How To Reduce The Stress in your Life

June 27, 2010

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I’m a firm believer that lowering the stress in your life will help you live longer.  The best way to do this is to make your attitude more positive.  But how do you do this?

Work to live, don’t live to work. I work for a great company and enjoy my career.  However, I don’t let it consume my life.  When I’m away from work, I try not to think about it very much (other than those time when the phone rings at 2 AM and I have to help resolve a production problem).

Get a hobby. Having a hobby can take your mind away from problems for short periods of time.  It can be following a sport, mountain climbing, or stamp collecting.  It’s not terribly important that the hobby is, just that there is a hobby.  I have a few hobbies in my life.  Obviously, The Soap Boxers is my biggest hobby, and I am also a rabid baseball fan.

Spread happiness. A good mood can be contagious, so try to spread it around.  I generally try to get a few people to laugh every day.  I like to pipe up with a random “whutup, dawg?” as a greeting as some point in the day.  It’s a complete departure from my normal manner of speaking, and usually catches a person off guard.

Make your workplace a less dreary environment. Like it or not, you will spend a lot of time at work over the course of your lifetime.  First and foremost, find a way to get along with your co-workers.  They don’t have to be your BFFs, but if you can comfortably chat with them around the water cooler, it will be easier to work with them when the stress level is higher.  If you have some control over your work environment, customize it to make it less of a downer.  I have worked in a cubicle for the last 13 years.  I’m one of those people who over-customize their cubicle.  I have a parade of small animals lined up on my cubicle walls.  During a high stress situation, looking up and seeing the T-Rex stalking the squirrel puts a smile on my face.  My co-workers are also amused by the animals.

Music, baby.  MUSIC. Music can be a huge key to happiness.  There are a few “happy songs” that can pull me out of just about any bad mood.  Off the top of my head – Take it Easy by The Eagles, Let it Be by The Beatles, Fins by Jimmy Buffett, and Cheap Seats by Alabama.  If I can get those songs going through my head, my mood will almost certainly improve.

Finally, realize that some things are simply beyond your control.  Example: you have plans to go to a baseball game this weekend.  There’s a massive storm cell threatening the area.  If your city gets pounded by the storms, the game is going to get rained out and your weekend will be ruined.  This is a bad situation – but what are you going to do about it?  You can’t control the weather … so just let things unfold and make the best of the situation.  There’s no point in getting stressed out over something as uncontrollable as the weather.

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I Love My “Dumb Phone”

June 23, 2010

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I love technology as much as the next person.  Yet, when it comes time to pick a cell phone, I always end up with the model that has the fewest features.  No “smart phone” for me.  Why?

  • Price – Those extra features cost money.  You pay more for the phone, and you pay more for data plans.  Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of “quality time” with my phone, so it’s really not worth the extra cost.  Seriously, I can wait until I get home to check Facebook.
  • Battery life – Those extra features also drain the battery.  My current phone will last about five days between charges.  Honestly, I’d sacrifice some features of the phone if I could squeeze an extra day or two out of the battery.

So, what do I look for in a cell phone, then?

  • Battery life – As mentioned above, I’m always concerned about battery life.  That’s the second thing I look for in the details about a phone (price being first).  If the battery life isn’t at least 100 hours on standby, I won’t consider the phone.
  • Incoming text messages – This is a pretty standard feature any more, but that wasn’t always the case in the past.  I keep up with sports and a few other things via 4Info’s free text messages.
  • A card game – Every now and then, I do find myself with time to kill and nothing but my cell phone to entertain me.  Blackjack is my favorite of the card games, but Poker works pretty well, too.  My current phone has a demo of a poker game.  It lets me play two hands before quitting.  That’s good enough for me, since I rarely play more than a half dozen hands at a time.  Despite not being an expert player, I somehow turned by starting bankroll of $1500 into $20,000.  I suspect that the computer players are really bad.
  • No flip phone – I absolutely hate flip phones.  I much prefer the “candy bar” style.  For the better part of a decade, I used a few different Kyocera models.  My current carrier doesn’t carry Kyocera, so I have a Samsung A-737.  The Samsung is a slider, which I don’t like as much as the candy bar phones, but prefer to the flip phones.

