Friday, June 6, 2014

Recharge those batteries!

Ah, sweet respite! I have taken a break from editing and writing for the past week. I did mundane things like mow the lawn, clean the garage, putter in the gardens, and (gasp) read a few books. It's been WONDERFUL! Don't get me wrong, I love to write, but when one writes day in and day out and edits others' writings, well let's face it, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I needed to play hooky for a while. Smell the roses... soak up some sunshine... go fishing... you know, stuff like that.

Taking a mini-vacation from any kind of work can recharge your batteries.  And to be completely honest, my batteries were so low they were almost flat. To a writer that is deadly.  Sure, you can still write... it's the discipline... but most of what you write with flat batteries is probably destined for the round file. It generally lacks punch and joie de vivre. There's nothing worse in my book than laboring over a passage half a day, only to look at it later and know that what you have produced is crap.  It was time to quit wasting my time... time to "tiptoe through the tulips," as it were.

Sooo, I spent some time in the Texas out-of-doors. I talked to my furry and feathered friends that frequent my back yard. I have a pair of eastern cottontail rabbits that blithely ignore me as I wander about the yard doing whatever it is that needs to be done at the moment. One is an adult female, Babbit, and the other is still in bunny stage... about half the size of Babbit. But, bring out the mower and pffft! they are gone.

On our Texas sage one can often see Ruby-throated, Calliope, Black Chinned, and Broad-tailed hummingbirds vying for the nectar in the tiny crimson flowers that cover the bushes. That is when they're not fighting over the blooms on our Ceratonia (carob bush) in the front yard. A pair of Lesser Goldfinches have appropriated one of our small fountains as their personal bathing facility.  The female particularly enjoys her "spa time," splashing about and sending water flying in all directions.

A mated pair of Mockingbirds has declared the backyard their domain as well.  They are particularly drawn to our Pride of Houston bush that has already flowered and is producing tiny green berries that will turn orange when they ripen. This, of course, is why the Mockingbirds have staked their claim.  It's their winter food supply, and woe unto that errant bird who tries to steal even one berry.

And then there's our cadre of bees and wasps that simply adore our Morning Glory bush.  Yep, I said bush.  It's from the Yucatan and it gets to be over twelve feet high before the end of the growing season.  It just started producing the giant white bell-shaped flowers the little stingers find irresistible. The thing is, after visiting the plant, the little buzzers get downright mellow and fly funny. Now I know the Maya used the plant's sap as a poison for arrows and its root to extract a hallucinogen, and I'm starting to wonder if the bees and wasps weren't getting a bit of a different kind of buzz from the pollen.

Come to think of it, I'm feeling pretty mellow tonight.  I think my batteries are nearing full recharge.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I'm baaack!

I've been gone for a while.  I suppose that's one of the hazards of being a writer and not a blogger.  Ah well, such is the stuff of life. My last few months have been spent completing a work I co-authored under my given name with my friend and colleague, James Essig.  It is a foray into the world of relativistic rocketry... extreme relativistic rocketry. It is, I suppose, a subject that will interest few, but those it does may well hold the hope for the long term destiny of man... or at least the hope for mankind's ultimate survival.

No, the end is not near.  At least I hope it isn't... but eventually planet Earth will die.  It could happen in any number of ways, but barring a major asteroid strike, a collapse of our magnetic field, or a comet smashing into us, Earth should be around for a few billion years yet. So, not a concern, right? For this, and a few generations to come, perhaps, but forward thinkers all agree that the best hope for the long term survival of our species lies in exploring the universe and finding habitable planets elsewhere. If we don't, then eventually humans will be toast... literally.

At some point in the future our sun is going to die.  When stars die, they don't just go out like a light bulb... well, maybe like an incandescent one where its death is preceded by a last flash of energy. This will be caused by the rather sudden expansion of its outer layers as the sun's fuel is depleted. That will be accompanied by a contraction of the core. This is usually termed the "red giant" phase... and it will overtake the inner planets (remember we are the third rock from the sun) and fry them.  If we're still here... well, adios amigo.

But that isn't the only reason people think about space and traveling the cosmos.  There is something more basic, more primal in humans that drives us to look beyond ourselves and our confines.  The urge to explore... to see what's over that next hill.  The universe is a huge hill and we have not even scratched the surface.  The stars you see every night may, or may not, actually be there.  It takes their light millions, even billions of years to reach us, so what you are looking at in the night sky is the past.

In writing our previous book, The Cosmic Wanderer, we wanted to look at ways to achieve high, near the speed of light velocities, and high gamma factors - that's complicated, but basically it deals with something called the Lorentz Transformation - time dilation and length contraction.  Basically, Hyperphysics. The book proposes multimodal rockets, specifically hexamodal rockets to achieve this, incorporating concepts such as solar sails, pellet runways, fusion drives, electromagnetic and electrodynamic drives (think rail gun), and so forth. Pause for breath...

