Saturday, February 28, 2015

Writers and DBAs

This is reposted from Travels with Kaye earlier this week so it can reach a wider audience.

Another post about taxes. It’s that time of year! You probably haven’t finished them yet if you get any income from Amazon, since they say they sent out erroneous 1099s and have only recently sent out corrected ones. If you have income from several countries, good luck figuring out which new 1099 is the correction for which old 1099. Here’s a bit of help. Look at the EIN. I don’t recall who posted this on what list, but I copied it:

83-0417755 = Amazon US, CA, and IN
46-2971461 = Amazon Australia
46-2796183 = Amazon Mexico
98-0429507 = Amazon Services Europe - UK sales
98-0480990 = Amazon Media EU Sarl - DE, FR, ES, IT sales

This is incomplete, as that person doesn’t get income from all possible countries, but maybe this can help you figure it out. This seems to be secret information as I can’t find anywhere that Amazon discloses their EINs.

Now, to my actual topic. If you aren’t incorporated and don’t want to go to the expense and trouble of creating an LLC, you would probably benefit from setting up a DBA. It stands for Doing Business As. If you use a pen name, you would obviously want to do business as That Name. If you’re using your own name, you can use Your Name Writing, or something more creative. Maybe—Your Name Books, Your Name Literature.

Why do you need a DBA? If you want a separate bank account for your writing, you need one to set up a DBA bank account. From there, it’s convenient to create a PayPal account for your pen name or DBA and connect it to the bank account. I find it helpful to be able to take payments to my pen name. Also to pay for conferences with my PayPal account in my pen name. In the past, things have gotten confused when an account for Real Name pays and Pen Name shows up and people say Pen Name isn’t registered. Too complicated!

What you need to know about this is that the rules are very different depending on what state you live in. For instance, when we lived in Texas, I needed to file, for $15 at my county clerk’s office. When we moved to Tennessee, all I had to do was go to the credit union and tell them I wanted an account for my DBA. (I recommend credit unions over banks. It’s much easier to get a small business account with no fees from them.)

This may help you find out what your state requires:
Here’s another one, but with limited state information:

Good luck with your taxes this year!

Friday, February 27, 2015

How Now Purple Cow

A guest blog by Marja McGraw

It seems that something unexpected usually inspires a story for me. I won’t go into titles, for the most part, in the interest of space.

In my Sandi Webster series, stories were inspired by (get this) the Red Light District in Old Los Angeles, something that actually happened to me in another book, meeting an elderly female private investigator, a photo of a vintage, abandoned house in Nevada, and an admiration for Humphrey Bogart. Another was inspired by what used to be an ostrich ranch in Arizona. An ostrich ranch? It became a llama ranch in short order and included ghostly sightings and a house with character.

Back to the admiration for Humphrey Bogart, a book titled, The Bogey Man was so well received that I started another series involving a Bogart look-alike who wanted nothing more than to become a private investigator. In his case, not all of his dreams came true, but he, his wife and young son went on to become involved in crimes, although against his better judgment.

Chris Cross, known as the Bogey Man, started a forties-themed restaurant with his wife, Pamela. Right off the bat they discovered a body in a basement. That was the beginning of an interesting life. In one book, some Church Ladies tried his patience and skills when they wanted him to find a missing friend. Some Church Ladies in my own life inspired that one. Chris’s eccentric mother came to town and more adventures followed. Yes, I know a few eccentric people, and I should probably include myself in that category.

However, let me tell you that I never expected ceramic purple cows and a dream to inspire a story, but that’s exactly what happened. Many years ago my grandmother gave me some old ceramic figurines, including two purple cows. There should have been three, but apparently the bull was broken somewhere along the way. They were begging to be included in a book. I can’t explain it, but the idea simply wouldn’t let go of my imagination.

How could a writer use purple cows in a mystery? Well, if you add a dream about two close friends being spies, all kinds of doors can open.

After doing a lot of research about spies and spying, I found that only a minimal part of that research would fit the story. However, it gave me a feel for what things were like during the Cold War and what agents were up against. Maybe I’ve watched too much television, but it all seemed to fit together in a neat little story package.

Purple cows and elderly spies were a natural. Oh, and they needed just a little humor to pull it all together. If you include the young son and two Labrador retrievers in the mix, you’ve got some unusual puzzle pieces to fit together.


