IRON CHAMBER OF MEMORY – Book Review 1 comment

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Iron Chamber of Memory

Iron Chamber of Memory

With Between the Wall and the Fire wrapped up (or mostly so), a major software release just out the door at my day job, and the Memorial Day holiday giving me a long weekend, I finally had a chance to relax for a bit. In addition to catching up on the season finales of my favorite shows, I also had time this weekend to read Mr. John C. Wright‘s newest masterpiece, Iron Chamber of Memory.

And yes, I do mean masterpiece. This isn’t just one of Mr. Wright’s finest works, although it is definitely that. It also now occupies a spot as one of my favorite fantasy works of all time. Yes, this work is really that good. Unfortunately, to say too much about it is to spoil it. So I will dance around the problem as best I may.

First of all, this is one of Mr. Wright’s most readable works. I must beg his forgiveness for that phrasing, and explain carefully what I mean. Although I greatly love the vast bulk of Mr. Wright’s art, some of it is downright work to read. But the work is well rewarded, and well worth the effort. For what it’s worth, I tend to feel the same way about my favorite band, Dream Theater. Iron Chamber of Memory, however, absolutely does not suffer from this issue at all. From the very beginning it’s engrossing, and the reading simply feels effortless – as, indeed, Mr. Wright describes the actual writing of it:

This book has a special and mysterious place in the author’s heart, because the whole thing from start to finish, all the scenes and much of the dialog, came to me in a dream not long after my conversion, and I spent the whole of the next day writing down before it escaped me. Those notes rested on my desk for  decade. Only now did I have the time to compose them into a novel.

The book is a deeply romantic (something that is lost in modern society), and contains a wonderful mystery that will keep you reading. And although I guessed one of the major twists quite early on, I truly didn’t quite see where the story was heading. It’s also a deeply spiritual story, and it reminded me quite a bit of one or two of the stories in The Book of Feasts and Seasons. Most surprising from Mr. Wright, however, is how deeply sensual the story is.

This is truly a fantastic tale, and I can’t recommend it enough. I give this one five stars out of five… and frankly, I find myself wishing for a sixth to give it.


Mysterious Stairs in the Woods – Call for Submissions

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stairs_in_the_woodsLast week a friend tweeted an amazing thread on Reddit. The thread is written in-character as a Search and Rescue officer telling of the weird tales he’s seen on the job. The entire thread is fantastic in its own right. And if you’re inclined toward urban fantasy writing, each individual story could almost become the basis of an entire book.

Which is exactly what we’re doing in our latest Call for Submissions from Silver Empire. One particular bit of the story in particular caught my attention:

This is the last one I’ll tell, and it’s probably the weirdest story I have. Now, I don’t know if this is true in every SAR unit, but in mine, it’s sort of an unspoken, regular thing we run into. You can try asking about it with other SAR officers, but even if they know what you’re talking about, they probably won’t say anything about it. We’ve been told not to talk about it by our superiors, and at this point we’ve all gotten so used to it that it doesn’t even seem weird anymore. On just about every case where we’re really far into the wilderness, I’m talking 30 or 40 miles, at some point we’ll find a staircase in the middle of the woods. It’s almost like if you took the stairs in your house, cut them out, and put them in the forest. I asked about it the first time I saw some, and the other officer just told me not to worry about it, that it was normal. Everyone I asked said the same thing. I wanted to go check them out, but I was told, very emphatically, that I should never go near any of them. I just sort of ignore them now when I run into them because it happens so frequently.

It’s almost like a video game glitch, where the house has failed to load completely and the stairs are the only thing visible. I stand there, and it’s like my brain is working overtime to try and make sense of what I’m seeing. My trainer comes and stands next to me, and she just stands there casually, looking at it as if it’s the least interesting thing in the world. I ask her what the fuck this thing is doing here, and she just chuckles. ‘Get used to it, rookie. You’re gonna see a lot of them.’ I start to move closer, but she grabs my arm. Hard. ‘I wouldn’t do that.’ She says. Her voice is casual, but her grip is tight, and I just stand there looking at her. ‘You’re gonna see them all the time, but don’t go near them. Don’t touch them, don’t go up them. Just ignore them.’ I start to ask her about it, but something in the way she’s looking at me tells me that it’s best if I don’t. We end up moving on, and the subject doesn’t come up again for the rest of my training. She was right, though. I’d say about every fifth call I go on, I end up running across a set of stairs. Sometimes they’re relatively close to the path, maybe within two or three miles. Sometimes they’re twenty, thirty miles out, literally in the middle of nowhere, and I only find them during the broadest searches or training weekends. They’re usually in good condition, but sometimes it looks like they’ve been out there for miles. All different kinds, all different sizes. The biggest I ever saw looked like they came out of a turn-of-the-century mansion, and were at least ten feet wide, with steps leading up at least fifteen or twenty feet. I’ve tried talking about it with people, but they just give me the same response my trainer did. ‘It’s normal. Don’t worry about it, they’re not a big deal, but don’t go close to them or up them.’ When trainees ask me about it now, I give them the same response. I don’t really know what else to tell them. I’m really hoping someday I get a better answer, but it hasn’t happened yet.

