Newsletter 2022-12

For ASJA members in
Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington 
December 2022

In This Issue

From the Prez, The Spreadsheet of Shame, M. Carolyn Miller,
ASJA PNW President
Grammar and Dollars, Fred Gebhart
November 2022 ASJA PNW Meeting, by Darlene West
Winter Vacay Idea: Tucson, Arizona, by Joanna Nesbit
Life on Hold, Bruce Miller
Member News and Announcements

Join Us At Our December Meeting!

M. Carolyn Miller, ASJA PNW president,
is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: ASJA PNW Monthly Meeting:

Time: Wednesday, December 21, 2022 01:00 PM Pacific Time
(US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting:

Meeting ID: 883 2770 5537
Passcode: 085656

For our December meeting, please wear something for the Holiday Season. It’s the Winter Solstice!

From the President

by M. Carolyn Miller

ASJA PNW Chapter President

The Spreadsheet of Shame

When Celeste Ng, author of, most recently, the dystopian novel Our Missing Hearts,was submitting her work to various places, she created a “Spreadsheet of Shame,” as she called it when interviewed in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers. This spreadsheet documented all the rejections she received for her work. (One story was rejected 17 times before winning a Pushcart Prize!)

I have such a spreadsheet, created recently as part of weekly “accountability calls” with a fellow ASJA PNW member. It’s part of my marketing plan that includes the book I’m writing. It was also triggered by attending The Writer’s Advance, an Oregon writer’s retreat whose purpose was to provide a space and coaching for writers and their projects.

At that retreat, I met an Acquisitions Editor for Random House. By divine order, he sat next to me for the three-day event, and we got to know one another. Later, we met one-on-one and I shared my book project with him. He was intrigued and told me my project had high market appeal. He urged me to skip the small presses and instead find an agent and a commercial publisher. He also allayed my fears about a platform. “Publish a 1500-word essay about the problem your book poses in midlist markets such The Atlantic, The Washington Post and Slate. Then you’ll have your platform.”

I left the retreat elated but now, weeks later, that euphoria has dimmed. Hence, the “Spreadsheet of Shame” and the weekly accountability calls. What I’m finding though, as I compile it, is possibilities. And that’s when I realize the “Spreadsheet of Shame” is mis-named. It is, instead, a map that guides my actions and signals the way forward. And its timing is perfect as the New Year approaches.

M. Carolyn Miller, MA, spent her career designing narrative- and game-based learning. Today, she writes about the role of narrative in our lives and world, the inextricable link between the two, and the role of self-awareness in transforming both.

by Fred Gebhart

Grammar and Dollars

I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

Did our hero just claim to be a demigod? Maybe he snoozed through grammar class. Or maybe he just took AP Style to heart.

Not many of us pay rapt attention to the serial comma and similarly fine points of grammar. Grammar nerds care, the same ones who debate the nuances of AP versus Chicago Style and the best use of future subjunctive sentence constructions.

Writers should care. So should anyone who uses writers. Because AP Style was developed in the days when media meant print. The more type that could be crammed onto a page the better. Out went the serial comma, the one that might have separated Rand and God, to save space.

Chicago Style was developed for book publishers and others who value precision. In a series of three or more items, there is always a comma before the last item to avoid any possible misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

The problem is that AP Style became the standard for journalistic writing, where most of us learned our craft. But leaving that last comma out, or putting one in the wrong place, can cost millions.

Just ask Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, Maine. The dairy lost a $10 million overtime lawsuit by drivers in 2017 for lack of a serial comma in the Maine statue defining categories of employees who are exempt from overtime pay (O’Connor et. al. vs. Oakhurst Dairy).

