Self-publishing paperwork

December 27, 2010

If you thought taking the self publishing route was a shortcut, think again.  I’ve enountered several unexpected requirements, and new ones emerge at random intervals. Not to bore you but here are a few.

The initial publication process went fairly smoothly thanks to an experienced guide pointing me in the right direction.  However, I had to go back to him at intevals to understand what some of the words meant on various forms, and what entries and terms I should avoid.  So far no problems, just annoyance.

Once the Federal recording was accomplished, ISBN number obtained, Federal IRS Employer Identification number as an independent publisher acquired (for Federal tax reporting purposes), etc., there were similar steps for California.  Needed were a Contra Costa Seller’s permit number, and a State Board of Equalization number (for filing sales tax returns on the sales.)  Thinking positive here.

The third level was the local accounting and banking.  Since I expected sales to largely be through and thus reported to me periodically with all the requisite data, that process seemed simple enough. I obtained a VISA account and a separate checking account with the local bank (strongly recommended!) to specifically record book sales information and not otherwise impair my household bookkeeping. So far that’s worked okay.

The good news is there have been some sales so I have data to add to the required tax reports, although no profits as of yet. But aggravating the accounting process was an unexpected (and unrequested) “update” to the bookkeepoing software I’ve been using for years for my personal and my wife’s business activities.  The software upgrade was automatic and I can’t step back.  (Modern technology there you know.) Still not sure i’ve resolved our accounts with the changes but am too far along now other than “put out the fires” as they occur.  Most are frustrating and not fatal.  The family files are unaffected. The book sales area has demanded the greatest attention.

All in all, not difficult, somewhat unexpected, but certainly annoying.  The bookkeeping change cost me the most time and frustration.  Just another of life’s challenges met. Hope your experience runs smoother.

They’re All Dead

December 19, 2010

On December 18, 2010, I once again lead the Christmas Bird Count for the Mount Diablo Audubon Society.  My count circle encompasses Black Diamond Mines Regional Park and for the last 10 years the park has remained relatively unchanged.   There’s a saying that in foul weather there will be two types of people braving the storm:  birders and golfers.  I started birding after taking a class in The Biology of Raptors in college and got hooked on bird-watching.  I guess the best analogy is alcoholism:  I may not be drinking (have binoculars in hand), but the desire is always there.     

Something strange happened during the count this year, I found myself going through the motions without much enthusiasm.  It wasn’t the weather and it certainly wasn’t my fellow birders, who are all fabulous people.  It wasn’t the birds we saw or missed, since we managed to see most of the highlights.  It wasn’t until later that I realized the problem started several weeks ago in Kauai.

I had the unexpected opportunity to hop on a plane and go to the Garden Island at the end of November.  I had not been there since my honeymoon over 24 years ago.  To my delight, for the most part, this little piece of paradise has survived the last quarter of a century unchanged.  Except for one thing, despite a wealth of habitat in Waimea Canyon Park, the birds have disappeared.  The only ‘apapane I saw was a beleaguered, fading specimen in the Kauai museum.  The display described the bird as the most common bird on the island.  I didn’t see a single one during the six days I was there.

Over the ten year plus years I have participated on the Christmas Bird Count, I have witnessed first- hand the decline of bird species.  Each year it seems there are fewer and fewer numbers.  It occurred to me that if I visited the same cage every year and each time there were more dead birds cluttering the bottom, it would become less desirable to take a look in the enclosure.  It would be even more frustrating if I had no idea how to fix the problem.  Is that why I was so unenthusiastic yesterday?  Was it the depressing story one birder told me about how she’d witnessed two birds attached at the neck by fishing line?  One of the species was a diving bird and every time it went underwater it pulled the other species down with it.  Try as I might, I couldn’t get that horrible image out of my mind. 

This fellow Christmas counter also told me a story about a conversation she’d had with another birder.  He’d said that if you count birds in the spring and go back in the fall and do the same tally and the numbers were lower, it was because the missing birds were all dead.  I started thinking about the “canary in the mine.”  Miners used to take caged birds down the shaft with them.  If the bird died, they knew there were poisonous gasses and that the needed to leave.  What if the birds are disappearing from our planet and we need to leave?  We have nowhere to run.

I feel as powerless as that poor bird attached to the diving bird.  Of course, both birds are suffering.   The diving bird has to work very hard to catch its food.  Neither knows how to fix the problem.  When one dies, the other one is surely doomed.  I wish the issue was simple. Rachel Carson watched the birds die after crop dusters spread pesticides over their produce.  Her book Silent Spring was instrumental in launching global change in part because the cause and effect was clear.  Rachel Carson showed us that writing can be a powerful tool.  Writing can change the world. 

The problem is we don’t even know why the bird populations are declining.  We don’t know why “they are all dead.”   Is it global warming or something else?  Even if scientists were to find a way to prove that climate change is the issue, the solutions would most likely require cooperation and sacrifice.  The head of the Rainforest Action Network once told me that if all that people needed to do was to give up eating a hamburger to save the Amazon, a lot of people would not follow through.  I fear he was right. 