He climbed back down and rejoined the search, and didn’t mention what he’d done.
But, he said, the weirdest part came after. His trainer was waiting back at the welcome center after the search ended for the day, and he cornered my buddy before he could leave. He said his trainer had this look of intense anger, and he asked what was wrong. ‘You went up them, didn’t you.’ My buddy said it wasn’t phrased as a question. He asked how his trainer knew. The trainer just shook his head. ‘Because we didn’t find her. The dogs lost her scent.’ My buddy asked what that had to do with anything. The trainer asked how long he’d been on the stairs, and my buddy said no more than a minute. The trainer gave him this really awful, almost dead-eyed look, and told him that if he ever went up another set of stairs again, he’d be fired. Immediately. The trainer walked away, and I guess he’s never answered any of the questions my buddy has asked him about it since.

There’s a lot more, and it’s all great. And I had the idea: what if I asked twenty different sci-fi, fantasy, and horror authors for an explanation of the stairs? I bet I’d get fifty different answers! So I decided to do it. And we’re putting together an anthology about the stairs. The submission requirements are as follows:

  • There are stairs in the woods – as if you cut and pasted stairs from a house.
  • The stairs are usually in good shape – strong and sturdy and not rotted. Sometimes they are in immaculate condition, as if somebody is maintaining them.
  • They’re locations don’t follow any understood pattern.
  • You might or might not be able to find the same stairs twice (up to the individual author).
  • Approaching and/or climbing the stairs gives a sense of foreboding and weirdness.
  • Sometimes really bad things happen if you approach or climb the stairs.
  • The authorities (notably the park service) is keeping quiet about the stairs. Officially, they don’t exist.
  • Authorities (park rangers, police, SAR, etc) who ask about the stairs are told not to ask or talk about them. They’re also emphatically told not to approach them, for any reason.
  • You can explain the stairs or leave them unexplained – up to you.
  • Science fiction, fantasy, and horror are most likely – but your story can be in any genre. One author I contacted told me I wasn’t likely to get many Romantic Comedies – but if you’ve got a good one, submit it!
  • You can submit as many stories as you like, but we’ll only publish one story per author in this anthology.
  • Submissions should be in the 3000-20,000 word range.
  • Submissions should be never before published. We’re asking for exclusive rights on this one.
  • Submissions should be in Microsoft Word format (doc or docx) and should be readable. Otherwise, I’m not your high school English teacher and I don’t care about margins, spacing, font, etc.
  • Submissions should be sent to submissiones@silverempire.org and must include contact information (name, e-mail, etc).
  • Submissions are due by August 31, 2016.
  • Payment will be the Silver Empire anthology standard: 50% of royalties go to the story contributors, prorated to each author by word count.

I’ve already gotten half of a first draft from one author and verbal commitments from several others, including 2016 Campbell Award nominee Brian Niemeier. Let your imagination go crazy – the more wildly different the stories are, the better!


An Information Theory View of the Catholic Church

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network-sept132013Imagine if you will that you’re an information engineer, and you’ve been handed a task. God himself has literally come down to Earth, walked among the people, and spoken. In fact, He’s spoken quite a bit. Your job now is to record everything that He taught. You have some important requirements.

  • The Word Of God must not be added to – only what He actually said shall be recorded.
  • The Word Of God must not be subtracted from – everything He taught must be preserved.
  • The Word Of God must be accessible – the people must be able to learn what He said.
  • The Word Of God must be preserved for all time – it must not be allowed to fade from this world.

If you’re working with modern computer systems, this isn’t all that bad. You’d set up a data center, maybe on the cloud somewhere. You’d initiate regular backups, both on-site and off-site. You’d make sure you had one heck of a disaster recovery plan. Budget for plenty of bandwidth. But the storage requirements aren’t really all that bad. He was only around for a few years, after all.

Now imagine that you’re given this task in a pre-information age society with a 90% illiteracy rate. Instead of modern computing devices, your information storage and retrieval system consists of human beings. Which have the following characteristics:

  • Data storage is unreliable. You can’t actually count on people to remember what they’ve learned.
  • Data deteriorates over time. The human brain forgets.
  • Retrieval is unreliable. Even if people remember it right, they can’t necessarily say it right.
  • Communication is unreliable. Even if it’s remembered right and said right, it might not be heard right or understood right.
  • Corruption is inevitable. Some people will deliberately corrupt the data and spread a false message.

