Cover Reveal

A Season of Whispers

Introducing the finalized cover for my novel A Season of Whispers!

From the back cover:

In the summer of 1844, Tom Lyman flees to Bonaventure, a transcendentalist farming cooperative tucked away in eastern Connecticut, to hide from his past. There Lyman must adjust to a new life among idealists, under the fatherly eye of the group’s founder, David Grosvenor. When he isn’t ducking work or the questions of the eccentric residents, Lyman occupies himself by courting Grosvenor’s daughter Minerva.

But Bonaventure isn’t as utopian as it seems. One by one, Lyman’s secrets begin to catch up with him, and Bonaventure has a few secrets of its own. Why did the farm have an ominous reputation long before Grosvenor bought it? What caused the previous tenants to vanish? And who is playing the violin in the basement? Time is running out, and Lyman must discover the truth before he’s driven mad by the whispering through the walls.

Many, many thanks to Aurelia Leo publisher and editor-in-chief Zelda Knight for working so hard to put this incredible cover together. It went through several iterations, each one better than the last, and I couldn’t be happier with the finished product. When I suggested the original concept of “women with great hair fleeing Gothic houses,” she immediately grokked what I meant, right down to the singular lit window in the house.

A Season of Whispers will be available October 2020.

Should I Stay or Should I Go

At the Yankee Institute, I have a brief tout for a new study they’ve published regarding Connecticut’s Jekyll-and-Hyde attitude toward business in the state, wherein corporations are heavily taxed until they threaten to depart — at which point Hartford throws some corporate welfare at them.

Proponents of the tax increases estimated $481 million in receipts from corporations for the two-year period, but in reality the taxes only brought in $323 million — just 67 percent of what they originally projected.

But during that time, the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development shelled out nearly $358 million in grants or loans to businesses to either move to Connecticut or, if they were already here, to stay put.

Many of the recipients of the DECD’s largesse are hardly strapped for cash and the economic incentives from the state did little to keep them from ultimately deciding to relocate.

United Technologies is the latest giant corporation to relocate its HQ outside the state even though they’ve received tax credits from Connecticut.

Meanwhile, HB 7222, which I reported on back in March, has died in committee. The bill sought to expand the power of the attorney general in the name of civil rights but was opposed as an encroachment upon other offices in the state.

On the Western Front

My story “Llano Estacado” appears in a new anthology, Wild Frontiers, out from UK-publisher Abstruse Press. The story is an alternate-history Western, in which the main characters are American settlers caught behind the new border after the US loses the Mexican-American War.

The new landowner was Capitan Baltasar Batalla Farias.

“I own all this, everything you see,” he told Tucker and his wife as they stood on their porch. Batalla and his men didn’t even bother to dismount. “You think you owned this land but you never did. You can stay in the house. Only now you must pay rent to me.”

“You son of a bitch — we built this house,” said Tucker’s wife. Her name was Clover.

Batalla and his men laughed. “Do not worry, señora. I would be a fool to come from Mexico City and ignore someone like your husband. Doubtless he knows this land better than anyone. Every playa lake, every blade of grass.” He addressed Tucker: “You can work for me. I will make you chief of my vaqueros.”

Tucker considered the arithmetic. If not, they would have to sell their cattle piecemeal to pay rent. And Tucker and his wife, out there alone, barely made enough as it was to buy the things they couldn’t grow or make.

“I’ll take the job,” he told Batalla.

I wrote “Llano Estacado” six or seven years ago but struggled to sell it. Multiple editors praised it but nonetheless hit send on the rejection e-mail because the story lay in a gray limbo, neither speculative enough for sci-fi anthologies and yet too genre for literary mags. It was, as one editor put it, “just a Western,” and Westerns are almost impossible sales in this century.

Unlike my other trunk stories, I persevered to find a home for “Llano” because every time I read it, I remained convinced it represented my talent at its best. I once read an interview with Clint Eastwood, who said Unforgiven communicated everything he felt about the Western. Well, for me, “Llano Estacado” does the same.