I feel like the bird attached to the fishing line and that powers much larger than me are pulling this planet underwater.  Yet, if only I could understand that if by cutting a string, I could produce a solution where everyone would be better off, then I could write a book that could instigate a call to action.  But there reality is that the cause of the bird declines is unclear and most likely there are multiple aspects.

Maybe my heart wasn’t in birding yesterday because I understood that I can continue to count the birds every Christmas at Black Diamond Mines.  I can record the declines year after year.  I can continue to do this until they are all dead.   But if I can’t write a book like Silent Spring that triggers a solution, what have I really accomplished?

Two Wise People Bearing Gifts

December 18, 2010


When I saw that Macy’s had a 40% off sale on towels, I had to overcome my aversion to department store shopping to replace our nearly threadbare bath linens.  Armed with a credit card and as lust for a bargain, I headed for Macy’s.  Even though I arrived at 10:00 a.m., there stood a towel clutching line of customers, a line which snaked back and forth across the department like Christmas ribbon candy.

Undaunted, I loaded my arms with towels and took my place at the end of the line.  Why didn’t Macy’s have shopping carts for sales like this?

A mature husband and wife team stood in front of me, both of them laden with sets of towels in five different colors.  Bored to death just standing there, I struck up a conversation.

“You must have a lots of bathrooms for that many towels,” I said with a smile.

“No, theses aren’t for us,” the lady said as she peered over the top of her stack.  “These are Christmas presents for our five married kids.”

“Aren’t you smart to get Christmas shopping done in October.”  I smiled again.

“We have to shop early because we are going on a cruise at Christmas,” the man said, as his chin rested on top of his tall stack.  “Actually, we’re leaving before Thanksgiving.”

“Are your children going with you?” I asked.  We prison shuffled two steps closer to the register.

“Oh, no,” they said in unison and laughed.

“A couple years ago,” the lady said, “we realized we’d had our kids, their husbands and wives, grandchildren, some of ‘em babies, in and out of our home from the weekend before Thanksgiving until the first of part of January.”

“And,” the man continued, “Mama and I were tired, really tired, until the middle of February.”

“Everybody was good about helping out,” the wife said.  The man nodded in agreement.  “They helped with cooking, dishes, laundry, even paid for groceries.”

“But that didn’t cover the PG&E, telephone, or water bills.”  The man pressed his lips together tightly.

“There was always someone up early in the morning, like the babies.  Someone walking the halls at night going to the bathroom and such.”

The towel line advanced three steps.

“So Mama and me talked it over and we decided we were going to have to do something different.”  The man tilted his head to one side.

“We were afraid,” the woman said as she nodded in agreement, “the holidays were going to put us both into our graves.”

“We found us a really inexpensive cruise that started Thanksgiving week and ended after Christmas.”  The man smiled for the first time.  “Nothing fancy, you see.  Just something that got us out of the house for the holidays.  We didn’t even really care where we went.”

“Then, we told the kids.”  The woman raised her eyebrows.

“That’d they say?” I asked as squeezed my towel bundle tighter.

“Well, the girls cried.”  The woman shrugged.  “Said it wouldn’t be like Christmas without us.  The boys didn’t say much.  And, after they thought about it, the girls wanted to wanted to know if they could all stay at our house while we were gone.”

“What’d you say to that?” I asked.   Our line crept four steps forward.

“We told them no,” the man said.  “There was still wear and tear on the house and all those utility bills to think about.”

“Then, they wanted to know if they could use my eighteen place settings of Christmas Spode china and my sterling silver since none of them had enough for everyone.”  The lady displayed a toothy grin.  “We told them no again.  Nearly broke my heart, though.  But, we thought it was time for them to figure out how to celebrate the holidays on their own, without me and Papa.” The lady shrugged.  “After all, we’re not going to be around forever anyway.”

“I told ‘em they should rent a hall somewhere,” he said.  “ One of those places that already has dishes and so forth for banquets.”

“You both are brilliant to figure this out,” I said.  “And, I admire your determination and your ability to stick with your plan.”

“Well, it wasn’t easy to do.”  The lady dropped her load of towels on the checkout counter.  “Not an easy decision to make.”

“But, we have to survive.”  The man dropped his towel load next to his wife’s and reached for his wallet.  “And, besides, on a cruise Mama and me don’t have to cook, grocery shop or clean.”

Three Kings once followed a star with gold, frankincense, and myrrh in tow.

Two current day wise people bore stacks of towels and chased a sale.




Are Rainy Days Good for Writing?

December 17, 2010

A protracted period of rainfall seems headed toward the SF Bay Area – again.  Writers abound along the rugged coast from Central California coast north to BC.  This is where for 6-8 months per year drizzly mornings turn into cool, windy days and soggy evenings.

Is this ideal weather for curling up with your laptop to write or what?  Sneaking outdoors this time of year is a challenge.  My dogs and I had to run the last 1/4 mile home a couple of days ago because of a sudden soaking shower during our walk.

Let me know if you are more (like me) or less productive as a writer during inclement weather.