What could purple cows and elderly spies possibly have to do with each other?

When young Mikey Cross discovers ceramic purple cows, a ring, and investigative notes left by a mystery writer popular in the 1950s, his parents’ and grandparents’ lives are turned upside down.

Pamela and Chris Cross become involved in vintage intrigue with trepidation and more than a little angst when they find out there’s an elderly assassin on the prowl and the situation isn’t quite as vintage as they thought.

The dead just may come back as the living when it’s least expected.


I’ve tried to write all of my books so they can be read in any order. The only thing you might miss by reading them haphazardly would be the growth of the characters. That’s livable.

I enjoy being entertained when I read, and that’s what I’ve tried to do for readers of my books. I hope I can make you laugh, or at least chuckle, and in addition I hope the puzzles keep you guessing.

Hmm. I did write one book where the killer was fairly easy to spot. Ah, yes, there was an unexpected twist at the end. Always keep the reader guessing.

So, if you’re inspired as a reader, you might try How Now Purple Cow to see how purple cows and elderly spies fit together.

Jean, thank you so much for inviting me in today. I had a wonderful time talking about inspired stories.

Marja McGraw was born and raised in Southern California. She worked in both civil and criminal law, state transportation, and most recently for a city building department.  A resident and employee in California, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska and Arizona, she wrote a weekly column for a small town newspaper in Northern Nevada, and conducted a Writers’ Support Group in Northern Arizona. A past member of Sisters in Crime (SinC), she was also the Editor for the SinC-Internet Newsletter for a year and a half.

Marja has appeared on KOLO-TV in Reno, Nevada, and KLBC in Laughlin, Nevada, and various radio talk shows. She says that each of her mysteries contains a little humor, a little romance and a little murder! She and her husband now live in Arizona, where life is good.

Submitted by Jean Herny Mead

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Of Writing and Perception

by Janis Patterson

The Husband and I just returned from a Caribbean cruise. Sounds like a Valentine-ish and really romantic thing to do, but it was work.

Yes, it really was.

Every other year the Florida Romance Writers have their conference on a cruise ship. This time it was Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, a three day cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Cozumel and back. They say it’s a four day, but with one sea day, one shore day and another sea day I only count three. Maybe they’re counting the afternoon you come on board and the morning you leave (obscenely early, I might add) as one day. Who knows?

Anyway, everything was simply splendid – wonderful food in incredible variety, from a snack shop to a casual buffet to formal three-course menu service, every amenity you can dream of, from pool to gym to spa to shops to casino and lots of other things, even including an ice cream shop. Our favorite was the champagne bar, which had an incredible selection. We discovered our favorite champagne there – Veuve Cliquot – during the last conference and during this one I found a new addiction – the Sweet Kiss, a combo of Ice Wine and champagne. Yum!

But it really was work. Under all the fun and camaraderie there was a writer’s conference and a very good one at that. I write both romance (though not so much as before these days) and mystery (and a bunch of other things, too) and have always believed that writing is writing, no matter what genre spin you put on it.

I was wrong.

The trouble, however, is not in the writing, but in the reading and expectations.

One of the niftiest features of the conference is Floridian Idol competition. Upon arrival you can hand in two pages of your current work in progress, then it will be read by volunteers to the audience and a panel of editors/agents. The submissions are anonymous, so you can listen to what is said without being self-conscious and the panelists can comment openly. It’s an enlightening experience – sometimes heartening and sometimes painful.

Of course, this is a romance conference, but as at the moment I don’t have a romance project in progress, I took the first two pages of my current mystery. At least no one said my writing was bad. They just looked at it through romance eyes, saying my lead character was unsympathetic and the opening was slow.

Slow? Perhaps. I have always hated mysteries where the body appears on page one like a curtain-up stage prop. Although I did write a body-on-the-first-page story as a personal challenge, I like readers to get to know my characters, good and bad, so that when one of them is murdered there is a sense of connection, of loss. However neatly it is done, murder is a crime of violence and should be regarded as such, not just as a story convention. In my mind a victim should be a person in the world of that book, not just a plot device.

