Archive | February 2017

The Peers of Beinan: A Literary Journey

Castle Fantasy BackdropThere is a lot of science fiction on the market from independent authors published these last five years since I first published “The Great Succession Crisis.”  It is a crowded field where it is easy to get lost in. As with many popular genres, a huge number of books seek to emulate the plot and character elements of mega hits on the assumption of that what works for one highly profitable author must work for them as well. We’ve seen this with “Twilight” style paranormal romances.  We’ve seen this with “Five Shades of Grey” styled erotica.  The list goes on and on.

As moderator of a book promo group on facebook, I get to see the copycats almost ad nauseam. Books all look the same after a while. And while the premise of copying another’s ideas is repulsive to me as both a science fiction author and as a dedicated historian, I do genuinely see some success in these authors following those formulas — if the measure of success is Amazon rankings in any event.

But open these books and the blandness of copycatting shows itself. The writing lacks the sort of literary luster of the books and authors whose work holds the test of time. That is, perhaps, the best distinction one makes between commercial and literary fiction.  Commercial fiction is about today’s sale.  Literary fiction is about creating timeless works of art.  My fiction is literary fiction.

The Peers of Beinan Series is everything I love about the classics. As a free thinker and intellectual with a life-long passion for learning, it has never been my habit to follow the crowd – on anything. Whatever was “hot” or “trendy” was never of interest to me.  I always liked to be different. On occasion what I’ve liked and what the greater society is into have coincided — but never by my conscious design and rarely in precisely the same way.

I started my writing career with the Peers of Beinan because I saw an America becoming more and more socially and politically divided, an America where it was becoming more and more difficult to engage in civil conversations about the stuff that matters. I saw an America that was increasingly creating false equivalences between fact and opinion and where acts of hate against those who are different was going unpunished and ignored. Sound familiar?

I wanted to engage in an honest discussion with people about the subjects that matter to me most. Looking to the great science fiction/fantasy authors I like best — Gene Roddenberry, Dorothy “DC” Fontana, Ray Bradberry, Frank Herbert, Issac Asimov to name just a few — what I noticed is they often tackled some really big social and sometimes political subjects in their books — without offending people in the process.

I wanted to do the same.  I wanted to talk to people and encourage people to really think about things that matter to me. And I wanted people to open their minds to ideas and possibilities that put a different way to them they would never listen to.

And that is, in essence, what the Peers of Beinan Series is. It’s my reaching out across the universe and saying “this is important, please think it about it” from a group of stories that don’t ask that question directly of people.

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In personal interactions I am known for my point-blank directness. I don’t play the stereotypical gender roles game — not any more at least. And so I am “bold” as a woman and a writer. The Peers of Beinan is less point-blank than I usually am. It seeks to provoke thought without being confrontational. And just as important to me personally:  it seeks to bring you hope. For in the greatest darkness and despair, there is always Light. That’s how I overcame the great adversities of my life and how you will too.

 

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Death and Taxes: Lessons Learned

Death and Taxes are the two things no one can avoid. While taxes is something we face every year, the death of a parent is something we face only once or twice, depending on our family situation. As I found out with the 2016 death of my mother, our knowledge of how to handle taxes after the death of a parent or other close loved one is very limited.

Despite all the information out there online on both subjects individually, I found it all extremely confusing as I tried to navigate that complexity of what happens with your taxes when someone close to you dies.  Tax law is very complicated and tax guidance is even more complicated. No one wants the liability of telling you anything just in case what they tell you does not apply to you. In most cases, people want you to spend massive amounts of money consulting with attorneys and tax professionals instead of giving you the most basic advice.  It’s akin to a nurse not telling me to run cold water on a burn and sending me to the hospital (at a delay of hours) when my hair caught fire blowing out candles when I was in university. The burn gets worse by not taking immediate action.

The following is what I learned filing my 2016 taxes.  My situation may be different from yours. You may have a more complicated tax situation than I did. What follows is some simple advice from my tax filing as equal beneficiary to my brother who was the executor on her estate.

Taxes to be paid:

  • The executor of the state must file Federal and State income taxes for the deceased. If the deceased has no tax liability, that is fine. But the returns must be filed on behalf of the deceased.
  • If deceased owns her home at time of death and it is to be sold, sell the home as quickly as possible to reduce tax liability and simplify your tax situation. Same for any other property that is usually taxed upon sale.  If you are not keeping the property for the long term, you make your life easier by selling it as soon as possible.
  • If you inherit any annuities or retirement funds, those funds are taxable by the Federal government if they were tax-deferred plans such as 401K, traditional IRA, etc. Pre-pay that tax before you receive any funds if at all possible.  It may not always be possible to pre-pay the taxes so ask the financial institutions involved about it.

The more you pre-pay taxes, the easier filing your return becomes. In this it is no different than when you choose fewer tax deductions as you are working and thus have more taxes taken out of each check as you earn. When the tax season hits, a refund is easier to handle than a big tax bill. Err on the side of caution and pay as much tax as you can before you receive funds from the estate so you don’t over spend and find yourself unable to pay those taxes when the bill arrives.

Now here is the good news:  what is NOT taxable:

  • Cash, savings, checking, and certificate of deposit funds.  That is because the deceased already paid income taxes on those funds.  You do not report these funds to the IRS.  It’s your money.
  • Proceeds from the sale of a home if the executor has paid all applicable taxes up front.  In the common case of a home being sold and its funds being dispersed to multiple beneficiaries, those beneficiaries do not pay taxes on it nor do they claim those funds as income because all taxes have already been paid.  For example:  a home sells for $100,000.  After taxes, attorney fees, and other closing costs the net sale is $80,000.  The Will specifies two beneficiaries which then each receive $40,000. The $40,000 received is not taxable because it’s the net after taxes are paid. The beneficiary does not pay tax on the $40,000; the money stays off the tax return.

 

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My mother and me during a 2001 visit as part of the studio audience for Good Morning America.  This is us with anchor Charles Gibson, one of my mother’s favourite celebrities.

Now of course I’m not a lawyer.  I am not a tax professional. I’m a historian and an author from a humble background.  My mother was not a rich, glamourous person.  She was a teacher before I was born and a factory worker and retail clerk for most of her working life after I was born. She was very average, living paycheck to paycheck and doing creative things to keep us fed and with some sort of roof over our heads.  So her estate was not massive and there were no capital gains taxes that I needed to concern myself with.

Maybe this blog post is useless. But maybe it helps you too.  I stressed out for MONTHS over the tax consequences of my mother’s death. I smartly put 30% of my inheritance into a high yield savings account (I switched to Ally Bank to maximize those earnings) in part because I was terrified that I was going to have to pay nearly everything I inherited back to the government.  I did not. A tax professional explained to me what I just posted and set my mind at ease.  I hope this post does the same for you.

Rest in peace mom. May you find joy in your new incarnation and the love you never found in this life.