Ronnie Schiller

Author of Infernal Stock Series and Mother's House Payment - a Memoir, Hobbyist Shutterbug

About Free Speech

Brace yourself for an opinion that you are free to ignore to the same extent that I am free to ignore yours. That’s the point, isn’t it?

I have heard a lot of comments around what people are free to do or say according to the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. I wonder if anyone has read it. Let’s remedy that.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is a contract between the government and its citizens. This says that the government will not intervene or abridge its citizens rights to speak freely, or practice religion insofar as that those practices do not hamper the basic rights of others.

Oh, where does it say you can’t interfere or curtail the basic rights of life and liberty? In the Preamble to the Bill of Rights, where it says that the amendments are part and parcel of the main document.

It seems to me that some people are reading the words of the founding fathers in the same way that they read their religious doctrine: out of context and poorly interpreted.  Note that I say “some,” because I am not an anti-religious crusader. I am opposed to people using false authority to hurt others.

The misinformed use two arguments based on this same amendment in order to bully LGBTQ members of the populace. The first is a perversion of the freedom of religion, and the second is a corruption of the freedom of speech.

Freedom of religion was granted originally because the Colonials were trying to put distance between the newly-formed government and the practices of England’s monarchy. The English were subject to a national religion because the King couldn’t produce a son with his wife, and the Catholic Church wouldn’t let him trade her in.  Pennsylvania’s delegate, George Mason, argued that the states would feel better about the government if they were to include a declaration of rights promising that the new government would not impose such controls.

Nowhere in that promise was the guarantee that the majority–or, in the case of Protestant Christianity in America, the vocal minority–would be able to direct the conditions of society.  It’s not even implied.

The Supreme Court of Michigan ruled against belief-based exclusion in 1890, in the case Ferguson v. Gies. From the ruling:

The man who goes either by himself or with his family to a public place must expect to meet and mingle with all classes of people. He cannot ask, to suit his caprice or prejudice or social views, that this or that man shall be excluded because he does not wish to associate with them. He may draw his social line as closely as he chooses at home, or in other private places, but he cannot in a public place carry the privacy
of his home with him . . . .Ferguson v. Gies, 46 N.W. 718, 721 (Mich. 1890)

As much as I would love to see a Hindu slap a burger out of a Westboro Baptist member’s mouth as he sat in Toby Keith’s I Love This Fucking Place™, it’s not precisely legal. If the analogy didn’t click, I am saying that there is no legal basis for trying to interfere with the rights of citizens based on religious beliefs.  I feel like I shouldn’t have to mention that it’s really a terrible way to treat other human beings.

That’s my opinion.

Free speech is protected by the First Amendment, it’s true. That clause pledges that the government will not throw you in jail for stating your opinion. (How well that pledge has been kept is a tale for another time.) It does not, however, guarantee that anyone will listen to, or care about what the opinion is–even if you are of the opinion that the First Amendment makes it okay to belittle, insult, patronize, and proselytize. That’s still an opinion.

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance. –Plato

I have stated mine in my own space. I don’t expect everyone to comply with my directives automatically. I wonder if everyone else could learn to do the same? Or do we have to keep hearing the echoes of this guy:

As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.

–Adolf Hitler


A Person is Worth More Than A Dollar


The ongoing conflict between Hachette and Amazon over e-book pricing has highlighted some of the glaring differences of principle between traditional publishers and the world of electronic distribution. In the most simplified terms, Hachette wants e-book prices to be fixed at a minimum price that is near the hardback release price. Amazon wants the e-book prices to be lower to reflect the much lower cost of production and distribution of an electronic book format.

Bearing in mind that the publisher has control over the timing of the release of the e-book, paperback, or audio format of any book, this is not a matter of competing formats. It has more to do with the perceived value of a commodity, to wit: a product is viewed as less valuable if it is less expensive and more accessible.  That is well and good if you are trying to control the value of an item that has no inherent value–such as a diamond. Let the diamond sellers of the world continue to manipulate the market into paying outrageous amounts for as long as people let them. This is about knowledge, and that is worth more than diamonds.

To be very clear, this post has transitioned into the portion that is entirely based on my opinion. Let no one walk away feeling that I have misled.

I am a self-published author. The majority of my business has always been through Amazon.  My position in this matter is not based on a loyalty to Amazon. It is grounded in my belief that the success of a book should be measured by the number of readers touched by the story, and not the number of royalty dollars earned per copy.

Some authors, like any other group of people, prefer to focus on financial gain as a measure of success. Amazon has addressed that in their latest communication:

“We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99.”

I highly recommend this particular paragraph in the Amazon message.

I can attest to this. Once I let go of the notion that the price of each unit mattered somehow, I found that unit sales increase more than made up for the difference. I got what I truly wanted: more readers.

I imagine that the authors contracted with Hachette’s divisions at the former Time-Warner Publishing and Hyperion never set out to publish with a big house solely so they could have a greater audience. If that were the case, Hachette would not need to be so concerned about money.

I can’t see the point of protecting a perception of exclusivity in the value of a book. It’s not in my makeup.  I’m not condemning those who do, but I simply don’t see things that way.  To me, a person is worth more than a dollar. The story is worth nothing if only few can afford to access it.

Asking the right question: better than knowing the right thing to say

We were visited by a friends with kids today. The oldest child in the family is a precocious 12-year-old boy who is tall for his age and very bright for any human standard. I enjoy smart kids; they give me hope that the world of my retiring years won’t be a complete disaster. This kid happens to be a voracious reader, lover of mathematics, and spontaneously capable of reciting 16 digits of pi whether you like it or not. He’s truly a delight.

I gave him a copy of each of my novels. I keep one set on the shelf, in case I need to refer to the published version. I felt obliged to warn him that my books are the product of an amateur level of expertise. The poor boy just finished reading Hunger Games again. I don’t kid myself about whether my writing stacks up to that series.

These are not the keystrokes of a millionaire.

Still, he politely dug into Infernal Stock I: Dixon Breaks Loose while the adults milled around in the sun. He was 30 pages into the story before he stopped to ask me some questions about my methods and the inspiration behind the characters.

I don’t offer advice to other writers because my methods are not disciplined or orderly. I’m not an outline person. I never have been. When I was in school, if an outline had to be included in an assignment, you could bet that I created it after the draft of the paper. My brain does not work that way. Ideas grow out my mind like a climbing vine, twisting and looping into whatever shape it finds comfortable or best for soaking up sunlight. My characters choose a path and I follow the characters. It’s all I know how to do, for now.

I told him about the basis for a couple of the minor characters. One of the characters, inspired by a memorable girl from my third grade class, led into a sidebar about bullies. The girl had been a misfit for as long as I had known her. One of my last interactions with her ended with me hitting her in the face with a soccer ball. I was provoked, but my response was not reciprocal. I knew, and still feel, that I was the jerk in that situation.

He asked if I was a bully. I swore that I was not. I was picked on by other kids and the adults. I was low on the hierarchy of elementary school politics. But, that girl was lower, so I wasn’t afraid to return her aggression.

“You were like me,” he said, “but I don’t pick on anyone else. Everybody picks on me.”

I nodded, thinking that a boy of 12 who is taller than me and stands his ground in a size-14 shoe could probably crack a few skulls. He wouldn’t, though.

“I was a wild animal when I was a kid. I didn’t have parents to teach me how to behave. You’re lucky to have your mom to keep you straight,” I said.

I told him that all of the really smart kids knew to be respectful of everyone, and they were more successful as adults. I hope that helps him get through the hard years of middle- and high school. If he’s lucky, he’ll make it through without inspiring guilt in anyone who remembers him.


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