I’m frugal when it comes to my cell phone.  Here are a few more money saving tips.

  • Check for discounts – Nearly every national carrier provides discounts for my company’s empoyees.  The lone holdout seems to be US Cellular.  I actually prefer US Cellular’s service, but withouth the discount, they are a bit more expensive than most other companies.
  • Record your own ring tones – A lot of money is spent on downloaded ring tones every year.  But with the right software, you can easily record your own ring tones.  Take an MP3 and use something like Audacity to take out the best chunk of the song and use it as a ring tone.  I have a rather extensive collection of MP3 (legally obtained from my own CDs) and have created quite a few ringtones.  Currently, my ringtone is Runaway by Love and Theft, and my morning alarm is 1969 by Keith Stegall.  In the past, I’ve used Hello, Goodbye from The Beatles, for obvious reasons.
  • Buy accessories online – Whether it is a car charger or a carrying case (a holster, in my case), I buy accessories online.  You pay a fraction of the cost for an identical item.

How Important is eBay Feedback?

May 15, 2010

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My wife recently bought an item on eBay.  She has purchased a number of this type of item in the past.  This particular transaction wasn’t particularly noteworthy, aside from the fact that the seller shipped the item in a normal envelope, in contracts to most of the other sellers who had used some sort of padded envelope.

Since she had no real positive or negative feelings about the transactions, she left a “neutral” feedback.  At this point, the seller began a string of multiple emails.  At first the seller tried to strong arm her into changing the feedback to positive or removing in entirely.  When my wife refused, the seller accused her of trying to ruin the seller’s business.  (Remember, this was just a neutral feedback, not a negative).  The seller even mentioned that the two other times a buyer had given her neutral feedback, she had gotten the buyer to retract the feedback.  Yes, she actually took pride in bullying someone into removing honest feedback.

A key point to consider is that the purpose of eBay feedback is to provide accurate information about the seller (or buyer).  The purpose is not to boost the seller’s feedback count to some sky-high number.  The feedback my wife left was accurate and reflected her neutral feeling about the transaction.

The seller was quite rude in her response and it was very clear that she had no desire to improve the experience of future buyers – she simply wanted more positive feedbacks.  In the process of overzealously protecting her feedback score, she has managed to alienate a customer and ensure that my wife never buys another item from her.  The seller wasted significant time actively cutting off a source of future revenue.

Can you imagine this scenario unfolding in the brick-and-mortar world?  Imagine that a food critic eats at a restaurant and rates the establishment as “average.”  Do you think the restaurant owner would use the review to try to improve the experience for future customers or would they instead waste valuable time browbeating the writer in an effort to get the writer to retract the review?  The restaurant that focuses of pleasing the customer is going to be more successful in the long run.  The restaurant who attacks the writer will only ensure that the critic doesn’t give them a second chance.

This seller –and some others on eBay – aren’t seeing the forest for the trees.  If your feedback isn’t what you think it should be, don’t blame the feedback.  Instead, take a look at closer look at how you are doing business.  While you may think that your communication, shipping time, packaging, and fees are exceptional, this might not be the case.  You may be lagging behind your competitors.

In closing, I’d like to point out that I’m not trying to paint all eBay sellers with the same brush.  In general, eBay sellers are great.  I’ve personally bought tons of stuff over eBay and have had very few transactions that weren’t positive experience.  This particular seller is definitely the exception and not the rule.

Should Cops Use Tasers?

May 5, 2010

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A couple of days ago, an idiot fan ran across the field during a Phillies-Cardinals game and was chased by authorities and subdued with a blast from a Taser. This incidents brings to mind the controversy of whether or not Tasers should be used by law enforcement.