And all of that is under the best of circumstances. Every one of those characteristics can be made worse by disease, old age, injury, war, famine, even bad weather. In short, for the given task, human beings are a really terrible information network. So what do you do? How do you build your system so that it meets the goals above?

I submit that if you gave the task to an information theorist you’d end up with something that looks an awful lot like the Catholic or Orthodox churches. Here are some of the great characteristics of that system, given the tasks as outlined:

  • It has very high redundancy.
  • It has very strong error detection.
  • It has very high error correction.
  • It has very high data accessibility – even to those who aren’t prepared to understand the full depth of it.
  • It has very high longevity – the system has lasted two thousand years.

The mother church catches a lot of flack, and some of it is deserved. But for its primary purpose in life it is beautifully – some might even say immaculately – designed.


Short Fiction is Dead – Long Live Short Fiction

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short-storyBack in the day (say, pre-1965), anybody who wanted to become a writer had a fairly clear place to start. Write short fiction and submit it to the magazines. If it didn’t get accepted, write some more. You’d hone your skill, get practice, maybe entertain your friends, and have a nice collection of stuff that could eventually get published once someone finally recognized your talents. Short fiction is a lot easier to write than novels, and a lot faster. So if something didn’t get published, hey, no worries. At least you hadn’t wasted a lot of time with it. Even better, in those days you could actually make a living by writing short fiction. Maybe not the greatest living ever, but you could do it.

In 2016, the market for short fiction is dead.

OK, maybe it’s only mostly dead. You can still go through its pockets looking for loose change and sell the occasional short story on Amazon for $0.99. But for the most part, they don’t sell very well – and Amazon royalties on $0.99 e-books are crap, too. There are a handful of folks who have made series of short stories work. John Hartness seems to have done well with the Bubba the Monster Hunter series (which are excellent, by the way). And you can do OK with anthologies, as we’ve done at Silver Empire.

But the old school path that really made money – the magazines – has been dead for some time. They pay has sucked for decades. Until a few years ago, if you could manage get published in one of the magazines, the pay scale (three to five cents per word) hadn’t changed since the 1960s. There’s been an awful lot of inflation since then. If you could get published. That was getting dramatically harder, too. For one thing, more people were trying – the competition got steeper. But the bigger problem is that the magazines were all going out of business. Today they’re pretty much all gone. Locus still hangs around, and one or two others. But all of them are struggling.

Magazines are dead, and they’re not coming back.

This isn’t a problem unique to the short fiction market. Magazines in general are dying, of every kind. When I was a teenager, Time and Newsweek pretty much ruled the news magazine market. Time only survives today because of the massive corporation that owns it, and Newsweek has been barely kept alive by mega-rich owners who want it as a vanity project. The readership that used to support their advertising model is gone. They’ve all moved online.

Online magazines aren’t doing much better – and they’ll probably die off soon, too.

Simply moving the business model of magazines into an online space hasn’t worked – and it never will. There’s too much competition out there, and too much of it is simply free. There are a handful of “online magazines” of various kinds that are working – but all of them are struggling, too. Politico just killed its last paywalled section. Expect to see more trouble from them soon. The New York Times has struggled since it went with a paywall model. Only magazines such as the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg which offer specific information that helps their readers actually make money have really thrived.

In the fiction world, things haven’t been much better. I couldn’t name a single online science fiction or fantasy “magazine” that has any kind of clout or significant readership. There are some respectable ones out there, such as Sci-Phi Journal, but they continue to struggle just to exist.

And today this rolled across my feed. I stumbled across the link from Twitter:

Well, this is getting absurd. First Cirsova magazine closed for submissions till 2017, now Pulp Literature just closed for submissions. Obviously, there is a serious dearth of high quality adventure fantasy publications for fantasy short stories. One can probably count those now accepting stories on one hand, and maybe have fingers left over: Hfq Ezine, BCS (which wants a very specific style), Grimdark (which wants a very specific vibe)…?

It’s a real problem, and not just for aspiring authors. There’s nowhere solid left for up and coming authors to really practice their craft – and the readers lose out just as badly. How much more wonderful sff stories would we have if that one author you’ve never heard of had been able to publish that one story and just hadn’t given up? But there’s nowhere left for him to start. So maybe he’s doing something else.

But Mr. Szeles’s solution is no solution at all:

Could I get the support needed now (professional and financial through Kickstarter) to edit and publish such an anthology, pay pro rates, put in the time, work, and love needed to create something magnificent?