As for my lead character not being sympathetic, I just don’t get this. Who says the lead character always has to be sympathetic? In a romance, it might make sense, but in a mystery…? My sublimely self-confident sleuth Flora Melkiot is an elderly woman, the wealthy widow of a jeweler, who does exactly what she wants pretty much whenever she wants and woe be unto those who get in her way. A born snoop who is convinced that whatever she does is good for whoever is involved, she enjoys unraveling mysteries. In short, she is the dark side of Miss Marple, an opinionated and nosy woman who thinks nothing of taking down crime scene tape if she wants to examine something or badgering a witness for information or using her own money to chase down a lead. She’s many things both good and bad – fascinating and challenging to write, but probably would be hell to work with in reality – and I love her. Actually, I would like to grow up and be her.

So, while I value the input of my fellow conferees, I can’t take their assessment completely seriously. Writing is definitely a multi-purpose skill that covers all, but apparently the important thing in genre fiction is perception.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Post-Valentine Romantic Tale

My first great-grandchild, Brandon, surprised his girlfriend by proposing to her when she left the auditorium after a Christmas concert this past December. Of course she said yes. The wedding is scheduled for March 6th and they are busily prepearing for it.

Brandon is 21 and his intended, Cymone, 20. People who know them think they're too young--but my hubby was 21 and I had just turned 18 when we married--and we're going on 64 years. I don't think age has anything to do with it. 

What is important is not giving up.  It's never easy--no  matter how much you think you love one another.

I'm hoping for the best for these kids. Like my hubby and I did, they're starting out on a shoestring. But both come from families who don't have much, so that probably won't bother them. 

As great grandma, I'm looking forward to this wedding. We've had lots of weddings in our family, each one different from any of the others.

And to bring this around to mysteries, no matter what kind of book you're writing, it's always good to have at least a touch of romance. After all, our lives our filled with romance of one kind or another.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Taxes for Writers

I posted this at Travels with Kaye last week, but I feel it's important for writers to know these things if they don't. So I'm repeating it here in hopes that more people will see it. If you're a writer who is wondering what to do about taxes, here are some excellent links to guide you through the jungle.

The biggest problem is the pesky hobby rule, often misunderstood by writers and CPAs alike. Some writers, even a lot of tax accountants, think the IRS hobby rule applies to writers. It doesn’t have to, if you’re serious about your writing.

To begin with, take a look at this IRS publication:,,id=186056,00.html
If you’re starting out as a full-time writer, you don’t have to declare income 3 of the last 5 years if you satisfy some requirements.

The important points for you, as a beginning writer (not making any money), from this article are:
  • Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
  • If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  • Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

You can report losses on a Schedule C for quite a few years before the IRS will take a look at you. See this article, which elaborates on the above:

This link gives some checkpoints to make sure you’re fulfilling the requirements:

You can see that it’s important to be keeping records of submissions, classes, time spent, and to conduct writing as a business in every way you can. Also, of course, keep track of what you can deduct.

This article goes into exquisite detail:
This one includes some forms to help you keep track if you don’t already have some that you like:

I hope this helps. Don’t lose out on loss deductions that you’re entitled to. And may you someday be declaring a profit! I did last year for the first time in 12 years. It was a small 3-figure profit, but maybe someday it’ll be more.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The building of a book - Lynn Cahoon

Go into any bookstore (including your Kindle) pick up a book and get lost in the story. With any luck, you'll be lost in a new world for three, maybe four hours.

Pop a review onto Amazon or Goodreads or B&N. Then nudge the author about the next book.

Total time invested? Maybe a half day?

Reader time versus writer time is like human to dog years.

Here's the writer's timeline. First draft, 7-10 weeks, author editing process before we send it anywhere 1-2 weeks, developmental edits - 2 weeks, copy edits - 2 weeks, and page proofs - another 2 weeks. 18 weeks or around 4 1/2 months.

And that's just the time invested by the writer. Then add in the publisher's time - cover, formatting, review ARCs, promotion.

It's a wonder any books get published at all.

But they do.

In the last two months, I've been working on six different projects.  Copy edits for #5 - Done. Page proofs for #4 - on my desk. First draft for #6 - started. Third book in The Council series - submitted to my publisher for a yay or nay. Formating a  self-publishing project, and tonight, I bought a cover for a new SP re-release for a novella I recently got rights returned on.

No, seven, because I ordered a new cover for Shawnee Holiday since its made enough to deserve a professional cover.