The law in question exempted overtime pay for “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of…perishable foods” Drivers argued that they were engaged in distributing milk, not in the packing of milk for shipment or distribution. The First Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

In 1874, an errant comma cost the US government 0.65% of the entire federal budget, more than $38 million in today’s money (Priceonomics, An 1872 revision to the Tarriff Act of 1870 exempted “fruit, plants tropical and semi-tropical for the purpose of propagation or cultivation” from import duties up to 20%. The exemption should have read “fruit-plants…” but importers argued successfully that tariffs must be collected as the statue clearly read, not what Congress might have intended to write.

Subsequent tariff legislation was reworded to exempt “fruit plants, tropical and semi-tropical…” but not the fruit itself. When meaning matters — and when doesn’t it? — serial commas rule.

And feel for the Roscoe, TX high school teacher who made national news in 2015 after using We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin, complete with hand-drawn pictures, to illustrate the utility of serial commas.

“The teacher deeply regrets the incident and apologized to students in his class earlier today,” said Highland Park Independent School District spokesperson Jon Dahlander in a written statement. The teacher himself remained on mute.

Fred Gebhart spends too many hours remembering to swap style guides and comma styles between clients.

Oregon Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), Gold Hill, Oregon © Maxine Cass

by Darlene West

November 2022 ASJA PNW Meeting

When it comes to business expenses, document everything and keep good records. That was the advice of Debbie Brown, an Enrolled Agent and Licensed Tax Consultant who joined ASJA Pacific Northwest’s regular Zoom meeting in November to talk taxes.

Good records are important not only to be prepared for an IRS audit, she said, but to ensure all eligible deductions are being claimed.

Writers and other small businesses can deduct anything that is “ordinary and necessary” for their work, including office supplies, equipment, dues, subscriptions, Internet service and a business phone. Debbie recommended having a business bank account or credit card to keep business and personal expenses separate.

IRS audits, in her experience, focus on a specific expense, rather than an entire tax return, and are generally triggered by an item or expense that looks unusual or has changed dramatically from past years.

She mentioned automobile expenses and meals and entertainment as categories that are frequently audited. Writers who use their automobile for business should keep a detailed mileage log, including the purpose of each trip, and can claim either a set mileage expense or a percentage of their total automobile expenses, based on the percent of business use.

Traveling to a conference or seminar? Keep records of when and where you went. And if you tag on a personal holiday, pro-rate the expense so you deduct only the business portion.

Writers can deduct home office expenses, providing their office is used exclusively for business and no other space is being used as an office. Eligible expenses include a portion of mortgage interest or rent, insurance, utilities and repairs.

Debbie also discussed rules related to charitable deductions, retirement savings plans, and health savings accounts.

She stressed the importance of paying estimated taxes every quarter to avoid paying a penalty.

Debbie Brown, who has her own business (All Pro Accounting and Tax, Inc.) in Oregon City, has been doing taxes since 2001 and works mainly with sole proprietors and small businesses. She also provides payroll and bookkeeping services.

Meeting summary is on the chapter website:

by Joanna Nesbit

Winter Vacay Idea: Tucson, Arizona

My husband and I took a trip to Tucson in late October to visit our grad student just as the weather cooled down to perfect. Tucson is unbearably hot from May to September, but from October on, the nights are cool and the days are balmy, so winter is a great time to visit. Think shorts and fleece. We spent the week cruising around attractions in the city and nearby. Here’s a snapshot of what we recommend.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area: Just outside the city, this canyon offers fantastic hiking and turned out to be a highlight. Because the canyon’s access road is closed to car traffic, visitors can walk to trails from the visitor center or hop off the tourist-oriented tram that runs up the canyon every hour. We took it to the last stop and hiked to Hutch’s Pool, a beautiful, swimmable rock pool.

Cactus at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: Part botanical garden and part zoo, the museum is a great way to learn about animals and cacti of the region. The more we explored, the more we found, including cactus gardens, a hummingbird aviary, a replica limestone cave and animal exhibits. If you’re short on time, I’d prioritize the museum over a drive through Saguaro National Park.