The answer? He could probably raise enough through Kickstarter to get the project off the ground. And in a year or three it would probably die a slow lingering death, just like every other online magazine. The problem isn’t the magazines themselves. The problem is that the business model is outdated – and it’s never coming back.

But all is not doom and gloom. At Silver Empire, we believe we’ve found a solution. We’ve come up with an innovative new business model that we think is more in tune with the times. Or, more accurately, we’ve borrowed a business model that’s already working in other fields and we’re going to apply it to the short fiction market. And that’s why we’re creating Lyonesse – we want to Make Short Fiction Great Again.

Will it work? I can’t promise it – all business contains risk. But I believe strongly that it will work, and that it will work well in the modern age. I believe that we’ll be able to pay authors rates that are at least comparable to the rates the magazines were paying before they died – and I think that we might actually be able to pay far better than that.

To that end, we’re looking for lots of science fiction and fantasy short stories – and I really mean LOTS. We’ve already gotten a fair number of submissions. I haven’t been able to comb through all of them yet, but some of them are pretty darn good. But we’re still looking for more. My answer to Mr. Szeles is, send them over. We are accepting submissions. Details on submission requirements are available here. And if you’ve already submitted and haven’t heard back from me yet, don’t fret – I’ve got a bit of a backlog right now because we just finished up Between the Wall and the Fire (speaking of short fiction, check that one out – some of the stories in it are damn good).

We’re not ready to share the details yet, but we’re hoping to have the whole thing up and running by late fall. So stay tuned. It’s going to be quite a ride!


Christianity’s Oral Tradition 3 comments

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sermon_on_the_mountWhen the Catholic and Orthodox churches speak of Tradition, most of us in the modern world get the idea that they’re stuck in some ancient world and just can’t get with the times. This is a modern misunderstanding, not the misunderstanding of the Church itself. We have failed to understand the difference between Tradition and tradition – a distinction that the church understands quite well.

To put it simply, the position of the orthodox (small ‘o’) churches is – and always has been, for two thousand years – that the written New Testament is not everything that Christ taught. If you take a moment to think it through at all it becomes readily apparent that this must be the case.

We don’t know if Christ himself was literate. There’s no mention of it in the bible, one way or another. We do, however, know that no actual writings of his survive today. We also know that he lived and preached in a highly illiterate society. And the descriptions we have of his actual teachings don’t tell of him passing out textbooks. Instead we hear quite a bit about him speaking.

That’s right. Christ’s actual teachings were all oral.

The four gospels were written later, years after he died. Two of them – the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John – are attributed to direct disciples of Jesus himself. But the other two aren’t even that. Longstanding Christian tradition says that Mark was a student of Peter, not Christ himself. And Luke is at least twice removed – he was a companion of Paul, who wasn’t one of Christ’s direct disciples either.

Bear with me for a moment and assume that the Christian tradition that these books are accurate is correct. It still seems incredibly unlikely that these four books alone contain everything about Christ’s life. What if we include the remaining 23 books?

Let me tell you something about writing and teaching. I’ve been a martial arts teacher for more than fifteen years. I can tell you definitively that there is no existing collection of books, articles, videos, audio recordings, or any other recorded medium that contains 100% of the knowledge that I’ve collected in that time. I have friends who have been teaching for far longer than that – some with literally half a century of teaching experience. The gap between their knowledge and what’s written is even larger. I know of one specific Kung Fu instructor who deliberately leaves things out of his instructional videos. That way he can always tell who learned it from one of his students and who learned from the video.

This isn’t limited to the martial arts. When I was earning my master’s degree in computer science I noticed the same phenomenon at work. The text books and journal articles we studied were nice. But at that level, a fair amount of instruction came straight from the professor’s lectures and simply wasn’t in the books at all.

This is simply how the passing of knowledge works among human beings. And the Catholic and Orthodox churches have never claimed any differently. When they use the word Tradition (big ‘T’) they aren’t referring to, “well, this is how we’ve always done it.” They’re referring to, “this is what we’ve learned from the sum total of what Christ actually taught us.” That includes the bible as its core component. But it also includes teachings that have been passed orally from bishop to bishop for two thousand years. This is a large part of what is meant by the term “apostolic succession.” The church claims that not only have we inherited the written Word of God, we’ve also inherited his spoken word that has been passed down to this day.

Unlike fundamentalists or some protestants, the church’s view is not that the bible is 100% correct in a literal sense. The church’s view is that the bible is 100% correct and inerrant when it is interpreted correctly – and correct interpretation requires knowledge of the oral traditions handed down by the apostles.