Make that eight, as I wrote a proposal for an entirely new cozy series and submitted it to my editor.

What have I learned through all the juggles? Lesson 1-I can't edit one book in a series and write another. I can if they aren't related, however.  Lesson 2-I can write more words a day or  a week than I'd ever expected. and Lesson #3 - you have to be good to yourself, otherwise, you get too many puppies dreams.

Am I complaining? Hell, no. I love the process. But sometimes, even this time management freak has to say uncle.  Times like that, I start completing things to get them off my list.  Then I feel better.

So what do you think an author does all day? You might be right.


My Sexy Valentines - is available now, Amazon only.  My story, The Twelve Days of Valentines, tells the story of a specialty jam maker and her delivery guy.


Monday, February 9, 2015

A New Look for My First Published Book - Two Wrongs

Back in 2006, my first book, a mystery called Two Wrongs, was published by Hard Shell Word Factory, followed the next year by my romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams.

Then, things came to a standstill and the publisher sold to another publisher. My books stagnated. Finally, wising up to the situation, I self-published, with new covers. I've not regretted that decision. Lots more decisions and lots of marketing involved, but I'm still enjoying the ride, and self-publishing with at least one new offering a year, sometimes more.

Girl of My Dreams is still by far the most popular of  my books, and I believe its new cover designed by Stephen Walker, with my collaboration, is one reason.

Still, Two Wrongs, my first published child, remains in my heart. Stephen and I had collaborated on a new cover for that one as well, but since then, I decided to go with something less busy.

So, this month I devised a new cover, which you'll see on the left. To design it, I chose stock photos from and used the program to put it all together.

It's a story set in Chicago, told from the hero's and the antagonist's points of view, where one murder leads to more.

Here are a few quotes from reviews of Two Wrongs 

“an intriguing mix of emotion and action” 
"fast paced, suspenseful with interesting characters," 
"it held my attention with twists and turns.” 

Hopefully, this first book child of mine will now enjoy a new life through its new cover!

Find all of Morgan Mandel's mysteries, thrillers and
romances at her Amazon Author Page:

Excerpts at:

Twitter: @MorganMandel

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fiction's Heartbeat

by Jean Henry Mead

I once read a magazine article titled, “Action, the Heartbeat of Fiction” by Jordan E. Rosenfeld, which I thought was worth discussing. Rosenfeld said, “Action is a dynamic word that calls to mind a director hooting into a megaphone at his actors. It's also the heartbeat of good fiction that keeps readers riveted to the page. Action is comprised of all the elements a reader can 'witness' taking place. From physical movement to spoken dialogue, action transports your readers into your writing and brings your writing to life. Despite all this, many writers have a tendency to shuffle important action offstage, relying on pace-dragging narrative summaries and recaps instead.”

The solution to preventing pace-dragging scenes is to write them within a framework. By presenting scenes as though they were happening on a theater stage, all the drama takes place as it happens, not offstage and something for the characters to discuss. Readers remember what happens on stage and can make their own deductions. They needn’t wait for the characters to endlessly discuss what has just taken place.

The scene’s momentum keeps the reader reading and her heart pounding as the action accelerates if the plot situation seems real, particularly when the character is in danger. Instead of characters talking about a past experience, replay the scene in flashback action. By reliving it in living color, the reader can experience it for himself.

Another good way to involve your reader in a scene is to reveal information in dialogue. A good plot reveals new information in each chapter and one of the best ways to deliver the news is to have the characters act it out. Give the narrator a rest. It’s much more powerful to have events happen now than to hear about it later, secondhand.

Character movement is essential in a good scene, whether the protagonist throws a chair through a window in anger, or flicks ashes from a cigarette into his cup. Don’t leave your characters standing around without something to do. Body language is a giveaway when a character’s motives are in question. If a man drops his head when asked if he killed someone, it usually means he’s guilty or knows who committed the crime. If a woman lifts a palm to her chest while denying something, changes are she’s telling the truth.

If your character comes to an important decision or suddenly realizes that he has the answer to a problem, avoid internal monologue as much as possible. The realization will have more impact if it happens in someone else’s presence because it raises the emotional stakes for all concerned, as well as your storyline.

