Friday, December 16, 2011

The Adventures of Two Men Who . . .

Ralph resolved to write a story about the adventures of two men who travel across the country to patronize Nevada brothels, where such establishments are—ahem—legal. In early 1993, Ralph drafted an 18,000-word basic storyline. He submitted his draft along with Lightning at Dawn and Boys and Girls Together in June for copyright protection. Ostensibly to make the story realistic and to develop characters with fidelity, Ralph visited numerous legal brothels in Nevada as a “customer.”
I can hear cogs in your mind working. If you’re like most, you’re saying, “Never mind telling me about deducting traveling expenses for going to Vietnam to obtain motorcycle pictures for a picture book.” A more vital question is: could Ralph deduct those costs? Well, we’ll see.
Ralph wrote in his journal. Note that, to Ralph’s credit, he kept a non-financial contemporaneous record. He wrote about his personal experiences at these—excuse me—whorehouses. He chronicled which bordellos he visited, the dates and even, sometimes, the hours.
Ralph’s notes described prostitutes he met and the amounts of lucre he paid. For each journal entry, Ralph wrote about these visits, about what happens at cathouses (Like people don’t know?). For instance, Ralph described selecting his strumpets, the “house rules,” negotiating prices for a gal’s time, their discourse—yes, discourse, not some other course—and the ladies’ clothing. He included personal information on his courtesans, including age, physical characteristics, place of residence, religion, ethnicity, education, and names and ages of offspring.
Ralph’s journal indicates that, at some point during said encounters, he told the demimonde he was writing a book about Nevada’s bordellos. He wanted to use them as characters.
The journal shows that during 1993 Ralph spent about three days a month—except in February, May, and December—meeting prostitutes at brothels. Using materials so gathered, he produced Searchlight, Nevada.
Anxious to sell his work, Ralph consulted the 1993 Writer’s Market. There he read about Northwest Publishing, Inc. Northwest’s entry stated that it published hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market originals and reprints, between forty and fifty titles a year on seven to eight hundred queries and five hundred manuscripts a year. Some eighty-five percent of said manuscripts came from first-time authors and ninety-five percent came from unagented writers. Northwest said that it paid a ten to fifteen percent royalty on retail price, publishing books four months after acceptance of submitted manuscripts.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Some of the Facts

Ralph, like me, had worked for the Treasury Department, although he didn’t work for the IRS, which is an agency within Treasury. His work as a budget analyst followed his graduation from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and advertising, augmented by twenty-four credit hours of English, journalism, and speech.

He retired from Treasury in January 1997 with 35 years of service. Part of his job (one of six critical elements) required him to “write budget justifications, procedures, and other written material by applying professional-level writing ability to create high-quality written work.” (Certainly Ralph wouldn’t have had the subject matter to write much of a thriller, but maybe he had a sense of humor. It was a bureaucracy, after all.)

Just before Ralph retired, his manager rated Ralph’s performance “outstanding” in this “writing” element. “Outstanding” exceeded “excellent” under this system. Go figure.

Anyway, in Ralph’s employment, “excellent” meant writing budget justifications, statistical reports, procedures, guidelines, and other written materials clearly, concisely, and correctly. It included:

      Using excellent grammar and spelling.

      Communicating ideas effectively, especially narratives.

      Presenting ideas clearly so recipients asked few follow-up questions.

      Structuring paragraphs and sentences correctly.

      Working independently in drafting material and seeking guidance only when goals changed.

      Recipients receiving well and acting upon the written budget justifications.

      Doing only one revision per finished product.

Our man Ralph did even better than all of that since he received “outstanding” ratings. It was like getting an “A” plus-plus, I guess.

Ralph’s office staff, mostly accountants, used Ralph to do their writing. He contributed to a comprehensive agency-wide report in which agencies evaluated internal control and accounting systems. He edited the in-house newsletter of Treasury. So Ralph brought writing skill and experience to the table.