BETWEEN THE WALL AND THE FIRE – Updates

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Between the Wall and the Fire

Between the Wall and the Fire

The files for the print version of Between the Wall and the Fire are off to the printer. The ebook version should be finished this evening. If you’ve requested an advance review copy, check your inbox tomorrow. If you haven’t requested an advance review copy, there’s still time. Hit the link and fill out the very short form. If you want to be one of the first to get your actual hands on an actual book, come see me and S.D. McPhail at the Catfish Literary Festival on Saturday, June 4th!


To Niche or Not To Niche

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More than once I’ve been asked, “What niche should I choose for my blog?” Sometimes I get another variation. “How do I choose a niche for my blog?” Too often these people haven’t even asked the one question that should come first.

Do you even need a niche?

This isn’t just a rhetorical question that I’m asking as I set up the post to tell you that you don’t need one. I’m serious: do you need a niche? There are good reasons to run a niche blog – but you should be sure you understand what they are before you decide it’s the path for you. There are also good reasons to run a general blog, and I think you should understand those, too.

I’ve run both niche blogs and general blogs in the past, and I’ve been moderately successful with both. Back in 2002 when I started my first blog, pretty much all blogs were general. Specialization came gradually – one or two blogs at first, and then others following as they saw a path to success. The key to their success then was the same as it is now. Specialization can make it easier to stand out from the crowd. We live in a world that’s absolutely overflowing with content. I have no idea how many blogs are out there today, but I know it’s a lot – probably in the millions. Your big challenge as a blogger is to make sure readers know about your blog and to give them a reason to read yours rather than somebody else’s.

Specialization can help with that. From about 2008 until 2010 I ran a very specialized blog – a niche within a niche. Since I participated in the larger niche community, I knew that the particular sub-niche was underserved. I was also able to get the word out fairly quickly that my blog existed, and that let me build up a nice, regular readership in a short time. Sorry, I’m not going to give details of that blog. I ran it pseudonymously so that I could discuss some very private issues. The blog no longer exists.

On the other hand, I eventually ran into a very real problem that I now think is common to all specialized blogs. After a while, I’d said everything I had to say on the topic. Then what? Some bloggers solve this by repeating content, and there’s justification for that. New readers haven’t seen the old content. It’s easy to think that everybody out there knows everything you know. They don’t. Repeating information that you’ve written before or read elsewhere might be doing a service to that poor guy who needs the info but has never seen it before.

But that wasn’t for me. I couldn’t bring myself to keep writing on a topic that I’d (mostly) exhausted. The blog went un-updated for quite some time before I finally pulled the plug on it altogether.

The readership base that I’d built was nice, but it would have been hard to do anything with it. The blog title and URL was very specific. Changing it to a general purpose blog would have just made it feel weird to readers, new and old alike. And the fact that I’d run it anonymously meant it wasn’t particularly useful for transitioning to this blog.

I’ve found that general blogging is by far the better fit for me. It’s easier for me to keep the content coming – there’s always something I can talk about, and content flow is very important. If I ever feel like I’ve exhausted a given topic, I just move to a new one. And while niche blogs are great for growing an audience initially, they tend to put a limit on you eventually. Only so many people care about your highly specialized sub-niche.

But one of the nicest things is that you never know which posts are really going to catch on. There are literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of sites out there with blogging advice. It never occurred to me that very many people would have found mine to be particularly more useful than those. Yet they’ve proven quite successful by the current standards of this blog. They’ve netted me links and retweets from some major influencers, which brought a surge in new traffic, but also a steady flow of new readers from “long tail” sources. So I’ve written more, and they’ve continued to be popular. That never would have happened on a niche blog.

So before you think about finding your niche, think twice about whether you really want one at all.


What, you still want one? OK, come back later this week and I’ll have some advice on choosing one.


My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 7 3 comments

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resurrected-christ-wilson-ong-212048-wallpaperEditor’s note: this post was originally published more than five years ago on a now defunct blog. It was originally published pseudonymously. I have done some editing to clean up the bits that I wanted to keep anonymous. I’ve also updated it a bit to reflect how my thinking has evolved over five years. But the vast majority of this text is untouched.

Anybody still here? I think I heard an echo. Yes, this has gotten a bit long. I’m almost done, I promise.

The Catholic church is not perfect to my view. But then, nothing is. Our modern society has developed this ridiculous obsession with perfection. If things aren’t exactly perfect, we can’t take it. Car isn’t perfect? Trade it in before it’s paid off! House isn’t perfect? Trade up every few years as your income increases – it’s only resetting your 30 year mortgage. Marriage isn’t perfect? Try another one! Church isn’t perfect? Start another one across the street!

I can live with the imperfections of the Catholic church. But I still see them.