You can find Wild Frontiers for e-readers at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and B&N, and in paperback at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In related news, this morning alternate-history publisher Sea Lion Press posted a glowing review of the 2014 anthology Altered America which included a very nice write-up of my contribution, “Rio Grande:”

Kuhl gives a fascinating and thought-provoking look at what this little city-state might have looked like in the 19th Century, and a rather plausible timeline for its creation. Add in some sharp dialogue, good characterisation and fast-paced action scenes, and it all adds up to a cracker of a counterfactual story.

That’s a nice way to start my Friday! My thanks to reviewer Adam Selby-Martin. You can read more of my thoughts on “Rio Grande” here.

The EITC in CT

For Tax Day I had a story over at the Yankee Institute about the Earned Income Tax Credit:

The EITC supplements the wages of low-income workers by sending them a check after they file their tax returns — even when they have no income-tax liability. The underlying idea is to refund the payroll taxes of low earners.

Who qualifies and how much they receive is based on what they earn and how many children they have. In Connecticut, for example, a married couple with two children making less than $51,492 would qualify. That family would receive at most $5,716 from the feds plus another $1,315 from the state. This would boost their total income to about $58,520, which is more than 227 percent of the federal poverty level.

Three different bills introduced in the Assembly sought to either expand the state EITC, kill it, or modify it, but all of them died in committee. I’ve become something of an evangelist for the EITC since learning about it last year, and it’s my hope the article, if nothing else, raises the program’s profile.

When I moved to Connecticut in 1995, I earned $21,000 a year, equivalent to about $35,000 today. I often think about how difficult it would be to live on that amount now, in part because of the increased tax burden. Back then, Connecticut only had income-tax brackets for the highest earners, but today anyone making $1 or more has some liability. I can’t imagine squeaking by on $35,000 and yet having to pay income tax on it.

At 3 percent for the lowest bracket, I’d be paying $1,050 to the state, which is very nearly the median monthly rent in Connecticut.

It’s incredible how low earners in this state are screwed, particularly by taxes. The issue of raising the minimum wage receives a lot of airtime, even though less than 1 percent of the American population earns the federal minimum wage or less (caveat: the fed’s minimum wage is very low — $7.25 an hour). In the article I cite Pew Research, noting that 3.3 million Americans earn the federal minimum wage or less, but that number is from 2013. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total decreased to 1.8 million by 2017.

In contrast, 25 million received a refund via the federal EITC in 2018 — nearly 14 times the number of people earning the federal minimum wage or less. Many more people are impacted by the EITC than would be affected by raising the minimum wage. Don’t forget that raising the minimum wage also results in layoffs.

When you hear cries from certain quarters saying we need to raise taxes, what they really mean is the income tax (and maybe capital gains taxes too) because that’s our only progressive tax — that is, the more you make, the higher percentage you pay.

What they ignore — or maybe don’t want to admit — is that *everybody* pays taxes, including low earners. Low earners pay sales tax. Low earners pay property taxes through their rent or mortgage, and in Connecticut on their cars too. Low earners pay tariffs. Low earners pay payroll taxes. Demands for more taxes means just that: more taxes for everyone, not just for the reviled rich.

This is one of the few times you’ll ever see me boosting an entitlement program but if we’re going to have a system that uses tax money to fill the potholes (just kidding — most of our taxes go to pay interest on debt and to bomb people in other countries), then it shouldn’t be done on the backs of those living closest to the edge. The EITC is something we should keep in Connecticut.

The Road to the Senate Is Paved With Lawsuits

Over at the Yankee Institute I have an article on HB 7222, a bill currently sitting before the Joint Committee on Judiciary which would enlarge the powers of Connecticut’s attorney general, William Tong, to take action in civil-rights cases.

In the aftermath of last summer’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling by the US Supreme Court — in which the court sided with the baker who refused to create a cake for a gay wedding — Tong promised on the campaign trail to create a civil-rights division at the AG’s office. …

HB 7222, if made into a law as written, would allow the attorney general to investigate allegations that someone has threatened, intimidated, or coerced somebody else from exercising their civil rights. This would include criminal acts of bias or bigotry, all of which are felonies in Connecticut.