Opponents of Taser use point to statistics of deaths that have occurred following shocks from a Taser.  (For those who aren’t familiar with them, Tasers are stun guns which temporary incapacitate with a high voltage electrical charge).  However, there are some flaws with these statistics.  First of all, many of the deaths have occurred during violent struggles during which a Taser has been used.  However, even if the Taser wasn’t used, these situation would have a relatively high probability of serious injury or death – due to the fact that they involve violent struggles.  Breaking down the numbers to show how many deaths were directly caused by the Tasers is much more difficult.

A second problem is that people seem to want to compare these numbers to a baseline of 0 deaths.  However, it’s important to note that a Taser is one option available to law enforcement personnel.  If the Taser were not available, the law enforcement officer would still have to subdue the offender.  In many cases, it would be necessary to shoot the offender.  Getting shot with a Taser may have a certain degree of risk, but I think I’d prefer it to a Glock-induced lead injection.  Additionally, bullets can ricochet and hit innocent bystanders.  The maximum range of a Taser is about 30 feet – so the 5 year old playing 100 feet away isn’t endangered by an errant Taser shot.

It’s also important to bear in mind the fact that subduing the offender can prevent injuries to innocent bystanders.  The reality is that the safety of the innocent bystanders should trump considerations about the safety of the offender.  After all, they have done nothing wrong, whereas the offender has committed a crime.  In many cases, it is absolutely necessary to use force to subdue an offender.  Not everyone meekly allows themselves to be cuffed.

As you can see, I support the use of Tasers by law enforcement.  In my opinion, Tasers can provide a safer alternative to discharging a firearm.  However, I do have some caveats.

First, it’s very important for people to realize that the Taser is a weapon, and not some cool tech toy.  A few years ago, I cringed when I heard the story about a cop Tasering his son at the request of the so, who wanted to see how it felt.  I am certain that these incidents are rare, but nonetheless are disturbing.  Would the same officer have shot his son with a gun if the kid wanted to know what it felt like?  Probably not.

Second, it’s important to gauge the severity of the crime.  Tasers should probably not be used to subdue jaywalkers and people with overdue library books.  Taser use should be used for any situations which allow for the use of deadly force, as well as other situations where the safety of law enforcement officers of the public is at risk.  The safety of law enforcement and the public should be given more importance than the safety of someone who just committed a crime – they put themselves into the dangerous situation.

Should the Taser have been used at the Phillies game?  I’m a bit torn.  On the one hand, it seems that security probably could have captured the guy without the use of the Taser.  Even if the guy had managed to elude them, tens of thousands of fans would have been happy to aid in the capture.  On the other hand, you need only to look back to the on-field attack of Royals coach Tom Gamboa by two “fans” in 2002 to be concerned about the safety of on-field personnel.

I support the use of Tasers by law enforcement, while also promoting continued training on their proper use.

Should I Turn Off My Computer At Night To Save Energy?

April 18, 2010

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Sure, go ahead.  You will definitely save a little energy.  The key word is that sentence is “little”.

First of all, computers aren’t the energy hogs that many people think they are.  The laptop I use at work has a 90 watt AC adapter, and the Mac Mini I have at home has a 100 watt AC adapter.  It’s important to note that these are maximum wattages.  Most computer usage doesn’t come anywhere close to the max, and when it does, it’s for short bursts.

Electricity usage is measured as a kilowatt hour (kWh).  The means that a device that has constant usage of 1000 watts would use 1 kWh every 60 minutes.  The cost per kWh varies, but is generally in the ballpark of 10 cents.  This means my Mac Mini costs about 1 cent per hour to operate when it is at its maximum consumption rate (100 watts = 1/10 kW).

But that’s not even what we’re talking about. I wouldn’t save the entire 0.1 kWh by powering off the computer.  Like most users, I’m going to put my computer into sleep mode at night.  Sleep mode typically uses between 1 and 5 watts.  In the case of my Mac Mini, 1.39 watts.  I wasn’t able to find this information on my exact model of laptop, but I suspect that its usage is similarly low, especially in “hibernate” mode.