The biggest blemish is that they haven’t handled the pedophilia scandals very well. Much of this is a PR issue, but there’s some validity to some of the criticisms laid before the church. The church is an institution of great power. They have a responsibility to take reasonable measures to ensure that children are safe. As a comparison, I’d look at the Boy Scouts. Another organization that was plagued by pedophilia scandals, the Boy Scouts responded quietly but rapidly and forcefully, and as a result you don’t hear much about it anymore except as off color jokes. Key policies that the Boy Scouts implemented include at least two adults present with any child at any time (if only one is there, that single adult can be accused, honestly or not, of suspect behavior), an extreme open door policy (parents being very welcome to see what’s going on at any time) and more. In short, they took it seriously and responded to the problem. Is it a perfect solution? No, it can’t be (see above). But they responded.

The Catholic church, on the other hand, has been slow to show that they take the problem seriously and it’s been a bit of a disaster.

Even the mighty Catholic church has allowed itself to be feminized, at least in the western world. Annulments are too easy to get. In the 1960s, there were about 300 annulments a year granted in the US. As of 1996, that had grown to over 60,000 a year. Many of those are from protestants converting to Catholicism (it’s easier to get your marriage recognized as invalid if you married outside the church), as I learned while going through RCIA and hearing deacons counseling divorced people on how to navigate the system. As somebody else noted (I think it was Dalrock, but I can’t find the post) churches love marriage more than they hate divorce. The Catholic church is better about it than most, but it’s not fully immune either.

I’m not a big fan of hulking bureaucracies. Not much for it, I just have to deal.

The rite of Confession will probably always be the most difficult practical part of being Catholic for me. Then again, it’s not meant to be easy.

I have problems with authority (unless I am the authority), and the Catholic church is very hierarchical and authority based. This will also be a struggle for me.

The emphasis that the church puts on humility and submission is very useful in some places. For example, it’s good at helping to keep a check on the very wealthy and powerful. But it’s also dangerous for people who are already poor and weak. Some percentage of those people need a little bit of confidence and self worth to move themselves up in the world, and such a powerful push for humility and submission can damage that. I don’t really have a solution to this issue, I just note it.

This is my path, and this is why I’ve chosen it. This essay is also now five years old, and my feelings on many of these issues have grown and evolved. I’m a lot better educated about my faith than I was when I originally wrote this. Don’t be surprised if there are future blog posts that revisit much of the ideas discussed here, both to add greater detail and to add corrections where I’ve learned and grown.

I don’t expect anyone else to follow the same path I did. This is not here to convert you. It’s just my story. It simply is. Take from it what you will.

The Whole Series


Blogging is Your Long Game

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blogging2As I discussed last week, social media is your short game. It’s important, and you can’t neglect it. But if you’re trying to build a lasting web presence, blogging is equally critical. It’s your long game, and you’ll pay the price if you neglect it.

Too many people start a blog to promote their business or brand without knowing why they need one or how it will help them. Without these crucial elements, blogging is nearly pointless (from a business perspective). You must know what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve already written several posts discussing why blogging is important. I’ve talked about why building blog traffic is both harder and easier than it used to be. I’ve talked about why both inbound and outbound links are critical for your blog’s success. I’ve explained why your blog should be ad free. But why does blogging actually work? What is it that you’re actually trying to accomplish with your blog?

A well run blog will help you on two fronts: it will help you build a relationship with your readers and it will help you gain visibility with search engines such as Google.

Blogging is all about building a relationship with your readers, but I’m going to gloss over that part today. People have written a ton about it. The only point I’m going to emphasize is that this is a process that takes time – lots of time. You can’t expect overnight results from it.

Today, though, I’m going to get a bit more technical and focus on why blogging helps you so much with search engines. Inbound links are important for this – critical even. But I’ve already written a whole post about that. Here’s the other big reason blogging helps you so much: content quantity. Raw quantity is important. Everyone tells you that you should set a blogging schedule and keep to it. I’m going to tell you that that schedule should be as aggressive as you can find the time for. Get as much content out there as you can – but not all in one post.

A high post count on your blog will help you in many ways with the search engines. First, as I mentioned before, outbound links from your blog are huge – especially those sidebar links. The more posts you have, the more pages Google sees. The more pages Google sees, the more times it sees those sidebar links. This post will be my 183rd on this blog. So those sidebar links show up 183 times, right? Wrong. Due to the nature of blogging software, Google recognizes the sidebar links on this blog at least 367 times (based on information from Google Webmasters). Holy cow! How did that happen?

