Join us as Edmond Manning goes Outside the Margins.
Last Saturday—full of trepidation—I carried my W2s and envelopes full of receipts to Tom, my Regular Tax Guy, the one who has greeted me for the past ten (or more) years in his home with the same jolly smile. Every year, he says, “Don’t bother to take off your shoes. Yer fine.”
I like him.
His cats, however. There’s always three cats sulking around his house like moody teenagers. Visitors are an unwelcome disruption to their bored, angry lives. I swear it’s never the same three cats. They must secretly let in stray cats , taking turns watching game shows on the TV. I wonder if Tom knows.
When I arrived, the cats were watching The Price Is Right.
“C’mon, Nina,” he says as we pass a tabby with matted hair and a sullen expression. She hisses at me from the back of the couch. “Play nice.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that was not Nina.
We entered the hobbit hole that is his office. His office bookshelves are overwhelmed, sagging with books, stacks of books on those books, piles of paper on top of those books and then sprinkled with sports memorabilia, bobble heads and signed baseballs wrapped in plastic bags. When I sit, to my right I spy the same thirteen-volume set on ancient Egyptian life I see every year. It matches nothing else in his reading piles. Why does he have this?
Tom burrows into the space behind his desk, stepping over paperwork and maneuvering around a box of Wheaties with some sports guy on it. He nestles in and says almost greedily, “Let’s see what you got.”
The first three years I saw him, he reassured me over and over that the overwhelming office mess had nothing to do with taxes. He files everything electronically and his hoarder tendencies in no way reflected his responsibility with taxes. He was very serious each time he explained this to me and I believed him.
Again this year, he regaled me with the same tax urban legends he tells every year.
He repeated the story of the newlyweds who didn’t realized their capital gains tax hadn’t been paid. Jobless and pregnant, they received a terrible surprise. (Those two have to be celebrating at least their 15th wedding anniversary by now.) Then there’s the man who thought you could skip income tax if you worked for yourself. Seven years later, he discovered he was wrong. The woman who asked if she could pay her income tax from her HSA account. He tells stories while he searches for the correct, updated forms and enters my numbers.
Finally, he said, “Great news! You’re getting a refund!”
Tom is happy, like, Santa-Clause-happy, when he gets to say that. I have witnessed him be funeral-director-sad other years. One year, he delivered news to me that was (in his words) ‘worse than anything I’ve had to deliver.’ I owed the federal government $23,000. I have no doubt I am an urban legend tale to another of his clients.
While he printed my tax forms and I calculated the lovely things I could now afford to purchase, he said very casually, “Of course, this year you’re very likely going to receive a letter from Uncle.”
Tom was pretty sure I will be audited.
“Your expenses,” he said. “You’re lost a lot of money this year on this writing business. Conferences, hotels, your marketing swag, editors, advertising space…you’ll receive a great refund this year, but it will definitely trigger red flags.”
He saw the crestfallen look on my face.
“Don’t worry,” he said apologetically. “Your expenses are legitimate. You’re fine. It’s just a letter from Uncle. Don’t get upset.”
I was upset.
I just found out I am certain to be audited.
Tom is a jolly fellow and he does not like bad news.
“Think of it this way,” he said, still searching for a way to make this better. “In a few years, if you don’t show a profit as a writer, the IRS won’t recognize you as an author, and they’ll downgrade your writing to ‘hobby.’ You only have five years to write off these expenses, so it’s good you’re taking advantage of it.”
He saw my crestfallen face fall further.
He blanched and said, “I’m sure you’ll be a successful writer by then.”
It’s taxing, to love writing and yet not be all that successful.
I write. I market. I try to make myself write faster. I take classes from The Loft to make myself a better writer, a better professional in this field. Well, a professional until I am deemed a hobbyist by the IRS. It’s frustrating being a writer in this free-fall publishing world. Some unknowns do find that million-dollar-golden ticket to uncharted success, but most of us, well, we’re down here. And ‘down here’ is pretty great. But what writer doesn’t want the whole world to think, ‘you’re special.’
When you think about it, we writers have pretty shitty milestones for marking our “success.”
First rejection letter.
First one-star review, few words.
First, one-star, “man-you-suck” review.
After publishing a semi-successful story, there’s bound to be the first flop.
Even more frustrating than the IRS implications and the list of depressing milestones, is that sometimes friends don’t understand I’ve now devoted my life to this. There’s a reason they don’t see me as often as they used to. There’s a reason I’m less social, less willing to make plans. Writing requires time, more time than just sitting and typing. I sometimes keep my whole weekend free so my schedule can accommodate a massive writing jag. I just don’t know when the words will come, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
I don’t intend to be overly complainy.
(As a writer, I am permitted by my 1040A-100AB extension form to invent words like complainy.)
I have been blessed uncountable times with new reader friends, new writer friends, and such heartbreaking reviews of my fiction—imbued with such soul—that I cried aloud. So many people showed up to see me read at GRL,I had a hard time concentrating with that much love in the room.
But some days it’s hard to feel like a professional.
While Tom eagerly explained how “a letter from Uncle” was really not a big deal, one of the cats wandered in and lay on my jacket.
“If that’s Maury 2 don’t pet her,” Tom said. “She’ll take a swipe at you.”
Of course she will.
One of the cosmic banana-peel-jokes about not being considered a ‘real writer,’ is that for many years I searched and searched for my life’s passion, my thing, my gift. Yes, I wrote fiction during the decades I hunted for this mysterious passion but I was confident my gift was not writing because that was just a hobby. It didn’t mean anything. In fact, in my unbiased assessment, my writing was mediocre.
(Some reviewers believe it still is. And that’s okay with me now, a joyful outcome to come from publishing, knowing I can handle being grossly disliked. It’s okay. I am not everyone’s cup of tea. )
When I discovered I actually loved writing, loved it with a passion that kept me awake at night, it was like the romantic comedy when you discover you’re in love with your best friend. Writing had been there all along, waiting for me to wake up.
Years have passed.
I am a writer.
I choose this.
Not for tax write-offs or the million dollar book contract, but because I freakin’ love putting together sentences that make me cry. I love heartbreaking love. I love when good characters find themselves feeling better about their world and themselves. I like trying to change the world—maybe only a ridiculous eighth-of-an-inch—through writing. It’s my passion. I found it.
So I will keep writing, taxes be damned.
At least I had Tom, who keeps me honest while simultaneously finding every legal exemption he can. He devotes September through December preparing for the new tax year, taking classes and studying. He found his passion, too.
Saturday, I thanked him for his work.
He again told me not to worry about Uncle.
I packed up my things, steeling myself for the Room of Sullen Teenage Cats, feeling grateful that Tom was always around to deliver me from tax hell.
“By the way,” he said. “This is the last year I can do your taxes. I’m retiring.”
~ Edmond Manning
About Edmond Manning
Edmond Manning is the author of King Perry, King Mai, The Butterfly King andFilthy Acquisitions. He spends a great deal of time standing in front of the fridge with the door open, wondering why it’s not stocked with more luncheon meats and cheese.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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