Is it worth the effort to shut down your computer to save a few watts per hour?  Let’s assume that your computer uses a relatively high 5 watts when in sleep mode.  Let’s also assume that it is idle 75% of the time.  That’s 126 idle hours per week, or 6552 hours per year.  Multiply this by a usage of 5 watt per hour, and you get a savings of 32,670 watt hours, or 33 kilowatt hours.  Congratulations – you just saved $3.30.  Have a Mac Mini like mine, and the savings is just $1.25 per year.

This makes even less financial sense for businesses, which are paying their employees to shut down the computer at night and restart them in the morning.  If we assume 1 minute of lost productivity per day for 250 work days, this is more than 4 hours of lost productivity!  Unless you’re paying your employees less than 90 cents per hour, you lost money on this exchange (assuming the $3.30 in energy savings).

Of course, you could argue that every little bit of saved energy adds up, in terms of environmental impact.  This is definitely true – and if you want to conserve every little bit of energy, then go ahead and shut down the computer.  However, there are a lot of other changes that give you a lot more bang for the buck.  If you have a 60 watt incandescent bulb in a lamp you use an average of two hours per day and switch it out with an equivalent compact fluorescent bulb (using 13 watts), you save 47 watts per hour of use – or 34 kWh during the course of a year ((34 X 2 X 365)/1000).  Yep, taking a minute to switch out a bulb saves as much energy as shutting down and restarting your computer 365 times!

I’m not suggesting that we waste energy.  I’m not even suggesting that we shouldn’t power off computers and other unused electronics.  I’m simply suggesting that if you’re willing to put the effort into this very small energy savings, you might also focus some energy on things that save even more energy.

Evolution of a Creationist

March 21, 2010

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I am a Catholic, and I firmly believe that God created the heavens, the earth, and all the beasts upon the earth – including man.

I am firm believer in the theory of evolution, believing that man evolved from the single cell organisms that once inhabited the earth.

I firmly believe that these beliefs are not in conflict with each other.  I refer to myself alternately as a creationary evolutionist or an evolutionary creationist, depending on which term suits me at that particular moment.

We’ll tackle my belief in science first, since it is the less controversial.  Although evolution is a theory, and not proven fact, I believe that fossil evidence, coupled with other research, clearly shows that Darwin was on the right track when he wrote On the Origin of Species more than 150 years ago.

While the big bang theory does a nice job of explaining what happened during and after the birth of the universe, it begs the disturbing question: what happened BEFORE the big bang?  The theory that the universe expanded from a concentrated point is fine – but how exactly did that single point come to exist?

My personal theory is that God got the ball rolling and let the big bang take things from there.  Is this in conflict with the teachings of the bible?  Not necessarily.

First of all, it’s important to note that the bible of today is not the same as the original bible.  As any work is translated from one language to another, certain nuances are certain to be lost – or added – due to the differences in the languages themselves.

In additional to the fact that certain passage may have been translated inexactly due to differences in languages, there is evidence of several actual errors in the translation process, as a word in one language was mistaken for a word that was physical similar, but very different in meaning.  This wrong word was then translated into a word in the language the bible was being translated into, and the meaning was changed forever.  Some of these errors cause rather major shifts in meanings of certain passages of the bible.  That’s an entirely different can of worms that we could spend much more time on – but we’ll gloss over it today.

My most important reason for believing that evolution and creation are not in conflict is based on the way that Christ himself taught his followers.  He often used parables to explain concepts that would not be well received if told in plain language.

Should we then be surprised if the Old Testament also contains parables – parables that are not obvious to all readers?  If St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to his followers, perhaps God inspired the writers of the Old Testament to use parables of their own.  Perhaps the seven days in Genesis are not to be taken literally, but instead to represent billions of years of evolution.

If God created a single celled organism and pushed it down the evolutionary path toward the eventual end result of man, could it not be said that God created man?  The concept of evolution may have been too advanced for the people of Old Testament times – simplifying into the parables of the seven days of creation may have simply been the easiest way to illustrate the point.