Let’s consider WordPress because it’s what I use for this blog (but realize that pretty much all blogging software works the same way these days). When I create a new post, that’s not the only thing that happens. My main page is updated. But my main page only shows up to 10 posts on it. When post number 11 goes live, WordPress now creates a second page. You can see that if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the main page and find the link that says, “Older Posts.” When I hit post 21, it has to create another page. And so on. 183 posts means 19 pages, just in the main stream. See all those “categories” listed on my sidebar? Each one of them has at least one page of their own. But for each category, when the magic is hit then another page gets created. Click my author name at the top of this post and another multi-page stream is created, showing all the posts written by me. Since this is a single author blog, it won’t look any different than the main stream – but Google sees an entirely separate set of pages.

Each of these pages gets to “vote” by linking other places. In a well setup blog, each of these pages will link back to your homepage. And they’ll usually link to other important pages on your site. And, of course, if you’ve followed my advice they’ll link to your business pages. Pretty nice, isn’t it?

It gets better.

Google likes big sites. All else being equal, a large site will rank better in Google’s search results than a small site. So the more raw content you create on your blog, the more Google will like it. The bigger your site is, the more often Google will check it for updates. That means that anything new you add will make it into Google’s results faster. Pro tip: Google also likes it when you update frequently, so posting regularly will help trigger Google to scan your blog more frequently, too. Not too shabby!

But there’s one last reason that’s a biggie – perhaps the biggest of all. Every author has a unique writing style.

Try this test:

  1. Pick one of your blog posts at random.
  2. Pick a paragraph of text at random.
  3. Copy that text.
  4. Paste it into Google – but be sure to put quotation marks around it! (This triggers Google’s “exact match” functionality)
  5. Hit the search button and check your results.

I bet you a dollar that the only result you got was your own page (or somebody quoting you directly). Leave a comment here if you get different results. If I can verify it, I’ll pay up! Now try the experiment again with three sentences. Two. One. Your writing is unique. How little of it do you need for Google to uniquely point to you?

OK, you’re thinking, what’s the point? The point is that sooner or later somebody is going to come along and search for a topic you’ve written about using a particular combination of words that nobody other than you is using. With a whole paragraph, your writing style is unique. But for a small sentence fragment, it’s merely rare. It doesn’t matter if there are ten million pages on that subject. Google thinks that yours is the match because your word choice matches that person’s choice for that topic. So that person sees your page on his search results, clicks it, loves your post, and boom, you’ve got a new long-term reader!

Great, but that’s just one guy. Right? Sure – if you’ve only got one page of content. But what if you had hundreds of pages? Thousands? And then what happens when those readers start sharing and linking to your blog content, or effectively “upvoting” it to Google? Over time the search engines come to love you, and more and more traffic comes your way.

As I mentioned, this blog has fewer than 200 posts. Yet I now get a very steady stream of daily traffic from Google and other search engines. I’ve upped my schedule recently to two posts a day (on weekdays). So far I’ve managed to hit it. Don’t stress about it too much if you miss it every now and then. At that rate, I’ll double my current post count in less than 19 weeks, or about five months. Based on previous experience, I expect that to more than triple my incoming traffic from Google.

Now imagine that spread not over months but over years. Not hundreds of pages but thousands – maybe tens of thousands. The power that has on the search engines is massive, and it’s yours for the taking.

But it isn’t going to happen overnight. And that’s why blogging is your long game.


My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 6

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cathedralEditor’s note: this post was originally published more than five years ago on a now defunct blog. It was originally published pseudonymously. I have done some editing to clean up the bits that I wanted to keep anonymous. I’ve also updated it a bit to reflect how my thinking has evolved over five years. But the vast majority of this text is untouched.

The Catholic church isn’t just able to bring good responses to some of my issues with Christianity. The church itself has a number of qualities that I find very valuable.

The Catholic church is highly resistant to change. It’s not that it doesn’t change. It just changes at a truly glacial pace. In my youth, I would have found this to be a bad thing. These days, I think it’s an extremely good thing. The church has a 2000 year history from which to understand that although technology changes, human nature doesn’t. People are still basically the same as they were a few thousand years ago. And every few generations we start to get some truly silly ideas in our head. Yes, I think ideas such as modern leftist feminism are significantly sillier than the idea that a Jew died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected 3 days later. Significantly. I believe that a good religion can provide a kind of inoculation against particularly harmful social ideas.

A friend of mine called this the Snow Crash theory of religion after I explained it to him. After some thought I had to admit that he’s basically right, and that’s more or less where I even got the idea from. The story is kind of far fetched, and Neal Stephenson is a mixed bag as a writer. But I think the root concept of religion as a vaccine against true craziness has some real validity to it, and I think the Catholic church overall works better in that regard than just about any other religion due to various parts of its nature – due mostly to its slowness to change and the way it maintains rituals that have a powerful effect on the human psyche. Part of what I’m looking for, after all, is to inoculate my kids against our feminized society.

