, there are many things to like about California, but California drivers aren’t one of them. I hate to generalize, but to be frank, they must be among the worst drivers in the world. 

First off, about 90% of all California drivers speed. And I’m not talking about a few miles per hour over the speed limit. On our freeways, where the speed limit is 65, most folks are buzzing along between 80 and 85. On city streets—populated city streets—drivers are cruising 50 or 60 MPH. 

Few people know that the little lever on the left hand side of the steering column is NOT a decoration. News flash: It’s a turn signal, nitwit! Get this. I have never seen so many people eating while driving. Yes, eating. To be clear, I’m not talking about munching on some Mickey D’s French fries. I’ve watched drivers devour a four-pound burrito while behind the wheel. You can look in your rear-view mirror and watch someone holding a Subway sandwich with BOTH hands and stuffing it in their faces. How, pray tell, do they steer the car, with their legs? 

Every STOP sign in California should be changed to ROLL signs. Why? Because nobody stops. They literally roll through intersections. If you happen to have the right of way at a two-way stop and exercise that legal right, best prepare yourself for either a one-finger salute, or if you’re really unfortunate, getting T-boned. 

And of course, no bitch session about CA drivers would be complete if I didn’t mention cell phones. Our law prohibiting cell phone use (unless it’s hand’s free) while driving is completely ineffective. Nobody pays attention to it. You could stand on a street corner watching traffic whiz by, and 1 out of every 5 drivers has a cell phone pressed to their ear. 

So if you are considering relocating to California for the beautiful weather, just make sure you’ve completed a course in defensive driving. You’re going to need it.

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