Bisbee: This artsy small town, also famous for silver mining, is an easy drive 1.5 hours south of Tucson. On the way, visit Tombstone (famous for the gunfight at the OK Corral) where the small Courthouse Museum is worth a gander. But we enjoyed Bisbee much more for its narrow, walkable streets and colorful buildings that feel a touch European.

We took the Queen Mine tour, which takes visitors deep into the mountain on a tiny train, apparently known for causing anxiety and claustrophobia (we were fine).

Other adventures included Biosphere 2, San Xavier del Bac Mission, Madera Canyon, the University of Arizona campus and Mt. Lemmon.

From the Pacific Northwest, Tucson makes a great fall or winter getaway. The very manageable Tucson International Airport is just 15 minutes from the city.

Joanna Nesbit is a Bellingham-based content marketer and journalist specializing in personal finance, higher education, and family. More recent work is available on her Contently profile.

by Bruce Miller

Life on Hold

I don’t know about you, but I spend a HUGE amount of time on phone hold with various organizations. It seems like half of any day can be on hold waiting, waiting, and waiting for a live person to get on the phone. I often feel like my life is being consumed by being on hold.

I’ve been able to reduce the hold frustration slightly by using devices that free me up to do something else, like wash dirty dishes, pick up and sort things, or even continue working on the computer.

Here are the ways I free myself from being glued to the phone handset.

In all my cordless and desk phones I have a speaker phone. Not all phones have a speaker phone, so it is important to pay attention to a phone’s features. Using the speaker phone will drain the battery faster, so I have cordless systems with at least two cordless phones so I can swap phones during a call if the battery on one is getting low.

For a mobile phone, I have a Bluetooth headset. The headset I prefer is the bone conduction Shokz, which does not cover the ears. This allows me to listen to something else while I’m on hold.

I also have a Jabra Engage 75 Stereo headset. This is a fantastic, even though expensive, headset for two main reasons.

It does not use Bluetooth. It uses the same type of wireless technology as modern cordless phones. I get fantastic range on this headset, even partially into the backyard from the front of the house.

The other reason is the very sensitive, but limited, microphone. If the microphone is not in front of the mouth, the volume drops substantially. Likewise, if the microphone is in front of the mouth, the voice audio is strong and background noise is nicely suppressed.

Bruce Miller recently did a 3,000-mile meandering road trip from Lincoln, NE back to Seattle. One white-out snowstorm. One scary 8% downhill grade. Fantastic scenery from the Needles Highway in South Dakota, after saying “hi” to the four presidential heads at Mt. Rushmore. Sirius/XM and on-board navigation all the way combined well with in-car Wi-Fi.

Bruce’s YouTube Insights:

Tidbits for writers abound on YouTube – even video of earlier writers, such as Rod Serling. Check out his comments when he was interviewed by Mike Wallace in 1959, not long before the debut of his TV series, The Twilight Zone.

Member News

and Announcements

L.M. Archer’s The Green Heart of Italy: Umbria, covering an important Italian wine region, was published on November 21 in SOMM TV Magazine. Kate Rounds, author of Catboat Road, was Lyn’s latest Craft Interview for Gotham Ghostwriters.

Michelle V. Rafter’s Fall 2022 ASJA Magazine story, Writing Your Way Into Retirement, featured the experiences of ASJA PNW members James Carberry and Maxine Cass and former member Howard Baldwin.

Joanna Nesbit had a November 21 Money Magazine piece published on what parents need to know about how the federal financial aid formula has changed.

Sam Greengard wrote What are Neural Networks? (Nov. 9) and What is Natural Language Processing? (Nov. 28) for eWeek. His Technology Feeds Sustainable Agriculture appeared in InformationWeek on October 31.


EDITOR: Maxine Cass
PROOFREADER: Catherine Kolonko


*All stories are copyright by their respective writers.
*All photographs and illustrations are copyright by their creative makers.
*All rights are reserved to each of them for their own material.