Is this heresy?  I don’t think so.  If we take the alternate view and suppose that the theory of evolution is completely wrong, where does this lead us?  Are we to believe that science has led us down the wrong path?  Are we to accept the advances that science has brought us in many other phases of life while ignoring the scientific evidence of evolution?

I believe that this would be pure folly.  I believe that God gave us science as a way to help us understand the world around us.  Instead of exposing us to the entire base of knowledge at once, he allowed this knowledge to evolve gradually, as scientists continue to make further advances.   Science is a gift, not a curse.

House of Cards: Can Competition Harm Consumers?

March 18, 2010

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First, I’d like to welcome the new readers who came here via The Digerati Life. Hang around for a while, explore the archives, and consider becoming a subscriber. We’ve been pretty sports-heavy in the last week – if you look through the archives, you’ll see that we’re usually a lot more eclectic.

Second, I am happy to announce the release of my new eBook – Selling Yourself Short – An Introduction to Short Story Writing. Selling Yourself Short is a 2500 word introduction to the process of short story writing – from creating your writing environment to developing the plot. In an effort to keep this handy guide affordable to all of our readers, the everyday price is just $1.49. However, for the next week, the price is just 99 cents. Don’t like it? There’s a money back guarantee! Buy it today at the Hyrax Publications store.


In 1981, buoyed by a court case against Topps, Fleer re-entered the baseball card market for the first time in two decades.  They were joined by newcomer Donruss.  Suddenly, consumers had a choice of which brand of baseball card to buy.

For several years, competition made the industry better.  Each company attempted to make their brand the most attractive.  By 1988, there were four mainstream brands, with Score also in the mix.  A pack of 15-16 cards (Score had 1 more card than everyone else) went for 50 cents.  It was a great time.  I spent much time trying to compile complete sets, or at least sets for my favorite team.

In the 1990s, the game began to change.  A new brand, Upper Deck, pushed the industry into the direction of premium brands in 1989 when they debuted with hologram-enhanced cards.  By the mid 1990s, each company had several brands, from high end to the base line.

I’ll admit that I took advantage of the situation.  Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of the flashy “insert” cards that had begun to drive the industry.  In 1993, by random chance, I had absurdly good luck getting redemption cards for Topps’ Black Gold sets in packs.  I was pulling these at a much higher rate than the published odds.

I took these cards (redeemable for either 11, 22, or 44 cards in the high end Black Gold set) and immediately traded them to my friend Justin – for unopened packs of Topps cards.  Within those unopened packs, I would routinely find another Black Gold winner, which would restart the cycle.  I completed two sets of 1993 Topps cards at almost no expense.

In the late 90s, the base set of cards began to become an afterthought as everyone chased after the rare cards that were randomly inserted.  Instead of cherishing a card of one of their heroes, people would be disappointed that they hadn’t pulled a card featuring someone’s autograph.  It had become a case of the tail wagging the dog.

In an effort to fulfill demand, the industry began to create ever increasing volumes of rare card.  Each specific example was quite limited – but there were hundreds, if not thousands, of different varieties of “limited” cards.  In some sets, nearly every pack had some sort of “rare” card.

Not surprisingly, the fact that each set contained more “special” cards allowed manufacturers to slowly raise the price of cards.  No longer could you spend 50 cents on a pack of 15 cards.  Now it was $2, $3, or even $5 for just a handful of cards.

That’s the point at which I bailed out of the card market.  It no longer made financial sense to put together complete sets.  With the base cards now just a necessary by-product of the specialty cards, the value dropped through the floor.  It was easier just to pick up a set the next year at a bargain basement price.

Years later, I still just buy a couple of packs of new cards a year.  When I buy cards, I buy things from other collectors or shops.  Sometimes these are newer cards of my favorite players, but more often, I buy cards from bygone eras.  Over the winter, I made a very pleasurable purchase, picking up a T-206 baseball card of Lefty Leifeld for $15.  For the same price as a few packs of 2010 cards, I could have a 100 year old card that was rare by chance of fate rather than by design of the manufacturer.