While I don’t object to the AG opening a civil-rights division, I’m very worried about the draconian language specific to HB 7222, which robs the accused of due process and puts them on the hook financially the minute the AG initiates an action. I won’t repeat those criticisms here; instead, you can read my article at Yankee.

The biggest violator of civil rights is government, full stop. It was government that enforced Jim Crow; it was government that refused to acknowledge gay marriages. If a baker doesn’t make me a cake for my gay wedding, I have multiple avenues of recourse: I can file a complaint with our Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and/or I can simply go to another bakery. But when the violator is government itself, I have little relief except through their own courts.

From justice reform to overworked and underfunded public defenders, there’s plenty of civil-rights beef in this state for a hungry AG to chase. However, I’m skeptical that Tong is interested in taking on government bodies, which is why I worry about the bill’s language — it’s aimed at private citizens or companies who rouse his ire, not at municipalities or public bureaucracies.

While writing the story, I kept asking the AG’s spokeswoman what kinds of actions Tong was interested in taking if the bill passed. Would there suddenly be a crackdown on bigoted bakeries? Or would he sue the police departments of municipalities cooperating with ICE in tracking the whereabouts of illegal immigrants, as was revealed last week by the ACLU? In other words, was he planning to sue private citizens or take action against government nonfeasance or malfeasance? She didn’t answer my question, but instead told me the AG would do so himself in his testimony before the Joint Committee, which occurred on Friday.

Reading Tong’s testimony (pdf) did nothing to mollify my concerns. In it, he cites several recent incidents as examples his office would investigate:

The Islamic Center in New London receives fake poison in the mail, or Klansmen ride in Stafford Springs.

African-American and Latinx people in Hartford are denied safe, quality housing while the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development sits on its hands.

Immigrants in our cities and towns are subjected to large-scale, systematic wage theft.

Connecticut residents with disabilities fear being pushed out of jobs because a big box store has decided to reclassify their position without accommodation.

Somebody sending poison, fake or otherwise, through the mail is a straight-up crime. Keep in mind that in Connecticut, there’s a strict division of responsibility between the attorney general, who pursues civil actions, and the chief state’s attorney, who prosecutes criminal charges, so this case would fall squarely under the latter’s jurisdiction. Moreover, terrorism through the mail is a federal crime and the Postal Inspection Service would be all over this long before the AG arrived on the scene. I don’t see what Tong could do beyond sue the culprit who should already be in prison.

As for the Klan incident, it was hardly a “ride.” Police suspect it was a handful of dumb teenagers at a party. Tong might as well sue the governor of Virginia while he’s at it.

The other three examples are more relevant, although it’s still unclear what action Tong would take in each of those cases. Sue HUD? Sue the feds to bring about immigration reform, so that more immigrants are legalized and thereby on the books? Again, no answers. Keeping a close eye on Walmart is probably the only thing Tong and I agree on.

More instructive, however, are the five cases Tong further lists in which state attorney generals — armed with the same kind of power granted by HB 7222 — won civil-rights victories, most of them through settlements rather than through the courts. The opponent in each case he mentions is a private company or institution.

Which I think is the clearest answer I’m gonna get. Tong isn’t interested in suing police departments cooperating with ICE. He isn’t interested in suing HUD or the Department of Homeland Security. He’s looking to sue companies.

And it’s not a bad strategy when you consider Tong’s long game. Tong clearly has ambitions for national office: he ran for Lieberman’s senate seat in 2012, only to lose to Chris Murphy in the primary. Our other senator, Richard Blumenthal, is 73. Winning settlements against big companies is a great way for Tong to build his brand and increase name recognition for the day when Blumenthal’s seat comes up for grabs. After all, it worked for Blumenthal himself, who forged his career with consumer-protection victories as our state attorney general.