The Catholic church still has schools that are worth a damn. They may not be as good as I’d like, even they have been somewhat infected by the PC virus, but they’re a lot better than the public schools. My wife and I have decided to make the leap to home schooling if we can avoid it, but if it doesn’t work out… I’ll sell body parts before I let the public schools destroy my son the way they nearly did me. That is not an exaggeration. If homeschooling doesn’t work out for us, we’ll give the local Catholic school a try.

Oh, and our local Catholic school gives a pretty hefty discount to parish members. Multiply that by four kids for k-8, and it’s slightly fair to say that I’ve sold my soul for somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter million dollars in today’s money and a far better youth and education for my children. My sister-in-law’s Catholic priest physics teacher uncle? He teaches taught at a (different) Catholic school, and he’s one of the best trained people I’ve ever met in classical philosophy and logic. Two thumbs way up. We’ve looked at the curriculum for the local school, too, and it’s significantly more advanced than what I did in the local public schools. This is a very big deal to me, and I think we’ve got a good backup for our children here. Most of all, the school is small enough that it’s unlikely to form the same kind of social cliques that were rampant in the public schools I attended [Editor’s not: and are now far worse]. Other factors were very important, too, but this was probably the single biggest one that cemented me on the Catholics before we decided to homeschool.

The Catholic church understands and emphasizes that it’s a human organization, and that it’s members and even its leaders are human beings who make mistakes. I believe that the scandals regarding pedophilia in the church have been blown a bit out of proportion by our sensationalist media. There’s nothing specific to the priesthood that encourages pedophilia. It is a position where a pedophile might actually have access to carry out his desires, so I’m not surprised that the very small percentage of our population with that problem is drawn there. The church’s reaction to it also is completely consistent with how the church treats priests who have committed other crimes. For one, the confidentiality of confession is absolute. Like it or not, that’s strictly necessary to make confession work. Take that away and it all breaks down. If a priest confesses pedophilia to another priest, that priest can’t report him. It’s against the vows. Second, the church has a longstanding policy of viewing all transgressions (even murder) as sins to be forgiven, perhaps with penance paid. Criminal punishment is left up to the secular governments. That’s basically the way the church works.

That said, I do think they could have handled the pedophilia issue better. One of the priests at our local church has suggested that the church should add windows to the confessional room so that parents can keep an eye inside. I agree with this proposal. It doesn’t breech confidentiality any more than one already can. All it lets you do is know who’s inside the confessional. You can tell that anyway if you just hang out outside and watch who goes in and out. But its existence would both reassure parents and force the small number of priests who are a problem to behave because they’re being watched.

I like the emphasis that the church places on the sanctity of both human life and human dignity. I agree with them on both counts. I’ve been somewhat wishy washy on the idea of abortion in the past, but I’ve pretty much come around to agree that it’s a terrible thing under pretty much any circumstances. I certainly believe that our current abortion numbers are a crime against humanity. There’s absolutely no good reason for a society as rich as ours to have a 30% abortion rate. Likewise, I believe that all human beings are worthy of a certain degree of dignity – and that in our modern world, it’s most often people robbing themselves of dignity, rather than others doing it. I’ve also come around to being completely against the death penalty. I’ve read too many stories of death row inmates being exonerated by modern forensic techniques (mostly DNA) both before and after their executions. The execution of even one innocent man is a tragedy beyond belief. I’m ashamed that I ever supported it.

I like that the priests who have talked before our RCIA classes have had the balls to stand up before a bunch of protestants and women and call divorce, abortion, adultery and premarital sex sinful. I like the shock on some of those women’s faces when they hear that stated so openly and plainly. Frankly, they need it.

I like the humility that the church essentially forces on its own leaders. It’s not perfect, but it places a good check on the very real power that they hold.

I like the church’s approach to charity. First, it simply does more charity than most protestant churches. The Catholic church is the largest charity organization on the planet. Second, at least most of the time the charity is freely offered, rather than being contingent upon church attendance or converting to their own religion. Also, the charity isn’t dependent upon some church idea of who is worthy and who isn’t. It’s real charity, and I like that. I know there are exceptions to this (it’s a big, imperfect organization), but in general this is the case.

I like churches that look like churches, not shopping malls. The Catholics still do a pretty good job of this even with newer buildings. Many of their older buildings are simply breathtaking, even when they’re from a poorer parish. [Editor’s note: the Catholic church we attend now was designed by baby boomers and it looks like it. In other words, it’s terribly ugly – with the ugliest stained glass window I’ve ever seen. Our priest has done his level best to adjust for that with internal decorations and the new additions, though.]

In part 7 I’ll discuss some difficulties I still have with the church. Only time will tell if I’m ever able to move past them or not, but they’re not enough to keep me from signing on.

The Whole Series