If the card manufacturers still consistently produced a base set of cards at a decent price, I would probably buy them and put together complete sets.  I always enjoyed the thrill of the hunt – trying vainly to find the last nine cards you needed to complete the entire 792 card Topps set.  Alas, the companies have lost their focus on what was their core product, and in the process, lost a lot of potential customers – people who were kids in the 80s and 90s and are now achieving financial success.

The Greatest Inventions of All Time

January 21, 2010

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In this edition of The Soap Boxers, I will attempt to identify the greatest inventions in the history of mankind.  I’m going to skip around a bit, and will probably miss a few, but without further ado, let’s jump in!

The Caveman Trio – Fire, Wheel, and Meat.  I’m pretty cold blooded, so I’m glad that someone eventually realized that fire could be harnessed for warmth.  I can imagine how happy those first cave people would have been, basking in the warmth of the very first fire.  The wheel – the foundation of transportation – gets plenty of attention as well.  The last leg of the Caveman Trio – meat – gets the short end of the stick.  We owe a lot to the man who decided that it would be a good idea to kill an animal and eat its flesh, just for kicks.

Indoor plumbing – Can you imagine going outside to an outhouse when the temperature dips below zero?  Not my idea of a fun time, either.  Shower and sinks are pretty cool, too.

Perfumes, deodorants, anti-perspirants, and other stuff that makes people smell less awful.  Admit it – left to our own devices, we kind of reek after a while.  Products that allow us to minimize body odor get an A+ in my book.

The internal combustion engine – Prior to the Model T, people rarely traveled more than 25 miles from home – and when they did travel that far, it was quite the ordeal.  I commute further than this to work every day, one way.  Henry Ford’s Model T could not have been possible with Gottlieb Daimler’s internal combustion engine.

The assembly line – This time, we’ll give full credit to Henry Ford.  Ford’s idea of keeping workers stationary and moving the work to the workers allowed for considerably more efficient production.  Furthermore, it served as a catalyst for analyzing other workflows.

The printing press – Thank you, Herr Gutenberg!  The printing press allowed the sharing of knowledge to the masses.  No longer was the distribution of written works limited to handwritten manuscripts or the older woodblock printing.  I am a certified bibliophile – but without Gutenberg’s press, I wouldn’t have the ability to own hundreds of books.

The telephone – postal mail was great, and telegraphs were a step forward, but the ability to actively converse with another person over a phone line was revolutionary.  Now, if we can just get rid of the anachronistic use of the word “dial”.

Humor – A few simply jokes can serve as a pick-me-up to carry someone through the rest of the day.  Kudos to the person who first pushed their intellectual skills into the field of humor.

Electricity – From the simplest light bulb to complex medical equipment, electricity makes it happen.  Spend a few days without electricity during a blackout and you’ll realize exactly how important it is.

Baseball – You knew that I couldn’t leave this one out, right?  For more than one hundred thirty years, Americans have enjoyed the pleasure of watching professional baseball.

OK – that’s my list.  Is it complete?  Certainly not.  Throw out your list!

Separation of Church and Fiction

January 20, 2010

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Recently, the Catholic Church voiced its criticism of the blockbuster movie Avatar, claiming that the movie encourages the worship of nature and is at odds with Christian theology.

Several years ago, the Church voiced its opposition to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.  The criticism had the effect of making the book even more popular, as many people read it in an effort to determine what, exactly, was so offensive.  As a practicing Catholic, I was intrigued.  It’s possible that I may have read the book anyway, since it’s my type of story, but the Church’s criticism ensured that I would read it.

What was my opinion of the controversy?  Much ado about nothing.  I thought that the book told a good story, but it was just that – a story.  While Brown portrays aspects of his books as realistic, they are nonetheless shelved in the fiction section.

When it comes to Avatar, I find it hard to believe that any intelligent person would see the movie as anything but fiction with some nice eye candy.

