Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Want to Build Your Career? Ask Your Boss These Questions

When I was in my late 20s, I spent four years working as an executive assistant at a think tank in Washington, DC. During that time, I did my best to ask for feedback, but after reading Zhuo’s list of questions I realize how unspecific my requests were.

Asking “is there anything I can do to improve,” for example, is too broad; my managers gave responses like “you’re doing fine” or “I’ll let you know,” both of which probably meant “I can’t think of anything off the top of my head.” Bosses are busy, and—unless you’re making repeated mistakes or significantly underperforming at your job—aren’t likely to have constructive criticism at the ready.

If You Can’t Afford an Unexpected Tax Bill, Try Paying in Installments

One of the worst things about paying taxes is that you often don’t know what your tax bill is going to be until right before the deadline.

Some years, you learn that you’ve paid more than enough taxes thanks to withholdings and estimated tax payments. You get a tax refund. Great!

Some years, you discover that you haven’t been withholding enough cash from your paychecks—which means you have a tax bill due on April 15. Less great, especially if you don’t have enough money in your bank account to cover the tax burden.

Book Review: Eloia Born by Britta Jensen

Here’s my newest Reedsy Discovery review, for Britta Jensen’s Eloia Born.

I gave the book four stars — ⭐⭐⭐⭐ — and summed it up as follows:

A well-written narrative of disability, dystopia, and exploration, featuring a main character with partial sight.

Full review below!

Leanora believes that everyone in her community was blinded by the Mists. She believes she is one of the few people to recover partial sight — a secret she is not allowed to share with anyone besides her father. She believes her mother is dead. She believes she is in love with Dex, the boy she’s known since childhood.

The journey Leanora takes in Eloia Born shatters all of these beliefs — and more.

Eloia Born is both a dystopian narrative and a quest story; consider it a spiritual successor to Lois Lowry’s The Giver and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. We learn quickly that the people in Leanora’s community are not blind by chance, but by design. We also learn — though the story does not state this outright — that the grand experiment of “a society without prejudice” has failed. Leanora and Dex are discouraged from pursuing a relationship due to their families’ disparate standing among the community, for example. Blindness may prevent people from judging others on the basis of skin color or physical appearance, but they still judge.

When Leanora and Dex leave their community — as of course they do — the story begins to depart from similar, more predictable narratives. These two teenagers quickly discover that there are other people in the world, and other possibilities for friendship and romance. They learn new skills and their paths begin to separate. I appreciated Jensen’s honest approach to the way people change in late adolescence, and the fact that “high school sweethearts” (for lack of a better term) do occasionally grow apart.

I am not blind, so I cannot speak to the authenticity of Jensen’s depictions of living with limited visual ability; however, she includes a section at the beginning of the book explaining the research she did prior to crafting her characters.

The one false note I found in the story — and it is a jarring one — is the late addition of a character who speaks in a racialized patois: “Dey want you bless dem and stay wit dem,” etc. This character has blue skin and is viewed as an “exotic beauty” by the white and brown-skinned characters, one of whom uses the phrase “like an animal.”

For a world in which racial prejudices have been theoretically eliminated, it looks like some stereotypes are still going strong.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker, Haven Life

Lifehacker: Before You Do Your Taxes, Understand the Difference Between a Hobby and a Side Hustle

Gross income is great, but the new tax laws have gotten a lot stricter on whether you can deduct those expenses you’re racking up as you pursue your side hustle. This means that if your side hustle isn’t hustling up a profit, you might have to classify it as a hobby—and lose out on potential tax savings.

Lifehacker: Want to Become a ‘Super Saver?’ Consider Your Housing Costs

What’s the one thing that separates the “super savers” from those of us who are simply trying to save whatever we can?

According to a new study, it’s all about housing costs.

Haven Life: This master list of 17 financial goals can help you pick yours

In late 2018, the global financial services firm Morningstar® created a master list of financial goals. They developed this list because they understood that most people, when asked about their financial goals, will respond with whatever’s most important to them at the time. (Next year’s vacation, for example.)

However, after reviewing the master list of financial goals, people begin considering financial goals they hadn’t previously thought of — and when they start working towards those goals, they can start making improvements in their financial lives.

On Storytelling and Perspective and Re-Watching Game of Thrones in Two Weeks

Last Wednesday, I made an extremely foolhardy decision: I was going to re-watch Game of Thrones, in its entirety, before the final season.

Here’s the background: in 2012, I dated this guy who was all “you haven’t seen Game of Thrones, let me fix that for you” and so I watched the first two seasons and read all of the books.

I continued watching Game of Thrones after that relationship ended, in part because I started dating another guy who was also a GoT fan, and after that relationship ended—and after going to a Game of Thrones Season 5 premiere party by myself and getting inadvertently alcohol poisoned*—I was all I am done with this show, it has only led to heartbreak and vomit.