And finally, turn your backstory into frontstory whenever possible or delete it from the plot. It’s usually spooned in as narrative summary instead of dialogue and lacks the elements of scene writing. Because it doesn’t take place in the present, there’s no dialogue or scene setting or action taking place. When that happens, the best part of backstory is casually written off without the slightest hint of emotion. And emotion definitely drives the plot.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Love and Death and Hope

by Janis Patterson

It seems we live our lives by holiday seasons – Christmas, New Years, Valentines, Easter, Memorial Day… you see what I mean. And it seems that each holiday season crimes go up. Murders increase. Family member turns on family member. What is it about a time that should be all about joy and celebration that turns people murderous?

Perhaps we have too many expectations. Christmas especially for most of us doesn’t live up to the perfect holiday implied by saccharine TV shows and too-perfect-to-be-real Christmas cards. Unfortunately, most families don’t wear their Sunday best to stand around a huge, professionally decorated tree and sing carols, but in spite of this a lot of us wonder why our family isn’t like this.

Valentine’s is no different, though on the whole less emotionally charged. Some people don’t care about the romantic side of life. Some have given up on it. Some have their patterns set with their loved one, and don’t need the traditional frills and furbelows of Traditional Romance. Some of us do, though. We want the candy and the cards and the heartfelt sighs of Everlasting Love – at least for the moment. Jewelry and trips and all the rest would be nice, too, but it’s the emotions that really count. The romantics who can celebrate it and the lonely ones who have no one to celebrate it with (and I have been both) have expectations, expectations reality can never really live up to.

And that’s where the death part comes in. Humans are governed by primal drives. Yes, we have created a veneer of civilization that keeps us from running amok like a two-year-old denied a treat when we are disappointed or fail to get something we want, but that veneer is sometimes terrifyingly thin and fragile. Who hasn’t heard of a spurned lover wreaking vengeance for being rejected? This unhappy circumstance isn’t endemic only to Valentine’s Day, of course – it happens all year round, yet so many instances of sad and/or vicious repercussions of love-deprivation do occur close to the holiday. And yes, to all holidays.

Holidays build up our expectations to an expanded degree, which makes the fact lots of our dreams don’t come true that much more difficult to bear. It’s hard to keep an even keel when everyone but you seems to be wrapped in perfection.

And for that we must be held partially responsible. We as writers are the myth-makers. It is from our pens that the archetypes flow. Should we change our stories so that our characters have no hope, that their lives are as glum and free from redemption as the most tortured of real life persons? I most sincerely hope not. As writers we owe the public good stories, but I think that we also owe our readers at least a glimmering of hope – hope, not necessarily expectations. Not everyone in life gets a happy ending, and not every character gets a happy ending, but I think they should at least have the hope of a happy ending – whatever that happens to mean to them. Yes, for a love-deprived serial killer that hope might be the extermination of his next victim – something that should not happen, especially in real life – but to be a well-rounded character he needs hope, however twisted his vision of that might be.

Do I believe every character deserves a hearts-and-flowers-rainbows-and-unicorns happy ending? No. That kind of universal joy neatly tied with a string belongs in fairy tales. But neither do I believe in total doom and gloom and no ray of sunshine ever. Perhaps our characters don’t get what they want, but like humans, they deserve at least the hope of it. In other words, a story shouldn’t end when the pages run out. We go on spurred by hope, and our characters should too, even if the book is finished. Hope is what makes us – and our characters – truly live.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Following New Directions--Or Where My Research is Taking Me

While I'm busy planning promotion for my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, Violent Departures, I'm writing a new Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

To keep the series fresh, Tempe is going to solve a crime in a new place--Morro Bay. I picked Morro Bay because it's spot we've often visited.

Morro Rock is the tip of a no-longer producing valcano and has some history, folk-lore, and spirituality with the two local Indian tribes. Since Tempe is an Indian, there is a strong connection there--one I can include in the plot.

Three characters in the book are Ethiopian--as far as ethnicity is concerned--though American citizens. This made it necessary to do some reserach about Ethiopia. Besides the Internet, I connected with a fellow Central Coast Sister in Crime member who served with the Peace Corp in Ehtiopia. Perfect.

I'm only on Chapter 5--but the ideas keep flowing--all I need more of is time.

Writing two very different series at the same time isn't easy--but I have to admit that I do enjoy it.