I am puzzled at seeing the Church portray works of fiction as being such a threat to Catholicism.  Fiction, by definition, is something that is made up.  Attempting to commence a serious debate about a work of fiction conjures up the mental image of Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Another puzzling aspect is the choice of works to criticize.  The Da Vinci Code did portray certain aspects of the Church in a negative light, but it’s hardly the most negative portrayal of Catholics in popular fiction.  One of my favorite authors, the late William X. Kienzle, often portrayed seriously flawed Catholic clergy in his books – and Kienzle was a former priest himself.

If you take a look around the book store or movie theater, there are lot of books and movies that would be more appropriate targets of criticism.  It would make more sense to criticize movies that glorify senseless slaughter (and thus marginalize the value of human lives).

Honestly, if the Church wants a fair fight, they should limit their criticism to non-fiction books.  I have no doubt that they are many non-fiction books that are in disagreement with Catholicism.  Their authors may be happy to engage the Church in meaningful discussions of the differences.

It would seem that the Church is choosing targets based on the popularity of the work.  This seems slightly absurd.  When engaging in criticism, why not lash out at those that are most deserving of the criticism, rather than shooting at the targets that ensure that the criticism will spill the most ink on newspaper pages?  In the words of Martin Sheen’s character in The American President, “You Fight the Fights that Need Fighting.”

In closing, I respectfully ask the Catholic Church to avoid commenting on fiction in the future.  Fiction works are not intended to be accurate portrayals of the facts, but are intended as pure entertainment.  When I have questions about theology, I’ll consult the Catholic Church.  When I have questions about works of fiction, I’ll consult secular sources.

Did I Alienate a Reader?

November 7, 2009

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Yes.  I most certainly did alienate a reader.  I’ll refer to the reader as Reader X.

Reader X has been one of my my loyal readers.  Reader X and I had established a dialogue over email, and I had enjoyed the conversations we had shared.  However, my recent story The Cell Window struck a rather sour chord with Reader X.  Reader X considered the story to be “smut” and took me to task for making the female characters clueless rather than strong.

Those of you who have read the story can likely figure out why the female characters were “clueless”.  This wasn’t a character flaw on their part, but simply an effect of the plot.  Anyone in their situation would been clueless.  As for the characters not being stronger – if they had been stronger, this would have critically wounded the setup to the story’s ending.  The ending of the story was one of the first pieces of the story that I wrote, so I really wanted to use it.

Was the story smut?  I personally don’t think so – nor do a handful of female readers I queried.  While the content was a bit disturbing, they didn’t feel that it was any more disturbing than the typical episode of Law & Order.  Certainly there was content that was sexual in nature.  It would have been difficult to write a story with a similar plot without including some content of this type.

Does the inclusion of sexual content mean that a book is rubbish and should be tossed aside?  I certainly hope not.  If this was the case, we would lose fine books like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Grisham’s A Time To Kill.  (Don’t remember the sexual content in those books?  Grab a copy and re-read it!)  We would also be forced to cast aside the works of modern masters such as Lawrence Block and John Sandford.  Certainly, this would be a crime against literature.

Although I write fiction on a wide range of topics and using a variety of tones, I strive to become a writer of crime fiction.  It has been suggested that I am stronger with my humor writing than with crime.  This is almost certainly true – my humor pieces flow off the keyboard nearly as fast as I can write, whereas the crime stories take considerably more thought.  Nonetheless, crime fiction is what I enjoy, and it is where I would like to make my mark as a writer.

As an aspiring crime writer, I will often find myself writing passages that make a segment of my readership uncomfortable.  While I would hope all of my writing would appeal to everyone, I know that this will not be the case.  Certainly, on occasion, I will upset someone with my writing.  While I do not go out of my way to offend, I also do not go out of my way to ensure that my work doesn’t have offensive rough edges.  A key component of crime fiction is that it does have rough edges.  To refine my stories so that they were too smooth to possible offend anyone would be to subvert the genre.

And that is something I will not do.