But I’m a sucker for cultural phenomena—especially when it’s related to storytelling. I started showing up at Harry Potter midnight release parties not because I cared about Harry Potter (I enjoyed the series, but it didn’t shape my soul the way other stories did), but because I cared about experiencing this story simultaneously with the rest of the world.

So I decided I didn’t want to miss out on the pleasure of discovering how Game of Thrones ends at the same time as everyone else, which meant I needed to get myself caught up.

I have re-watched 30 episodes of Game of Thrones in the past five days. (Yes, I could have started with the first episode I hadn’t yet seen, but I figured that if I was going to do this, I wanted the emotional experience of the entire epic.) Turns out you can watch a lot of TV, without cutting back on any of your other commitments, if you just leave the TV on all the time. I’ve been making dinner while watching Game of Thrones, folding laundry while watching Game of Thrones, etc.

It has been surprisingly exhausting to pay 30 hours’ worth of attention to a story in such a short period of time—and I have 40 hours left to go before the Season 8 premiere on Sunday. (I suspect I won’t get fully caught up until the second episode of Season 8, which is fine by me. As long as I’m ready to watch the series finale with everyone else, I’ll be satisfied.)

But none of this is the point.

The point is that, a day into my rewatch, Maggie Stiefvater posted an analysis of contemporary storytelling that focused on our relatively recent shift from single-POV narratives to massively-multi-POV narratives.

The shift from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones, as it were.**

Now, I know that A Song of Ice and Fire was written before the Harry Potter books were published (though not by much; the first ASOIAF book published in 1996, and the first HP book published in 1997). But Harry Potter became a cultural phenomenon before Game of Thrones did, and in between 2007, when Deathly Hallows released in hardcover, and 2011, when Game of Thrones premiered on HBO, the type of stories our culture valued had changed.

To quote Maggie Stiefvater:

Readers and viewers no longer believed in the straightforward hero’s journey. No one was that simple. Batman got rebooted, James Bond got some consequences. Heroes got more and more morally gray. The world was getting more and more morally gray, too, after all, and narrative kept up. What was the price of privilege? What was the price of winning? Was this really a happy ending?

Narrative answered the question by glancing at the situation from other points of view, and those glances got longer and longer and longer. One POV became two. Became three. Became four.

One of the responses to Maggie’s blog post identified television as the impetus for this trend-shift:

The format of television shows almost REQUIRE several multi-character arcs, because the main goal of a show is usually to stretch the story into as many seasons as possible, and you can’t easily do that with just one protagonist. You need viewers to stay to watch every episode every season, and you need a lot of different types of stories to keep their interest. Of course, this leads to a big cast that grows as the show goes on, and viewers get more and more used to connecting with several different characters. Think of Friends, which started with Monica as an everygirl kind of protagonist with a group of eccentric friends, and then gradually morphed into a show that gave equal weight to every character in the main group, because that’s what the show needed to be to keep its viewership. 

If we’re citing television, of course, we have to go further back than Friends; this type of narrative has propelled soap operas, for example, for as long as they’ve existed.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if the internet, with its ability to provide us with thousands of points of view at once, has made us more interested in telling stories that feature a multiplicity of perspectives—and if authors don’t provide us with these perspectives (and even if they do), we write them ourselves, fanfic-style.

The other point of all of this is that I am currently writing a novel that is told entirely from a single character’s perspective. I have asked myself, more than once, if I should pop into someone else’s head for a bit, or if I should do the thing where I divide the book up into multiple sections and give each section to a different character.

But that doesn’t feel like the story I want to tell, even though that’s what the SF&F genre is all about these days. I want the readers to have the same experience my main character has: to be given the call to adventure, to have to choose whether to follow that call, and then SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER.

To write a chapter from the perspective of the character who asks my protagonist for help, for example, would feel like giving my reader more information than my protagonist has, which would make her emotional journey and her discoveries less compelling.

I’m not even jumping to the omniscient viewpoint; you only get to experience what the protag experiences, and her limitations are your limitations.

One of the reasons I made this choice was because I just finished writing two books from a multi-character perspective and wanted to try something new.

The other reason, I think, was because I wanted to cycle away from stories like Game of Thrones, where we follow multiple characters and multiple plots and ask the audience to choose where their alliance lies and create surveys that determine which house we belong to.

I wanted to explore humanity by focusing on one human, the same way other writers wanted to explore humanity by focusing on many different people.

We’ll see if I made the right choice. ❤️

*The party was at a bar, and every attendee got one free cocktail with their ticket. I was not aware that the cocktail, which was handed to me as I walked in the door, was nearly pure alcohol (think Long Island Iced Tea but with a Game of Thrones-inspired name). I knew something was very wrong about five minutes after finishing the drink. I generally vomit after three ounces of liquor, which is why I try not to drink more than two at any given time. That night, I puked so much I had to throw away everything I was wearing including my purse.