In 1992, about two years before he was eligible to retire, Ralph started writing outside his Treasury job. Fearful of retirement, he told the IRS and the court that he had hoped to make writing a second career. His first book-length manuscript of fiction was Lightning at Dawn. Later that year he wrote a collection of short stories called Boys and Girls Together. Before marketing these manuscripts for publication, he had an idea for another book.

Now what I’m about to tell you may seem incongruent for a bureaucrat like Ralph who worked for Treasury with a bunch of accountants writing staid budget proposals. He was at least fifty-five years old, maybe older.

Don’t be too surprised.

Tune in next time for a shock.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Venting Frustration by Turning the Tables

You know, there’s a plethora of wisecracks about tax auditors. For instance, one says that the Postal Service just recalled its newest stamps because they picture famous IRS agents on them. People couldn't figure out on which side to spit. Another witticism asks, “What do you call twenty-five IRS agents buried up to their chins in cement?”

“Inadequate cement.”

Venting frustration through humor makes sense. An additional way to vent is to turn the tables on a tax auditor with solid documentation of your hard work and preparation, enabling you to claim a few of the tax perks for self-employed persons. Of course, the ruling administration always claims that the IRS is simply liberating people—primarily, the working middle and lower classes—from fiscal burden.

A tax case involving a writing activity played out in Tax Court in Arlington, Virginia, the case of Ralph Louis Vitale, Jr.1 Let’s look at it relative to preparation and expertise. I don’t know if Mr. Vitale goes by Ralph or Louis or some other appellation among friends and acquaintances, but I’d like to call him Ralph. It seems such an improbable name for what his writing focused on after retirement. To me his last name, Vitale—reminding me of “vital” or “vitality”—seems more apropos. Anyway, the guy had verve, although some might say he was just libidinous. You be the judge.

Let me give you the facts in the next posting.

1 Ralph Louis Vitale, Jr. v. Commissioner, TC Memo. 1999-131 affirmed by unpublished opinion of the Fourth Circuit at 217 F.3d 843.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What to Do? What to Do?

It is no small thing to draft a book, and there is little doubt Sarah worked at her writing activity. What should Sarah have done differently? Here are some suggestions.

·       From 1976 to 1980, even while working for Yale as a research associate and computer programmer, if she intended to write for profit in the future, she should have:

o   Begun writing

o   Taken pertinent classes

o   Formulated a business plan

o   Joined and participated in a writer’s league

o   Attended writer’s conferences

o   Joined a critiquing group

o   Started submitting pieces to contests and publishers

·       When she learned of the publisher of travel guides who needed information for a revision to an African travel guide and contacted the firm and received information regarding submissions, she should have incorporated such into her plan and followed up or explained why she hadn’t.

·       While in Africa and Israel and employed by Weizmann, Sarah should have tracked her writing efforts, logging typewriter use, research time and efforts, and any other efforts she expended to write her draft based upon her adventures there. Did she work eight hours a day for her employer and write for one hour a day? She should have kept financial and non-financial records of writing activities. Also, she should have modeled an exemplar, someone who had already sold well and made lots of money in her genre— Bill Bryson, who wrote A Walk in the Woods and, much later, In a Sunburned Country comes to mind. At the same time she should have retained her originality and voice and planned how her work could compete or fill a new niche. (It’s hard to convince the IRS or the Tax Court that you moved somewhere to gather writing materials to write a particular piece of fiction while you’re making substantial wages from your employer. That’s especially true if the wages you make are substantial compared to the revenue or potential revenue of writing.)

·       Sarah should have gotten her work published. At the very least, she should have shown she consumed herself trying and that she had an alternative business plan to market it. It wouldn’t hurt, for example, to show that she could at worst self-publish and peddle her work. Potentially, then she could eventually generate revenues like forerunner Bill Bryson. (Of course, her writing skill would have to rival or exceed his—perhaps this would be another goal for her business plan.)