In this book, we consider extreme configurations, including spacecraft built of theoretical bulk materials - those that are extremely dense - and some pretty exotic rocket fuels, like matter and antimatter (hey, even NASA is playing with that idea). The idea is to lay out some possible road maps on how to get from Earth orbit to billions of light-years distant in a very short time (from the spaceship's perspective). We take a tour of current and near term technologies, and then extrapolate to the possible.  We discuss crew survivability and considerations for spaceship design.  It's been quite a trip writing the book. Look for it on Amazon in both hard copy and Kindle sometime in the next month or so, and explore Cosmic Horizons with us, won't you?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Beau's Dragon Now Available In Kindle Format

I'd like to announce that Beau's Dragon is now available in Kindle version for $3.95 on Amazon. Just go to: to get your copy. If you would like a personalized autograph, you can request one through Authorgraph - and entering S. Bradley Stoner in the author search,or by visiting my Facebook page and clicking on the Authorgraph link there -

The print version is also available and makes a great gift for the little "imaginator" in your family or friends circles.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Business Side of Writing

Writing is a joy.  The business of writing can be a pain in the you know what. I’m not talking about giving interviews or doing book signings. I’m talking about the nitty gritty aspects of the business side of the enterprise. Marketing, calculating the costs of doing business, accounting, and... shudder... taxes. I’m going to leave marketing for another blog... maybe. There are probably others more qualified to talk about that than am I. I’m going to talk about the housekeeping side of business.  Cost accounting, pricing, Profit and Loss (known in the business world as P&L), bookkeeping, and the good old IRS reporting. Let’s talk bookkeeping first.

There are fundamental aspects of business accounting that figure into the actual cost of doing business (aka CODB).  A good accounting software or an accounting ledger (if you are old-fashioned) is essential to tracing income and expenses.  Tracking is how you calculate your CODB, your P&L, and, ultimately whether you have a business, an avocation, or a hobby. If you aren’t making money after five years, it’s an avocation or hobby. Ask the IRS. The good news is that, with a home-based business, you can keep your costs and overhead down. That means you have a better rate of return on your investment (ROI). The bad news is, most novice writers have no sense of the business of writing, they don’t track costs against sales. A lot of novice writers would be shocked to find out that the article they were paid $50.00 for cost them $75.00 to get published, or the e-book that sold 600 copies on Amazon for $2.99 per that generated a total royalty revenue of $630, cost $700.00 to produce. That’s where good bookkeeping comes in, and that is a big part of business housekeeping.

As a former COO, I have a pretty good accounting breakout for the business of writing. The income side of the ledger is pretty straight forward... it’s what you get paid for your writing, speaking engagements, and so forth. It’s the cost side of the ledger that is the sticky wicket. Let me share the basics of that side. It consists of Direct Costs and Indirect Costs. I’ll break mine out for you... maybe it will help, but in the words of an old friend of mine, at least “it couldn’t hoit.”