**Yes, I know there are these little blips in Harry Potter where we step outside of Harry’s POV, but the books are still Harry’s story.

Andrew Yang on Universal Basic Income and Creativity

Instead of sharing a handful of articles this weekend, I’m going to share an excerpt from Andrew Yang’s The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future.

I loved this book for so many reasons — none of which were its title, which is surprisingly aggressive for a book that presents a thoughtful vision of what America could become if we created a system that provided for everybody.

Since this is a creative practice blog, I’ll give you one relevant quote:

There will also be a dramatic expansion of painting, making music, shooting videos, playing sports, writing, and all of the creative pursuits many Americans would love to try, but can’t seem to find the time for today. Many people have some artistic passion that they would pursue if they didn’t need to worry about feeding themselves next month. A UBI would be perhaps the greatest catalyst to human creativity we have ever seen.

You can read a longer excerpt here.

(Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but Andrew Yang is running for president. On a platform of human-centered capitalism with universal basic income of $1,000/month for all American adults. In case I haven’t, like, mentioned it already.)

I had to wait about a month to get a library copy of The War on Normal People, but it’s just come out in paperback if you want to grab a copy of your own. ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

How to Predict Annual Earnings From a Freelance Gig or Side Hustle

“If you booked $10,000 of income in that first quarter, you are likely to make $40,000 this year from writing,” Tice explains. “If you billed $2,000 in the first three months, you’re probably not going to crack ten grand for the year. That only projects to $8,000.”

Using Carol Tice’s formula, I can anticipate earning $70,000 gross this year—that’s before taxes and business expenses. This is a little higher than what I’ve earned over the past two years, which is a good sign.

What to Do If Your Tax Preparer Can’t File Your Taxes by April 15

The first time I had to request a tax extension—because I was a new freelancer who tried to DIY my taxes and realized I was in over my head—I felt like a failure. How could I miss such an important deadline? Would the IRS be mad at me? Would I have to pay a bunch of penalties?

The answers to the last two questions, at least, are no and no. The IRS will not shame you for filing an extension (like, how would they even do that), and you don’t get charged a penalty for filing the extension request. All you have to do is file a simple form, pay any outstanding taxes you think you owe, and you’ll have an additional six months to complete your tax return.

Friday Open Thread

Switching these over to Friday by request (and also because I wanted to)!

Let’s discuss anything we want, everybody.

I’ll start by sharing the jam that is currently in my ears:

What about you? Do you have music you like to listen to while you get work done? I am a huge fan of picking one YouTube track and then, like, looping it for two hours. ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Start Saving Now, Even If You Don’t Have Any Long-Term Financial Goals

For those of us who are struggling with debt and student loans, and/or those of us who might have experienced repeated layoffs, low wages, stagnant salaries, or underemployment, the very concept of saving for a long-term financial goal might feel risky—or ridiculous. It’s hard to plan for the future when you’re trying to figure out how to pay for today.

Yes, You Can Challenge Expensive Medical Bills

Why is it so important to understand how your medical visit was coded? Because different codes come with different price tags, and if you can argue that your treatment should have fallen under a less expensive code, you can get your bill reduced.

Book Review: Liars Called by Stephan Morse

Here’s my newest Reedsy Discovery review, for Stephan Morse’s Liars Called.

I gave the book three stars — ⭐⭐⭐ — and summed it up as follows:

Alternately brilliant and mind-boggling, Liars Called is a complex adventure story that never quite lives up to its opening chapters.

Full review below!

Liars Called is not an easy book to review — and it’s not an easy book to read.

Author Stephen Morse begins his story with one of the more compelling opening sequences I’ve read in a while: Lance Hawthorn Underwood, currently undergoing physical therapy after a near-debilitating car accident, is invited to board a mysterious bus. (We follow this story through Lance’s journals, which include additional notes and corrections — an excellent way to keep the reader hooked.)

Once on the bus, a creature with pointed teeth gives him some advice:

Heed the clues. The bold are quickest to die. The fearful die almost as fast. A clever man may be tempted to lie, and also die. But to survive, one must be a little of all three.

Each passenger is given a “debt card” and told that everything has a price, and for the first third of the novel we follow Lance as he learns how this new world works, how to use his debt card, and what “the bold are quickest to die” actually means.

However, the remaining two thirds of the novel never stand up to the brilliance of the opening. Once Lance understands the basic mechanics of the world, the story devolves into an extended Dungeons and Dragons session, in which characters who literally identify themselves as “the tank” and “the healer” (Lance is, of course, the rogue) slash at monsters for pages on end.

Lance repeatedly comments on the derivative nature of this world, wondering why his current situation so closely resembles D&D and video games. By the end of the book, we understand that Lance might get an answer to his question in the sequel — but many readers might not make it that far.

If I could review the opening six chapters on their own, Liars Called would get five stars.