·         Direct costs - these are the costs directly attributable to the production of the final product.  Usually I will assign an alpha-numeric project number to these... it can be based on a book project (e.g. FOM6, FOM for the title - Fishing and Other Misadventures - and 5 for the sequence in books I have written). Where an overhead number applies to a specific project, I will use number in conjunction with the project number (e.g., 0740-FOM6 designates postage costs specific to that book).
  • DL       Direct Labor (project specific - if you pay yourself an hourly rate as a function of your business enterprise) 
  •   DM      Direct Materials
    • Office supplies (project specific) 
    •  Software (project specific) 
  •   DT       Direct Travel 
    •  Airline/Train tickets 
    •  Auto rental/cab fare 
    •  Lodging and meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) 
  • ODC   Other Direct Costs 
    •  Mailing costs (USPS, UPS, FedEx) 
    •  Copies 
    •  Advertising (as applied to a single book - general advertising is an overhead cost) 
  •  DE       Direct Equipment  
    • Hardware (computers, external storage devices, printers, monitors, etc.) 
  •  DS       Direct Subcontractors 
    •  Cover design (single book - this may or may not be included in Illustrator cost)
    • Illustrator (attributable to single book and paid only, not collaborator) 
    •  Printer (this includes printing services like CreateSpace) 
    •  Publicist/marketer (can be outside service or paid family member) 
    •  Web site developer (for a single book - general author’s website development and maintenance is an overhead cost)
·         Indirect costs - these are the things that may or may not be specifically attributable to a specific product.  Many of these can be calculated into a general overhead rate and applied to each book for a per book P&L statement. Below the list of indirect costs I use in my business calculations.
  • 0701    OH Labor (general business development, not directly attributable to a project) 
  •  0702    Home Office Space (calculated as a % of total living area of your home) 
  •  0703    Rent Office or Storage Space (off-site - this includes occasional rental of an executive suite for meetings away from your home and any storage unit dedicated to your business) 
  •  0710    Utilities (electric, gas, water bill calculated as a % = Home Office Space) 
  •  0719    Facility Repair & Maintenance (for home office space only) 
  •  0730    Telephone Costs (hard line, cellular, hardware) 
  • 0732    Repair and Maintenance/General Equipment
  • 0740    Postage (includes postage machine costs and repair if used) 
  •  0741    Delivery & Freight (outside couriers, FedEx, UPS, etc.) 
  •  0744    Copiers: Supplies and Papers  (this can apply to your all-in-one printer) 
  •  0745    Copiers: Repairs & Maintenance (this can apply to your all-in-one printer)
  • 0746    Copiers: Rentals and Leasing Costs (some home businesses use these services) 
  •  0747    Outside Printing (copy costs, photos, business cards, etc.)
  • 0748    Publications and Subscriptions (professionally related only)
  • 0753    PC Software Purchase
  • 0754    PC Hardware Purchase
  • 0756    PC Supplies
  • 0757    PC Repair and Maintenance
  • 0760    Office Supplies
  • 0761    Small Furniture and Equipment Purchases
  • 0762    Furniture & Equipment (rentals and leases)
  • 0764    Equipment Purchases (this can include things like camera equipment) 
  •  0766    General Field Supplies (e.g., if you do outdoor writing this can include any expendables used)
  • 0770    Consultant Services (general, including accounting service, tax service, business management, general publicist, author’s website designer, etc.)
  • 0771    Business Conferences (these can be conferences you attend to promote your work, book trade shows, writing conferences, even conferences like ComicCon, etc.) 
  •  0772    Training & Seminars
  • 0773    Professional Dues & Conference Fees (Writer’s organizations memberships, conference booth fees, etc.)
  • 0781    Recruiting: Interview Costs (applies to non-contract assistants both full and part time)
  • 0782    Recruiting: Advertising Costs (see above)
  • 0784    Employee Local Travel (this is work-related local travel to research, attend book signings, interviews, etc.) 
  •  0788    Fees & Licenses (this includes business licenses if required, and can include things like hunting and fishing licenses if they are necessary to your work)
  • 0792    Health & Safety Expenses (can include portion of insurance applicable to your business - this one can be a little dicey for newbies - research before applying it)
These costs, using a standard business model, all go into calculating the price of your product if you price for profit.  Of course, you must also project sales to see if your pricing is realistic. Most articles and books, however are not priced based on a standard business model by writers.  Traditional publishers will set the price for books they accept based on the author’s reputation and/or their assessment of marketability and projected sales.  Magazines, journals and on-line publications pay either a set or per word fee for a writers work, unless the writer happens to be a recognized best seller or expert in the field, in which case he or she may be able to negotiate a fee with the buyer.

Whether you are a new or experienced writer, keeping a good set of books will stand you in good stead, and it will help you determine profit or loss, itemize deductions, and generally keep you out of trouble with the IRS. It’s a good idea to start a good set of books early in your career. It forms good habits and it is a lot easier to do it at the outset than wait until you have a file drawer full of receipts to figure it out. Another good practice is to scan all of your receipts and catalog them appropriately, as well as keep expense reports for travel by trip in an electronic filing system by year.

So there you have it. Maybe this will help some of you. I hope so. It beats learning it in the school of hard knocks. Feel free to copy the indirects if you like, just bear in mind the numbering system isn’t set in stone. You can make your own, or your software may generate numbers for them.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Promises, promises...

Ah, as Robert Burns said in his poem To a Mouse, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley..." (in modern English, The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.)  So it is with my best laid plans to myself about writing a blog on a weekly basis.  It started out well, but then fizzled.

My plans to write at least an hour a day did not.  That "hour a day," however, has stretched to six, eight, and occasionally twelve hours a day, leaving little time for blogging.  Add to that research that can take an additional several hours and one has a recipe for long days and no blog.

How is it possible to spend that much time writing and researching, one might ask?  The answer is simple, if the complexity of the writing and researching is not.  The persona of my alter-ego edits and writes scientific books that entail a significant amount of research, careful construction, and, because I serve as the primary editor for my co-author, a monumental amount of time reviewing, editing, and commenting on the text.  To say that takes time from more relaxing and pleasurable pursuits like blogging is a gross understatement.  That is not to say writing scientific books is without pleasure, but it does lack some of the freedom of expression and pure fun provided by writing fiction and blogging.

The book we are working on is a follow on to The Cosmic Wanderer, dealing with the theoretical physics of relativistic propulsion, life support requirements, and spacecraft design for extended deep-space missions.  It is not science fiction, rather it is a book of principles and concepts on near light speed spacecraft supported by physical and mathematical models.  We hope to have it completed and published in the next two to three months.

In addition to that, true to my schizophrenic approach to writing, my illustrator, Julie Rodriguez Jones, and I are awaiting publication by Sage Words Publishing of a children's book we worked on together called "Beau's Dragon."   If you are interested in children's books, Julie built a nice web site for the book at

All of this being said, I have revised my blogging expectations.  I'll do two a month... unless writing intervenes, which it probably will since there is another book on space in the works and there's that novel I want to finish, plus another children's book I have in mind.